A Game of Thrunes

The Ruby Masquerade
Session 28

The Children used the Anvil of Unmaking to destroy Menador Keep, blocking the only pass through the mountains

Back in Kintargo, they attended the Ruby Masquerade. Here the learnt what befell the former Lord Mayor. They also discovered that the Masquerade was just a ploy to frame them as Barzillai unleashed his minions upon the hapless party goers…

Full session notes:

Menador Pass:

  • Following their epic battle, the Children rested and recuperated. Raiia found them and revealed that Nightswarm lived on as a phantom attached to her conscious, and was keen to continue his battle with House Thrune and the Asmodeans.
  • After resting, the children approached the room where the devil guarded Lucian’s treasure. The devil called another of his kind for assistance and made it clear to the Children they would suffer should they challenge him. The Children unsurprisingly ignored this threat and proved the devil wrong, dispatching both of them. Bodeen cleverly protected them from the poisonous fumes wafting about the creatures, and Bug was nearly torn apart after bravely positioning himself between the two and being taken up in one’s talons.
  • Bug disarmed a trap on the chest and the children enjoyed the fruits of their labour, then discussed how to proceed past the dwarven statues, which they had reason to believe could come to life and attack them.
  • Bug sneaked past the statues, and the rest of the children moved through using invisibility provided by Aroldo and Raiia. The statues made no move to attack.
  • The Children came upon a door with a warning in dwarven not to proceed without paying tribute to Torag. After a few moments of confusion, Aroldo remembered he could indeed speak and read dwarven, and then pulled from somewhere in the depths of his knowledge and appropriate prayer to the dwarven god. He placed a nearly-spent wand of magic missile in a bowl as tribute, and the door opened.
  • Within were two dwarven celestial creatures guarding the Anvil of Unmaking. They demanded to know the Childrens’ intentions. Aroldo convinced that their goals were just, and the guardians allowed them to continue their mission.
  • Cato turned a great wheel and the Anvil was activated. The Children fled the building as it began crumbling around them, fleeing through the courtyard and back toward Kintargo. The children walked through the pass in super slo-mo as the Keep collapsed spectacularly behind them, but they didn’t look back.

The Ruby Masquerade:

  • Back in Kintargo, the Children discussed the upcoming ball, and the opportunities it would present to speak to the nobles key to the Kintargo contract. As they considered their approach to each, they realised that perhaps Marquel Aulorian would be the better Mayoral candidate than Rexus: while he had not always agreed with his father, the self-important Count Aulorian would likely support his son as Mayor, and his status as the Poison Pen could be told to any anti-Thrune members for their support. With plans in place for each of the other nobles, the Children made ready for the party.
  • Bug chose his fine cummerbund to wear but wore only a small mask; Bugnelius had no need to hide his identity, there were deals to be done! He had previously had his agents find out what masks would be worn by those they would be interested in speaking with. Raiia, both inspired by the devil she had seen at the Keep and keen to have a reason to carry her whip, dressed as an Erinyes, complete with wings. Bodeen wore his fine armour with a red-and-black cape. Arolda dressed as Blackjack, the infamous vigilante of Korvosa. Aroldo brought his companions “Alana” and “Marcus” with him. Alaria was determined they should use the opportunity to assassinate Barzillai, but Aroldo convinced her otherwise.
  • The Children also brought several of their other allies, notably Lentius, two of Lady Docur’s agents, Hetamon Haace, and Brother Vaelus.
  • On arrival at the Opera House Aroldo payed his respects to their host for the evening, Asmodeus. Raiia was unsure what to do and followed several other revellers to a side room which contained three caged cockatrice.
  • Bodeen got down to business, approaching Baroness Belcara in her sad lion mask. Without giving away specifics, he hinted that she would be able to play a direct role in ousting Barzillai. She offered any help she could give, and Bodeen arranged to visit her to discuss further at a later date.
  • Aroldo and Cato took on the more intimidating task of approaching Count Geoff Tannesen. Aroldo posed as a dealer in siege engines and discussed city defences with the Count. While doing so he noted that law and order as well as military capability seemed to have suffered under Barzillai’s hand, with gangs like Black Mantis and the Red Jills (who Geoff believes killed his son) gaining traction and power in this time. Aroldo left Count Tannesen considering whether a different Lord-Mayor may be more amenable to his suggestions and influence.
  • Further approaches were interrupted by the Dance of the Damned. Given that someone performing adequately was thought to be auspicious for Kintargo’s wellbeing over the next year, the Children felt they needed to perform some heroics by hitting the dance floor rather than hitting with their weapons. Aroldo and Alaria entered together, and Bug managed to gain the assistance of Lucinda, one of Lady Docur’s agents. Bodeen and Raiia entered together.
  • Unfortunately for Bug, whatever graceful moves he and his partner may have been capable of came unstuck due to their vast size difference, and they were soon eliminated from contention. The others continued to perform well, the physical conditioning programme Aroldo had recently been undertaking allowing him to press on manfully despite the onset of fatigue. Alas, the lack of any high-intensity interval training to go with his steady, moderate cardiovascular exercise eventually caught up with him, and the stamina of youth allowed Bodeen and Raiia to claim the prize.
  • There was some thought that the prize presentation would afford the two an excellent opportunity to do away with the Lord-Mayor, but the nature of game mechanics made this seem far too risky an undertaking. Bodeen claimed his crown but was happy to leave the limelight to Raiia, who was happy to take it as she was presented with her tiara. There was perhaps some irony in the fact that one of her reasons for hating Barzillai was him killing her acting career by taking over the Opera House, and that now by joining the Children to defeat him the Lord-Mayor had now afforded her a dream debut on stage. Regardless, the tiara did nothing to lessen her distaste for the man, even though it was so very sparkly and now probably her most prized possession.
  • Barzillai also announce the end of curfew and the lifting of the Bleakbridge toll.
  • With the brief period of frivolity over, it was back to work. Bug approached Sendi’s heir Marial in an attempt to ascertain whether she still held loyalty to Iomedae, or whether her time in the capital has forced her to see the “error” of her ways. Raiia attempted to read the young woman’s thoughts as the halfling spoke to her about his involvement with Sendi on a business venture, and his clever questioning allowed Raiia to discover that Marial was still very much anti-Cheliax. Raiia then joined the conversation, explaining that she has also lost her father in the sinking of the Scourge, but suggesting that from what she’d heard they had more in common than that, hinting that they both followed Iomedae. Marial got the hint and was glad to have allies in the city, as Bugnelius would help her resolve her father’s debt and she had like-minded individuals around her. The Children were very happy with the outcome, and Raiia felt she had made a new BFF.
  • Bug now turned his attention to Archbaroness Melodia Delronge. Recognising that he knew little about horses, her main passion, he was pleased to discover that Lucinda could claim some expertise in the topic. The two approached the Archbaroness, who was initially cold to Bug’s talk of shared mercantile interests but warmed as Lucinda spoke horses with her. Delronge warmed far more to Lucinda than to Bug (who at least amused her, and was able to ascertain that Delonge’s loyalty was toward Cheliax rather than Barzillai), and Raiia was confused trying to understand her surface thoughts while Lucinda made references to thoroughbreds and stayers. Eventually Lucinda left with the Archbaroness – later they found Lucinda had discovered some further information that could be of use during her stay at the Delronge Estate.
  • This all got a bit much for Cato, who decided to take a nap in an adjoining room.
  • Deciding their schmoozing was done, the Children turned their attention to their other task: recovering the final fragment of the Song of Silver.
  • Alaria gave rough directions to where the Opera House library was located, and the children sneaked out of the crowd and down the stairs. Nightswarm was sent to do some scouting and noted there was something “wrong” with the orchestra, with Aroldo realising it sounded like they were illusory. Why would there be and illusory orchestra? The Children decided it probably had to do with the half-dozen hellhounds roaming the area that included the orchestra pit.
  • Deciding that fighting the hounds would create too much noise, the Children managed to sneak past them into the library. Here they discovered that well-known plays were marked with red paint, while less famous ones were not so marked. Unsure why, they were more reassured by Bug discovering a secret door, and made their way through it and downstairs further.
  • Here they discovered the interned original Silver Ravens in a corridor leading to a defaced shrine to the “good” gods. Except that Jackdaw’s coffin contained no body, only her armour and items. Aroldo and Bug wanted to loot the items, Bodeen and Raiia felt this was wrong. Aroldo managed to convince them that Jackdaw probably would have been happy for them to borrow the items to fight for Kintargo.
  • Down the corridor, the Children found more Silver Rave loot, and put the capacity of the handy haversack to the test. Among it was the last piece of the Song of Silver.
  • Job done, the Children decided to continue exploring in the hunt for loot and xp…er, anything else important to the Rebellion. Instead they found an exceptionally large Hellhound. It threw off Aroldo’s attempts to lull it to sleep with magic, instead turning the corridor into an inferno. Bug skilfully dodged the flames, as did Bodeen already making the most of some of that sweet Silver Raven magic item stash. The others burned, but survived, and the Hellhound was taken down.
  • Pressing on, the Children found an exit via the lake in Aria Park. Then they found the previous Mayor, asleep in her coffin. Aroldo was adamant that all vampires were evil and awakened the sleeping beauty with a fireball. Bodeen, Bug and Nightswarm followed up by stabbing and bludgeoning her, and she went down quickly before they staked her through the heart with a piece of her own coffin and someone (let’s face it, probably Bug) cut off her head. Swarms of rats had also come to her call, but Aroldo did what Aroldo does, and they were all roasted.
  • Some questions were raised about how she came to be here, as a vampire. And was the Hellhound there to guard her of keep her here? The DM smugly threw in that it wasn’t like the PCs hadn’t been speaking to other vampires throughout the campaign, so why did they find it such a big deal?
  • Leaving the questions unanswered, the Children followed the final direction which led to an equally perplexing problem. The room they found had a strong animal stench and the walls showed lines of scorching and claw gouges. Aroldo’s instinct that a dragon was kept here seemed confirmed by the blue scale Bug found. But why had it been kept here? And where was it now? As with the other questions, it seemed unlikely the answers would be good for the Children.
  • The Children considered leaving through the lake, but decided to head back for the end of the Masquerade. Barzillai announced that things would change on the morrow as the true villains of Kintargo, the Children of the Ash, were revealed, and as the doors were sealed thanked those gathered for their sacrifice.
  • A woman dressed in black feathers (Little Black Swan) appeared floating in the air and radiating dread, while a Flying Halfling sailed across the room, felling people with foul magics. Meanwhile on the ground, several men wearing Nightswarm masks drew their weapons as they waded through the crowd…
  • The Ruby Massacre had begun.
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A Painful Lesson in Humility

Raiia staggered along the wall, hand outstretched to the ancient stonework to keep herself upright. She cringed each time she passed one of the arrow slits despite knowing the guards inside couldn’t see her. Reaching the point where the wall met the sheer side of the chasm she slid down the wall to the ground, wedging herself into the corner and drawing one knee to her chest. The other leg she kept stretched out in front of her, the throbbing marginally lessened in this position. Raiia squeezed her eyes tightly shut and gritted her teeth as she pressed her head against the rock behind her.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat here for, the moments seeming to stretch forever. All she was aware of was the burning pain in her leg, and the rapid thumping of her heart. She tried to calm herself down, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It had all been so quick, that was what had really thrown her. Whatever thoughts she’d had of what the moment of attack on the fortress would look like, all the ideas that had gone through her head, she had been nowhere near prepared for how fast it all happened. And the noise! From the initial explosion of Aroldo’s fireball and the screeching of the falling gate, to the yells of the guards, the snapping of the bowstrings and the scream she was vaguely aware was her own, she had not imagined the volume of sound.

