A Song for Sharn – first attempt at Story Hour

Torscha

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A Song for Sharn – first attempt at Story Hour

This is my first ever D&D Campaign, still currently running as the DM. We've set it in Eberron, due to my peculiar affection for its pulp-noir atmosphere, which I honestly think both the campaign proper and this log fail to completely capture. Feedback is always appreciated.

A Song for Sharn

Prologue

Whispers echoed off the ruined stonework, thickening the vast room with a refrain as cloying and intoxicating as the narcotic incense rising in wisps from the bronze brazier. The man and the woman knelt before the idol, eyes fixed firmly on the floor, not daring to gaze upon its ruined majesty as its voice lapped against their ears, seductive and insistent, a song of greed and lust, and above all the yearning for freedom.

At the Sign

The attendant quivered, although not too much, which would not do at all, mostly because it might cause the wickedly jagged blade held at her neck to rip through her fair flesh. It might even leave a scar, which would not do at all. House Orien only employed the best, and one of her friends had been sacked after burning herself carelessly on an exposed samovar, creating a circle of unsightly scar tissue on the palm of her hand. A ragged gash across the neck simply would not do.

Her captor was not making things easy, though: he was screaming through spittle-flecked lips, and would occasionally whip the knife away from her throat to gesticulate passionately as he denounced the state of the world today, with construct citizens and monstrous immigrants rubbing shoulders with good, honest, hardworking humans like him in the depths of Sharn, reiterating his command that the lightning rail coach not pull up at the station but rather keep going, sending itself careening into the building which housed the captive lightning elementals. He seemed convinced that such a course of action would send a ‘strong message’ to those who thought that they could continue polluting society with such filth. He seemed on the verge of convincing the other passengers too, who watched the hypnotic weaving of his gleaming knife-blade as if mesmerised. Or maybe they were just avoiding making eye-contact with her.

The flicking of their eyes to a point over and beyond her left shoulder was the only warning she had, before her captor, who stank abominably of strong alcohol and stale sweat and less savoury things besides, gave a spasmodic jerk, a weak gurgle, and then released her.* Suddenly free and shaking with adrenaline and fear, her knees buckled and she would have collapsed in a heap together with her unconscious and malodorous assailant if not for the strong arm someone put around her waist, bearing her up.

Amidst a smattering of applause and the various sounds of commuters turning back to their own affairs, she turned to face her rescuer, a little disappointed to find, instead of a knight in shining armour, a somewhat scruffy-looking young man who stood scarcely taller than her, of medium build with a boyish face currently watching her solemnly from behind spectacles with smoked-glass lenses. He gave her a grave nod, which she returned, a little dazedly.

“Thank you,” she said, managing not to squeak, taking in the tousled hair, travel-worn clothes, and scuffed boots. He looked like any of the other travellers from the compartment he’d just come from, the door to it still swinging open and banging rhythmically with the vibration of the rail coach. The battered staff he prodded the unconscious man with completed the image of the penniless itinerant. She was hardly surprised when he bent to rifle through the man’s belongings, coming up in a few moments with a thin purse. She was surprised when the traveller handed her the purse, after slipping the fallen man’s knife into his belt.

“So you can buy something to calm your nerves,” he explained cheerfully. “After we arrive you can go do something to take your mind of all this.”

She nodded dumbly.

He smiled, a little lopsidedly, and moved to return to his compartment, just as the announcement boomed over the ornately-wrought bronze magic mouths which had been installed into every compartment.

“NOW ARRIVING AT TERMINUS STATION. ALL PASSENGERS FOR SHARN, PLEASE DISEMBARK. HOUSE ORIEN RESPECTFULLY REMINDS ALL ITS PASSENGERS THAT TRAVELLING ON THE LIGHTNING RAIL WITHOUT A VALID TICKET IS A MAJOR OFFENSE.”

Sharn. In the mad rush of passengers leaving the coach, she never spotted her erstwhile saviour shoulder his rumpled haversack and step out onto the platform. She also missed how, when he donned his hat, a wide-brimmed affair of battered, weather-stained leather, his bespectacled features reshaped themselves, flowing like water for an instant before resettling in a new configuration.

Ξ

The inside of the Dragon’s Breath lived up to its namesake. The midsummer heat, smouldering outside, became within as forceful as a hammerblow, fed by glowing embers in dozens of pipes, the blazing fire which licked at the roast, and the press of bodies, in some places as close as puppies in a litter, although much less kindly disposed towards each other.

Lydia scowled down at the bones on the table.** Her opponent had thrown well, and only the luck of Olladra would see her through. That, and some nimble fingers, she told herself. Theatrically, she scooped up the bones and raised them to her lips, before casting them across the tabletop. They rattled to a halt, and Lydia’s scowl tugged upwards into a beatific grin.

The expression wasn’t mirrored on the face of her nemesis, a shifter of truly mountainous proportions whose wart-spattered, scarred ugliness was only challenged by his stench, who bared a set of teeth that weren’t so much yellowed as tarnished. Was it just her, or were those teeth getting longer as she watched?

“Hey now, no need to start getting all hairy about this,” she trilled gaily, sweeping her winnings into a pouch, which made a very satisfying clinking clangour. “It’s just luck, eh?”

“Luck?” The word came out a growl past the obscuring fangs. “Seems like you’ve been particularly lucky tonight, girlie. Wonder how long that’ll last?”

“I don’t really intend to find out,” she said blithely. She slipped the pouch into a pocket, and in the same movement reached back to touch the grip of her sharrash. The wooden haft of the scythe-like weapon was where she could reach it easily; the information gave her some assurance in the face of the huge shifter. “A very good afternoon to you.”

No!” the man roared, and with his hands under the table heaved upwards, sending it––and the diminutive halfling––soaring through the air. The table landed with a crash and a spray of splinters and the cacophony of the beaten brass tableware scattering about the floor. The halfling, however, had twisted gracefully in mid-air and landed on her feet, and in one smooth motion unlimbered and pulled out the sharrash***, the wickedly-curved weapon almost too massive for her. Its blade gleamed even in the badly-lit interior of the tavern, and caused the shifter to check his rush for her throat.

Thankfully, or perhaps not, they were interrupted by a godsawful smashing sound, the sound of wood splintering. Standing at less than three feet, the halfling didn’t manage to see what happened until the first bugbear loomed head and shoulders over the people in the crowd before her, who had turned to face the direction of that eruption behind the bar. The bartender had time to give voice to a feeble objection before a careless stroke with a battleaxe struck his head from his shoulders.

