Seken

Byron's View: In which we learn about Mermaids

Having successfully defeated (if only temporarily) our Wizard-y adversaries, we made for Balsam District whereupon we were briefly detained as suspicious characters at the gate. Leo’s quick tongue made quick work of the guard’s (quite valid) suspicions, and we continued on to the Vikon clinic to try to do something for the good lady C, who had been left most unfortunately drained by her efforts to protect the seal. It would have been quite an expensive bit of healing for us had not the good Sir Harrik appeared at a most opportune moment and agreed to pay for her healing. (Strictly as a loan of course.)

As we were preparing to follow the good sir to a back room of the forbidden Big House, we were approached by a most oddly behaving woman, who claimed to be dreaming about dear sister raisa. A fascinating turn of events indeed! So, we invited her along, since it would be easier to take care of her in private should it come to that. At least, I assume that’s why. Perhaps not. Cinnamon gets strange about these kinds of things. We were also joined by the monk and object of Cinnamon’s affection, Ivraham. For a professional she’s startlingly bad at disguising her actual feelings.

Let’s see, from there we went back to a room deep in the Big House, where we learned that our strange young dreamer is in fact a mermaid. In addition to that she’s a Priestess of Aneko, even more strange. Most curious. She may share some connection to the entity that has been interfering with Raisa’s connection with her patron as well.

Another new face (to me anyway) was introduced to the group when Harrik called for a guard. One of the off duty gladiators, a rakasta called Bastion showed up, which was apparently not what was intended. But, it was more than sufficient. Much discussion was held of how to get into the Undercity, and whether the captain of the underwatch was susceptible to influence as well as a number of other topics, many of which needed the lady C’s input.

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Leo's View: Farewell, Torvik

Well, that sucked.

On the bright side, if there is a bright side, Torvik’s death wasn’t in vain – he gave his life to protect the city. Better than just being butchered because one of us Kalblings had wandered our way into trouble again. Although we had, sort of. But it was a noble death. Looked horribly painful. But … well, he died with all honor. And that’s something.

I’m digging for scraps, I realize.

It was a pretty bad fight. Let me back up. Three days after Dubek had told me “go home for now, we’ll be in touch soon” I got a message from him saying “Situation changing more rapidly than expected. Stand down.”

I decided to go to my folks’ house for breakfast, because the letter delivery boy had woken me up godsawful early, and I figured I might get some spice cakes out of the deal. But I never made it there. On my way, I ran into my sibs, Torvik, Cinnamon, and Lady C. They were off to fetch the seals and roped me into coming with them.

We started by walking in rings around the city, narrowing in eventually on a marketplace with a fountain in the middle. C said that it’s easier to go in elliptically, because heading in straight-on triggers the wards. As we were walking in circles, C said that the seal needs a strong-willed person to act as a guardian, because it’s split into three pieces. And the other folks said they’d just been to the Astral and met an echo of Ramliya, who told Raisa to tell Akhlut to lighten up. I regretted skipping breakfast, especially the coffee. And then Lady C walked through the space where the fountain was and came out across the other side holding an awkwardly-shaped box that had to be kept parallel to the ground – ostensibly holding the seals.

I guess that was supposed to be subtle and no one was supposed to notice. A subhuman with pincers seemed to have noticed though, and Torvik – rest his soul – didn’t help by loudly shouting to C ‘you want a hand with that?’. Then some others seemed to notice too.

Then kind of out of the blue, Torvik attacked what turned out to be a wizard – I assume he’d noticed something was wonky about her but I’m not sure how he pegged her. She started summoning monsters from everywhere, and mocking Lady C. She called her something like Celdera or Celderia, and monologuing along the lines of “did you honestly think you could win? The floodgate’s open – you know what’s coming through. How will your city face a second attack? Your seal is shattered. We shall have the power we deserve. We’ll take your charge right from under your nose.” C nearly dropped her box shielding an attack from the wizard lady, and Raisa and I grabbed the box and started trying to get it out of the square.

Torvik shouted to us not to go the direction we were headed, saying that we were being herded by the monsters and were going the way she wanted us to go, so we took a different direction. And then there was our old friend ‘Seal’.

Things were pretty frantic and crazy at this point. The wizard lady was summoning awfully big monsters – with clever thematic names like Wrath and Envy – into the fountain area in the middle of the square while her smaller monsters attacked from many directions. Jenko took care of one of the bigger monsters, but seems to have lost some of the elemental power that was fueling him. I think Cinnamon’s friend Ivrahim took one of them down too. Seal momentarily ensnared our minds and Raisa and I put the box onto an invisible magical floating thing. We tried attacking him, but his skin was impenetrable, like stone. In a moment of divine inspiration, I realized that taking a beer bottle to his face would at the very least get beer in his eyes, in addition to whatever positive benefit the shattered glass might have. It did seem to make him uncomfortable. Then part of a wall collapsed and a kind of golem rose up from the rubble. The wizards were trying to do something to the seals in the box, and C was trying to stop them, and Cinnamon ended up throwing herself onto the box and doing… something… which seemed to act as a prism to keep the negative forces at bay, but it seemed to be draining her.

Cinnamon’s new cat Chip scratched at Seal just before he started to go to bat form. Byron threw something at him which seemed to keep him from shifting form entirely, and brought him down. I gave the creepy bat (still with a human-seeming arm) a coup de grace. And then a bunch more, just for good measure. Minced bat.

Cinnamon had to get of the box because it was draining the life out of her. And the wizard lady pushed her advantage and started attacking the box again. C said that someone had to become the seal’s protector, that it couldn’t be someone carrying a piece of a god’s power in them like a priest or a sorcerer… which left me and Torvik as possibilities. I stopped to ask exactly what that entailed, because from what she’d been babbling about while we walked in circles it seemed like some pretty hefty responsibility. And before she could answer me, Torvik threw himself onto the box.

It was pretty horrible to watch. It… consumed him, I guess. But at the end his face eased from contortions of pain to something that looked almost peaceful. I hope that the pain had ended for him, then. He … sank into the box. Melded with it. Became it.

