This is from Temple of Elemental Evil, a long running campaign that went through a number of cast revisions. But Keryasa
was the consistent rogue for the party; one with a bit of hunger and a bit of guilt stored up inside. But that's nothing compared to her peers.
The Legend of the Black Lantern
The village of Nulb was best described as not dead, but actively rotting away. Old wooden houses, gray with weather topped with dead sodden roofs were the norm, with some clearly struggling to bear the weight of the wet moss and fungus that grew from them. The closer to the river one lived, the wood rot was more prevalent. The streets were always slick and muddy, constantly fed with the animal leavings as well as a careless chamber pot, giving the air a stench that made most privies smell clean by comparison. But the worst aspect of it all, was the indifference the villagers had for their condition. The exuberant youth had long since left, seeking fortune elsewhere toward Saltwater or Hommlet, while others eked meager pickings as bandits. This left the remaining inhabitants old and weary with little energy and even less pride, their bones feeling the same weariness their dilapidated dwellings displayed for all to see. And when the boundless energy of the young did make their way to Nulb, it was in passing to anywhere else. None lingered, lest the rot take them too and make them bitter at the world around them.
Bitterness would be the best way to describe what the raven-haired women felt as she trudged through the mud. She shielded her jade eyes from the late setting sun that provided little in the way of warmth in the gloomy river valley. As the last edge passed below the horizon, the damp chill started to grow giving the woman a brief shiver. She was young, but no one would have accused her of exhibiting the passions of youth. What joy she might have felt was long ago purged from her soul back in the City of Greyhawk in an orgy of blood and tears. What salvation she might have briefly found, was tossed aside by a youthful passion for vengeance. That passion cost her much, and she had often wondered if it damned her soul. So now, she kept them bottled up deep inside, afraid to let them out and show the world what she wanted.
What she needed.
The never-ending growling of her stomach was the motivation of the moment, as she made her way to the largest building in the village, the Waterside Hostel. A building once built with pride, with solid foundations of rock and stone, which stood high against the mud and grime around it. Windows once clean might have shined warm light to welcome travelers. But that pride was long since spent, and the walls were stained grey and shot with rot as all the others were. The windows now were dirty muting the glow of firelight within, making it look like a log that burned down to the last coals. It cast a dark shadow across the length of the slimy thoroughfare engulfing the woman. A shadow not of dread, but of resignation. Still, it was here that perhaps the rarest of feelings might be found, hope. A warm meal with the hint of salt from the coast, was for most, a treasure beyond reckoning. A cool ale, or stronger libation offered respite away from the world, numbing cares and worries, and allowing for the occasional rare smile. It was the Hostel that the woman approached, with the same hope of food (she didn’t drink often) and perhaps a night of rest to reflect on another successful day of staying alive.
She was no more than ten paces from the Hostel, when a burst of light emitted from the windows. A cacophony of bright reds, greens and purples broke through the layer of dirt that stained the windows. The woman stopped and stared with confusion at the riot of light coming inside, and at something more surprising, the sound of laughter. She quickened her pace and tucked the small sack of vials and pungent herbs and fungus that she carried into her belt pouch and flung open the doors to the ramshackle inn to find the source of the…merriment.
The hostel’s tavern room would have been dark, with scattered torches around staining the ceiling above with greasy soot, and the hearth, was ablaze warming up the savory common stew of the day. But its light paled compared to the spectacle that she saw now, as she stared at perhaps her only friend, Bright, who now lit up the room with a woozy smile. Bright was small, almost childlike, with thin limbs that seemed long for her slender frame, and butterfly-like wings that held her aloft. She was a kindred spirit to the woman, as when they first met on the road, she was dark and brooding. Her short auburn hair was slicked and clung tightly to her head and face, as her bored green eyes judged the world with contempt. Her wings were a mottled mix of greys and blacks as she flew, rarely touching the ground in with her pale bare feet. A dark reflection of how the woman generally felt, and it was probably why they got along so well. The irony of her name was a source of amusement to them both, as she was anything but.
