May 24 2008

Chapter 15

Jeremy @ 11:10 am

Berrak wanders into the seedier parts of the city   The Slide, leaving the middle and upper classes to their own devices.  He makes contact within a few hours at a seedy pub known simply as  The Arms .  He makes inquiries on a number of subjects   The Prince, the Church, Ulrich McMannus and where to obtain some superior weapons.

The Thieves Guild has recently fallen on difficult times.  The Church has their own set of Paladins in addition to the city guard and they are not reticent about venturing into The Slide at night, grabbing and interrogating members from the street who were simply going about their business.  They use magical means of interrogation and many thieves have recently been executed.

The Thieves Guild needs to make a point and the arrival of Berrak is perfect.  An outsider is the best idea, especially as most of the more important Guild members are under close watch.

Lord Unter has recently been voted onto the City Council and has been vehemently vocalizing his hatred of the Thieves Guild   calling them  a blight on this good city .  Lord Unter needs to be taught a lesson.  Violence is not the answer in this case, Lord Unter is too well guarded and has close ties with the currently ruling Yaarthrakian Church and it would only bring more trouble.  The Thieves Guild has need of money and Lord Unter has much of it.  One of his most prized possessions is a necklace he bought for his wife called the Jewel of U-Lyshak.  Worth a staggering amount, the Guild has plans to fence it in Haalkitaine.  The only teensy-weensy problem is that the necklace is so heavily guarded that two thieves have already perished trying to obtain the necklace from Lord Unter s house.

However, the Thieves Guild has discovered that the necklace will be on display around the neck of his mistress, the Lady Unter is currently holidaying in Lethys.  The mistress  name is Sonjia Kitaarn, a beautiful creature who has been the consort of the Lord Unter for nearly a year now.  She approached the guild recently with a proposal   get her away from the city, with her small, amassed fortune and she would deliver the necklace at her benefactor s Spring Ball.  You must find her and ask her to dance between the fifth and sixth songs for the evening.  Use the phrase    Milady, thou art the brightest of the stars tonight, may I have the pleasure of this dance.   To which she should reply,  Sir, thou dost flatter me, but I would be honoured.
As for Ulrich McMannus, the guild has heard nothing, but there is a ship tied up in the harbour whose Captain knows the mercenary troupe   Hess  Heroes.  His name is Amos Feistie and he has been drinking at another tavern in The Slide called Port of Call   a popular sailors pub down near the docks.

Berrak tells him what he has discovered; Ulrich enters the Port of Call that evening and asks at the bar for Amos.  The barman scowls and points towards the rear of the smoky pub.  Ulrich wanders through the tables casting his gaze around.  When Berrak told him that this was a popular sailors pub he expected to find ships crews here, enjoying shore leave.  The Port of Call seemed to be a gathering place for some of the roughest elements of Cynar s lowlife population.  Young and middle-aged women called out to him, voices husky with well-practiced lust, only their eyes betraying their desperation and fear, knowing that their next client could be their last   their throat slashed in an alley somewhere.

Finally he sees an enormous man sitting at a back table, a giant-sized pot of ale gripped firmly in one hand.  He is frowning at Ulrich and then his eyes widen in recognition and he climbs, unsteadily to his feet.

Well, the gods be-damned   it s Ulrich McMannus!   He steps forward and envelops Ulrich in a massive bear hug.   It s good to see you Ulrich, have a drink why don t you?

As the two catch up, Amos reveals a sorry tale of woe.  Since he retired from the military game he has fallen on hard times.  Shipping goods and cargo was difficult work and sooo boring!  He had been spending a large amount of time in Cynar trying to break into the monopoly that the merchant s guild held here.  His bad habits had caught up with him, gambling debts had begun to mount and now his ship had been impounded by an evil bastard known as Mr. Darner.

He owed Darner almost 100 gold pieces, fifty of which was interest.

