John play: Hero for hire

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 70
“MAXIMUS TABOO”

BARRAKAS 10 ,997

John Play trained as a Breland Dark lantern and King’s Sword during the closing years of a 100 year war. As a spy and assassin he developed many skills that can be used well as a sell-sword and hero for hire. Never being very serious in life, he was released from the government as an official agent but they still call on him at times. Otherwise, he helps his many friends or hires himself out to people in need with nowhere else to go. He is stationed in Sharn but travels nearly everywhere.

We pick up on his adventures shortly after his return from “vacationing” in the islands. A merchant is searching for his son. The boy was traveling in certain circles that most would consider dangerous or at least unwise. Various night clubs or Dream Lily shops in Sharn. The law of Sharn does not consider this an issue worth their time or resources. The merchant is also not a very rich one. Through a contact, the merchant met Play and has convinced him to help.

Play is on his way into the area of the Lower Menthis Plateau. Fierce Holdhearer, age 17, often came here looking for the things teenage boys look for. Fun, excitement, some danger and anything else taboo. Speaking of Taboo, Play is looking for Maximus Taboo. Maximus is a changeling bard that wanders from club to club here. He hopes he may be able to help.

Play enters Lucky Nines Casino. This casino is a must go place in the Firelight District. Everything is powered by magic. At first glance, trays of drinks seem to float from the bar to the tables. On closer inspection, one can see the faint ripple of air that is an Unseen Servant. Play sits and asks for the house special- The Rainbow. It is a strong but sweet drink that magically changes color every minute or so. He listens to the bard whom is singing about Breland adventurers caught up in a battle between aberrations and the rangers of Eldeen. He knows this tale well. He was one of the Breland people. Once the bard finishes he moves to sit by him. The bard is an elf with long blond hair and white and gold clothes.

“It gets better every time.” Play says to the bard as a drink “floats” to him.

“Johnny boy- how goes it kid?” calls out the bard as he gets up and gives Play a big hug and a rub of the hair. Play never liked the nickname and really dislikes the invasion of personal space with the changeling. But the bard has a way of learning what is happening on the streets and thus has use of him.

“Taboo or should I call you something else?” asks Play as he takes a moment to sit back on his stool. Something else that unnerves Play about Taboo is he is bi-sexual. There are days where invasion of personal space takes on new meaning.

“Today you may call me the fabulous Fen Huemean of Aundair. What brings you to Firelight? Looking for company?” He says with a smile and a curious twinkle in his eye.

“No. I’m working. A merchant lost his son to the streets near here. I was wondering what you may know or have heard rumors of.”

“What kind of interests did the boy have?”

“His father suspected the boy was dabbling with Dream Lily while having fun at the taverns.”

“Sounds like many fallen angels of Sharn. The boys and girls come to Sharn with dreams of fame and riches and find themselves here and soon cannot escape. Kinda sad. I have a song about it I’m working on. I suspect you know the taverns so you are looking for Dream shops. I know two that cater to young people too innocent or naïve to know better.”

“Excellent. Any news or rumors I should know about?”

“The usual. Though it seems people dappling with fiends is on the increase. Dangerous stuff.”

“That’s what makes it so attractive. So where are these Dream lily shops?”
 

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JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 71
“DREAM LILY”

BARRAKAS 10 ,997

Play remembers his one experience with Dream Lily. It started as an herbal drink used by healers to ease one’s pains. The problem with it is the drink is psionic in nature. It messes with the brain and perception. It is easy to drink too much as it connects with the brain and the consumer’s memories immediately. The first sip tastes like water with a slightly bitter after taste that quickly leaves. With the second sip to eternity the drink tastes like whatever the consumer most desires to drink.

With too much consumption, pain and mental stress disappear. It was widely used by House Jorasco to treat war veterans whom were mentally scarred from the horrors they witnessed or were forced to do in the name of their country. Breland made the drink illegal after seeing the beginning of abuse by soldiers. Other countries are strongly considering following Breland’s example.

As such, the Dream Lily has become an “it” item for the young and wealthy. Many places offer it in secret. Some are more dangerous than others. Some purposely get the rich addicted to it and if payments are not made then threats of withholding the drug are made and also contacting loved ones of the use.

Play may not understand the need for the drug and their economic means but accepts them. He has ignored much more dangerous things- so don’t judge him poorly.

The first stop is a hidden room in the back of the Red Eye. A bugbear with one red eye (effect from a magical attack by a customer) serves the illegal drink secretly. All one says is their drink of choice and the word “Plus” after it. It is the understood password to receive the Dream Lily. Play instead says
“Fierce Holdhearer” and “Dream Lily”. When he hears a gruff insulted remark Play throws the goblinoid through the secret door. Everyone leaves the bar that can, the rest merely stare in disbelief.

