Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 56 -- Sunday 24th October 2010

In which Jonas gets the attention of the hornet's nest, his friends kick it over, and difficult choices are made deep under Emerandes.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

Franky's Stein is an inn deep inside one of the seedier districts of the city, frequented of old by many of the more dangerous people of Jonas' one-time-acquaintance. The place looks much the same as the last time he was here: a stiflingly-hot, low-ceilinged bar filled with the murmur of quiet conversation. As he draws his hood down there is a subtle change in the atmosphere, too minute for anyone but he to discern.

The rogue strolls over to Jack Billard, an old acquaintance, and the leather-faced one-eyed bar-fly looks him up and down.

One-Eyed Jack: "Master Jonas, all growed up. Never thought I'd see the day that you'd step foot in this city again. You must know you're a dead man walking."
Jonas: "You're still working for him then?"
Jack: "O'course I am! They keep my palms greased, and I keep me mouth shut. You know how it works."
Jonas: "Tell him I have a message for him..." (moves to draw sword)
Jack: "Now now, Mr. Jonas, you and I goes a way back. That wouldn't be violence you're threatening me with? I'm sure I got more friends in this place than you have. What're the chances o' you walkin' out that door, do you think? Put the weapon away Master Jonas, if you come here to talk, let's talk."
Jonas: "I'm surprised I got this far."
Jack: "Ah well, it's not my business to carry out assassinations sir. I leave that to people better equipped. All I do is clean tables."
Jonas: "Yeah right. You're as sick as the rest of them."
Jack: "That's a matter of opinion. Now why'd you really come back? Just to threaten a one-eyed tramp? And not alone even. I see you brought some new friends to play with. They know all about you, do they? All about your dirty little past?"
Berend: "We know all we need to know."
Jack: "Is that right, master dwarf? I could tell you a tale or two about this young man's days in Emerandes... what he got up to... sicken even a dwarf's ears it would."
Jonas: "And what have you done?"
Jack: "Ah, plenty. But I make no bones about it. I'll tell everyone in this room what it was."
Jonas: "Go on then." (nudges Finial)
Jack: "Ah here to pass judgement are you? I killed nineteen men in cold blood, me, in the course of this one life. Not a-one of them deserved it. Made eighteen gold across the lot o'them. But the value of those men's lives wasn't in the money they had in their purses, as Mr. Jonas well knows..."
-- Jonas and One-Eyed Jack, Franky's Stein in Emerandes

It's here that Jonas tires of this banter and grabs the surprised old rogue, one hand reaching for the gladius at his belt. His friends immediately unsheathe their weapons as chairs are pushed back, tables turned over, and several armed men and women get to their feet.

The tavern quickly descends into chaos, split almost equally between those who want a piece of Jonas for past deeds or for what looks like the imminent murder of Billard, and those who just want to get out of the firing line. Jonas plunges his sword into Billard's chest, and the filthy old ne'er-do-well's eyes go wide with pain and surprise. "You're a madman, after all!" he croaks, blood bubbling on his lips, before sliding, lifeless, to the floor.

The fire flares up in sympathy with Elumai's Burning Hands, thickening the already oppressive heat as her hair flies back in a magical wind unfelt by friend and foe alike. Flames streak out across the room, incinerating a half-drunk patron who had drawn his dagger and bloodying several others who are forced to dive into cover to escape the inferno. Aerello calls upon his powers and transforms into a diabolic beast, blasts of eldritch power erupting from his fingertips and engulfing one of the assassins who had stepped forward intent on slitting his throat.