It hadn’t helped that the initial effort she had made to conceal her presence had faded just after Aroldo’s spell hit. Damned wizards and their damned timing! She tried to tell herself that was the main problem, but it rang false even within her own mind. Still, she no doubt would have recovered better from the initial shock of battle had that arrow not plunged into her leg. The arrow! She needed to do something about that.

Raiia opened her eyes and looked down at her leg, feeling a moment of faintness as she stared at the shaft still protruding from above her knee. She was fortunately distracted by the sight of her companions ahead as Bodeen, Cato and Bug ran to the gate. Clearly, little time had actually passed. She tried calling out to them but her voice felt weak, noise was all around and besides, she was still masked from sight. She lost sight of them behind the wall and turned her attention back to the arrow embedded in her thigh, able to focus better now the initial shock had passed.

As her thinking became clearer she realised the bloody stain in the fabric of her trousers around the shaft didn’t seem to be spreading. Nothing major damaged, then. She tore the fabric a little further around the missile and realised that she could just see the back of the arrow head protruding from her flesh. Not too deep, either.

Raiia reached a shaking hand forward and grasped the arrow as close as she could to her leg, letting out an involuntary yelp as she moved it slightly before managing to still her tremor. She took a deep breath in, shutting out everything around her; the pain, the rapid beating of her heart, the noise, the insistent yelling from within her own head. With a sharp tug she pulled the arrow free, biting hard on her lip to stop herself screaming. She was pleasantly surprised by how little fresh blood pooled in the wound as she tore a strip of cloth from the end of her tunic, the white linen streaked with bloody fingerprints as she tied it firmly above the wound.

Using her good leg, she pushed herself back upright and leaned against the wall for support as she gradually shifted her weight onto the other. Damn it hurt! But it held, and she could walk. The girl made her way back along the wall to the gate, noticing there were no longer any bowmen at the arrow slits. She peered around the edge of the wall into the courtyard.
All was chaos. Augus’ arms were a blur as he flailed about him with his swords, while Bodeen lunged forward, his deceptively delicate blade piercing a guard. Cato stood tall among the carnage, swinging his massive blade. Bodies were everywhere. It must have been the shock of it all that had Raiia imagine she saw Bug hurtling though the air, ripping his knife down through another guard as he descended. How did he get up there? Somewhere beyond she was aware of Aroldo floating above the combat.

I need to be out there! I need to help!

No, no time for that. There must be something else…

Just then she became aware of the devil flying above the combatants. She stared at it, mesmerised as it glided through the air. There was something about it; the grace, the dark beauty. The purpose. Yes, that was it, beauty was nothing without purpose. She watched as it lashed out at Bodeen with what appeared to be a long rope, it neatly wrapping around his armoured form. So graceful, she thought again as the devil languidly began drawing him up into the air, hand on the whip at her own side as she imagined being able to do such a thing. She shook her head to clear it, even as Bodeen burst free of the entanglement and dropped to the ground.

Undaunted, the devil pulled the bow from her back and began firing missiles into the fray. Raiia realised it would pick them off one by one if nothing was done to stop it. She had an idea that she could stop it, or at least give them some cover from the arrows. She would probably reveal herself as soon as she did it, but she was feeling more emboldened. Making her decision, she began to focus on the scene ahead of her.

The shrill, screaming roar from above cut through her like a knife, filling Raiia with dread. She lost her concentration as she looked up to the tower above and quivered in fright. Was that a…dragon? She decided it wasn’t, but it was frightening enough regardless. The monster had none of the devil’s grace as it swept down to the courtyard, a creature of rage and brutality. It landed among her companions, and both the reptile and its rider began tearing into them.

It was the devil, however, that seemed still to be causing the most trouble, raining flaming arrows as she circled overhead. Raiia, however, was unable to overcome her fear at the thought of attracting the attention of the wyvern, struggling unsuccessfully to force herself to act.

Why don’t they just run inside? She thought. A moment later they did just that. As they turned to flee into the keep she saw the wyvern’s rider land a solid blow on Augus’ back. He staggered, and she held her breath as she thought he would fall, but he managed to stumble inside. She feared a similar fate would meet Bodeen as he had to manoeuvre around the monster and its rider, but he seemed to ease past them with impunity.

The rider dismounted and followed them in, and the devil suddenly disappeared. Raiia wanted to follow but the wyvern remained in the courtyard, restlessly alternating between trying to peer inside the keep and scouring the courtyard with its gaze.

There were muffled sounds of fighting from inside; steel on steel, screams, perhaps some kind of magical detonation. Suddenly Bodeen burst out the door, his appearance seeming to take the wyvern by surprise as he rammed his sword through its chest. Raiia covered her ears against its dying shriek. Then there was silence.