Adventurers have often been compared with sharks, especially in Sharn where they gathered thick as the proverbial thieves they sometimes were to gather information and procure equipment, or simply unwind, as a great many of them were wont to do at establishments much like the Dragon’s Breath. The comparison was in this case extremely apt, as the sight of blood caused an eruption of chaos the likes of which seemed ill-suited to any place short of a battlefield.

Weapons were drawn and chairs thrown back as the men, elves, dwarves, halflings, and assorted other patrons of the tavern moved to avenge their deceased landlord and perhaps acquire a little something in the way of monetary compensation for having their peace disturbed. The interlopers, however, clambering one after the other from a a hole torn through the thin wood of the floor, seemed less than eager to close with the opposition, and displayed a surprisingly ungoblinoid situational awareness. The largest, presumably the leader, barked an order and they formed up around him, and began methodically clearing a path through the crowded tavern, with crude but massive axes.

Lydia decided that this was yet another manifestation of divine intervention in her life, and immediately resolved to donate some of her winnings to the next church or temple she came across. Her resolve doubled when she noticed that the shifter had turned his attention from her to their new assailants, having shed both his cloak and human aspect, sprouting talons from his fingertips and bracing himself to face the oncoming goblinoids. She noticed, most of all, a hitherto concealed package hanging from his belt, previously concealed by his voluminous cloak but now left exposed in the heat of the moment. It took barely any effort at all to extend her sharrash and delicately, ever so delicately, sever the strings that held it in place, in the same movement using the haft to snare the falling package and reel it in. She needn’t have bothered with delicacy, however; the moment she’d done that the shifter had made as if to pounce on one of the bugbears, and had gotten an axe shearing through his skull for his civic-mindedness.

Considerably less eager to fulfil any sort of societal obligation, Lydia slipped out. Her threehorns Trixie was probably getting restive, and like any good handler she had an obligation to her charge, didn’t she?

Ξ

Karsen Dulath d’Orien was not a happy man. First, the manifestation of his dragonmark had given his House a flimsy excuse to press-gang him into a gruelling and soul-destroying phase of training designed to break his will and turn him into a mindless asset for the House, which had forced him away from his first and only love: arts darker and more arcane than those he felt his superiors would approve of. Then, when he’d finally been able to wrangle his way into getting the pseudo-autonomous appointment of emergency-call doctor and contacted his old friends, he’d been slapped with this ridiculous quest by the cult, which he had been told in no uncertain terms he would complete either as a free-willed young man or a mind-controlled zombie. What he’d felt was the final indignity was him being saddled with this mechanical moron of a cohort, which was just curious and stupid enough to be able to consistently ask questions about the beliefs of the cult the answers to which it had no chance of understanding.

Of course, he had been wrong about it being final. He’d actually taken the thing’s suggestion of gathering information at one of the pestilent local watering holes, before belatedly realising that taking recommendations on good places to drink from an automaton that had no need of either food or drink was not particularly clever. He had hunkered down with his watered-down ale and attempted to keep his ears open.

The fight which erupted in the tavern due to the unexpected entrance of some goblinoids was almost a welcome change of pace. Already Tim had laid a hand on its longsword, its visage, although fitted with inhuman features, settling into something almost plaintive. Its massive bulk was sheened the oily black of an adamantine alloy, and Karsen supposed that there was very little the bugbears or anyone else for that matter could be carrying that would do more than scratch the warforged’s armour plating, so he nodded in resignation.

With puppyish enthusiasm, the warforged sprung to its feet and unlimbered the heavy shield it had worn slung across its back. The sound of its sword being drawn was lost in the general cacophony of the fray, and only the high-pitched screams of surprise that followed in the wake of that deadly blade alerted people to the fact that someone had upped the ante on the brawlers.

Karsen sighed and tucked his hands into his voluminous sleeves, where he could if need be perform the intricate gestures of spellcasting without being noticed, and sat back to watch his minion enjoy itself.

Ξ

The raven perched on one of Clifftop’s innumerable gutters, fastidiously picking its way across the soot-stained stone. Filthy, it thought to itself, in a manner entirely uncharacteristic of most corvids. I don’t know why I bothered coming back. Civilisation is so over-rated. It allowed itself a moment to pine for the Reaches, before movement caught its eye, so finely-tuned to the glitter of shiny objects that the dying sunlight flashing off a multitude of bladed weapons could not but attract its attention.

It smelt blood, and smoke. Even here, behind their walls and atop their towers, their atavistic nature returns. It stretched its two-foot wingspan, and the enormous bird glided off the gutter, allowing the evening breeze to carry it in gentle, lazy circles above the heads of the running goblinoids. The raven watched, with clinical disinterest, as they cut down whoever happened to be in their way, such was their haste. An old woman back from a late visit to the marketplace for bread in time for dinner was cut down, as was an overzealous watchman who leapt in their way, halberd upraised and a challenge on his lips, the shout drowned in his own blood before it could be fully given voice. High above one of Sharn’s oldest towers, the raven could see the signs of pursuit being mustered, of guardsmen emerging from their barracks, some of them still adjusting their mail or wedging their polearms under an arm in order to do up the straps of their helms. It judged their efforts admirable but entirely inadequate, for the goblinoids were already nearing what must have been their goal: the air-docks at the edge of the tower, where the raven’s keen eye picked out the sky-barge at anchor.

Even as its senses pinpointed the source of the smell of smoke, and its eye took in the rising pillar of sooty-gray that rose from the blazing ruin of one of the district’s innumerable taverns, it realised that the helmsman of that vessel must have seen it too, for shapes on board were already making preparations for casting-off. The gangplank was already down by the time the escaping monsters reached the barge; they scrambled aboard with almost military precision, the first ones to climb on board accepting ready-winded crossbows from the deckhands and stopping pursuit in its tracks with a withering hail of bolts, shot with such force from the oversized weapons that those struck were flung backwards in sprays of their own blood. The counter-volley found only wood, splintering the varnish on the vessel’s soarwood bottom as it lifted off, the winds rushing through its sails as it moved off. The raven heard calls for pursuit, for countermages, but with its long experience in the air it estimated that the lumbering specks which were the watch’s troop carriers would never catch the fleeing skiff.

It idly entertained the notion of pursuit, of harrassing the fleeing vessel with bolts of lightning from a clear sky, but gave the avian equivalent of a shrug. There would be those on the lookout for such ostentation, and it had invested enough effort into remaining inconspicuous to acknowledge that such idle entertainment was not worth the trouble revealing its presence would undoubtedly cause.

Besides, there were countless bodies strewn across the streets of Clifftop, and its purse––when it had a purse––was being rapidly depleted by the dietary requirements of its other companion. It would have to settle for a less than savoury meal on the tab of those escaping goblinoids. Combining economics with the necessities of nature. How appropriate.

