Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 32
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    As Gray and Cold As Stone - Part 6a: Love at First Sight

    “Quintus, have you ever thought of joining the Mighty Oak?” asked Nicia with a smile. “We could use a man with your experience.”

    Quintus smiled. “You are very kind, lady val’Dellenov, but my first love is my legion. Did I mention the time when we took on the Nierites in Ventaka? We were outnumbered…”

    Ilmarė’s keen hearing picked up on the conversation from across the room. She was struggling to keep focused on the idiots before her.

    “That is SO fascinating!” said Roderick, staring not quite into her eyes. “I’ve always wondered about the Elorii culture.”

    “Yes,” said Brendis, one of Roderick’s pack. Or as Ilmarė thought of him, Idiot Number Four. “Tell us more, dear lady.”

    Ilmarė patted Roderick’s arm. The boy’s eyes lit up at the touch. “Enough about me. Tell me more about you,” she said.

    “Oh, nothing nearly as exciting as you,” said Roderick. “Do all elorii have purple hair as beautiful as yours?”

    Ilmarė smirked. This was too easy. “Sometimes I’m not sure which color is my original hair,” she said, twirling one silvery curl around her finger. “But yes, it’s my natural color.”

    The constant murmur of conversation grew suddenly louder near the main entrance to the villa. Then it abruptly fell silent.

    The majordomo’s voice rang out to announce the arrival of another group. “The Light of the World, by the grace of the Pantheon, Emperor of Coryan, Calsestus val’Assante!”

    The assembled worthies began to bow before the Emperor—the Milandisians not quite so deeply as the Coryani—and Ilmarė finally got a look at the most powerful man in the Empire. Ilmarė bowed about as deeply as the Milandisians.

    Calsestus was perhaps forty years old, dressed in a purple toga with intricate gold trim. He wore a benevolent and slightly smug smile as he surveyed the assembled guests.

    “Her Majesty, Queen Alezha,” shouted the majordomo. Upon his right arm, moving with an almost catlike grace, was a petite and stunningly beautiful woman with dusky skin, night black hair and deep amber eyes. A small but ornate tiara nestled with her long hair, set with emeralds that matched the green silk of her dress.

    “Lady Verina val’Sheem!” On the Emperor’s left arm was another beautiful black haired woman. This one was taller than Alezha, with the olive skin of a Cafelan and the steel gray eyes of a Val.

    “Lady Aconia val’Dellenov!” Walking a pace behind the Emperor was a third woman, also breathtaking in appearance. She was the tallest of the tree, and her brown hair curled in ringlets around her face.

    As the Emperor and his consorts entered the courtyard, a dozen guards, courtiers and servants filed in afterwards.

    Roderick and his boys openly gaped at the crowd and in particular the consorts. Ilmarė cleared her throat. She moved from Roderick to Brendis’ arm and began to steer him towards Quintus. “Tell me more about your homeland,” she said. “I find it interesting.”

    She didn’t even know where the young fool came from.

    They came face to face with Quintus. The legionnaire’s expression registered surprise and then a flicker of something else. Was it jealousy? Ilmarė smiled sweetly at him.

    “Hello, Quintus. I’d like you to meet my new friend…”

    The Emperor passed by them. The whole party paused for a moment. Quintus, who was in mid-gesture as he spoke to the other generals, froze in place. Then he immediately bowed low.

    Calsestus seemed alternately amused and satisfied by the gesture. “We will be watching your progress carefully, Quintus Aurelius Ignatius of the Legion of the Triumphant Rays of the Invisible Sun.” Then he moved on.

    ”Osalian help us,” said Ilmarė, lifting a thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose. “We’ll never hear the end of this.”

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    As Gray and Cold As Stone - Part 6b: Love at First Sight

    A small bell chimed three times near the fountain in the center of the courtyard. Conversation died down as all eyes turned in that direction.

    Acastus stood expectantly by the fountain with a large goblet of wine in one hand. Once the courtyard quieted down, he spoke.

    ”Glorious Emperor, beloved friends, honored guests! I have invited you here tonight for two reasons. First, I am always honored to open my home and share the bounty which Illiir has given me with such illustrious guests.” Acastus smiled as a wave of polite applause rippled through the assemblage.

