Saturday, July 30, 2011

Flip a Coin

Wir, Rhaan 25, 998 YK (Day 67).

Tam'elanath arrives at last in Fairhaven, and the Eclipse Collective meets him near the eastern gates of the city. Zil'dejin and Elyas are not with them; the former is in the midst of a grief-fueled drinking binge, and the latter is studying with the priests of Aureon at the Temple of Wonder, taking advantage of the ritual training offered by special permission through the Arcane Congress. On arrival, Tam'elanath reports the ritual he saw taking place in the Starpeaks Observatory after the party left, and declares that he believes Lucan to be beyond saving by now. He begins walking with the party to the lightning rail, when their path is crossed by an unusual looking individual.

His skin is blue in color, and his hair is sharp and almost translucent, resembling ice. Light aqua lines run throughout his skin. None of the group recognize his race, but there is certainly something magical about his appearance. He introduces himself as Zan-kyri, an artificer who has been studying his craft in the sprawling Cannith West enclave just on the outskirts of the city. This branch of Cannith has a focus on unusual plants and druidic artifacts from the Eldeen Reaches, but like any branch, also has a strong emphasis on artifice. His encounter with the party is merely a stroke of luck; he has heard some local rumors about their recent exploits, and this combined with his fascination with warforged draws him towards the Collective. He says that he is heading for the Eldeen Reaches as well (possibly due to his recent studies with Cannith West), and asks to join them in their travels. He offers his services as an artificer in and out of combat as an incentive, and the party gladly accepts him.

After this discussion, a nearby elven street performer finishes a monologue, takes a collection, and then approaches the Collective. He tells them that he is Lenathis d'Phiarlan, and that his House has been watching Tam'elanath since his arrival in Lakeside. House Phiarlan regarded him as insignificant until recently, when his value became apparent, and not wanting to lose an outsider with the Mark of Shadow, extends an offer of membership with one condition: he must complete a trial. Tam'elanath quickly agrees, as he has wanted to be a member of a Dragonmarked House his entire life. The trial involves Imre Levalle, the dwarven Curator of Acquisitions for the Wayfinder Foundation in Fairhaven. The Wayfinder Foundation is a group that conducts expeditions for the retrieval of artifacts and relics and the slaying of monsters, and is well-known among adventurers. Phiarlan has a spy in Imre's ranks, but he is out of Aundair on an expedition, and House Thuranni (another Dragonmarked House of Shadow and Phiarlan's rival) is going to attempt an assassination on Levalle. Tam'elanath is asked to stop it. He is given twenty four hours, and the location where the assassin is believed to be: a taphouse called the Gray Cat in the Golden Chalice district.

The party goes there at once, but before they even get inside, they are approached by an elven woman dressed in leather armor with a clear Mark of Shadow on her chest. She is Eralia d'Thuranni, the one to whom the assassination contract currently belongs. House Thuranni also wants Tam'elanath in their ranks, if only because Phiarlan wants him as well. She offers him membership if he takes care of the assassination instead. Feeling cornered, he agrees to this as well, and Eralia tells him to break into the Wayfinder Foundation headquarters at night and kill Imre in his office, where he will be unprotected. Tam'elanath discusses this with his party. Stahlstrauss strongly disagrees with the notion of murder, but for now, Tam'elanath considers it justifiable based on his own moral code. All but Stahlstrauss agree to go along with it. He leaves briefly to visit the House Jorasco hospice in the city in hopes of removing his curse, but the healers there tell him they cannot remove it. The only way to remove the curse is to be granted clemency by a fire archon, or another natural spirit of fire. He leaves dejectedly, and rejoins with the others.

The group goes to the Wayfinder Foundation headquarters a few hours later. It is now night. Stahlstrauss remains outside while the other four approach. The building is two stories, with windows on the second floor but not the first. Zan-kyri attempts to scale the walls, but falls and injures himself. Eshunu scatters as scarabs to look for a safe route in, but finds no alternative to the front door, which Garmeth then picks open. Tam'elanath is more successful in finding a different way in, and locates a somewhat-hidden door at the back apparently intended for use by Wayfinder Foundation officials. By a stroke of luck, it is unlocked.

He and Eshunu enter the back door, while Garmeth is followed by Zan-kyri through the front door. Unsurprisingly, the front door to the primary museum area where the Foundation's most precious artifacts are displayed is very well guarded by a large group of mercenary protectors who quickly advance on Garmeth and Zan-kyri. Eshunu, meanwhile, is nearly caught at the back entrance, and is forced to sneak outside to avoid being caught. Tam'elanath successfully sneaks into the building, and locates Imre's office.

