Eberron: A Simple Plan - Completed 7/16/05





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  1. #1

    Eberron: A Simple Plan - Completed 7/16/05

    This is a short story, and completed. I'll be posting it in its entirity over the next week or so. Enjoy, and I always appreciate feedback...

    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    Vrabel d’Vadalis slumped on one of the hard benches along the starboard side of the airship. Midday sunlight streamed through the towers of Sharn casting strange shadows and light across the deck as the ship banked for its final approach. He shifted his position, pulling the hood of the ratty laborer’s robe lower. An impeccably dressed dwarf stood speaking to a hunched woman in a green dress.

    Whispering a simple incantation, Vrabel heard their conversation come into focus.

    “..wanted me to take delivery now, before something happens.,” said the woman.

    “This is highly irregular,” sputtered the dwarf. “The experiment is reaching its conclusion.
    And my masters, of course, want their final payment. But, I was given specific instructions to deliver it only to the Friar.”

    “Blood of bloody Siberys!” Vrabel muttered. Icy fingers seemed to play along his spine. “That bastard again?”

    A barely audible high-pitched whine seemed to interfere with the amplification properties of Vrabel’s spell. Shaking his head slightly, he focused on the pair again.

    “Can I see it?” the woman was asking. Her face seemed alight, not with the glow from Sharn’s towers, but some inner desire.

    The dwarf peered around the deck, and then thrust his hand into his pocket with an ill-concealed sigh. As the dwarf held a fist-sized item close to his chest, Vrabel felt a dull throb in his stomach, as if he’d been punched. He barely suppressed a curse, standing and turning to watch the towers pass by.

    “What is happening?” he said.

    The whine seemed to intensify, piercing his head. About the time he realized that that the noise emanated from the ship’s elemental ring, the deck of the airship bucked hard.

    Vrabel dangled from a mooring line, though he didn’t remember grabbing for it. An explosion of sound and heat followed. The prow pitched up and the ship began sliding backwards toward the stone walkways and lacy bridges of the City of Towers. Vrabel felt the back of his robe singe as a living cloud of fire raced away into the sky.

    The rolling green of Midflynn Park approached at a sickening pace, and he watched as passengers flew past him toward into the gulf between the Menthis and Central plateaus. He marveled at the variety of expressions. Some mouths frozen in perpetual O’s with eyes bulging out, some faces placid, bodies as rigid as spears descending. Vrabel snapped out of his initial shock and barked an arcane word as he kicked away from the flaming, dying airship.

    The shattered elemental ring passed a hand’s breadth from his back. He was still above the park when the ship impacted Flynnbridge, its bulk slicing the span in two and dragging pedestrians, bulwarks and good portions of the walkways on either side down with it. He alighted softly on the park green, flaming pieces of the ship raining down around him, hissing like meteors. He saw a handful of passengers drift lazily down, shouting to their companions and pointing at the twisted wreckage as it careened into Sharn’s lower levels. There was no sign of the dwarf.

    Vrabel walked to the jagged edge of Midflynn Park’s walkway and calmly escorted a tottering old woman away from the brink, she still too shocked to ask for help or even register that she’d received it. He kept his eyes away from guttering wreckage and smoldering remains, panic threatening to take hold if he registered the blackened, twitching limbs and sightless eyes. He remembered the battlefields. The same foul taste cut through his mouth. The same ragged panic struggled to free itself from the mental vault where he kept it locked. Peering down into the smoking chasm, he saw heads sticking out of tower windows, either peering up at him or down into the devastation.

    The hours slipped away from him and when he came to, he sat in the dark under one of Midflynn’s hissing willow trees. His soot-blackened hands shook uncontrollably.

    “Blood of Siberys,” he said.

    “You shouldn’t invoke what you’d rather not see,” said a voice very close to him.

    Vrabel leaped to his feet and coughed a spell of light in surprise. He held his glowing hand aloft while grasping for the long knife on his belt. A thin half-elf stood before him, shielding his eyes and smiling. His blonde hair hung lank to his shoulders and his rumpled clothes appeared slept in.

    “Dester!” Vrabel said, cupping the light. “What…how did you find me?”

    “The boss saw you helping the survivors from his window,” Dester said, gesturing absently across the green. “I brought wine.”

    “My savior,” Vrabel said, smiling.

    He snatched the bottle from the half-elf’s hand and bit off the cork, taking a long pull of the cool liquid. Sinking down against the willow trunk, Vrabel felt the dream quality of his day wash away. Dester sat beside him and reached for the bottle.

    “What does he want?” asked Vrabel.

    “What do you think? A full report. Tonight,” Dester said. He took a sip of the wine and then passed the bottle back with a packet of sealed papers.

    Vrabel took the missive and slid it into his bag as he watched the magewrights and masons already scurrying around the shattered bridge. They cast massive shadows in the bright magical lights.

    “Pym’s a bastard,” he said finally, though his mind was racing. The station chief rarely moved this quickly; something wasn’t right.

    “He’s blaming you for the crash, you know.”
    Vrabel just nodded and drank.

    “The Friar is involved,” Vrabel said after a time.