    “Second, I wish to make an announcement.” A hush fell over the crowd. Even the servants watched intently. “You have doubtless noticed that among our guests tonight are several visitors from Milandir, our northern neighbor, which shares so much of our beloved Coryani heritage.”

    Standing at Roderick’s side, Ilmarė could see the boy’s thin smile. Several murmured comments whispered through the crowd.

    “I am always pleased to welcome such visitors to my home, but tonight’s visit has special significance.” Acastus’ voice took on a more formal, almost ceremonial tone. “Roderick val’Tensen, Margrave of Moratavia, I hereby offer you the hand in marriage of my daughter, Elandre val’Assante. Will you take it?”

    All eyes turned towards Roderick. He realized Ilmarė was holding his arm and pulled himself away from the elorii.

    Roderick stepped forward among the murmuring of surprised, even shocked, voices. He bowed formally to Acastus. When he rose, there was a self-assured smile on his face.

    “Master val’Assante, you do my nation and myself a great honor here tonight. The goal of bringing Coryan and Milandir together by bonds of marriage, rather than by force of arms, is a laudable one. However, I cannot…” his voice trailed off as he stared across the courtyard. The smug grin on his face had disappeared.

    “I…cannot…”

    Elandre had returned. She stood framed in the archway, wearing a long dress of white silk that caught the moonlight. She didn’t look happy, but that did not change the fact that she was a remarkably beautiful woman.

    Ilmarė slapped her forehead. She hadn’t managed to get that kind of reaction out of Roderick.

    Roderick’s jaw worked soundlessly for a few moments as he stared at Elandre. Finally, he spoke again, his final words tumbling out in a rush. “…imagine a more beautiful woman in all of Arcanis. I accept your offer with pleasure.”

    A festive cheer erupted from the crowd and a surge of well-wishers moved towards Elandre, with the Emperor and his party at the forefront.

    Acastus and Roderick headed into the back part of the villa amidst much backslapping and cheering from Roderick’s companions. Acastus had Roderick’s shoulder clamped in a grip that looked more angry than fatherly as they passed through the archway.

    Ilmarė sighed. Roderick and his cronies had left her standing alone. She grabbed a silver tray from a servant and inspected her purple and silver tresses. Then she lifted her chin and looked back at her image. “Still the prettiest,” she said.

    “…and that’s how we defeated the Harvesters of Ymandragore,” said Quintus. He was starting to slur his speech. He showed almost no interest in the wedding announcement, far too concerned with regaling the generals with tales of his glory. The generals were politely interested, but there was a limit to how polite they were willing to be.

    “Stupid human men,” said Ilmarė. Then she went to rescue Quintus from himself.

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    As Gray and Cold as Stone - Part 7: Meet the Parents

    Kham got a quick glimpse of Acastus’ reaching for the statue of Illiir. He tapped it once and it glowed with the brilliance of daylight. Then he ducked down again to avoid being seen.

    The door closed behind them. As soon as it was closed, Acastus snarled at Roderick. “What treachery is this, boy? Your father and I had an agreement!”

    Kham hung from the windowsill by his fingertips.

    “Yes m’lord,” said Roderick, nervous. “And believe me, I had every intention of rejecting your offer, just as my father instructed.”

    It was cold outside. Kham’s arms were beginning to hurt.

    “Then what in Illiir’s name happened?”

    Kham made the mistake of looking down at the tindertwig he had hastily discarded. It tumbled down the slope. That’s when he realized he that the villa was built into the side of a hill. It was a long way down.

    Roderick walked over to the window to look up at the moon.

    Don’t look down, Kham screamed mentally as hard as he could.

    “She is beautiful, my lord,” Roderick said simply. “Beautiful beyond words and her eyes shine like those of Larissa herself. When I saw her face, I knew in that moment that I could not bear to turn her away from me.”

    Kham rolled his eyes. He’d been there, but the kid was sappier than most.

    “You idiot!” shouted Acastus. “There are greater things at stake here than your loins, you damnable lout. And now that you’ve done this in public—in front of Calsestus no less—it’ll be hell getting out of it.”

    “I still don’t understand, Acastus. If you did not want me to marry your daughter, why offer me her hand in the first place?”

