Lizard folk in disguise
The Thorns of Winter
(Based on a homebrew campaign in Eberron)
(This is updated weekly. Last post November 18th, 2021)
Story by Nthal
Additional Material by Ryan aka 'The Blade'
(This is updated weekly. Last post November 18th, 2021)
Story by Nthal
Additional Material by Ryan aka 'The Blade'
Introduction – Even Harsher Landings - October 14th, 2020
Krona Peak, Ironroot Mountains.
Moravan carried up the mugs on a tray from the kitchen, with steam still pouring forth from their rims and bodies. He sweated not from the exertion, but the heat from the mugs themselves. But it was a small thing, and the mugs always were…cleaner this way. Sure, a Gold Dragon Inn of House Ghallanda (or at least the bigger ones) could clean off the crockery, flatware and tableware just by waving it over a runed block in the corner. But how did that teach anyone the value of hard work, and doing it right?
Moravan wasn’t against the new tools being produced by the Dragonmarked Houses, but how was one to instill the value of hard work, if you never did it? Not everyone could pursue a craft, and not all were cut out for duties requiring martial skill. It would be the spoiling of the young Moravan thought.
He set the tray down near the bar, and as he did so, the tolling of the bell above told him, it would be an hour till the 3rd quarter of the day started. Smiling he hoped that the dwarven expeditions below brought their hard-earned coin to the ‘Pattern Welded Blade.’ On one side, it was good fortune to have the tavern so close to passages to the Realm Below, on the other an ill-omen, a somber reminder that not all that venture below, return. It was feast or famine as a business, but lately fortunes had been high.
He smiled looking around at the vaulted ceiling. While most of Krona Peak was outside on the face of the mountain, the legacy of mines below weaved through the roots of the rock itself. Many galleries and foundries had been converted to other uses; warehouses, temples, and bars and inns like this one. The ‘Patternweld’ itself stood in the bones of an ancient foundry, long since repurposed, with a great common room below, and four stories of rooms above, circling the common festhall in tiers above. It was the last stop down, and the first up. Many business deals were held in private rooms, and plenty of beds to sleep off success or forget failures.
Nevertheless, Clan Mroranon took no chances; only Mror Dwarves could tread below the city on the way to the colonies below, and recently the Mror had been bolstering the guard. Some said that the denizens below were waiting for the right moment to attack. Others thought that Clan Mroranon was ready to push the front deeper. All Moravan knew, is that it made all the clans thirsty.
“Stack those mugs, so I can get my tray back,” said Igneve behind him. “There is more to bring up from the wash, I heard that success is coming our way.” The tapkeeper said with a grin.
“That is good to hear. Perhaps we can keep the profits and not spend it all on new mugs this time,” he replied to her, as he stacked the mugs on the shelf behind the bar.
“That’d be a welcome change,” said an older Mror, who trundled into the bar. “At least you haven’t had to buy new furnishings.”
“Gavin! Let me pour you a stout,” Igneve said with a smile, searching for a cool mug. “Well, it’s been a while since we had a chair swung in here, but I do take pride that the bones of these tables are strong enough to weather another war, and not just a brawl.”
“Hah. After the last month’s meeting of the Iron Council, you would wonder about that,” Gavin said, taking the stout from Igneve.
Moravan set down the last of the steaming vessels, “I still can’t wrap my head around that. House Mroranon, letting Soldorak run internal security for Krona Peak?”
“You didn’t hear the howls when the council heard Kundarak’s price for doing the same.” Gavin replied. “The house has enough riches. But Mroranon is in a bind; needing to play nice with other clan, keeping coin in the bank, and being a little thin with the Realm Below being expanded.”
“But Soldorak? Why put your Clan’s worst foe in charge of security of your home?” Moravan said still confused.
“Some of the merchants I spoke to think it’s a ploy,” Igneve said. “It keeps Soldorak from expanding deeper into Solangap. One of them was expecting Soldorak to make some blunder and be replaced.”
“That’s a bit farfetched,” Moravan said dubiously.
“Not if you want Kundarak to assume the contract at the lowball prices that Soldorak offered,” Gavin said then taking a large swallow from his mug. “It’s a game at its finest, and all on Soldorak not to lose. And one that Kundarak may not want to win.”
“All I know is that it puts the Mroranons on edge now as they pass Soldorak security sites.” Moravan said bitterly. “A mistake is bound to happen, and someone is going to get hu—” he said when he was cut off by a shriek.
The three dwarves looked around in panic looking for the source of the noise, when it suddenly stopped with the thunderous crash on one of the ancient tables, cracking it in half. The table collapsed onto the floor of the ‘Patternweld’ into a pile of splintered wood and shattered crockery.
