Saturday, December 28, 2019

A History Lesson

Bonie sits perched atop a rocky knoll overlooking the whole of Dagger’s Deep. It is early morn, and the settlement is blanketed in a misty fog that portends rain. The thick air reminisces of the night the friends watched two forlorn travelers searching amid the darkness for something they would not find.

Or had they?

As if to underscore the likeness, the woman’s keen eyes are affixed to the very spot where Wyardt stood, grasping out and calling to her by name. The detail isn’t lost on Zeb as he approaches, though Bonie’s countenance speaks not of sadness nor longing, but of deep reflection and thought.

She doesn’t turn to regard him, but Zeb knows that her awareness is piqued. From Bonie, Zeb can conceal nothing, though to Zeb, the woman can seem impenetrable, as is the case at this moment, her hair tied dutifully back, wearing her customary dark leathers. Her deadly bow rests idly at her side.

“Did you know,” she begins, still without looking up, “that when West Tower was founded, goblin clans had to be purged from the surrounding hills by the Axe of Mirabar? The location was of strategic import to establishing a land route through the Khedrun Valley and accessing its villages. But the goblins that dwelt there were mighty in force: after a great battle was fought at the foot of Rolling Death Falls, a contingent of soldiers pursued the goblin chieftain for many miles upriver, all the way into the lower peaks of the Spine of the World.”

She runs a hand across her hair, above her left ear; Zeb watches with intent. “I know all this from Falinor Daggercross, for I was, after all, stationed in West Tower to observe his dealings, in secret, under the employ of the Abbé Lira. It feels a lifetime ago, so much that I only now have come to remember this recounting...

“When finally the Axe confronted the goblin chieftain and his remaining minions, a bloodbath raged o’er a mountain pass marked by a great boulder which bore twin sunken recesses, like the hollow eyes of an unworldly skull. Upon the chieftain’s slaying and the soldiers’ victory, the site was christened... Death’s Head Pass. That was forty years ago, more or less. Forty years ago, that is, from our time... sixty years from now.”

Finally, Bonie raises eyes to her counterpart, meeting his gaze. “The place has not yet been named, Zeb, though the name is scribed as clearly as the running waters of the River Mirar on the parchment we found sealed in an underground chamber, where it had lain dormant for years, if not decades. What does it mean?”

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Map of session #33 (Orcdoom)

The party traveled due north from the outpost, then veered northwest following smoke plumes and orc trails. On the return journey, Selben erred west before correcting course east upon finding the road.

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

#33: Orcdoom

Zargon excuses himself from our company for a few days, giving Audric, Lom and I a chance to discuss potential ways to spend our time in Mirabar.  Of all the options that have yet presented themselves, the bounty on orcs, while a huge risk to our small band, is very appealing.  It could prove a profitable endeavor, and for me, a chance to prove myself outside of the parental protection of Zeb.  Thinking on it, I don’t feel the task is one of which he would approve—at least not without him and Bonie along for the journey—but that’s something I decide not to share aloud with Audric, and adds an edgy appeal to the decision that both frightens and excites me.

In our discussions about Mirabar’s surroundings and what to expect outside of the fortress walls, we learn one curious fact—the city of Luskan doesn’t exist.  After digesting the shock that accompanies that revelation, we learn that there is instead a ruined city named Illusk which was completely overrun by orcs a score past.  A lone outpost called Post South, which has earned the nickname of “Orcdoom,” lies between Mirabar and Illusk and serves as the launching point for outings such as the one we are about to take.  It is a minor haven for mercenaries, men of war, and others looking to take the battle to the enemies, with little beyond barren wasteland and orcs further west.

We also revisit the Sift & Skirmish Mining Company, as the option of accompanying an expedition to discover or clear a mine provides a level of comfort, but also comes with a level of commitment in the form of a contract that we might not be comfortable with at the present.  Along the way back to our rooms, I stop at a merchant and purchase a brace of knives.

We expect to encounter patrols of Mirabarran soldiers and other travelers on the way to Post South.  Our exit from the western gate is uncontested, and surprisingly, neither do we encounter any guards on our way.  Our conjured mounts eat up the distance quickly amid light rainfall, and as we get further away from Mirabar the land begins to level, eventually giving way to open plains.  We expect to complete the 20-mile journey in less than one day.

Upon our arrival, we see a stone tower, recently constructed, perhaps two stories high.  Less for shelter, it provides an elevated position from which lookouts can examine the horizon.  Torches mounted on the tower’s outer walls and bonfires amid the camp light the various thoroughfares.  In total, there are perhaps two or three dozen people manning the small military outpost.  We are greeted by guards and allowed entry to dwell among the soldiers and others currently staying at Post South as long as we agree to keep the peace.

As we dismount our conjured steeds, we’re approached by a soldier with the posture and carriage of an officer, likely a captain.  He introduces himself as Serrus.  He questions us again, and we see no reason to hide anything, asking what we should know about the area.

Serrus explains that recent hunts have been venturing north toward the mountains rather than in the direction of Illusk, and while there have been occasional reports of skirmishes throughout the early spring months, there hasn’t been anything truly notable.  A few bands have claimed bounties, a few others have departed Port South ne’er to return, but no activity outside of the ordinary.  I share a little about our experiences with goblins, creatures along the River Mirar and bugbears in the Lurkwood to the south, and he explains that orcs are similar in ferocity, but that their strength is best measured by the size of any bands encountered.

Captain Serrus asks us candidly whence we hail, and Audric explains that we’re from Dagger’s Deep, sharing the high-level details of the settlement’s growth.  Serrus’s eyes narrow at its mention, and he replies with a little disdain that he’s heard of it.

