Codex-VI Chapter 7

This page is part of the campaign story. << Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >>

The journey through the Deadlands was, to the disappointment of Sanjin, completely boring and without incident. The wizard even grumbled about it one evening when they were eating a fresh kill that Rynn had brought.

“You wish danger in your job?” Lady Maramos asked. As was the typical pattern, she sat on the cart away from the fire and the others, close enough to hear, but far enough that it was obvious she didn’t consider herself part of the group.

“It’s one reason I’ve spent so much time on the Death Side,” the wizard said. “Tests of my skill and magical prowess.”

She didn’t respond.

“The faster we get to Darkcrest,” Orensland said, “the faster we can complete our contract.” He rubbed his neck wihle he wondered if the fang marks from her feedings would be permanent. It was a … decidedly unpleasant experience to be partially drained of blood every other night. Khaska’s healing spells and the shadowdancer’s newfound Ring of Sustenance took the edge off, but Orensland constantly felt that he was a step slower than he ought to be.

“Of course,” Sanjin said. The wizard was even slightly subdued at the reminder of the sacrifice Orensland was making.


The party had spent months on the Death Side by this point, and even Khaska and Orensland had adjusted to the unusual day/night cycle. Between Rynn and Sanjin’s experiences on the Death Side, as well as Khaska’s skills in the wild, and the fact that it was impossible to get completely lost with Pressen hanging in the sky, they were able to make good time. Rynn was able to scout ahead enough that they could avoid other parties, and their travels passed without incident. Eventually, they came to the West Gnarzaan river and followed it north to the ferry operated by the Gatchtik gnolls. At this spot, the river was wide and slow-moving.

Once it was obvious they wished to cross the river, the ferry ponderously made its way over. It seemed to the party that it was taking too long, and Lady Maramos was displeased. Once the gnoll captain saw her and recognized her, the ferry moved with much more alacrity.

“My Lady,” he snarled. (Khaska could think of few other words to describe the gnoll’s attempts to speak common.) “A contingent of soldiers from your house has waited here for months. Your husband is most worried about you.”

“Then I had best get back to Darkcrest.”

“Yes, my Lady.”

The trip back across the river was faster.

Ten men atop horses, all with the same tabard, were waiting on the other side, saluting at rapt attention.

“My Lady, when your return was delayed, we feared the worst,” the foremost among them said.

“The mercenaries we hired were worth every copper piece, Captain Gendry,” she replied. “Kaylee’s troupe deserves their reputation.”

“I see you are without your servant or carriage. How have you survived?”

“They managed to retrieve the dirt from the graveyard I had brought with me and we’ve been using this …” she pointed disdainfully at the ox-drawn cart “to hold it.”

“And you have been feeding on one of the mercenaries?” The captain said. He glanced at the party and noticed Orensland and the marks on his neck. With that, the captain alighted off his horse and moved over to Lady Maramos, who immediately pulled his head back and drank deeply. One of the female soldiers had a change of clothes that, while not as elegant as Lady Maramos’ normal fare, was better than the rags her one dress had turned into over the months of travel.

A messenger pigeon was sent ahead, and the group began the week trek to Darkcrest.


Three days into the trek (with Lady Maramos now feeding daily off of the soldiers, not Orensland, thankfully), the thundering of hooves could be heard in the distance. Another group of soldiers was approaching. The soldiers of the House of Maramos fanned out and prepared to defend their Lady, if necessary, but upon seeing the lead rider Lady Maramos got down from the wagon and everybody else relaxed, their swords and pikes and other weapons dropping or being re-sheathed.

Rynn wasn’t sure why they relaxed. The lead rider was riding a horse that seemed to have hair made of fire, and that was snorting smoke and flame from his nostrils!

“A nightmare!” Sanjin practically squealed.

The rider practically jumped off the mount before it was fully stopped and rushed to Lady Maramos. He was dressed in elegant black plate armor, adorned with gold trim, and carried a broadsword across his back. His long hair was nearly completely white, and he appeared to be in his late fifties or early sixties.

The kiss that the two of them shared was long and passionate enough that Rynn, Sanjin, and Orensland were simultaneously embarrassed to watch and yet strangely intoxicating. Khaska was disgusted by the display of near-animalistic lust. The two spoke in whispers for a few moments. Lady Maramos pointed at the party. The man nodded.

He approached the party, and it was then they noticed his unusually pale skin and ghostly cold eyes. He must have been in his late fifties or early sixties when he was turned. There was no telling how old he truly was.

“My wife has informed me of your deeds. Above and beyond what your contract required. Come! My servants are just behind me with food and drink and …” he glanced at Lady Maramos “more appropriate accommodations.”

Indeed, a few miles back was a wagon train, also with soldiers guarding everything. A camp was being set up, and the smell of cooking filled the air. The servants of the House of Maramos made sure that the party were well-fed. Several gathered the dirt from the wagon and replaced it in the bottom of a carriage similar to the one that they had abandoned at Rhun. Lady Maramos changed into clothing more her style, and rode next to her husband on an elegant black stallion as the caravan moved towards the city.