By this point many of those who were spoiling for a fight are now retreating in stunned disbelief in the face of such a powerful display, but this doesn't stop Finial unleashing holy judgement on a wounded enemy. As he does so, someone else Jonas recognises appears from the store-room: Gizzard, one of the more dangerous Assassin's Guild enforcers, a scarred brute of a human a great two-handed sword in his hands and a look of perfect scorn on his face. "Last mistake you'll ever make, Jonas!" he bellows, and charges the rogue, but Jonas is ready for him, throwing him over and into his fellows, all of whom go sprawling against the bar, then leaping over Gizzard's head and punching his sword into the enforcer's thigh. The villain screams in pain, frustrated that Jonas has obviously become a much more dangerous opponent in the years since his departure from the guild.

s the party continues to unleash ever-growing amounts of injury on the throng, the contingent of patrons who want nothing to do with the fight quickly starts to swell, and what was at first a casual move towards the door quickly becomes a stampede. Unfortunately Jonas, Gizzard, and several of his fellows are blocking the way out, their steel flashing and clanging together in the doorway, so one of the clearer-thinking fellows picks up the heaviest chair he can see and flings it through the window. The glass explodes out into the street and draws screams of surprise from passers-by.

Heedless of this, Jonas tumbles over the bar, spins on one heel, and with a single crossbow bolt to the throat expertly divests Gizzard of his life. Aerello and Elumai all-but finish off two of Gizzard's cronies, and suddenly all that's left is a mopping-up exercise in the wake of the rest of the tavern climbing over each-other in their haste to get outside. A voice speaks out from the bar, and it's Jonas, a tall, frothing jug in one hand. "Beer, anyone?"

Walking the aftermath looking for familiar faces, he quickly finds one: Bob Bilby, one of his earliest contacts with the traditionally anonymous higher-echelons of the Assassin's Guild and its head, the Shadowman. A couple of young men who might have been runners he once knew, just kids who fell in with a crowd of killers, also seem familiar. The rogue feels little remorse for their deaths.

At about this point, the door to the inn opens, and Jonas dips out of sight. A gruff-looking fellow in a leather cap stands there, his keen eyes surveying the carnage with something between amusement and disgust. He strides across the room without invitation, and several uniformed guard file into the bar behind him. "What's this?" he says, lifting the head of a dead assassin, looking at his bloodied face, and dropping it with a thud back to the table. "Not what I expected to find. A plate-armoured paladin and his powerful friends in the midst of this den of thieves, and not a warm body left sitting at their drinks."

Finial calmly assures the sherriff -- who introduces himself as Trip -- that he was forced to pass judgement on One-Eyed Jack after the drunk old rogue was foolish enough to boast about his past sins. Trip is unimpressed. "While it might be your business to smite evildoers, you've left me a right mess to clean up. Checked in with your church already have you? It does seem odd to me that new arrivals to Emerandes would find their way all the way over here to the Stein as soon as step foot inside the gates."

The party is impassive in the face of these insinuations, as one of Trip's men suddenly speaks up. "Cap'n! Look 'ere! It's old Bilby, and his face is burned clean off!"

"Well now, that's a shame," Trip sighs. He looks about, rights a blood-stained table on its remaining three legs, sits down and puts his feet up. "Six months to persuade Bobby there to work for me. Now I'm gonna have to start from scratch.

"Lookit. I've got three, some even say four thieves' guilds. I've got the Blackhawks," he says, gesturing at the mess around him, "who may or may not be the front for an assassin's guild, depending on who you ask and what time of day it is... and Bobby there sure ain't got the breath to help me with that any more."

The company is vociferous in its offers of help. "Well," he says, "I drew the short straw and got command of the crappiest ward in the city while the higher-ups soak their fat arses in wine... so you want to make me an offer? I'm listening."

Finial suggests it might be beneficial to allow the company to proceed on their mission unmolested, but Trip doesn't take kindly to that. "Come now," the paladin purrs in the face of his reluctance, "consider all these societies and brotherhoods you find yourself fighting... you can rest assured they will be judged if we happen to cross paths with them.

"But I need evidence! One person to the next to the next. I need the head, not the tail!"

"And if we brought you the head, what then?" asks Elumai, the question on everyone's mind.

The sherriff considers the situation before nodding in agreement. He orders his man Barnaby to take some names (Jonas offers the name 'Jacob'). "Just one more thing then, where might you be staying?" He waves his hand at the bar. "I've a feeling the lease on this place might be coming up. I could grease a few wheels...?"

