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Tuesday, 13th December, 2011, 05:23 PM #1761
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
:: bump ::
Sunday, 18th December, 2011, 11:00 AM #1762
Novice (Lvl 1)
At the time, Dragon/Dungeon was edited by Paizo (from issue #94), but was still WotC mouthpiece (and so included quite a lot of promotional content for the last products). WotC got last word on the editorial content, and did yank back the licence when some big wig at Hasbro realized that the magazine was making money after all and/or constituted a valuable intellectual property. On the bright side, they did agree to wait for the Savage Tide Adventure Path to conclude, though.
Then they did mess up said license by going all electronic... We agree on that!
I don't intend to start a flamewar here. But you do earn yourself a bad karma point for not checking your facts before "hating people with a passion" for wrong reasons.
Sunday, 25th December, 2011, 09:03 AM #1763
Superhero (Lvl 15)
Just as an FYI, I'm kinda pressed for time with the holidays and such, but I'm planning on getting all of you far-too-patient-with-me-people an update for the Storyhour while I'm on vacation. Actually wrote a few pages the other day (technically wrote it in my head while on a boring 3 hour car trip and then feaverishly ran to my office to type it all while it was still there in memory once I got home).
I can't estimate length of it, or when precisely I'll do it in the next two weeks or so, but I do plan on getting one posted as either a late Xmas present or New Years present to everyone.
Tuesday, 27th December, 2011, 06:27 AM #1764
Superhero (Lvl 15)
“Ficklebarb?” Doran said, looking down at the seemingly depressed pseudodragon. “What do you mean the bad man is here? That he came here with us?”
Ficklebarb glanced up at the elf. “I know who he is, but I can’t stop him from doing what he does.”
“Who is he?”
“I… I can’t tell you.” The tiny familiar looked both worried and stricken by a desire to tell everything that he knew, but was holding back against all reason. “He won’t let me. If I say than he’ll be all bad and worse things will happen.”
“Tell me Ficklebarb. Please, you need to tell me who it is who’s been doing these things.”
The pseudodragon gave a soft moan and his tail twitched unhappily. “They aren’t all bad. They aren’t all gone to bad. They’re still good, just a little, on the inside. Nobody is all bad. But they will be if I tell anyone what I know.”
“We can stop them if you tell me. We can get them help if they need it.”
The last statement put a brief flicker of hope into the dragon’s features, and for a moment he seemed his normal, happy self.
“You could help them be good again?”
“Yes we can. I promise you that we can. We have clerics, we have wizards. We can keep them safe from themselves and from anything that might be influencing them. At worse we take them back to Sigil and let them spend some time with the Bleakers if they’ve gone mad.”
But then that moment of normalcy was gone and replaced with a distant, glazed over look on his face as if his mind were elsewhere and wholly preoccupied.
“No. I can’t say anything.” Ficklebarb said with a shake of his snout side to side. “I’ve seen them doing things, and if I say anything they’ll be worse.”
“They’ve murdered people, they’ve tortured them. What worse could they do?” Doran asked, only to be shaken by the dragon’s reply.
“Worse. Much worse. You have no idea, but I do.”
The elf shivered at the certainty and terror that he heard.
“Ok,” Doran said, “I won’t ask you anything more if you can’t tell me. But if you decide that you can, I’m here to listen. And elves have large ears, and I can listen a lot when you’re ready for me to help, and to help this person.”
Ficklebarb gave a sullen nod. “Ok.”
“Why don’t you have a nap then, and maybe you’ll feel a little bit better.” He reached over and turned up the flame on one of the oil lamps that gave a warmer, more natural glow than the everburning, illusory flames most often used since they’d been in Pandemonium. Hopefully the light would make the familiar a bit more comfortable while he stewed on what it had said, and the implications thereof.
“I won’t tell what you’ve told me to anyone else if that’s ok.” Doran added as he stepped towards the exit out of Leobtav’s tent. “I’ll be back in my tent later if you want to visit, but for now I need to go find Nisha and see what’s wrong with Clueless and Tristol’s group.”
“That’s good. Please don’t tell anyone else. He might hurt more people if you do.”