Raiia was about to come forward when the wyvern’s rider burst through the door and began running across the courtyard. The man ran straight toward her and she fought the urge to flee, reminding herself that her couldn’t see her. Instead she stood still, deciding that if she moved he may hear her. The others were in close pursuit but perhaps through the effort of running at full speed seemed to be having trouble using their weapons effectively. At the last moment she turned away and braced for impact, realising she had left it too late to act and he would run straight through her. There was a garbled yell and she felt something warm and wet down her back, but nothing else. She turned back to see her companions trotting back toward the keep, the dead form of Lucian Thrune but a few steps away on the ground having obviously been cut down at the last moment.

Slowly, heart thumping with fear and excitement, Raiia made her way after them. She intended to follow them into the keep but became distracted by the sight of the wyvern, and crept toward the monster where it lay in the courtyard. She stepped lightly around its body, fearful in case it had any life left in it; she had heard of animals playing at being dead until threats had passed. Noticing no reaction to her presence she poked it with her foot, then walked lightly along its back. The fact that her new companions could bring down such a beast gave her a greater sense of confidence.

Leaping down, she listened carefully at the doorway, before entering the room beyond. Here as in the courtyard dead bodies were everywhere. Raiia resisted the urge to retch at the sight of it, instead forcing herself to walk among the dead, looking for any familiar faces. Seeing none she relaxed a little. As she made her was around the room she saw the body of the demon, all grace gone as it lay twisted among the bodies of its lesser allies. She felt a moment of sadness at the deaths, but it was replaced quickly by a grim smile as she remembered these were the lackeys of House Thrune.

Taking a deep breath, Raiia decided it was past time to seek out the others. Realising how capable they were, particularly in comparison to her own initial response to combat, she realised that she probably owed them an apology. Well maybe not an apology, but certainly an explanation. After all, she wasn’t the only one who ever made a mistake while listening to the voice in their head.

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A quiet reflection

Augus sat cross-legged in his quarter within the Children’s hideout. Around him in a semicircle were a series of wax candles. All but one had now been extinguished. The single remaining candle burned brightly in front of the half elf.

He gazed at the flickering flame in silence for a moment, before speaking the ritual words.

“Lady of Graves, accept the soul of Gaian Vespinus, also known as the Nightswarm, into your boneyard…”

He paused, unsure of how to continue. Augus had been unsure what to make of the man, in either guise, though in his early days with the Children he had tried to approach the man about concerns with some members of the rebellion.

It hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped.

“May you judge him to be worthy… May you judge him to have been faithful to his chosen deity, the lady Calistria and deliver him to her embrace.”

“May the lady Calistria honor her servant as we, who still live honor him…”

He paused a final time.

“And may we, who still live be found worthy when we one day stand before the Lady Pharasma.”

And with those final words he extinguished the sole remaining candle and the room was plunged into darkness.

Death was never easy, even for a follower of the Lady Death herself. Comfort could be found in living a life that would be found worthy when you stood before her in judgement.
After all, we all stood before Pharasma eventually…

Augus paused for a moment, a thought striking him.

Perhaps that was why the Gray Lady had sent him to the Children. He had wondered, but Thrune planned to deny the Lady. to deny death!

That could not be allowed.

Pharasma would not be denied.

Thrune must die!

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The Varied Thoughts of Gaian Vespinus 13

The landscape around Gaian seemed to flicker in and out of existence, the sea and the ship below phasing with a large cityscape spreading out in all directions, an enormous spire prominent in the distance. The scale was enormous; this was definitely not Kintargo. He felt a gentle tug toward the spire, patient yet insistent, and realised he was is some kind of spiritual river. Weird.

Gazing around him he saw several hazy figures floating lazily toward the spire, rising from the ship he was now seeing less and less. He looked down at his own body, frowning as it seemed to writhe angrily, like it was having difficulty settling on its form. But there was something else he was finding disconcerting, something he couldn’t quite place his finger on.

Apart from being dead?

“Ah, that was it; the silence. Gone now, obviously.”

I was thinking.

“Well out with it then. This is the time for you to impress me with your willing us out of death.” Gaian tried to sound nonchalant, but his voice was shaky even to his own ears. Which unfortunately were also Nightswarm’s. If they even had ears still.

I said I could escape Hell, not death, remember? And speaking of remembering, being here again I recall why I had that confidence. It’s not a happy thought.

“I’m remembering things too!” Gaian said “I think I see that Hellhound, but there’s something…”

Get out of my head!

“That’s weird. There’s more than one. And who are those…wait…”

NOW!

Gaian was forcibly thrown from the memory. After a few moments he got his thoughts together and refocused. He didn’t see the Hellhounds now, but was walking through the corridors of a temple. The House of Golden Veils? He’d only been to Abadar’s stronghold once or twice, but this was definitely it. Yet not. An elf walked beside him, speaking animatedly. He didn’t focus on the words though, thrown as he was by the man. He looked younger, but this was definitely the old elf who had often visited his father. Gaian pulled his mind back in shock.

“Nightswarm? Why was that Hellhound memory at the Calistrian Shrine under Belor’s?”

Confused memories. The Hellhound was around the same time as you found that place.

“But it wasn’t flooded in the memory. And there were Calistrian priests as well as the Asmodeans and the hounds.”

It’s not important. Now let me think. And stay out of my thoughts!

“I saw myself, well felt myself, walking in the House of Golden Veils and…”

Satin Veils.

“What?”

What what?

“The House of Satin Veils fell a century ago.”

I was distracted. Forget it. And let me concentrate, we don’t have much time.

