John play: Hero for hire

The following is the Storyhour of John Play: Hero for Hire.



Father died saving the King from an assassin's arrow as a King's Shield

Mother was a top arcane specialist trying to make a better soldier for Breland while not relying on Dragonhouse Cannith.

With parent's like these you just know he is more than the average person. He was recruited into the Dark lanterns during the final years of The Last War but was given permission to leave it once the war ended.

Now he hopes to make up for his sins he commited as a Dark lantern while having some fun.

His name is Play, John Play.
 

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JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 001
“A Whisper of Things to Come”

Rhaan 10th, 995
Sharn, Breland

A gentle rain falls on the dark towers and connecting bridges of the largest city on Khorvaire. It is quiet except for an occasional call of a Spiretop Drake to the three moons in the night sky. A door suddenly opens and a man dressed in chainmail wearing a green tabard with a clawed hand on it bursts out. He runs calling out to an unknown person. He stops at the edge of the landing. As he catches his breath he leans over the edge and looks down the hundreds of feet of manmade canyons of stone, mortar and wood. Then he sees what he was looking for- a small airborne ship operated by a lone man also wearing green.

“We need to leave now. I have to see Lord ir’Valderbourne immediately.”

As he leaps over the edge onto the ship a fiery explosion erupts from the section of tower he had just left in a hurry. His unusual eyes turn to face the now falling cinders from the explosion. One eye is blue and the other green. His smile expresses a vile and corrupt pleasure in the destruction he has just left behind him.

The ship drops then swoops around the building in a hurried rate of speed as it ascends into the sky. People rush out from their homes, places of work and nighttime wanderings to investigate the fire and sounds of the explosion. The ship begins to close in on a bridge leading away from the backside of the tower they just left.

“Private Dannet…. What is….. Damn his luck!” The Emerald Claw operative curses as he looks to the bridge they are about to fly under. Standing on the bridge is a man smoldering as if he had just put out flames. He is watching them intently. “DIVE!” he screams as he sees the smoldering man step back from the edge. Too late.

The man jumps at a full run out from the bridge and lands hard onto the front of the taxiing ship. It dips sharply from the sudden weight and the mental command of amazed pilot. The man slips and falls onto the deck and begins to slide. The Emerald Claw passenger smiles in anticipation of the falling death of the burnt man. The burnt man pulls out a knife seemly from mid air and stabs it into the ship to stop his fall.

“Almost…. Missed you Brassinger…. Heh… almost.” The burnt man says with a faint laugh and a maddened gleam in his eyes. “Your… damned blade however… did not.” That is when Brassinger recognizes the dagger. It is his own. The knife meant to kill and absorb the soul of any victim. He knew he had struck this interloper with it but had assumed to have killed him even as the man fell into the lab shelves causing the flammable fluids to spill towards the fire they had caused when fighting.

“I do not know who you are but I neither care nor wish to know. I just want you dead.” The Emerald Claw man slowly pulls out a short sword that glows faintly of a purplish color. “You ruined two years worth of planning and setting up that project. My employer truly will be disappointed that the Prince will continue to live as well as the king.”

“I play like that.”, the burnt man says having nearly caught his breath now, and “I have the worst way of ruining the plans of evil and other wise unlikable people like you.” He takes two steps forward then stops. He instantly takes note of the sword, the wielder, the pilot, the ship and the fast coming cable connecting another airship to a platform. He flips the magical evil blade into the air making the armed man tense and stop his movement. The dagger is caught in midair and thrown into the pilot’s chest. The ship lurches suddenly. The burnt man leaps into the air and grabs the cable. The other remaining man turns and his mismatched eyes can not believe what he sees….

The explosion silhouettes the burnt man as the ship strikes a building at full speed. The broken and killed man and pilot both fall to the dark depths of the city to the streets below.

The ship operators of the moored craft reach down to the burnt and injured man. “You are lucky to be alive!” one calls.

“What is your name?”

“Play, John Play.”
 

JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 002
“A Woman named Hope”

Rhaan 22nd, 996
Sharn, Breland
The Office of John Play, Hero for Hire

Play

John Play

What is in a name? Why am I the way I am?

The man wonders as he sits behind his desk looking at a discarded Korranberg Chronicle. He has money. He has friends. His family is well respected within Sharn and Breland’s Noble classes. He has his health and good looks. He has money. So why is he doing this?

Hero for Hire.

It started as a joke in the beginning. Even as a Dark lantern of Breland during the war he joked he was a Hero for Hire. His superiors never cared for it. Perhaps that is why he said it. But why continue with it? He didn’t need the money. He didn’t need the fame. But he felt the intense need to be active and helping people. The money and reasons were just an excuse.

Too much sitting on his backside. He needed to do something.

With renewed energy and conviction he picked up the paper again. The headlines spoke of distrust the countries had for each other. He couldn’t disclaim it. He worked as a spy for the last decade for the country of Breland. The public only suspected what he knew already- the war was still happening. It was just done in secret. A Shadow War or Secret War if one wished.

If he wished, he could have stayed within the ranks of the Dark lanterns. Most people wanted him to stay. Those that didn’t wish him to brought up on crimes they gave him permission to commit (at total discountibility of Breland and its government of course). As a Lantern he traveled into the new countries of Thrane, Aundair, Karrnath and Cyre before it was destroyed and later renamed the Mournland. He had fought master spies, assassins, war mages and warforged on both local and foreign lands.

“Bah!” he blurts out in frustration. He looks at the paper again and begins to pretend to take interest in reading about rumors of a new kind of undead threat hidden in the Mournland that Karrnath may be cultivating for its own use. Then he heard the creak of the floorboard in the hallway outside of his office. Smiling, he puts the paper away and straightens out his always messy and wild dirty blonde hair and while still smiling places one hand near a hidden switch that could activate a wand hidden under the table.

