18 December 2009

Some Things Are Best Left Locked

Okay, the major part of the IC dispute has played itself out, so it is now safe to post this. Last night, we started with the post-long-rest-plot playing itself out. We made it to another encounter after that, but we're not even halfway through it, so I'm not going to post anything on that. I will comment that, both IC and OOC, I did think things were going too far, and Dovra's actions reflect that. Her plan didn't work, but I didn't honestly expect it to. I was hoping to irritate the gods enough that they would actually show up; Dovra's probably just as happy this did not happen, though Fibonacci told us that they were on standby in case things went completely pear-shaped. Apparently what the rock said when it set Shenron on fire to wake him up was, "Dovra just attacked you! She must die!", but it didn't roll high enough to force Shenron to attack her. Oh, the long conversation between Dovra and Allonar was an actual IC conversation, so John/Allonar deserves credit for his own lines. I fixed one minor error (Heian is a full elf, not a half-elf), but otherwise left them as they were. Anyway, the tale is below the fold.

Dovra slept uneasily after they managed to open the chest. It wasn’t the chest itself that haunted her dreams, but the screaming that had come afterwards. One scream in particular played itself over and over in her mind: the girl they had rescued from the cells below had died, and for no good cause at all. With every breath, Dovra breathed in the ashes from the fire that had killed her, had nearly killed all of them … except Shenron. No, the one who had foolishly started the fire had not been hurt at all. Naturally, he was immune to fire damage. But Dovra and the others, already hurt from dealing with the chest, had not been so lucky, and it had been enough to kill the poor frog-girl. It seemed strange that someone so capable in battle—Dovra still remembered the banshee cries as the grabbed the nearest monster and bashed it into the floor—would be so fragile, but the fire had killed her instantly. Shenron had tried to rescue her from his idiocy, but it had been too late. They had never even learned her name.

The scene froze as Dovra stared down at the dead girl, and then the dream started over from the beginning, with Heian and Dovra just beginning to work on the chest. It had seemed like a good idea. Dovra had always been curious about the halfling’s ice chest and everyone else seemed to be hoping there was treasure inside. It was a challenge to her magical skills, and she always enjoyed such challenges. While she and the rogue worked on the chest, the others had to fight off the monsters it kept summoning. The monsters were semi-transparent as if they weren’t quite fully there, but the wounds they inflicted were real enough. For the most part, Dovra was able to trust her allies to take care of the monsters while she remained focused on the chest. The black dragon’s screech, though, had drawn her attention. Thankfully Allonar had been able to unsummon it without fighting. Dovra started paying more attention to the battle in case anything else would be too much for the group to handle with everything else around them. A while later, there was a horrid stench that nearly made her gag. “Troglodyte,” someone said and went to go fight it. That she hadn’t worried about unsummoning, but the giant blind thunder lizard, which had barely fit in the room, was another story. That one she had unsummoned herself before returning to the chest.

While Heian worked his way up and down the dial, listening for whatever it was that told him when the correct number was being turned to, Dovra tried to ward the dials and gather information the only way she knew how: through magic. Sometimes the chest was able to block her, and she reeled from the backlash of its psychic attacks, but sometimes she got a tiny hint of information to make Heian’s job easier. Then, finally, she knew exactly what the first number of the combination was. The number 13 had appeared in her head, and she felt the chest’s awareness reel back, knowing it had lost the battle on that dial. As she summoned the mage hand to turn it to 13, there was almost a sizzling sound. One down, three to go, and the battle continued around them.

They had barely started on the next dial when a strange song began flowing through Dovra’s head. It was a wondrous, beauteous song, and it drew her towards its source. The source, though was an insult to the beauty of the song. The song needed to be freed from the horrid half-woman half-bird who had stolen it. The harpy had drawn every one towards it, so that it was surrounded, and it was dead before Dovra could do more than think about destroying it. It hadn’t stood a chance with enemies flanking it on every side. As if coming out of a trance, Dovra realized that a summoned Shadar Kai had also been drawn towards it, and was now adjacent to her. She tried to unsummon it, but the chest’s hold on it was too strong. Dovra muttered a prayer to Corellon under her breath. As if in answer, the room flickered. She sensed that the chest had been weakened somehow, and tried again to unsummon the Shadar Kai. This time it went easily.