"By Onatar’s Beard what in the---
“No, who is a better question,” Igneve said rushing to the crushed table, where a figure lay.
The first thing that stood out to the trio was, it wasn’t a dwarf. In fact, the body that lay on the remains of the table appeared to be a young human female, her body was splayed at an uncomfortable angle. She wore patchwork leggings, which seemed to be assembled from random colored scraps of leather. Around her waist were a number of belts, one of which held a thin blade to her side, and the other a shorter dagger, and assorted pouches. In her hand she clutched an iron rod, topped with a purple gem. Her breastplate was of a strange design, but that was barely noticeable as it was covered in blood. She was wearing a pair of necklaces, but one stood out for having a large unfamiliar symbol, of a balance held aloft by a bony arm and hand. Her hair long and despite being spattered with blood was the color of not silk yellow or blonde, but radiant metallic gold. She lay there unaware of her surroundings, as a small river of blood poured out of her mouth.
Igneve knelt by the woman and tried to revive her to no avail, turning to her partner, “Moravan, she’s bleeding badly, we need to get her to House Jorasco quickly!”
Vernan Galandrak walked calmly in the busy streets of Krona Peak; the bell had just tolled the start of the 3rd quarter, and the cool spring breeze blew between the buildings, alleys, and streets on the surface. Yet the skies were still the greys of winter, with the sun hidden behind dark skies. Vernan was a recent immigrant, being the scion of a small clan that called Sharn home. But in his youth, he became curious what the Mror’s were really like, and with his father’s support left the City of Towers and set up shop in Krona Peak.
He considered himself a decent inquisitive, but he found that his unique situation and experience in Krona were in high demand. A clansman with no formal ties to the main clans of the Mror enabled him to cultivate a certain mystique of being unbiased. Having grown up around Sharn, he was more familiar with the rest of the Khorvaire’s peoples and had better insight into their motivations. In short, as an outsider to the Mror, he was trusted to have no strong clan allegiances and he was Mror enough to be considered one of their own.
Smiling to himself it didn’t hurt that the Peak never closed; the hours the Mror kept were basically ‘any,’ so getting a drink, taking a nap, getting your gear worked on can be done any time you needed; shops rarely were closed, even the most prized artisans had apprentices present at all hours who could greet and make arrangements for a client to meet the master.
He continued his trek through the streets, until he found the building he was looking for. The large rectangular structure was probably a great storehouse, or perhaps a barracks in the distant past, when the Peak was smaller. But since the Lightning Rail’s arrival, storehouses were now closer to the rail in the valley, and the barracks moved closer to them. But the low building was an ideal place for its current clientele; one who needed few stairs and wide-open passages. The wounded.
House Jorasco leased the building from Clan Mroranon and spent coin on herbs and medicinal shipped from Frosthaven. And while the Last War did have its share of Mror wounded who needed care, it saw far more business from healing Mror fighting the in the Realm Below. But the conflict there had been quiet for almost a year, and the enclave was not usually a busy place.
Today was different, a crowd of dwarves and a scattering of non-dwarven onlookers hovered around the entrance, trying to peek inside. All the while talking among themselves:
“A strange human came up from the Realm’s Below!”
“I heard she smashed apart the ‘Patternweld’ in a bloody rage.”
“That’s ridiculous! Igneve went inside the Enclave with her.”
“Is it true, she has hair made of gold?”
“How did a human get past the security patrols?”
Finally, a relevant question. Vernan thought to himself, as he pushed his way through the crowd. Finally, he made his way to the main entrance, where a pair of Iron Blademarks from House Deneith blocked the way inside.
“You don’t look wounded. What’s your business?”
“My business is Kundarak’s,” Vernan said gruffly, presenting his identification papers, with the endorsement of the House of Banking’s seal. “I must speak with Mylle.”
The Blademark nodded and stood aside, and Vernan stepped into the House of Healing.
He never liked the large Jorasco Enclaves. Not because of the healers or their business, just the larger ones had larger population of the old and sick; the ones near the end of their days. All Jorasco could offer the folk was comfort for a fee. You can’t cure old age, but many of the aliments could be eased. That and the sharp pungent smell of herbs and unguents used gave a strange ‘artificially clean’ smell.
He continued walking towards the section used for new patients, and the most likely place where he could get his bearings on the mystery at hand. There was a desk of dwarven height, and perched on a chair sat a halfling, busy pouring through papers behind a wall of glass. He didn’t even look up as the dwarf’s shadow crossed his face.