“Longsaddle,” I say, speaking for the group, when he questions where we may have lived prior to the settlement’s founding.  The answer doesn’t seem to raise any suspicion.  “Make the trek north,” he advises, “and concentrate on streams and other water sources.”  The guidance is well taken.

When asked if any bands have left recently or if there are any about to depart, he indicates that there are at least two groups away at present, and a third that has not returned and that he does not reasonably expect to.  He explains that there is one party here that may soon return to the city, one of their members falling ill, and another lone man who sounds of a mercenary for hire.  The practice is tolerated, but it doesn’t seem as though lurkers are welcomed with open arms.  Captain Serrus knows little about the man, nor will he vouch for him, and Audric and I agree we should be wary about accepting any allies.

A few moments later, a man shuffles up to the captain.  The man is young, perhaps in his twenties, dirty and disheveled, wearing a brown robe.  He speaks of a tent nearby where a warrior has fallen ill with a respiratory sickness.  “There’s nothing more I can do,” he explains, and before he departs, Serrus introduces the informant as Mycleth.

We can see that Mycleth bears a symbol of Lathander, and functions as the physician of the outpost.  Audric introduces himself, offering to share his services with those that might require them, and Mycleth thanks him.  Serrus explains that Mycleth is in the employ of the Axe, his abilities only being used to tend to the soldiery.

We excuse ourselves and settle in for the night, discussing plans for our departure.  We awaken to an overcast sky, and after checking our gear one last time, head out on foot for a long walk ahead.  Our journey north is meandering, having no real path or landmarks to follow, trusting in Lom to determine our the trail.  The going is fairly slow, Lom stopping often to examine a curious track on the ground or the horizon itself, and we cover perhaps a dozen miles before the sun begins to set.  Having not yet reached the mountains, we settle on a fire.  Lume is perhaps our best asset, possessed of keen senses, and we take what rest we can, the moon shimmering through the clouds above.

As we stand our solitary watches, we are given time to reflect on the peacefulness of the open wilderness.  Most of our camping has been done along the bank of the River Mirar or in the Lurkwood, and with only three of us, it’s impossible to ignore the quiet and sense of serenity, as well as the vastness of our surroundings.  The night passes peacefully, and we ready ourselves the next morning for another day of travel.

A few hours into the hike, we see the first sign of anything since leaving Orcdoom.  To the north and west, we spot a single plume of smoke rising, perhaps a mile distant.  “What are we here for, if not for this?” Audric asks, and I completely agree.  We make our approach as stealthily as possible, approaching a small hillock.

As we draw close, we can see that amid the rocks and natural formations are strewn about a handful of corpses.  The bodies don’t look like orcs or their kin, and Audric decides to send Lume ahead to investigate.  We wait impatiently, holding our breaths as we see her enter the camp and circle the small fire, and Audric empathizes with her sense of unease.  “Lume thinks there’s something alive,” he says, sharing information passed to him through his bond with the familiar, and we decide to approach as a group.

Closing distance, it’s clear that this was a complete slaughter, four fallen bodies around the waning fire, and it appears as if the camp was probably set upon during the night.  We don’t see any arrows in the bodies, and as Lom surveys the horizon we examine them.  All four are human men, one close in age to me, the rest older adults.  They are outfitted in leather armor, and we note a few errant weapons lying afoot.  Audric shares a mental moment with Lume, but before we can figure out what the cat meant by her original communication, we see Lom draw his bow and point it toward a nearby boulder, so we rush to his side.

On the ground, we can see a man with a ravaged leg, his clothing torn apart to haphazardly bind the wounds.  His breathing comes in inaudible gasps, and before Audric can approach to heal him, I lay a hand on his shoulder.  “We’re not here for this,” I say.

“Are we just going to leave him?” Audric asks, and I shrug.

“Healing this man and leaving him here is the same as not healing him,” I say, grimly.

“Should we leave him for the orcs then, or just put him out of misery?”  Though the question was meant to be sarcastic, I pull one of my knives, offering to do the deed.

“There are tracks everywhere,” Lom interrupts.

Audric steps forward and bends down to question the man, learning that they were set upon by perhaps ten or more orcs during the night.  “They sought only to kill,” the man says with tears welling up.  “They didn’t even remain to loot us. My son...”  The encounter was brief and deadly.

Audric questions whether we would fare any better than this group against such an attack.  “We know they’re coming,” I say, “where this group surely didn’t.”  Lom points to a set of tracks, indicating the orcs passage to the west.  The injured man’s raspy breathing is a reminder that we have another issue to settle before we can decide where to go from here.

I brandish my blade again, offering to send the man to whatever god he prays, but before I do, Audric and Lom share words about the meaning and possible repercussions of the deed.  Our options are limited—Audric can heal the man, forcing us to return to Orcdoom, or end the man’s life.  We decide, as a group, to end his life mercifully, and Audric pulls Lom aside as I step forward with my knife.

The man’s eyes go wide as I approach.  “To what god shall I deliver you, I ask?”  He begins to utter a prayer to Tymora, the Lady of Luck, and I quickly draw the blade across the man’s throat, spilling his lifeblood before his prayer is finished.  With an inconspicuous flick of my knife, I saw off one of the man’s ears and tuck it into my pouch.

The day being young, we decide to trust in Lom’s ability to track the orcs, the signs being recent and conditions favorable.  Before we do, we spend a few minutes poking around the camp, finding little in the way of value except a meager coin purse.  I take a dagger from one of the fallen as my own, tucking the blade into my belt.