After making the Bugbear have a red and a black eye, Play leaves. The next stop is “Tavern of Rolling Dice.”

Play isn’t sure how to do this one. Taboo hinted that this tavern is protected by the crime family of Boromar. There is little that is as dangerous as angering a city full of halfling rogues and thieves. Inside he spots a few tables where they play games of chance with dice. No doubt magically touched in the house’s favor.

Two of the halflings inside watch Play carefully as he wanders to the bar. He decides to be blunt without tossing anyone. “Fierce Holdhearer.”

“Never heard of him.”

Play smiles. He has played this game before as a government agent and as a hero for hire. He places a gold piece down. “Fierce Holdhearer” he repeats. “Had some bad habits. I’m not here for that. I’m merely looking for him.”

The halfling sweeps the coin off the table so quickly Play nearly misses it. “Fierce Holdhearer?”

Two more coins. “A merchant’s son.”

“OH! That Fierce Holdhearer.” The coins are gone. “Used to come in occasionally. Have not seen him in two nights now.”

“Alone? Or did he come with a friend or bar mate?”

The halfling waits.

Another coin is placed and disappears. “Loner until recently. Bad news that new friend of his.”

The halfling waits.

“That makes five.” And he puts a coin down.

“Sirius Conners. Drugs and some say other things. Fiendish things. Hear he has a private party in Undersharn once a month or so.”

“Where can find him?”

“Five for the boy. Now you ask about someone new…….”

Play is aggravated by the halflings greed but all of this gold so far came from Killian ir ’Shire’s personal cache of wealth that he no longer needed suddenly when Play was on vacation. He places 5 coins down to speed it up hoping he will not be ripped off.

The halfling eyes Play shortly before taking the money. “Sirius tends to contact the young kids and shortly they are never seen again. Rumor has it Ginger, his girlfriend, will be in tonight.” Play doesn’t even see the coins disappear this time. Being that Ginger is a new subject, he hopes another coin will not leave him for the information he needs.

“What does Ginger look like and how do you know she will be in tonight?”

The halfling smiles. It is clear he is wondering if he can collect more money for a new individual but decides he has pushed this person too far already. The stranger looks like he could be trouble. “Comes in every three days. Usually dressed to lure weak willed males into buying her drinks.”

“favorite drink?”

“Aundairan wine. Elven make.”

“Thank you kind sir. Now for the drinks I just paid for.” Play says with a smile.

The halfling smiles and whistles as he ignores the suggestion.
 

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 72
“FOLLOW THE BIMBO”

BARRAKAS 10 ,997

Two women matching the halfling’s description come in before Ginger does. Another ten gold was spent buying them drinks before determining they were not Ginger… well at least THE Ginger Play was looking for..

Finally a woman dressed in only Shadow Weave for a top comes in. It’s hard to miss her. The rest of her outfit is green with bits of silver hi-lights. Her hair is a silver touched blonde. Play immediately understands how the young guys fall for her.

She orders a wine which a lone young male ½ elf offers to pay for. The halfling walks over and nods to play that this is Ginger. He hesitates hoping for an additional gold piece. Play slowly shakes his head in disapproval and puts down a copper piece extra from his bar bill.

He goes outside and waits for her. A bit of rain drops but not much. Several moons draw to fight for illumination through the silvery clouds. It’s a spooky night. The kind predators of all types come out to feed. Tonight, he only wants Sirius or if necessary- Ginger.

Shortly Play sees her leaving the building with the young man. He looks very comfortable with her and makes Play wonder if they knew each other before this night. Either way, she should lead him to the mystery man and thus the boy. She crosses from building to building in the shadows. It begins to drizzle again which annoys Play a bit. Then they disappear into a doorway. Looking at the base of the tower they are going up. Play hurries over to follow her further. Three levels up they enter her apartment.

Play feels sleazy at this point. But it’s part of the job.

About two hours later they have changed clothes. No more sexual clothing for Ginger. They have matching black over coats on and boots. They walk past him as he pretends to be steading himself from too much drink. They cross a walkway connecting to another tower then down further. Play notes that they seem to be sneaking around now. Silly them.

They step under the stairway and Play waits so as not to draw attention to him. He hears a latch open then a door shut. It is locked from inside. It is nothing to open the lock but they also dropped a bar on the other side. Frowning, Play removes an incredibly strong and stiff wire with a hook on the tip. He carefully works it through the door jamb to the bar. Once he hooks it, he has to raise his arms over his head to pull the bar off the supports on the other side. The wooden bar thuds to the stone floor when it fails to keep the door barred from entry. Hoping no one heard the sound; he carefully replaces the board and puts on his newly acquired mask.