Doran nodded and stepped out into the gloom, his mind a flurry of thoughts and uncertainty. Ever since the murders had started, he and everyone else had assumed that it was some native denizen of Pandemonium, or a demon or other fiend wandered about in the darkness. But Leobtav’s familiar had obviously seen someone and recognized them as a member of the expedition while in the middle of one of their killings. The poor creature was scared half to death and irrationally afraid that he’d been noticed.
Walking towards his own tent, he continued with a mental list of who might be suspect. Obviously it was someone who knew magic and a good deal of it given the circumstances of when and how they’d found the bodies, and if it wasn’t entirely done by magic, that person was very adept at sneaking and hiding. Of the mercenaries there were several possibilities: Frollis obviously given his association with the Church of Mask, Clueless given his ability with both swordplay and sorcery –and a subtle but present vibe that Doran had gotten from him that just struck him as cold-, and perhaps Nisha as well. The Xaositect wasn’t an obvious choice, but their kind was barking mad and despite her never serious nature and relatively slender knowledge of magic, it was entirely possible that she had an alternate personality of some sort.
On to less obvious choices: Tristol was probably the most skilled mage on the expedition, and one of the more naturally adept that he’d ever met, but then he was an evoker and apparently unable to cast spells from the illusion school. Possibly he and Nisha combined as a pair of killers to cover their own deficiencies… no that was retarded and overly complex. There wasn’t any suggestion that more than one person was responsible, and Ficklebarb had been specific that it was one person, and not multiple people.
That was all there was among the mercenaries, because they were the only ones who really had the training to be capable of the crimes. After all, the Institute needed to go for outside help since their own staff uniformly lacked any real capacity or experience to do the same job of protecting their academic members. But at the same time it was always possible that one of the academic staff or hired scholars simply hadn’t reported any such abilities or training, and compared to the more… “colorful” backgrounds and past associations of the mercenaries, the academic hires hadn’t been subjected to the same level of background and reference checks. It would just as easily be one of the archaeologists, planar sages, philologists or cartographers, and there were a lot more of them to consider as suspects if that was the case.
Doran sighed. Hopefully he could tease more information out of Ficklebarb about who he’d seen before there were any more deaths.
Clueless gazed up into the eyes of the single largest dragon that he’d ever seen as the behemoth’s glowing irises –each larger across than he was from head to toe- cast a sickly yellow glow across its already golden and glittering hoard.
“THiEvEs! LooTErS! ComE tO TAKE, buT NO… DEaTh Is All YoU FiND in MY LaIR.”
The dragon alternated between a thundering roar and a hissing, whispering susurrus like the breeze between the gusts of a thundering hurricane. But hurricanes were forces of nature, unthinking and in their randomness they were predictable in a way, and the creature before Clueless was
”I think we may have found our killer.” Tristol spoke to Clueless over the telepathic link.
“KiLLeR?” The great wyrm howling dragon questioned with a sense of puzzled offense. “I hAVe YeT to KiLL, bUt ThIEvEs I wILL, YoU WhO WhiSPer, whisper whisper speaking secrets hiding things scheming to deceive and plunder…”
Tristol’s eyes went wide as the dragon obviously was privy to their magical mental link. One false word and the creature could swallow them alive or blast them into pulp with its breath weapon, whatever it might be since it wasn’t one of the standard chromatics or metallics.
Clueless matched Tristol’s look and silently motioned behind his back to stay quiet.
“We didn’t come to steal from you, great…” he trailed off to allow the wyrm to give them a name if it so desired.
“PaRaVaSHTaCroNoX thE HOwLInG…” The dragon whispered through bared and clenched teeth, each the size of one of the tiny humanoids that whimpered beneath its gaze, each smelling of fear as its tongue erratically flickered between the gaps of its fangs a dozen feet out and in again.
“Great Paravashtacronox allow me to apologize for the intrusion. I and those who came with me, we came looking for the one that came to you before us, he was lost and wandered off and arrived here by accident through the same portal that we used.”
The dragon’s eyes narrowed to slits, though still displaying the cross-dilated pupils like a stroke victim. The light from the one eye with a constricted pupil shown down on the whimpering academic who’d first stumbled into his lair, highlighting him with an inverse spotlight of shadow.
“BuT ThIS thief… THIEF… fell UpoN mY HoArD WiTH GrEeD…”
“Great one, we have only come to retrieve our lost companion. Nothing more and nothing less. I apologize if your rest has been disturbed and if…”
The dragon hissed with displeasure, nearly knocking Clueless over with the sudden expulsion of rancid, stale and ozone-tinged breath.