“You also said ‘being here again’. And I know the Hellhound was at Aria Park, I wouldn’t confuse that, even if I couldn’t remember it.”

This time. It was at Aria Park this time. Is that what you want to hear?

Gaian took a moment to digest this.

“So the Hellhounds under Belor’s were…last time?”

No. They were the first time. And it fucking hurt, for a while at least. Not as long as what happened last time.

Gaian felt an internal shudder. He wasn’t sure if it was his or Nightswarm’s.

“I remember when I discovered the Shrine under Belor’s, it felt like there was something drawing me there. So that was because…”

You knew it was there. Only you didn’t.

“That’s a strange thought, that things I don’t even remember guided me there.”

You think that’s strange? I guess this is where I tell you that the ‘fake’ Vespinus history you created was actually real. And your own.

“So why can you remember all this? I thought souls were supposed to forget their lives after judgement.”

How the fuck should I know? This is how it’s been for me every time. Well except this one, for some reason.

“So how many times have we died?”

There is no ‘we’. Me? Three or four. You? I guess you’re at one now. And if you stay out of my memories you can keep it that way.

Gaian tried to probe back into the thoughts, focusing on the walk in the Temple with the elf.

I SAID GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

“That elf. Why did he used to visit father when I was a child?”

Meclel visited you as a child? That explains a lot, crafty bastard. I never knew that.

“I don’t understand. How can you not remember that?”

I remember nothing before the Hellhound. This time.

“None of this makes sense!”

Of course it fucking doesn’t. There is no reason I know of that I should be living lives while remembering other, old ones.

“Do you remember the imp, Blosodriette? She said she remembered being a halfling. I wonder if there’s some relationship…”

I really don’t care. I’ve always been more curious as to why I remembered nothing this life before the Hellhound, and why I’m sharing this one with you. Meclel makes some sense of that. I think he somehow fragmented us.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not possible. And why would he even do it?’

Don’t underestimate Meclel. As for why, I suspect it was supposed to be a mercy. You really don’t want to remember…

“I believe you. I’m seeing some things now. I’m on the streets of Kintargo…”

No!

“I can’t help it. I think we’re rejoining.”

I’ve not carried this for so long for you to ruin yourself now. Focus on something else. Think about your family.

“I’m trying, but now I’m seeing other people. Why does she have a noose?”

No, not there! YOUR family. Think about Raiia. I’m trying to pull us back down.

“I think that’s working a little. Maybe you need to concentrate harder. What happened to your focused hatred getting you away?”

Is this a fucking game to you? Asmodeans killed me! So did Thrunes! I’m pretty sure I can focus my hatred pretty hard. They ruined my lives. Plural.

“That’s weird, you said that just as I was remembering Raiia telling me how much she hated Thrune and that he’d ruined her life. If I focus I can see her as a little Nightswarm and…”

Gaian felt a sudden surge toward the Spire, and a sudden lightness as if…

“Oh no. Nightswarm? Are you there?”

The silence was back. He had the feeling it wasn’t going to change this time.

“What have I done?” Gaian whispered.

He floated in silence, he wasn’t sure how long for. Did it even matter? As he did so, he marvelled at the orderly streets of the enormous city below. This changed as he floated to the top of the spire, the necropolis atop it a sprawling mess of monuments, courtyards and forums. It was indeed wondrous, but how would people ever navigate the place?

“I wonder if Pharasma has ever considered tour guides…” he mused.
*
Raiia bolted upright in bed. Her clothes and sheets were drenched in sweat, and she shivered uncontrollably. Nightmares faded away, the fire and blood slowly seeping out of her mind. She felt she should be scared, but she wasn’t.

She didn’t fear those things hunting her in her dreams. She hated them, and she had work to do.
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The Death of Nightswarm

“Leg it!”

As Nightswarm heard Aroldo’s voice from beyond the doorway, now blocked by Augus encased in some sort of magical shell, he turned and ran. A quick glance back over his shoulder toward the Chelaxian wizard revealed the man pulling what appeared to be a large ruby from his clothes and beginning an incantation, while beyond him Bodeen was already fleeing the other direction.

Navigating the narrow passages below deck, Nightswarm cursed the fact that he’d had to come down here at all. He had planned to protect Aroldo and Augus by stopping anyone coming down the stairs from the forecastle, but hadn’t counted on the wizard and his men entering from the other end of the ship. Heading into the bowels of the vessel he had been confident of dispatching the spellcaster quickly but things had not gone to plan, and he could not very well leave and allow the man to prevent the device being fully activated.

Rounding a corner, he coughed as he entered a stretch of passage reeking with some kind of gas. He pushed on, and stumbling out the other side saw Nones and the Captain hurrying his direction, deep in conversation. They’d not seen him yet.

“Just step into a side room until they pass.” Gaian’s voice advised from within his head.

No time. He replied inwardly.

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m sure Aroldo didn’t cut his warning so fine we can’t even spare a few seconds!”

Ignoring the distraction, Nightswarm charged toward the pair. At the last moment Nones looked up, and even in her momentary shock at seeing this intruder on the ship managed to raise her elbow. Nightswram grunted as the impact knocked him back a step, then dove between them as they reached for weapons and raced up the stairs. Bursting onto the deck he quickly took in the scene, largely unchanged from when he had headed below deck. The attack from shore had done little real damage, here and there the occasional person moaned in pain with arrows protruding from limbs, and a few may even have been dead. Bowmen stood along the railing, firing back to shore, while others took cover behind barrels or under tables.