KNOCK KNOCK

“Enter. Please Enter.” His trained mind quickly begins to guess whom is outside the door. Lightweight based on the softness of the creak. Woman or a shorter race. Woman. Long strides to the steps. Assuming magic is not disguising their identity. Oh the excitement of not being sure.

The door opens and a tall woman of money steps in. A quick assessment of her clothes and appearance suggests she is an Aundairian Noble. Confident stride and expensive and possibly magical travel clothes. Sharp eyes. She is educated and proud. Lost heirloom? Lost relative? I hope its not another lost lover case. It would be a shame… those eyes… those lips…… He stands up and gives a short nod of greeting. “Hello. My name is John Play. Please sit down.”

She looks around briefly at his office. She seems to approve as she smiles. “I am Shasta ir’ Yanger. I have come from Aundair to meet you. You were recommended by several folks within Aundair and Breland.” She sits down and seems to enchant him with her eyes and smile.

“I hope I am not blushing,” John flirts back, “What can I possibly do for you?”

“I need someone to locate my missing brother. I normally hear from him weekly but my last House Sivis communication was over a month ago. I fear something has happened to him.”

“You say that with some conviction. Are you aware of any reason he may be in danger?”

“His military career made him an unpopular person. He has sought seclusion ever since the war ended.”

“Where was he… staying?” Play begins to wonder what she is leaving out.

“The Eldeen Reaches.”

“Popular place for those looking to become lost or forgotten. Perhaps he wishes for more seclusion.”

“No. I fear for him. I want him found. I want to know he is okay.” A clear look of concern for his safety is on her face.

“Eldeen Reaches is a long way away and there is no easy way to travel there. If he wishes to be left alone I may not be able to find him. Have you tried House Tharashk? They have some very good trackers in those woods.”

“I wish to leave the Dragonmarked families out of this. As I already said, he was not a popular man. Will you help me?

Those eyes……warm, passionate and yet full of challenge…….. “It will be costly and I will need more information on him. What is his name?” Oh… a moment of hesitation.

“Challa. Challa ir’ Yanger.” She says with some nervousness that was not there before.

He plays the name over his mind and softly says it aloud. He knows this name but can not place it.

“Very well. I will help you locate your brother. I leave tomorrow for the forest of Eldeen.”

“WE leave tomorrow. That’s part of the deal. I must go with you to see him myself.”

Warning. Warning. Warning he cries out silently to himself. “We then.”
 

JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 003
“Basic Homework”

Rhaan 22nd, 996
Sharn, Breland
The Dancing Dragon in Upper Menthis Plateau

John has always liked this tavern. It was always open with many people within it. He knew and trusted the owner and managers. He was even known by name by many of the dancers here. But he liked it the most for its food and the namesake of the tavern. A 20ft by 30ft stained glass window of a golden dragon that seemed to be dancing. It always brought a smile to his face. Seeing his war time informant made his body more than smile.

“Jasper, I see you are looking good. Very Very good.”

The scantly dressed ½ elf smiled and sat down across from him. The perfume (magical and expensive) enchanted him as it always did. The semi clear silken strands that covered little of her athletic form did the rest. “John, Baby Dear, What brings you here? Feeling Lonely?”

“Not tonight. As much as I enjoy seeing you I came hoping for information.”

“Oh Pooh. Still ever the Lantern.”

“Correction. Hero for Hire.”

Hahahahahaha “You really took that nickname and ran with it. Alright, so what are looking to know about?”

“I have been asked to locate an Aundairian. I suspect he is a war criminal. His name is Challa ir’Yanger.”

“Yanger is a very common name in that country. Was he military for sure?”

“I suspect so. Maybe even a Royal Eye. I know I have heard the name but I can not place it.”

“Have you ever heard of the Cutthroat of Calbert?”

John listens to Jasper’s description of the man known as the Cutthroat of Calbert. Much of it comes back to him as she describes the man and his infamous namesake. Suddenly much of the story his sister (if she is even his sister) gave him makes sense.

“Thankyou Jasper. How can I ever repay you?”

“I can think of a few things you can do to me but that will have to be another night Hero for Hire.” A mischievous grin and silent laugh escapes the alluring ½ elf as she says it.

Two hours later, John returns to his apartment in the new Healer’s tower also in the Menthis Plateau. The Dragonmarked halflings bought the building at the close of the war and rebuilt it much of the top levels. Breland’s war heroes, maimed and mentally scarred, live here under the watchful eye and healing hands of the small people with big hearts and bigger bank accounts.

He uncovers the permanent light globe by the door and sits down heavily on his cushioned bench. “THE Cutthroat of Calbert.” He repeats quietly as if spoken aloud was an evil act. “Well, she is paying good money and its been a while since I visited the great woods. Maybe I’ll met a happy and horny Fey woman.” He silently considers this adventure to himself before he packs his traveling bags and clothes then falls asleep.

It is morning before he knows it.
 

JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 004
“The Adventure Begins”

Rhaan 23rd, 996
Sharn, Breland
Cogsgate in Lower Tavick’s Landing

As agreed, Shasta arrives in the morning at the pick-up point near John’s apartment. They take a Skycoach down and to the east of Morgrave University towards the Electric Rail station in Cogsgate. Shasta buys two tickets for them to travel to Eldeen Reaches. While she is buying the tickets, John goes to the nearby Sivis Message office and pays to send out a message to a trusted friend that works within the Citadel. If Challa were taken by a government agency, he would soon know.