“WhY sHoULD I nOT KiLL yoU ALL tO Be certain mY LaiR –reMaINs- sAfE fRom pLunDer? TeLL Me tHat?
Deliberately and slowly, Clueless opened his belt pouch and tossed its contents out into the ocean of gold that he stood upon, adding a few dozen coins to the dragon’s hoard.
“Tribute to you as an apology for having intruded into your domain, but we only wish to leave, having found our lost companion. He did not come here seeking to plunder your treasure, he was seeking an inscription upon Howler’s Crag and errantly opened the portal here with another, unrelated inscription on the bound space.”
Paravashtacronox hissed at the bladesinger and then turned back to the academic. “My gOLd Is StILL UpON HiS PerSoN! He DeSerVeS DeAtH FoR this OffeNSe!”
Nodding slowly and hearing the rising but still soft tide of panic behind him from the others, Clueless stepped forwards towards the dragon till he stood behind the whimpering scholar pinned as a thief. The man was hurriedly dumping his pockets out of anything and everything, including a number of gemstones and non-standard coins very evidently taken from the dragon’s hoard in his first moments of discovering the sealed off bubble of stone. He had indeed stolen from the wyrm.
“Yes great one,” Clueless said, looking at the sage and then up at the dragon. “He does deserve to die as punishment for theft. You are correct.”
And with that sudden statement, Clueless’s sword emerged from the stunned scholar’s chest, buried to the hilt in his back just above the heart, instantly killing him.
“The thief is dead.” The bladesinger pronounced, looking directly up at the dragon. “Again my apologies. With your leave may we depart?”
Paravashtacronox tilted his head to the side, curiously gazing out at the half-fey and then beyond to where Tristol stood with the clustered scholars. He sniffed the air and finally gave a crooked, draconic smile.
“I aM SatiSFiED LiTtLe OnE. Do NoT ReTuRn…”
Behind them the portal flickered open once more and Tristol hurried the scholars through and back to the relative safety of the Crag, away from the insane wyrm. Clueless waited for them all to pass through the portal before nodding to the dragon and stepping through as well.
When the portal sealed shut a moment later, Paravashtacronox the Howling smiled. His lair was safe, the portals were all closed and he and his treasure remained sealed away from the world.
“ThEY aRe GonE. NeVeR to ReTurN. LeT PanDemOniUM SwALLoW ThEm FoR All I CaRe.”
“They will return.” Something whispered to the dragon, inside of its mind. “I foresee this. They will return one day. They will return and they will come hunting for you. You are not immortal, not truly immortal my warden.”
The Howling hissed and snarled. “SiLeNCE!!”
“You are deceived little one. They will be the death of you one day. Not soon, but eventually. And then, then I will be free.”
Once again the Howling snarled and curled upon his treasure, closing his eyes and returning to fitful dreamless slumber. But as he slumbered, trapped within his body powerless and impotent in the face of its host’s yawning, overwhelming madness, Nyovox the Third Avatar of Garyx the Devourer smiled.
“Just what the hell did you do in there?!” Tristol mentally shouted out to Clueless as he emerged from the closing gateway.
The cluster of sages looked at the bladesinger with wide eyes and slack jaws for a dozen pregnant and silent moments before finally one of them spoke their collective thought.
“You murdered that man in cold blood!”
“Why did you do that?!”
“You killed him!”
“He wasn’t a thief and you stabbed him in the back!”
“Maybe you’re the one who killed those other two men!”
Clueless sheathed his sword and held up something tightly gripped and previously concealed in his other hand: a finger, neatly severed at the third knuckle.
“There was no way out of that cavern unless the dragon opened that portal up for us. The thing was far too large for even a madman to even momentarily consider fighting, and it was on the verge of deeming us thieves and looters as well. That would have been a death sentence. If I hadn’t killed him, every single one of us would be dead and the rest of the expedition would have come looking for us and likely wound up dead as well.”
“What’s that?” One of the sages asked, pointing to the severed pinkie finger in Clueless’s hand.
[i]”Damn but you’re good.” Tristol told Clueless as he realized the meaning behind the bladesinger’s full set of actions. He’d killed the man, but only in the temporary sense. He’d smuggled out a bit of the corpse, and it was enough for a resurrection once they got back to Sigil.