Not wanting to be casually shot at like some carrion birds, it headed for one of the side-alleys near the source of the blaze, which would deter inquisitives long enough for the raven to stuff itself silly on the juicy tidbits left in the wake of the bedlam that had recently erupted.

As it approached, a scent drifted over the smell of smoke: that of a large creature, one the raven would not ordinarily identify with urban environments. It drifted closer, curious, and spotted its quarry: a threehorns, one of the four-legged herbivores of the Talenta Plains, more than capable of holding its own against predators with its shielding ruff of bone and three wickedly pointed horns. The creature was ambling down the alleyway, seemingly glad to be moving away from the blaze, and lounging on its broad back was a small person!

Curiouser and curiouser. The raven winged closer, and recognised the threehorns’ rider as a halfling, soot-stained but still grinning. The bird was close enough to pick up snatches of conversation, as the halfling spoke to her mount.

“Lucky I got you out of there in time, eh? Who knew someone was going to drop that oil lantern in the stables in order to cover their tracks, after having pilfered all those saddle bags lying around unattended?” The halfling shot a proud glance at aforementiond saddlebags, draped across the threehorns’ spiked ruff like so many ribbons. Her mount seemed less than impressed, and the halfling prodded it in the ear with a pointed toe. “Eh, ungrateful beast. I’ll find you another place, and with the pickings of today you can stuff yourself silly with whatever the hell you want. No more mouldy corn meal for you!”

Excited by the prospect of examining her gains, the halfling sat up and rummaged around in the small sack slung crosswise across her small frame, coming up with a wrapped package. The raven listened attentively as the halfling murmured to herself, running her fingers over the oilcloth.

“Plain… almost too plain. Trixie, someone’s taken great pains to make this look as ordinary and uninteresting as possible, and if that isn’t extraordinary and interesting I don’t know what is. Let’s see what Mommy’s going to pawn in order to fill your fat belly, shall we?”

The halfling slit the parcel’s wrappings with a sharp dagger, and unfolded it to reveal a small gray lump that the raven could not make out clearly.

That…!

It swooped down and perched itself on the threehorns’ ruff. The dinosaur did not take the least bit of notice, but the halfling looked up with a start, before relaxing back in the curious saddle. “Oh, it’s a birdie! How queer. You’re rather large for a bird, aren’t you?”

Unheeding, the raven transfixed the small lump with its beady gaze. It saw what looked like a piece broken off a statue, made of some unusual gray stone. Despite its lack of lustre, it was apparently exquisitely crafted: a hand, held palm out in what could easily have been either a gesture of warding or of benediction. It squinted closer, and the aura of magic that glimmered around it came into sharp focus: blazing with colours, the brightest of which was an aureate glow that made the raven feel vaguely uneasy, as if its wings had become leaden and heavy.

Apparently oblivious to the object’s exotic properties, the halfling looked it over admiringly. “A mite disappointing, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. It’ll look good on some ponce’s mantelpiece, that’s for sure, and it might fetch a pretty penny at the right sort of place.”

The raven’s stomach lurched, and it lost all interest in the thought of juicy offal and eyeballs as it continued to study the hand. There was something intrinsically wrong about it: the presence of the artifact twisted reality, warping it it somehow. It didn’t belong. The thought of the halfling blithely selling it to whoever offered the most coin didn’t sit well with the raven, which decided that something had to be done.

It made the short glide from the threehorns’ ruff to the alleyway before it, and with a thought it changed.

The raven seemed to unfold upwards, wings spreading wider and wider, feathers melting inwards to become a contiguous surface, which shimmered and then took on the appearance of fabric, a leaf-green cloak which now hung from the shoulders of a woman, who threw back her hood to reveal sharply pointed ears, viridian hair and eyes, and skin with the smoothness and shade of olive oil.

The druid heard a muffled curse, and the slither of wood on leather, and turned, raising both hands in a conciliatory gesture, to face the mounted halfling who had pulled a javelin free of the bundle slung from the saddle, aiming the barbed head straight at her.

“You’d better talk fast, skinchanger!” the halfling called, her voice high but unafraid. The threehorns, which the druid only now belatedly realised was a good deal smaller than a fully-grown one, snorted sympathetically and pawed the stone of the alleyway with a flat foot. “Were you spying on me? This loot’s mine, fair and square!”

The druid opened her mouth to speak, then coughed, trying to clear her vocal cords of their desire to kaw. Finally, she said, “No, no, nothing of the sort. I just noticed you with that intriguing piece of statuary over there, and wondered if you’d decided what you wanted to do with it.”

The halfling eyed her suspiciously down the length of her javelin. Her arm remained pulled back, and the druid could see that though small, she was lithely muscled, and that coiled arm could probably send that javelin whirring forward with lethal force. “I don’t see ’ow that’s any business of yours!” she snapped. “I sugges’ you sprout feathers again and fly away, afore I decide to see if you’d like a turn as a spitted roast!”

The druid struggled with the conundrum slightly. The artifact the halfling held was certainly something that bore investigating, and she had to be dissuaded from selling it at all costs before she had had a chance to examine it properly. The aura it radiated spoke of something that threatened city and forest alike, a ravenous force that neither dressed stone nor ancient wood and leaf could withstand if invoked.

She tried, “I was just hoping you weren’t thinking of merely pawning it off as an interesting curio. It’s magic, you see, and probably worth more than you could possibly imagine. I overheard you talking to yourself, and couldn’t possibly have allowed you to be swindled so dreadfully by one of the scoundrels who deal in… second-hand objects.”

“Magic?” The halfling’s eyes widened, and she licked sensual lips quite involuntarily. “Worth more, you say?” Her arm relaxed, to the druid’s immediate relief, but did not return the javelin to its holder. “ ’Ow much more, exactly?”

The druid spread her hands in what she hoped was a nonchalant fashion. “Hard to say. I can’t tell without examining it further, and I’m newly arrived to the city and entirely too exhausted to do any thorough analysis at the moment.”

The halfling pondered the thought for a moment, before asking, “Promise you aren’t going to steal it from me?” almost plaintively.

A little taken aback from the other’s sudden shift from threatening scoundrel to petulant child, the druid shrugged. “I promise. I’m only curious about its properties; I don’t set much store by gold.”

“I’ll believe that. Nobody with a vestige of good sense and the budget to back it up would dress in those.” The halfling wrinked her nose at the druid’s travel-worn leathers, but leaned down from the threehorns’ saddle and extended a tiny hand. “I’m Lydia. Queen of Beggars,” she added, self-importantly.