Picking through some foreign fruit, John locates some Aundairian grapes and purchases them. He pops them into his mouth by flipping them into his mouth. While leaning back to do this he glances around for anyone following them or himself specifically. His ruination of the Gnoll crime group known only as Venom has earned him many enemies. The assassin group known as The Turbulant would also like to him killed…. Slowly. Perks of the job he thinks to himself as he smiles and chews his grapes happily.

“Grape?” he asks as he holds out the bundle of sweet fruit to the Aundairian noble woman.

“No thankyou. I had food at the tavern before leaving. You seem very glib and happy this morning.”

“I shouldn’t be?”

“Several of my contacts that recommended you also said you would do research on my brother and myself. Is this true?”

He chews a grape slowly then nods and smiles. “Old habits die hard. Yes I did.”

“And you have no issues with my brother and what he did?”

“Many war time activities are better… forgiven. Not forgotten… but forgiven. He acted on military orders. I can appreciate that. I’ll leave my assessments of your brother until I meet him in person. Then I can better judge him for himself… not his past.”

Renewed warmth blossoms in her eyes and she gives a sincere smile. “Thankyou. Thankyou for understanding my position. Thankyou for helping me. Thankyou for allowing me to come.”

“Your gold. Your call.”

John turns to the sound of the Electric Rail charging up. House Orien through the aid of House Cannith, created a series of linked magical cones. These cones gave an electrical charge that pushed and pulled lightweight boxes of large size using elemental servants. The magical cones form paths going to several key areas on the continent of Khorvaire. Due to wartime activities, the lines connecting Aundair to Karrnath and through Cyre are largely destroyed or not used. The White Arch Bridge that connected the two countries was destroyed in part to stop a marching army. House Orien has been trying to repair the bridge ever since the war ended. It even petitioned for Aundair and Karrnath to pay for many of the repairs during the Thronehold Treaty settlements.

Their compartment on the rail is small and lacks privacy for the two of them. There is a layover in Wroat, the capital of Breland. John steps off the craft and goes to the Sivis message office. There is a message waiting for him that the gnome working the office insists on more money than John expected for the letter. Shaking his head (he never liked nor trusted many Gnomes) he steps outside of the office and opens the letter.

It is confirmed. Challa ir’Yanger is still a fugitive of the Thronehold Agreement. He is a war criminal and still being sought by the various countries and Dragonmarked houses for his actions in Calbert. Fearing the locals in Northern Thrane may alert the government of an advancing Aundairian Strikeforce, Challa was commanded to enter the village of 150 people at night and “silence” them. He did. While in their sleep, he killed all 150 townspeople. Several of them were Dragonmarked members resting for the night.

This will not be easy. Anyone whom has been able to hide from the governments AND the Dragonmarked houses for all of this time without being found has to know what they are doing. Doing what he did also means he is extremely dangerous. With or without his sister, he was going to be extremely cautious and protective of himself and the woman when they confront Challa. War has a way of changing people. He may not want to be found even by his sister. Much less an ex-spy / assassin for the Breland government.

The trip was going smoothly until they passed H’atheril on the third day of the trip. Several Emerald Claw “knights” boarded the craft. John never liked these men. It had not been proven yet but it was largely considered that these men were terrorists working for some unknown leader within Karrnath. John rarely met them on electric rails or air ships without a confrontation.

“Well John, the adventure begins…….” He says to himself.
 

JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 005
“The Emerald Claw”

Rhaan 27th, 996
Between H’atheril and Fort Light, Breland

It is nearing dinner but five men remain hidden away within one of their small rooms on the Electric Rail. Four of the men wear the stylized helms that are a trademark of the Emerald Claw. One eye is covered and the other exposed on their helmets. The fifth man wears simple traveling clothes and seems somehow out of place within the room. That said, his voice has the most venom.

“Play must pay. He defeated my entire team last year in Rekkenmark and through damned luck did he escape the border patrol. He killed my sister’s husband and lover of three years in that battle. He must die.”

“We understand and agree Lord Xander. This is why we came to you. He travels with a woman. She appears to be Aundairian and a land owner. We do not know her name.”

“Women were always his weakness. To beat him we need to take the woman. A living hostage is better than a dead one Drieger.” The man says looking at the largest of the four men. “But even then, we need an advantage. Allow me to consider everything you have told me then we regroup and act!”

“Blood is Life and Life is Blood!” they recite in unison.

Later in the same day- the dinner cart-

“So he was in staying in the village of Treehome. Where is that? I have never heard of it. Is it a true village or a trading post?” John says as he takes a sip from his dwarven ale.

“I’m not sure if I would call it a trading post even.” Shasta says with a faint hint of a laugh. “It is more of a collection of caves off the main path. There is a reason no one has found him.”

They pause their conversation as their meals are brought out to them by a House Ghallanda halflings. The spiced Karrnathi meats and potatoes smell delicious. Shasta asks for another wine then reconsiders and asks for the whole bottle to be brought out.

“So what about yourself? There must be more to you than the Hero for Hire.” She says while eyeing the food.

“Not much really. I had plenty of training and experience from the war but found I didn’t like being told where to go and what to do. I couldn’t even see certain friends because they worked for a foreign government.”

“And…?”

“So I resigned.” He says with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulder s as if the deed was common and everyday.

“Hummmmm. My own Hero for Hire. I like it.” She purrs while looking into his eyes.

John can feel a near magical allure come from her. If she was trying to seduce him she didn’t need to use magic. She already had his attention.

Hours go by while they talk about anything other than the war, her brother or his past as a Dark Lantern. She finishes the bottle of wine by herself and John finishes his fourth mug of ale. Darkness has fallen outside as the craft speeds silently through the fields of northern Breland. An occasional burst of energy from the magical stones beneath the craft cause her eyes to sparkle and her smile look even more enchanting.