But no longer. Her wings now pulsed with a kaleidoscope of colors, far from dark tones before. Her hair was now voluminous and bounced easily as she spun around in air, hovering. Her arms were stretched overhead as in exaltation of the moment as the drunken smile she wore lit up the room as if all the long-sundered youth of Nulb had suddenly appeared within her and showered the grim townsfolk in joy and light. She spun around in the air in a pirouette, bent over backwards, as her wings somehow kept her aloft in this awkward pose. She giggled and laughed merrily as she kicked her legs and held out her hand expectantly. A grizzled man with a jaw with only half his teeth, grinned and poured into a small glass (perhaps the only glass drinking vessel to be found in the entirety of the inn) a dark liquor from a finely cut decanter of glass, carved to look like a lantern. He beamed with pride as he held it up to the drunken fairy, and she quickly held it aloft over her head, before tilting it and pouring the thin stream down her throat. She lazily tossed the glass aside, causing the barman to panic as he leapt to catch the precious object, causing the patrons of the Inn to howl in laughter. Cradling the glass in his hand, the barman panicked look softened as he too laughed at his predicament.
Bright continued to spin on her back, her wings now pulsing stronger with light now that her belly was filled with more of the strong drink. Her head thrown back, she opened her eyes and spotted her friend staring agog at the display, to which she smiled and spoke with unslurred words, “Kery! Join me for a drink!”
Keryasa blinked at the hedonistic display, sure of only one thing; Bright was drunk. Had to be drunk. There was no other rational explanation for it. The barman stood up, cradling the discarded glass and bellowed, “Who is the man who will try to best the fairy in a game of shots?”
“I will, Wat!” said a man, with a shock of patchy red hair. He pulled out some coins from a belt pouch and slammed them onto the table directly beneath the drifting fairy. Wat the barman scooped up the coin with a wolfish grin, and from the same lantern glass into a wooden cup. The patron looked at it with a smile and raised it in a toast to Bright, who waved her hand in encouragement and giggled. The man then looked at his cup, steeled himself and quickly tossed it back in a single gulp down his gullet. He stood there triumphantly with a winning smile for a moment in a pose that could only be described as heroic. But then the dark powers of the alcohol took hold, and his eyes quickly glazed, it wasn’t five heartbeats later that he fell over backwards onto floor and passed out, wrenching the contents of his stomach in vain to purge the drink from his system.
The bar erupted in cheers at the man’s misfortune, and Keryasa saw coins pass between the patrons of the bar. As she listened, she heard all sorts of proposition bets:
“The fairy can’t last! I bet she’s down in two more.”
“I bet, the next one loses, and pisses his trousers.”
“How can that lass hold it? She can’t possibly hold another.”
“Bullshite. Ten crowns that she beats all comers.”
“Come on!” said a merry whimsical voice, accompanied by what sounded like the ratcheting sound of a wooden Güiro. “Bright has no limits tonight! Test your mettle and donate some coin.” Keryasa turned to look, and sitting on a stool, was the terrapin form of Bac, running wooden tines up and down their shell. The tortle smiled as they teased and cajoled the others, and a trio of men stood forth to take the challenge. As Wat pour them their doom, Keryasa approached Bac.
“What in the hells happened?” she asked.
Bac gamely shrugged their shoulders, “She wanted a drink, and thought I was drinking the cheap stuff. Which I was. So, she, Nahn, Voss and I each pounded their poison of choice.”
“Leave me out of this,” Voss said, nursing a cheap ale. Voss wasn’t there by choice, having been cowed and threatened into what he probably considered to be involuntary servitude by the group. He was a former bandit, pressed into service based on the singular point that they had declined to kill him. Keryasa intended to originally, but Bac saw some value in the man, and threatened him into staying. Keryasa had recently given the man coin for his services, partially in sympathy, and partially because she once knew what it was like to be worked against their will. Death was a better choice than slavery in Keryasa’s mind, so paying him for his work seemed to be the right thing to do.
“What happened to Nan?” Keryasa asked. Bac smiled and pointed to the bar, where the half elf could be seen propping his head in his hands on the bar.
Nahn, ‘the Wiser’ had a revelation sometime in their past, and that revelation was that the only thing that counted, and could be counted, was money. Anything else was a silly distraction from the reality of the monetary policy of the world; chiefly having more meant you were winning. His obsession in finding sources of it was only rivaled by the attempt to avoid work to obtain it. And now he seemed unconcerned with the unbecoming poses of the fairy in the middle of the room, and the bodies piling up below her, all in a drunken haze. Keryasa squeezed past several patrons and tapped the half-elf on the shoulder trying to get his attention.