Most of the rest of the creatures wound up in mortal combat with Shenron, with the strange new power he had picked up that forced a creature to fight him and only him. This kept them from attacking the rest of the team, so they could focus on weaker creatures or on the chest. Horgta stuck close to Dovra and Heian, pulling them away from the chest before its cold could overcome them. They almost had the second dial figured out when Dovra felt the numbers rolling in her head: the chest had overcome the ward she had placed on that lock, and she sighed, knowing it was going to change the combination now … but something strange happened. As the numbers spun in her head, they seemed to get stuck. The number 19 flashed in her consciousness and the second lock sizzled and opened. Dovra wasn’t sure what had happened. 19 had been their candidate for that lock anyway; possibly the chest’s attempt to change it had gotten stuck on that number. The last two dials went more quickly: most of the fight seemed to have gone out of the chest now that two of its locks were open. Heian thought he had the last two numbers: 14 and 16. He set the dials and tested the lid. It opened easily, and the remaining creatures vanished.

Dovra looked into the chest and wasn’t sure what to think. There was a clear crystal chalice and some sort of rock frozen inside it. Everyone gathered round, trying to figure out what it was. Dovra sensed a presence from it, as if the rock had some rudimentary awareness. She thought that, whatever it was, it might be dangerous, and was certain she’d never even heard of anything like it. Why had Phoenix kept it locked in a frozen box? Why had he had a sentient pet rock at all?

Shenron seemed drawn towards the rock in its chalice. “Hey! I bet my fire breath could thaw it out!”

The dream froze. Dovra had all the time in the world to look around the room and note all of the spilled potions and acids and chemicals. She turned and grunted in her sleep, knowing now how flammable they all were. Dream-Dovra tried to shout a warning, though she’d done no such thing when it had actually happened. Heian and Allonar did caution the dragonborn about thawing the rock at all, let alone thawing it with fire. Shenron ignored them. The preparatory inhale seemed to take forever, and the fiery exhale moved millimeter by millimeter towards the rock, and it spread millimeter by millimeter through the entire lab. When the fire reached Dovra, setting her on fire, time started moving normally again. In reality, she had moved towards Allonar, helping douse his flames. In the dream, she moved towards the doomed girl, hoping somehow to shield her this time, but it was no use. The girl shrieked once and died.

This time the dream didn’t start over. The shriek echoed and repeated over and over and over in Dovra’s head … and another scream from the depths of her memory rose up and joined the chorus. The new scream finally drowned out the girl’s dying shriek, but it wasn’t much of an improvement. “Moiah…” Dovra muttered in her sleep, and saw her not-quite-human friend plummeting into the chasm. There’d been nothing she could do but hope that their pursuers thought that Dovra had fallen with her. She hid and waited, trying to hold back the sobs. All of fourteen, she was only just learning how her powers worked, and she’d forgotten to warn Moiah that one of the planks in the suspension bridge was an illusion. It was her fault, her own bloody fault, that her friend had fallen to her death. One careless moment, and everything had changed. Just like Shenron’s careless flames had snuffed out a life. The dream switched back to the lab on fire. This time Moiah sat in the doomed girl’s place, and, as she burned, she stared into Dovra’s eyes.

Something touched Dovra on the shoulder, and she barely bit back a yelp. It was just Shenron, waking her up for her watch. She glared at him. She might have gotten a friend killed, but she hadn’t set the rest of her friends on fire doing so. He didn’t seem to notice. He seemed distracted and strangely bloated as he collapsed into sleep on what was left of the halfling’s work table. She wondered if he’d found more gold to eat. Then she noticed that the rock was no longer in its chalice on the table, and was no where else in the room. Surely he wouldn’t have eaten that, would he? She wasn’t sure. Regardless, he needed to take responsibility for what he had done. Dovra didn’t know what she could do, but something needed to be done. She kept a wary eye on him, and sighed. He had defended them against everything the chest had thrown at them. Without him, they might not all have survived. But he still needed to learn some caution and respect.

About halfway through the shift, she felt an insistent presence in her mind. The star around her neck began to give off a faint glow. She let it guide her to a bit of rubble that had somehow escaped the fire. Of their own accord, her hands began digging through it. At the bottom was a small vial. Her powers told her it was a frost grenade. It was interesting, but not obviously useful. ::You’re going to need it,:: Correllon’s voice said in her head. She was certain that, had anyone else been awake, they would not have seen the faintly glowing elf who appeared leaning against the wall across from her. ::And I need to point out to you that Shenron is under Bahamut’s protection. If things go too far…:: Correllon grimaced and made a throat-cutting gesture.