    “What?” Dester exclaimed, his head whipping around.

    “The courier mentioned him by name.”

    The half-elf stared as if in a daze, but Vrabel knew his mind was working just as fast.

    “That bastard,” Dester finally said, slumping back against the tree. “That Khyber-dealing bastard. He put you on that ship knowing…”

    Vrabel took one more drink from the bottle. “To the First Hussars,” he said without emotion.
    “He hasn’t changed.”

    Dester snatched the bottle and drank, then nodded.

    Vrabel stood and brushed the seat of his thick, ratty pants. “You can tell him what you want, but I won’t be in tonight.”

    Walking off into the darkness, his hand glowed bright red where the magical light was still clenched in a quivering fist.

    ###
    Last edited by ragboy; Friday, 8th June, 2007 at 07:21 PM.

 

  • #2
    Vrabel sat back and rubbed his eyes, sliding the crew manifest and passenger list away from him. His spartan one-room flat looked even less appealing in the light of the glowstone sitting on his desk. He flipped an empty cup over the stone, and the room went black. Streaks of light danced in his vision as he tried to visualize details just before the crash. The woman in the green dress. He had seen her take flight as the ship bucked and shattered, but the dwarf seemed to have disappeared.

    He fought to push down the memories of falling passengers, the blackened corpses. So, how did they bring that ship down? And why? Did someone have it in for Lyrander? House Orien and the House of the Storm often came into conflict in the marketplace, but this seemed over the top.

    Vrabel lifted the cup, flooding light back over the desk and drew out the sealed missive from Pym d’Vadalis, ‘lord’ of the Vadalis operation in Sharn. Petty lord, Vrabel thought. And that’s giving him more credit than is due. With some effort, he murmured the spell to unlock Pym’s seal and then a second to decrypt the message within.

    Contact in Wroat found dead. Possible additional operative(s) on ship. Specific threats received. Report to me before morning for additional information and assignments.

    “Shrakin’ inquisitive, he is,” Vrabel said to the empty room.

    He slipped the letter into the midden can and the paper immediately flashed into a fine ash. Why does the Family care about Lyrander’s pride and joy? he thought.

    A great crash suddenly sounded against the flat’s flimsy wooden door. Without thinking, Vrabel shoved the remaining paperwork into his leather case and strapped it under his coat, just as the door shattered from another massive blow. A steel-banded giant stomped in, kicking away pieces of the broken door. Two steel-eyed Valenar elves leaped in to either side, their hand-held crossbows glistening.

    “Vrabel d’Vadalis!” the warforged boomed. “You are under arrest by order of the city watch. Please do not resist!”

    Vrabel had risen slowly, his hands held neutrally at his sides.

    “Raise your arms, human,” one of the elves hissed in its slithering accent.

    “Of course,” Vrabel said, calmly. “No trouble, at all. Can you tell me the charge?”

    Both elves flicked their eyes toward the warforged, and Vrabel took his cue. At his hoarse shout, a magical darkness consumed the glowstone’s light. The elves quickly backpedaled, their little crossbows twanging. Vrabel ignored the bite of pain across his neck as one of the darts grazed him, and fire leapt from his fingertips. Its light was consumed by the arcane darkness, but its heat was still lethal.
    He was satisfied to hear a shriek of pain and a basso bellow, as he slid under the swinging warforged fist and made the sidewalk in five strides. One elf lay just outside the door, his tattered clothing smoldering and hair burned from his head. The second elf, frantically trying to reload his crossbow, went down under Vrabel’s hammering fist.

    As he turned the corner and dove down one of Sharn’s many steep stairways, he heard the roar and rumble of the pursuing warforged. Vrabel leaped a slow moving pedestrian at the base of the stairs and cut into an alley across the deserted street. Down several narrow delves and switchbacks, Vrabel slowed, listening for pursuit. A faint light shone through the hazy evening smoke farther down the lane. With a quick glance over his shoulder, Vrabel increased his pace.

    ###

    Vrabel walked into the cramped warm office of Pym d’Vadalis and pitched a bundle of papers onto the short, bald man’s desk.

    “Where in Khyber have you been?” Pym grunted, squinting in the morning light streaming through his windows.

    He snatched up the report and began reading it.

    “I’ve been a little busy,” said Vrabel, plopping into a natty overstuffed chair. “Do you no longer provide security for your agents?”

    “Huh?” Pym said, looking up. “What’s wrong with your neck?”

    “My safe house was compromised,” Vrabel said, rubbing the ugly welt just below his chin. “By someone posing as the Khyber-blooded Sharn watch, no less.”

    “That warforged was a watchman,” Pym grunted, returning to the report. “You came up on blotters all over the city this morning.”

    “I can assure you that his companions were not.”

    A tremor went through him, and he tried to control it. He could feel cool sweat beginning down his back, again. The attackers had used something on their darts, but he couldn’t do anything about it at the moment. Vrabel stared out the window at Midflynn Park, as the station chief read. It seemed unreal how normality had returned. A skeletal reflection of Flynnbridge again sailed over the chasm between the park and Central, it scurrying with workers. Most of the blackened debris had been hauled away.