The whites of the eye slits turn green and Play have 120ft Dark Vision.

The doorway leads to a storage area within the base of the tower. Looking carefully, he sees where a shelf has been recently moved. The secret door leads to stairs that go down. “Undersharn” thinks Play in a clear whisper.
 

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 73
“UNDERSHARN’S CITIZENS”

BARRAKAS 10 ,997

Play easily avoids several of the creatures and threats of Undersharn’s upper most levels. Dire rats, basic and primal traps (built by goblins?), and a poisonous hunter spider of advanced size. Play wonders how Ginger and the man with her escape these dangers. Or maybe they are releasing or controlling them? Something to consider.

Another 100ft deeper, a woman and a man walk down a stairway over a molten metal cauldron. Several warforged work the Cannith owned factory. They are building metal structures for large items. They go deeper yet… with Play following.

Ginger and the man are followed by another three at this point, two vampires and a Dhampir. “It’s them again. What should we do?” asks Mania (Siberys seven Storyhour).

“Nothing. We only watch as commanded by our queen.”

“Very well. But it’s very boring”

Play creeps closer in the darkness. He can hear something but can’t place it. But he feels he knows what it is. Chanting.

He sees a young man guarding a door but seems very preoccupied with the ongoing behind the door. It is easy for Play to take him down without alerting anyone. He checks the door… unlocked and no noticeable magical entrapments.

He opens the door and finds……

Damned cultists and a young woman in the center. She is chained by her wrists from the ceiling. She seems drugged. There are about twelve cultists plus the leader whom stands by the girl.

Play removes his bow and ponders what to do as the chanting increases in volume and intensity. For the first time the Dark Lantern notes there are large doors behind the girl. The door begins to open with a rumble. Smoke and bits of fiery ash fill the now open doorway. =what is it mortal worm?=

The chanting continues quietly as the lead cultist calls out to the summoned creature. “I have a request of you and our master. In return I have a sacrifice for you. You may do with her as you wish if you agree to our request.”

Red glowing eyes appear about ten feet above the floor in the smoke filled room. “oh crap.” Play quietly says to himself to reassure his nervous self. He wishes he had his entire adventuring pack on him. Several potions right now would be good.

=The request- quickly= snarls the creature within their minds…. Including Play’s.

“We have need of your might and influence in Black Pit. We hope to free your master’s brother.”

I’ve heard enough thinks Play as he releases an arrow into the room aiming for the eyes. Suddenly there is a grunt and a growl. It steps forward and Play is uncertain what he faces. It looks like a large black minotaur but he knows it is not. It reaches out and grabs the woman and pulls at her. The chains hold her arms over head still. Two more arrows the creature with a third being redirected by hitting the chains that hold the woman. =Interloper= and the creature pulls her free of the chains and turns its back on him. Her two bloody arms swing wildly within the chains as the very air glows where she hung. The cultists have stopped chanting and look for the source of the arrows. Even as Play prepares to give chase 16 small misshaped creatures begin to emerge from the glow. “Dretch!” Play calls out as he recognizes the creatures from his teachings.

Play tries to watch the black minotaur leave, the cultists while identifying which is Ginger and where the cannon fodder is going. He downs two of the demons which after taking enough damage disappear with a burst of sickly thick smoke. He begins to run to the right side tunnel hoping to run into Ginger. Instead it deadends. “Damn!” He returns and finds everyone is gone. Only one hanging arm remains (Dretch took the other as a snack ) .

“Black Pit. Why Black Pit?” Play says with his head down in disbelief.
 

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 74
“TRAVEL TO THE PIT”

BARRAKAS 17 ,997

It takes a day to set up the arrangements and two days to travel to the area of Black pit by Electric Rail. He gets off in Hatheril and then must ride in from there. It takes another few days to reach the Black Pit on the other side of the Black Cap Mountains.

The rising fumes and smoke mark where to go. Play remembers a few things about the area. Black Pit itself is a deep crack in the earth. Creatures most vile live here within its walls and depth. Most everyone avoids the area thus why many outlaws have come here. So many that they created a small trade town here. A dangerous town.

Why come here?

The trail became cold looking for Ginger and the boy. They spoke of Black Pit and quite frankly, he dislikes fiends enough to want to disrupt their plans.

Play looks above and sees an airship floating by an opening to a valley. Many people and supply tents are below. Curious but deciding it is not of his concern, Play passes it by (see Storm Dragon novel series) and continues towards Black Pit.