    Acastus laughed bitterly. “if you ever plan to succeed your father as Duke, boy, you’d better learn to think. The Emperor ORDERED me to offer you Elandre’s hand. He wants you to marry her in order to keep General Menisis from attacking your father’s lands again. Menisis has been a friend of my family for years, and he won’t risk a war if Elandre might be endangered. She’s a hostage for the General’s good behavior.”

    “Holy crap” mouthed Kham.

    Roderick’s voice grew cold. “All the more reason that I SHOULD marry her, then! My father’s lands do not belong to Coryan, nor will they ever. If Elandre’s presence will keep Menisis from spilling more blood, I will be doubly glad to wed her.”

    “Do you honestly think the Emperor cares any more than Menisis does for your homeland? Calsestus would see all of Milandir rejoined to the Empire as a captive province once more. And if he forces the Mother Church to reunite with the Canceri heretics, there will be enemies on both sides of your nation, ready to crush you in the middle.”

    Kham had to admit he had a point. Although he would have felt much more agreeable if he could still feel his fingertips.

    “Menisis is the only one in Coryan who can oppose the Emperor. If this marriage goes through, Calsestus’ position on the Alabaster Throne will be secure…and Milandir doomed as much as Coryan. I have explained all of this to your father, and he saw the wisdom of my reasoning. And now your adolescent lusts have ruined everything.”

    There was a pause. Roderick turned away from the window to reply. “What would you have me do?”

    “Go back to the courtyard and try to put a good face on this. Surely, even you are capable of that much. I’ll be here trying to come up with a way out of this mess. “

    Althare’s ass!, thought Kham. Acastus was going to be there all night.

    Kham’s arms were numb, it was cold, and he had just finished an entire bottle of wine. All this conspired against him.

    And finally, Kham’s fingers decided they had enough.

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    As Gray and Cold as Stone - Part 8a: A Restless Night

    Quintus and Ilmarė entered the parlor, only to find Elandre pacing there. There was no trace of her practiced smile.

    “What have you learned?” she demanded.

    Quintus rubbed the back of his head. “Well, actually we didn’t—”

    “—have a problem digging up the evidence,” said Kham as he limped into the parlor. He was covered in dirt.

    “Oh?” said Elandre.

    “Yes,” said Ilmarė with a smirk. “Do tell.”

    Kham dusted himself off. “From what I was able to find, Adolphos val’Tensen made a deal with your father to reject your hand in marriage. Basically, it was a ploy to say no to the Emperor without publicly dishonoring your family.”

    “Katticus…” said Ilmarė.

    Elandre’s eyes narrowed and her lips curled angrily. “So, father would use me as a pawn in his political games, would he?”

    “But then I suppose you knew that already,” continued Kham.

    “Katticus…” said Quintus.

    Elandre resumed stalking up and down the parlor floor. “Dangle me as bait to keep the Emperor happy, hoping to snatch me away before the jaws close on me?”

    “I mean, Roderick would have to be an idiot to marry you. Going along with the marriage is tantamount to a hostile takeover.”

    “Kham!” shouted Ilmarė. “Roderick went through with the proposal!”

    Kham coughed into one fist. “Oh.”

    “And now his failure means I’m doomed to a miserable life with that damned Milandisian,” said Elandre. “I’ll kill him.” Elandre remembered she still had an audience. She smiled, once again appearing to be the perfect congenial hostess. “I’m sorry. You have done well, and I thank you. Please stay in the villa tonight as my guests; I will have your payment ready in the morning. For now, I must go speak to my father.” With that, she left.

    Kham shook out his hair. A few leaves fell off.

    “What happened to you?” asked Quintus.

    “Let’s just say it was much faster getting out of Acastus’ study than getting into it. He’s still in there.”

    “Fell out the window again?” asked Ilmarė.

    Kham rubbed some dirt off of his nose. “Anyway, I didn’t tell her everything. There’s this other note,” he waved the note in Quintus’ direction.

    Ilmarė snatched it from Kham and read it. Then she handed it to Quintus. “Well,” he said. “Looks like the holier than thou Acastus is actually in league with a cult.”

    “All to prevent reunification of the Mother Church with the Dark Triumvirate,” said Kham.

    “This is troubling,” said Quintus. “We should—“

    “How DARE you?” Elandre’s voice was brimming with barely controlled fury. They could hear in the parlor, even though she was with Acastus in the study.