“Petra,” the druid said, shaking the hand cautiously, full aware that the halfling’s other hand still grasped the javelin. Then, “Queen of Beggars?”

The halfling leaned back and shrugged. “Well, not exactly, but I couldn’t think of anything better. I’m pretty new to Sharn myself, so I thought I’d just stake a claim first. Not that I think many of the beggars hereabouts will want to argue much with Trixie here.” Lydia patted the threehorns’ neck; it whuffed agreeably. “Truth be told, I don’t even like Sharn; I’m up from the plains. Not by choice, either. You lib’rate one priceless tribal totem for a truly measly sum and soon there is not one single place to pitch your tent without ’ead’unters showing up in the middle of the night. Shameful, I tell you!”

“Indeed,” the druid agreed, a little dubiously. “The sun will be setting in short order; shall we adjourn to a hostelry of some sort to converse in more pleasant surroundings?” Her keener animal senses had not completely left her, and being able to tell what the sludge underfoot consisted of did not make her any more willing to be standing in it.

The halfling shrugged. “Sure. I was thinkin’ that most of the inns and taverns hereabouts will prob’ly be full of people seekin’ shelter from the fire back there; I was ’opin’ to get put up at some temple nearby. Hopefully one of the ‘Ost; they take more kindly to Trixie here, thanks to that Balinor person of theirs. Better’n those Silver Flame freaks.”

“At least that’s one thing we can agree on,” Petra said with a small smile. “I think I saw one somewhere in this quarter. Let’s go before it gets too dark, and all the ne’er-do-wells start to harrass two pretty ladies on their own.”

Ξ

Karsen tapped his foot testily. “It certainly took you long enough to get the last one of them out of there,” he said tartly, as Tim strode out of the blazing inferno, his armour-plating soot-stained but none the worse for wear. Around the burning tavern, set afire by the fleeing goblinoids, probably to sow confusion in their wake, clustered the wounded and the caregivers, those bleeding hearts administering healing both magical and mundane. Other concerned citizens formed bucket chains or invoked elemental forces to control the flames. Strong winds blew around the building, preventing sparks and embers from being carried far, and conjurors were dousing the tavern with water. Apparently there was at least one mage of some potency among the onlookers, for a small water elemental could be seen, summoned from one of the ornamental ponds in the area no doubt, joining its efforts with those of the city’s population in combating its primal adversary.

The warforged hung its head in contrition. “Sorry, master,” it rumbled, its apology punctuated by the pinging of its metal components cooling down. It lowered the sad bundle of flesh it carried to join the row of moaning, twitching victims laid out along the street.

“Don’t be too hard on him,” said the gruff dwarven guard captain who stood by Karsen. “’E’s a good lad, and you too, for helpin’ out like ye are. Not like th’ rest of these ‘adventurer’ louts. Bunch of no-good treasure-hunters, that’s what they are.”

“Perfectly all right, captain,” Karsen said, with a suave smile. Gullible swine. “We all do our part for the city, and as a bona-fide doctor I’m well-used to situations like this. My instruments, Tim?”

The warforged produced a singed leather satchel, from which Karsen dug a series of convincing-looking instruments. He bent over the burned man and fussed over him, hoping he sounded convincingly professional, muttering about a sprained pancreas and wrapping the man’s head in bandages. The man thrashed for a moment and made some stifled protest, but Karsen leaned down, and whispered an incantation in the man’s ear as he discreetly traced a sigil on his chest. The man stiffened for a moment and then lay still as the cultist’s dire magic spread through his veins. Karsen shivered and tried to hide the inevitable look of exultation as momentary vitality flooded through him; it hadn’t been necessary, but it had been gratifying, and the man was a goner anyway.****

Up and down the line of wounded men, people were administering impromptu aid. Some were actual healers; many more were merely adventurers who for entirely practical reasons had picked up the rudiments of the healing craft. Karsen had hoped that by making some pretense of being civic-minded he could impress the guard captain enough to weasel some information out of him.

He laid two fingers by the side of the man’s neck and then swore vociferously. The dwarf laid callused fingers on his shoulder and patted him in an awkwardly paternal fashion. “There, lad. Ye did yer best, and there’re some that simply won’t be saved, Host bless them.”

“Sadly true,” came a voice off from Karsen’s left. A young man in the dusty robes of a traveller laid his staff by and reached out to close the eyes of Karsen’s erstwhile patient, and murmured a prayer to light the way for the man’s soul in the depths of Dolurrh. “But fatalism has no place in a healer’s heart: only zeal.”

“Quite right,” said Karsen, annoyed at this new interloper. He concealed the irritation behind a charismatic smile. “It’s good to know that it’s not a fight one needs to commit to alone.”

“Of course. The Host bless all who labour for the good of others with comradeship in a joint purpose,” the other agreed serenely. Karsen noticed that the other held a short stave of some sort in his left hand, a piece of polished bone, possibly the femur of some large animal, covered with deeply-etched glyphs and topped with a piece of water-clear quartz. The young newcomer reached across to another of the wounded––the wand in his hand glimmered for a moment, the sigils sparking to life, and the patient, his face constricted in a rictus of agony, sighed and relaxed against the ground, as his seared skin lost some of its rawness. Karsen had to restrain himself from flinching back from even that small surge of holy energy.

“You’re a priest, then?” Karsen managed.

“I suppose so,” the other said cheerfully, moving to the next person. This one was not as severely burned, propped up against a barrel and nursing an arm broken by a falling log. “A kind of guide, rather. I point the way for all who travel life’s paths.” The priest tucked his wand back into his belt and examined the man’s arm, probing the massive swelling with gentle fingers. He gave the injured person a strap to bite down on, and set about splinting his arm. “And you?” he asked, voice light and conversational over his patient’s strained gasps.

“I’m a doctor, in the employ of House Orien.” Karsen moved to another one, a half-orc woman with unfocused eyes. This time he recognised that she was suffering from a concussion, and advised her as such, sending Tim to fetch a pain-dulling posset. “My House sees itself as possessing definite responsibilities to the public, and we pride ourselves on providing services where no one else can or will.” The statement came out almost by rote; he was nonetheless gratified to catch the dwarf’s faint nod of approval out of the corner of his eye.

“Truly exemplary.” The priest did not seem to have caught the lie, or if he had he didn’t appear to particularly care. He even favoured Karsen with a broad smile. “I have long admired the efforts of House Orien. It is holy work you people do, furthering the reach of the Host, yea even unto the very furthest reaches of the world.”

Oh, one of those. The dragonmarked doctor knew that certain devotees of the Sovereign Host deity Kol Korran felt that travelling, spreading the word and gaining knowledge, experience, and profit was a religious obligation; House Orien had a policy of treating these individuals as respected patrons. It helped that they saw arduous travel as a means of spiritual purification––it made them much less likely to complain about the service, for one.