As he enters the town many people check him out. Few come here that are not able to defend themselves well. Play notices many less common races here. Orcs, ½ Giants and many Teiflings. Most avoid direct eye contact with Play. Most of the buildings have small windows. And many of these are either barred, closed or if no visible means of defense is there- magically protected. Or it is to keep out the smell. Though still about a mile away from the true pit, the smell of sulfur is strong.

John Play continues on horseback to the safest looking tavern he can find. It has the mark of Ghallanda on the sign, a good sign. Two halflings on a raised platform behind the counter welcomes Play. The room is basic and on the top floor. Metal bars cover the window. From the window, he can see the rising fumes.

Play decides to begin looking for Fierce Holdhearer. He begins with a tavern. It is a great place for rumors and general mischief discovery. He begins with a place called The Last Bone. It is a dirty and nasty place with saw dust on the floor and cheaply made furniture. It has Teiflings and several other planar appearing people within it.

After four hours and too many drinks (watered down) Play learns very little of great use. It is agreed there are questionable activities here, he has not found any evidence of Fierce Holdhearer or the cultist from Sharn.

He decides to try one last thing, he has a few “friends” here. They are however in hiding so finding them won’t be easy. His first choice- Tetherstone. A dwarf soldier from Wroat that defied the Breland government during the war.

Assuming his drinking habits have not changed, Tetherstone loved his dwarven ale. In his wanderings, he had seen a dwarven tavern decides to begin his new search there. He finds the place several blocks down. “Onatar’s Brew”

He walks into the doorway and stops to look around. The place is rowdy. It is full of dwarves and again…. Very rowdy. A few dwarves note Play’s entrance but the others are too busy drinking and being rowdy. Play wants to join in…. even though it is only about fifth bell in the afternoon. Then he sees what he was looking for- a dwarf trying to sneak out the back.

Play moves quickly to follow but a few dwarves just happen to “get in the way” either by stumbling into his path or spilling a drink on him. Play avoids it all but is delayed. He goes out the back and looks around. Tetherstone is moving through a crowd to the right. Play follows.

Tetherstone weaves in and out of the crowd then takes cover in an alley. He peeks out to see if anyone is still following him. Seeing no one he turns to escape deeper into the alley.

“Hello Tetherstone. I assume Breland still has a warrant for your arrest?”
 
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JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 75
“DAMNED DEMONS”

BARRAKAS 17 ,997

Good ol’ Tetherstone. He was a decent soldier but enjoyed his ale too much. He was wanted for questioning involving a possible Thrane intelligence issue. He got drinking and a Thrane spy got past him. Caused a lot of havoc. He ran for it in fear of prison and disappeared. The day of Mourning occurred and he was forgotten. Too bad he never knew.

However, he did give me the info I was hoping for. There has been recent activity involving people from Sharn this week. He had heard it involved slave trafficking as there were several people tied and with hoods over their heads. With further prodding, I found out the place where they are staying has a history of cult events. As good of a place to start as any.

I go back to my room. I check the lock to my room. I replaced it with one of my own. Someone tried to pick it. I’m sure it proved quite shocking to them that I don’t care for thieves in my unattended room. I get something to eat and wait for darkness.

As Play steps outside he spots a woman dressed in a dark gray cloak. Something about her catches his attention but he can’t place it. He holds the door open for her. “Beauty first.”

She gives a frown and rushes past him. Play hopes his charm isn’t wearing off. He steps out to see where she has gone and cannot spot her in the darkness. He decides to slip his mask over his face and finds he still cannot spot her. “I guess she was in a hurry.” He says to himself with a shrug and goes into the darkness himself.

On the outskirts of the town he finds the old broken cart that was a marker for the entrance. Looking around he walks around the cart and spots the old tree. He also spots the guard waiting against the tree. Play sneaks around the tree to surprise the man. Instead the man surprises him. Sleeping. A quick check and Play sees the man has a bruise developing on his head. He was recently KOd. Curious.

Play moves past the tree and sees the trail he was told to take. It leads to a small pond and a ruined cabin. Next to the cabin is a woodshed…. With the door slightly open. Play looks around him as he enters the shed. A trap door in the floor is open and he goes down.

The tunnels below are damp and muddy. Many people have been using it and recently. Play moves down the hall and hears the ever familiar chanting of cultists. He moves quietly past several locked doors. The chanting is coming from a room to the right. He can see the back of a cloaked person whom is chanting while raising their arms up and down.

“Damned Cultists” he whispers to himself. Staying to the shadows, he moves slowly closer to the main chamber. The smell of sulfur and brimstone is there. “damned demons.” He whispers silently to himself.

There is no way to spy on the cultist to look for Fierce Holdhearer. The way the hallway enters allows no angels and limited shadows. So….. let’s live it up.

Play pulls out both magical clubs. He has no idea what is within the room and really doesn’t care at the moment.