“Take a seat and we will be with you as soon as we are able,”
“I’m not hur—” started Vernan.
“I can tell; you aren’t bleeding everywhere. Take a seat,” the halfling stated dispassionately.
Vernan frowned, “I am here to see---”
“We will tell you who you will see, when you see them, and you will pay the fees up front.”
Vernan frowned and banged a large meaty hand on the desk and held up his papers to the glass to the surprised halfling’s face.
“Stuff it. I am here on Clan business. You will comply with House Kundarak’s investigation as per arrangement with Clan Mroranon. Failure to do so would be…problematic for you and a waste of time for me. Where is Mylle?”
“Observing that your manners are still gruff, but not unwarranted,” said a voice to his left. Turning Vernan gave the slight blonde-haired halfling woman a satisfied grunt. She was wearing a simple dress, with the embroidery of House Jorasco on the left breast, and she returned the smile with a curt nod.
“Mylle nice to see you again; the bed side manners of the staff need some work,” he remarked.
“That’s why he is at the desk, and not your bedside. And if it were anyone else making a stink, I would have the Blademarks pummel you into needing long-term care here.”
“That bad of business recently? I thought you kept the books current.”
“It isn’t about the books, but about…onlookers and curiosity seekers today. And you aren’t one to chase the injured that arrive here like an out of work barrister.”
“No…I am not. I will explain. Please escort me to your new patient.”
“Of course,” Mylle d’Jorasco said and led the inquisitive beyond a set of double doors separating the lobby area from the healing one. “I’ll get the basics out of the way for you. Woman, perhaps the age of a twenty-year-old human. She was covered in blood and was suffering from numerous internal injuries.”
“Yes, but she is under sedation right now.” Mylle looked at Vernan confused. “Now usually when you come here, you’re looking for a corpse, not a live one. I take it this isn’t some insurance matter.”
“I was hired to investigate a security question,” Vernan said. “Being alive might make this easier. What did you mean by ‘perhaps the age of a twenty-year-old human?’ Why do you think they aren’t?”
Mylle, gestured towards a door, and ushered Vernan inside. There in the room lit with driftglobes, lay a woman, attended by another Jorasco staffer. As described by the throng outside her hair was like spun gold, and not just a simple blonde. She lay there sleeping, her chest rising and falling gently.
“Most of the injuries were internal; some broken bones that were set and healed, but the organs suffered a bit of trauma. Our original concern was she was bleeding heavily inside but…”
“While, she was covered by a large amount of blood, but as far as I can tell it wasn’t hers. She had no external wounds at all, which tells me—”
“—Its someone else’s.”
“Precisely. As we examined her, I found something…odd.” The healer moved to the woman’s head and slowly peeled open one of the unconscious woman’s eyes.
Vernan squinted at the woman, and then he furrowed his brow in confusion. The woman’s eye was like a mirror, reflecting back his own visage and had no pupil or sclera.
“’Odd.’ That is an understatement.”
“That’s why I am not sure she is human. I have read that the elves that live in the Feyspires have eyes similar to this; Eladrin I believe they are called. But they are supposedly solid colors. Another race known as Tieflings are said to have similar eyes, but with metallic colors. But, after I looked it up in our journals here, that isn’t right either. They tend to have colored skin, that isn’t human like, and usually dark hair, horns and tails. She,” pointing at the sleeping woman, “Has none of those traits.”
“Clear the room!” a booming voice said. “We will need to move this criminal to…Vernan! What are you doing here?” Vernan turned, to see a middle-aged dwarf with four bodyguards. The Mror’s flaming red hair matched his temperament as he glared at Vernan with contempt. “This is a matter for Krona Peak’s security forces to address, not body wagon chasing inquisitives.”
“Rior Soldorak, how nice to see you again. It’s been…too soon,” Vernan replied coldly. “Unfortunately, House Kundarak by right and by contract has a stake in this…mystery.”
“Kundarak is not a party to this—”
“By the terms of the agreement, in an instance where security is breached, Kundarak has a right to all investigation and proceedings involving the breach. In addition, I am also to turn over to you any independent findings I uncover.”
“What crap is this? This is Clan’s Soldorak’s concern, not Kundarak’s,” Rior spat. “Why would Kundarak even care?”
“They care, because if someone can breach security, they could breach the vaults or other places where Kundarak keeps things safe. That is why I am here, and I can certainly take it to Clan Mroranon if you don’t believe me; I have better ways to waste my time than argue with you about it.”
Rior glared at the Inquisitive, “Fine, but this is our investigation.”