At the other end of the deck Nightswarm saw Bodeen leap over the side of the ship, his body adopting that ridiculous manta ray form even as he arced above the railing. Nightswarm scoffed. And he clearly didn’t get Sendi out, that was going to complicate things. Idiot.

Nearby, a dozen or so men and women stared toward him in dawning horror, their shock caught in the green light illuminating their features in vivid detail.

Damn right, I’m Nightswarm! See me and tremble.

He smiled inwardly, then made to run to the railing, but found he was barely moving. At the other end of the ship, Bodeen’s descent seemed to have slowed dramatically. And the facial expressions of those nearby remained fixed in the green glow.

Hang on, what green light?

Nightswarm became aware of a keening wail, growing louder by the moment. It hurt his ears. He willed himself to move, but it seemed impossible. The realization that time seemed to be somehow warped hit his mind at the same time as Gaian’s voice.

“Uh, I’m a little less confident now that we have enough time.”

So close!

Nightswarm raged inwardly, cursing the pair of wizards that had done this. He became aware of the ship tearing into fragments, the large splinters swirling seemingly in slow motion as they whirled within the pillar of green light, slicing into the helpless victims on deck. He felt several cut into his own flesh, the sensation somehow surreal, as if it were occurring to someone else. He was vaguely aware of several hitting Bodeen as he plunged toward the water, though the priest seemed to be outside the worst of it.

Suddenly his focus was drawn back to himself as a large shard of timber entered his field of vision, too close to his eye for him to focus on and heading closer.

Fuck.

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The Sinking of the Scourge
Session 26

The imperial warship the Scourge of Belial was no more. The Children of the Ash had struck a blow against Thrune, engulfing the ship in green flames while it sat in the middle of the harbour and sending it to the riverbed – in many pieces.

The victory was not without its losses, however. Bravely holding off the enemy forces, Gaian Vespinus did not make it off the ship. The Children held a solemn ceremony for him in their secret hideout.

Also dying in the destruction was Baron Sendi Vashnarstill, one of the nobles needed for the Board of Governors. His heir is his daughter Mariel, who was sent to the capital a few years ago to purge her of her leaning toward Iomedae. The Children hope this will not be a case of ‘better the Devil you know…’

On a more personal level, Bodeen confronted Leila about her drug dealing. She defended her actions as helping the destitute get through life. She also revealed she is actually a changeling, and has foreseen that Bodeen’s future and that of her own are entwined.

The leaders of the rebellion held a meeting to discuss the implications of the Kintargo Contract. It was generally agreed that the Board of Governors needs to be formed, and a Lord Mayor ratified. Several nominations for Lord Mayor were discussed, but it was decided an anonymous ballot would be held to determine who should be put forward.

But above all, Barzillai Thrune must be stopped.

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The Varied Thoughts of Gaian Vespinus 12

So this is what we’ve come to? Rebellion through exploration of legal loopholes. That’s sure to fire the imagination of the common man.

Even you can surely appreciate what a great discovery this is. This is the key to ending Thrune rule. If we can put this Board together and have them ratify an alternate Lord Mayor, Kintargo could be free in days!

Don’t tell me you truly believe that. Even should all that occur, Barzillai is hardly going to just walk away. He may not be able to call in the Chellish army, but what about his Dottari? The Order of the Rack? Plus whatever other allies he may have. Without getting into any further conversation about fine details of law, I don’t know that we can get rid of them so easily.

I think you’re underestimating the impact this can have. I believe we should make finding the Urvis heir a priority, then work on ways to have the other members make a decision in our favour.

No, we should be focusing on continuing to fight, hurting Thrune while building support. Until we weaken his personal hold on the city this legal stuff is pointless. We should be taking down that ship in the harbour, that’s what we were preparing for.

Are you so desperate for another chance to get us killed?

Nearly get us killed. It was a slight lapse of judgement. Fire has been our issue in the past, I didn’t really think ice would prove too big a problem. Regardless, I had it in hand.

In hand? A few seconds more without healing and we’d have been gone! I could literally feel my essence being pulled out of our body. And who knows what would have happened then? If one dies in Hell, does one’s soul stay there?

Philosophy and religion as well as law. This just gets more exciting by the moment!

Mock all you like, I know what I felt. You most certainly did not have it “in hand”! Even now something doesn’t feel quite right, though I can’t describe it.

Oh, I felt it too. But I also know we wouldn’t have been stuck there. I don’t know if it was because of where we were, but I don’t think it was as simple as our soul being whisked away. There was a moment where it felt like I was about to become something other, and fight or flee I was getting us out of there.

Much as I appreciate your optimism, I can’t share it. I’m fairly certain one can’t escape death by sheer force of will.

I didn’t say I was escaping death, I said I was escaping Hell. And why shouldn’t I be able to do so? I’ve spent my life fighting against the Asmodean devils, Hell won’t claim me.

I’m still not buying it. Hatred for Asmodeans doesn’t give you an out.

If not, then likely only because you hold me back with your own lack of dedication.

What, you think you have a monopoly on hatred? I assure you, my distaste for both Hell and Thrune remains equal to your own.

If that’s the case, then surely you cannot be satisfied with their defeat taking the form of a clause in a legal document!

If you mean it would be more satisfying to put them all to the sword, then you’re right. But I’d rather them defeated and gone as soon as possible. My focus is on the end, yours is on the means. I don’t need the bloodbath if we achieve our goals more quickly without it. So you keep dealing with the immediacy and let me plan strategy, okay?

