Al-Qarin Interlude: Far East Adventures (8-22-22)

Intro:

This campaign is set in the world of Al-Qarin and in real time, actually started before the campaign detailed in my longer story hour, although the events take place roughly contemporaneously with the doings of Khalid, Gorak and Shayla.

The campaign started with Galeman gming of course, myself and one of the founding Al-Qarin players (not playing his original character, which was heavily involved in the 'black cloud' and start of the dwarven war). Gorak joined as a player after the first or second game. It wasn't a long campaign, but I always thought it would make a great story (as many of Galeman's games would...).

Be warned – the characters in this campaign are not good people. Well, they are 'good people' but they are definitely not heroes. We decided right from the start we were going to be the bad guys in this world. When the real heroes come calling, they're going to find us guarding the treasure at the end of the dungeon....

Cast of Characters:

Rekk: Played by me. Age 17, 1st level human barbarian. A dangerous mix of an emotionally damaged child trapped in the body of an Olympic weightlifter, with an anger management problem and mommy issues.

Morgoth the Pure: Age 22, 1st level human necromancer. A conniver schemer whose moral compass has no needle.

Garett: Played by Gorak. Age 20. 1st level human rogue. A murder hobo. Literally.


Given how long ago this game was run, we may never know exactly what Galeman had planned for the first adventure, but I guarantee you, it wasn't this...


CHAPTER 1: A BARD WALKS INTO A BAR

Rekk was bored. And that never ended well.

He reached behind the bar and pulled a tankard of watery ale, downing half of it in a single gulp. He scanned the crowd as he drank, not that there was much to see yet, given how early in the night it was. The only patrons were a few alcoholics drinking away whatever they'd managed to beg or steal during the day, and a couple of workman, too poor to afford better fare than the thin stew and stale bread on offer in the tavern. Nobody that was going to cause him any trouble. Not that there was ever much trouble here. Despite the seedy interior that attracted the lowest of the low and the location between the docks and poor quarter, the unnamed bar was known to be surprisingly untroubled by the typical violence that came with the mixing of booze and poverty.

That was in large part due to Rekk's rather fearsome and well earned reputation. The son of a whore and her unknown client, he'd been taken in by Yakob, the tavern keeper who took pity on him when his mother had been murdered some ten years ago. Sleeping on a pallet on the dirty floor by the hearth, Rekk repaid this small kindness by first scrubbing floors and tankards, hauling sacks of meal and kegs of ale and whatever other menial or disgusting tasks that needed doing. When, at the age of fourteen, the gods blessed him with height and strength that were the envy of men ten years his senior, he found a new way to make himself useful. Relishing the role of peacekeeper, in those early days he frequently had opportunity to escort the more belligerent patrons out, usually face first onto the hard cobblestone street, much to the delight of the local dentists and surgeons. Within a matter of weeks, those drunkards that fancied a bit of a go with their ale found other places to indulge their vices. Business actually improved somewhat, once the risk of casual stabbings declined.

Fiddling with the knuckle duster he kept in his pocket, Rekk sighed and leaned on the bar, as more customers filtered in. Katrina, Yakob's daughter made her way out from the kitchen, bearing platters of only slightly burned vegetables in hand. Dancing away from the grasping hands of lecherous old men, she delivered the meal and tankards of ale, casually ignoring Rekk as she did so. Like Rekk, her mother was long dead and growing up under her father's care in the bar, she knew well enough how to navigate the clientele, a task made easier by Rekk's dour gaze.

Two years junior to his seventeen years of age, her long, brown hair framed a round, not unpleasant face. Slim and petite, she seemed out of place among rough and ready men she served. Rekk had decided long ago, that he loved her. He wasn't foolish enough to mistake her tolerance of him as anything more than that; she didn't love him. Not yet. But she would, one day, once he proved himself to her. He himself was somewhat pleasing to the eye, with his chiselled physique and square jaw. His jet black, shoulder length back hair was held back from his face with a steel band, and his full black beard, the envy of many a village elder, was trimmed and neat. He often caught the attention of womenfolk as he ran errands for Yakob in town. That was, until he opened his mouth.

“Hullo Kat,” he said as she approach the bar with her tray, his coarse voice making it sound more like a threat than a greeting. “Yer looking purtier than all them whores down on beggar's row tonight.” Offering a tentative look that he took for encouragement, he was about to continue when she grabbed five more mugs of ale and walked away. Undaunted as always, he pulled up a stool and tried to think up his next compliment.