    Pym sat back, rubbing the smooth skin of his scalp. Vrabel raised an eyebrow.
    “You were supposed to report last night,” said the station chief, exasperated. He glanced at the first page of the report. “We already know all this. Can you remind me why I employ you?”

    “We’re family. You have to employ me.”

    “This courier,” Pym began, flipping through the pages. “Did you speak with him?”

    “No.” Vrabel looked out the window again to curb his growing anger. “From the ship’s logs that you provided, the dwarf typically leaves the airship at Wroat. He’s traveled from Mror Holds to Wroat on that same ship for six months.”

    “What’s odd about that? The banker’s traffic in all kinds of currency, not just mror-geld.” Pym sat the bundle down and began rubbing his thick brows.
    Vrabel wondered if there was a dwarf somewhere in the Pym’s branch of the family tree. They were distant cousins, and he often felt that distance.

    “Because he takes the train from Wroat to Sharn on every trip, and disappears, only to re-appear on the airship from Mror,” Vrabel said, calmly. “Only this time, he didn’t get off the ship.”

    Pym grunted, and read on.
    Vrabel paused to let this sink in, and then said: “So, when were you going to tell me that the Friar was involved?”

    The station chief never looked up from the report, though Vrabel saw him tense. The screams and stunned faces of those that didn’t survive the crash floated in front of Vrabel’s eyes.

    “You know the protocols, Vrabel,” Pym said. “You didn’t need to know that. What you did need to know, you flubbed. What they carry is worth a lot to both Lyrander and Orien. And it’s my job…”

    “Fire the protocols and cram your job!” Vrabel yelled, slamming his fist onto the desktop in front of Pym’s nose. “The last time you had us tangle with that mad bastard, I lost a lot of friends…”

    “You lost nothing. They were soldiers, and they had a mission. A mission that failed, like this one. And look, here you are, a survivor again,” Pym said, his eyes placidly locked on his agent’s. “Now, take your hand off of my desk unless you want to lose it. If you’re finished, I’ve got work to do.”

    Pym’s left eye twitched under Vrabel’s steady gaze.

    “I’ll follow up on the courier,” Vrabel said, finally breaking contact with the chief. He stood and walked out of the office. “You get back to all that work you have.”

  • #3
    Dester slid off of the path, slick with greenish gray slime and into a trench ankle-deep in the foul smelling stuff.

    “Why, please tell me, did I answer my door?” Dester moaned, hands held wide as he looked at his ruined shoes. “I could be sleeping right now.”

    “This is the very exciting spy work that you used as your sales pitch to talk me into joining,” Vrabel said, pulling his friend back onto the path. “I figure exposing you to the actual work will remind you of the thrilling days of your youth.”

    A ball of softly glowing blue light floated over Vrabel’s head illuminating their foul path through the underbelly of Sharn. Ahead, just out of the light, a doorway glimmered.

    “Look lively,” Vrabel said. “This is the door my contact told me about. You brought your tools, I hope.”
    “Of course,” Dester strolled through the muck, looking every bit like an upper level courtier with one wet shoe.

    Vrabel stifled a laugh and followed. The half-elf crouched at the door, eyeing the locking mechanism.

    “There’s a lot of corrosion here,” Dester murmured. “You sure about that information?”

    “As sure as I ever am.”

    The speed of the attack left Vrabel frozen, though some preternatural sense saved Dester’s neck. A whispering blade in the hands of a wild elf maiden clanged on the steel door, and Dester kicked out, knocking her back and into the sewage trench. As the elf struggled to keep her footing, she cursed in a harsh Valenar accent. Dester followed it up with a arcing blow to the side of her head and she went down hard. Two males, just as wildly clad, leaped out of the shadowy tunnel and over their downed mistress. Their short, curved swords whirled, and again Dester dodged and ducked the wicked attacks. Vrabel chanted a quick incantation, and glowing green darts of energy flew from his fingertips, impacting both attackers. One of the elves slammed against the slick wall and slid down, incapacitated. The second turned to flee, lost his balance and Dester shoved a foot-long blade through his kidney. The attacker dropped face down into the trench, unmoving.

    “Get that door!” Vrabel yelled, reaching down and dragging the elf girl out by her scruff.

    Thick black slime coated one side of her body. He pulled her up and sat her against the wall of the passage, her head lolling then settling at an unnatural angle.

    “You could have pulled your punches a little,” Vrabel grumbled, rifling through her clothing, searching for any indication of their attacker’s origin.

    “She surprised me,” Dester said, as he worked the corroded lock with a miniscule file. “You didn’t have to blast the other two. So much for surprising whatever’s on the other side of the door.”

    In an interior pocket of the girl’s hide coat, Vrabel found a small bronze lump. Holding it up to his light, he saw a symbol emblazoned there.

    “Know anyone operating under the sigil of an animal skull? Looks like a deer or something,” Vrabel asked, hearing the ancient lock click.

    “Only about half of Eldeen,” Dester murmured. “We’re through here.”