And then a bunch more golems came out of the walls of the buildings nearby and smashed up a lot of the remaining monsters. The wizard flickered out. Seemed like she may have been a projection or something? Maybe Byron knows. And then there we were, with C horribly drained and the box and carnage everywhere. And no Torvik.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been trying to get away from Torvik. I never wanted a chaperone – it felt too much like a restriction. But he was always there to protect us. I guess I’d gotten to taking it for granted that he’d always be there.

He did a good thing. And I’ll be honest – I’m relieved it wasn’t me. He took that hit for me, at the end. And so I’ll raise a mug in his honor.

Goodbye, Torvik. You were a big dumb lug, but you were a good man. I’ll miss you.

I think we all will.


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Leo's View: The Underpants Papers, Part II

Right, so that was exciting!

Three days ago – after I’d turned in Emile Mann’s practice blade – Dubek gave me my new assignment: break into the Foamers’ Guild tavern – er, compound – and steal a contract between Juan Marco and a pirate captain from 2 years ago. I scoped the place that night to get a good idea of the guard patterns. They’ve got it on high patrol because the building’s under construction. Their patrol pattern was randomized, so no easy to spot pattern, but there only seemed to be two patrol teams out at any one time.

Two nights ago I went back (cleverly disguised, of course) and waited until the guard captain’s randomized pattern had a double-pulse where one patrol squad closely followed the previous one. I nipped into the construction zone – which gave me a good sneak preview of what kinds of mechanical traps the Foamers favor – and headed on into the compound.

Now, Dubek had warned me that the Foamers really like their traps, both mechanical and magical. The mechanical ones I saw being readied to install weren’t catch-and-call-the-constable traps – they were clearly designed to cause mass trauma and/or death. Dubek had given me a few healing potions, but that really doesn’t matter much if you’ve just been beheaded. Magically, I know the Foamers like electric shocks, but I wasn’t assuming they’d limit themselves to just that, so I wasn’t relying on Dubek’s anti-electricity potion as a protect-all either.

So when I headed on in to the compound, I headed in carefully. I spotted a trapped floorboard easy enough, which looked like it triggered a series of spikes. And I managed to not trip the chest-height tripwire just after the floorboard, though that was a closer call. Peeking into the crack it led to, it looked like a serrated scythe blade, just at neck height.

Up the servants’ stairs. The bottom stair was dusty, so obviously I skipped it. And the 5th stair up was thicker than it should be, so I skipped that as well.

At the top of the stair the guardroom was to the right, so I circled around to the left – convenient that the building formed a closed loop. The molding was missing for about 4 feet along the wall ahead. I don’t know what would have triggered the blade tucked into a slot there, but it didn’t seem to be a pressure plate, because I scooted under it’s cutting range but it didn’t go off.

Then there was a pressure plate, with an axe designed to behead someone standing up from having foiled the horizontal blade. I avoided triggering that as well.

I thought I was doing pretty well, but I may have set off a few electrical traps. I didn’t get shocked, but I heard two zaps, and my hair got all prickly. It seemed like it was happening on a patterned rug, so I tried to figure out whether it was a particular part of the pattern or what.

I avoided another one of the missing-molding blades in the corner.

Then, the problem trap. Not a problem to me – the spike shooting through the painting missed me by a few inches. But because it destroyed the (admittedly gaudy) painting when it was sprung, and there was no way that was going to re-set itself like most of the traps seem designed to do. So yesterday when I reported in, Dubek had to ask about Why Traps Had Been Sprung and Fuss Created. In his defense, he was only passing along the question for the Cousins Dearest, but I’d like to see them try to sneak through that fun-house without tripping anything. Feh.

Anyway, so that happened.

After stepping carefully around another version of the pattern on the rug that I think may have been electrified, I got to the door of the office where the contract was. I downed the anti-electricity potion. Which is good, because as soon as I touched the knob there was a loud ZOT and the smell of ozone. Marked my hand a bit, but it didn’t hurt, and that’s really what mattered, because I could pick the lock. It was a good lock, but didn’t give me too much trouble.

I put a wooden shim in the door jamb to keep the door from closing, because I didn’t want the knob to re-set if I could help it. Once in the room, I looked around carefully – Dubek had said that magical traps were hard to spot on their own, but could be determined by tell-tale marks of peculiar use. All I could see on surveying the room is that one file cabinet seemed strangely un-worn compared to the rest. And the liquor cabinet behind the desk saw a LOT of use.

Judging from the scuffs and smudges on the desk drawers, the desk’s occupant is right-handed, and the bottom drawer seemed the most used. The whole stack of drawers were secured by two locks at the top. The locks picked like normal, but there was an extra click as each one popped. I inspected around the area but couldn’t see any traps on the outside, which meant that whatever had just been set was on the inside, and likely magical. Looking around for something to hook open the drawer from a distance, I found a gaudy tiger sculpture. I was wary of it – and all the gaudy art in the room – after the encounter with the gaudy painting, but it turned out not to be trapped. I hooked open the drawer, and … nothing happened. So I got the box out of it, at which point I noticed a strange ticking sound from the drawer. I shut the drawer right away, and moved away from the desk. The ticking sound stopped.

And… the contract was no longer in the box. I’d been told that might be the case, so I looked in the file cabinets under M for Marco. Decent locks on those cabinets, too. I folded up the contract I needed and tucked it in my underwear, then snatched the one right after it to fold up and hide in an easier-to-find-on-patdown spot. I toed open the door where I’d shimmed it, and snuck back out into the hall.

By this point the guards had noticed that the painting trap had been sprung, and were on much more active patrol than they’d been before, including around the inside of the building. That took a bit of sneaking to get around back to the servants’ stairs and down to the construction area where I’d come in. At least I’d had a preview of the traps to avoid, so that was helpful. When I got back to the area where I’d entered, there were guards buzzing around and about the doorway. I tucked myself behind a cabinet to watch the door and see if they calmed down, but after some time passed it was evident that they weren’t calming down. They even came in to search the room I was in, but thankfully weren’t thorough enough to spot me.

Eventually it got late enough that workmen were going to be coming in soon, and there was no way they weren’t going to notice me hiding back there, so I had to make a run for it. I waited for some guards to pass, took a chance, and ducked around the corner.