Lom has no difficulty finding the trail, and before long corroborates the injured man’s tale about the size of the orc band.  The tracks lead generally west into the rocky hills, where the terrain becomes more difficult.  We fear that Lom may lose the trail, seeing nothing where the man is able to discern details and clues, and though he does seem to lose his way for a few moments, he eventually picks it up again as it turns north towards the mountains.

The tracks lead us to a stream, and even Audric and I can make out the muddy prints along the bank.  “They stopped here, perhaps to drink,” he says, pointing to another set that leads away and further north.  We pause briefly, then continue, wanting to take as much advantage of the daylight as we can. 

Before long we crest a small hill, then nearly gasp as we look down upon an encampment of orcs lying about.  We quickly count eight of the creatures, six asleep and two awake and apparently keeping watch.  Still fifty yards away, we see one of the watchers looking directly at us—before we can act, it starts calling out in its guttural language, and the orcs below begin to stir, grasping for weapons.

The two orc guards begin to charge us immediately, bringing javelins to bear.  Another pair begins loping up the hill toward us as the rest mill about below.  Lom and Audric bring bows to bear, Audric striking one orc, Lom missing his target.  Their second volley is fired into the pair of charging orcs, this time Audric missing and Lom felling one of the uninjured.  As they rush into melee, I sling a stone at the second wave—it misses, but Lom draws his sword across the wounded orc’s belly, slaying it.

Audric wades into battle with a pair of enemies, spinning in a wild attack that decapitates one of the creatures, but not before the second strikes a glancing blow on the warrior.  Lom fires an arrow before a quartet of orcs converge on Audric, catching one with a strike in the chest as the three others continue their charge.  Another orc lands a blow on Audric as I begin to weave an enchantment, my eyes turning opaque as the magic takes form.

Lom fires a second arrow which fells another orc, pinning it to the ground as it topples, while all around it the remaining orcs and Audric fall into fits of trembling as my magic grips their minds.  Catching Audric in the effect was unintended, and without hesitation Lom and I rush forward to cut into a pair of the creatures, striking them down.  One remains near Audric, gripping its head while shaking on the ground.  Lom steps forward to cut it while I begin to drag Audric away from the orc camp, hoping that the spell will subside.

Lom and his opponent trade feeble blows, our tracker becoming gravely injured despite the enchantment that clouds its mind.  I rush forward to assist him as the orc continues to pummel the ranger, the orc’s cudgel soaked in Lom’s blood.  Lom finally slays it with a cut across its face, spraying both of us with blood.

Audric finally shakes off the effect of my enchantment and tends to Lom, who is bloodied but still capable.  The orc camp, its inhabitants slain, is strangely quiet, and Audric and Lom provide cover with their bows as I slide among the bodies and begin claiming ears.  I take a quick look around and we grab a pair of longswords and a scimitar, all in serviceable condition, and make haste back along our trail to put as much distance as possible between us and the slaughter.

Lom is able to quickly retrace our way back to both campsites, and we arrive at the more distant, avoiding the site of the orcs’ attack on the human camp.  Audric tends to his own wounds once we stop for the night.  We build a fire, leaving burning brands nearby in case they are needed, and settle in for a tenuous rest.

During Audric’s watch, he senses something wrong, Lume perking up in the face of potential danger.  Suddenly, from the darkness, a pair of projectiles sail past Audric and land in the ground behind him.  Multiple sets of glowing eyes stare up at him from the darkness below.  Audric begins to chant and glittering golden particles cover a pair of orc ambushers.  Another volley of spears, this time from other directions, are hurled at Audric, one of them striking him in the chest.

The blinded orcs charge haphazardly up the hill to engage Audric and he swats their feeble attacks aside.  We can see the two orcs in melee with Audric, but I’m still not yet able to make out the location of the other attackers in the dark.  Lom and I converge on Audric’s assailants, hoping if nothing else than to provide Audric some relief.  Three more orc ambushers break cover, and our hilltop is entangled in a brutal bloodbath.

Lom cuts through one of the blinded orcs, and Audric fells another.  I’m struck by a glancing blow as I withdraw, but another lands a dreadful hit against Audric.  A pair of orcs brutally strike down Lom, while I weave a quick phantasm that causes one of the orcs to flee the fight.

Audric swats at the fleeing orc but misses, regaining his bearings in time to meet the onslaught of another attacker.  Blows are traded, Audric staggering, but Mystra’s chosen beheads one of the two remaining foes.

I bring another phantasm to bear in an attempt to cause the last remaining orc to fly, but I’m unable to insinuate myself into its psyche, the orc shrugging off the effects of my spell.  It turns and growls at Audric, felling him with one final, mighty blow.

Desperate, I rush forward with knives out, knowing that defeating this last enemy is the only chance of our survival.  We trade attacks, neither able to land a telling strike as panic begins to set in, knowing that Lom and Audric’s lifeblood are spilling onto the plain.  With one final cry, I thrust my knife up through the orc’s ribs, and we collapse together in a pool of the creature’s blood.

I immediately crawl over to bind wounds on first Audric, then Lom, my hands fumbling as I do my best to staunch the flow of blood, not knowing if my ministrations are enough to save either.  As the adrenaline from the fight begins to fade my hands begin to shake, and once stabilized I grab a nearby spear, in the case that the orc who fled the combat should return.  I pick up Audric’s axe, holding the weapon awkwardly, and wait for several long, tense minutes, listening carefully for the sound of any approach.  Lume paces nearby restlessly, and I watch the animal, trusting to her instincts and senses.  Staring into the night, a prayer begins to form unbidden, and I surprise myself that it takes the form of an appeal to Malar, the Beastlord, to watch over us in the night and protect my companions.  Before long, it becomes apparent that I must rest to regain my arcane abilities, as that seems the only possible way to transport the two unconscious warriors back to Orcdoom.  I fall asleep under Lume’s protection, awakening at some point during the day by the cat nuzzling and scratching at me. 