    He stood and placed his palm against the door, looking back over his shoulder. Vrabel nodded, and Dester shoved the door open. It banged loudly on the opposite wall, revealing a dank chamber glowing faintly.

    “I thought you were the strong silent type?” Vrabel growled. “Any more noise and we can forget finding this…”

    “There is no need for silence!” a heavily-accented voice echoed from the back of the chamber.

    Vrabel’s floating light revealed a long broad room cluttered with refuse. The hunched woman from the airship stood amid the junk wearing a massive deer’s skull on her head. Two shapeless mounds flanked her; their glittering surfaces seemed to writhe with life.

    Flourishing her rough skin robe, the woman stepped back, cackling.

    “The one you seek has already gone, little spies,” she said. “All that are left are my children.”

    “Lovely,” Dester said, tensing as the mounds seemed to dissolve and flow together, covering the floor with a mass of fiery red centipedes.

    Vrabel leaped back, spreading his hands, and sheets of flame jetted from his fingertips. The swarm seemed undaunted and came at them with renew vigor. Dester hopped onto a rotted chest and jumped to a dilapidated bed crammed with boxes of junk. The swollen body of a dwarf rolled off of the bed and hit the floor with a sick wet noise, followed by low moan.

    “I’ll get the crazy woman!” Dester called, already running to the shadowed hollow at the back of the room where she’d disappeared.

    “Excellent,” Vrabel called, backing out of the rusted iron door. “You do that.”

    His mind working fast to think of a way to thwart the demonic vermin, Vrabel tripped over the splayed leg of the dead elf maiden, landing flat on his back. The swarm crested like a hellish wave and collapsed upon him. All thoughts fled as hundreds of chitinous claws tore into his flesh. Acidic fire burned through every nerve ending and Vrabel wailed, struggling to rise. In his mindless state, the Mark etched across his back suddenly flared, sucking the heat away like a cold, hungry mouth. He felt the skittering vermin spasm, and then he seemed to see inside their cloistered minds. Hunger and destruction hovered there as a single thought, indistinct but powerful.

    Skin still burning with their touch and poison, Vrabel inched upward to finally stand. Taking hold of the creatures’ combined minds, he willed them away. The swarm slowly descended his body, like an ordered crowd before an opening door, to pool at his feet. With a final thought, the creatures dispersed, crawling aimlessly away, up the walls and into the moldering piles of books and junk.

    Vrabel’s stomach heaved. He bent double and vomited on the slick stone floor. Wiping the back of his hand across his lips, he made his slow, tremulous way across the cluttered room, and slumped onto the bed.

    “Bones of the Dragon Above,” he mumbled, raking his hands through his hair and coming away with centipede bits.

    A numb delirium settled upon him, somehow comforting, willing him to lie down on the dilapidated mattress and sleep. Some part of his mind flared with alarm struggling with the effects of the poison. Minutes passed in this struggle before he finally began trying to move again. At first he thought the wet moaning sound was a hallucination. Looking around, his eyes alighted on the gruesome corpse of the dwarven courier. Only it was not a corpse.

    Vrabel beckoned his light closer, only to find that it was not active. Stumbling over a stack of iron bars, he called a new light into existence and examined the dying dwarf. The courier laid face down, the short thick body swollen and distended at the joints and neck. Thousands of bright red dots covered his exposed flesh, it greenish and shot through with black veins. Vrabel mouthed a quick prayer to any god that would listen, and the cognizant part of his mind finally and fully won over the creeping doom in his own veins.

    He flipped the body over. The dwarf’s bloated face was already bruising as the poison wreaked havoc on his system.

    “I cannot save you,” Vrabel said, holding to his composure with visible effort. His stomach lurched again, but he remained standing. “You can avenge yourself by telling me who did this to you. I promise they will be tracked down and dealt with.”

    The dying dwarf leered through fat lips, already splitting and leaking sluggish black blood.

    “You will know soon enough,” the dwarf said. His voice was a strained whisper in his closing throat.
    “The keeper of the black gem has exacted his payment for my failure. I go on to my reward.”

    “Black gem?” Vrabel said, his enflamed skin going cold. “Do you mean the Breaking Stone? That bastard Friar finally found it? I’ll make sure that your clan gets your body. Passed back to the Mror to bind your spirit to the stone.”

    The dwarf’s distended face suddenly flushed. “Yes,” he said. “Yes. I want that.”
    He said the last in a rush of escaping air, his limbs convulsing in a final fight against the end. “It is the Friar. He seeks freedom for…”

    Vrabel leaned in, expectant, but the dwarf had died.

    “Isn’t that always the way it goes?” he said, sighing in disgust. “They blather on until they get to the important bits.”

    Assessing the corpse, he quickly decided that he didn’t care whether another clue could be extracted from it. He turned and stumbled through the junkpile, wary of another swarm of bugs and looked into the shadowy recess where Dester and the woman had disappeared. A narrow, but surprisingly dry passage ended at a stairway that curved up into darkness. Leaning heavily against the wall, Vrabel took a deep breath then headed up toward the lower levels of High Walls.