He stands straight and carries the clubs so that they are out of sight behind his fore arms. He calmly walks out into the light and it is not until he passing the first cultist he is seen. There are about dozen again. There is a lead cultist (looks like the same one as before) and two prisoners. And yup- that same black skinned creepy looking minotaur.

“Hi. Oh am I interrupting something? Love what you’ve done with the place. ‘Allo mino demon guy. Miss me?”

=For a human you have either no brains or incredible courage. It matters little to me.= the creature sends out telepathically. The cultist all stop and lower their arms and hiss and curse at the intruder. The prisoners do little. Drugged?

“Look, I don’t like these kinds of parties. I am merely looking for . Fierce Holdhearer, His dad wants him home for dinner. Is he here?” Play whirls out his clubs and spins them in a way that is hard to follow and to show off.

“Take.The. Sharn. Idiot. Down.” The head cultist snarls word by word in a state of pure fury.

As the cultist begins to circle Play the summoned creature looks away. =She is here=

Suddenly a large swirl of energy opens up and dozens of Dretch waddle out in a hurry. They form a wall between the minotaur demon and Play with the cultists.

As Play is about to begin taking down the robed men and women another person joins the battle in a hurry. A cloaked woman with twin short swords rushes silently at the wall of Dretch.

Play is bummed. The center of focus is no longer on him. Who else is crashing this party?
 

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 75
“THE ROYAL EYE- ARCADIA”

BARRAKAS 17 ,997 LATE AT NIGHT

Several of the cultist are uncertain whom to attack, the over confident man or the charging woman? As such some converge on Play while others merely stand between her and their leaders. Play begins to attack when he recognizes the woman, or at least her cloak- the woman from the inn. He takes one cultist in the process. If the woman recognizes him or cares, she doesn’t express it. She merely takes down the first cultist standing in her way. The demon roars in anger and summons other fiends to do his bidding- dozens of Dretch begin to pour out of the portal.

The leader of the cultist now glows as a shield spell has been applied to him. He decides to take a risk and castes a spell onto the very portal the demon has opened. It isn’t closing. Pushed by the fear of the demon and the masses of dretch, the cultists attack the two intruders. Some have no weapons and merely hope to grab and/or entangle them. Others have small daggers. Play avoids the attacks but the woman takes a slight cut across the arm. She doesn’t seem to register it having happened. He swings his clubs taking down two more and she begins to also do the same. The demon begins to make his demands of the summoned underlings ignoring the fact his portal remains open. Faint outlines of pillars with faces can be seen on the other side.

“So the forces of Breland and Aundair both come to smite me? So be it. Die government lackeys! Die!” and the cultist calls up a spell and sets it free. The cultists stop and before they can scream out a protest a fireball erupts within their midst. The two intruders skillfully turn and use the cultist to shield themselves from the blast. The cultists however are not so lucky and die in a screaming mass of heat and fire. The Dretch are just outside of the blast as they have just now reached the sides of the cultist sorcerer’s side.

“Only sick bastards kill their own men like that.” And he attacks the cultist. The woman rushes at the lesser fiends as they waddle up. She kills the first in line immediately.

=Arcadia you bitch of a human and elf – I did not expect it to be you hunting these lowly mortals= and with that the creature points in her direction. Energy swirls of blue, green and white sprout behind her and lashes out at her. The energy swirls strike her but do not deter her at all.

Despite the strike, the cultist castes a spell aimed at Play. Black strands leak up through cracks in the stone at Play’s feet. Then suddenly the strands burst forth as tentacles and attempt to capture Play. Play squirms around the reaching and grasping magical black tentacles. Play swings out and strikes the cultist several times in rapid succession while seemly dancing around the magic effect. The woman crushes the ugly head into the massive humpback of the fiend before her. She then steps up to another cultist that stands with the sorcerer leader. The large black minotaur laughs as it looks into the portal. Something or someone is on the other side. Its shadowy appearance resembles a humanoid with many swinging tentacles on its arms and body.

The sorcerer tries to step back into the mass of the dretch. Play is pressing him to hard and knows he will not last long against this man from Sharn. And with that Play strikes and breaks the spellcaster’s hand then with a powerful uppercut sends the mage into the mass of fiends with a blood spray. The tentacles recede back into the ground with the summoner defeated. Wishing to destroy more fiends but knowing the remaining cult leader is more dangerous, the woman concentrates her attacks on him. The blades bite deep into his flesh as he raises his arms in defense. Bleeding greatly from her attack, he falls back into the mass of Dretch with a shriek of pain and panic. The dretch attack in mass. She kills one as it circles her. Play misses with a curse to misfortune. One manages to strike him. The one’s on her seem more driven and they score several hits on her. She grunts but remains upright then smiles.
=Welcome Serrex and Derrex= the fiend says to two more creatures that step through a portal as it closes. The only clothing the male and female creatures wear are dozens of chains that swing and swirl as they move. Neither Play nor the woman can see them behind the large dark horned demon.

