Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 37
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    Terror in Freeport - Part 10a: The Temple of Althares

    “We found this in the ssanu temple,” said Beldin. He handed over a document to Thuron, the high priest of the Temple of Althares. The dwarf discovered it while Kham was off rescuing Egil.

    “And we found this map in Verlaine’s house,” said Vlad. He handed over a crudely sketched map of what looked like the Temple of Althares.

    The old priest folded the documents carefully. His voice was subdued but troubled. “I’ve known this day had to come, since I first learned of the activities of the Brotherhood in Freeport. There was no way any human agency could destroy them. They would return to seek vengeance on those who would hinder their diabolical schemes.” He waved the ssanu text that Beldin had found. “This document proves it.”

    “What does it say?” asked Ilmarė. She was irritated that a human priest had more knowledge of an enemy than she.

    “Should we survive this night, I will tell you what is contained herein. But there is no time now. They will be upon us—soon, and in force. We must secure the temple.”

    “Agreed,” said Vlad. “If that map is any indication, they’re planning on attacking from all three sides.”

    Thuron nodded towards Egil. “Egil, wake the clergy and have them begin spells of protection.” Egil hustled off to do the high priest’s bidding. Thuron turned back to Kham. “I will not abandon this holy place to the Brotherhood’s loathsome depredations. And I will not have the order hunted down and murdered one by one. We will make our stand, and we will trust in Althares to protect us.”

    “He’s kept me alive this long,” said Kham. “Don’t see any reason to stop now.”

    Thuron turned to the others. “My friends, I would ask you to stay and help. I will give you all the rewards this simple order can spare. We may have the god on our side—but steel never hurt, either, as you well know.”

    Vlad picked up his shield and drew his sword. “I’ve got the south entrance,” he said.

    “I’ve got the west,” said Beldin. He hoisted his battleaxe and stumped away.

    “Kham?” asked Thuron.

    Kham drew both of his pistols with a smirk. “I’m going to go pray,” he said.

    “And what of you?” asked Thuron.

    “I’m going to stay here,” said Ilmarė, standing between the pews at the center of the temple.

    “That is wise,” said Thuron. “Surely, if we pray hard enough, perhaps Althares will protect us.”

    Ilmarė snorted. “You misunderstand.” She hopped up onto one of the pews and drew her bow. “I can kill humans better from this vantage point.”

    Thuron was about to say something when curtains to either side of the altar to Althares were pulled aside.

    “What the—“ shouted Vlad from the other side of the huge temple. His voice echoed. “Those entrances aren’t on the map!”

    Ilmarė drew a bead on the leader of the intruders. “And they call them the Brotherhood of Knowledge.”

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    Terror in Freeport - Part 10b: The Temple of Althares

    There were nine brothers in total, all of them suffering sporting wicked wounds.

    Kham drew his pistols and pointed one to either side of him.

    “Start talking,” he said.

    “We were out picking up groceries and dry goods for the temple,” said what appeared to be a leader, the female. “While passing through a darkened street in the Old City, we were ambushed by shadowy figures in robes, carrying long, crooked knives.”

    “Go on,” said Kham. Thuron and Egil walked over behind him.

    “Everything happened too quickly to see anything. We got away, but I’m sure we were being followed.”

    “We split up to try to throw off our pursuers,” said one of the other brothers to the left of Kham.

    “These little sheep yours?” asked Kham over his shoulder.

    “Yes,” said Thuron slowly. “They are brothers and sisters of this temple.”

    The various lay brethren began arguing amongst themselves. Some advocated evacuating the temple; others voted for calling the Watch.

    “I don’t like this,” said Egil over the din.

    Kham turned, his back to the altar to Althares. “Me neither.” He nodded towards the female cultist. “Say, Thuron?”

    “Yes, Kham?”

    Everyone stopped talking. Kham hadn’t lowered his pistols. He was focused on the Althares sister.

    “Doesn’t your order take a vow of poverty?”

    “Yes,” said Thuron.

    “Thought so,” said Kham.

    BLAM! BLAM!