And this was where he needed Ulrich s help.  Would he deliver the fifty gold Amos had managed to raise and  lean on  Darner to get him to forget the interest and get his ship free?

Darner will be at Lord Unter s ball tomorrow evening and Amos had arranged for an invite.  He pulls it from a pocket, the envelope creased and stained.
Darner enjoys mixing with the upper classes, a hell of a lot of them owe him money, presumably he thought it would be amusing to have a crusty old sea-dog like me make a fool of himself in front of high-society.  But you always had a way with words and I know Hess taught you your manners and mores.  Would you do this little thing for me?

Lysar wanders the city; it is much larger and more cosmopolitan that Norek and reminds her of Lethys in many ways.  She wanders through the Temple District   The Street of the Gods and sees much that tells her that things are changing here in the city.  There used to be a temple to almost every god in the Jamain pantheon, but now many of them are boarded up and Yaarthrakian guards, dressed in the sea-green surcoat of Yaarth stand before the gates of these temples.  There are still many operating temples, but by far the most popular is that of Yaarthrak itself, with a constant stream of people moving in and out of the temple.  There are people from all walks of life   trades, poor, middle and upper-classes.  After a while Lysar realized that the business of government was being performed within it s walls, rather than in the palace.

Eventually though she wanders to the end of the street and finds a beautiful temple dedicated to Iloura.  Behind the temple itself is an enormous forest   right in the heart of the city.  Young lovers wander the park and people are picnicking on the grass.  The temple seems to merge with the park itself and as she wanders around it, Lysar can see that the temple extends into the forest without walls.  A beautifully tended garden merges into the park itself, blurring the lines between temple and nature.  Lysar smiles approvingly and enters the temple.

She spends the entire day praying to Iloura and then wanders the park, which she discovers is called Huluth Park and is known as the Dragon s Back.  Inside she spies much to wonder about   a giant shrub maze and hundreds of species of flora from all over Jamian even including a handful of Miran, which as far as she knows is the only place outside the Remirath that the tree can be found.  Once again her thoughts are drawn to the Forest Cane and it s powers.

She sits on the grass, with a small lunch and takes out the cane and cross-legged she lays it across her knees, examining the wood for the hundredth time, trying to probe it s secrets.

Later

Lysar wanders the streets of Greystone, an extremely busy area of Cynar with a great number of residences and more than a few stores.  She comes across a small herb store   Flora s Bounty and enters the door, hoping to learn more about the case that Zaris has given her.

An old couple behind the counter smiles as she enters and she smiles back, feeling instantly comfortable as the smell of hundreds of herbs fills her nostrils.  She notes their Elven descent and asks them a few questions about herbs which they are happy to answer.  Then she wanders the store for a half hour, reading the labels carefully trying to mesh what Asheren had been sharing with her.  She does not hear the door to the store open, but a draft upon her legs tells her that it has.  The old couple share a greeting with someone and she hears a familiar voice greet them in return in perfect Erlin.

Lionar!

After catching her breath she whirls to find Lionar standing, dressed not in his customary forest garb, but in fine nobleman s dress.  She feels a little embarrassed about the current state of her clothing, but Lionar s easy conversation soon puts her at ease.

Ah, it is good to see you well, Lysar.  I am here in the city on business, but it would please me if you could assist me in making it more pleasurable.  I have been invited to Lord Unter s ball tomorrow evening and an old man like me can find no partner.  Would you accompany me?
The old couple put the urn on the fire and makes a pot of tisane, while Lionar explains that the business he is here for requires some stealth and would she be able to assist?  Although the invitation came from Lord Unter, he suspects that someone else suggested it.  He would like Lysar to eavesdrop at the ball and search for any interesting information.  Of particular interest is the High Priest of Yaarth, Cynar s current regent who will be attending.

Vryce is studying at the library, one of the assistants interrupts him.

Excuse me sir, but there is a young lad at the front desk who claims he has a message for you.  Will you see him?

Vryce nods, his concentration broken anyway.   I ll be there directly.