Both Play and her take down another lesser fiend and hope to get to their goals- Play the prisoners, she to the main fiend. Play confuses the lowly dretch as he shifts and sidesteps them while attacking. She merely tries to force her way through and several more strike her. Their attacks begin to ware her down. She takes several more hits as the fiends swarm her. Play spins and weaves as he can. He takes a few minor hits but knows he needs to get some space. =Die children of Siberys= the minotaur fiend calls out in their minds.

“Vile beast- you shall die tonight!” the woman finally speaks. She picks up the intensity and moves closer. Play matches her as best as he can. She clearly has great fighting skills and a hatred of the fiends. At this point Play can see the creature better and wishes he couldn’t. The black “fur” is really 1000’s of crawling dark scorpions that cover its body. The creature reaches into his chest and pulls out many of the writhering scorpion and throws them at Play. “Ugh! That’s creepy and disgusting!” he calls out as the scorpions rain about him.

The two chained covered creatures step up and watch the melee. As they were not summoned, they do not need to act in the fiend’s defense but still- they enjoy a good fight. Both throw back their upper bodies as if bursting free of their chains. Chains strike out from each of them. Play sidesteps the attacks but the woman is barely struck by one. Play is impressed by her ability to take a hit.

Breaking through the dretch, Play and the woman both go after the minotaur scorpion fiend. The damned cultist has left and taken the hostages with him. Each strike the fiend. Play’s strike knocks many scorpions off the body as her short sword sinks in and many scorpions seem to merely fold up on themselves and fall off. Angered, it blinks out using a spell leaving the chain covered creatures behind- the portal already closed. It is not their fight so they look for a means to escape but cannot. The dretch, still under the agreement with the minotaur to attack press on from behind to trap the two mortals.

Play dances about and strikes out suddenly at the chain fiend before him. His magical clubs strike through its supernatural defenses and the creature grunts in pain. The chains sag and still as it stumbles back. She seems to move faster than before as she attacks her creature. Bits of chain fall off the creature as she repeatedly stabs it with her twin short swords. She turns to Play’s target before even checking if hers was truly dead.

Play pauses for a moment as he thought he saw Kerri d’Orien face under the chains but knowing it is nothing but a fiendish trick strikes out anyway. The creature falls back as the woman clears out the last of the dretch.

The woman cleans her blades and addresses Play. “Well struck Dark lantern. I am Arcadia of the Royal Eyes of Aundair.” She never raises her face to meet his look as she checks the floor for survivors. Seeing none, she places her blades back.

“I knew they trained their agents specifically to deal with the Demon Waste but that was still impressive.”

“Save it. What are you doing here anyway?” She says with a sense of annoyance.

“Uh- this IS still Breland soil we are on. The real question is what are YOU doing here?”

“Killing fiends. Obvious I thought.” She kicks the body of the cultist that fell. The fiend’s bodies are beginning to bubble and melt already.

“I am looking for a young man named Fierce Holdhearer. His father thought him taken by these cultist. I want to free him and return him.”

“Fierce Holdhearer? Too late. He is here on his own.”

Play looks at her waiting for a reason she knows this.

“I arrived before you. I went through their ledgers first. He came here on his own. Lucky for you, he has been chosen for a special ritual that is not tonight. Nice strike on the Daraka by the way.” She finally looks him in the eyes (well the eye slits of his mask anyway). He will be back or if you wish- follow me to strike him down forever.”

“It would be rude of me not to accept your invite.” Says Play as he looks around at the dissolving bodies of the dead fiends- most of which she killed.”
 

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 76
“DRAGON’S CROWN”

BARRAKAS 21 ,997

After spending a lot time going over equipment and drinking healing potions, the two of them check out of the tavern and head south. There are no rail systems or Orien roads to this area. They are headed to the Dragon’s Crown. Play has been here once before but as a tourist. He was curious about the circle of stone pillars said to have magical abilities. According to Acadia, they do. They act as a dimensional doorway. The time and chants used depict which doors are opened. Sometimes it is the Fey plane of the Twilight Forest, other times to other planes.

The books she found suggested they are summoning something big. The ritual they broke up was a minor warm up. If it bothers either one of the government agents it doesn’t show.

The trip takes two days by mage-bred horses.

It is dusk when they arrive in the valley. They need to climb the foothills onto the rocky tops where the Dragon’s Crown is. They climb and climb. As the night sky darkens, Play notes several moons are full tonight. Stranger yet, the full moons are centered with four other moons being ½. Two moons per side. Weird but somehow seems to make sense. Its cultist we’re talking about after all.