    One brother fell backwards, clutching his face. The female priestess swore as the blast hit her full in the chest. Instead of collapsing, she morphed into a ssanu’s serpentine form, wielding a wickedly curved blade. The other priests drew daggers from their robes.

    The brotherhood priests surged forward with clubs, led by Beldin and Vlad.

    K’Ral spun and decapitated a brother of Althares in one smooth motion. She hurled the head at the altar. “Thissss temple sssshall fall before the Brotherhood!”

    Ilmarė fired an arrow at K’Ral, but the shot went wide.

    “A sssslave?” hissed K’Ral. “Truly thisss will be a gloriousss triumph,” she drew her own bow. It was carved in the shape of two snakes, their mouths biting the bowstring. “Two of our mortal enemiesss dessstroyed in one night!”

    K’Ral fired back at Ilmarė. The elorii ducked just in time. The arrow shivered in a pew behind her.

    “My people broke free of your slavery a millennia ago,” snarled Ilmarė. She loosed another shot at K’Ral. “Stop living in the past.”

    K’Ral fired another arrow. “That may be,” said K’Ral, “but we have a new god leading ussss.”

    A brother of Althares shrieked and fell to the ground behind Ilmarė, an arrow jutting from his face.

    Ilmarė ducked behind a pew and touched the amulet at her throat. Energy pulsed through her veins as rage washed over her.

    When she rose up again, Ilmarė pulled back her bow so tightly that it creaked. She loosed four arrows in quick succession.

    K’Ral was in the middle of drawing her own arrow when she was hit in the thigh. She hissed in pain, but was interrupted by two more arrows that struck her in the arm and torso. The last arrow struck the ssanu in the forehead, and then she stopped hissing altogether.

    Ilmarė stepped over to K’Ral’s corpse. All the other cultists were dead.

    She kicked the dead body. “Stupid ssanu cultist.”

    “How did you know they were impostors?” Egil asked Kham.

    Kham plucked a ring off of K’Ral’s hand and flipped it with one thumb towards Egil.

    Egil caught it. It was a heavy gold ring. “Your order takes a vow of poverty, remember,” said Kham. “Besides, that’s a ring of mind shielding. You don’t wear it unless you want to keep secrets.”

    “How do you know of such things?” asked Egil in awe.

    Kham wiggled his ring finger at Egil, “Because I’m wearing one.”

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    Once again, Kham gets all the good lines.

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    This scenario was Kham's "shoot everything that moves phase" The fact that they had the two rings in common was something Kham's player pointed out, and I had to make a quick decision as to whether or not magic items "all look alike."

    The truth of the matter is that the PLAYERS were paranoid by that point. I mean, they're primed for an attack and then something suspicious happens -- unlike in the movies where the protagonists believe everything everyone says, players know better, and are a hair's trigger away from blowing up anybody who seems even slightly out of the ordinary.

    The rings being in common were what they Kham's player used as an excuse for shooting him. Mind you, just having the same ring doesn't necessarily imply guilt -- the idea was that the ring was made of gold, odd for a brotherhood that takes a vow of poverty. And yet, Egil was rewarding people with lots of gold too. Where'd he get it from?

    We find out in future story hours.

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    Terror in Freeport - Conclusion

    Once Thuron was sure the temple was secure, he led Brother Egil and the others to the temple tombs.

    The tombs were cold, dark, and deathly still, but the feeling was reverent rather than grim. A luminescent moss hung from the marble wall, giving off a hint of sandalwood and a gentle yellow glow.

    Thuron ran his hands along the moss and chuckled softly to himself. Then he lowered his eyes. “Here I must make a confession. I have lied to you all. I went astray for the best of reasons—but nonetheless I went astray. I can only swear to you I had no part in what you are about to see.”

    “Why do I get the feeling,” said Kham, hands in his coat pockets, “that I am not going to be happy about what I see.”

    With that, Thuron spoke a few hushed syllables in prayer and slid open a crypt. There was a rush of air, a billow of incense, and they found themselves looking at the body of—Thuron! He seemed eminently peaceful in death.

    “Serpent!” snarled Ilmarė. Her blade was out in a flash.