The message itself is a small hand-written letter from Hass, his father s lawyer.  He requests that he meet with him at Lord Unter s ball this evening and encloses two invites to that effect.  He has some important documents for Vryce to sign, and Lord Unter has graciously given over a room at his mansion for half an hour for that purpose.  Lord Unter is an ally of Vryce s father, and recommends that Vryce be on his best behaviour.  He has enclosed a second invite if Vryce wishes to bring a companion.  He also advises that he is staying in an apartment in the Melbourne district and is leaving on the morrow, if Vryce is unable to make it, he will be available first thing in the morning.

Also enclosed is a small credit note at a tailor in Melbourne where Vryce may purchase some clothing suitable for a ball on this grand scale.

The characters all visit one of the best tailors in town (on Vryce’s fathers credit account) and rack up an 82 gp bill on various tailor-made outfits.  (Don’t they look lovely :)

Vryce looks into the necklace and even finds a picture.  He describes it quickly to the others and all agree it must be worth over two thousand gold pieces.

After an hour and a half of careful planning, Berrak arrives at the ball and scouts the area.  Plans are heavily revised.

Ulrich, Vryce and Ash arrive at the ball, Ulrich testing the limits of the peace bond on his sword without getting into too much trouble.

Sledmere House

Sledmere House

Berrak mimics an upper-class Cynarian perfectly and is soon attracting a crowd of fawners wanting to know where he is from and where his estates are held, etc.  He loves the attention :)  He manages to get out into the private garden and spies a spot in the garden where he can hide if necessary.  Also a section of wall where a rope could possibly be thrown over if need be.

Vryce meets with Haas and signs the documentation (without really reading it, since he has no legal skills).  His father’s lawyer explains that Emperor Jerrin’s war effort is taxing the nobles beyond belief and his father is transferring 45% of his assets to Vryce who is no longer a resident of Rhakhaan and consequently not subject to tax.

Ulrich meets with the mob boss and dupes him into thinking that he has a smuggling plan for him.  In return the mob boss agrees to forgive half the debt and takes the 50gp from Ulrich.

Berrak pushes the limits of his upper-class impersonating and ends up ‘goosing’ the wife of a wealthy noble.  When the noble confronts him and calls for the guards, Berrak panics and lapses back into the gutter street-talk that is his normal mode.  The noble calls him an impersonator and a ruffian and has him ejected from the ball.  Berrak tries to defend his besmirched honour.

“Wotcha mean, guv?  I’m a real klassy bloke.”

Ash follows him and asks the guards to excuse his friend (thereby incriminating himself ;)  The guards say fine – just don’t come back.  Ash realises he may have done the wrong thing, getting himself banned from the ball.

Ulrich exits the ball as time is now ticking away (they have to ask the necklace wearer to dance between the fifth and sixth dances.)  On his way out he sees Lysar and Lionar walking down the driveway – looking like the perfect couple.  Lysar is stunningly beautiful and Ulrich wipes the drool away and gives them a surreptitious nod.  He finally tracks Ash and Berrak down (they are by the garden wall) and retrieves the gloves and pass-phrase.

Returning to the ball, he hands the gloves and pass phrase to Vryce who wanders over to Lord Unter and his ‘niece’ and is about to ask her to dance when the Lord Unter takes a very big interest in him.  Lord Unter is a fat bastard but is also one of the wealthiest men in Cynar.  Vryce finds it difficult to get a word in – time is ticking by and he hears the band strike the first notes of the sixth song.  He finally interrupts and speaks the
pass-phrase “Thou art the loveliest of the stars tonight, would you give me the pleasure of this dance?”  to which she replies “Sir thou dost flatter me, but I accept.”

He intimates the new plan to her as they walk out onto the dance floor.  She does not seem very impressed by the idea.

Vryce moves smoothly onto the dance floor and using the dancing gloves he gives a command performance of “The Robot”.  Sonjia (the necklace lady) is incredibly embarrassed as she has never got past the moonwalk.