  • #4
    short break and wrap up tomorrow...
    ---------------------
    ###
    Vrabel stopped on the street outside the apothecary shop, its faded wooden placard depicting a cluster of flowers. He steeled himself and pushed open the door. Cloying perfumed smoke immediately caught in his throat, and he began to cough. Clouds of the stuff spiraled lazily over the dim empty front room. He leaned against a thin pillar of intricately carved wood, as the fit passed. A heavy dark form loomed in the back of the shop, hunched over a cluttered worktable.
    “Approach, friend-Vrabel,” a sonorous voice called. “I am sorry for causing you discomfort, but strange energies are at work this night.”

    Vrabel wiped his watering eyes, and walked to the back of the room. A massive minotaur sat at the table, its shaggy black head gilded with silver-embossed brands. The creature swung its downward-curving horns about, similarly carved and embossed with arcane symbols, and beckoned the visitor to sit, then started back to work writing out a recipe.

    “How’ve you been, Kevl?” Vrabel said, more to break up the pen-scratching silence. His voice was more strained than he expected. The concoction he’d found in a nearby dead-drop was already wearing off. The spasms in his jaw and stomach muscles began anew.

    Kevl finished a line of text and carefully sat his pen in an ivory box. Turning his soft watery eyes to his visitor, he licked a nostril and breathed wetly.

    “You are poisoned,” the minotaur said. “And not long for this world.”

    “You always know how to start a conversation,” Vrabel said, trying to smile. His lips jerked awkwardly.

    “Come,” Kevl said, rising to his full height. “I have a bed in back.”

    Vrabel tried to rise, but a fit of gagging seized him. The minotaur lifted him from his feet and carried him to a padded worktable, lying him there.

    “Shall we talk of the latest play from Yancy McGuine?” the minotaur said, as he strapped Vrabel’s arms and legs down to the table. “He has a new actress, a changeling, who is much too sublime for his pedantic works.”

    “Haven’t seen it,” Vrabel said, grimacing.

    “As I suspected,” Kevl said. “You are not here to debate the debatable Menthis arts.”
    Vrabel grinned, a little light-headed with the thick air. The alchemist stepped away into a cluttered storage room and rummaged through several boxes before coming out with a sheaf of tanned and rolled animal skins. Towering over his patient, he flipped through the skins and finally selected one.

    “Your wounds are deep,” Kevl said. “I am not certain I can halt the ichor’s destruction, or reverse what has been done.”

    “Always the optimist,” Vrabel said, and then went into a full seizure as the last of his potion wore off.

    Through the excruciating pain, he was vaguely aware of the glimmering light on Kevl’s arcane brands and the minotaur’s lowing mantra. He held one thought as consciousness began to fade: Pym has crossed us again with that damn stone.

    It seemed to him that he had only closed his eyes for a moment, but Vrabel noted that sunlight streamed through the shop window. Kevl leaned over him holding a scryglass to the easing welts on Vrabel’s neck and bare chest. The minotaur’s liquid eye reminded Vrabel of the Khyber shard he now sought.

    “How long have I been out?” he asked.

    Kevl placed the scryglass carefully on his worktable and turned his massive head back to his patient.

    “Six hours,” he said. “You spoke of many things in your fevered state. A Breaking Stone and swarms of Vadalis bureaucrats chewing out your liver.”

    “It’s not my liver at risk if I get my hands on that bastard.” Vrabel sat up, still feeling woozy, though the room was clear of scented smoke.

    “The toxins in your blood are completely voided,” said Kevl. “What other service could I provide you this day?”

    Vrabel tried to collect his scattered thoughts and remembered something from the fight. He reached into his pocket and withdrew the bronze token.

    “I was hoping you could tell me what this symbol is.”

    The minotaur took the token and the scryglass, holding them up to the morning sunlight.

    “Where did you come by this?” he asked.

    “Some trouble in the Cogs,” Vrabel said, shifting his legs to hang off of the makeshift bed. “Three elves, Valenar, by their accent, and a woman, possibly of Karrnath.”

    “But late of the Eldeen Reaches, I suspect?” Kevl swiveled his head slowly to his guest.

    “That was Dester’s guess.”

    “It is not a guess on my part,” the seer said. “This is one of the many symbols for the Children of Winter, an amoral death cult among the Druids. They deal in poisons and fouler things. Surely they sent these swarms against you? Control of vermin is their forte”

    “I can vouch for that.” Vrabel pushed himself off the table, and gathering his legs, paced to clear his head. “Any word of them operating here in Sharn? Or maybe Wroat?”
    The minotaur sat the sigil on his table and then hunched on a stool that looked much to flimsy for his bulk.

    “They are a small, diffuse group, friend-Vrabel,” he said. “But, their philosophies are enchanting enough to spawn imitators. Perhaps that is what you have seen?”

    “Maybe,” Vrabel said offhand, and suddenly a thought struck him. “Give me that.” He gestured to the Children of Winter token.

    After he uttered a simple incantation, the token emitted a faint pink glow.

    “I was able to use my dragonmark to control the swarms once they attacked me.” Vrabel said. “It’s unheard of for the Mark of Handling to reach mindless vermin.”