    Thuron held up both hands. “I am not Thuron, as you can see. My name is K’Stallo. I am the last priest of Yig.”

    “Why shouldn’t we kill you right now?” asked Kham. He had yet to draw his pistols.

    “Let me explain,” said K’Stallo. “Please.”

    Ilmarė sighed and lowered her blade, but she did not sheath it.

    “The Brotherhood was not the only serpent people to survive the destruction of Valossa with their intellects intact. Yig preserved some of his faithful in the farthest corners of the world. But evil—and stupidity—have a greater attraction over the centuries than does peaceful worship.”

    “I’ve noticed,” said Ilmarė.

    “Many of my number reverted to simple animals, or worse yet, joined the Brotherhood. Lucius found us, during his wanderings, in a small mountain village far to the north. I realized the knowledge he had accumulated might be able to lead us to a closer communion with Yig—an understanding of the divine that has all but faded away over the centuries. So I followed him during his search. I followed him home.”

    “So you were the one rummaging through Lucius’ home,” exclaimed Egil.

    Thuron nodded. “I snuck into Lucius’s chambers one evening to see if he had held onto any others. I believe I startled you, Egil. For that I apologize. “

    Egil sputtered. He didn’t know what to say.

    “That doesn’t explain how you became Thuron,” said Ilmarė.

    “I slipped into this temple in human guise one evening to look through the scrolls Lucius had brought back from his wanderings. While I was searching, I discovered Thuron dead at his desk. His heart had given out during the night. At that moment I made a fateful choice. Perhaps not a wise one, or even a brave one, but one that made the most sense. I took Thuron’s place and devoted myself to the study of the scrolls.”

    “That explains a lot,” said Ilmarė. “This temple has been a pit of snakes ever since. First Oriku, then Milos.”

    “I should have spotted Milos at once,” said Thuron, “but I was too engrossed in my work. When I learned of Oriku’s betrayal, I should have abandoned my charade. But I was too greedy for knowledge.”

    Kham shrugged. “Althares is a god of knowledge,” he said. “Seems like you’re perfect for the job.”

    “Thank you Kham.”

    Egil took a deep breath. “I too will keep your secret. For now. We need a leader more than ever. We will take whatever help we can get.” He blanched, looking Thuron up and down, as if he would sprout fangs at any moment. “No matter what form it might take.”

    Thuron relaxed somewhat. He took out the documents Vlad and Beldin had handed to him before. “Now I will render you the only service I can—far too little, far too late.” He pointed at the letter written in ssanu. “This document promises great danger for Freeport—and for the world.”

    “What is it?” asked Vlad.

    “It is a public speech, an explanation of tonight’s events. I will translate it without remarking upon the obvious—it is all lies: This evening, Councilor Verlaine and the clergy of the Althares have been slain. Their murderers are the adventurers who of late discovered the caverns beneath our town: Beldin Soulforge, Bijoux, Calactyte, Ilmare Galen, Kham Val’Abebi, and Vlad Martell. After an investigation by the Council and the City Watch, we have pieced together the truth.

    “Chief Councilor Verlaine, that great servant to the city of Freeport, heard rumors about town of unwholesome activities at the temple to the God of Knowledge. He hired the wandering mercenaries to investigate. They made a tremendous discovery: The temple and its priesthood were a cover for the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, a grotesque cult of serpent people. The mercenaries joined the temple to gain its secrets, but they proved treacherous to both masters. They revealed the caves beneath the city and threatened to expose even more secrets unless the Brotherhood paid them a fortune in gold.

    “The Brotherhood agreed to their demands, on condition that the mercenaries accept one final task for their serpent masters—assassinating their erstwhile employer, Councilor Verlaine. The double-crossers carried out the grim job, but they quickly found themselves double-crossed. The Brotherhood refused to pay them their blood money. The mercenaries went mad with rage and slaughtered the cultists, but were killed themselves in the battle.

    “We mourn the loss of Councilor Verlaine, but his efforts brought this menace to light—and rooted it out of town, once and for all.” K’Stallo looked up, concern etched in his face. “It is the next part of the document that troubles me the most.”

