Friday, March 13, 2020

#37: Kill or Be Killed

Audric resurfaces from the Undercity a few hours later, his face pale, with a wan smile that marks at least a partial success.  He catches us up on the encounter between Corenar and Thrur, and of the tentative peace that was made before Audric withdrew.  While “success” is perhaps too strong a word, we count the task of delivering news of Corin’s demise complete and settle upon a few final arrangements that will take a couple of days before we head back to Dagger’s Deep.

While I cloister myself away in my room with Ethelenda’s tome of arcane recipes, Audric leads the rest of the crew to the other side of Mirabar to revisit Detrius’ Armory and determine the armorer’s disposition on the suit of hide.

On the way, however, the band witnesses the construction of a large vessel, and having heard whispers of what locals are calling “Mirabar Run,” Audric decides to investigate.  The vessel is to be manned by adventurous individuals who intend to push through orc-controlled lands downriver, all the way through the ruins of Illusk and into open waters.  Ultimately, the vessel is bound for a city called Fireshear in the far north, due for arrival before the waters become too dangerous and full of ice to traverse.

Audric and the others are brought to a captain of mercenaries in charge of recruitment for the voyage, and they negotiate rates to determine if it’s a venture worth consideration.  The man introduces himself as Dame Azurris, revealing that he’s more than just a mercenary captain—indeed, he’s to captain the vessel!  “Assuming we make it through Illusk alive, and assuming we reach our destination, most likely we’ll winter over in the Frozenfar.”  He explains how the return voyage becomes more treacherous due to the change in seasons, and discusses some of the options they’ve considered, including sailing south to Neverwinter once the snows pass.

There is a discussion of the skills we offer and how they might benefit such a trip, and the conversation is left open should we wish to return and pursue the venture more seriously.  Audric thanks Dame for his time.  Upon returning to the armory, Detrius greets Audric and shares his assessment of the task, to make a truly quality suit of mail.  The agreement he offers is to produce a single suite of scaled mail in return for the leftover pieces of hide, which he believes can be used for other, smaller items.  Based on his workload, he feels that the task might take several weeks to months, potentially quicker if the project is funded so that he can work on it exclusively.

When we convene later that night, we talk of many things but keep finding the conversation steered back to the Mirabar Run.  Audric catches me up on the details, and the voyage does indeed have an appeal; after some deliberation, we decide to pursue Mirabar Run instead of a journey to Longsaddle and points south, as we had originally planned.  It satisfies our desires to pursue new lands and new opportunities, with the potential to perhaps learn more about the parchment and the strange figure that preceded us on our visit to Thrur.

We return to Dame the next day and explain to the man our intention to appeal to sign onto his Moonmaiden.  Dame looks us over again, asking several details about how we came to know one another, what sorts of deeds we have accomplished together, and what skills we have that would be of benefit to the Run.

Audric, Lom and Zargon introduce themselves, each sharing their various experiences and talents.  Bonie is stoic in her own introduction.  “Born and raised in Mirabar, learned the ways of the sword from my father in…Wes…Mirabar.”  She falters, nearly mentioning Westtower (which does not yet exist), before quickly vouching for the rest of us and our abilities.  I step in when she falters.

“I am Zeb, sworn to Malar.”  At a raised eyebrow, I continue.  “I’ve ripped the tongue from a high priest of Malar and slayed the black beast in his service.  I’ve torn the throat from a priest of Talos with my bare teeth, and together we have slain a 40-foot serpent in the tunnels below Dagger’s Deep.”  I deliver my credentials flatly, without boasting, and bear trophies as proof of my kills that dissuade any doubt.

Finally, Selben steps forward.  “I’m Selben,” the mage introduces himself, a creepy smile visible from within his black cowl. 

Dame asks our price, clearly satisfied with our credentials.  Remembering that the land-based expedition to Icewind Dale commanded rates of 50 to 200 gold and was of comparable danger, Zargon and Audric discuss rates and present an offer to Dame of 250 gold for each of us.