A gentle rain begins as they reach the top. Strangely enough, the pillars are glowing a dark purple color. There is something in the wind that is rising. Murmurs or even chanting? The two government agents scout the area. There are many cultists here and the scorpion covered demon is also here.

They get closer but do not rush in. The odds are against them. Play pulls out his bow first. “Here we go folks.” Says Play as he pulls back the string of the bow.

Seven cultists drop. The ritual continues but now the Daraka demon turns to them. He tries to summon more of the weakling foot soldiers but none hear his call. Instead he calls to his own master. Beside him the air ripples and a tall serpentine figure slithers through wielding many weapons with many arms.

“Oh crap.” Says Play.

“A Marilith….. interesting.” Says Acadia.

A portal is opening beside the woman-serpent-demon. Three lumbering hulks of demons stride through. She points at the Royal Eye and Dark Lantern and the creatures charge at them.

“Hezrou” Arcadia comments.

“Hell of a party you brought me to crash.”

“If you wish to leave then go.” Says Arcadia as she pulls more arrows out to fire. Both have problems hitting with their arrows. The two arrows that do strike seem to do little if any damage to the charging creatures. Arcadia’s arrows continue to do little to the demons. Play continues to have the same result. “I hate creatures like this.” Grumbles Play as he begins to back up. A few more moments then the creatures will be onto them.

=Rip and Tear= snarls one creature in their minds.

=Eat and Consume= growls another.

=We will eat your Souls= grunts the third untouched by the magical arrows.

The two switch to their melee weapons and prepare for the upcoming melee attack by the Hezrou brutes.

Play begins his irradiate moves that distract and confuse foes. Arcadia merely readjusts the grip on his swords and watches the creatures come at them. The rain picks up and rumbles of thunder in the distance can be heard over the strange sounds from the monuments of the Dragon’s Crown.

Play dodges then strikes hard with his magical club. The brute walks directly into the strike. Arcadia swings wildly missing as much as she hits. Two attack Play but have trouble striking the ever moving target. Arcadia and her demon trade blows. One of the creatures bites down on Play’s shoulder. Play swings as hard as he can and drives his club into the eye and into the innards. He nearly loses his grip on the club as the beast howls and begins to melt away. Arcadia’s demon wobbles as she has cut the gut several times. “keep going Brelander!” she yells. Then is struck very hard as the creature relieves she is about to defeat it. And she does as Play misses as he readjusts to fighting the second demon. The two then team-up on the last one. Play easily strikes at it with his confusing weaving and ducking and her savagery with the two short swords is unstopped. The creature drops.

“Good for a warm-up” says Play checking on his shoulder. She is already searching her pack for healing potions. “In a moment we enter the real battle.” She swears.
 

JOHN PLAY
“04 INTERNAL PLAY”
SEGMENT 77
“THE REAL BATTLE”

BARRAKAS 21 ,997

As they return to the Dragon’s Crown the rain has picked up further and flashes of lightning are in the distance. The cultist seem not to notice this any more than the seven killed cultist before. Two more cultists have joined the ceremony and stand in the center. Swirling energy hovers between them. Outside of the circle the Marilith and Daraka still watch.

“The ritual is not complete. We still have time.”

“As the current demon expert here, should we go after the snake woman and minotaur or disrupt the show and take down the two in the center?” Play suggests.

She sighs in frustration. Her anger and hatred of the demons is quelled only by the thought of what may come through this portal if not closed. “Very well… it would be wise to stop this from going any further.”

Arcadia drops one cultist and Play’s target drops to her knees…. At least she screamed like a woman. This action gets the full attention of the demons outside of the circle. =remove them from my sight= calls out the serpent woman.

The minotaur demon looks up at them then disappears with a flash. Guessing what is happening Arcadia turns to defend herself from behind and Play rolls to the opposite direction. The Daraka teleports between them swinging but has no target to strike. “I have waited a long time for this!” screams out the woman whom immediately goes on the attack. Play also goes low as she goes high. One leg collapses under its weight but it still strikes out. It strikes Arcadia several times still. She attacks but does little to overcome its scorpion shelled defense. Play hits it again spraying the supernatural small black scorpions everywhere. She finishes off the creature. It staggers for one then a second step before it seems to fall apart. A pile of scorpion and a minotaur skull remain. Even these begin to dissolve in the rain.

Again, they shot the central cleric but this time she drops. The portal screams and flares as if the storm itself erupted from it. The Marilith snarls and hisses at them. She ponders all of the possibilities of attacking or fleeing. She decides to call up a wall of swirling blades to separate her from the two interlopers.

