05 June 2010

Vaszura Do'Ar, Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2. I tried copy/pasting into Compose mode this time to try and preserve formatting. I hope this doesn't cause loading issues, since I'm seeing a ton of code littered throughout. Anyway, this is where the campaign actually starts. Two of the other player characters are present at the beginning: Gar (the goliath guard), and Allonar (the deva artificer). This is the same Allonar as the previous campaign, but in a former life (since devas simply keep reincarnating). The fourth player character shows up in the battle with the monkeys (he actually had more to do with them than the rest of us, as he was in the ballroom when they first showed up). He appears as an elf bard, but is in fact a changeling bard. None of us know this IC; as far as we're aware, he's just an elf.

The day the transaction was to take place, Zura made her way up the secret staircase and hid in the canopy over the bed. She did not care for there being only two ways out of the room, but there wasn’t much she could do about that. A bookcase in one corner opened out onto the secret stairs when the correct book was pulled out. Opposite that was a mirrored dresser. There was also an armoire that matched the rest of the furniture and an old rickety table that didn’t. Zura didn’t know if the duke’s colors were blue and gold or if the person who had last occupied the room had just really liked those colors, but all the furniture except for the table had been lacquered in varying shades of blue and gold. The canopy was certainly not the only place to hide, but while most guards would look inside and behind things, they rarely thought to look up. She waited quietly, wishing the window in the room were better covered. She was just starting to get impatient when her prey walked in and set a lit candle on the table. The light from the window was adequate, more than adequate, for any sane creature, so Zura did not see the point of the candle. From a tiny tear in the fabric of the canopy, Zura could see that this was the infamous countess, a rather portly woman with an unhappy tendency to wear flimsy white dresses that would look better on someone half her size and age. Blast. A goliath guard, nearly twice Zura’s height, followed the countess into the room. Zura had seen the guard trailing the countess around, but she’d hoped he would be left behind for the transaction. She hoped he was as big and dumb as his size suggested, but knew better than to count on that. She was mildly surprised when he only looked around the room without bothering to look inside any of the cupboards or drawers, and more surprised when the countess didn’t call him on it. She could have chosen a more comfortable hiding spot.

It took Zura a moment to place the race of the next person to arrive. He was tall, though not as tall as the goliath, and slightly built with strangely glowing eyes. Glowing eyes… Zura realized that he must be a deva. The wicked crossbow on his back seemed out of place, as everything else suggested that he was a scholar of some sort. Behind the scholar was a human in a red cloak. Zura stiffened in rage when she caught a good look at his face and recognized Rhyl’mur’ss. She did not like being played for a fool. She found herself wondering if it was just coincidence that she’d run into him both in the port-town and now here. She schooled herself back to quiet patience. At the very least, she had to wait and see which of the two was the buyer before doing anything to interrupt the proceedings. Her best bet would be to wait until the transaction was over and follow whoever wound up with the object. She knew this. But if it was truly valuable, and she could act quickly, she might be able to get both the money and the object. It would make things more difficult, but she decided it was worth the risk. After the four were settled at the table, Zura softly leapt down beside the bed. The bed still hid her, and from here she could move quickly if she needed to.

The countess suggested that they begin. She opened the box she’d brought with her and pulled out an object roughly the size of Zura’s head and in the shape of a dodecahedron. Each side bore symbols similar to the one she’d seen on the monkey statue in the port-town. An unexpected calmness settled over her, telling her she didn’t want to fight. It was a very mild compulsion, and she had no trouble resisting, but she was certain it came from the object. It quickly became clear that Rhyl’mur’ss was there to buy it and that he’d brought the deva scholar to verify that it was real. Most of the time they whispered together, but Zura caught tantalizing hints here and there, including one that suggested the object would be useless on the mainland. This news seemed to disappoint Rhyl’mur’ss, but he still wanted to procure the object. When the bargaining started in earnest, Zura mostly ignored it. She wanted to wait for both the money and the object to be on the table before acting. Her ears pricked up when the countess called Rhyl’mur’ss a “king’s man.” For just a moment he seemed nonplussed, but then he challenged her to find a single person in the king’s employ who would recognize him. Then he looked at his scholar and suggested they leave if the countess was only going to play games. A moment after she threw the smoke bomb, Zura realized she’d moved too soon. Again. But it was too late to take it back now. She had thrown the canister straight at Rhyl’mur’ss, and was gratified to hear him start coughing as a black column of smoke formed around him. The others reacted more quickly than she’d anticipated. The Countess put the object back in its box and started running toward the apparently not-so-secret passage. The scholar tried to follow her, but the guard swung his axe at him. “Don’t follow us,” he growled as he himself got up to follow his charge. The scholar seemed shocked. Zura needed to catch up quickly, but the blasted countess had shut the passageway behind her. She leaped across the bed and raced over to the bookcase, ignoring the scholar and the hacking Rhyl’mur’ss as she reopened the passage and threw one of the flash-bangs down into it. That was when things went horribly wrong. The scholar pulled out his crossbow and took a shot at her. It wasn’t an ordinary shot, either. She felt the painful sting of acid burning her. She was hurt. Badly.