“Why don’t I go to the room first and freshen up. Then you can come in and… we can go from there.” She says leaning back to give the Hero for Hire a better view of her slender body and the jeweled necklace that hovers over her the promise of a good night.

She gets up and brushes his jaw gently with her hand before giving him an equally gentle and seductive kiss on the forehead. Her jewels and body in plain sight to the young man.


John considers everything quickly through his head. Her methods of locating him, the person she seeks, his past and her willingness to spend thousands in gold just to get there. And now…. This. Is she seducing him out of lust and allure or is she trying to cement his willingness to help her. “She is beautiful isn’t she?” The harsh male voice breaks John out of his slightly buzzed world of deep thought.

Before him sits a man in his middle thirties wearing a basic leather traveler’s outfit. The armor shows signs of use. This man is more than he appears. John frowns as his eyes fall to a button of a green claw made to look like flames. The Emerald Claw. What does this bozo want?!?

“Hello. My name is Play. John Play. And who were you?”

“Funny. The past tense should be on you however. I will still get off at Passage. You will not.”

“Aww…that’s what all the evil bad guys say when we meet on the rail.” John jokes while quickly assessing the situation. “Course I’m still here and they…. Well you can fill in the rest.”

“And your lady friend?” He threatens.

Shasta’s room-

She is softly humming as she takes off the cloak and her belt. She begins to remove the boots and leather pants when she pauses. She thought she had heard something but decides it was her imagination. Unless it was her Hero.

She loosens the straps along her sides to remove her shaped leather vest. She pulls it off and drops it to the floor. She stands before a mirror and inspects her body. She has taken care with her body. Some people joke she is ½ elf as she seems to age so gracefully. Debating, she decides to keep the jewelry on. She steps to her travel bag and finds her perfume. A few gentle dabs of it fill the air with the smell of blossoms. She puts it away and wonders how long until her Hero arrives to “rescue” her. She reaches blindly into the wardrobe and withdraws a robe of soft form fitting Shadow Marches silk. Then a gloved hand clasps over her mouth and a man with very bad oral hygiene growls into her ear. “Don’t move and maybe you will survive this.”

Never once panicking, she gives a swift motion of her hand and the door slams close to the wardrobe. The man turns to see who is in the room with them. She grits her teeth under the smelly leather glove and closes her eyes tightly and makes a fist. She pushes out as it striking someone and the Emerald Claw man’s jaw erupts in loose teeth and blood. He lets go and stumbles back trying to figure out who struck him. The fingers and thumb of her right hand begin to glow and she murmurs a few quick words and five bolts of energy strike him on his chest burning away the green emblem of the Emerald Claw. The door bursts open and two more men rush in. A quick new series of arcane words and motions cause a lightly glowing and shimmers field of force to wrap around her body and the open robe.

The men try to grab her but the mage armor brushes off their grapple attempts. Another word or two and a flick of her wrist and five more bolts of energy streak out and strike a man. He stumbles while holding the smoldering hole that was his chest. He drops to his knees and stammers…b-b-b-bitch… and dies.

The last man suddenly realizes their error. They had assumed she was just another rich wrench Play was adding to his long list of conquests. But no- she was a spellcaster. A sorcerer to be exact. He turns to leave but a door closes before him causing his body to bounce off of it. “I…I…have no quarrel with you. It was just orders…” He gasps as five holes explode from his body as Shasta reaches out to blast him with her magic missiles as a touch attack.

The door rattles then bursts open forcing the dead man’s body to tumble to the side. John Play stops as he takes in the room. He smiles as he looks at Shasta and her open robe and necklace. “It appears there is more to you than you have suggested my lady.” He says while stepping in and never taking his eyes off of her eyes.

“We’ll discuss it…. In the morning.
 

Updates coming this holiday weekend.

House Cannith + Mills + Enhanced Dire Bears + a crazed Druid.... oh my!

Ended up gaming with my kids instead. Updates I hope to do by 2010.
 
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JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 007
“Trouble on the Way”

Sypheros 1, 996

The mage bred horses truly live up to their name. They are fast and traveler longer and harder than any other horse Play has ever ridden on. However, it’s still not a sky coach. Looking to the sky Play then sees the dark clouds. Damn.

“Looks like a storm is coming,” says Hope just before John does.

“Maybe a Storm will Come.” He says smiling at a joke only he seems to understand.

“We should look for some shelter. Besides, my horse seems to be favoring a leg for the past few hundred feet.”

They ride slower but look for anything to use as a shelter. John thinks back to the use of instant cabins and the such he used when “camping” with his father within the King’s Forest as a child. Those were the days.

“Look over there-“ she says while pointing. “Smoke.”

Carefully they travel that way and find the remains of a large stone building. Rough timber and patchwork has been placed over the ruins to create a shelter. Smoke rises from one section. John looks around for a bit. He is nervous with this. It seems… unnatural to him.

“Hello!” they hear in the distance. Each turns to see who called. The first drops of rain begin. A woman in old and in need of repair outdoor adventure clothing is seen emerging from the forest nearby. She has a heavy pail of water in one hand a staff in the other.

She stops about fifteen feet back from them. Enough distance to prepare for an attack or retreat if either of the two chose to attack her. She seems weary of them as well. “Are you lost?” John notes that she is looking over his saddlebag as if looking for something. Is she a thief or just weary of hidden weapons? Its what he would be looking for if the situation was reversed.

“We seek shelter from the coming storm and my horse also needs attention.” Offers Hope much to John’s unease. He doesn’t trust the woman yet. The less she knows about them the better.