The tap was all that was required to disturb the delicate equilibrium holding Nahn in place. On the not-so-subtle rapping on his shoulder, his arms collapsed under his torso, and his face landed on the bartop with a wet plop and a dull groan. Flecks of vomit struck Keryasa on her face from the impact, as she realized he was yet another victim to the fairy’s drunken whimsy. She pulled up his head and stared into the face of the man, his eyes rolled back so far into his head, that the iris remained hidden. His tongue hung out of his slack mouth, drooling down his vomit-stained front. Keryasa sighed and dropped Nahn’s head back to the bar and then turned to Bac who continued to play themselves as a living Güiro.
“How many drinks did he have?”
Bac thought for a moment and said in a singsong-like voice, “One.”
“One? That’s it?” Keryasa said incredulously.
“The ‘Black Lantern’ has snuffed out many a light,” Bac said bemused, watching three more patrons fall to their own hubris in a head beneath the fairy.
“’Black Lantern?’ Wait…the whiskey?” Keryasa asked, remembering hearing of the stuff in Greyhawk. A dark libation from under the Kronn hills, where it was said the dwarves distilled in pitch black darkness, when they weren’t occupied seeking iron or jewels. No one knew how they made it, or with what. But a thimbleful was more than enough to make one dizzy. A full shot was likely not to put a grown man down.
“How many has she had?” Keryasa said, pointing her finger at the fairy, whose wings pulsed with all the color of the rainbow.
“One…two…three,” Bac thought and counted out carefully before settling with certainty. “Three.”
Keryasa looked at the giggling fairy with horror. What she had drank would put down a wild dwarven battlerager with ease. But with her, it seemed to instead pickle her, and wash away the gloomy darkness that normally surrounded the fairy. Keryasa shook her head in shock, “She’s going to feel it in the morning. So is Nahn for that matter…wait. Where is Gala’Chad?”
At that moment the door burst open, and the short-bent figure of the ‘knight’ rode into the room, on the back of the withered crocodile that he called ‘Hedoesnthaveaname.’ Keryasa thought that was a joke at first, until one evening she noticed that the harness the reptile wore, had that name stamped on the saddle. At that point, Keryasa realized that the warrior, dressed in heavy plate armor, charging on crocodile back with lance and shield, was completely out of their mind.
But what came as a surprise was the condition of the ‘knight’ as he rode into the inn. He was drenched in fresh steaming blood and spattered in gore. His eyes were wild eyed in shock and awe (more so than normal) as the drunken patrons parted the way avoiding getting close to the crocodilian he rode. It was unclear if their concern was warranted, as it ignored the din around it, and licked its eyeballs with a long dirty white tongue.
“The. Goats,” the man said simply as he looked around for sympathy and found only confusion in the faces around him. He straightened out in his saddle for a moment and said with confidence, “I am a knight,” before the wild-eyed returned and he shook, causing his armor to rattle noisily as he said again, “But. The goats.”
“What the? Why is he covered in blood? Where has he been?” Keryasa said, looking at the blood drenched man in disgust.
Bac kept strumming on their shell and gave a helpless look, “He said something about the butcher and wanted to see something for himself.”
“Well, he certainly found something…” Keryasa said as she and Bac looked at each other and shook their heads. Whatever was bothering the warrior would become clearer tomorrow. Maybe. But then Wat called out to the throng of slovenly drunken men and a few women, “Who is next to tempt the green fairy…oops too late, red fair…nope blue…never mind, THE fairy with another round of Dark Lantern. Three crowns a shot!”
Gala’chad didn’t move a muscle, and remained stock still, eyes staring ahead at nothing. But with the barest quiver of his leg, ‘Hedoesnthaveaname’ pivoted, and crawled to the bartender. Wat backed up a step for a moment but then moved forward eagerly, as the warrior slammed down three coins onto the table beneath Bright. Wat scooped up the coin, and then poured more of the dark menace into a cup for the knight and refilled the glass for the fairy. Gala’chad didn’t hesitate a moment; the drink offered was quickly downed in a quick gulp. He continued to stare at nothing, with only his right nostril flaring for the briefest moment as a reaction to what he consumed.