::Things? What things?:: Dovra tried to ask, but the image faded without responding.

She spent the rest of the watch trying to figure out what Corellon thought was going to happen. Just before it was time to wake Horgta, she heard a sharp, “Pst!” She looked around for Corellon again. “What?” After a moment, she figured out it was only Allonar. He motioned for her to come closer. Dovra did so bemusedly, wondering if she looked even half as confused as she felt. The deva gestured at Shenron, and Dovra grimaced. Was this what Corellon had been trying to warn her about? Surely they had to do something about the dragonborn.

“What he did last night,” Allonar said softly, glowing eyes strangely muted, “that can’t be ignored. He almost got us all killed. I specifically told him not to use his flame on the ice, but he did it anyway.”

“That he did,” Dovra agreed. “And he got that poor girl killed.” Dovra sighed, hearing the screams again. “We never even found out her name.”

“Indeed. I will not needlessly injure those who claim to serve good, but I'm beginning to doubt his 'goodness'. Her death needs to be Avenged. It is my calling.”

Dovra couldn’t read the deva’s eyes, and the rest of his face was under that strange mask they all seemed to wear. “I don’t know about the whole ‘good’ thing, but what he did wasn’t right. What did you have in mind?”

“I'm not sure what the end result should be, but he has to be forced to listen. You are capable of causing a forced sleep, correct?”

“Yes, but he can resist. I would prefer to have as strong a chance as possible of it working. He will only be slowed if it fails.”

“Hmm, what if he is asleep when you use it, would that cause him to wake if it fails?”

“No. I tried it on the Blue Dragon, and it failed, and he did not wake up right away. We just won't be certain it has worked without trying to wake him.” Dovra thought quickly. Surely Bahamut wouldn’t object to his paladin being put to sleep, but what else did Allonar have in mind?

“Very well. We will try it, then send the rogue to remove his weapons. Once he has taken (and hidden, the weapons), he can begin to remove the paladin's armor: that is sure to wake him if he is not supernaturally held. What say you to this idea?”

“Count me in.” Without his weapons, a violent conflict would be less likely. Hopefully Bahamut wouldn’t object to a peaceful solution.

“What is your desired restitution against this creature?”

Dovra thought for a moment. What did she want? “I wish for him to know the same pain and isolation that the girl knew. I wish for his power to diminish until he has learned his lesson and has found some way to put this right.” That seemed fair, though she had no idea how to make it happen.

“Very well. I will speak to the Half-Orc and also wake you and the elf before the Dragonborn has wakened. If he wakes, we may yet set upon him to teach him a lesson.”

“I will support you in this.” Yes, removing his weapons before dealing with him would be one way to avoid bloodshed. That might keep Bahamut from interfering.

“Very good. May your rest be satisfying until our plans come to fruition.”

“Yours as well.”

Dovra watched as the deva went to wake Horgta for the last watch. She lay down, but kept her ears open as the deva and the half-orc continued their plotting. The more she heard of their plans, the less she liked them. Yes, disarm him, yes teach him a lesson, but Dovra would not agree to humiliate and rob him. That would do nothing to bring the girl back or to heal their wounds. This was sounding less like it was about teaching Shenron a lesson and more like it was about out and out revenge. She wasn’t sure that the half-orc and the deva wouldn’t kill him, given half a chance. As she drifted into sleep, she decided that the plan needed a few alterations. She thought she felt Corellon wince at some of the ideas she had, but she ignored it. If he had a better plan, he could just tell her.

Horgta woke her sometime later and put his finger to his lips. Dovra looked up at him and nodded, feeling strangely giddy about what was to come. Everyone was quietly gathering around Shenron. Allonar was trying to change the plan at the last minute and have Horgta knock Shenron unconscious instead. She had to act now. She stepped back and cast the sleep spell so that it would hit everyone but her. They’d made it easy for her by circling around the sleeping dragonborn. Allonar looked at her reproachfully and shrugged it off, but she’d half-been expecting that. It hit Horgta and Heian, but it would take a few moments before it knocked them out. Shenron was sleeping so she wouldn’t be able to tell—except as soon as the spell reached him he burst into flame. Dovra stared in disbelief. “What in Correllon’s name…?”