To the west, I can see a party of hunters atop a rise.  Still yet a couple of hills away, it looks as if the band contains four men, likely adventurers or mercenaries.  Remembering the fate I delivered upon the man with the wounded leg, I have no illusions about what such an encounter would mean for me, Audric and Lom.  At best, they would leave me and take what they wanted.  At worst, they’d simply kill me and loot our corpses.  I take my chance and wait, whispering another silent appeal to Malar.  It appears as if he is with me this day, and they do not approach, disappearing to the west.

I finish my rest and awaken, beaten but mentally refreshed, finally able to conjure a pair of mounts to bear the burden of Audric and Lom.  For a day we wander, resting only long enough to regain the power to summon forth more steeds, before eventually regaining the broken road, and not knowing with certainty the direction of Post South.  Knowing that Mirabar, if nothing else, lies to the east, I choose that path, and after another wearying hike, my mind nearly numb, I see the tower of Orcdoom on the horizon.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Zargon and Falaeira

Zargon was not feeling well, his mind engulfed in the fires of painful memories and confusion that is all too common amongst those of the bardic bent. As his friends prepared to leave for their return to the Undercity he let them know he would be staying back in his room at the inn to rest, feigning the beginnings of a mild illness. Once the others left Zargon laid down upon his bed. His weary, anxiety riddled mind could find no quarter in the confines of the room. He could feel the walls closing in on him. Heart racing, sweat coming down his forehead, Zargon felt he was finally going to snap. He had come close to this point after the keravela when he learned of Zeb and Audric’s time travel, but never before had he feared that he was losing his mental faculties as at that moment, trapped alone with his thoughts in a Mirabarran inn.

The bard knew he had to act quickly or he would perhaps permanently become mad. His heart was thumping fast. He got up and went for his bag to reach for an elixir that had been given to him by a drifter friend of his before his run in with the dwarves. The friend owed Zargon a favor and repaid it with a mysterious elixir meant to calm the nerves. The friend warned him however that while it would take him to a place of serenity, it could also have some “other” side effects. At this moment Zargon knew he would have to take the drink. He gulped down the ugly green brew and laid down his weary head in anticipation of desperately needed peace.

Zargon closed his eyes and began breathing deeply. After about ten minutes he noticed that his hands were no longer clenched and his teeth had loosened their grip upon one another. The sweating had stopped and he began to feel his faculties return to him. Whatever debt that his friend owed him was paid as far as Zargon was concerned, and aren’t friends just lovely? Every word out of the mouth of a beloved friend is like the reds and oranges and pinks that make up the kaleidoscope of colors in a glorious sunset. An embrace from a loved one can lift a man to another realm, far apart from the pain and suffering that sometimes finds us all. But is not pain one of the intrinsic beauties of this world? Would the sunshine be as brilliant without the juxtaposition of darkest night? As Zargon lay in his bed he could feel himself becoming one with everything. As a passing troubadour walked along the street outside Zargon was entranced by every elongated note of the man’s lute. Each note leading into the other in a symphony of love and harmony. He envisioned vibrant colors pulsing in rhythm to the beat of the music. After a few moments he opened his eyes and the colorful lights were there before him! He went to the window and his eyes met the glory of the clouds in all their splendor. My how his spirits had taken a turn in twenty minutes! He soon became tired and returned to the bed to rest.

Zargon opened his eyes after laying down and found himself in a small room in the part of Mirabar that is populated by gamblers, drifters, whores, con artists and bards. He looked over to his left and gazed at the sleeping Falaeira. Her peaceful slumber always set his heart on fire with the giddiness of love that he never wanted, or thought he did not want. The rambling man Zargon had spent his time traveling the country earning a good living and quite a name for himself, always able to find company from whatever woman he wanted in a pub without resorting to the paid variety. Like most bards he had no intentions of settling down or starting a family. Part of that was the difficulties in his poor Mirabarran upbringing, stealing bread as a child for a family torn asunder by the demons of the bottle ravaging his father, leaving his mother to raise the four of them alone. Zargon soon escaped into the delights of singing, dancing, gambling, and women to fill the void. In the twenty or so years since he began the life of a bard when he was fifteen he never found someone who lit him up the way Falaeira had over the course of this past year, and he knew that he was not going to be alone for much longer.

Upon her waking Falaeira turned to Zargon and let him know that she would be leaving town for a day or two to visit her sister in a small town to the south. Since Zargon would be doing an important show that weekend he would unfortunately not be able to make the trip with her. The well-off bard had no money saved, but his success in singing and storytelling meant he was never bereft of a good amount of gold. He gave her enough to cover the hiring of an escort to travel and embraced her as she left for the weekend. Every time she walked away from him for a day or more he could feel a thousand daggers cut into him, but when she returned he had a surprise: he would finally propose marriage to the gorgeous young seamstress. After dressing for the night’s performance he too left the small room where they lived and headed for the other side of Mirabar, where he would be performing and sleeping for the weekend.

After the long walk to the pub he was ready to have a few drinks and perform. Much to his shock though the pub was boarded up. How could this be? The bard became confused and angry, this two-night stay was going to make him quite a bit of coin and help him to cement his status as a rising voice in the Mirabarran bardic community. He walked about a block down the road and flagged down a member of the Axe of Mirabar. “Excuse me sir, but why is the famous Silver Serpent boarded up as if it were no more?” exclaimed the puzzled Zargon. “Well friend, when you try to cheat the city out of her due in taxes the city comes out with some wood and a whole lot of nails to teach you a lesson! Now be on your way, bard!” Zargon was infuriated. He decided to make the best of the evening and walk to his favorite local pub in the part of town where he and Falaeira lived and spend the night drinking and gambling. In two hours time it would be about 11, the perfect time to catch the best of the city.