“My House is very committed to the proper use of our gifts,” Karsen replied, somewhat cautiously.

Karsen looked up as a commotion from somewhere beyond the watch cordon caught his ears. The crowd of gawking onlookers, held at bay by those watchmen not engaged in attempting to control the fire, was parting, and disgorged a small contingent of armed men, garbed in mail and surcoats proudly blazing the device of House Cannith. Some carried halberds, others bore large shields and stout maces. All had short swords hanging from their belts, and they faced the watchmen down with barely-concealed contempt.

The dwarven captain blustered his way up to the contingent, one hand tightly gripping the haft of his waraxe although not yet unhooking it from his belt. “What’s this, then?” he bawled. “Can’t you see this is an emergency situation? House Cannith has no business here!”

The armed men parted, revealing a lady of no uncertain beauty. Karsen noted that she was of elven descent: her ears were sharply pointed, her face beguilingly angular. That, and the brooch she wore pinned to her gown, of glistening glamerweave, told him all he needed to know about her position within her House: a valued agent, but no dragonmarked heir.

She smiled winningly at the dwarf. “Ah, Captain Kurgan, what a delight to see you here! I’m sure everyone draws a great deal of comfort from knowing that someone as capable as yourself is handling this… unfortunate incident.”

The dwarf did not seem particularly impressed by the flattery, planting his feet squarely and blocking her way. “Aye? Well, m’lady d’Vown, Perhaps then you’ll heed my capable advice and hustle yer perfumed behind back to Central before ye get the smell of smoke in yer hair, y’hear?”

“You have no idea how much I would like to,” the aristocrat remarked with disarmingly open wryness. “Unfortunately, I’m on House business. I had arranged to meet some business partners here, and was––in hindsight, quite fortunately––running late when I heard of what happened here. It’s imperative that I find them.”

The dwarf shook his head. “Everyone in this cordon is a witness to a crime, and are being detained at the pleasure of Clifftop’s guard commander. My Lady,” he added as an obvious afterthought.

The priest who had been working by Karsen’s side stood up at that, and made his way over to the captain, clearing his throat politely as he went. “Good captain, I think you should consider ‘detaining’ these poor souls at the nearest House Jorasco enclave. Or, preferably, a temple of the Host. I do remember there being some of the latter in this district?”

Kurgan squinted over his shoulder at the priest of the Host, and grunted. “Aye. There’s a threefold shrine to Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah, and Olladra hereabouts. You’d take them in, would you?”

“Those of them who are still sorely in need of care,” the priest agreed. “It is especially fortuitous that we have those three of the Host to bless these victims of fate. I am not myself resident at these shrines, but I am sure my brethren there would be more than happy to share the blessings of the Sovereign Host with them.”

The dwarf ran his fingers through his beard thoughtfully. “All right. Round up those who’ll need the care, then, and I’ll send some of my men with you to get them to the temple. The rest are spending the night in the tender care of our gaoler; hopefully by tomorrow someone would have remembered how this mess happened. I fer one don’t envy the inquisitives; they’ll have a hell of a time figuring this out.”

The priest, whose name Karsen realised he still didn’t know, turned to the lady. “The Sovereign Host will also welcome your presence tomorrow, Lady, if you would come to seek your associates among the wounded. For tonight, let them heal. There are few among them who would be able to give you a satisfactory response tonight.”

The aristocrat smiled then in a way Karsen recognised as intended to conceal the fact that she was probably grinding her molars in frustration. “But of course. Lady Tara d’Vown thanks you for your consideration, Godspeaker…?”

“Torscha will do,” the priest replied, bowing slightly from the waist. “The Host keep you this night, Lady d’Vown, and I pray they will bless us with your presence on the morrow.”

“Tomorrow,” she agreed, then fixed the dwarven captain with a stern gaze. “And you be sure to be most thorough in your investigation, Captain. I am looking for a shifter by the name of Hrulfgar Longtooth, and his companions. If any such amongst your merry band of misfits answers to that name, I remind you that House Cannith has business with him. Good day.”

“Ye too,” the dwarf grunted. “My Lady.”

Under the direction of Kurgan, the watchmen began to separate the bewildered victims of the fire into groups of those who were well enough to be questioned immediately, those who would prefer to be treated by House Jorasco, and those of more religious inclination who preferred to be given into the care of the Sovereign Host. A few of the gnomish healers who had assisted with the operation muttered at the blatant ingratitude of those who preferred superstitious mumbo-jumbo to the attentions of professional healers; at this Torscha the priest only smiled. The look he shot them over the tops of his smoked-glass lenses did a great deal to quieten them down, though.

As the watch organised details of volunteers and press-ganged unfortunates to stretcher the wounded to wherever they were supposed to go, Karsen found himself again facing Torscha. The priest once again held his traveller’s staff, a battered affair of well-worn, but well-crafted wood, shod with metal at both ends, and was leaning upon it, looking more exhausted than he’d appeared earlier. Perhaps the effort of his magical healing was making itself felt, even though Karsen had noticed the priest reserving his spells for those in more dire need of it.

“Looks like that’s the last of them,” Karsen observed. Tim had been making itself useful helping stretcher the wounded away and moving the stacks of materiél the operation had required; the warforged now hovered protectively behind him. The almost puppyish eagerness to please the creature had about it made Karsen sick at times, but he had to admit that it was a useful trait.

The priest nodded. “Most of them were victims of the smoke, and should recover with the proper care. The ones who fell to steel and violence did not for the most part make it out.” In the dying embers of the building, the priest’s features were grim, partly shadowed as they were beneath his wide-brimmed hat.

Karsen jerked his finger at the bandage-swathed shifter Tim was carrying as easily as he might a sack of feathers. “This one seems to have made it out okay.”

“Extraordinary,” the priest agreed. “And with a cracked skull, too. It must have been his weretouched heritage that saved him; that, and the blessing of the Host,” he added piously. Karsen remembered that the priest had expended a great deal of effort in magically stabilising the downed man.

“Indeed,” he replied, trying not to betray his obvious disdain. He had little truck with the false gods of anyone’s pantheon: he believed in very little besides the strength bestowed by the blood in his own veins. “Well, it looks like all the excitement is over.” He hesitated for a moment; taking shelter in a holy place would be fairly uncomfortable for him, but perhaps the opportunities it afforded in information-gathering might exceed the inconvenience. After all, the person he sought was exactly the sort who would catch the attention of this itinerant and his fellows. “I was wondering if I could request shelter at your temple for the night. I don’t live in this district, but it’s a little late to be making my way home, and I would like to be able to offer my meagre services in caring for the wounded we’re conducting there.”