“What cargo do we carry?” I ask, before negotiations get too far.  Dame explains that the ship will be carrying weapons and arms, winter furs and supplies, the types of things that the north needs in abundance.

“This would be my offer to you—1,000 gold to hire you on as archguard of the voyage.  Assuming you fulfill that which you promise, when we reach Fireshear, the entirety of the crew will winter aboard the ship.  There will be suitable accommodations for all.

“We want 1,200 and we each want our own room aboard the ship,” Zargon responds shrewdly.  Dame counters, offering us a private quarter for our company—which is a suitable compromise.

Audric questions the title of “archguard,” and what responsibilities and privileges that title assumes.  Dame explains that there will be additional guard aboard the ship, and all will report to him. We would be considered elevated in terms of rank.

“Any other priests?” I ask flatly.  He replies that there are not, at least not as of this moment.

“1,200 gold is fair,” he replies, “to be paid upon arrival.”  He explains that this term is non-negotiable, and that prior to departure a contract will be signed and pledged to ensure his side of the bargain.  Dame is requiring that everyone return to Moonmaiden on Midsummer’s Day, just over a month away. 

Audric asks if the Axe of Mirabar is to be present, and Dame explains that this is an independent venture, not sponsored or supported by Mirabar.  That, at least, is a relief.  We part on agreeable terms, and vow to return on the appointed day.

Audric enlists the exclusive services of Detrius to expedite production of the armor, passing over a weighty purse of coin to seal the deal.  Our business done for the day, we return to the inn.

Prior to our departure for Dagger’s Deep, I successfully complete my spell research, and Selben learns a new enchantment as well—though my apprentice, he is able to master magics that remain arcane to me, coming from schools in opposition to my own.

The journey between Dagger’s Deep and Mirabar has started to become familiar, and we reflect on our experiences as we lumber back.  Our reflections are disturbed, however, around midday as we hear the approach of hooves behind us.  We pull aside, making way, hoping that they are just travelers that will pass us by.

The men are outfitted as the Axe of Mirabar, and a familiar voice calls out, “Hold!”  The voice belongs to Rale Cotchen and his contingent of guards.  Rale pulls to the front of his group and his men wrap around to the front of the wagon.  He looks down at us maliciously, focusing his glare upon me.

“Mirabar may not hold you accountable to Laerch Strolgam or Corin Redbeard, but the city does not know you as I have.”

I spit on the ground in front of his horse.  “I’ve bled with Laerch, have you?”

Rale dismounts, stepping towards me.  “My cousin and I did not see eye-to-eye on many things, not the least of which his choice of wife…but blood is blood, and I hold you personally responsible for the death of my kinsman.  I intend to settle that debt.”

“Blades or fists?” I ask, still unsure if it will really come to combat.

“Blades,” Rale responds.  He removes his tabard, handing it over to one of his men.  “This is not a Mirabar matter.  This is…personal.  No spells, no magic…no interference,” he commands, twirling his blade.  He wears a suit of chain and carries an iron-banded shield.

Surprisingly, Audric offers his sword to me and Zargon beings to hum a tune, the Ode to Laerch.  After some discussion over the fairness of facing a fully armored soldier, Rale throws his shield to the ground.  “I understand well the defenses you harbor—this is a fair fight,” he says.  With the blessing of my companions, I raise the maul and with a growl, close ranks and attack.

We square off, and in an instant the mood changes from tense preparation and threats to real danger, adrenaline flowing as we engage, looking for openings.  I swing hard and strike, though his armor cushions most of the blow.  His sword snaps back in retaliation and I duck below it, but he lashes out again, cutting a deep wound into my shoulder.  He follows through with a third strike, this one piercing my side, and my lungs begin to fill with blood.

I spit up froth and bright red blood.  “You’re skilled with a blade, Laerch could have used your help while he was being butchered by barbarians and you were sitting in your castle.”  My usual confidence falters, knowing well that I am outmatched, though I pull myself back to my feet.