As Zargon got closer to his favorite pub he decided to return to his room and put away his instrument and costume. No need to lug those around since he now had the weekend off. He walked up the steps and unlocked the door. What he saw as he entered nearly blinded him. An overwhelming sense of unbearable, surreal terror and sadness overcame him as he watched his beloved Falaeira in the act of love with another man! She was covered in sweat as the naked lovers were in the middle of their business. Falaeira turned to him and screamed “Zargon! What happened to your show?” The bard was silenced by his sadness, shock, and anger. The tall man who was standing naked behind her with his hand around her hips quickly interjected, “Quiet woman, finish the service for which you have been paid! And tell your costumed friend to leave because if he is still here after I spray in you he will breathe his last breath!” Zargon ran out the door in tears, unable to stand being there regardless of the angry interloper’s words of caution. Five minutes later the man walked past Zargon smiling. “Never shack up with a whore, boy. They will rob you and leave you for dead without warning.”

After the nameless man who destroyed the bard’s world was out of sight, the fallen angel Falaeira came outside for Zargon with a smile on her face. “Why the look of shock and dejection, Zargon. Did you actually think I was a seamstress?” The bard responded “I did Falaeira, and even if you were that kind before, why now when I have given you all the coin you could ever need, would you continue to live this life?” She responded, “I did not want to tell you as it was not of your concern, and I did not stop because I enjoy it for what it is. Until I actually find one I love, if I ever do, I will continue to enjoy all the pleasures of Mirabar.” With those words the bard felt the agony of a thousand heartaches. He had been used. As she gathered her things and left for the last time, the bard could feel his world ending, destroyed by the lies of the snake Falaeira and the nameless John.

Zargon quickly drank more than six or seven men’s share of booze and headed to the pub to gamble. He could not bear to stay in the room that still smelled of the harlot’s lovemaking and lies. He chanced upon a group of dwarves in the corner of the bar. The dreaded, hateful, avaricious little mutant men who won’t die. Zargon’s mind twisted by rage, unbearable sadness, and alcohol he was soon many gold coins down to the head dwarf. Sensing the bard was not in a good way, the dwarf made an offer to Zargon “Before you wind up in the mines, bard, perhaps we can make a deal. I see that beautiful gold and diamond ring you have been handling all night. Why not just give me that and we can call it a night?” Zargon’s eyes turned red with the fires of hell as he lunged at the dwarf. “You mutant little fuck! How dare you! That was for Falaeira. I’d rather spend a lifetime in the mines with your awful kind than see her ring in the gnarled, disgusting finger of what you call a “woman.” I wouldn’t seed one of your women even if she shaved her beard! The one on her face!” The dwarf smiled with delight, as a host of his companions grabbed the drunken, crying bard. “Then you shall spend a lifetime with us, boy. Your debt is enormous, many years worth of gold, and you have slapped away my kindness. I will take the ring for starters and you will come with us to the Undercity tomorrow.”

Zargon awoke in his bed drenched in sweat with tears running down his face. His body ached and the sheets were torn into pieces. He noticed blood coming from his chest where he had scratched at himself. His head throbbing, he walked to the window of the room above the Mirabarran pub and noticed the same lute player from before. He realized slowly that the hell that he just went through was but a vision of his past, a shockingly real, painfully vivid one. At this point he knew what he must do: he had to remain in Mirabar and earn coin to start repaying the devil’s debt, a debt that was only transferred never settled. He would tell the others of his full story, not in such vivid detail, and he would begin to take jobs to settle the score with his friends. He would also find Seirsha, because maybe a night with a woman would ease his troubled mind.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

#32: Mirabar

The days spent after the discovery of the chambers under the river keep are spent in contemplation over how to proceed.  Zargon raises the question about exploring the scorched passageway, clearing the boulders to see what lies beyond, but after our last encounter in confined spaces, it’s not an option that Audric or I are excited about without further research.

While Zargon and Selben continue their studies, sharing Zeb and Ethelenda’s spellbooks to pore over the arcane writings, the discussion turns towards Mirabar, and what we might hope to accomplish there.  Since the barbarians’ attack, I have been considering hiring a family or two, perhaps a guard or someone that can serve in that capacity, to bolster the community and defenses of Dagger’s Deep.  Though my funds are limited, the investment could prove worthwhile for the struggling settlement.  Access to Mirabar’s libraries are also attractive given the mystery of the parchment, and the desire to learn more about it—or indeed, the tunnels beneath Dagger’s Deep—holds appeal.

Audric convenes with Tarrsh, Dagger’s Deep’s smith, to discuss the construction of a longbow.  The request is a mighty one given the settlement’s limited resources, though the man commits to the commission, indicating that it will take a month of time to produce a weapon of quality.

One of the foresters, a man named Lom, has been spending a fair amount of time in Audric’s company.  Lom is a skilled tracker and lamenting our lack of such a skillset since parting ways with Wyardt, an arrangement is made for Lom to accompany the group to Mirabar.  Perhegan catches wind of Lom’s intent to depart with us, and though he does not intercede, we can tell that the loss weighs heavily on him.

To alleviate the man’s fears, I announce my own intentions to remain in Dagger’s Deep with Bonie while the group is gone.  Audric expresses surprise at the decision, as is to be expected, though I explain my motivations.  With the town still in recovery, having a priest on hand is an invaluable resource.  And should there be a few barbarians remaining that press the settlement’s defenses, Bonie and I are equipped to handle that.  After some discussion, the decision is accepted, Selben stepping forward sheepishly.