Torscha’s grin was tired but sincere. “Any help you’ll be able to provide will be much appreciated; I for one am completely spent! And, Olladra be praised, it’s your lucky night. I’m sure I can convince the resident priests to put you up for the night, especially since you’re offering to share their burden.” His eyes flicked to Tim’s huge metal-plated bulk. “And I’m sure we can find some sort of accommodation for your companion as well.”

“Tim?” Karsen snorted. “You can put him to work mucking out your privies or something. He gains little benefit from rest, so why waste his efforts?”

“Nonetheless, to put a guest to work in such an undignified fashion would be unseemly.” The priest extended a comradely hand to Tim. “Come, and be welcome. You stand no lower in the Host’s regard than anyone born to flesh.”

The warforged stared at the outstretched hand for a long moment, before the priest withdrew it.


* Torscha beat his ass with Stunning Fist.

** Lydia and the shifter are playing a game of chance known as Tira's Choice I came up with randomly, which uses three d6s. I can post the rules if anyone's interested.

*** The sharrash is one of the racial weapons of the halflings of the Talenta Plains. It's essentially a halfling-sized scythe.

**** Death knell.
 

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TDRandall

Explorer
Ah, veeeerrrrryyy nice!

The text is thick, meaty even. Made the bulk of it feel very noir-ish to me. Other stories are too breezy and end up feeling more like fluff because of it. Your prose makes it seem more serious by default - and the copious, tight, descriptive details in there! I have to admit it is going to scare off some; the same type that would avoid the classics for something "easier". Their loss.

You might want to break things up into shorter pieces in the future, though. You could easily have put each section which you had already separated with the three lines as its own post. The last two sections could have been split into 2 or 3 posts on their own, though. Would help to offset the effort required to wrap the head around everything if the brain needs a rest by allowing us to simply remember which post number we're on.

Several other benefits too. You could post one every day (or every 2 or 3 days) and keep us greedy readers mollifed while still giving you time to craft the next installment(s). It would keep the footnotes in each post to a minimum. I definitely like those, btw, but the distance from their actual use made it hard to scroll back up and find where I was reading again.

All of the folks show promise, although I have to admit Karsen currently has me the most intrigued. Is he outright evil? For that matter, are you planning on perhaps releasing a parallel who's who thread? Maybe he's not even a PC, but rather a foil or a future recurring upcoming nemesis? Are all these people PCs or are some NPCs? I'm hoping for an accompanying who's who thread to give us stats and fuller detail, picture even maybe?

Keep up the good work!
 

Torscha

First Post
I'll keep the tips in mind; updates will be a little slow because my primary computer is in the shop right now (never buy first generation). I'm trying to get my players to send me their character sheets so I can put up the who's who thread you suggested, but they've all got a certain leeriness about letting the DM analyze their characters, as if I'm some sort of evil demigod who is going to go mad with power. MAD! MAD I TELL YOU!

Karsen is a PC; all the major 'viewpoint characters' are except Torscha the sovereign speaker, who's a DM PC I've included because the players have told me that they thought the party needed padding out. He's somehow managed to persuade me that he's actually True Neutral. We'll see how long that lasts. He's also one of the more hilarious ones. Petra is obviously a druid, and Lydia (placeholder name; I've actually committed the heinous crime of forgetting the character's actual name) is a multiclass rogue/barbarian.

One PC hasn't made an entrance yet. Chord, who'll be introduced shortly, is a warforged bard. I let him start with no cash to purchase items with at all, but with some built-in warforged modifications (most obviously, a set of speakers which have the in-game purpose of boosting his bard level by 1 for the purposes of performing music) and Martial Weapon Proficiency (Greataxe). He also gets a +1 shocking greataxe that doubles up as a musical instrument.

I'm sure you can see where the PC is going with that character.

(UPDATE: Rogue's Gallery thread is up, here. More characters will be added on an "as and when" basis.)
 
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TDRandall

Explorer
Drat, I evidently lost my first attempt at this.....

You've ratcheted up my interest even more with your reply. By the time I had finished the first post I honestly expected a cast of 6-8 players. You just dripped vivid imagery with the changeling and attendant in scene 1 I couldn't tell who was the character. But neither was a PC? Such luxury of detail on "merely" window dressing?

Wait, I just scanned through again and caught the connection via footnote #1. The changeling in scene 1 IS the priest in the last? Oh, this is going to be a good (if confusing) ride indeed!

You also gave such detail on the shifter that I thought for sure he was going to be a PC. I figured he might have to arrive in the party in some sideways or backward manner, but he sure seemed important enough.

So, is Tim a full cohort (Karsen have the leadership feat?) or will he be dropping out when chord appears? Now THAT will be a challenge to the noir feeling. I'm afraid I'm predisposed to picture a mullet over two throbbing woofers as pecs - kind of reminds me of the default character I usually use in Guitar Hero 2!
 

Torscha

First Post
More like cast of five. Geeks are hard to dredge up here. One is my girlfriend and another my sister, so those are kind of hard to count in.

Yeah, the "changeling" is the priest, merely employing a hat of disguise. His reasons for having to do so will hopefully become apparent at some point.

The shifter is dead. Dead is dead. Especiallly in Eberron, where most of the major religions seem to have a fairly sound theological basis to disapprove of resurrection magics.

Tim is a full cohort, and for one with an abysmal INT and CHA sure does upstage the PCs plenty. Karsen took Leadership; I'm sure the only bit about necromancy that appealed to him was the "commanding shambling hordes" bit. Command in general, really; we could have swapped him out for a mindbender and achieved much the same effects. Chord will prove to be very much different.

Primary computer should be back from the shop in a few days; update will be up then.

In the mean time, updated the Rogue's Gallery page with Karsen's and Tim's backstories.
 
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Torscha

First Post
update, in which agendas are hinted at

Well, I've finally gotten my beloved MacBook back from the shop, and it's working better than ever, so here's the next update on the story. There should be another one by the weekend; this here's mostly the backlog I've actually had stored on my hard-drive but never posted.

Ξ

It took the two girls a little while to find their way to the temple of the Host, having had to stop and ask for directions a number of times. Petra had decided to minimise the amount of shape-shifting she did around her new companion, and truth be told it was almost pleasant to amble alongside her unusual mount, talking idly with the halfling. The elf had been surprised to discover that beneath Lydia’s usually-prickly exterior was a seemingly-endless font of mirth and good humour; their brief acquaintance also revealed similar attitudes towards the city, and a mutual dislike of the ‘softness’ of civilisation. “Although it does make for better pickings,” the halfling confided in a low whisper, which the druid had nodded to.