She looks over the horse then back to her. “Horse is favoring a leg. Possibly a thorn wedged into the hoof. She looks up as the rain intensifies, “Hurmmmmm. I guess it will be okay. Bring your horses to my home and you may wait out the storm there. She frowns then goes towards the patched up ruins.

“I don’t trust her.” He says to Hope leaning closer to her.

“Can’t say I do either but my horse needs a break and it is about to storm.” She dismounts from the horse. Distant thunder can be heard. “Besides- I’m sure you could take her if you had to.”

He hesitates before dismounting. Appearances can be misleading.

There is a space in the entrance of the shelter large enough for the two horses and a path for someone to walk through. Hope looks at the hoof and does spot a thorn. The flesh is puffy and angry where it sticks into the soft flesh of the horse. The horse whinnies and tries to stumble free as the thorn is removed. John looks at a pack the Vadalis people gave him for just such a case. Thorns are common he figures. The salve stinks and won’t come off his gloved hand very easily. The horse shakes its head up and down as if dismissing him. “Damned horses” he mutters.

He walks deeper into the shelter and finds a room with shaped dried vine furniture. Two boxes used for storage and tables. Animal furs hang on one wall. One fur, a bear fur, acts as a door to the next room. The woman is not here. Hope is.

“Where is our hostess?”

“Checking on her fire and straightening out her home. She wasn’t expecting guests.” She smiles. “How is the horse?”

“Okay. I’m not much of an animal doctor or nature lover. It looks infected as you said.”

“You are welcome to stay the night if you wish” the woman says as she steps out from the bearskin. She has removed her leather vest and protective gear. The rain makes her remaining clothes cling to her body. John can not ignore a quick look. Hope elbows him as she catches him looking.

Suddenly the rain pours down. It is clearly heard on the patchwork roof and soon enough a few spots begin to leak. John looks around for a dry spot. Most have objects or “furniture” there.

“I have begun boiling the water for stew. I hope you don’t mind- it’s without meat. I eat little of it.”

“You’re a vegetarian?” Asks Hope in curiosity and surprise.

“Only when my hunting skills are not up to the task.” She says with a smile.

They settle in as the storm increases in strength. Play retells a few funny stories from his childhood in Sharn. Both Hope and the Hostess laugh. Then John turns the conversation to the hostess. “Did you always live in the Eldeen reaches?”

“I come from the north but yes, Yes I have.”

“You have avoided giving us your name. Are you a dangerous and wanted war criminal?” John adds in jest and truth.

“Humm? Myself? No. Though I did leave my home due to the war. Aundair really wanted to control the area to the north. I left rather than deal with the trouble.”

Both Play and Yanger look at her expectantly and in silence.

She looks at them back. “Oh sorry. I’m not used to guests. Where are my manners. My name is Diane Harron. I was known as Die by people in the village. “

The stew smells good and the three of them eat it quickly. Then John stops with his spoon half way to his mouth. “What…..spices are in this?”

With that Die suddenly begins to swell and darken. Her petite lips pull back and reveal crooked oddly shaped pointed teeth. Her forearms lengthen and thick talons grow as she swings at Hope’s back. Hope screams out in pain at both of the claws strike her and tear into her. Her reflexes are sluggish. The soup was drugged. Poison is within her blood already. John’s also. Die or what ever she is (Cacodaemon: ToH page 53) seems immune to the poison.

John, even drugged, moves quickly and directly with his dagger. He hits the creature three times causing green icor to burst and run from the wounds. Dazed but alert to the possibility of trouble, Hope had a spell readied and releases it once struck. Thick black tentacles break through the cracked stone and packed earth of the floor and entangle the creature.

“Who are you?!?” He demands.

The creature laughs and begins to shimmer. John slashes out with his dagger. Fresh blood splatters but the creature disappears just the same. Did you kill it? Or will it return?

The storm crackles and the wind howls as John tends to her wounds. They look into the room where “she” disappeared. A fire and stew pot is there along with a pile of various travelers’ belongings. Neither touches the goods out of respect to the dead people.

In the morning, the sun burns its way through the dark night storm’s clouds and they move slowly onward. The worse of the horse’s wound healed though it is still weakened.
 

JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 008
“Cannith Within the Woods”

Sypheros 2, 996

They awake in the morning to wet mud filled shelter. The furs on the walls checked the wind but did nothing to stop the rain run-off from seeping into the ruins. Whatever the creature was, it has either died or decided not to return. It’s all-good to the both of them.

Hope’s horse is not strong still. The wound is infected and will need attention from someone good with animals.

They travel slowly. Often walking with their horses rather than riding them. John points out a few birds and animals he does recognize. When he is wrong Hope is polite enough to smile and nod her head with a smile. John has survival skills in the forest but it is clear he grew up as a city boy.

They travel over some short hills and through tall grass prairies. Many farms are sparsely located here. People here seem to appreciate their privacy. The sound of a river draws them more to the north. As hoped, there is a dirt road that follows it. They travel on this for a ways. Then they spot something unexpected.

Ahead of them is an over sized wagon with covered logs. The heavy load is pulled by four large and strong horses. Though the storm did not seem to cover this area as strongly, there is still mud in the road. The wagon sinks several inches into it. John estimates the wood to weigh over five tons. A lot of weight for four horses- mud or not. They politely step off the road to allow the wagon to continue through.

“Hello travelers. What brings you to the area of Riverbend?” asks the driver. The man seems polite enough but John notes the crossbow hidden behind his seat within easy reach. His clothes do little to hide his size. However, what looks like fat is more likely muscle. His five-day growth of beard on his face further paints the image of a woodsman to be expected in the area. So why the escort that is paralleling him in the woods? John was watching him out of concern of a bandit. He didn’t expect him to be a caravan guard or escort. Mental note- there may be dangerous roads ahead.