“I am coming with you,” he announces.  “Zeb and I have discussed it, and he thinks I’m ready to go out on my own.  If you’ll have me, that is.”  There is no argument from Audric or Zargon, and the arrangement is settled.

We ask Perhegan if there is anything we can do on his behalf while in Mirabar, and he gives us a short list of minor items into which to look, but nothing critical to the town’s operations.  For the most part, however, there is little that he needs besides additional manpower, which was already on my list to pursue on Zeb’s behalf. 

Zeb conjures a group of four mounts to bear us on the first leg of the journey, and we make our departure from Dagger’s Deep.  For me, this is the first time I have spent away from my master since the attacks of Carcerus in Carrock, and I’m filled with a near-overwhelming sense of excitement mingled with fear.  The mounts speed our travel, and though uncontested, we’re not able to complete the journey in one day and we decide to break outside Mirabar’s walls so as not to raise suspicion at the gates.  The watches are split between the four of us, having little fear this close to the mighty walled fortress.

A few hours into the night, Lom awakens Audric, having heard the galloping of hooves and seen the light of a lantern approaching where we are camped along the road.  Audric awakens the rest of us, and we wait to see if the rider has any intention of stopping to harass us.

There are two men on horseback, and they veer off the road toward our camp.  They appear to be Mirabarran soldiers, wearing the livery of the fortress guards.  We’re asked whence we’re traveling, where we are headed, and if the road behind us is safe.  I whisper that we have no reason to lie, and Audric steps forward, laying out our journey from Dagger’s Deep.  The men are gruff but not unreasonable.  “You’re about seven miles from the city, and should reach it in good time tomorrow morning.  The road has been clear for days, we bid you well on the rest of your journey.”

Before they can leave, I step forward.  “Does Rale Cotchen still number among the Mirabarran guard?”

Zargon and Audric share surprised looks, and the guards look perplexed.  “He does, indeed,” they answer.  “Do you know the captain?”

“If I needed to speak with him when we arrive, where would I find him?” I ask.  They respond that I should visit the barracks, and anyone there could probably direct us.  Audric and Zargon shoot me a pointed glare, and once the guards are gone, interrogate me over the statement and intentions.  I explain that Zeb has a message for me to deliver, should we run into him.

“Under no circumstances are you to seek out Rale Cotchen,” Audric orders.  “We’re not looking for trouble here, let’s not seek it out.  Leave well enough alone between them.”

The following morning, we break camp and are greeted at the gate by more guards.  The city is quiet compared to the last time we visited during the spring festival, and Audric states our business.  Our explanations pass scrutiny, and we are allowed entry.

From the center of the city, we examine the flow of traffic and look for a place to sleep during our stay.  We pass various market stalls, food vendors, and peddlers on our search.  The buildings of Mirabar are, for the most part, squat and made of stone, trading architectural style for functionality.  One such building has a group of solicitors outside, the “Sift & Skirmish Mining Company,” and from their calls they are looking for miners for hire, as well as those who would protect miners and clear out new caverns.

Mirabarran guards meander about the town keeping peace, though there doesn’t seem to be a high level of alarm among the men.  We settle upon an inn, the Rusty Sword, a three-story building that stands out among the other low structures.  Audric recognizes it from time spent in Mirabar previously, the inn apparently surviving the ravages of time to exist in our future timeline as well.

Finally in his element, we cut Zargon loose to negotiate with the innkeeper.  Zargon will be allowed to play the taproom and perhaps make coin from the customers for a night, assuming he remains civil and does not incite rows, but we still must stipend the cost of our lodging.  The inn is busy, as Mirabar is on the cusp of the heaviest trade season, so prospects are good.  We decide on a pair of rooms.

Zargon asks if the innkeeper will advertise that the “famous writer and singer of the ‘Ode to Laerch’” is in presence, and the innkeeper assents that he will spread the word.  With most of the day in front of us, we head back into the city.

As we leave the inn, we witness a commotion, centered around a young woman somewhere between Edine and Bonie in age.  It appears as if she is being arrested, with a soldier holding her arms behind her back as she struggles and yells.  A person at a food stand nearby is yelling at her, accusing her of thievery.  Audric and Zargon want nothing at all to do with the situation, and as we turn away I can’t help but look back. 

“I’m just trying to feed my family!” the woman yells.  “I have four children, my husband is dead and we all will starve!”  I raise an eyebrow towards Zargon, who also appears interested.

I slip him three gold coins, pushing him toward the stall.  “Two for the guards, one for the stall keeper!” I whisper to him excitedly.  Zargon steps forward and attempts to lubricate the situation but is rebutted immediately by the soldiers.

“We can arrest you in turn for your attempted bribery,” one of the guards responds as he fails to defuse the tumult.

“There’s no bribery involved,” Zargon replies.  He shares a few words quietly with the guards and offers to buy off the woman’s debt from the merchant, as another soldier draws near.  The guards snap to attention, as if this newcomer is a ranking officer, but they still maintain hold of the woman.  An exchange occurs between the soldiers as they explain the situation to the new arrival, and the ranking soldier stares the woman down.  “What do you have to say for yourself?” he commands, and the woman stops resisting.

“Just trying to feed my family,” she says defiantly.  The man turns to Zargon, asking of his involvement.

“I am a man of the arts with a very big heart,” he says glibly.  “I too came from a broken family, and I too have three siblings, and I understand the stress of being a business owner,” he says, indicating the merchant.  “I thought I would make a donation to the Axe of Mirabar for their troubles.”