    “As I said,” Kevl intoned. “It is the Children’s sphere of control. This is probably a bauble enspelled to assist those within their clan without sufficient power.”

    “Interesting.” Vrabel slid the token back into his pocket.

    Kevl started and stood quickly. “I almost forgot,” he said, bustling to the front of the room. “I received a message from your companion.”

    Returning, the minotaur placed a sealed sheet of paper in Vrabel’s hand. He popped the seal and read it quickly.

    “He found the Friar,” Vrabel said. “What do you know about Stonebridge Church?”

    “A chapel, really, to the Host. Adherents to such watered down deities are sure to be ensnared by more volatile causes,” the seer said, offhandedly. “Perhaps this is the case with your quarry.”

    “That stone destroyed an airship,” Vrabel said, gathering his things on unsteady legs. “It breaks down magical prisons and barriers.”

    “Perhaps a Khyber-touched priest? Enamored of those trapped in that dark prison?”

    “By Siberys, I hope not,” Vrabel said, strapping on his traveling bag. He reached up and sat his hand on the seer’s massive shaggy shoulder. “I appreciate what you did for me, old friend. Take this. I’ll have more before too long.” He held out a pouch with a few coins in it.

    “I cannot accept such from you, friend-Vrabel,” Kevl said. “Perhaps you can return and we can discuss the low-dramas of Lower Menthis.”

    “I look forward to it.”

    Vrabel turned and walked quickly out of the shop with more concerns etched onto his brow.

    ###

    After an hour of waiting for Dester and watching penitents flow in and out of Stonebridge Church, Vrabel slunk away through the early evening. The heavy wooden shutters on Dester’s flat were locked tight. He slipped under the shadowed awning and withdrew a key. Pressing his hand to the doorknob, the door inched open. Ice shot through his veins, and Vrabel edged into the dark room, dreading the scene within. Gesticulating a ball of light, he saw Dester’s swollen corpse sprawled across a finely crafted chaise. The bulbous flesh exposed around his collar and sleeves showed multiple bites from the Children’s hellish spawn.

    The initial shock boiled away into a blinding rage, and he kicked the chaise over. His mind consumed, Vrabel stormed through the flat flinging open doors and shutters, roaring for the killers to show themselves.

    He found himself slumped into a chair in the dark room, spent and shaking. A shutter banged in a quickening wind. He remembered long days on the campaign with Dester at his side. Wild aerial battles on the backs of their griffons, zooming in and out of great formations of Karrnathi raven riders. Their last mission into Cyre, only days before the great catastrophe, had been for the Black Gem. The Breaking Stone. It went by a hundred names, but Pym d’Vadalis knew them all. He’d been the one that commissioned the original raid. Dester and Vrabel had been among the handful of Breland First Air Hussars to survive.

    “And now there’s one less,” Vrabel said. “And Pym’s going to pay for every drop of blood spent.”

    He stood and walked through the room, blind but purposeful. Reaching over the fireplace, he took down Dester’s crossbow, a massive thing specially crafted and balanced. The weight felt right in his hands. Strapping the quiver over his shoulder, he walked out of the apartment and into the twinkling Sharn night.

  • #5
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    ø Ignore Funeris
    Just came by this SH...and glad I did. My opinions: It's very well paced. Thus, you kept my attention through all of your updates. There were a few errors...such as an arcing instead of a arcing...but I don't feel like getting too nitpicky, the errors are few and far between. I think you've done well to catch the 'pulp' spirit of Eberron.

    So my questions are thus: Is this actually a campaign played through or just a short bit of fiction? If it is a campaign, then was it a solo campaign?

    Either way, its a good piece of writing. I'll be watching for the conclusion.

    ~Fune

    P.S. I noted its listed under the Eberron Fiction category in your .sig...so I guess that answers my questions. I'll have to go and read your other SHs now.
    ----------------------------------------------------------
    Non Omnis Moriar.


    First Writing Credit

  • #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Funeris

    P.S. I noted its listed under the Eberron Fiction category in your .sig...so I guess that answers my questions. I'll have to go and read your other SHs now.
    Yep. Fiction. I'm kinda bugged if there are grammar/spelling errors, since it went through two reviews and a couple of separate pairs of eyes...ug.

    Last update on this one tonight. It's a ~6000 word short story. Still working on the second one which is longer and has more characters.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • #7
    Even at this late hour, a handful of worshippers clustered around the various icons of the Sovereign Host evenly spaced along the chapel’s walls. Acolytes to the respective deities spoke quietly to their charges, some holding candles, while others allowed the wavering shadows and light to punctuate their sermons.

    Vrabel stooped over the icon of Dol Dorn, knowing that his martial skill needed every boost he could get. The god of arms was singularly neglected in these simple neighborhood chapels. Not a particularly religious man, Vrabel bowed his head and envisioned Pym eviscerated on a jagged pike. Surely Dol Dorn dealt in invocations such as this.

    He shifted the heavy robe, hoping that it concealed his weaponry long enough to do what he had to do. An ancient man, barely able to creep through the chapel, joined him. Vrabel eyed the heavy scars running down his cheeks and forearms. This man has seen loss, he thought, keeping his own losses buried.