Regulars were filtering in now, as the workday ended, and the sun began to set. People he'd seen a thousand times. Old man Herris, the tanner from down the way, smelling of piss and death. Bertem and Hoyle, two thugs that worked unloading ships down at the docks and made a little extra money running protection for the thieves gang that ran the waterfront. Hoyle waved at Rekk as he sat down, his gap toothed grin bringing a smirk to Rekk's face. More than a few of those missing teeth were courtesy of Rekk's brass knuckles, the brothers needing more than one reminder about the rules of the bar before learning not to bother Rekk. He looked over to the front corner of the room, to the last empty table in the place, which the rest of the customers were avoiding, despite the growing crowd. Still no sign of Morgoth.

The door banged open, and for a brief moment, the dull roar of the bar quieted. Standing in the entrance, was a man who was clearly lost. Blond hair, immaculately trimmed and curled, hung down to his shoulder. His handsome face, unblemished by pox or scars bore a wide smile beneath bright blue eyes. A dark green jacket, matching the trousers tucked into polished knee high riding boots, overlay a crimson tunic; satin if Rekk was any judge, which of course he wasn't. The rapier on his hip, with it's polished silver hilt and basket, seemed more decorative than functional. A group of men, laughing and joking followed in behind him. The man paused briefly and looked around the room, before settling his gaze on the empty table in the corner.

Wanting to head off any trouble, or possibly start some. Rekk moved to intercept the men before they sat down. “Y'all look like ya migthen be lost,” he growled.

“Nonsense, my good man,”the stranger replied, clapping Rekk on the shoulder in a familiar way that made his hand tighten around the brass knuckles in his pocket. “We're new to town, and fancy a drink with the common man tonight.” The men behind him laughed in response. “And if the mood takes me,” the man continued. “Maybe a song or two to brighten the evening.” A lute appeared in his hands, almost as if by magick, and he strummed a mocking little trill. The patrons applauded and cheered and the bard inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“Yeah, well, that table's reserved,” Rekk growled. “Find yerself somewheres else ta sit.”

Yakob, recognizing a rare opportunity, hustled around from behind the bar and waddled over. Mopping his sweating face with a dirty bar rag, he pushed Rekk out of the way. “Oh no good sirs,” he fawned, “please take that table. The girl will be right with you too take your order.”

“But that's Morgoth's table,” Rekk grumbled.

“Your scabrous little friend can sit elsewhere for tonight,” Yakob hissed under his breath. “If you drive these guests away and cost me good coin, I'll have you out on the street by morning. He raised his voice and bellowed over the crowd. “Kat! Kat! Damn you girl, get out here. Our guests need ale.” He looked to the men with a raised eyebrow, “...and possibly wine? Something to eat maybe?”

“Yes, yes and yes, my friend!” the bard exclaimed. “All that and more. Roast meat, and spirits for me and my friends.” Shouting for Kat, and something about bacon, Yakob heaved himself back towards the bar, offering a comic little bow to the men as he left, more an inclination of his head then anything as his vast belly prevented him from bending at the waist.

Rekk, glaring daggers at the man, who seemed not to notice or care, slunk back to his seat at the bar, and poured himself another drink. A few moments later, Morgoth, the only person Rekk considered an actual friend, appeared in the doorway.

Draped in a voluminous black robe that hung off him in folds, it was hard to judge his height or build. Hood pulled over greasy white hair, his blood red eyes sat high above prominent cheekbones, in a chalk white face. Cursed, or perhaps blessed by albinism, Morgoth had turned a source of childhood bullying into a way to unnerve and unsettle those around him. Despite his affliction, his father had high hopes that Morgoth, who was keenly intelligent and quick of wit, would assume responsibilities in the family shipping concern. After of period of resistance, he acquiesced until his father, discovering the extent of his embezzlement and the horrid and forbidden tomes he'd spent the ill gotten gains on, finally disowned him. Since then, he'd made some small amount of coin plying his wizard's trade, but mostly spent his time studying and drinking with Rekk.