Darkcrest itself was a gloomy city, with tall buildings that blocked much of the light in the streets, arches connecting them, making sure there was always a place to get from shadow to shadow. The House of Maramos’ lands were near the center of the city, and the caravan made its way there quickly. Khaska felt that there was little he could do to hide himself but since they arrived during Sunrise Twilight, it appeared that many of the city’s denizens were inside. Not many saw him.

Once inside the massive complex, Lord and Lady Maramos disappeared inside the big mansion, a house as large as the Chapter headquarters for the Knights in Hammerdine. Captain Gendry motioned for the party to come with him.

Inside one of the other buildings adjancent to the main mansion, he introduced them to Danforth Greymantle, the head butler for the House of Maramos, before excusing himself to return to his soldiers.

Mister Greymantle was an older gentleman, with a spring in his step, however, and a brightness about his eyes. “Gentlemen, I know that you might be nervous staying in a house controlled by the Chosen, but we find it useful to assuage the nervousness of our guests. I am the master of this house, and though I serve Lord and Lady Maramos, none of the Chosen have been invited in. You may rest well here free from any care or concern. Come, let me show you to your rooms. We have drawn up baths for you, and have brought clothes for you to change into. There is food in the dining room just through here whenever you wish it.”

Every member of the party was shown their private rooms, elaborate and luxurious spaces, larger than any private room they had ever seen before. Each was practically its own suite, with a bedroom, a sitting room, and a privy. There were servants in each to take their clothes and put them into hot baths, though Rynn was slightly put off by what he felt were the inappropriate coverage of the women servants. Orensland didn’t seem to mind, and Sanjin was more than happy to have handsome men and beautiful women doting on him. Khaska requested them leave while he took his armor off and bathed himself. Silk robes hung on clothes hangers, and a selection of possible clothing was provided for each of them as their clothes were taken to be laundered or armor polished or whatnot.

The meal was scrumptious, a delight for their senses they had not encountered before. Perhaps it was even better than the food Mirwen had served all those months ago in Twilight. There was certainly more of it, an amount that Khaska felt was wasteful, even as he was delighted to not be eating whatever Rynn had happened to kill or dry rations. There were multiple courses, and after months of travel in the Deadlands, it was good to eat a full meal. Even Rynn allowed himself to indulge a little bit, having some of the best wine he had ever had. A glance from the Maha’i cleric, however, made him limit himself to just the one glass.

When they were done eating, Mister Greymantle spoke up. “You have traveled so far in service to our house. Please, if there is anything you need, ask and it shall be yours.” As he said this, he put his hand on the shoulder of one of the serving girls. “Anything.” She smiled shyly.

Rynn took the man’s meaning, but he certainly wasn’t going to take him up on any kind of offer like that now that the ranger knew more about his wife (and child!) than he had in years.

“I’m sure Lord and Lady Maramos will have you over for dinner soon,” he said. “In the meantime, we are at your disposal. If you wish to visit the marketplace, study in the library, pray at a shrine, or simply enjoy our accommodations, you may do whatever you wish. We have been instructed to accommodate your every wish. Please, ask, and it is yours.”

Eryx (DM)
This seems like a good enough place to stop.

The odds were in your favor, and none of you rolled for a random encounter. No XP for you. On a related note, I declare by DM fiat that you are all now level 9 for having successfully tracked down Manson, resuced Lady Maramos, and returned her to Darkcrest. At the end of this Codex, you will all be level 10 as we switch to 5E rules, and we’ll start doing XP more normally again then. Congratulations on leveling up!

Your benefactors, Lord and Lady Maramos, have given you accommodations beyond what your characters have ever experienced. You have servants at your command, all the food you can eat, and even more pleasures of the flesh should your characters want to indulge. (I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable, but this is a vampire city, and vampires are sensual and sexy. I also hope I didn’t overstep in my writing up Rynn’s reaction.) Basically, imagine that you have just earned the respect and well-wishes of Donald Trump, and are now living in Trump Tower, but with good taste and well-used resources, instead of tacky gold-plated toilets.

What do you all want to do with this newfound freedom, if anything? I know Khaska has a set of armor from Rhun he needs to get “tailored” to fit him. Will Rynn do any Urban Rangering? Orensland any sneaking? Sanjin any studying? Like, you are the guests of one of the most powerful vampire covens in Darkcrest, and they are incredibly pleased with you. All of their resources are at your disposal. You’re now full allies of the House of Maramos.

In a day or so, you will be invited to dinner with Lord and Lady Maramos. Will there be anything you wish to discuss with them?

Crosis

Oh, so exciting!! A city where shadows are everywhere. Shadowdancing heaven.

First, Orensland would ask Mister Greymantle how walking about Darkcrest works. Would Orensland be in danger exploring the city? Any places he should avoid (at least, pretend to avoid)? More to be said on that, pending your response. Orensland would love to sneak, but not wind up in places he shouldn't without forewarning.