    The scatter of sacrifices on the altar to Balinor caught Vrabel’s attention, and he made a vague gesture in the air with his hand then moved slowly over to the beast god’s slot. In the center of the pile sat a Children of Winter token, the once shiny icon of the deer’s skull burned black.

    He glanced over his shoulder at the short wooden door leading to the back rooms. A quick survey of the nave was all he needed to confirm that everyone was occupied, and he slid into the shadows along the back wall. Coming up next to the door, he kept his eyes on the worshippers and tried the doorknob. The door eased open and he slipped in then shut it softly. A short hallway led to another door, but a ladder into the ceiling caught his eye. He pulled off the heavy robe and hung it on a hook ladened with similar garments, then climbed quickly into the attic.

    Cupping a faint light in his hand, he glanced around. A massive stained-glass window filled the wall behind him providing soft colored light. Deftly, he made his way across heavy wooden beams, ducking under those supporting the roof. Even from across the attic, he could hear the drone of conversation and presently, he came to an open area overlooking a steep staircase. Light shone around the doorframe at the base of the stairs.

    Extinguishing his light, he padded down the stairs and put his ear to the door.
    “…assure you, sir, that my intentions are in line with yours. We seek to join with you and your cause. Freeing our masters from their damnable prisons has been our dream since long before the Last War.” He knew that voice. Pym!

    “Master Ruckin,” a second, strange voice replied. “My goals couldn’t be further from yours. Those fool enough to get themselves trapped by…” A sibilant, skittering laugh sounded. “By winged snakes. Please. Are these beings worthy of your devotion? There is a better way, Master Ruckin. Or should I say, Master d’Vadalis?”

    In the long silence, Vrabel pulled the crossbow from its strap and carefully cocked and loaded the thing. Cradling the weapon in one arm, he reached for the door only to have it snatched away from his hand.

    Before him stood the woman in the green dress, her patchy, lank hair whipping back with her head. Her eyes glared with an unnatural light and Vrabel went into a frenzy of motion. His kick sent her sprawling into a line of heavy chairs, and he came into the room in a crouch seeking cover. As Pym’s broad, surprised face came around, Vrabel raised the crossbow and pulled the release. The quarrel split the back of Pym’s chair with a loud crack, but the wily station chief was not in it.

    A heavily robed figure stood up at the head of the room, his body seemingly of strange proportions.

    “Well,” the figure said. “It looks like quite a nice reunion. Even our friend Dester Burke made it.”
    The figure gestured, and Dester’s jerking, bloated corpse stumbled out of the shadows at the back of the room. The zombie’s mottled skin seemed to crawl with unnatural life. The Friar lowered his hood and waved his hands magnanimously.

    “Please, Vrabel d’Vadalis,” he said, his voice punctuated by oddly spaced clicks. “Sit with your cousin.”

    Vrabel recognized the Friar’s gestures, and threw up a defensive spell, shattering the paralyzing beam before it reached him. His blood pumped with a fury that he had not known since the day of the raid, so many years ago. With hundreds of his brothers dying, Pym had ordered him and Dester and a handful of Hussars to break away from the fight and find the Friar and that damnable Khyber shard. He had fallen under this selfsame spell, and had to watch as his comrades were slain, one by one, on the Friar’s life-drinking goblin knife. Vrabel and Dester would have met the same end if the battle hadn’t shifted and the Friar been forced to flee.

    “What happened?” Vrabel said, easing away from his dead companion’s slow painful approach. “Did you lose your little toy when Cyre exploded?”

    “This, you mean?” the Friar held up the Breaking Stone, a black, irregularly shaped gemstone shot through with traceries of gold and somehow blacker bands. “Oh, I had a bit of a falling out with my masters.”

    He gestured to Pym’s rigid form leaning against the wall. “The mutant prisoners of Khyber are a double-dealing lot. When I decided not to use the Stone to free them, they exacted a bit of payment.”
    He flung open his robe to reveal the same crawling, undulating flesh as the zombie that now stalked Vrabel.

    Vrabel thought of it as no one. The Dester part of Dester was long gone. This was a corrupted shell. As he paced out of the creature’s range, he kept his eyes on the priest and his downed minion. She was stirring already.

    “What is it? What have you done to yourself and my friend?” he called, easing the crossbow into a cocked position.

    The Friar tried a quick incantation, but Vrabel was ready, brushing it aside with a counterspell.

    “You are good,” the priest said, sliding off the black robe. His pale skin was shot through with the same black veins as the dwarf Vrabel had left in the Cogs, only the Friar’s pulsed and writhed.

    “Vrabel, you idiot!” Pym grated out of his frozen jaw. “That gem would have given us a bargaining chip like no other. Between Lyrander and Orien, do you realize how much they’d pay just to make sure it was destroyed?”

    “You are both ingrates,” the Friar said. His legs seemed to be stretching, raising him to an disproportionate height. “Do you take me for a dupe of the Khyber dragon? Your petty little house is caught up in the mundane flow of politics in a single city in a single corner of the world.”
    The priest continued to grow, the squirming skin of his legs stretching bizarrely below his robe.