“If we ever catch her stealing in the city again, we’ll arrest you both,” the officer says harshly.  He and the other soldiers decline Zargon’s ‘donation’ and depart, and Zargon attempts to smooth over the matter with the stall keeper.  Free from the guards’ scrutiny, he presses a gold coin into the merchant’s palm, coaxing him to let the matter rest.

The woman begins to thank Zargon for his kindness, but the bard interrupts.  “Look,” Zargon begins, his tone matter of fact, “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.  What’s your name?” he asks.  She replies that her name is Seirsha, and Zargon continues.  “I’ve been around, I’ve been in trouble with the law too, and I’m running with some very interesting people right now.  You cannot lie to me.”

“I need to get home,” she says, turning away quickly, and he grabs her by the collar and turns her around, growling something about respect.  Sensing another confrontation and fearing the return of the guards, Audric intervenes on her behalf, telling him to let her go.  Zargon gives her one of the coins and releases her, inviting her to the Rusty Sword to watch him perform.  Seirsha examines Zargon quizzically, and after a few hesitant steps back, she turns away and runs off into the city.

Audric holds me to task for getting Zargon involved, and Zargon for attracting the attention of the Mirabarran authorities.  “The Audric I’ve come to know is a man of incredible morality,” Zargon begins, before Audric shuts his argument down.  Agreeing to disagree about the attempt at chivalry, we continue through the city streets.

Before long, we encounter another woman calling out solicitations for adventurers, offering boisterous claims of wealth for warriors, mages and priests.  She stands outside a building named the Gilded Tankard.  “Are you interested in an expedition to Icewind Dale?” she calls out to our group.

Audric seems curious, if not sold, and she takes us aside to explain.  “Go inside and ask for Kinray,” she tells us, before returning to her place in the street.  We follow Audric inside and find this Kinray, who appears to be a warrior with well-maintained equipment and long, flowing hair.  We approach as another group of would-be associates departs, and the man greets us.  “Kinray Moonshield, at your service,” he says, introducing himself.

He explains that they’re taking on adventurers for a 300-mile journey through the mountains and tundra of Icewind Dale, a path only accessible during the summer months, to deliver and trade goods before the deep snows arrive in the Northlands.  The man draws a crude map, but Audric explains that we’re not in a position to accept such a task right now.  He invites us to return should we change our minds.

Returning to the solicitors outside the Sift & Skirmish Mining Company, we enquire about the nature of those positions.  These jobs, certainly in comparison to the expedition to Icewind Dale, seem very mundane, most of the mines being close to Mirabar.  We thank them for their time and depart.

The only other notable site in the vicinity of our inn is a small ward within the city called Undercity Square.  It is the entryway into the dwarven Undercity, and as we approach the population becomes notably more weighted towards dwarves than humans.  The entrance to the Undercity is manned by more Mirabarran guards who explain that, while not strictly off limits to us, we would need to explain our business to gain ingress.

Having spent a few hours investigating the city, we return to the Rusty Sword so that Zargon can prepare for his performance.  His winnings are meager—a few copper coins, perhaps a silver or two—though partway through the evening Seirsha arrives at the tavern, taking a seat towards the back of the taproom.  I pump a fist in the air toward Zargon excitedly, making sure he’s aware of her presence.

His performance concluded, Zargon sidles forward to meet with Seirsha.  “Were you able to use some of that gold to buy a child-sitting service?  How are the kids?” he asks.  Not expecting her to answer honestly in any case, he continues.  “What brings you out tonight?”

“They are well,” she responds.  “After this afternoon, I was in need of some entertainment.”

“Do you often have run-ins with the Axe of Mirabar?” Zargon questions.

“Stealing is better than whoring,” she explains wryly, and Zargon changes the subject.

“If you haven’t heard of me yet, I’m Zargon,” he introduces himself, waiting for a look of recognition.  When it doesn’t come, he continues to press the woman with questions.  I sit nearby, my drink untouched, and stare, watching Zargon work his craft.

“You might be curious to know that there’s a place up the River Mirar where people looking for a fresh start can go, a tight-knit community run by a visionary named Perhegan.  Does that sound like something that may interest you?” Zargon asks.  “Looks like you might be wearing out your welcome in Mirabar.”

Though non-committal, she says that the offer is indeed interesting, and after pushing the third and final gold piece into her hand, he invites her to return tomorrow to talk more.  The revelry continues through the night, and eventually we retire.  Our rest is undisturbed, and we awaken refreshed.

Zargon questions those he has become acquainted with during his performance if they know of Dagger’s Deep.  The answer is unfortunately disappointing: no one seems to know much about it, but what he does discover is that the city is offering a bounty for orcs, 10 gold pieces per head, a bounty that is taken very seriously by those within the city.  Two years past, apparently, orcs attacked Mirabar in force.  Though the siege was unsuccessful, the bounty remains, and it has drawn several bands of adventurers to wage the war against the orcs proactively on Mirabar’s behalf. 

People with knowledge of the river do, however, seem familiar with the ruins there, though the river keep has been ruined as long as they can remember.  Triggered by mention of memory, it becomes plain that the scope of our investigation needs to increase, and we discuss the possibility of venturing into the Undercity to consult the long-lived dwarves.  We pack up and head out into the streets.

As expected, we are pressed by the guards while approaching the entrance to the Undercity.  When asked our purpose, I explain that we wish to consult the dwarves for their knowledge of ruins near Mirabar.  They indicate that we should seek public audience at the Hall of All Fires, a massive dwarven temple.

“Are we allowed to just go there?” I ask the guards sheepishly.  They explain that typically business is conducted between specific individuals, but that our entry would not necessarily be barred.