“I'm not here for you, foolish angel,” she said, practically growling. “But if you wish to die, by all means continue.”

“I cannot allow that artifact to fall into evil hands,” the scholar said. “By your actions, whatever you are, I doubt your intentions are honest!”

“Honest?” Zura spit and glared towards the man in the red cloak. “A fine word for someone who works for the likes of Rhyl'mur'ss. I would doubt it if he told me the sun was bright. I seek only to protect the Duke's interests. I'm sure he would not appreciate his upper chambers being used to fence stolen goods.” Inwardly, she smiled. Every sentence but one was true, and that one was nearly true. She was protecting the Duke’s interests, but that was not her only, nor even her primary, goal. The scholar was not convinced, however.

“I suppose I should trust a creature that lurks in the shadows and assaults people with incapacitating gasses? I know little of this man or the seller, but I know that artifact is not leaving my sight until I'm convinced it’s in the hands of the proper authorities!”

Zura fixed a smile in place. “Very well. Help me take it from these thieves and we can present it to the Duke together. Bring Rhyl'mur'ss along if you like, but don't let him out of your sight.” If necessary, she would go all the way to the duke himself and tell him she had only recently entered his service. It would be the simple truth. She would have entered his service when it became clear there was no way to get the object away from the damnable trigger-happy deva. With luck, though, there would be no need to take it that far. The scholar turned to his employer, who was already heading for the main staircase. “If you ever want that artifact in your possession, you will follow me.”

Rhyl’mur’ss paused for a moment, assessing the situation. Zura couldn’t read his expression at all, not even to tell if he recognized her. She’d left behind her cloak and veil this time, so perhaps he didn’t. Finally he shook his head. “Not worth it.” He continued down the stairs.

The sounds of Monkeys whooping came from the supposedly secret staircase. Zura didn’t know where they’d come from, but she was grateful. They might delay the countess and her guard long enough for Zura to complete her mission. She kept an eye on the deva as she entered the blessed darkness of the stairwell. The countess groped around blindly and didn’t seem to have heard Zura’s approach. Good. The flash-bang had done its job on her, though it didn’t seem to have affected the guard. Zura took the package from her easily, but now she needed to keep out of reach of the guard’s axe. She cast a cloud of darkness around her, letting it swallow the top part of the stair well, and she quietly dropped to the ground, rolled to one side, and became a part of the shadows. She held her breath as the goliath guard fumbled his way through the darkness and back up into the room, but he’d come nowhere near her. She smiled when she heard him ask the scholar where she’d gone. Time to move again. She stood up and stepped into the countess’s shadow and out of a Monkey’s shadow. Unfortunately this left her adjacent to the countess, and a dead Monkey. The countess recovered her senses just as Zura’s cloud of darkness dissipated and tried to grab the box back. With Zura and the box little more than shadows, her hands closed on nothing. Zura smiled at the countess, and wished she hadn’t when the woman began bellowing for her guard. She made room for him on the stair above Zura and he swung his ridiculous axe at her. If she hadn’t been in shadow form, that blow would have taken her out instantly. As it was, she was panting for breath and barely able to move or think. She had to get out of here. She teleported again, but could only make it to the opposite side of the monkey. She tried to run, but the battle-crazed Monkey managed to bite her before she could. It was barely a scratch compared to the axe or the crossbow, but she’d had next to nothing left. The world went black around her.

The next thing she knew, there was a vile taste in her mouth, and Belhrys was standing over her. Her ears were oddly sore, so he’d probably used a flash-bang while she was unconscious. Presumably the vile taste had been a healing potion. “Belhrys? What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

Belhrys gestured down the stairs. “There are some guards down there who insist we all accompany them to help fight some Monkeys who are causing problems downstairs, or else,” he sighed, “they will arrest all of us.”

Zura nodded vaguely and looked up the stairs. The deva with his damnable crossbow had pushed past the countess and her pet goliath. He seemed uncertain whether to point the thing at Zura or Belhrys. Zura resisted the urge to tell him exactly what he could do with it. She tried to whisper another question to Belhrys, but the potion had made her voice hoarse. “What do we do now?” she asked her contact, ignoring the deva’s glare.