Garmeth and Zan-kyri try to run from the building. Garmeth gets away, returning to Eshunu and Stahlstrauss outside, but Zan-kyri is captured by the guards who bind him and drag him further into the building. Eshunu informs Garmeth of the back entrance, and he uses this to sneak inside while Stahlstrauss tries to kick the front door down. He fails, but the commotion draws most of the guards away from Zan-kyri, leaving only one behind to protect him. Garmeth attacks this solitary mercenary and beats him nearly to unconsciousness, and the guard runs away. At this point Garmeth frees Zan-kyri and they leave the complex.

Imre is not in his office, but Tam'elanath sets a trap for him using poisoned arrow heads rigged on his chair. He also discovers a notebook of some kind, but it is written in dwarven. He searches for a dwarven guard that is separate from the main group, and finds one smoking a cigarette on a balcony. Tam'elanath sneaks up to him and springs at him with his greatbow strung and an arrow nocked, and threatens the dwarf's life if he does not translate. The dwarf decides quickly he is not paid enough for this, and translates the last entry in the notebook as asked by Tam'elanath. It mentions an abandoned manor and a crown that is "finally going to be worn." Further back, there is also a map to the manor.

Imre Levalle

Tam'elanath rejoins the others and they follow the map to the manor house, which is indeed abandoned and mostly boarded up. There is a cellar door on which the boards have been removed. Stahlstrauss decides to try and break it with a flying shoulder slam (?), and while he breaks the frail wooden doors the unusual maneuver sends him crashing down the stairs. Imre is at the bottom, holding a stone crown, and startled, he puts it on his head, pauses for just a second, and flees through a hole in the wall.

Stahlstrauss pursues, and the rest of the party is behind him. They find themselves in an abandoned sewer tunnel with a great door at the far end, guarded by a group of troglodytes screeching in draconic. They spring a trap of pendulum-like blades that attack Stahlstrauss and Zan-kyri, but fortunately do not cut anybody else for the remainder of the battle. The troglodytes are quickly dispatched, and realizing that Imre may be fleeing, they do not rest and push through the doors at the end. These doors are made of stone, and though the engravings on them have been eroded by time, they are identified by the party as Dhakaani (the ancient goblin empire) in origin, apparently depicting a war against aberrations and later some kind of alliance with them.

Inside, they find themselves in a ruin of a very large and old temple, with two stone altars and great pillars. Imre stands wearing the crown, and behind him, a purple dragon. Imre says that this dragon, named Vthrol, is his "new possession" because of the crown. He tells the party to leave at once, or they will be killed. The party stays, so Imre and Vthrol attack.

The fight is among the most challenging of the Eclipse Collective's career to this point due to the power of the purple dragon to cloud the minds of the party. Garmeth is quickly struck down by Imre, who then advances on Eshunu. Stahlstrauss is immediately dominated by Vthrol's gaze, and begins attacking his allies. Everyone else is intermittently mesmerized, save for Tam'elanath who unleashes a series of powerful attacks before being cut down by the dragon. In a very short amount of time, only Zan-kyri and the hypnotized Stahlstrauss still stand. Garmeth and Eshunu have the life pass from their bodies again; Garmeth stops breathing, and Eshunu shatters. Tam'elanath is rejuvenated, but only to be manipulated into attacking his allies at range. The door is sealed in one direction by magic connected to the crown, preventing Zan-kyri's escape. Things look dire.

Just when it seems there is no hope, the doors open once again as Zil'dejin charges through, only mildly inebriated. He does not know what is going on, but Imre's gloating and Zan-kyri's urging indicates to him that the crown the dwarf wears is the threat. Zil'dejin grabs the Wayfinder trustee and forces the crown off his head, then quickly decides to put it on himself. The true nature of the crown is then revealed: it does not control Vthrol, but rather affords the dragon control of the wearer. Seeing this, Zan-kyri quickly removes the crown from Zil'dejin and casts it aside. They then attack the dragon.

The fight is difficult, and even as Stahlstrauss breaks out of his trance it seems they might still fail. Vthrol, slightly wounded, offers the party a chance at leaving intact. He will break the domination on everyone and allow them to leave in exchange for his own retreat, and Garmeth's body, which he wants for an "associate who would be very interested in an Order of Labyrinths monk." After much deliberation on the matter, the party decides they will not surrender Garmeth.

Vthrol flees anyway, mesmerizing anybody in his path to prevent them from attacking him on his way, and disappears into some dark chamber behind a tapestry in the temple. He leaves Garmeth's body behind. Tam'elanath explains why he has come to Imre, but states he has decided to go with House Phiarlan and gives him some simple instructions to avoid the assassination in the near future. Imre is grateful for the party's help, and rewards Tam'elanath with a set of magic dice he found in the manor.

They then part ways, and Tam'elanath meets with Lenathis d'Phiarlan once again. He tells the story of what has happened, and Lenathis asks if he will stay one day to learn some elementary aspects of espionage in House Phiarlan in exchange for a free trip on the lightning rail for the whole group to Passage, their next destination on the journey to Greenheart. Tam'elanath accepts.

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