We are escorted onto a huge mechanical lift that hovers above a gaping pit which leads several hundred feet into the earth.  The contraption lowers us into the darkness, eventually transitioning to black corridors and barred portcullises lit by torches, and we see dwarves directing people to various destinations in the confusing maze of tunnels.

“We seek public audience at the Hall of All Fires!” I say more confidently in response to the dwarves’ questions, and we are sent in the direction of a specific tunnel.  Before long, we encounter the last torch before the corridor ends in blackness, so I withdraw a torch from my pack and set it alight.

We pass a lone dwarf on the way who greets us, and when asked how far the Hall might be, he indicates that we’re only a few hundred yards away.  Eventually, the corridor opens into a huge lit chamber, the ceiling rising several hundred feet above us, ending in stalactites.  There are all manners of dwarves meandering about.

Attendants at the entry to the chamber take note of us.  I ask after someone that might have knowledge of keeps and ruins, explaining the location of the river keep.  One answers.  “Regrettably, it was not a dwarf hold, so our knowledge is limited.”  He explains that it was occupied by humans at various times in the past, though the site has remained in a state of ruin for many years.

“Not to be naïve,” I say carefully, “but just how long is ‘many years’?”

“I’m 247 years old, he answers,” confirming that the ruins have been such to the extent of his memory.

When pressed for other details—books, sages, older dwarves—he regrettably says that the dwarves may have little to tell, as the keep was not dwarven made.  The dwarf with whom we’ve been speaking is named Arion, and he offers to look into it further if we will visit him again in two to three days.  When asked about the expectation of payment for the service, he explains that the Hall of All Fires is open to donations from all friendly beings.

“Are there any followers of the god Malar among the dwarves?” I ask.  Audric gives me a look, and I shrug innocently.

Arion chokes a little bit and explains that the worship of Moradin is of the utmost importance in dwarven society.  He seems a bit agitated at the question, though answers candidly.  “There are very few worshippers of other faiths among our clan, and those are not looked upon particularly well.”

“What about the craft of magic rings?” I ask.  “Are there any among you who would know about that?”

The dwarves convene, whispering among one another for a moment.  Arion narrows his eyes.  “Ask at the entry to the Undercity for Thrur Dalgin,” he answers seriously, though it’s hard for me to tell if he’s agitated or insulted, and I apologize again for asking so many questions.  I thank them and tell him that I will return in three days to discuss the ruins.

Audric asks if there is a temple nearby to Moradin, and the dwarves laugh, raising their arms and pointing to the walls that surround us.  “You’re in it!” they say.  We give our thanks again, and head back towards the entrance.

When we encounter the attendants again, we are handed over to a dwarf named Balgan.  I follow Arion’s instruction and ask after Thrur Dalgin, and am questioned about my purpose, an inquiry which has become very familiar in my time in Mirabar.  “My new friend Arion has indicated that Thrur may possess the knowledge that I seek.”

“Indeed he may,” Balgan replies gravely, “for he has forsaken the ways of the great dwarven gods.”  He calls over another dwarf attendant and tells him gruffly to escort us to see Thrur.  We are led through a portcullis into another corridor and a maze of tunnels and passages.

Eventually, we are brought to an iron door beyond which is an aged, gray-haired dwarf.  Thrur, after inspecting us carefully, agrees to let us in.  The room is as a home built within the stone, with clothes and forlorn sheets of parchment lying about, as well as an aged suit of armor.  He asks us to sit, indicating stone benches built into the walls. 

“I’m here about a ring,” I tell him.  “A magic ring, or so I was told, made by a dwarf.  If you were to examine the ring, could you tell if it were made by dwarven hands?”

He gives us a questioning look, asking “Do you have it?”

“Kind of,” I respond, “it’s complicated.”  Though I didn’t expect it and it leaves me somewhat surprised, Audric steps forward and takes off the ring, handing it to Thrur.

As the dwarf opens his hand, we can see that tattooed upon his palm is a symbol of Mystra.  His fist closes around the ring, then he holds it up, examining it.  “An interesting piece.  Very plain.  Why is it of concern to you?”

“Can I trust you?” Audric asks gravely.  “What we have to say we haven’t told many people.”

“And isn’t easily believed,” I add.

“If you truly serve the sign you bear,” the dwarf replies, indicating Audric’s own symbol of Mystra, “then yes,” Thrur answers.

Audric shares the pertinent details of the ring, and Thrur holds it up again.  “I do not believe this is of dwarven make, though what you say does interest me.”  He asks if he can trust us, in return.  Audric nods, and all of us listen carefully, feeling as if Thrur’s next words may carry some great weight.

“Curiously, you’re not the first that has inquired strange questions of me in recent months.  A man of southern origin, with tanned skin, passed through Mirabar with a sizable force—a score of men at his command.  They were on a path through Mirabar, headed northeast.”

“This individual enquired of my knowledge of Mystryl, of a time before magic was governed by law and order.  The man was clearly a wizard of significant power, though what he sought was not arcane, but godly, in nature.”  Thrur expects that this person may have been a worshipper of Shar, though he was never able to learn more about him, or of what he sought.

There was one other notable detail, as well—among this mage’s party was a large man, taller than any human, his face and body covered in robes, presumably the wizard’s personal bodyguard.  “When I drew near him, I had the foreboding sense of something... unnatural.”

We pause for briefly, taking time to consider the revelations, and what—if anything—any of this may have to do with the strange parchment found below the river keep, our travels along the River Mirar in both timelines, as well as this strange wizard and curious bodyguard.  Though we have learned much, it seems we may leave the Undercity with even more questions.