Fine with me. But avoiding death is immediacy, so stop whingeing and deal with your own stuff. I’m not leaving this fight anytime soon.

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The Devil is in the Details
Session 25

Reaching out with a tremulous hand, Aroldo pours out a large measure of whisky into his favourite glass. He raises it, admiring the colour for a moment, before lowering the glass back to the table and pouring another measure into it.

“Why not?” he asks himself, “I’ve been to Hell and back.”

Sipping at the liquid, he rolls it around in his mouth, letting the flavour and the burn overcome the taste of sulphur which has lingered at the back of his throat since the journey.

Sitting back down at his large mahogany desk, he carefully moves some tomes and miscellaneous objects he uses as components he uses for his spells aside. He draws a sheaf of papers across to the cleared space before searching for a quill.

Once found, the quill scratches furiously along the paper, Aroldo stretching his memory to the best of his ability. The words of Odexidie are etched into his memory and flow without pause onto the page.

After an hour or so, Aroldo places his quill down and he reviews what is written.

Kintargo Contract
Subcontract of the Cheliax Covenant, which grants House Thrune the support of Hell.
However, Kintargo was never officially part of Cheliax, due to a series of clerical errors and oversights through the years.
This allowed Odexidie to craft a hidden clause in the contract: that House Thrune requires the consent of Kintargo’s lord-mayor to deploy an army into the city or its holdings.
The lord-mayor needs to be ratified by a Board of Governors.
The Board must consist of the the heads of the Delronge, Jarvis, Tanessen, Aulorian, Vashnarstill, and Urvis families.
The Board has not been formed for over one hundred years.
Barzillai is not a ratified lord-mayor, so cannot trigger the clause.

Barzillai
He discovered the Contract is missing from the official records, and sought out a copy.
With the aid of Mephistopheles, he seeks to become a genius loci.
As part of the ritual to do so, he must live out a life in the region to which he has bound his soul—in this case, Kintargo.

Genius loci
In effect, Barzillai wants to become an animate landmass, granting the powers of a god.
A few additions are made on those reviews, but eventually the wizard is satisfied.
He rewrites everything once more, so he can present a neater copy of his writings to the rest of the leadership council of the Rebellion.

Sitting back from the compiled document, Aroldo ponders the meaning of the Contract, as well as the devil, Odexidie. The devil appeared agreeable and helpful, but Aroldo is wary still.
It seems likely Odexidie wants the Kintargan clause triggered so the other devils can applaud his genius. The fate of Kintargo itself, and its people, is unlikely to be relevant in the slightest.

This is perhaps the only reassurance the wizard has when it comes to their escape from Hell. The wizard suspects the devil may be hid something in the contract the Children signed to be sent home. Aroldo saw nothing hidden in the writings, but you can never be sure.

Taking the draft document, Aroldo holds a corner to a candle until it begins to burn, leaving just the completed document.

Now, he’s ready to present it the leadership, as soon as it gathers.

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The Varied Thoughts of Gaian Vespinus 11

What’s bothering you? I’d have thought you’d be quite happy with our defense of the Academy.

I am. But I’m also concerned. There’s no way the Barzillai is going to allow this to stand.

Huh. He’s done little enough in response to our other successes. His beiggest response so far has been that ridiculous attempt to claim our actions as his own, and offer us his tainted “rewards”.

This is different though. It’s one thing for us to hit him a few times with surprise attacks, disruptive as they have been. It’s completely another for us to show that we can throw back his own authoritarian actions and protect the people. I fear our victory at the academy will be short-lived; we won’t be able to stop him again if he sends in a larger force.

And what of it? If the academics are foolish enough to hang around they deserve whatever comes to them. We gave them time to get both themselves and any important work out of there. Barzillai taking the Academy now will be obvious for the hollow victory it is. I very much doubt the esteem we have gained with the people of Kintargo will be any less as a result.

Perhaps…

Even those who fail to recognise that will still be impressed by the fact we took out Tiarise.

That too will likely prompt Barzillai to action. His witch’s death will be like a bell announcing the arrival of the Children as a true force within the city.

Ding-dong. They’ll be singing in the streets. And we’ll build further on it, a tornado of rebellion sweeping through the city!

Yes, but I don’t think we’ll be in Kintargo anymore. Not as it was anyway. I suspect our missions will become more fraught from here on in.

Well, what did you expect? That we’d just follow this golden path to our destination with no trials on the way? The more we act, the more he will be compelled to fight back against us. Until he can’t.

We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Last time we were becoming this confident we lost several of our number.

True, but I feel this group are more hardened than the last. Bug is no longer a lone gutter-rat, he has built himself a guild to represent. And Augus seems to have found his nerve and sharpened his claws.

Those things help, it’s true. And having Cato and Bodeen gives us a little more steel than we had before.

Indeed. While fighting encased in tin would hardly be my preferred approach, I do take heart from them being there to deflect some of the nastier blows.

Aroldo’s powers have grown too. He has become more versatile, and he also seems to have a knack for helping others to grow confidence in their own talents.

As long as he doesn’t have some mishap with those floating boots of his and get himself carried away! But let’s not forget your own development.

Oh?

Before all of this started you’d lost me. One could argue that you’ve gained an entire brain throughout this journey!

Hmmph. I think the one I already possessed was probably more than adequate. But you are far more adept than I at frightening Barzillai’s cronies.

Indeed. So you see? I have no doubt we’re all up for this fight.

And what about the citizens of Kintargo?

What about them? You’ve always believed in success based on merit. Those who are deserving have never had such a great opportunity to rise! Kintargo will be a much stronger city by the time this is over.