Proffered another glass, Bright turned over and kicked her legs up behind her as she flew in a lazy circle above the crowd. Her arms propped her head up as she lay on an imaginary feather bed, giggling madly. Her hair stood up and waved in the breeze of her wings, and her eyes were oblivious to the cheers below her. She was in a world of her own making, and the look on her face said she care nothing for the goings on below her. She propped herself up and swallowed another round of the dark liquor causing the light on her wings to grow brighter with dazzling and unnatural lights illuminating the room. She dropped the glass into Wat’s waiting hands as she turned, and flew on her back, her arms and legs stretched out wide. The patrons below jeered as another man paid his coin and tossed it back, and in less than it took to say, ‘there he falls,’ he was laid out below the fairy in the heap of failed contestants.
“You should try some dear,” the Tortle said. “The story it will tell will not likely be forgotten soon.”
Keryasa stared at the flying form and just shook her head. “I doubt it would quench my thirst so easily. We probably all should—”
“I am a knight,” said the warrior and he held out a mailed hand with coin, which Wat eagerly took, and placed another cup in his hands. Without blinking, the warrior quickly downed his cup and sat there unmoving. The bar watched with anticipation as only the fairy had dared drink more than two of the noxious liquor. He sat there motionless, both nostrils flaring and said nothing. The bar collectively released their breaths, and began to exchange coins, when the noise of snores came from the armor. Everyone turned, and discovered that somehow, the man’s head had sunk, deep with the breastplate, leaving the impression of a headless warrior, slightly slumped in the saddle. His snores echoed from the steel within, followed by the sounds of more coin exchanging hands again, as the attention turned to Bright once again.
Wat gave another glass to Bright, who lifted it up with a flourish in her slender hand. She held it aloft like a trophy, her eyes locked on to it with hunger. She opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue as she poured the potent potable over it and down her throat. The thin stream flowed measure by measure and her throat quivered a moment as she swallowed it. She then rolled her head backwards with a dreamy smile, as she spun slowly in a circle in the air, seemingly unaffected by the dwarven libation. Everyone in the bar, Keryasa and Bac included, as they waited to see what would happen next.
Suddenly the sound of a hiccup escaped from Bright’s lips, as the glass tumbled out of her hand, striking the floor and shattering, despite the best attempts of Wat to catch it. He was now prostrate on the floor from the attempt, his outstretched fingers grazing the broken remains. At the sound of the delicate glass’s demise echoed around the room, Bright’s wings turned dark, and the fairy came crashing down on the table she was hovering above. She bounced and rolled off it and landed on Wat’s back, knocking the wind out of him. Bac stopped strumming their shell, and the inn became silent.
The colors and light faded from the eyes of the people in the bar. The emotions merriment faded quickly as the dark took hold. The dim orange lights of the torches cast long flickering shadows and everyone returned to the tables whence they came. The moment of joy had already faded away from the minds of the Nulb citizenry and the quiet was now filled with a grim, murmuring and a low mocking chuckle, as the final round of coins were exchanged. Keryasa squeezed past the patrons and scooped up bright from the floor, allowing Wat to stand. The fairy’s eyes held no focus, and a slim rivulet of drool dribbled from the corner of her mouth, as Keryasa tried to wake her. But it was clear that the Dark Lantern had finally won, claiming another soul.
Keryasa gently laid the drunken fairy on the table and shook her head. “I guess no one can accuse you of not holding your liquor.” From behind her she heard a chuckle.
“Well, the lass earned her keep. If nothing else for the smiles.” Wat tossed a small sack on the table. “Better than betting on the fishing that’s for certain. Here’s keys to two rooms as well, end of the hall upstairs. Inns’ full so you don’t get to swap if you don’t like it.” He turned to look at the sleeping fairy and gave her a crooked smile. “I don’t want to be in her head next morning.” Wat chortled with an evil grin as he returned to his regulars who now were drinking heavier than before.
“He’s not wrong,” Keryasa chuckled sadly, and scooped up the keys and the small sack, and looked at the coin within. A dozen platinum sovereigns from the Grand Duchy of Geoff lay within. And Keryasa took a number before stuffing the pouch into the small satchel that hung limply on Bright’s belt. Turning to the tortle she said, “I’m taking this lot upstairs.”
Bac nodded sagely and smiled unconcerned, “These folk need more music in their lives.” And began to hum as she scratched out a merry tune on her Güiro styled abdominal plates.
“Voss, can you carry Nahn?” Keryasa said as she lifted the limp fairy into her arms and grabbed the reins of “Nohedoesnthaveaname” and started lead them to the ramshackle stairs leading upwards.
“Do I have to?” Voss grumbled looking at Keryasa sourly.