    “There’s more bad news?” asked Ilmarė.

    “I’m afraid so. You see, the note is addressed to the Sea Lord—”

    Vlad slapped his forehead. “So this goes all the way up to Drac.”

    “Of course,” said Kham. “And I’m sure it involves his lighthouse too.”

    “Milton’s Folly,” said Beldin.

    “You didn’t let me finish,” said Thuron. “Drac’s name is marked with the Yellow Sign.”

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    Terror in Freeport - Conclusion

    Once Thuron was sure the temple was secure, he led Brother Egil and the others to the temple tombs.

    The tombs were cold, dark, and deathly still, but the feeling was reverent rather than grim. A luminescent moss hung from the marble wall, giving off a hint of sandalwood and a gentle yellow glow.

    Thuron ran his hands along the moss and chuckled softly to himself. Then he lowered his eyes. “Here I must make a confession. I have lied to you all. I went astray for the best of reasons—but nonetheless I went astray. I can only swear to you I had no part in what you are about to see.”

    “Why do I get the feeling,” said Kham, hands in his coat pockets, “that I am not going to be happy about what I see.”

    With that, Thuron spoke a few hushed syllables in prayer and slid open a crypt. There was a rush of air, a billow of incense, and they found themselves looking at the body of—Thuron! He seemed eminently peaceful in death.

    “Serpent!” snarled Ilmarė. Her blade was out in a flash.

    Thuron held up both hands. “I am not Thuron, as you can see. My name is K’Stallo. I am the last priest of Yig.”

    “Why shouldn’t we kill you right now?” asked Kham. He had yet to draw his pistols.

    “Let me explain,” said K’Stallo. “Please.”

    Ilmarė sighed and lowered her blade, but she did not sheath it.

    “The Brotherhood was not the only serpent people to survive the destruction of Valossa with their intellects intact. Yig preserved some of his faithful in the farthest corners of the world. But evil—and stupidity—have a greater attraction over the centuries than does peaceful worship.”

    “I’ve noticed,” said Ilmarė.

    “Many of my number reverted to simple animals, or worse yet, joined the Brotherhood. Lucius found us, during his wanderings, in a small mountain village far to the north. I realized the knowledge he had accumulated might be able to lead us to a closer communion with Yig—an understanding of the divine that has all but faded away over the centuries. So I followed him during his search. I followed him home.”

    “So you were the one rummaging through Lucius’ home,” exclaimed Egil.

    Thuron nodded. “I snuck into Lucius’s chambers one evening to see if he had held onto any others. I believe I startled you, Egil. For that I apologize. “

    Egil sputtered. He didn’t know what to say.

    “That doesn’t explain how you became Thuron,” said Ilmarė.

    “I slipped into this temple in human guise one evening to look through the scrolls Lucius had brought back from his wanderings. While I was searching, I discovered Thuron dead at his desk. His heart had given out during the night. At that moment I made a fateful choice. Perhaps not a wise one, or even a brave one, but one that made the most sense. I took Thuron’s place and devoted myself to the study of the scrolls.”

    “That explains a lot,” said Ilmarė. “This temple has been a pit of snakes ever since. First Oriku, then Milos.”

    “I should have spotted Milos at once,” said Thuron, “but I was too engrossed in my work. When I learned of Oriku’s betrayal, I should have abandoned my charade. But I was too greedy for knowledge.”

    Kham shrugged. “Althares is a god of knowledge,” he said. “Seems like you’re perfect for the job.”

    “Thank you Kham.”

    Egil took a deep breath. “I too will keep your secret. For now. We need a leader more than ever. We will take whatever help we can get.” He blanched, looking Thuron up and down, as if he would sprout fangs at any moment. “No matter what form it might take.”

    Thuron relaxed somewhat. He took out the documents Vlad and Beldin had handed to him before. “Now I will render you the only service I can—far too little, far too late.” He pointed at the letter written in ssanu. “This document promises great danger for Freeport—and for the world.”

    “What is it?” asked Vlad.