Morgoth's gaze immediately went to the table in the corner. His table. Now occupied by men he certainly had no care to speak to, much less sit with. He moved through he crowd, which obligingly parted to avoid, as much as possible, touching him in any way. Joining Rekk and the bar, he didn't even offer a greeting. “Rekk. They're sitting at my table,” he complained. He smelled faintly of parchment and dust, and something else more...earthy and unpleasant.

“I cun see that,” Rekk growled.

“Well do something about it,” Morgoth demanded. “That's my seat that overdressed jackjaw is occupying.”

“Yakob told me not to. Sit here.” Rekk pushed the bricklayer beside him off his stool, sending him crashing to the floor. The man jumped up with a curse, but upon realizing who had knocked him over, gathered up his drink and bowl of stew, and slunk off into the crowd.

With a huge sigh, Morgoth gathered his robes around him, and settled gingerly on the stool. Rekk reached over the bar and grabbed a bottle of wine. At the sight of that, Yakob bustled past. “He'll pay for that,” he spat, “or you will. No free drinks,” before hustling off.

Morgoth sighed again. “Rekk, this stool is uncomfortable,” he hissed. “Look, it's all shaky.” To prove his point, he rocked violently back and forth, elbowing several people around him. “And I don't like being all exposed here. I like to sit in the corner.”

“I tole ya, I can't do nuthing about it,” Rekk growled.

They drank in silence for a while, until Morgoth, a small smirk on his face, turned to Rekk. “Probably just as well we leave the minstrel alone. Katrina seems to be enjoying his company.”

Rekk followed his gaze, the customary scowl on his face deepening as he saw the bard lean in and whisper something to Katrina, who was placing a round of drinks on their table. She blushed and giggled, smoothing the front of her apron with her hands, as she backed away. When she headed over to the bar with a tray of empty flagons, Rekk growled. “You shuld stay away from that pompous ass. He's trouble.”

Katrina, finally finding the courage to reply to him, scoffed. “Nonsense Rekk. He's nice and da says to treat him well. He's bringing in the coin tonight.”

Rekk, much to his vast annoyance, couldn't argue with that. The bar was packed, and heads poked in through the open windows, coming to see what the ruckus was about. The crowd continued to gather, as the bard launched into an impromptu song, a raucous marching song that had the whole place shouting the chorus by the end. Kat and Yakob were a flurry of activity, making sure every hand that had coin to pay had a mug of ale. Despite the crowd, people were in good spirits and aside from escorting a few of the poorer guests outside to make room for paying customers, Rekk had nothing to do.

“Get another barrel of ale,” Yakob barked at Rekk as he rushed past. “From the cellar. Our honoured guests are running low.” Rekk stood up and glared at the table, which was now the centre of attention in the bar. The bard, somehow feeling Rekk's burning gaze from across the room, looked up and caught his eye. With a slightly confused smile he raised his mug to Rekk, and the whole bar toasted the bard at his gesture.

Cold fury brewing in his stomach, Rekk stomped downstairs. Heaving a huge keg of ale on one shoulder he brought it back upstairs, and almost accidentally dropped it on Yakob's foot, who nimbly for his girth, skipped aside and slapped him on the back of the head.

“Rekk,” Morgoth hissed. “It's too crowded in here. All these people keep touching me.” It was impossible not to, considering how cramped the bar was. Those that did accidentally brush against him, recoiled as if bitten when they saw who it was. In fact, the only clear space of more than a few feet, was around Morgoth's stool.

“This bores me,” Morgoth said finally. “I think I'll just go home.”

Rekk, looked up from his mug of ale, an evil grin spreading across his face. “Hol' up a bit. I maybe thought up a bit a fun.” Pushing his way roughly through the crowd, he made his way over to Betram and Hoyle, who were drinking together at the end of the bar.

Hoyle glanced up as he approached, raising his hands in defence. “Now wait a second Rekk, we ain't causing trouble tonight. I even paid for all my drinks.” His red rimmed, bloodshot eyes darted nervously around, trying to find a path to the exit. Bertram, nodded in agreement, his florid jowls flapping.

“Calm down,” Rekk grunted. “I know you ain't causing any trouble. Yet”

“Well we weren't gonna,” Betram added, somewhat confused at the turn the conversation was taking.

“Oh I think you might,” Rekk continued, with a nod of his head toward the bard's table. “Bar's pretty crowded tonight. If someone were ta, I dunno, maybe punch somebody in his pretty face a few times, probably take me a minute or ten to make my way through the crowd to toss him out. Probably even enough time for the troublemakers to slip out.”