Belhrys’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “We follow the nice guards down the stairs, fight some monkeys, and show what good, honest citizens we are.” As he helped her stand up, he winked, and Zura had to hide a smile. She was still weak, though, and decided now might be a good time to use some of her own healing magic. The energy rushed through her, undoing some of the damage the treacherous deva had done. She was still badly hurt, but at least she didn’t feel ready to fall over at the slightest twinge. She cast a baleful eye up at the scholar and the goliath, but they seemed equally willing to go along with the guards’ request. Even so, she didn’t like having them at her back as they traipsed down the stairs, but she put them from her mind as she beheld the chaos that the duke’s ball had become.

A dozen or so Monkeys like the ones on the stairs were busy decimating the buffet table. Larger ones were attacking a line of noble guests. It looked like most of the non-noble guests had managed to get out, though some of their corpses littered the dance floor. The duke led a contingent of guardsmen against the larger Monkeys as best he could, aided by a handsome elf wielding a fiddle. Zura braced herself, but the elf didn’t even bat an eye when he caught sight of her. Of course, he was busy trying to charm a Monkey with his fiddle at the time. Zura drew her sword and attacked one of the smaller Monkeys as it tried to break off from the buffet, and worked to put some distance between her position and the elf’s. There were a few elf guests in the room as well, but they seemed to be too busy screaming and running to pay a lone drow much mind. While Zura fought, she tired to keep Belhrys in sight. It wasn’t too difficult. All she had to do was follow the line of smoke clouds and listen for the flash-bangs. He threw the canisters left and right as if he had an unlimited supply. Then Zura saw him use the cover of one of the smoke bombs to dash behind the stage. Curious, she followed. He looked up as if he’d been expecting her.

“I need to get out of here before I have to answer too many questions,” he told her, “but I’ll contact you in 48 hours.” Zura nodded, and asked if he happened to have any more of his alchemical toys to share. Grinning, he handed her two of each before rushing out a side door. Zura hurriedly stuffed them into her backpack before rejoining the battle. At the duke’s request, they knocked most of the Monkeys out rather than killing them, though apparently some larger one with magical ability had already gotten away. Despite the apparent chaos, it was mostly a mop-up operation at this point, and it didn’t take long to incapacitate the remaining Monkeys. Zura looked around, wondering if anyone would notice if she, too, simply wandered off, but then she saw the countess and the duke disappear into a room with the box. At the very least, she would like to tell Belhrys who had wound up with the thing. She certainly wasn’t going to make another try for it until her wounds healed from this attempt. It seemed an eternity before the duke and the countess emerged again, but the duke now held the box and the countess seemed quite pleased with herself. Presumably the duke had paid her well for it. Zura sighed. It would probably be even more difficult to take the thing now that the duke had it. Instead of one goliath to get past, there would probably be an entire regiment of soldiers.

Before Zura could slip away, the duke called out for all those who had helped fight the Monkeys to stay a moment. Zura winced. She should have gotten out while he was distracted with the countess. The fiddling elf seemed no happier, oddly enough, though the goliath and the deva seemed merely curious. Zura glared at the deva but he didn’t seem to notice. When the four of them had gathered ‘round the duke to his satisfaction, he sent the rest of his guards away. “Most of you have heard by now that I am seeking magic users. You four have proven yourself tonight, and I would like to meet with all of you in a few days time to discuss employing you as a team.” Zura wondered what the duke’s guards had told him about the scene in the staircase. For that matter, she wondered what the countess had told him. “I will give you full details then, but I can tell you now that I pay very well.” That caught Zura’s attention. She certainly wouldn’t be receiving the rest of her commission from Belhrys, and she’d need to find some source of income before the rest of the advance ran out. It was certainly worth her while to show up at the meeting and see if the duke’s job interested her. Even if it didn’t, it would certainly be easier to steal the artifact back from him if she were in his employ and able to move freely around the palace.

Thinking about the artifact brought her mind back to the battle. The box holding the artifact had been open, and a strange sort of chain had gone out from it. Zura wasn’t sure of its nature, but it seemed to be more difficult to hit a target who was part of that chain. She didn’t know if it made the target stronger or weakened the attack, or something else entirely. The deva scholar might know, but Zura wasn’t about to ask him. By all accounts, deva were supposed to be good, honest creatures, yet this one had shot her in the back without so much as a warning. That was treachery worthy of a drow, and Zura did not mean it as a compliment. She would have fired a warning shot first, or at least tried to talk. The deva clearly had his own agenda with regard to the artifact and could not be trusted. She kept a close eye on him when it was clear the duke’s speech was over. He seemed to be negotiating payment from the duke, for what wasn’t clear. While they were occupied, Zura slipped out one of the side doors and headed back to her room at a nearby inn.

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