And was spotted.

Fortunately I have a good deal of experience running away from angry, armed men in Otik District. (Fie, I say to those who think slumming around in drunken debauchery doesn’t lead to any Real Life skills.) I was able to lose them fairly easily, after leading them on a merry chase.

I un-disguised myself and headed back to the Big House for a nap before reporting back to the compound. Dubek and Fayla seemed a bit startled that I’d taken the second contract, and Fayla seemed to go into a crisis-management mode, although neither one of them said I shouldn’t have taken it. Dubek thanked me and (after asking me to Explain Myself regarding Setting Off Traps) dismissed me for the day, telling me to report in this morning.

So I came back this morning. Dubek seems really busy and tired this morning – whether from dealing with damage control from the second contract or something unrelated I don’t know, but he said that the timeline for the project was accelerated. He asked if I could swim and I said no, which seemed to throw a spoke in the gears, because they’d been planning to have me plant some evidence on a Mann ship. He was flustered and didn’t seem to be thinking straight, so asked me to come back tomorrow night to check in with Fayla for my next assignment. Because he was discombobulated, I was able to get a bit of information out of him about what’s going on, and I think he didn’t even realize he was telling me. But they’re clearly taking the small-scale collaboration between some Foamers and Manns and fabricating something much bigger out of it. Parts one and two (Emile’s personal item and the Foamer contract) were the set-up for part three (yet to be determined).

And here’s where it gets really interesting. This operation is part of Ivan trying to clean up some kind of mess. The Duke had mentioned Averton earlier this week – I’m not sure whether that means Ivan has more than one mess on his hands or whether these are both part of a really big clusterfuck. And Feodor, who’s usually Ivan’s solid right-hand man, isn’t pulling his weight this time. Apparently he’s lending Ivan his brains and evil calculatory powers in exchange for a favor from Ivan, instead of just doing it as usual. Juicy.

What Dubek didn’t say a peep about was why Cousins Dearest were shopping for mercs at the Banded Castle a ways back, and at Devlin’s Castle earlier this week. Both of them were present each time, so whatever that’s about, they’re in it together.

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Leo's View - Fond Recollection

Recollecting from a few days back:

So we’d gone to the temple of Calleich – all 3 of the symbols were there – the original one from not-so-shady Bob, Raisa’s creepy blood symbol, and the one made of golden light that the other kids had gone and gotten out of the Builder’s Workshop of Doom. There was this construct with us that they’d met at the workshop – I guess one of the Builder’s creations. Everyone called him Jinko, except for Elsie, who called him “Mr Water”. She and Lillian had trouble seeing him at first – I guess because he’s not really alive.

We told Lillian that Gelt said Macha is returning – there was a strange skip in time watching her as she communed with the Laughing Lady. Theory is, the earthquake was Macha testing the waters. Macha usually returns at the site of one-sided slaughters – like what would have happened if the Kemotin attack had succeeded.

Cinnamon has these magic boots that seem to be cursed. She kept on wanting to put them back on, so we had to monitor her the whole time.

Then we went up to Ebelton to give them an egg from one of the skin-thieves that the Builder had had. Byron had had it all wrapped up but the lupine guard – named Grantik – seemed pretty blase. He was all full of talk and hot air but eventually seemed to take Byron’s advice and wrote out a card for the researchers that the egg was NOT for the zoo, was dangerous, etc. etc.

On the way down the hill we were overtaken by our oh-so-beloved cousins on horseback in full entourage coming down from Devlin’s Castle. We could have made a clean escape into the trees, but Torvyk had to go and salute, so they noticed us. Ivan seemed particularly interested in me, which is generally not a good thing. Still, I wouldn’t have seen my current assignment coming at that point. Eventually they rode on. I need to find a better stratetgy to not back-talk to them; my general tactic of biting my tongue generally means I’m spitting blood in their wake.

Then, when we got to the bridge at the bottom of the hill, we were ambushed another ogre . A real one – well, at least the skin of a real one. He called himself Nirgle, and was a bit too articulate for an ogre.

“You work for the Pain Bringer,” he said as he came out to stop us.

We expressed our bafflement.

“We have not bothered you in many cycles – why do you make our business yours?”

We were still pretty baffled. In hindsight, maybe they were looking for the capstone and irritated that we’d interfered?

6 other skin thief critters popped up out of the bushes – a remarkable range of races – and started to surround us.

Since Grantik had been all gung-ho about how badass he was, and since the odds of us against the skin thieves were not great, we tactically disengaged and retreated up the hill. They didn’t pursue, so we headed back to Ebelton to ask for help.

“Seken is an organism, and it’s sick.” said Ivrahim.

“The Builder doesn’t like uncontrolled change” said Jinko

Grantik was super-duper excited to get to fight a skin thief. He didn’t really listen to us when we tried to explain how dangerous they could be. In his defense, he apparently wrestles monsters at the zoo before breakfast, so I can see how he’d be self-confident. Still.

We got back down to the skin thieves, where we found that Nirgle had re-grown the arm he’d lost in our first encounter. Grantik went straight at him, and Nirgle called down a cloud of darkness. (I’m not sure Grantik would have survived that fight with Nirgle if Grantik hadn’t called in his dogs.) The rest of us dispatched Nirgle’s minions while we got some magical light into the darkness. We thought we’d finish off Nirgle too, but after he’d shed his ogre skin he shed another skin and the inner layer this time had wings. He didn’t seem affected by fire as he flew off. There was a weird symbol burned on the ground where he’d been – it didn’t seem super complex, but for some reason I don’t think I could draw it from memory right now. I’ll have to ask the others if they can remember it.

… So that was a grand adventure. Time for the next one now – hopefully not my last.

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Leo's View - Markov: they ALREADY hated me.

Okay, so after the excitement of meeting a double-layered skin-thief and his gang of minions two days ago, I slept fairly well. I woke up at a respectable hour yesterday – there were still some good pastries left, and the coffee was hot. Nid came over to where I was eating breakfast pulled out one of those enormous, embarrassingly conspicuous Ducal envelopes, and gave it to me. Sinking feeling. I opened it.