“Would you prefer staying down here until Bac told you to do something?” Keryasa asked mildly.
Voss’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. He then stood and grabbed Nahn and slung him over his shoulder. Nahn groaned a moment and muttered, “I don’t know about red pooolzz,” before snoring again. As Voss followed Keryasa and the crocodile upstairs.
They made their way to the end of the hall and found that Wat had granted them access to two rooms, one large and one small. Keryasa turned the handle and opened up the first room and found a single double featherbed, lit by a lantern. Frowning, she then opened up the second room, revealing two small featherbeds, and one double and lit by a pair of oil lamps on the wall.
“Well…crap,” Keryasa said as she led the crocodile with Gala’chad’s snoring form into the room.
Voss followed her inside and looked around puzzled. “How is this supposed to work?”
Keryasa rolled her eyes to the heavens and shook her head. “Leave a single for Bac. We’ll put Nan and Bright in the double on opposite ends.”
“What about him?” Voss said as he flopped Nahn down on the mattress.
“Him? As I recall—” and she kicked Gala’Chad off his steed and onto the floor. Gala’chad rolled in a clattering heap to the foot of the bed, and lay there motionless, the snoring continuing deep inside the armor. Freed from his burden, the crocodile slowly and lazily crawled into the second single bed. “—he sleeps on the floor.”
Voss looked at the arrangement. “Shouldn’t we put Bac and Nahn in the same bed, and Bright in her own?”
“And risk Nahn being crushed by Bac? The tortle has got to weigh well over a dozen stones. Bac can sleep on their own.” Keryasa pointed out.
“Isn’t that like the same problem with Bright and Nahn?” Voss pointed out.
“No, Bright has sharp elbows.” Keryasa said as she lay the limp fairy on the far end of the bed where Nahn was snoring. “Found that out on the road weeks ago. He won’t sleep through it.”
The pair then laid the key to the room on a table and set the latch to lock when the door was closed and entered the other room. Both then sighed as they looked at the single bed accommodation as they looked at each other.
“I guess…uh…I’ll sleep on the floor,” he said as he turned his back to Keryasa and started to remove his armor. Keryasa did the same, removing her oiled leathers with her back turned, and soon both had little more than small clothes as they awkwardly turned to look at each other in the lamp light.
“I mean to…thank you for the coin earlier,” Voss stammered. “I guess I don’t have any right to expect anything, after we…tried to—”
“Forget it Voss,” Keryasa said softly. “We all make bad choices. And compared to Nulb, banditry was a step up with a future of sort.”
“I would have called it a lack of options.”
Keryasa nodded, then laid down on the right side of the bed, as Voss blew out the lantern and tried to find a clean spot on the floor. He rustled around his pack and pulled out a moth-eaten blanket which he wrapped himself into as he tried to find comfort. But he constantly moved, twisting and turning, each time making the floorboards creak as he moved and stretched. It seemed to go on endlessly, with him never finding a comfortable spot, and the noise never dying down.
Growling Keryasa said with a note of resignation, “Voss you’re making a racket. Get in the bed and…just be quiet.”
Keryasa sighed, “Yes. I swear I won’t try to hurt you…or kill you. Just be still.”
“Aren’t you afraid of—”
“Voss…” Keryasa said, letting the last part of his name hang in the air as a hiss. The man quickly abandoned the floor and curled up on the side of the bed. He laid there quietly and was surprised when he felt Keryasa’s lithe warm body snuggle up behind his own.
“Uh…” he started awkwardly.
“Shut up,” Keryasa whispered. “Nothing, and I mean nothing is going to happen. Just go to sleep. And Voss?”
“You’re welcome,” Keryasa said as she lay there soaking in the warmth from Voss’s body next to her. She shivered a moment and grimaced as she waited for sleep to come, and take away the gnawing hunger she felt in the pit of her stomach. She very much wanted to take advantage of Voss, but she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. If she wanted to do so, it would be in one of two circumstances:
If he consented.
Or she was going to kill him.
Welcome to Greyhawk! And remember Nulb is a nasty place, and Wat's establishment needs something. Probably a fire to burn it down. But this was a moment start with Kery going shopping briefly, while the other players went to the inn. But one player, had to call it quits early (my daughter, who play's Bright) who left it as I'm getting a drink. Leaving us with a Tortle Bard, an (ancient) human cavalier (the 2nd character of this player in this campaign.), Half elf monk, and Voss the NPC heavy.