Vernan nodded, “Of course. You have the lead here.”
Rior smiled smugly, “Wonderful; Is she in danger of injury if we move her?”
Mylle stood up stiffly and replied, “No. I do not recommend it, but she can be moved. She is still sedated of cou—”
“Keep her that way for now. Where are her things?” Rior demanded.
“We have secured her belongings in the next room. If you follow me,” Mylle led Rior and Vernan to a room across the hallway. The four bodyguards took position by the sleeping woman, with two inside and two standing outside the room. Mylle produced a set of keys and unlocked the heavy metal lock and pushed open the iron bound door. Escorting the dwarves inside, they came to a table, where various items lay; a rod, a sword and dagger, a shield, pouches, belts, jewelry, pack and some items covered in blood; namely a breastplate, breeches and a cloak.
“Did you already rifle through her things?” Rior demanded.
Mylle glared at the dwarf. “Jorasco policy is to inventory all items carried by patients suspected of crimes, or inability to pay. A copy,” and Mylle reached over to a nearby workbook and pulled out a loose sheet and handed it to Rior, “Is provided to security, especially if you are planning on incarcerating her.”
Vernan ignored the exchange and started to examine the gear. Looking at one of the pouches, he found a strange assortment of objects. Items like a copper wire, chipped stone, a mirror, and vials of liquid. In another leather case, he found a metal cylinder with no obvious use. He then moved on and examined another pouch, which jingled with the sound of coin. He opened it and started to look at the tender. But as he looked, he became more and more confused.
“What in the?” Vernan wondered aloud.
Rior turned to look at what Vernan was handling, when Mylle spoke again. “You noticed that too. I have never seen coinage like that in the Five Nations. I wondered if it is older somehow.”
“Not likely, I’ve seen coins used by the Inspired of Sarlona, Dhakanni coins, and others. These don’t resemble them.”
“A foreign power? A spy?” Rior said in a huff. “I wouldn’t doubt a sea prince; they mint their own coinage too. Whose blood is this?”
“We don’t know…but it isn’t hers,” Mylle said.
“So, there’s a body around too is my guess,” Rior said grimly. “She’s a spy and a murderer most likely. Keep her under sedation and prepare her to be moved.”
“Ahem, there is a matter of— “Mylle started.
“Soldorak will guarantee the bill; If she cannot pay, it will be added to her crimes,” Rior said.
Vernan raised an eyebrow at that and said nothing. Continuing to examine the other objects, the next thing he looked at was the blood covered breastplate. It had a fine golden sheen and had a motif and style he wasn’t familiar with. He opened up a notebook and pulled out a stick of charcoal and started to sketch the design down. He also sketched out the necklace designs that lay there, none of which were familiar to the dwarf.
In the meantime, one of Rior’s guards stepped in the room, and the Mror barked orders.
“Take her to the interrogation block, and hold her there,” Rior said. “We’ll work her over tomorrow.”
Vernan continued to sketch barely paying attention. “She’s proficient with magic…might want to prepare for that,” he muttered.
“What’s that?” Rior said glaring at the inquisitive.
“She has components for spells in one of the pouches,”
“I don’t need you to tell me how to secure a prisoner of unknown capability,” Rior growled. “We assume they are, until proven otherwise.” He turned to look at the guard and Vernan saw out of the corner of his eye, that Rior jerked his head towards the inquisitive and nodded, which put a small grin on Vernan’s face. “You can come by an hour after first quarter bell and we’ll see what kind of spy she is, who’s paying her, and how she got there. In the meantime, I don’t want to see you by the garrison at all; you are not to talk to her, without me being present.”
“As you like Rior,” Vernan said mildly, and watched as the guard gathered up the pile of gear and things into a box and followed Rior out of the room.
“I do not like handing over a patient to the jailor without—” Mylle started.
“—Getting paid?” Vernan finished the sentence.
Mylle d’Jorasco elbowed the dwarf. “It is not about the money. The House cares: but I do wish for patients to be taken care of. That was a long fall, and she’ll awake to a lot of pain.”
Vernan frowned, “Fall?”
“You didn’t hear? She landed and smashed into a table at ‘Patternweld’ probably from the upper rooms.
Vernan thought a moment, “It’s been a while since I stopped in for a drink. Time to pay Igneve a social call.”
Well...you didn't think I would drop Myrai down a well and leave her there did you?
That almost happened, but a rare event occurred where I moved her to a different campaign altogether, because the other one ended abruptly. I have been itching to get to this part of the story, for a while so I hope you enjoy it. Feedback (private / public ) is greatly appreciated!