Congratulations, Leo! it said. You have been singled out to serve as direct minion to your favorite psychotic cousins and Ducal heirs, Ivan and Feodor! Well, the wording was a little more flowery and indirect, but you get the gist. The only upshot was, Nid pulled out a smaller envelope that indicated that he’d been simultaneously attached to Ivan and Feodor’s bodyguard staff, so at least we’d each have some company in our misery.

It was a lovely morning yesterday as we made our way up to the Ducal compound. Wafting breezes, singing birds – a perfect early spring day. It was almost soothing enough to put my mind at ease. Not quite enough.

Once we got to the compound, we were passed through multiple layers of security and sat to wait. Eventually a man and two women came in wearing house colors, and the younger-looking of the two women offered us some mid-morning nibbles from a tray. (I realized later on that her hair had been covering her ears – Fayla is actually an elf, so she’s probably closer to 80 than the 12 – 16 years I’d thought at first). The man – Dubek – introduced himself, Kayleon (the older woman), and Fayla. He coordinates staff, Kayleon runs the household day-to-day, and Fayla serves as the head of the heirs’ eyes and ears informants network. I’m not sure whether it’s weirder to have an awkward teenager or an awkward elf running the eyes and ears, but either way, it’s a bit strange. She’s one of those people who makes everyone around her feel awkward on her behalf for how uncomfortable and awkward she looks all the time. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t a put-on. Odd.

After some hedging by Dubek in his welcome speech, Kayleon translated what he wanted to say as “it’s not the easiest place to work, here – we look out for one another. Let us know if They push you too hard.”

They gave us a tour, then. The heirs’ quarters are self-contained like the children’s quarters on the other side – own kitchen, stable, guard barracks, wine cellar, etc., separated from the main house by a guard station. Missing from the tour were the sleeping quarters – easy enough to figure out – and a set of stairs down to below the kitchens. Kayleon and Dubek looked uncomfortable when I asked what was down there, and Dubek muttered something about “private studies”. From this I surmise that a number of people have been disemboweled down there for amusement when Feodor has nothing better to do with his time. Have I mentioned how much I love my cousins?

The tour wound up in what can only be described as a miniature throne room – a long wide hall leading up to a dais with two big chairs. The chairs are equal size and weight – I’ve always been interested that Ivan so willingly shares his heir’s place with Feodor. The two of them do complement each other’s skills fairly well, but it’s just fascinating that he’s never seemed to put himself above his younger brother. Anyway, the area up on the dais is decorated up like a study with bookshelves and fireplace, I guess to give plausible deniability to the fact that the whole thing is a throne hall. Ivan was sitting on the left, looking, as always, as if the sand in his underpants was chafing him. Feodor was sitting calmly on the right, reading a book.

It’s clear from the room setup that they expect to be treated like Dukes although they’re still heirs. A brief sweet thought occurred to me to play along with the charade all the way up the hall, with the prescribed number of bows and flourishes due to the Duke and then tweak them at the end by going all casual and treating it like their study, but I had promised myself I’d try not to get in too much hot water, at least on my first day. So instead I did the lesser bowing sequence due only to lords of a domain, rather than to a Duke. That had the benefit of tweaking them anyway, because it denied their lofty self-opinions, but it was exactly appropriate and delivered respectfully, so beyond reproach. Sweetness and light. Nid followed behind me and did exactly what I did – so it was double-good choice.

Ivan took this opportunity to be snide, haughty, and unendearing. He dismissed Nid and told me that Dubek would brief me on my duties. On leaving, I again had the choice – to the Duke, I would never turn my back while departing. To them, as it happens, it was appropriate. So I smiled, turned my back to Ivan and took my leave.

Until the door burst open ahead of me.
And a lot of large, armed men piled in.
Followed by Duke Markov Kalb.
Who opened his arms and enthusiastically embraced me like a son.

Remember how I’d wanted to stay out of hot water on my first day?

My brain was already stuck on OH SHIT before he had a table and chair brought in and had a bottle of ‘47 popped and poured for me. Yes, ‘47. You don’t drink ‘47. My parents have a single bottle of it in their winecellars, a cherished wedding gift. Markov sat me down with the glass and then went up to the dias to “talk” with his sons, audibly dressing them down (iron fist in a velvet glove) for being disappointing screw-ups.

It was like the most fucked up private dinner theatre imaginable – which is to say, it was a thing of beauty. It would have been a thing of pure beauty had it not also been clearly tuned to make them as pissed off at me as humanly possible. Feodor managed to play it fairly cool. Ivan – especially after his father pushed him back down into his chair – was trying to kill me with his eyes. And the wine was mind-meltingly delicious.

Then Markov called me up to the dias. Ivan was still sulking in his chair, Feodor standing near him. Markov asked me to have a seat.

There are just the two heirs’ chairs on the dias. The only seat I could take would be Feodor’s, which was the one the Duke had waved me at.

I desperately tried to play it cool, doing a casual “hey, did you want to sit in this seat?” nonverbal gesture to Feodor. He looked calculating for a moment, then gestured back at the throne-chair. “Please.”

So I sat, mind and heart trying to outpace one another, trying to look unruffled.

“How do you feel about the issue?” Markov asked

I had to ask for clarification. Which got Ivan another velvet smackdown for not briefing me. “Neutralizing political rivals. Stopping an embarrassing political experiment. Shutting down an embassy.” This wasn’t much clarification, but I got that the latter part was talking about the “ambassadorship” to Averton that Ivan and Feodor tried to send us on a ways back. I think I managed to be agreeable and noncommittal, which I tried to keep up then when he asked how I felt about the King, saying that I’d clearly gained the interest of the King’s guard. Holy fucking— what is this man up to? If he liked me half as much as he was putting forth, he wouldn’t be demonstrating it so much. But if he hated me as much as you’d expect from the effort put into goading Ivan and Feodor towards homicide, he could easily already have me dead. Which leaves me, I think, as a pawn in his game with his sons. I’d guess that the only relevance I have personally in the equation is that if I survive it will be a point in my favor in his book. And several points against me in his heirs’ books. That’s going to be particularly uncomfortable when the title eventually goes to them.