    “It is a public speech, an explanation of tonight’s events. I will translate it without remarking upon the obvious—it is all lies: This evening, Councilor Verlaine and the clergy of the Althares have been slain. Their murderers are the adventurers who of late discovered the caverns beneath our town: Beldin Soulforge, Bijoux, Calactyte, Ilmare Galen, Kham Val’Abebi, and Vlad Martell. After an investigation by the Council and the City Watch, we have pieced together the truth.

    “Chief Councilor Verlaine, that great servant to the city of Freeport, heard rumors about town of unwholesome activities at the temple to the God of Knowledge. He hired the wandering mercenaries to investigate. They made a tremendous discovery: The temple and its priesthood were a cover for the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, a grotesque cult of serpent people. The mercenaries joined the temple to gain its secrets, but they proved treacherous to both masters. They revealed the caves beneath the city and threatened to expose even more secrets unless the Brotherhood paid them a fortune in gold.

    “The Brotherhood agreed to their demands, on condition that the mercenaries accept one final task for their serpent masters—assassinating their erstwhile employer, Councilor Verlaine. The double-crossers carried out the grim job, but they quickly found themselves double-crossed. The Brotherhood refused to pay them their blood money. The mercenaries went mad with rage and slaughtered the cultists, but were killed themselves in the battle.

    “We mourn the loss of Councilor Verlaine, but his efforts brought this menace to light—and rooted it out of town, once and for all.” K’Stallo looked up, concern etched in his face. “It is the next part of the document that troubles me the most.”

    “There’s more bad news?” asked Ilmarė.

    “I’m afraid so. You see, the note is addressed to the Sea Lord—”

    Vlad slapped his forehead. “So this goes all the way up to Drac.”

    “Of course,” said Kham. “And I’m sure it involves his lighthouse too.”

    “Milton’s Folly,” said Beldin.

    “You didn’t let me finish,” said Thuron. “Drac’s name is marked with the Yellow Sign.”

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    Chapter 22: Madness in Freeport - Introduction

    This is the third in the Freeport series of modules, "Madness in Freeport," written by Chris Pramas and (loosely) set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

    Our cast of characters includes:

    · Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
    · Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
    · Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
    · Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
    · Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

    We played this adventure immediately after “Terror in Freeport,” in an 10 hour marathon gaming session. Tiles were used, miniatures were used, music was used…it was great.

    This adventure consists primarily of four scenes. The first is a fancy ball, heavy on role-playing. It was very interesting, actually, as Kham, Vlad, and Ilmarė were able to get themselves into (and out of) quite a few sticky situations. Mostly, Beldin chased around a frog (trust me, it makes more sense in the story)

    The second scene takes place in flooded caverns. This part was long and painful because Quintus wasn’t with the party. It’s also the beginning of Beldin getting seriously messed up, as his stats are drained. And drained. And drained. Kham, our resident pirate, boater, and sailor, tries hard but doesn’t really do much besides let people take on traps. As I’ve mentioned before, our party isn’t all that good at standard dungeon crawls.

    So by the time they got to the third scene, the underwater temple, everybody was pretty cranky. The quest was standard “find widget A to get widget B,” which can be a bit boring. That, and Beldin was still a mess. And killing ghosts is hard.

    The fourth scene is the payoff though. The battle to the top of the tower was great, especially because we used e-Adventure Round Tower tiles. Ironically, the main bad guy was much less of a threat than his bodyguard N’Tal, who nearly killed the party off by pounding them with evocation spells.

    Still, we get a cinematic finish…and you gotta love any adventure that ends with a bang!

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    Madness in Freeport - Prologue

    “How’s he doing?” asked Kham. They were at one of the special back rooms at the Pale Plate. Calactyte the ss’ressen was wrapped from head to toe in bandages.

    “He is doing as well as can be expected,” said Bijoux, the feline fihali. “His wounds were quite serious. Egil’s healing magic is not much stronger than my own. He has not disclosed our location to anyone, even the priests of the Temple of Althares.”

    “With good reason,” said Ilmarė. “The ssanu made the ss’ressen race. It’s likely Thuron doesn’t want to consort with Cal’s kind.”