    “You will not speak to me in such a tone, girl,” replied Acastus.

    “I have, and I will again. You have made me a pawn in your games with the Emperor. And when you lose the game, I am the one who pays the price. You could have at least warned me—“

    “And if I had warned you,” Acastus interrupted, “what would you have done?”

    “Tried to bring you to your senses!” yelled Elandre. “We could have figured out some other way together, a way to avoid defying the Emperor—“

    “There IS no other way, Elandre. I know you’re angry, but I am still your father, and I am still the one who decides what is best for my family and my country.”

    “What’s best for YOU, you mean,” said Elandre. “You don’t care a grain for Coryan or for me.”

    “Elandre—“

    “Which is why I suppose you’re just as happy to banish me to some cold, gray wasteland with a fool for a husband. That way, you won’t ever have to trouble yourself over me again. Well, if that’s what you want, so be it. The next time you see me father, it will be over your grave.”

    The argument ended with Elandre violently slamming the door.

    “Awk-ward!” sang Kham. “Well that was fun.” He grabbed a bottle of wine from a pedestal. “I’m going to bed. Wake me when she kills him.”

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    As Gray and Cold As Stone - Part 8b: A Restless Night

    Some hours later, Ilmarė was awakened by a loud crash from the back part of the villa, followed by a heavy thump. After that, silence descended once more.

    Ilmarė lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She really didn’t want to investigate the disturbance. But she knew she should. And she knew that things would only be worse if she didn’t get up.

    Ilmarė drew her trusty throwing dagger from beneath her pillow. She had never given it back to its original owner, Captain Bezyli, but with good reason; it had saved her life and ended the lives of others on more than one occasion.

    “Quintus!” she hissed. “Wake up!”

    Quintus was still dressed in his party attire in a bed on the other side of the room. Ilmarė was sure that an unmarried female sleeping in the same room as an unmarried male would offend human sensibilities, even if she were elorii. But she didn’t care.

    Or at least, she told herself that when she shook her companion awake. People had just assumed, and Ilmarė was not inclined to disabuse them of the notion.

    “Get up, Quintus! I heard a noise.”

    Quintus’ eyes fluttered open. “Wha?”

    “A noise.” Ilmarė threw his sheathed gladius to him. He was too groggy to catch it, so it thumped into his stomach. “I think it came from Acastus’ study.”

    That got the legionnaire to his feet. He opened the door and poked his head out. “There’s a light under the door.”

    Ilmarė crept past him and made her way over. She peered into the darkness on the other side of the lit doorway.

    “Kham?”

    “Oh, hi.” Kham held Fleshripper pointed towards the ground. “Did you two just come out of the same bedroom?”

    Quintus didn’t bother to answer. He kicked the door open with his bare foot.

    Acastus’ study was dark, but light from the hallway revealed a ransacked mess. Books and papers were strewn everywhere, and bloodstains dotted the floor in several places. The curtains in the window swayed gently in the still night air, but there was otherwise no movement or sign of life.

    “Show yourself, intruder!” bellowed Quintus.

    Suddenly, a hideous figure leaped out from behind the desk, snarling from its sharp-toothed mouth. It wore a bloodstained toga. A bloody wound still gaped open at its throat. By far its most horrible feature was its face; it leered, pallid skin stretched tightly over the skull, its eyes as gray and cold as stone.

    “It’s Acastus!” shouted Kham.

    Quintus lifted the amulet at his neck and lifted it towards the thing that was once Acastus. “Foul creature of Neroth’s rage, back to Beltaine’s embrace!”

    Acastus’ lips peeled back in a feral snarl. Then it leaped at Quintus with claws outstretched.

    There was a flash of metal, and Acastus stumbled. Kham held Fleshripper with both hands. Gibbets of flesh dripped from the blade.

    “I saw someone escape out the window,” said Quintus. “Keep going! I’ll take care of this!”

    “How?” asked Kham. “By shouting at it?”

    The ghoul launched itself again at Quintus. He drew his gladius in time to run the thing through. Its claws gripped Quintus’ face.

    Then Captain Bezyli’s dagger jutted from Acastus forehead. And for the second time, he was still.

    Acastus slumped to the ground, eyes wide, jaw slack.