Still, on the whole, it was worth the price of admission just to get to be there on a pedestal while Ivan and Feodor were being lambasted. It was a brief, shining moment, but I’ll cherish it.

The Duke and his entourage swept out, and everything was suddenly quiet. I gingerly got out of Feodor’s chair and began to take my leave. Ivan ordered me to stop, so I turned around again.

“What was that about?” he hissed.
“Excuse me?”
“What. Was. That. About.”
“Ah… as heir I’m sure you know better than I. I genuinely have no idea.”
He sat and looked angry and constipated for a few moments more, then gestured at me to leave.

Dubek was standing at the back waiting for me, holding the glass of ‘47 very carefully. He seemed about as taken aback by the whole production as the rest of us – if he knew the backstory, he didn’t let on. “Well, ah… here’s your glass of wine. That’s worth more than I’ll make in ten years. My lord.” I didn’t want to make any more enemies, so I offered him a sip. He declined. Now that’s professionalism.

He led me away and gave me the brief rundown on what I’ve been called in for, although he admitted that Ivan and Feodor had forbidden him to fully disclose some elements of it. That seemed to make him a bit uncomfortable, given Duke Markov’s sudden involvement.

At any rate, my first mission seems to have been in line with the “neutralizing political rivals” part of Markov’s abbreviated explanation. The request was to get signed papers or a personal item that could be directly tied back to Emile Mann – something large enough to be used as evidence. Evidence for what was one of the things I’m not allowed to know, but I suspect that the plan is for something to go poorly for Emile. Dubek gave me a dossier on Emile detailing his daily and monthly routines and led me to a private solarium to read the files, sip the wine, and formulate a plan.

Now don’t get me wrong – Emile Mann is an ass and I’m not particularly fond of him. But having had the King’s roof-crawlers trailing me for the past several weeks and knowing that there’s likely an equivalent dossier on me floating around somewhere made my skin crawl as I read his file.

The files detailed three places where Emile spends most of his time – at home in the family compound, at low court, and at a dawn dueling club. There was a whole section of the dossier detailing the grounds, the house layout and some guard patterns at the estate, although there was a good deal of missing information. Even without that extra information it looked to be a bit of a death-trap to try to break into on short notice. Low court presented some possibilities, but my sudden reappearance coinciding with the disappearance of a possession of Emile’s seemed unworkably conspicuous. Dubek had stressed that open house-to-house warfare was preferable over Emile knowing that I’d stolen something of his. Which left the dueling club on Tilters’ Field, where dozens of highly skilled fighters gather on a brightly lit field.

I realized that I needed to talk it through a bit with another sneaky sort, so I brought it to Alexei, since he’s a cousin and has no fondness for Emile. My only thought as to how to get everyone to look away from where the gear bags are kept long enough for me to snatch and dash would be to orchestrate a distraction. There’s a girl on my floor at the Clubhouse who’s in the dueling club and is both messy and hotheaded, so the plan I put to him was that one of her practice swords could be “accidentally” a lookalike sharpened sword. Bad for whoever she hit with it, but hopefully it wouldn’t be too deadly. I asked if there were any glaring problems or omissions in the plan and his only criticism was that I needed an accomplice for the getaway, which sounded like volunteering to me.

I pinched her practice blade and dressed Alexei up in a pretty good disguise (complete with eyepatch) to go get it sharpened enough to cut. This morning I got up way before dawn so that I could be in position well before any of the duelists got there. I noted where Emile left his bag – right in an uncomfortably open spot, as his dossier had said he usually did. And then waited. It was a few hours, but it seemed like forever before Amy finally used that practice blade. When the blade struck, everyone went over, and I dashed like a bunny in and out, grabbing Emile’s blade and another one from a nearby bag to keep it from looking too targeted. I met Alexei in our arranged meetup spot and he said it didn’t seem like anyone had noticed me.

I concealed and brought in the two blades with me when I came to the Ducal compound this morning, and passed them on to Dubek, noting who the second one came from and that it should be made to go away if possible. He turned that one over to Fayla who seemed to know what to do with it.

They didn’t seem surprised that I strolled in the morning after the assignment with something of Emile’s to turn in. I’m not sure whether to be flattered that they think I’m that good, or worried that I set that as a bar for my future assignments.

The next assignment is to steal a specific manuscript from a lockbox inside the Foamers’ compound. It’s a contract between two ships’ captains – Juan Marco and a pirate known as The Distillian – dated about 2 years ago. It was last known to be in the auditor’s office 11 days ago in a box that holds contracts that are still valid, organized by signer and date. Dubek gave me the guard patterns for the compound and information from specialists brought in for Security. Evidently there’s nothing on the box itself, but the office is trapped. Dubek gave me 2 healing potions and one that makes me immune to electrical zaps for five minutes – apparently that’s a particular fondness of theirs. Looks like it may be an exciting evening.

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Lady C, Seals, Evil Boots, and the Death of Cinnamon

When we last left our heroes, we had just finished fighting some unexpectedly large (physically, not just in stats) skin thieves, one of which had SPROUTED WINGS AND FLOWN OFF, what. Our companion Grantik (sp?) is now full of ovipositors, but fortunately he is able to shake them off with a magic item. Also, Cinnamon’s got some evil boots that she can’t take off that make her breathe fire and be more of an aggressive, violence-prone jerk than usual. Also, around this time, Biron zones out to go hang out with Gelt and butter his toast, but doesn’t explain what happened.

So then we’re off to the Temple of Caillech to talk seals. On our way, we meet Lady C, who is hanging out in a well-appointed pavillion. She pays us the cash she owes us for getting the seal, and gives Torvik the statue he requested, much to his delight. The information Cinnamon requested she doesn’t have, because someone seems to be going to great lengths to prevent her from finding out. We talk a bit about next steps for the seal. I got this part a bit confused, but in order to put it back in place, we need to find someone who will act as sort of a guardian over it; they need to have exceptionally strong will (Torvik and Cinnamon test; not strong enough. Shinko tests, but his brain is too different), and they have to be willing to die to become the guardian. Also, the seal has to be bound with non-divine magic. Fortunately, Lady C is an alchemist.