Hoyle, who was a little quicker than Betram, began to catch on. He grinned his gap tooth smile. “Been a little while since my knuckles got kissed. Maybe a little tumble might just make this ale go down a bit better.” He looked at the crowd around the bard. “But I dunno, people here seem ta like that guy, and his songs is funny. Yakob probably wouldn't let us drink here no more.”

“Bah,” Rekk spat. “What loss is that? There's a dozen other places that don't piss in their ale near half as much as Yakob.” He placed a few gold coins on the bar, “and that's money enough to drink in 'em for a month.”

At the sight of the gold, their reservations evaporated. Sweeping the coins into their pockets, Betram and Hoyle leaned in close, and began to mutter. Leaving them to their dull-witted schemes, Rekk returned to his seat beside Morgoth.

“What was all that about?” Morgoth asked.

“Jus watch,” Rekk muttered gleefully, as the bard stood up and moved toward the bar to refill his drink, toasting and chatting with the other patrons has he moved. Betram and Hoyle stood up as well, walking over to intercept him, their beady eyes narrowed as they stalked their prey, like overweight mongrels. They split up as they closed the distance, with Betram approaching the bard directly, and Hoyle circling around behind. Once they were in position, Hoyle casually bashed into the bard and accidentally spilled his ale all over himself. “OI,” he roared in feigned fury, “lookit wat you done, damned fancy jackass.” Before the bard could offer an apology, Hoyle moved to shove him into Betram, and start the melee in earnest.

The bard, despite the vast amounts he'd already drank, was far to nimble for their clumsy plan. Twisting aside, he gave Hoyle the slightest of nudges. The push and lack of expected resistance caused Hoyle to fall forward, clipping his chin on the edge of the table with a hideous crack, rendering him unconscious on the floor.

“Bastard,” Betram spat as he drew back to swing at the bard. Again, the bard surprised them by stepping forward rather than back, to dodge the blow. His hand reversed on the grip of his rapier, he brought the basket hilt up hard under Bertram's chin, stunning him before finishing him off with a knee to the stomach. Betram collapsed to the ground, spitting blood and wheezing. As the crowd roared with laughter, the bard grinned and bowed with a flourish, releasing his rapier, which hadn't even cleared the sheath, allowing it to slide back into place.

“Rekk!” Yakob bellowed. “Get those damned fools out of here. Now!”

Cursing under his breath, Rekk elbowed his way through the crowd. He grabbed Betram by the throat with one hand, and hauled Hoyle up by his belt with the other. “Go easy on them my friend,” the bard said with a smile as he passed, “some men just can't enjoy the camaraderie and good will of others.”

Dragging them through the bar and out the door, Rekk sent the gasping Betram sprawling into the street, and hurled Hoyle into the wall across the alley. Sending Betram on his way with a final kick and a curse, he stomped back into the bar.

“Well,” Morgoth said finally. “I assume that didn't go exactly to plan.”

Grinding his teeth, it took all Rekk's willpower not to knock him off the stool. Barely mastering his emotions, he finally grunted. “Bastard's quick, I'll give him that.”

“He laid them out even faster than you,” Morgoth smirked.

“Oh ya? You wanna try for the record then eh?” Rekk growled.

“Hardly,” Morgoth said dismissively with a wave of his hand. “Just taking stock. We'll need to be a bit more direct perhaps, to put that fool in his place.”

“Bah, I ain't got no more ideas,” Rekk grumbled. “Prolly best to jus let it be.”

“What, and permit that pompas ass to come into our bar and show us up?” Morgoth hissed. “To take my seat? We drink in here every day, and what do we get to show for it? Do women sit on our laps? Do these drug addled drunkards cheer for you, who keeps the worst of the scavengers from picking them clean?

“Well, no...” Rekk looked around the bar, at the boisterous crowd. The bard, now standing on his chair with a foot on the table, was leading them in a joyful tune, strumming his lute as he sang. Several women sat at his table, and they didn't even look like usual whores that drifted through. He could feel his foul mood turning hot again.

“That should be you they're thanking,” Morgoth hissed. “You could play the lute if you wanted to, but what you do for this place is far more than sing a few bawdy songs.”

“Damn right,” Rekk growled, looking at his sausage sized fingers. “Jus nobody ever taught me is all.”