    “Stranger things have slouched out of the dark places,” the Friar continued.

    Vrabel could see the creature’s face beginning to strain, as if something invisible pulled at it.

    “On the day that Cyre died, I died,” he said.

    The priest’s legs seemed to split and burst, gushing forth a torrent of scrabbling, wriggling insects. Long fiery centipedes twisted around fleshy pale beetles. Grotesque wisp-legged spiders moved swiftly through the swarm as if part of some strange sensory organ.

    “But on that day also, I was trapped in this horrid, magnificent prison.” the creature continued. Bugs began to pour from shattered eyes. “The stone, you see, full circle…freedom.”

    So taken by the horror of it, Vrabel never saw the woman leap from the ground, a heavy spear in her grasp. The iron spearhead slammed into Vrabel’s gut throwing him back and over a low table. He crashed into the ground, his head popping the stone floor. The zombie was upon him with a thick moan. He saw his friend’s swollen face leaking black ichor as the hands closed upon his neck. Through a haze of tears, he pulled out the bronze token.

    I’m sorry Dester, he thought. I’m sorry it came to this.

    The Mark burned across his back as power coursed from it and through him. The token felt like a brick of ice in his fist, but he thrust it out into Dester's face. Flailing, his body reacting violently to the strangling fingers of the zombie, Vrabel tried to concentrate on touching the collective insectoid minds.

    At first there was nothing, then he felt Dester’s grip loosen on his throat. The creature finally released him and backed away, a trace of Dester’s old smile on his unnaturally twitching face. A long black millipede coiled out his nostril and down his chin.

    Vrabel could hear the druid shrieking and he turned to see parts of the Friar’s skittering body detach and engulf her. He concentrated on backing the zombie off then shouted a spell that disintegrated the creature into a pile of dust.

    The Friar’s spirit gibbered as the swarming mound reformed, the Breaking Stone now seeming to suck the light from the room. Only bones remained where the Winter witch had lay. The vermin, in vaguely humanoid form, slithered across the floor toward Pym, still paralyzed against the wall.

    “Step back. He’s mine.” Vrabel said, pushing his will onto the collective mind.

    The swarm reacted as if bludgeoned, recoiled, and threatened to lose its consistency.

    “What is this?” the Friar moaned. “I must have his soul to replace me in this cursed form…And his form for my own.”

    “Stand over there and shut up,” Vrabel said, gesturing.

    The swarm flowed back toward the wall, tendrils of its living host skittering away an alarming rate.

    “You cannot do this. My freedom is close at hand.”

    “Thanks for reminding me.” Vrabel spat a stream of arcane words and the gem shot out of the creature’s writhing appendage and into Vrabel’s hand.

    As Vrabel released his hold on the swarm, he began a complex incantation directed at the pulsing black rock in his hand. The Friar’s integrity dissolved, bugs collapsing on the floor like a pail of water. A pale green phosphorescent gas remained. A faint harrowing scream filled the room as the released spirit fought to reach its rigid host. Pyms own rictus wail seemed to add to the struggle and the cloud was suddenly sucked across the room and into the gem.

    A void of silence followed. Vrabel dared a look away from the gem and picked up the crossbow. He check it to make sure it still held a quarrel. Pym had collapsed against the wall, his eyes jumping about as if seeing ghosts. Vrabel flung the gem into his bag like it was a whipping snake. He calmly pointed the Children’s tool at the dispersing vermin host.

    He caught a question in Pym’s eye as the amorphous creature began to reform.

    “There is the matter of your incompetence killing the only friend I had in the world.”

    Pym’s head whipped from Vrabel to the approaching mound of writhing insects.

    “Vrabel, this is crazy,” he said, panic rising anew in his voice. “I…I… it’s need to know, you know that. I couldn’t tell either of you what was going on. We have to compartmentalize…”

    “Save it you son of a whore!” Vrabel shouted. “We chased that gods blasted thing all over Khyber’s creation, killing more of our own men than any of Breland’s enemies could ever manage.” Vrabel tilted his head toward the bag swinging at his waist. “And here it is. And now it’s just you and me.”

    The door behind him burst open and Vrabel swiveled and fired the crossbow without a single thought. The bolt glanced harmlessly off of the gleaming steel plates of a massive warforged. Vrabel recognized him.

    “You are both under arrest for murder of a priest of the Sovereign Host, disturbing prayer services, destruction of church property and various other offenses!” shouted the warforged. “Please do not resist!”

    Vrabel flung the crossbow at the warforged and dashed out the side door and up the stairs into the attic. He leaped from beam-to-beam like a crazed cat. Over the thunderous pursuit he heard Pym’s inhuman wail dissolve into incoherent screams.

    The stain-glassed window cast a soft glow of light at the end of the attic. Each of the Host was represented in the priceless work of art. He was through it before he could remember whether another building was nearby to catch his fall. After he landed, he wasn’t sure if the leaded window or the flat slate roof had broken his arm, but he was free. Free of his past, his House and any attachment he ever held dear. Vrabel ran for himself, now, and he would never run for anyone else again.

    The End...

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