We proceed on to the temple and chat with Lillian about where we might find a guardian – she suggests the citizen police force we’ve run into a few times. On the way, Torvik ducks into the Vikon clinic to try to make arrangements to get the evil boots off of Cinnamon; it’ll take 3 hours for them to prepare that. Upon seeing Lady C, Lillian seems to recognize her, apparently because she received a divine sign to look for her. Temple staff bring Lady C the seals, and she gets started on working with them. She says she’ll take the seals to her alchemical workshop at the Tea House of the Golden Eye and will send word for us when she’s done (in about 16 hours). Also, Lillian tells us that the temple of Amaya and Aneko might be better for dealing with the evil boots.

We walk back to the Big House. On the way Raisa gets some kind of Sekrit Plot Envelope whose contents are a mystery. At the Big House, Edward the Mage is too drunk to help with the Cinnamon Evil Boots situation, and backup mage Rebecca suggests we throw Cinnamon in the gladiator pit. Cinnamon, who has been jonesing extremely hard for violence, agrees all too easily. Fortunately she rolls crap and gets knocked out. And it’s off to the temple of Amaya and Aneko, where the priestess who helped us before and whose name escapes me agrees to help. Cinnamon punches her; the priestess knocks her the fuck out, and gets the boots off. We rip the boots up and go in search of a forge to destroy the bits, but it turns out that fire may not be the thing to destroy evil boots that make you breathe fire. Meanwhile, Cinnamon gives in to temptation, steals a scrap of the boots, and disappears. Unable to find her, the rest of the group take the remaining boot scraps and chuck them in the river.

Cinnamon runs off to the Gijutsu monastery and begs to see Ivraham. She says she’s done something terrible, she’s not sure she wouldn’t do it again, and she can’t trust herself anymore. Ivraham offers her a choice: “Death or Redemption.” Cinnamon says she doesn’t trust herself to make choices any more, that she can’t do the right thing, and alludes to the boots. Ivraham dismisses that, saying “we fought that, it’s over.” Cinnamon says “but I had a choice, I didn’t have to do this,” and reveals the stolen scrap. Ivraham knocks the wind out of her and the scrap out of her hand. “Death or Redemption?” says Cinnamon. “Yes.” Cinnamon strips off her weapons and kneels. “I’m done doing this. I’m done.” Ivraham’s blade flashes, and it’s the last thing Cinnamon sees.

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Leo's View: a Meteor, a Flying City, a Goddess, an Earthquake, a God, and the Plague

So now that I don’t have the Bubonic Plague anymore, a few notes on what I’ve been up to -

Some wizards attacked Valenci with the flying city of Kemotin. Wait, let me back up. Before that, the Banded Castle created a dropped a motherfucking asteroid on top of the Falling Star headquarters the day after the cult had set half the District on fire. That pretty much took care of them for the moment. Then the next day during the jongleuring festival to select a new Jester, the wizards just decided to drop in. Perhaps their uncloaking the city just after we shivved Seal was a coincidence – you never know. Likely not. Anyway, Byron had an inspiration and guided us through the panicked crowd up to Calleich’s temple. We wanted to be sure the wizards didn’t get the seal being kept there. Long story short – they didn’t get it, a priestess was killed and possessed by Calleich before becoming a Risen, and in the process provided enough Divine Encouragement to Scram for the wizards to leave Valenci for now.

The city took a few weeks to clean up and calm down.

While visiting Calleich’s temple to check in on everyone, Byron was able to track the connection to the ancient seal, so we followed it to a neighborhood several Districts away, where we lost the trail. We went to talk with our buddy Dameon, and in the process found out about an ex-priest of Aisling called the Builder, who it seems likely may be the one with his finger in the proverbial pie regarding the seal and possibly the skin-thieves as well. We visited Bemel’s temple to see about getting a puzzle built that might entice the Builder enough to get him to speak with us. Turns out Bemel had rejected him from her priesthood because he wanted to build things No One Had Built (read: should ever build) rather than building through connection to the materials. We contracted with an Architect to make a puzzle, which she said should take about three weeks.

Did I mention the earthquake? There was an earthquake, didn’t last long, but enough to flatten poorly-built buildings. Byron determined that it was caused by Summoning magic, and through walking a few districts we found that it had seemingly centered in the Government District, the ‘heart of the city’. Yesterday afternoon we stopped by Ebelton to see if they knew anything about the quake. Weirdly, although it was late afternoon, it seemed like they were all asleep – the guy who eventually came out seemed like he’d just woken up. He was bleary until Byron started talking, and then he got all jazzed up. We offered our help in looking underneath the heart of the city if needed. Cinnamon got a look at some of the animals.

On our way out from Ebelton, Cinnamon and I noticed something weird – like the edges of what we could see were parchment. Raisa passed out trying to look at us, then Byron I guess tried to grab a piece of what he could see and passed out too. I tried to wake them up and was about to pour some whiskey down their throats to see if it’d help, when I found myself with them in a big library. This wizened old guy reached out into nothing and plucked Cinnamon into the room. That’s how we met Gelt.

He was true to random form, so I won’t record all the ins and outs of our exact conversations. He said we were in over our heads and needed promotions, though the titles we got didn’t seem too useful. He gave us each a fortune-cookie declaration – mine was “all is not always as it seems,” then seemed to get bored of that and turned briefly serious, saying “Look, Macha’s coming back.” And then booted us back to our own reality with no goodbye except to pop back out a moment later to return Cinnamon the spoon she’d been using to eat the ice cream he’d procured from behind his beard. Oh, Gelt.

We were explaining this little adventure to Tory and Torvik as we continued down the hill to get some food when we heard horses behind us. Cinnamon (wise girl) vanished into the trees right away. The rest of us stepped off the road to let them pass, but saw as they got closer that it was Ivan, Feodor, and goon squad. They might not have noticed us, but then Torvik had to get all fancy and salute them. I swore to myself I wouldn’t say a thing, not a thing not a thing. It looked again like we might just get by with polite nods and tight smiles, but then Ivan stopped his horse, dismounted, and came over to me, barely blinking as he stared at me the whole time.