Berrak and Asheren meanwhile, down the side of the house, hear thundering hooves approaching and press against the wall, trying to keep  perpendicular profiles.

An enormous carriage, capable of carrying say six armed guards and an evil mage, comes charging from the gates of the city.

“I’ll wager it’s Lady Unter returned early from her holidays.  This might turn into the Carry-On-Ball yet!” thinks Berrak quietly cursing her timing.

Inside the hall the seventh song is about to begin when a tall woman steps from one of the back rooms, climbing the stairs to the platform atop the aquarium.

She begins to sing, a beautiful and melodious tune.  Music the like of which many never hear.  She is dressed from head to toe in an aqua dress, which blends perfectly with her skin which is also blue in colour.

Asheren understates it perfectly by saying it reminds him of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.  (Damn TV!  Ruined my imagination ;)

Suddenly the doors burst open and a figure leaps from the doorway to the platform, cloak rippling with the speed of the twenty foot leap.

The man lands behind the singer and pushes her down, she falls hard onto the dance floor her delicate frame crashing into the black and white tiles.  The entire hall is looking at the intruder, horrified and frozen.

The man is of average height and wears a black cloak, swirled through with green.  His brown hair is cropped short at the sides, a pony-tail bound with a wooden clasp hangs outside the cloak.  The man’s pallid skin speaks of a life indoors but the way he moves is smooth and unhurried.

The cloak is bound by a green belt and shoved through it is an iron rod about one foot in length, a red gem winks at it’s top.  In his left hand he carries a long staff, set on top with a crystal.

People begin to react and run for the doors, guards surround Lord Unter and his mistress and Ulrich stays with them.  With the same unhurried movements the figure twirls the staff in front of him and brings it, point down, onto the glass aquarium.

The intruder breaks the aquarium

There is a crack and three holes about eight inches wide appear one on each side facing the hall, water jets out of them.  Seamlessly the jets seem to thicken, writhe and slow.  As they almost touch the floor they suddenly rear up in unison.  The ends become the heads of serpents and as they sweep across the crowd they emit clouds of steam – hissing.  They seem to be searching for something.

Asheren is sick of inaction and casting a spell to change his size he vaults over the wall, landing in the garden courtyard, now crowded with people.  He shoulders his way to the doorway and takes stock of the situation.  It is less than sixty feet from him to the girl.  He sees Ulrich standing close by her, Lysar is still up near the front doors, behind the figure while Vryce is taking cover among the tables.  Ash summons reserves of power and wills himself around the edge of the dance-floor, out of range of the serpent triad.

Lysar is panicked.  Her eyes search the crowd, looking for Lionar and she finally sees him standing by the stairs.  He is almost alone, a young couple are even now edging towards the garden doorway.  Lionar is poised, ready for action.  He looks straight at Lysar and motions for her to get over to the stairs.  He looks more than a bit worried.  She begins to move, keeping close to the wall.

As Asheren casts his spell the guard from the stairs charges forward, ducking the first serpent, trying to reach the aquarium.  Another serpent streaks from the right hand side, moving at incredible speed and hits him full in the chest.  His clothes catch on fire, but this is the least of his worries as he is propelled backwards thirty feet and lands with a crunching of vertebrae back on the stairs.

Asheren uses this distraction well, he begins his run, whipping across the floor at incredible speed.  It is Ulrich and Vryce that see the serpent move.  It shoots forward, extending itself, the water level in the aquarium dropping rapidly.  But Ash is moving too fast and it crashes harmlessly into a table and chairs, sending them flying.

Now he knows what he must do, he casts a spell even as the serpent gathers itself for another strike.  This time though he tries to duplicate the spell in his head, trying not to just transport himself, but also the young woman out of there.  Everything clicks and Asheren feels a surge of elation, the spell reaches out and grabs Sonjia and himself and they disappear, only to reappear at the wall of the garden.