“Just traveling through. My horse has need of attention. Is there a town ahead that could maybe have services to help the horse?” Hope asks.

John thinks he really needs to talk to her about giving away more information than she needs to.

“I fear not. Only the mill. Ask for Carson. He may be able to help you. Just be careful. A wood mill is not the best place to be wandering around without a guide.” The man gives a wink to Hope and motions for the horses to move on. Looking at the horses closer, John is confident these are also Vadalis horses. Magically bred for strength and stamina.

A few miles down the road and they reach another clearing and see the mill. It is more than John expected. The mill is built directly onto the river. Logs are precut upriver and caste down. They are collected in the river at the mill. Somehow the logs are taken from the river and brought inside. The sounds of a large saw can be heard. Then blanks of various sizes come out of the side of the building to a waiting wagon. Several men are there. Some look like the type expected here; Big, burley and tough. Others however do not. Curious.

They stop at the mill entrance. Several men have noticed their arrival and the thin man in a muddy hooded robe goes inside. Hopefully to get Carson. Hating to do it himself, John leans over to check the horse’s hoof, which will give away the weakness. However, maybe it will create sympathy for helping them. One can take the man out of the Dark lanterns but one can not take the Dark Lantern out of the man. John has to remind himself that not all men are evil or hide secret agendas of world domination.

That said- John notes several things others may miss. Footprints covered by other tracks. The footprints are over 20 inches long and humanoid. A giant? A giant could be useful in a mill like this. And a powerful force to deal with if required.

A man comes out of a door with the messenger following him. He looks over his way and says something to the thin man whom goes inside. The leader of this group marches over with authority and a bit of unrequired intimidation. Whatever John thinks.

“I hope you are Carson.” John says to greet the man. “We were told you may be able to help us.” John holds out a hand to shake. It is not taken.

“You know who I am but I know not yourselves.” The man says sternly. John notes how much he is studying the two of them.

“I am John Play and this lovely lady is Shasta.” John leaves off her last name. It is a common Aundairan name and if properly said also suggests she has land which can only be procured in Aundair as a soldier or noble. Not good to announce in a foreign territory known to be attacked by Aundair regularly during the war and still wanted to this day. Nothing is ever simple. Well…. Maybe nothing he jokes within his mind.

A cold look is followed by a quick “what can I do for you Mr. Play?”

“Our horse has an injury and we hoped there may be someone here than can treat it. We can pay for the services.”

“I’m sure you can. That is a Vadalis Magebred horse. I’ll see what can be done. He turns to a man that John scarcely knew was there (sneaky bugger) and he nods and leaves. “Leave your horses here. In the meantime, come with me. We do not have the comforts of Fairhaven here but I find it peaceful.”

He knows where she comes from. Guy is traveled. Thinks John as he nods while smiling. He grabs his primary pouch and her pouch just to be safe.

They walk onto the porch of the mill and walk towards a small three-story building located just off of the mill. John tries not to be obvious when checking it out but the sight of a Hill Giant rolling a large log catches his attention. Shasta’s also whom is not against from gasping at the sight.

“Don’t mind Endo. He is big and not very swift upstairs but he is a good worker. You may see several things here that will shock and amaze you. This is an experimental mill in several ways.” Carson says with a faint but obviously proud smile.

The first floor is a basic tavern or mess hall. There is room for 20 or more men here notes John out of habit. They climb a set of stairs. They continue up but the door is slightly ajar. It looks to be the sleeping quarters of the workers. The top floor is made of better wood and craftsmanship. There is a smaller mess hall here that opens onto a deck. Several closed doors may lead to the offices or private rooms of the leaders here. Carson collects several mugs and a liquid that has a strong smell to it. Cider. Apple Cider. Not bad thinks John…. If you like cider.

They step out onto the deck that over looks much of the mill. John can not hide how impressed he is with the facility. He guesses at most of it as Carson begins to describe the operation to Shasta.

“We have loggers that work up river. They collect the hardwood trees of this region and cut them down and remove their branches. With animals and sometimes Endo, they place the logs into the river. We have workers with gaff hooks that follow the river to be sure there are no jams until they reach here. This section of river was widened then restricted to a false dame. The logs are stopped but the water can continue. Then workers walk onto the floating logs and work them to Endo whom pulls them out of the water and to the mill.”

“Sounds dangerous.” Says Shasta looking at the logjam. John easily can envision the danger of walking on rolling and dipping logs. If one fell into the water they would either be crushed between logs and worse- the logs would seal you off from the surface so that you drown.

“This is where House Cannith has come to work with us.” Carson continues with a subtle change in his demeanor that John can not place. “Similar to the contact stones that House Orien uses to hold up their electric rail carts, we move the logs from the river platform into the mill. There we have water powered saws that cut the logs to the sizes we want. Then they flow out to the waiting wagon to be taken to another facility for work or further distribution.”

There is a gentle knock at the top of the stairs. Carson turns and nods to the man there. “Excuse me for a moment.” And he moves along. John watches him in secret. They speak for several long moments and he is angered by something said. He erases the anger from his face and tells the man something before coming back to them.

“Your horse will be fine but it needs to rest over night. You may stay here in my room if you wish. I can not have you below. It is too dangerous to wander around and a distraction to my men that may lead to their own accidents. I insist you remain here as such.”

“There is no where else? We can stay in a tavern rather than trouble you.” Offers Shasta.

“The closest tavern is over ten miles away. And a storm is coming. It would be better if stay here within my room.” Carson repeats with more intensity to it.

“Very well.” Says John wondering what they have just gotten themselves into now.
 