Neither Finial nor Jonas are keen, but Elumai and Berend speak up in favour of the idea, and it passes. As the final details are hammered out, Jonas deliberately lets slip an old signal he once knew from his days in the guild, whispering: "Do you like to dance along the moonlit rooftops?" Trip frowns at him, confused, but Barnaby, busy scribbling the terms of contract on a torn scrap of parchment, betrays a flush of recognition that he quickly tries to hide.

The matter of the lease is quickly decided, and the "Fall Right Inn", proprietor one Elumai Niastai, is born. It has four rooms (one with a couple of beds, the others more common room than bedroom), and a simple wine cellar, which to Elumai's relatively untrained eye seems innocuous enough (jonas later discovers a trapdoor into the tavern above and, behind one of the barrel racks, an earthy tunnel which he doesn't take the time to explore).

Soon after, Trip and his men leave. Jonas discreetly follows them to a local barracks, a building which seems to serves as both a civic centre and bunkhouse for the guard. Barnaby is visited by a man sometime later, but the conversation is out of earshot; one gold piece gets exchanged openly between the two men before he leaves, closely followed by Jonas weaving in and out of the crowd.

It quickly becomes obvious he's dealing with a pro, when between one blink of the eye and the next, his mark vanishes. Jonas just manages to catch him ducking into a network of alleyways and nips up onto the rooftops to continue following him, and in time, his pursuit becomes so subtle that the man visibly relaxes, moving back onto the main street convinced he's given him the slip. From here it's easy. Jonas's target heads north-east around the spire towards the rear of Jaren's Gable, the most expensive residential quarter of the city, then veers off into one of the many trade districts and from there down towards the docks.

Sitting comfortably on the southern shore of the great
Tondo-Ghantzee lake, Emerandes does thriving trade across the water with more northern settlements, and the lake itself is a rich fishing ground. The man he's following strolls nonchalantly onto one of the longer piers, takes a last look around, and makes as if to jump into the cold water below; at the last minute, he acrobatically grabs a supporting strut, and swings under the jetty and out of sight. Jonas hasn't heard of any dockside hideouts here before, but things will certainly have changed since he left, and he's perfectly content with this result, whistling a happy tune as he heads back to the inn.

Upon hearing of this potential nest of vipers, Finial is unwilling to wait one second more than necessary to root out the sinners within and immediately counsels an attack . Jonas, at first reluctant, is easily persuaded, and a plan is hatched to first observe the locale of the hideout (which reveals to Jonas two sentries, posing as traders on the wharf) and then attack first thing in the morning.

Meanwhile, The Fall Right Inn starts to attract a modicum of attention. Word has quickly spread of the change, it seems, and may people who stop by ostensibly just to take a look at
the strange and anachronistic new owners soon find themselves staying for the excellent dwarven spirits. One patron in particular gets Jonas's attention: none other than the man Jonas followed to the docks, who seats himself at a table with a couple of his friends and doesn't show any signs of recognising the rogue.

A plan is soon hatched to get the villain drunk so Jonas can pilfer a gold ring from his finger, a risky proposition which the implacable rogue deftly handles. Examining the ring, he finds that the black stone set into it lifts on a tiny hinge, and there is a small, empty void beneath. Jonas is convinced that this is some assassin's guild trinket and pockets it for later use.

Over the course of the night, Elumai enjoys her new role as serving wench to the fullest, plying the three men with ever-stronger spirits and convincing Jonas's mark that if he just stays until lock-in, he might get more than a gallon of ale for his trouble. The assassin struggles with his better judgement but her charms are too much, and a few hours later, he finds himself trussed up in the bedroom, both of his compatriots dead by Jonas's hand, and a company of seasoned and extremely well-armed adventurers standing over him.

Their interrogation doesn't get very far, as he's as drunk as a man can possibly get while not at the same time being comatose. He defies all threats to his wellbeing, demanding a professional torturer instead of the amaters he's faced with, and taunts Jonas, whom he obviously knows by name, with the truth of his flight from Emerandes years before. In the end Berend simply punches his lights out, and the company searches him.

They find two scraps of paper, one with their names and descriptions, and another with a set of times, four of which have passed, two of which are still to come, and none of which mean anything to them. Thusly unedified, they leave him to stew in his own beer, and he remains safely tied up until the morning, when Finial, Elumai, Jonas, and Berend set out to infiltrate the assassin's base.