The dragonborn bolted upright and stared around, realizing that he was surrounded. He gave Dovra a wide-eyed look, though she was not even adjacent to him to pose much of a threat. He seemed to be muttering to himself; more than that, he seemed to be arguing with himself. The only word Dovra could make out was, “No…” If he had gone insane, her plan would have even less chance of working, but it was the best one she had. Allonar and Horgta postured and made their threats. Heian slumped over, asleep. Wonderful. He would have been the most useful one to leave awake, and he was the only one the bloody thing had worked on. Dovra took a deep breath and began weaving the sound illusion that she hoped would end this. It began with a rumble of thunder. Then she wove in what she thought the voice of Bahamut should sound like, almost blending in with the thunder. It said “Shenron…” Her star grew cold against her skin, as if Corellon were warning her. For a moment, she thought she heard his voice again, saying, “No, don’t smite her.” She hoped she’d imagined it.

Shenron looked around confusedly for the source of the voice. He considered for a moment, but he seemed to trace its source to Dovra. Blast. This wasn’t going to work. She tried anyway, tried to get him to swear an oath that would be bound to Bahamut that any damage he inflicted on the group would be doubly inflicted on him. Allonar would have none of it. “That was not what we agreed to, and you attacked us,” he told Dovra, turning his back on her. Dovra frowned. Humiliating and robbing Shenron was not what she had agreed to. The deva had little room to complain. Given Corellon’s warning, it seemed best not to overdo things against Shenron, and she was convinced that the deva’s plan was nothing but overkill.

For no obvious reason, Shenron moved jerkily toward a wall, as if moving weren’t his idea. He inhaled and produced a larger flame than Dovra had ever seen from him. It filled the room, burning everyone but Shenron. Dovra irritably rubbed the soot from her arms. At least she hadn’t caught on fire this time. Allonar and Horgta moved to flank Shenron, and Allonar’s ghostly double appeared, blocking any escape for the dragonborn. They began attacking him with all they had. Dovra wasn’t going to attack anyone, but she did send her mage hand over to try and get Shenron’s sword off his belt. He reacted too quickly, and the hand wasn’t strong enough to overpower him. Maybe now would be a good time to create an illusion of the girl’s face in front of him. Was the dragonborn capable of guilt or remorse? That would be one way to find out.

Before she could try, Shenron began coughing violently. It reminded her of the way he had acted when he’d eaten all the gold. Finally, something came out of his mouth and landed improbably in his hand. It was the rock that had been frozen inside the chest. Allonar became even more enraged. “Drop your weapons, or die,” he said. Shenron complied, dropping everything but the rock. He tried to drop the rock, but his fingers simply would not release it. Dovra realized it must have enhanced his flame ability, and remembered that Phoenix had kept it encased in ice… “The rock, as well,” Allonar said, deliberately refusing to recognize that Shenron had been incapable of doing so.

“I may be able to help with that,” Dovra said. Everyone looked at her suspiciously, but she didn’t care. “Corellon led me to a sort of ice grenade last night, and I think this is why. I think if I can hit the rock with it, Shenron will be able to let go of it.” She moved in closer, ignoring the wary looks they gave her. She missed the rock, but the grenade hit Shenron instead. That was enough. His fingers slowly opened and the rock fell to the floor. Horgta started to poke at it with a sword but Allonar stopped him. Dovra summoned the mage hand once more and it grabbed the rock. As soon as it did, she felt its presence in her mind. “Let’s play!” it said. It tried to control her mind, but she was able to resist. The mage hand carried it back to the chest. As soon as it was inside the chest, Dovra dismissed the hand and gently closed the lid. “I just want to be friends!” the rock called to her faintly. Dovra shook her head. That kind of friend she did not need. The chest hadn’t locked again, but hopefully the rock couldn’t control anyone while it was out of sight and untouchable.

They took a long rest, and Dovra was mostly ignored, though she finally convinced Allonar to let her help him with his filth fever. He still had a cough from it, but so far it wasn’t getting any worse. She kept him stable, but was still unable to get him all the way over it. When he thought she couldn’t hear, he would glance at her and mutter about her going against the group consensus. Dovra looked over at Shenron, seeming rather pitiful without his armor on. Horgta and Allonar had insisted that he lose his armor if he wanted to live, and had taken his sword and replaced it with a wooden toy. That would only make him more foolhardy, and lessen his value to the group, as far as Dovra could tell. There had to be balance, yes, but overdoing things did not put them back in balance. She’d worked for evil wizards and good wizards, and on the whole she preferred the evil ones: they, at least, were under no illusions about what they were actually doing. This did nothing to avenge the girl’s death. If anything, it was an insult to her memory.

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