    “What do you mean?” asked Bijoux.

    “Didn’t we tell you?” Kham took a swig from a wineskin. “Thuron’s a snake. Literally.”

    “Whatever the case,” said Sebastian, the dark-kin, “Cal is not going to be in any shape to go anywhere soon. What did we miss?”

    “There was a very public,” Kham put two pairs of fingers up in the air to emphasize air quotes, “cleansing held at Verlaine’s home.”

    “The militia destroyed the ssanu temple beneath it,” said Beldin.

    “And an edict was issued to remove Verlaine’s name forever from the rolls of the Captains’ Council,” said Ilmarė. “All his former holdings were seized.”

    “That opens up the Council position, doesn’t it?” asked Sebastian. “Captain Baldric will be pleased.”

    Vlad waved a rolled-up scroll with one hand “Drac drafted a proclamation explaining the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign’s treachery. He blames it all on Verlaine.”

    “Very convenient,” said Sebastian.

    “We found evidence that Drac is behind it all.” Ilmarė pulled up a seat. “He even drafted a letter blaming us for Verlaine’s murder. Looks like he just tweaked the draft a bit when we decided not to die so easily.”

    “I find it strange that your name wasn’t in that letter.” Beldin said to Sebastian. “It’s as if he doesn’t know you’re in Freeport.”

    The dark-kin’s forked tail twitched in agitation. Now that everyone knew he had a tail, he no longer tried to disguise it. “I believe the Shield is responsible for concealing my identity from Drac.”

    “The who?” asked Beldin.

    “The Shield.” Kham took off his lenses and placed them down on a round table next to the bed. “A society of mages that protect the magically gifted from Harvesters.”

    “I am a Bondsman,” said Sebastian with a slight incline of his head, as if he was introducing himself for the first time. “I have taken the Oath of Nurion.”

    Beldin’s eyes were wide. “I did not know.”

    “It seems we both have our secrets,” said Sebastian ruefully. “But that’s not important now. What’s important is that we have to leave Freeport. I fear Calactyte will be finished off if we do not move him. I know of a Haven where we can take him.”

    Bijoux put one claw on Cal’s arm. “I will not leave him.”

    “That’s probably for the best anyway.” Kham threw an envelope onto the bed near Cal’s foot. “You wouldn’t exactly fit in where we’re going.”

    Ilmarė took a note out of the envelope. She scanned it with a frown.

    “What is it?” asked Vlad. “A death threat?”

    “Something far more dangerous,” said Ilmarė. She turned the contents towards Vlad so he could read it. “An invitation to a formal ball.”

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    Madness in Freeport - Part 1a: The Sea Lord’s Palace

    The Sea Lord’s Palace was located in the center of the Old City. At five stories high, it was by far the largest building in the area.

    A fifteen-foot-high stone wall enclosed the grounds of the palace. Twin large, black, cast-iron gates faced the street and allowed access to the courtyard. Four guards stood watch over the entrance, checking invitations.

    Ilmarė handed her invitation over to the guard with one purple-gloved hand. She was dressed in a bell-shaped, gored skirt that fit close to her waist and gradually widened to the hem, beneath which was a single ruffled petticoat. Her bodice was close fitting, with a low-cut neckline and puffed sleeves. Her hair was simply styled, drawn up in a knot on the top of her head and dressed with violets.

    “And your escort?” asked the guard.

    Ilmarė’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

    “Your escort, m’lady,” the guard asked. His eyes darted to Vlad. “Did you come with your husband?”

    Ilmarė sneered at him. “I do not require a husband to attend a ball.”

    The guard’s head bobbed. “If you are unmarried, then an escort is required.”

    The elorii was about to say something else when Kham waved his invitation in the guard’s face. He was dressed in a black tailcoat, white shirt, white bow tie, and white vest. He also wore white gloves. “Let’s pretend I’m her escort for the evening, okay?”

    The guard, who was only too happy to stop the awkward conversation, took Kham’s invitation without incident.