By the time they reached the gates of the temple, a large, but not particularly ornate building of gray stone, which Petra noticed incorporated motifs from the worship of not just Olladra, but Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn as well, the sun had set, although the angry glow at the horizon betrayed the presence of the still-smouldering remnants of that day’s fire. The gates were open, as they customarily were, but halberd-bearing guards in mail shirts with longswords at their sides stood at ease on either side of the gates, the torches at their posts throwing light in a circle of radiance.

They looked up as the unlikely duo approached, and one of them stepped forward and halted them with an upraised hand. “What business do you have at this place, sacred to the Sovereign Host?” he asked, not impolitely.

Petra cleared her throat, hoping her companion would allow her to speak. While scarcely a fervent believer in the Host, she knew that it was, at least, tolerant, and its Vassals should be fairly amenable to appeals for aids, provided they were made respectfully.

Tact from the little halfling was, of course, a little too much to be expected.

The diminutive rogue immediately cut in, “Here for a soft bed, a warm bath, and decent stables! All, er, in the name of hospitality to travellers?”

The guardsman did not seem particularly impressed; Petra seemed to notice his expression become a tad more frosty. “There are many establishments in the district which extend such hospitality for honest coin; if you do not number among the faithful, kindly seek accommodation elsewhere.” His eyes flicked from the threehorns to Petra’s own companion, a capybara, which snuffled at the hem of her robe. “You and your… menagerie are not acceptable to the Host!”

“One would have thought that decision would be left up to the prelates,” came a soft voice from behind them.

Petra managed to prevent herself from jumping, but did twitch slightly in surprise. The halfling spun, with a hand halfway to her javelin-holder. The interloper held up both hands in a conciliatory gesture; the firelight outlined him as a young man in a wide-brimmed hat, dressed in dust robes. A battered staff rested in the crook of one arm.

The guard had reddened somewhat. “Are you together with them, stranger?”

“We share a certain kinship,” the newcomer agreed. He winked at Lydia and Petra in their turn; the elf did not find the gesture particularly comforting, but was willing to see if he could improve their situation. It was hard to believe that he could worsen it much further. “Insofar as we all walk the same road. Hospitality has been asked of the Host; I do not find it in me to believe that they would withhold it.”

“Are you a prelate, to lecture me so?” the guard growled. Both hands tightened around the halberd, and the other guard took a step back. One of his hands came up with a crossbow, the other something small and metal that glinted in the firelight. A whistle, Petra supposed.

“Indeed I am,” the newcomer replied, and from beneath his robes drew forth what Petra recognised as the sacred emblem of the Sovereign Host’s faith, the Octagram, simply crafted of painted, whittled wood. He also produced a packet of papers, which he held out to the guardsman. “These are my credentials from the Archimandrite of Korth.”

The guardsman’s eyes bulged as they scanned the papers quickly. He wiped his fingers on his trouser-leg before folding the papers back into their leather packet and returning them. To the astonishment of the two ladies, he then saluted smartly, bringing the halberd to his side and striking his chest with his fist. “What would you have of us, Godspeaker?” he shouted, voice quavering a little.

The Sovereign Host priest, for that was what the newcomer had to be, patted him on his shoulder in a companionable way. “Your zeal is commendable, brother,” he said cheerfully. “It is unfortunate, but there are some being borne here who have been injured in a most tragic incident. I want you to go down this street and encounter the party of watchmen bearing them here, and direct them as best you can, while your friend over there––” the crossbow-bearing guardsman almost dropped his weapon in his alacrity to snap to attention “––should go back into the temple and rouse the Vassals of the Host. There is much work to be done tonight. I would also appreciate it if someone conducted the ladies and their companions to quarters for the night.”

Petra cleared her throat for the second time that evening, and this time the halfling, having assumed a less hostile stance during the negotiations, did not see fit to butt in. “Thank you for your intervention,” she said, as politely as she could manage. She still had no great affection for representatives of the Host, whose philosophy made nature subservient to civilisation, instead of the other way around, but he seemed pleasant enough.

He shrugged. “It was nothing of consequence. I would however ask of you a small favour, in return for your lodgings this night.”

Petra sighed. Inevitably. “What is it?”

He said, “The two of you seem to be possessed of no paltry resources. If I could appeal to you to employ some of your efforts towards assisting in the movement of the injured and their subsequent treatment, I am quite sure I could appeal to the resident priests to waive whatever they would normally request in donations for putting up those who do not profess our faith.”

Lydia tsked. “Putting us to sing for our supper, eh?”

“I don’t doubt that you would sing most pleasantly, but I’d much rather you employed the strength of your friend there to help ease the burden of those on their way here,” he said with a smile.

Lydia and her threehorns exchanged glances.

Ξ

All in all, it took a couple of hours to accommodate all the wounded. The more seriously-injured had been carried to the temple infirmary, where some priests would maintain a vigil throughout the night. The others had been laid out on makeshift beds in the nave, before the altars of whichever of the Host they preferred. Many of them chose to avoid the severity of Dol Arrah’s shrine, while Dol Dorn, he of battle and bloodshed, had his share of devotees, the others chosing to supplicate Olladra, Lady of Luck, for good fortune in recovery.

The superstitiousness of even these hardened adventurers surprised Karsen a little, and he’d had to suppress his lip curling into an expression of disdain as he administered what aid he could give. The watch had promised him a fair reward for his ‘civic-mindedness’, which the necromancer felt assuaged the slight to his pride somewhat. While he did not enjoy stooping to working for money, he did understand that the resources required for fulfilling his quest might exceed what his modest private income would be able to provide. To his immense annoyance, the meddlesome priest from earlier had taken it into his head that Karsen was looking for a friend, and had decided to work by his side. Before heading off to rest in whatever quarters the resident priests had reserved for a visiting member of their own clergy, the fool had even chosen to expend his reserves of energy on those sods in the infirmary. Thankfully, at least the sheer volume of work required to turn the temple into a makeshift hospital was enough to have kept Tim busy: the warforged had been tasked with helping with the logistical nightmare, shifting enormous brass basins of steaming hot water and carrying bales of bandages. At least Karsen had been spared the thing’s puerile musings on death and life.

He had been offered a bed in some quarters which, while thoroughly inadequate for someone of his station, were at least clean and in good order. Due to the obvious shortage of space, however, he’d had to share it with no less than half a dozen snoring militiamen. He would return for his repose when he felt exhausted enough to sleep through the ruckus they made. In the mean time, he determined to take a walk in the temple gardens. At least they would be free of the oppressively sanctimonious atmosphere that clung to the temple interiors. The sacred energies expended in the day’s healing had made him singularly uncomfortable: he knew that enough of his being was steeped in the necromantic power he so discreetly wielded that what proved beneficial to other beings would be agonising to him. That very knowledge had made being around so many priests invoking the aid of their infantile gods unnerving, to say the least.