JOHN PLAY
“Play To Win”
SEGMENT 009
“Don’t Feed the Bears”

Sypheros 3, 996

John couldn’t help himself. He looked around the room. It was Carson’s room. He found little of interest. There was no business ledgers or the such here. Only his personal possessions. Shasta looked out the one small window that was facing away from the mill into the woods. It was already becoming dark from the thickening dark clouds. Tonight’s storm was going to be worse than yesterday’s.

“Something isn’t right. Carson is hiding something.” John says as he looks outside into the forest.

“What could he be hiding?” she asks giving a flirtatious smile and laying down on the large bed.

“The way the wood was being hauled out. The looks on the worker’s faces. The inclusion of Dragonmarked equipment. Being put in here and told NOT to walk out. Especially around the mill.”

“Are you trying to avoid me?” she asks kicking off a boot.

“I have a sense for this stuff. Something is wrong.”

A second boot falls off. “Really.”

“It may not be him but something is here. Either he is up to something or he is trying to protect us from something.”

“Danger. You could… protect me from things that go bump in the night.” She removes her belt.

John notes it but remains on task. His ability to ignore alluring women has saved him before. He tries the door and discovers it was locked! “That tears it!”

“So? He sensed I wanted privacy.”

John ignores her and pats his travel belt. He pulls out several metal rods and kneels at the door. Listening carefully first, he begins to pick the lock.

“John- I hired you. You work for me.”

He stops in mid motion. Since when did he become a gigolo he wonders briefly. Then he finishes picking the lock. “I will be right back. If I find nothing I am sure you can think of something to do to me other than scold me for being a bad boy. Either way… later I can be a naughty boy.” With a smile and a bow he slips out the door.

Shasta crosses her arms and pouts. “Damn you Play.” She whispers.

Play carefully proceeds down the stairs. He had noted where the squeakiest steps were and avoid stepping on these. He pauses at the living quarters of the workers. A few are settling in for the night. They seem nervous about something.

“Do you think he will come tonight?” one man asks.

“Storm would be good cover. If I were a betting man I would say so.” Another worker says.

“It wasn’t Carson’s fault that his mate died. It was her idea to use the logs to escape.”

“Aye. But he has placed the blame entirely on him and this facility. He had issues her even before she died. And may I remind you- she died trying to sabotage this place.”

“I hear Carson has asked Buzz to return from up river for tonight. That forged freaks me out.”

“He freaks everyone out. With that damned spinning blade and his attached elemental on his arm…. Freaky.”

“Last shipment goes out in a few weeks. Our contract will be up and we can go back to logging like we used to.”

Figuring there is nothing to be gained by staying any longer Play moves down. He is careful to step high near the bottom of the stairs. It is very dark here and he noticed small eyelets in the walls. The kind where a wire can be set up as a warning system or as a magical conduit. Now at the front door he peers into the tavern. Little has changed here since he went upstairs. Focusing back on the mission on hand he peers out the door. No one. He steps out and is greeted sharply by pounding rain and wind. It will be very hard to mask his time of being outside if people become suspicious of him. Too late now.

Avoiding being near strong lights and puddles of water, he moves quickly from dark shadow to dark shadow. The night rumbles as the storm closes in on the mill. John pauses at the deck and pulls out a cloth from his belt of hidden pouches. With the cloth he cleans and dries one boot, which he then sets onto the dry and sheltered wood. He steps up but before placing his other boot down he cleans that one also. He refolds it carefully and places it in a pouch on the backside of the belt. He creeps towards the closest window to peer in.

From the shadows he sees not one but two magical spinning saw blades that when used will cut the logs either in two or into planks of a set width. Despite what Carson thinks of him, he has been within a wood mill before and understands them. It’s why he is concerned. What kind of profit can be made bringing in Cannith magic? Unless they found Soarwood….. nah….. Couldn’t. He notes the workers are there but are not running the machines. They are circled in small groups located to see all exits in defensible groups. They are expecting trouble. The giant is near the place where the logs enter the mill. He is big. He holds a small log with an earth pike attached to it. He walks with his knees bent to the sides. John notes that means he could easily dodge the giant by sliding under him then.

Several men motion to the main doorway. They begin to walk that way when Endo calls out. Suddenly everyone is on edge and readied for combat. John looks over his shoulder. He thought he heard something near the brush but sees nothing. When he looks back many of the workers have moved to the windows overlooking the river. One of the men, one with a smaller frame, pulls out a wand. Uh-oh.

John Play circles around the backside between the two building. He shakes his head, as once more his boots are wet and muddy. He stays low and hidden from the Giant. A steady glow enlightens the area from the area where logs are loaded and move on their own into the main building. John can not help to wonder if it work carrying him and if he would be harmed to try. He stoops and walks to a pile of cut tree branches and scrubs. From here he can see inside the mill and some of the workers. Everyone seems preoccupied with something either on the lake or across it.

Suddenly Endo bellows out and throws down his club. The men are in motion and John turns and finds himself face to face with the biggest, nastiest, most bone platen Dire Bear he has ever seen. Ever seen this close anyway. ( Dire Dreadnought Bear!!!)

It roars and moves to attack. One monstrous claw strikes and drives Play down. A bite crunches into his reinforced shoulder pad drawing blood even as he back peddles away. Going on the defensive, Play backs away wondering how the heck this multi-ton creature got so close to him and why it attacked him. He has heard of security dogs and even panthers but bears?!?

Unseen by the retreating Dark lantern, The artificers inside spot the creatures as they emerge from the darkness. Four of them total. They reach out to the workers bows and imbue with Baneful magic designed to stop the bears. One bear roars louder than the thunder sounds and tears into the closest man even as he rises his bow to it. The giant shakes his bleeding hands. His wooden log remains at his feet with many bloody spikes growing out of it. He charges the closest bear and barely catches its notice. From the darkness, someone fires a bow and strikes the giant with an arrow.