    “I’ve never been to a ball before,” said Vlad out of the corner of his mouth. He wore a vest of leather studded with polished brass rivets. Over the armor he wore a military coat that ended just above the knee, snug gray pants beneath, and black riding boots. Vlad also wore black gloves and a top hat. He wore his sword belt, but his weapon was left at the door.

    The landscaping within was well tended, with tall trees and numerous gardens of flowers. They traversed a white stone path that led from the gates to the palace beyond.

    “It’s easy,” said Kham. “Smile and ask women to dance. They’re not allowed to say no.”

    Ilmarė snorted.

    “Really?” asked Vlad.

    “Really,” said Kham. “It’d be impolite.”

    The guard escorted them to a sitting room in the palace.

    “This is nothing like a Coryani formal event,” said Beldin, stroking his beard. He wore a green leather doublet with a single-breasted closure and gold trim. For pants, he wore a pair of black breeches, a white cotton shirt, and a matching green cotton velveteen feathered cap.

    “Yeah,” said Kham, “no elephants.”

    The door swung open, and a short man hustled into the room, breathing heavily. He took a minute to hike up his black pants over his protruding belly and smooth out his silver buttoned jacket.

    After bowing deeply, he said, “Greetings heroes! Milton Drac welcomes you to his home. I am Tomas Fleetfoot, High Chamberlain of the Sea Lord’s Palace. You are to be honored tonight at the ball for your deeds in defense of Freeport. We don’t have much time, so please pay attention.”

    Vlad raised one finger. “Uh…”

    The short man cut him off. “In a few minutes, I will lead you into the hallway as a speech is made in your honor. The Sea Lord will then introduce you to the gathering, and you will enter the ballroom and approach the dais. The Sea Lord will present you all with the Order of Drac, a very great honor you know, and the ball will begin. Any questions? Good. Let’s go.”

    “Great,” said Ilmarė. “As if the ball isn’t torture enough, we have to be honored too.”

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    Madness in Freeport - Part 1b: The Sea Lord’s Palace

    Tomas led them all into the hallway. The gold double doors stood open, revealing the large ballroom. There were two single golden doors on either end of the room, in the middle of each wall. The floor was covered with polished black marble. At the far end of the room, a semi-circle of windows, about half as wide as the room itself, jutted out into the garden outside the palace.

    In front of the windows was a dais with thirteen polished oak chairs. “That’d be the Council’s chairs,” said Kham. One chair in the middle was larger than the others. “And that’s Drac’s chair.”

    “Don’t tell me,” said Ilmarė. “That was Verlaine’s.” The chair directly to the right of larger chair was draped in black cloth.

    The guests were spread out around the room, at round tables. The center of the room had no tables, leaving room for dancing. A group of minstrels sat to the right of the dais. Many colorful tapestries depicting various maritime scenes covered the walls. Large glass spheres hung from the ceiling. They glowed with a yellow light that illuminated the room.

    Kham bowed, Ilmarė curtseyed, and the others followed his lead a half-second afterward.

    Standing in the center of the dais was a tall man with an angular face. He wore a long, light green robe with a jeweled belt. He looked toward Kham and then addresses the guests, “Thank you all for coming to this grand ball to celebrate the completion of the lighthouse. Soon all the world will speak of the greatness of Freeport. As a glowing beacon, the lighthouse shall shine forth to all peoples, proclaiming the unspeakable power of our glorious city. Tonight, however, we honor the heroes who have saved us from the traitor Verlaine and the dark Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign. If not for their vigilance, our fair city might have fallen under the domination of unfathomable evil. Come forward, my friends, and accept the Order of Drac and our sincerest gratitude.”

    The room erupted in applause. Milton handed each of them a gold medal with a pirate ship engraved on it.

    Vlad and Beldin accepted their award without comment. Ilmarė’s lip curled, but she kept her tongue.

    “Nice speech,” said Kham.

    Drac merely shook Kham’s hand with a smile. They were shown to a table near the dais, and the music and merriment began.

    “Now what?” asked Vlad out of the corner of his mouth.

    “Now,” said Kham, “you learn to duel without your sword.” He grabbed a bottle of wine, two glasses, and disappeared into the crowd.

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