“It’s one of his fingers.” Clueless explained. “And it’s enough for a resurrection, which I’ll pay for myself if the Institute won’t cover the costs. I didn’t have a choice in killing him to save the rest of us, but he’ll be back amongst us eventually. I’m not a murderer. I’m just brutally pragmatic when I have to be.”
The formerly angry, accusatory faces softened and turned to admiration and thanks.
“I’m sorry for calling you a murder…”
“I didn’t understand what I was saying; please don’t hold it against me.”
“I really didn’t mean what I said…”
“That was really smart and very brave of you.”
Clueless smiled as they came to understand his actions, and truly appreciate his gambit inside of the wyrm’s lair. “How about we get back to camp?”
The remainder of the night passed without incident, though Clueless and Tristol spent nearly an hour in debate with Leobtav and Doran regarding the importance or lack thereof of the portal that they’d found, and any link between it and the murders around the camp. In the end they agreed to put the immediate area around the portal off limits, and that while a thing of incredible curiosity and a convenient explanation for the two bizarre killings, the insane great wyrm was utterly unconnected to the Crag and to the murders.
Clueless took a sip of thin ale and glanced around. For whatever reason the shadows seemed darker that evening, and the expedition members clustered together a bit tighter against the cold and the dangers that they’d come to discover first hand over the past several days. Next to one tent, Florien shared tales with a group of those who’d been in the thickest bit of the tanar’ri attack, regaling them with other tales of danger and the proud glory that came to those who stood brave in its face. Turning his head more he saw Nisha and Tristol sitting together, the tiefling making shadow puppets against a hanging flap of tent fabric that seemed to dance around and nip at the aasimar’s tail while professor Leobtav and Ficklebarb watched. The pseudodragon seemed to enjoy the show, looking happier than he had and Doran smiled as the familiar’s master conjured a few of his own to buy him a moment’s respite and time to study more of the day’s results.
“Fyrehowl?” Clueless asked to his left once he finished panning around the entire group. “Do you notice something? Someone missing?”
The lupinal nodded. “Frollis isn’t here. I haven’t seen him since we got back from the portal.”
“He’s been doing that for a while.” Clueless said. “Vanishing off to… wherever… for a few hours or half a day at a time since we’ve gotten here. I thought he was just off with another group, but I’ve asked around and he’s been ducking away from camp more often than not.”
Fyrehowl looked hard at him. “Do you want to say something to Doran or Leobtav yet?”
“Not yet.” Clueless replied. “We can’t prove anything.”
“Well,” The lupinal sighed. “Let’s hope that nobody else dies before we can. But at the rate we’re going, the plane itself is going to knock off half of the group before then, with or without any help from some freelance psycho.”
They didn’t have to wait for very long.
“When did you find him?” Professor Leobtav asked, glancing up at the corpse with a profoundly disturbed look upon his face. “He was on the cooking detail last night. He wasn’t on one of the teams that left camp.”
Doran nodded. “Either he wandered outside of camp…”
“Or something came in and took him.” Leobtav answered his second’s line of thinking. “We’ll have to post a tighter watch tonight and from now on, and seriously restrict movement unless it’s in groups.”
“I would have to agree.” Doran replied, glancing over at Leobtav’s familiar who likewise nodded in agreement. Whatever the little familiar might have known, he was keeping true to his word and not telling anyone else if he could avoid it, including it would seem, his master, or else Leobtav was holding to the same promise that the pseudodragon had exacted from him. “As for the body, we found him this morning when one of the first groups went out towards the next section of the Crag. They got here, just outside of the light from camp when they found him. I sent them on up to the Crag, and they’re still looking over this portion of the area and several of the caves leading into the rock.”
“This happened so close to camp…” Leobtav fretted. “Nobody heard a thing? Have you asked around?”
“I did, and it’s not surprising. Even so close to camp you could be screaming and the wind would have still muted it out in all of the white noise and echoes off of the rocks.”
The body they both stood below had been found suspended from an overhand of rock above a cave mouth less than ten yards from the camp, arms bound together by the excised tendons of their own sartorius muscles from the left and right legs. Their diaphragm had been punctured to prevent screaming, and a depression in the earth before the body made it readily apparent that the killer had sat and watched as their victim slowly suffocated to death in front of them.