Rale makes no response.  “That’s what I thought, coward,” I curse.  I swing the maul again, clipping him, but he turns aside and my aggregated wounds prevent me from causing any serious damage.  He counters with a brutal slash that opens my chest and I collapse, immediately unconscious, bleeding out.  He stands over my body and holds his sword to my throat.

“You are never to set foot in the city of Mirabar again,” he says, addressing the group.  With one quick strike he could end my life.

“Once we are aboard the ship for the Mirabar Run, we’ll be gone and never return,” Audric says, briefly explaining our contract with Dame.

“No, you’re never to return...under any terms.  It’s over.”  He remains standing over me, sword poised at my throat, waiting for any response.  When none follows, he retrieves his tabard from his man, mounts his horse, and rides off.

Audric stoops down to staunch the bleeding, and once I recover enough to choke up another gob of blood.  The priest of Mystra delivers me a kick, chastising me for ruining another opportunity and getting us banned from Mirabar.  I’m too bloodied to offer much of a counter.

Bonie’s concern over my wounds is evident; she doesn’t seem happy with my choice of action, but seems relieved that I am alive, at least for the moment.  Selben, his face unreadable, conjures a mount and offers it to me as I’m barely able to stand.  With no pride, I accept his help to mount the beast, and slump heavily over, barely able to hold up my head.

Our procession continues silently, and we eventually break to camp.  I nearly collapse trying to dismount my horse.  Perhegan remains distant and unreadable, making no comments other than brief statements of fact about the trip or our gear, and we split up into watches for the night.  Bonie spends most of the night by my side or helping around camp before she eventually passes out, and I fade in and out of consciousness.  Fortunately, there are no disturbances; my rest is uncomfortable, punctuated by several bouts of hacking where I cough up clotted blood.

We complete the journey under a somber cloud, mostly silent, but we make reasonable time back to Dagger’s Deep where we are greeted by a throng.  “Ran into trouble on the road,” Perhegan explains when my disability becomes apparent, and he leaves with Kallevir to get the wagon unloaded.  Perhegan’s uncharacteristic silence is a worry to me, though in my current state, I’m in no position to have a discussion about it. 

Though a week has passed since our departure, nothing noteworthy has happened in Dagger’s Deep since we left.  Progress on the village’s structures is evident, the masons having been busy at their labor.  Wearily, we retire to our respective tents to contemplate the encounter with Rale and what the implications of his exile might be for our group.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, fantastic recap, as always. :)

    There was a comment, toward the tail end of the session, about how I let the party sign on for Mirabar Run only to stop them from going. I know this was heat-of-the-moment, but it's important for the players to know that that's not how I operate. For starters, the session opened with the group tentatively planning to exit the region south and turning their backs on the city. The change of course was entirely at the discretion of the party, even if my endgame was to cut them off from returning (it wasn't).

    But that's never what this was about. Over the past couple weeks, I've taken an incredibly deep dive into the psyche of Rale Cotchen, have reread every line, note, and snippet of the campaign that he's been a part of. I needed to know, while the party was still dabbling around in his territory on the verge of moving on, where the captain stood with regards to Zeb and the others, and how far he was willing to go to settle a perceived score.

    For whatever it's worth, there was a decent chance (around 50%) that the party received a warning of Rale's intended plot before leaving the city (most likely from Daegahr). That was the percentage roll I made that I thought succeeded, before I double-checked the table I had in my notes.

    In any case, this wasn't me out to get anyone or trying to force a path. This was the game world reacting, as convincingly as I could muster, to the happenings of the campaign itself. If I truly hoped anything going in, it was that the party would ride off into the sunset with Rale Cotchen laying dead in a bloody heap along the road. But at the same time, I knew that might not happen, and I had to be willing to accept that and be true to the way I run the game.

    So now, an obstacle has surfaced. Jason's reaction to this, in my opinion, was perfect: let's find a way to work around the problem, using the resources at our disposal. That's what AD&D is all about.