The necromancer sat on the temple steps and looked out over the slumbering district. Here and there, the light from the everburning torches used to illuminate the streets still flickered, but Cliffside was poor, and most of the areas which could not afford to employ such magical means of illumination were unlit. He was, of course, unfamiliar with such unsavoury precincts, and was almost grateful to the Host priest, Torscha, for inviting him to the temple. Here he could spend at least one night away from his usual domicile without fear of being mugged or murdered––or, more likely, of having to expend his considerable arcane powers reducing some poor drunkard to a pile of grave-dust. Or wash blood off his clothes after Tim’s enthusiastic sword-swings left them a gory mess. Again. Karsen determined to have his cohort procure a less… sloppy weapon at the earliest opportunity.

The night air was bracing, almost frigid despite the season, and, having left his coat in his quarters, Karsen resigned himself to returning to his bed and attempting to sleep. A slight scuffle he heard upon entering the temple, however, made him duck behind one of the many columns rising to support the vaulted ceiling.

After a moment of waiting, he felt profoundly grateful for his deeply-ingrained paranoia when a slight figure slipped from the shadows and stealthily made its way across the nave and vestibule. A halfling? Might that be the tramp we ran into earlier? Karsen had encountered the unkempt midget when she had shown up riding a threehorns and gruffly offered to help some of the burdened watchmen with their load. He himself had been forced to remain with Tim, in case the dim dolt betrayed their mission with some untoward comment, while Torscha had said something about ‘making arrangements’ and trotted ahead with uncanny speed. He did not think that there were many other halflings seeking shelter at the temple this night. It had to be her.

The halfling skulked her way through the gloom with an ease that Karsen immediately envied. She vanished into the shadows near the entrance to the infirmary, and reappeared long minutes later, returning to the corridor leading to the visitors’ quarters.

What could she possibly have wanted in there? Looking for someone? he wondered. Perhaps a little bit of snooping will make it easier to get to sleep.

While not particularly stealthy by nature, Karsen was naturally dexterous and light of step, and the injured men in the nave slept the sleep of the drugged anyway. He reached the door of the infirmary without incident, and a quick peek within revealed the ‘on duty’ priests to have succumbed to fatigue: they sat propped up against each other on a bench, snoring.

Well, if she made it in there without waking them, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to, he decided.

He slipped in, and looked about. Nothing seemed to be amiss. Nothing even missing: the gilded symbols of the deities venerated in this temple were in their traditional configurations at the cardinal directions. Perhaps he had misjudged her: at first glance he had taken her to be some two-bit burglar.

It was only then that he impulsively triggered his deeper sight, more on a whim to see how many of the terminal cases had slipped beyond death’s veil while the priests set to watch over them slumbered. He found only one, teetering on the boundary. Upon closer inspection, he recognised the shifter that Tim had carried to the temple, the one who had sustained a grievous axe wound to the head. Strangely, despite the fact that his life force flickered only dimly within his frail flesh, the wound did not show any sign of being re-opened.

Karsen moved nearer. A quick check revealed that his injury had not worsened, and that he had not developed a fever. In fact, the wound looked partially healed: the splintered bone, at first visible, had been covered by a patch of flesh, though mangled. It looked like the lingering remnants of a much less serious blow delivered some time ago, not a life-threatening one received that very day. Torscha’s healing must have had some potency to it after all.

His professional interest in the causes of death prompted him to do a more thorough examination, although he was careful not to make enough noise to rouse the slumbering priests. A brisk search revealed, hidden in the thick tufts of hair that covered the shifter’s brawny arms, a long scratch, freshly made, that still oozed a trickle of blood. By morning it would not be noticeably fresher than any of the other wounds the shifter had sustained, but right now it was obviously just inflicted. Probably by that halfling. Still, a scratch could not possibly have so threatened the life of the shifter, unless…

A finger, poised to dab at the blood, halted. Karsen withdrew it hastily. Poison? I wouldn’t put it past her. In fact, now that his memory was jostled he remembered the look upon the halfling’s face as she had pulled up near them. It had been a mixture of surprise, disgust, and horror. At first he had assumed that expression was merely her reaction to the number of wounded being brought in and the extent of their injuries; now that he considered it, it could just as easily have been at the sight of the shifter cradled in Tim’s arms. Perhaps she knew him? Whatever their acquaintance, it can’t have been good if she saw fit to poison him in a place of healing.

It was also far too good an opportunity to pass up. Making doubly-sure the priests would not wake, Karsen whispered under his breath and traced a glyph in the air which glimmered faintly, a rune of terrible, thirsting potency. It flared sullenly for a moment before dissipating. The necromancer reached down to lay his hand on the shifter’s chest. The injured man stiffened for a splitsecond as his muscles attempted to fight the dire magic, but to no avail: he relaxed back into the bed, and into death.* Karsen shuddered at the almost orgasmic rush as strength and clarity flooded him, the remnant’s of the man’s soul passing through him. It would fade, and there was no real need at hand he could direct the newfound strength to, but it felt good, and he knew it would leave a lingering euphoria.

He returned quickly to his quarters, making sure everything was as it had been before being disturbed. As an added precaution, he instructed Tim to stand watch outside his door, and make sure nobody disturbed him unannounced. The last thing he wanted was for the little halfling to go sleep-killing again and find himself at the mercy of her knife.

Ah, but for the chance to surpass this limited, mortal life, he thought to himself, before falling asleep.

* Death knell again. Karsen's player has developed an unhealthy obsession of casting it as often as possible, even if there is no immediate application of his temporary HP or enhanced strength. He says it's because it's part of his philosophy as a priest of Vol. I say it's because he's creepy.



As has earlier been suggested, I've cut down on the sheer volume of my posts, in order to make updating a somewhat more regular occurrence.

What really surprised me when they were playing this was Lydia's dogged determination to kill the shifter. I'd ruled him to have been rescued in order to provide further information on the nature of the package Lydia'd stolen, but her player was obviously feeling threatened by his miraculous survival and had decided a healthy dose of poison would fix the problem.

The idea of allowing Karsen to oversee the event was to foster a sense of complicity between two of the less-principled characters in the game.

I didn't rule Lydia's attempted poisoning an actually EVIL act so much as a chaotic one, because she was acting in her perceived interests, and not out of a malicious urge.
 


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