And if we fail?

Then there will be nothing worthwhile left here, and we’ll be in no state to care. So let’s just enjoy the journey.

I think I’ll let you indulge your hatred by embracing the death and destruction aspect of this. I’ll plan for the future.

As you wish, but I’ll be the one having fun!

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Student Riot
Session 24

Kintargo seemed to have gone quiet, as if the calm before the storm. But there is still an under current of discontent. The news of a silver shortage caused many a wry smile, though short lived once the dottari, facing a freeze in payments, started shaking down businesses for a “bandit tax.”

Each day there is a small line up of people wanting to cross the river with Gaian’s boat, or “take a tour of the river” as he insists. They’re happy to listen to him point out sites if it means avoiding the bridge toll.

Bug assessed the damage done to his followers. He is still eft with an experienced core of street folk. In the meantime, he set up a desk in the Children’s warehouse under the name of Bugnelius’ Import/Export, staffed with a couple of respectable-looking accountants.

Augus had been keeping his head down. He kept thinking of Aluceda, the High Priestess of Zon-Kuthon, and her invitation to visit Shadowsquare. He was also disturbed that she identified he had been touched by Pharasma. Not even his closest companions know of this fact.

Aroldo had been busy “bringing people together” as he puts it, acting as a middle man to facilitate meetings of like minded individuals – the Speakeasies. Unbeknownst to all he sometimes also attends those meetings, suitably disguised with magic.

Meanwhile Bodeen had been busy. Running Belor’s, overseeing the new brewery, and spending time with Leila lefts little time to do much else – even sleep.

Augus
Once the full moon rose, Augus had an overwhelming compulsion to visit Shadowsquare. Upon arriving, he was greeted by the sound of singing and chanting – and the occasional scream – from across the courtyard. However, to his right, casting a dark shadow across the courtyard, was a squat tower. An arm protruded from a thin window, waving and gesturing frantically at him. Augus entered the tower. It was some sort of prison. On the upper level he spoke to a man locked in a cell. “My name is Gelliaso – get word to the embassy that I am here! Aluceda is not as she appears. She must be stopped! Now run from this place, and do not return.” Augus fled.

Bug
Baron Sendi Vashnarstill asked for a meeting. “A man in your position would no doubt know of Anchor’s End.” Bug nodded confidently. “My family’s holdings are located there. As such, I am in a prime position to take advantage of what the New World has to offer: gold, Egorian marble, and slaves. Until recently I had the contract to import these goods into Cheliax. Unfortunately due to a bureaucratic bungle in the capital my contract has been cancelled. So, what I lack is a fleet. That is where you come in, Master Bugnelius. Together, I think we can get very rich.” Bug liked the sound of this, but didn’t completely trust the man. He signed an agreement then ordered the Black Mantis to dig up whatever was available on the noble.

Aroldo
A meeting was arranged with Lieutenant Iofiel Nones, at Lara’s Longroads. Iofiel explained the party planned aboard the Scourge of Belial was still going ahead, and they need supplies – Aroldo had mentioned he could help. “Of course, I could have visited an official government supplier or city outiftter, but I trust you can do it cheaper – plus, this arrangement pleases me. In fact, perhaps I could give you a personal tour of the ship?” Aroldo accepted, and, while only half-listening to her, made mental notes of the ships layout and workings. The tour ended in Iofiel’s quarters – Aroldo sighed, it was tough job at times.

Bodeen
One night, as Leila slept, Bodeen noticed a small box upon her table. Taking a peek inside, he was surprised to find several small snuff boxes filled with pesh – a low grade narcotic. There were also a few small vials of a drug he couldn’t identify. He carefully replaced the lid and ignored the box for now, wondering when – or if – to raise the issue with Leila.

The next day, a fiesty tiefling walked into Belor’s and ordered a brandy. Evalyn Emberstorm, lover of Keldor, an original member of the Children of the Ash. She has been in a few times recently, drinking by herself. Bodeen had left her alone. But this time, Gaian, Augus and Aroldo were present. Evalayn approached them. “I suspected something was up after Keldor’s death. I approached Hetamon Haace for help – do you know how much that galled me – and he hinted that Keldor was involved in something big. Look, I’m sick of the way tieflings are treated, true, but more importantly, I’m sick of being left out. I have something to offer, and if that makes me money in the meantime, all the better. But whatever it is, I want in. If nothing else, I owe it to Keldor.” Without giving her details, Aroldo provided her with a few easy chores to test her resolve – and loyalty.

Gaian
Gaisn was having a quiet drink when a young boy rushed in. “I’m looking for Master Gaian or Master Aroldo!” He said a young actress requested he come to the plaza at once. Bella, the up and coming tiefling actress, was awaiting him. “I don’t have much time, but I have been thinking about what you told me, and have decided I want to change my future. Please, I need help – Lady Sarini won’t let me leave, you must help me somehow!” Gaian assured her they would find some way of helping. She looked up as two chaperones approached, and quickly vanished into the crowd.

Later, at the Alabaster Academy, Alaria was on stage rousing the crowd of students, who were hanging on her every word, eager to take to the streets and bring down the government. Suddenly, the government came to them – Hellknights raided the Speakeasy!

Aroldo managed to escape as the other Children arrived. Together they rescued the arrested students, then ascended the central tower where Tiarise Izoni, the Lord Mayor’s witch, was performing a grisly ritual on sveral professors. The Children attacked her and her guards, and in turn were attacked by an erinyes. The battle was close fought but the Children’s tenacity won out in the end.

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