“Cousin. It’s good to see you well” he said. Translation: why haven’t you died in a fire yet for my amusement. I realized I wasn’t going to get away with my say-nothing plan, so tried a minimalist approach. “And you.” Translation: Go die in a fire yourself. “Say hello to Brother for us” he said Translation: go home, little Leo, and remind Vassily, in case he’s forgotten his psychotic asshole brothers, that we miss having him to kick around at will, and will instead menace him from afar. “I will.” And though I will pass on their greeting to Vassily, my inner voice was saying “up yours”. Ever so cordially, of course.

They departed, thankfully, before I lost control and said something mouthy to him. They were trouble enough before last month’s episode of the Duke publicly reversing their destroy-Leo’s-family foibles. Much as it would delight me to pour some lemon juice on their fresh paper cuts, I’m smart enough to have learned the lesson – admittedly through repeated administration – that it’s a bad idea to challenge their ingenuity. The trouble comes when my mouth thinks it’s smarter than my head.

We carried on to the bottom of the hill, and since I was ravenous I got us to stop in for a first dinner in the Government District on the way to the Big House. While we were there I stashed some rolls in my satchel to tide me over until we got to sandwiches at the House. On the way out, we stopped for a minute to look at the repairs they’ve started on the main plaza, and Raisa noticed some shadowy figures lurking down an alley. Strange for the Government District. I watched out of the corner of my eye and saw what looked like two little kids back there. A fellow walking his wolfhounds nearly got toppled as the dogs tried to pull him away from the alley, which was decidedly odd. The fellow seemed to have a cough, which didn’t seem significant at the time, but in hindsight is bad news.

We decided to send Cinnamon up onto the rooftops while I snuck down the alley to see what I could see. What I saw was an emaciated child, except its eyes were completely black. I offered to give it one of my rolls, and bowled the roll toward it. It ignored the roll and ran at me instead, just until its shadow hit me, then veered off to the side. I felt massively ill for a moment – and then most of it faded and I just felt moderately unwell. I retreated from the alley to have Raisa check me out, and she determined that I was halfway healed from the Bubonic Plague. (Yeah, I thought that was weird too).

A rat raced terrified out of the alley, and Cinnamon drew this amazing knife I’d never seen her use before. It seemed to confuse her for a moment, but then she decided that her instincts were telling her to use the knife, so she went back into the alley as Byron called “SALT!” after her. Two of the kids opened window shutters to create a light while a third darted at her enough to catch her in its shadow. She fell over immediately with a full-on case of the plague, but she caught one of the little things and ground salt into it as it tried to vanish. It seemed somewhat effective – the salted part stayed behind when the rest of it turned to mist. All three of us rushed in to help her – both Raisa and Byron were hit with mild versions as well. (I think Tory and Torvik were still watching the plaza paving a distance away). We debated whether to tell the Watch about the child-creatures, and Cinnamon suddenly realized (?) that she could cure herself. She started running, and by the time she got back to us looked like the picture of health. None of us – Cinnamon included – knew what the hell to make of that, so we kind of glossed over it in the moment, but man, was that bizarre yet awesome. We decided it would be best to notify Vikon’s priests of what was happening rather than try to engage directly with the Watch. Cinnamon ran on ahead to warn them, and so they had two high-level priests waiting when we arrived . They quarantined us for the night, but all three of us feel better this morning and have received clean bills of health.

So that-all’s been exciting, and I’m off for a beer.

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Leo's View: OH GOD OH GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE
...thoughts floating through Leo’s brain as he runs toward the flying city...

Hellofaday noonishknocking. Lydia.

Ham.

Lifebringer returned wrong halfalady in a washtub spitinabucket help bring her back wentto her temple kicked statues hookmissing blue phials her blessings ship going out for a patrol had another — blueinthebucket helped her gnome making lifebringersoup but elementalfire – block soul’s return to goddess kill her soul but allthebluephials helped she’s better gooddeeddone.

RunningRunningDodgingPeople

WenttoOtik BigHouse — Harrik gone (needtocheckdate for Elowyn) (if alive tomorrow, fuck) Ivraham message for Torvik – Destiny calling return to — alley — found a crossbow bolt — priests&necromancers maybe make a cure to poison crap haven’t visited Alexei should also do that priority one stay alive visit Alexi eatPastries drink&celebrate life. PleaseMariusiSwear.

RunningKeepRunningRunning

Government District jongleuring startof competition for new jester festivallike cleanerandsaferthan Otik (lacks familiar squalid authenticity). Damon random scholarguy then Firedancer – one of Ssama’s horses — bad timing given firecult Harrik displeased.

Funnel cake.

Seal – burned oldwounds that hostel exploded back when we were meeting Katja wonder how she is. Seal still an overblown smarmy prancing asshole. Shivved him with Cinnamon not terribly effective but damn itwas satisfying. He turned into a bat then whatthefuck this fucking FLYING CITY uncloaked practically on top of Valenci. Kemotin, people are screaming. Byron started pulling us through the crowd toward the Graveyard district. Runningnow

City above dropping glowing pods – pods opening into pieced-together monsters.

Banded Castle, Zeppelin, Devlin’s Castle – coming in. Banded castle notetoselfifalivetomorrow lookinto what BandedCastle’s been uptorecently workingfor the crown Direct military like Lenna is crown worried about army? Banded castle guys with meteor yesterday Kemotin today either a rough week or having an awesome time. Suspectthelatter. Ride coattails to Calleich’s temple… which is engulfed in flames. Dead necromancers everywhere.

Running.

The city is coming closer.

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Byron's View: In which Our Heroes fail to manage time effectively

It all began when we split up. My brother and the Lady Westerlyn went to the temple of Aeodyn, while I, the Lady Cinnamon, Torvik, and Raisa headed to visit an acquaintance of the lady’s, both groups in order to obtain information regarding a fire spirit. Our conversation eventually devolved into some tedious discussion of the finer points of my sister’s religious calling, but we managed to escape with little actual information. Though we did manage to extract a promise of assistance from Lady Cinnamon’s acquaintance.