Vryce notices that this does not seem to faze the mage one bit he is still searching.  Now he seems to find what he is looking for and Vryce follows his gaze.

Lysar has almost reached Lionar now and with her back to the mage she does not see the serpent draw itself back, thickening and solidifying.  Just as she reaches Lionar his eyes go wide and he says “Look to the staff, Lysar, the staff!”

Lysar looks into his eyes and sees the water-serpent attack in the reflection.  She ducks smoothly and surely, trying to drag Lionar down with her, but he seems frozen.  Right before the serpent hits him he shouts a word “Nomikos!”

Time seems to slow and her minds eye pans around him as the snake crashes into his chest.  She sees his ribcage compress, sees the head of the snake fold in on itself, releasing a cloud of red hot steam.  The force of the blow tears him from her grip and he floats through the air.  The snake follows and as he hits the floor a few feet away, the coil of water covers him from head to toe.  Then he is gone.

Lysar cannot think, it was impossible!  Droplets of water splash into the man sized pool.

As her perspective of time accelerates she hears people begin to scream and whirls around only to see the figure leap down and head for the doors.

Outside Berrak, Sonjia and Asheren climb atop their horses, trying to control them as the frantic screams from the garden and fingers, scrabbling for purchase, appear at the top of the estate walls.

Berrak masters his beast and with a “Yah” gallops off northward.  His bulky disguise now shed.

Asheren’s and Sonjia’s horses are both skittish, but finally he gets them under control and they head off across the meadows after Berrak.

Inside, the chaos is eventually brought under control.  Guards outside report a body falling from the sky and landing on the roof of a waiting carriage and being shoved, roughly inside.  The mage joined them a moment later and they blazed out of the grounds, shooting two of the guards with crossbows.

Lysar relays Lionar’s final words as they trudge back to the city and they all try to picture the staff, remembering any detail.  Eventually they arrive back at their hotel and begin dissecting the evening, sharing gleaned information.

Berrak and Ash meanwhile are currently receiving a tirade of abuse from Sonjia.

As well as being pally with the Thieves Guild she appears to have picked up some of their more colourful expression.

“You guys couldn’t deliver a bowl of milk.  Much less a necklace!  You’d just take the fuckin’ cow with you!

Now I’m in the frame with that fat bastard!  What about my money?  What about my jewels?  Wizard?  Have you got it under that dumbass, pointy, fashion assassination hat of yours?  How about you thief?  Can you at least get this bloody thing off me?”

She turns and Berrak sees that Lord Unter did not entirely trust her, there was a small padlock at the back, buried under the diamonds.

He swiftly picks the lock, it is fiddly but quite simple and finally holds the prize.  Berrak and Ash that the only way to save her life is to club her unconscious and leave her lying in a ditch.

Berrak and Asheren return to Holme House, the hotel and Berrak gives the necklace to Ulrich for safe-keeping while he visits the Thieves Guild.  Sonjia said that it was worth over 3000 gold pieces, the usual fee was ten percent, but Berrak, under pressure from the others, was going to try and bargain.

Never a very a good negotiator he ends up with 237 gold pieces.  When he returns with a couple of heavies, Ulrich is disgusted by the paltry sum, considering the worth of the item.  He is finally persuaded that it would be almost impossible to get rid of by themselves and hands it over.

Finally the players are left alone, as they are making up their beds, they discuss the evening.  Asheren and Vryce in particular discuss the Serpent Triad spell cast by the mage.  The staff must have incredible power to allow him to wield such power over the Essaence.

Vryce proposes that perhaps the Sea-Drake Pendant was embedded in the staff and a piece of the puzzle seems to click together for all of them.  The mages robes – sea-green swirls, the serpents and the aquarium.  It all adds up – the Pendant!  So close!

It might have given them some clues as to the location of Prince Keir, so far everything seemed to point to Gryphon College, but perhaps by tracking down the artefacts they would be more likely to find him…

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