    Ilmarė kneeled down to pluck something out of Acastus’ mouth. “Here’s the problem.” She flipped a coin to Kham.

    Kham snatched it out of the air. “Canceri coin,” he said, holding it up to the moonlight.

    “A Coin of the Soul’s Travails,” said Ilmarė.

    Kham pocketed the coin. “If I had a light I could tell you more…say, where’s the statue?”

    “What?” asked Quintus.

    “The statue. There was a statue of Illiir in here and now it’s gone.”

    “So we have a murderer and a thief,” said Ilmarė. “Whoever assassinated Acastus wanted to ensure he could never be brought back. They didn’t just violate his corpse…”

    “They violated his soul.” Quintus’ nostrils flared. “Whoever did this will pay dearly. Let’s go.”

    Quintus hopped up on the windowsill.

    “Uh, you may want to—“

    The legionnaire disappeared over the edge. Kham winced when he heard the sound of legionnaire tumbling down the steep hill. It was followed by a loud curse.

    “Never mind,” said Kham.

    Ilmarė leaped easily onto the windowsill. “Child’s play for a child of Osalian,” she said. She waved at Kham and then stepped backwards off of the sill.

    “You do that,” said Kham. “The children of Althares take the steps.”

  6. #316
    Man, Kham gets all the best lines.

    Just finished reading through the whole backlog. Brilliant! The Cthulhuoid stuff works very well in a fantasy setting, the way you do it.

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    Hi Fimmtiu,

    Thank you for your kind words!

    It's true, Kham does have all the best lines. This is a combination of the person playing his character (Jeremy Ortiz, who can be quite witty when he wants to be) and my conscious decision to make Kham the "everyman."

    I am convinced that what went wrong with the later versions of Star Wars was the lack of Han Solo. Han Solo wasn't just an outsider to the established hierarchy of the Star Wars universe, he was a skeptical outsider who talked like us. In other words, he was the person you could relate to most because he was most similar to the audience. He wasn't a wide-eyed farm boy learning to use magical powers or a headstrong princess or a giant furry alien.

    In this story hour, Vlad is our Luke Skywalker. He's the newbie, but it's hard to see things through his eyes if you're an experienced player. Matt (Vlad's player) was new to 3rd edition, so everything was new to him. Kham, on the other hand, is our Han Solo -- experienced, jaded, and a wiseass with all the good lines. And of course Ilmare is the Princess Leia type, full of sarcasm and telling everyone what to do.

    I could keep making the parallels (Dril = Lando, Cal = Chewbacca, Quintus = a more aggressive version of C3P0, etc.), but these character tropes existed long before I came along.

    I have a soft spot for Cthulhu monsters. I don't know why. We played every King in Yellow adventure I could get my hands on. In fact, we're kind of King in Yellow-ed out. But it made for a great series of villains.

    This is just the INTRODUCTION of the King in Yellow. There will be repercussions throughout the story hour. In fact, the events you just read about will be a very important part of the conclusion of the story hour.

    Stay tuned!
    Last edited by talien; Thursday, 4th October, 2007 at 06:42 PM.

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    Conclusion of the story/chapter and not the story hour, I hope!

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    Sorry, I edited my post for clarity.

    The story hour is complete. It runs 60 something chapters or so. I'm just posting them now in installments. After rewriting the final chapter several times to wrap up a bunch of plot lines, I'm finally happy with the finished product. Overall the players are happy too.

    There is the possibility of an additional chapter involving Sebastian (you'll see why later), but that's been complicated by a couple of factors:
    * My son was born, which pretty much derailed all gaming for months (we have to travel 2 hours to game together, and he's not always happy about that).
    * The switch to 4th edition is right around the corner, and I'm starting to sell my books to Noble Knight. I've held onto the ones that are still relevant to the adventure but I'm not going to hold onto them for much longer.
    * We're starting a D20 modern conspiracy-type game and the players really want to start that rather than play D&D.

    So it really depends on whether or not we can squeeze in one or two more D&D 3.5 sessions. If not, I'm content with the ending as is.

    Rest assured, at the posting rate of about one every four or five days, you guys will have plenty to read for a long time to come.

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    Congratulations on the birth of your son! I'm glad to hear we still have lots of Arcanis-based adventure in store, as well.

    Hopefully, your D20 Modern game will merit a story hour as well.

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