First stop is the barracks and a quiet conversation between Finial and Captain Trip. It turns out that the good captain is well aware of Barnaby's split loyalties ("Whatever Bilby didn't turn up... I have high hopes for Barnaby...") but he's outright shocked at the company's plan to take on the assassins. "There could be dozens of 'em in there!" he protests. "I wouldn't take any less than a regiment myself!" However he finds Finial to be his usual charming self, and agrees to the idea of trumping up a couple of misdemeanors in order to pull the lookouts legitimately from the dockside and give the company time to do what they do best.

He follows through on this promise and some time later a quartet of guards descends on the lookouts. A fight breaks out as one of the traders makes a run for it, and in the ensuing commotion, the company sneaks through to the underside of the jetty. There they find a series of nets nailed to the underside of the thick planks, suspended about twenty feet or so above the cold, churning water which laps against the rocks and pilings below. A few acrobatic maneuvers and one dodged trap later, and they arrive at a sewer grating which covers a tunnel several feet wide cut into the very crystal of the city's foundations. They open the grate... and narrowly avoid being stuck by the dart trap which they also failed to spot.

Inside the tunnel, they get their first close look at the material which forms the base of the city. It's a smooth, matt emerald, shot through with subtle harmonics of green, self-illuminated and warm to the touch. It also doesn't look hewn, but smoothly cut, almost perfectly engineered, and there is much speculation about tunnelling or burrowing creatures which may have built the sewer network. Rockworms are even briefly considered, but the tunnel doesn't have the tell-tale rifling which is characteristic of the work of those dangerous creatures.

The tunnel pushes in underneath the city before splitting into a y-junction. All three tunnels are marked with some kind of glyph which is unfamiliar to anyone, including Jonas, but Elumai speculates that the south-west tunnel will head towards Jaren's Gable, the noble's district of the city, while the eastern tunnel seems to be heading in the direction of the Spire. This doesn't really help, but combining everything they know, Jonas confidently submits his intuition that the south-west tunnel is the right one. In the absence of any better ideas, they follow his advice.

On the way through they notice something odd: there's something deep within the crystal, a small shadowy blob moving slowly through the semi-transluscent material. Since the crystal has the feel of inches-thick glass, and for all they know this could be some natural property of the stuff, they choose to ignore it for now. Further down the tunnel, they come to a wooden barricade laid haphazardly across it, and Jonas disarms the relatively simple explosive tripwires attached to the barricade. Unfortunately, in their haste, neither he nor the others detect the expertly-hidden firetrap beneath the decoy, and a fireball erupts over the party and rolls down the tunnel behind them. The singed adventurers leap through the opening and avoid the brunt of the blast, finding themselves in a junction of sorts.

It's half filled with dirty, smelly water trickling in from six-inch grates high above, but the company can keep their feet dry by sticking to a raised walkway along the edge. The tunnel they enter out of is inscribed with the same rune at this end as the other, hinting that each tunnel has its own mark and what a map of the network might therefore look like.

Jonas hears voices from the north-west corridor, ordering someone into something, and the party stealths its way forward. The tunnel inclines sharply upward towards a larger underground chamber. Along both sides, wooden platforms are supported by struts hammered or drilled into the crystal, and on these crouch leather-armoured enemies ready to shoot approaching invaders. At the far end of the room, what looks like a large round bar table has been reinforced with metal straps and jammed into the tunnel exit. Water dribbles ominously between the planks.

There are also three metal cages suspended over the shallow lake of sewer muck which has settled on the floor of the chamber. Each one contains a single person, dressed in rags, bound and gagged and staring in wild-eyed terror at their captors. Armed men, presumably members of the assassin's guild, crouch and lurk in the corners, poised to strike.

Jonas scrambles invisibly up the near slope, dashes forward, plants one foot onto the wall and springs up onto the walkway, sinking his blade into the nearest foe and drawing blood. Thus attracting the attention of the entire room ("There he is! Perforate him lads!"), he focuses his mind, forces a dart of distracting psychic energy into their heads, and leaps back down out of sight. Two crossbow bolts still find their mark, however, leaving small flechettes of metal in his back which send bolts of lightning pain into his muscles when he moves.