Play with his one dagger he had out strikes the bear but its thick coat of hardened hair and bony plates stop most of his attack. The bear swats him again. Blood splatters from his injured body as he nearly falls to the ground. Play steps back a few feet and pulls out something from a hidden pouch. A wand! The bear’s face lights up making its black eyes burn orange as a small fireball explodes above it. The blast burns the bear but dries off the rogue. Seeing the futility of this, he turns to run. As he turns he spots something directing the bears. This distraction allows the bear to swat him once more. Play spits out blood as he slides into the brush away from the bear. As he circles around the brush he sees there are several bears. The workers are not doing well against the creatures. They are concerned and stymied by the magical blades that are still spinning inside. He then concentrates on the cause of this attack. He is part man and part goat? This guy is going down Play swears as he runs in a bent over position behind the brush down a trail he figures the creature used itself to sneak onto the deck of the mill.

He leaps onto the creature even as the lightning flashes. If the four-legged man saw him he shows no sign of it as Play’s dagger slides across then sharply into and across his man-like neck. Even as it stumbles forward from Play’s collision with its hindquarters, it gargles with blood bursting out of its throat and mouth. It drops its torch into the sawdust and there is a loud froosh at it explodes into flames. Great. Now a fire also thinks Play.

Play finishes off the creature quickly then realizes one bear has turned and now charges back onto him. Crap! These things are big and fast. As he begins to position himself behind a magical buzz saw he notes Carson and a warforged has arrived. The warforged warrior is truly a scary thing to behold. It has a glowing spinning blade in place of its hand complete with a rushing cloud of air around its wrist. An elemental buzz saw!

After retreating outside of the bears view he watches as another bear attempts to cross the energy platform that carries the logs. It stops to regain its balance and that is when the warforged known as Buzz attacks. One limb is removed entirely and the head is cleaved exposing brain matter. The monstrous bear roars and attacks batting and rending the warforged whom calmly and efficiently kill the beast. As the bear drops into pieces at its feet it stares at area where Play is.

The remaining bears notice the death of their leader and roar in anger but still turn and flee.

A few scant seconds go by then Carson calls out- “Come out Play! I know you killed the Bariaur Saboteur. Please come out.”

Thinking it out quickly, Play sees no way out of it. His torn leather and cloth covering his armor will give away his injuries. He can’t run and recover in time to avoid them. Play silently walks out from the raining darkness to the edge of the mill.

“I gave you strict orders for your own safety. Now you see why.” Carson is obviously displeased. Buzz, the warforged mill worker stares still at him. The cloudy mass weakens around his wrist and the blade stops buzzing and whirling. The blood from the bear is still smeared everywhere on the blades and his body. Play has not seen a stronger stare down of menace from any creature before seeing this warforged. Not even from the Lord of Blades.

“Is the woman here with you or did you at least leave her in the safety of the house? Speak damn you.”

Play notices the bloody and torn up body of the giant. Endo has left our world and now joins the Keeper. He and several workers and one mage type also. “She should still be in the house. I thought I heard a fight and thought I could possibly help. I’m not much of a fighter but I wield a nasty knife.”

Carson gives him a hard stare. He motions to a few workers whom go to put out the fire. “Follow me and we’ll talk. He motions to Play and Buzz alike.

When they arrive at the house they find several of the workers restraining Shasta. “How did you….” Play begins. “You. Locked. Me. In.” she fumes. It is unclear whether she is directing this to Carson whom locked her in originally or Play for relocking the locks as he left.

Carson walks up the stairs. He slows down on each of the two steps that creak horribly. It is obvious to Play that he is measuring Play’s abilities based on what he has seen and what he avoided so far as traps, alarms and locks. Carson is no logger or idiot. He is more cautious than the average Aurum agent Play decides. He is up to something.

They reach the top floor and Play frowns on the outside but smiles on the inside. Shasta broke down the door using furniture as a ramming rod.

“I appreciate the aid. You killed a saboteur that has been causing us many issues as of late. I thank you. However- you still disobeyed a direct order from me meant to protect you.”

Play nods his head in agreement. He does his best to convince the man that he is sorry and submissive. “I thought I saw something and…”

“Stop.”

Carson almost growls at this point in anger. “The fact you could leave the room, walk down the stairs and leave the building without my people knowing means you are more than you have suggested. The fact you RE-locked the door according the woman confirms this. We saw your blade. It is no average blade. The fact you cleanly killed the creature and survived several strikes from his bears further proves there is more to you than you suggest. Tell me the truth.”

“Eh okay. I am a highly trained agent of Breland that accidentally ended up here and I thought I would check things out since I was told to stay put,” Play says with a mirthful smile on his face, “And maybe you are a world dominating super-baddy trying to keep some evil secret from me and the world.” He waits a moment as Carson has a stunned look on his face. Buzz’s blade begins to slowly turn, as he stands upright. Then Carson begins to laugh out loud and John joins in. Buzz is confused (or disappointed) and backs down as even Shasta joins in the laugh. The tension is broken. Peace returns.

“You are a strange one young man.” Carson slowly allows his laughter to trail off. “I expect you will be in a hurry to leave in the morning. I suggest you go at daybreak before the next storm comes. This means getting to sleep soon. I can have Buzz here watch your door so to be certain no one bothers or awakens you during the night. You saw what he could do. The people here know to not bother him.”

Play watches him leave down the stairs. He looks at Buzz and sighs shortly. “I heard House Ghallanda is looking for a short order chef to cut veggies and stuff. It may be a excellent job opportunity for you.” Play closes the door before Buzz’s blade can begin to spin freely.
 

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