=You will pay dearly for this=

Lightning crackles nearby. Play uses the flash as a distraction and moves into the darkness. Her anger and hatred of the fiend keeps Arcadia there waiting for the demon to attack. The portal crackles now and seems to be out of control. The Marilith laughs at the whole scene. =The portal remains open mortals. Where it leads to is all that remains uncertain=

Several arrows fire at the wall of blades and are stopped. The demon laughs. Play looks to the portal to her and back. Then he hears a… voice. It is singing…. He can hear it above the storm. It is inviting him….. asking him to move closer to the ring. He knows better but finds he has taken a step already towards the ring. Several of the cultists that remained have also begun to walk to the portal. One by one they are sucked in. Play finds a rope is thrown around him. Arcadia is trying to tie him to the closest obsidian pillar. His feet strain against it but it is holding. Arcadia likewise has a lifeline attached and holds on. The Marilith laughs then quiets down. She too is being drawn in. Avoiding this any further, she teleports away. The last of the living cultist walk into the portal and it closes.

The light gives way and the compulsion to walk forward also leaves them. They look to the downed cultists. One is Ginger and the other the man she was with when Play followed. He frowns under his mask. Now he understands somewhat how they were not harassed by the creatures within Undersharn.

Arcadia rolls over and removes the cowls from the remaining cultist. Fierce Holdhearer is one of them.
Arcadia and Play go separate ways as dawn arrives. He hopes he can get a cleric to prepare the body for travel. He doesn’t feel compelled to take an airship or an Orien teleporter for him. It’s a long way home.
 

JOHN PLAY
“05 JUST PUSH PLAY”
SEGMENT 78
“DARK LANTERN KNIGHTS”

RHAAN 13 ,995

DARK LANTERN KNIGHTS

THE HERO OF THIS TALE IS A MYSTERY MAN
HE FIGHTS FOR COUNTRY AND KING
HE WILL WIN NO MATTER WITH WHATEVER HE CAN
ANYTHING SO THAT HE MAY WIN
HE IS A BRELAND DARK KNIGHT

FROM THE WEST CAME THE RAPID DOGS
THEY SOUGHT TO KILL ALL OF BRELAND
FROM THE HIGH TOWERS OF SKYWAY TO THE LOWEST LEVEL OF THE COGS
MAN, WOMAN AND CHILDREN

THE GNOLLS HAD NO LACK OF POISON
THEIR TARGETS WERE EVER PLENTIFUL
THEY STRUCK WITH NO PLAN OR REASON
THEIR ENDS WERE NOT AT THE LEAST BEAUTIFUL
THEY AND THEIR THREAT NEEDED TO END

THE BRELAND KING TRIED IT ALL
HE SENT WANDS AND SWORDS
BUT THE DOGS CONTINUED TO MAUL
THE KING KNEW HE HAD TO PROVE HIS WORDS
HE HAD TO CALL IN HIS SECRET WARRIORS

Turning away from the ½ elf bard, John Play and Nadia return to their drinks. “You did well today John. You should be proud…. If not at least pleased.”

“But I had hoped to bring in the sorcerer alive. I didn’t mean to kill him.” Says Play to his fellow Dark Lantern agent.

She thinks about this for a moment. She tries not to use her powers of the mind to find out really is bothering him. “The bard is good. This is the third time I have heard of this tale. It is about you I believe. You were the one to take down Rapid and his Gnoll assassins.”

Play smirks despite himself. “maybe…..”

“It is not that often one has a song sung about his life. I would think it to be an honor.”

“You go on like life is a song or a melody.”

“It could be. You with your wanton ways I would think would embrace this the most.”

“Wanton…?”

“It is no secret you are considered a loose cannon with our superiors.”

“Whatever.”

The bard continues with the tale. Everyone cheers when it is over. Play and Nadia even clap. “Will this ever happen again?”

“Again? What do you mean?”

“When I joined the Lanterns, it was to destroy the Venom. I found our lives became intertwined. I hunted them and they hunted me. Will I be hunted down by the next group of crazy wackos that I attack or somehow offend?”

“We can hope so- life would become dull otherwise.”

The two drink quietly and the bard finishes a second song. Play leaves to go to his apartment leaving Nadia behind. She can’t help but to think and wonder about what the rookie said. Once in, there is no leaving, and there is constant danger…. Even with the war coming to an end. Before she can brood any further the bard begins a chipper song about a drunken man and the fey and she cannot help but to smile and laugh. After all…. A Dark Lantern could be killed….assassinated at any given moment as Play has suggested. Perhaps the student has taught the teacher something today. Live life to the fullest…. It could be your last one.
 

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