A voice, gruff and confident, sounds out behind him. "You and your friends, drop your weapons now, or the civvies get it in the neck!" One of the guards reaches out to the nearest cage, pulls the terrified woman inside towards him, and places his knife to her neck in order to reinforce the threat. Meanwhile, the mook closest to the dam pulls out a huge maul from where it was hidden beneath a pile of cast-off planks, and looks expectantly at his superior.

Finial advances under a hail of crossbow bolts and unleashes divine fire on the assassin threatening the woman, but doesn't kill him. Elumai, heedless of the danger to the civilians, casts a freezing cloud over him as well... which also immediately flash-freezes and kills the woman he was holding. He turns to his boss, shock on his face as he realises that their carefully-prepared human shield doesn't seem to be as much of a deterrent as they had assumed. Elumai immediately follows-up by conjuring a blazing Wall of Fire, splitting the chamber in two and bathing the rear half in molten heat.

This has quickly become much more than the assassins had bargained for. Several of them feel their skin crisping under the intense heat from the wall of fire, and a second prisoner is baked alive under the onslaught, collapsing dead to the floor of her cage. The leader of the group, desperately re-assessing his options under this game-changing assault, orders his man by the dam to unleash hell, although his exact words are lost beneath the roar of the flames. His subordinate nods, and though he swings a mighty blow at the nearest wooden support, it's not enough to dislodge it. Water squirts from around the dam as it creaks and shifts in place.

Seeing what's coming, the company scrambles to get out of the danger zone, battering their enemies out of the way and clambering up the sides of the chamber just as the assassin swings the maul again and brings the dam down in a chorus of splintering wood and roaring water. Two of his compatriots pay the ultimate price for not paying enough attention when the defense was discussed and are swept by the tsunami of filthy sewage straight into the wall of fire, dying in a gout of flame and foul-smelling steam.

This sight, combined with what has already happened, is too much for the remaining assassins, and as the water begins to to lap at the walkways they turn tail towards the newly exposed exit. Two more are cut down by Finial and Elumai as they rout, and a third doesn't have time to regret surrendering to Jonas before Finial judges him unfit for continued life.

In the aftermath, only one of the prisoners still lives. He looks with a mixture of fear and hope at Finial as the paladin sets him free and heals his wounds, and collapses with a sigh of gratitude into Elumai's arms as the cage door swings open. Jonas moves amongst the bodies, casting a disapproving look at Elumai ("Charred! Frozen! Burned!" he reports, pointing at each in turn) but she has no time for his witicisms and Finial, who approves of her actions in saving at least one of the civilians, has to step in to cool the tension. "There's a place for you with the Justicars," he smiles at her.

Under questioning, the prisoner they saved, a man named Rathar, tells how he, his wife, and his sister were taken from their homes and kept blindfolded in a cell deep in the sewers along with several others. They were brought out only a few minutes before the company arrived, and from snippets of overheard conversation it was clear that the assassins were expecting an attack. For now, at least, his relief at being rescued permits him no time for grief at the fate of his loved ones.

1 comment:

Wedge said...

This session was a while ago but I still distinctly remember having to come to terms with the actions of the PC's. Elumai, it seems, has been in the company of her friends long enough for some of their behaviour to start rubbing off. It makes for good drama, and the assassins were as surprised as anyone when Chapter 7 of the guild handbook - "Keeping do-gooders at bay with the human shield" - turned out to be nothing but a lie. We shall have to see what consequences come of this. :)

The session was also memorable for me having to improv the entire assassin's lair after the party unexpectedly declared that they were going to storm it. In hindsight this is exactly the sort of pro-active stuff they like to be doing and so I should have seen it coming, but still... in the end, I was quite pleased with the encounter although the ability of the characters to launch a full complement of Dailies at it (combined with the unexpected impotence of the "innocent collateral damage" threat) did make it relatively easy XP in the end. Good fight, though.