“Exactly,” Morgoth agreed. “So are we going to let this miscreant come in here, embarrass you in front of Katrina, and walk away with a woman on his arm and his purse full of coin?”

“The hell we are!” Rekk growled, rising to his feet.

“Hold on,” Morgoth rasped placing his hand on Rekk's arm, sensing perhaps he'd stoked the fire a little to hot. “Not yet. Not here.”

“Ya, ya,” Rekk mumbled, struggling to master the rage that was building inside. Practically trembling with the effort, he finally sat back down, his anger a hard knot in his stomach.

“Just make sure Katrina keeps him well served,” Morgoth added. “And let's see how this goes.”

The party continued on, late into the night, before patrons began to filter out. Each time Katrina walked by, Rekk directed her over to the bard's table with another drink, ostensibly as an apology for the scuffle earlier. Eventually, the bard's friends staggered to their feet and tried to drag him out the door, but he waved them away with a laugh, turning his attention back to to the buxom blonde still sitting on his knee. Shortly after, he packed up his loot and with a grandiose bow to the last few patrons, most of whom were snoring in puddles of ale, he sauntered somewhat unsteadily out the door, his arm draped across the women's shoulders.

Allowing a few moments to pass, Morgoth stood up and motioned to Rekk. “Let's go.”

Luck it would seem, favoured them that evening. The moon, hidden by clouds, left the street lit only sporadically by flickering torches. The bard and his companion, far too drunk and more interested in each other than what was going on around them, failed to notice they were being followed. As they walked by a filthy alley, another of the cities less savoury denizens took note, but catching a glimpse of Rekk's hulking form trailing along behind, thought better of interfering.

Finally, they arrived outside a modest house, on the edge of the merchant's quarter. As the woman fumbled with her keys, the bard made the task of unlocking the door that much harder, but fiddling with the buttons on her dress. Eventually she managed the lock, and they stumbled inside. With a quick glance around for witnesses, Morgoth approached the door and gingerly tested the latch. “It's unlocked,” he whispered gleefully. Handing Rekk a slightly soiled handkerchief from his sleeve, he pulled the string on his hood tight as Rekk downed his makeshift disguise. “Give them a moment to ensure they're properly...distracted,” Morgoth hissed, continue to watch the empty street for any sign they'd been discovered. Seeing nothing, he raised the latch and they slipped inside.

The sounds of passion guided them quickly through the small house, to a bedroom at the back. Pausing for a only a moment, Morgoth nodded at Rekk, who slipped on his brass knuckles, and then burst into the room. The women shrieked and tumbled backwards off the bed to huddle in a corner, Morgoth cast a minor spell, muddling the bards thoughts long enough for Rekk to seize hold of him and throw him to the ground. Before the man could react, Rekk drove the toe of his boot into his stomach, driving the breath from his lungs, and followed up with a heavy blow that shattered the bard's nose. Morgoth, gleefully chanting behind him, reached out and gripped the struggling bard by the neck. Where his hand touched skin, a web of frost appeared and the colour drained away as Morgoth sapped his strength.

Rekk, finally given opportunity to vent his unwarranted frustrations on something, continued to rain down punches, blackening the bard's eye and shattering several of his teeth. As the bard struggled and flailed, Morgoth took the opportunity to stomp on his lute, shattering it into kindling. The woman drew in breath to scream, but Morgoth silenced her with a glare from his blood red eyes. “Be silent,” he hissed. “This will all be over soon.”

His words held true, much to Rekk's annoyance as the bard finally wriggled free from his grasp and darted for the window. Rekk levelled one more kick at the man, hitting him square in the backside and sending him flying out the window to crash into the wall of the building across the alley. The last thing he saw as he stuck his head out after, was the naked bard fleeing down the street as fast as his legs would carry him.

“He's gone,” Rekk grumbled. “Let's go.”

“One moment,” Morgoth whispered, pausing briefly to gather up the bard's belongings. “Tell no one of this,” he hissed at the women, before they made a hasty exit into the street. Twisting and turning down narrow alleys, they made sure they weren't followed before parting ways. Rekk, using Morgoth's handkerchief to wipe the blood off his brass knuckles, whistled a few off key bars of a tune he heard a earlier in the evening as he sauntered back to the bar, his mood enormously improved.

All things considered, it had turned into a pretty good night after all.
 

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