Once we rendezvoused back at the appointed location(the Big House) we exchanged our lack of information for information that the other group had managed to obtain. At this point the proprietor of said establisment, Harrick, called upon us, and asked us to attend a performance of some illusionist and provide an evaluation of his performance. This seemed like a not too onerous task, as long as it didn’t interfere with our other more pressing obligations involving the fire cult. He pulled the ladies Cinnamon and Westerlyn aside, and asked them something in private at this point, which we later learned was to assassinate the performer.

When the ladies returned they asked us to go across the street to get food where we were informed of his bizarre request, and his increasingly disturbed manner. Raisa determined from her observations that he was not under the influence of any normal drug, and we determined that we would have to render him unconscious and take him to a temple soon. There was some of the inevitable waffling, but the majority decided that now was the time to act. So we struck wile the dwarf-like man was hot. er. Iron. iron was hot, as it were.

So, a plan was formed and executed and he was transported across the districts in a potato sack, to an appropriate temple, where we arranged for him to be uncursed. He was confused upon awakening, but grateful. His organization picked up the tab for the uncursing, and we brought him back to the Big house, where upon re-entering a portion of the curse immediately reasserted itself. I advised that they should have their mage check out the man’s quarters for any enchantments before he went to sleep there, which he hadn’t done for a week. or two. There was some sort of enchanted vial there which seemed to be the source of the problem and upon its destruction all became a bit better.

At this point we headed out for the warhouse district. Warehouse district. Probably too late. More fires await. more death. nine o’clock and all is not well.

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Leo’s View: Daiquiris are Preferable to Death Cults

Okay, first off, note to self: never let Byron go to Court. Ever. He’s way too jolly and proud of the “medal” the Sickers made for him. I didn’t jump through all those hoops to drag our family out of the gutter only to have Byron show up at Court looking like he’s gone rolling in a garbage heap.

Other news: the Golden Eye is a front for people who are Actually Useful, not just love potion apothecaries. The lovely lady C works for them, as it turns out. Who knew?

So, there’s this fire cult of people calling themselves Falling Star who wear stars on their chest. Apparently they want the world to end in flames – strange motivation if you ask me, but they didn’t. They think a star fell and landed on that warehouse a couple of weeks ago, and desire all things to be destroyed in fire, shouting encouraging things like “the end is near!” Awfully well-organized for all that the warehouse only burned pretty recently. Byron et al apparently had a run-in them last week involving that pesky seal we’d been looking for – turns out they found it with the cultists.

Anyway, apparently the number 18 is important to the Falling Star folks. Problematically, they seem to be doing some sort of overarching ritual that requires them to kill 18 people, each of whom are taken from a house on a street corner 18 blocks from their headquarters at that blown-out warehouse. They pour wax over them and burn them alive, in an apparently ill-conceived attempt to re-create a skeleton-like construct that Byron says wasn’t ever actually a construct to begin with. (They found the seal in the thing’s chest cavity, by the by. Like you do.)

So, since 12 or so people had been killed over the past several nights, the plan last night was to save people in the remaining houses 18 blocks from the warehouse, and to prevent the fire cult people from achieving their goal of 18 kills. We went to the temple of Amaya and Aneko in Balsam District, and convinced one of the priestesses to come with us to the houses on those corners and try to convince the folks there to vacate for their lives. Since most folks near the water pay honor to Amaya and Aneko, she gave us a bit more authority than five random folks showing up on their doorsteps waving money around – instead, it was five random folks and a priestess. Much better. We spent most of the day going from block to block trying to explain the situation.

In the evening, Raisa and I went with Tory to answer a note she’d gotten from Amele – the guy who sells that awesome unidentified meat on a stick. Used to sell. His house’s windows were smashed, and there was a scorch mark on the ground that looked like a person on fire had been writhing around. The neighbor next door – a weird lizard-like man – said that Amele’s daughter had been taken the night before. Once we found Amele he refused to believe that his daughter might be dead, and was ready to go try to get her back. When we tried to gently reinforce that she probably isn’t alive anymore he went back inside and locked us out, which we were about to take as dismissal until we realized that the Falling Star cultists might come back to sites of previous kills if we successfully prevented them from finding people at new locations. We managed to convince Amele to come with us to try to prevent more people from losing loved ones. He dressed up mightily in pots and pans and things, but as it turns out he was pretty effective with those meat skewers.

There were a few blocks we hadn’t had a chance to get to by nightfall, so we (and some hired muscle) spread out between the blocks. Shortly, a number of snakes of people bearing torches started coming from the warehouse, one of which was coming right to the area we were in. Idiodically, we fell for it. Only when I heard a strangled cry behind us did I realize that the torchbearers were a distraction while the higher-level cultists went elsewhere for their kills. We didn’t manage to save… the person – I don’t even know if it was a him or a her. We shot up a number of the cultists, but they got away. Going back to the fight with the torches – did I mention that the snake of torchbearers was led by a glowy animated skeleton? I think I forgot to mention that. Anyway, the fight was just finishing up, and the skeleton was just standing there. Someone hit it on the head, and flame gouted out from the hole in its skull, but it still just stood there. I think it was around this time that Byron mentioned his idea that the cultists might be trying to re-create something that hadn’t really ever existed.

We captured one of the torch-bearers alive and questioned him. He seemed to be pretty low-level, and kept saying that he just did what he was told… including pulling people out of a building to be killed. He didn’t have much useful to say beyond spouting catchphrases and cult propaganda. While everyone was debating appropriate awful punishments for him, he kept on making these awful whining noises, and being tired and cranky, I just put an end to the noises and the debate.

It was an impulse. I discovered that killing someone who’s unarmed feels gross, like stepping on a bug with your bare feet. Would I do it again in the same situation? Yeah, no doubt. He deserved it.

We heard later that Falling Star had made some more successful kills – not their full eighteen I don’t think, but one more night like last night and they probably will.

On the to-do list: Thwart Falling Star. Visit Alexei and Torvik. Check in on Nid. See what Anton’s up to.

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