Ten yards from camp. Ten yards.
Doran took in the news and stewed on the fact that it was now more obvious that it was only one person, rather than multiple ones. This time they watched their victim die and they prolonged it. They were escalating the violence as all mass murderers did eventually, but on a much quicker timetable than any normal madman would have. Perhaps the plane’s winds had sparked some ember of insanity into a roaring flame in an otherwise normally sane man.
Up on the crag three groups scoured through more than a dozen caves that burrowed into Howler’s Crag like meandering worm trails into a rotten apple. Both clerics accompanied one group, Tristol, Nisha, Fyrehowl and Clueless headed up a second group, while Frollis, Toras, and the lilland comprised the third.
Most of the caves were short and only extended into the Crag a few dozen feet to small chambers. They all appeared carved by hand, and many contained one or two rough stone benches cut into the walls, and occasionally what seemed like an empty devotional niche or blank altar. The walls however were all uniformly covered in a bizarre patchwork of symbols, strings of numbers and mathematical formulas, and psalms and liturgies in languages long since considered dead or lost.
The symbols in the caves ran the gamut from obscure, to bizarre, to untranslatable by magical means. In only a short period of time Tristol identified examples of Netherese, ancient versions of Celestials, Abyssal, and the Infernal alphabet, along with symbols that transmitted feelings when read and shifted color as the mood of the phrase changed like a form of Qualith not exclusive to illithids.
“This stuff is strange.” Tristol remarked as he walked down the cave, slowly translating bits of script and jotting down notations on their meaning, location, and any words that he was unable to identify since those might comprise the elusive Gautish script that the Institute was searching for.
“Define strange?” Nisha asked.
Fyrehowl grinned at the tiefling. “You.”
“Circular logic gets you everywhere?” Nisha quipped back as she whispered a phrase in draconic and started walking along the ceiling more to amuse herself than to examine the few lines of script that reached that high up.
“There’s a few portals around here too, but nothing that’s currently active. The Abyss, Limbo, Shadow, and the Ethereal.” Tristol added. “And as far as weird, this goes far beyond Nisha’s amusing randomness. This stuff is downright bizarre.”
“Humor me.” Said the lupinal.
The aasimar rattled off the contents of the last few lines and stanzas from the walls that he’d translated or gathered a rough meaning for: the honeycombed depths; the vaults of the powers and their hidden keys; the grave of creation; For there is a hole in the sky; the tomb of the smoldering Phoenix god; the ashes of betrayed powers; hello…; the last refuge of the Wind Dukes from the onslaught of the undead Lords of Brass; The Palace of Radiant Suffering; Saelt, Alluvius, Exhalus, Cavitius… true entropy lies within the Crumbling Citadel alone; a reference to ‘Unknowable Skeletal Lords of the Misty Prison’; and one line that felt oddly familiar, “HUBRIS lies not dead but waiting… though the hidden hands of fate dictates action and not greed or envy.”
Wednesday, 28th December, 2011, 02:22 AM #1765
Novice (Lvl 1)
Wednesday, 28th December, 2011, 04:59 AM #1766
Novice (Lvl 1)
Shemmy, I just want reaffirm this: You are awesome!
I'mma go reread the Pandemonium arc now...
Wednesday, 28th December, 2011, 05:28 AM #1767
Superhero (Lvl 15)
More to come. I'd like the finish this arc within reason now since it was stalled for over a year. After the current arc I'll probably be writing a sidetrek of events that happen in Sigil in parallel (a oneshot I ran at NC Gameday and at GenCon one year) which later come back into view in the primary storyline. Actually writing the prelude scene of that tonight.
Wednesday, 28th December, 2011, 04:34 PM #1768
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
It can't be easy to write such a good story hour so long after the events have been role-played. Well done. Please keep at it.
Wednesday, 28th December, 2011, 05:56 PM #1769
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Heh. I remember seeing at least one of the other players go pale on that scene. Pretty sure I surprised the GM on that one too. ("You do *what*?!")
Thursday, 5th January, 2012, 07:37 AM #1770
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
And there's another NPC I'm stealling for my game. Fitting that I was just rereading the Jester's arc. Did this led to mass paranoia on the player's behalves?
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