Also, a thought. I've been thinking about what Orensland would want upon arrival to Darkcrest. It was implied that we can basically have anything, and while I would like a more comprehensive list of items that will carry on into 5e, I had a couple ideas.

It may seem odd, but Orensland would like a crystal ball. His father snuck up on him once upon a time with absolutely no forewarning, and Orensland is not sure if his father will ever find some way of hunting him down again. This way, he could possibly keep tabs on his father every several months. Eryx, you may not have any plans for reintroducing his father (or do you? :P), but not requesting a crystal ball for that reason would be metagaming. Orensland has been carrying an inner paranoia for some time now, and would like to be at ease where his father is concerned. Furthermore, we could check on Jared to see if he's made it back or not (we were much faster than expected), and possibly even try to see Rynn's wife. I dunno, seems like a magic item that Orensland would want to have on hand for a while, but that can also be very useful to surrounding party members. And in case you're wondering, I had this idea truly just because I thought Orensland would want to know where his father is. All other ideas came after that.

In researching crystal balls, it looks like you can get one with a telepathy ability. Apparently you can send and receive silent mental messages, as well as plant suggestions. Would this not have been a better way for the Bringers of Light to communicate with Jared? And can they not use this method with us? We'd be changing something that already happened, but we weren't aware of this possibility until now.

And if we do get a crystal ball, we could get one with telepathy as well. Particularly in regards to Rynn's wife, we could communicate with her, give her hope, and possibly get an idea on her location. And, if such a ball lets us read thoughts as well, then Orensland could get an idea of where his father is too. In addition to that last point, he would mention he would like the telepathy aspect to be able to communicate with the Shadowdancing troupe to see how they are doing.

Ok, so that's the crystal ball schpeel. How does learning new skills work? Assassins have the ability to coat their blades with poison without accidentally poisoning themselves… can Orensland learn that skill, even if he's not an assassin? It would be crazy awesome if he could weaken enemies even more after a good sneak attack. If he can learn this skill, I would assume Darkcrest is a place I could learn it. It seems kinda… shady, which is the kind of place you might find assassins. The bill being footed by the Maramos couple, of course.

In terms of what Orensland would like to discuss at dinner, the Cult is high on his list. Note that Orensland would have created his cover story of joining the cult on the living side while they were waiting for lady Maramos to arrive. I suspect that will be an important detail when speaking with Cult members. Orensland may want to scout out the Cult HQ if they have one in the city. It's one of the items he would have asked Mister Greymantle. He would not enter and talk to people, though. Developing a relation with high-end cult members would have to be with the Maramos's blessing and probably their presence as well.

As ideas for the others… Sanjin would obviously have a heyday in the library, but Khaska probably would too. In addition to possibly learning more about how his people were enslaved on this side, this seems as good a chance as any to learn about Urziana, the demon that played a key role in Tawru's turn to evil. The library likely has a great deal of information and secrets that more righteous parties would love to get their hands on. If the whole crystal ball-telepathy idea works out, we could even get some information from the library for the Bringers.

Eryx (DM)
You were "much faster than expected" because of the nature of the campaign and the fact that you didn't have any random encounters. It's been nearly three months since you parted ways with the Mithereen tribe. I forgot to update the Campaign Timeline, and will do so shortly.

These are fantastic questions.

Greymantle indicates that the city is mostly safe, but entering the lands of a vampire house without permission would probably result in being attacked. There are a few larger houses, like the Maramos's, but there are many minor houses of varying strengths. He would be happy to send a servant with you to give you a guided tour of the city.

He gives a soft whistle when you ask if you could acquire a crystal ball. "An item of that rarity and power is hard to come by. Even if Lord and Lady Maramos have one, I don't know that they would part with it. You would have to ask them. I regret that I am unable to help more at this time."

The Greater Scrying spell allows communication as well, and the focus costs only 1k gold, a lot less than the price of even a basic crystal ball. That's what the Bringers have been using with Jared.

When you inquire about poisons, he nods and smiles. "There we can help you. The House of Maramos has an apothecary to homebrew poisons and potions and the like. Captain Gendry and several leaders of the militia are skilled in its application.
I will inquire about learning from them, but I don't foresee any complications aside from scheduling times to meet when they are off-duty."

The Cult of Skyrnyn, as far as Greymantle knows, does not operate in the city. He's heard of them, but is cagey about it. He doesn't want to reveal secrets of his masters that are theirs alone (as head butler he is present for important meetings), but basically confirms that they are in an alliance with the Cult. He does warn you that other vampire houses are wary of this alliance, and suggests it might be prudent to not wear the cult ring around the city.

Crosis

Orensland would appreciate the offer to have a servant take him around, but would rather sneak about on his own (without the ring on, just in case). Being seen with the servants of Maramos would leave an impression on people's minds, and Orensland is not sure if he wants such attention. He'd ask for a map if he could, general descriptions of what lay in what direction if not. He'd then go about the city, but staying away from the lands of vampire houses for the time being. Mostly shadowdancing, I should think. People act differently when they don't know they're being observed. I assume you need rolls for that, so:

  • Hide: 26 (2+24)
  • Move Silently: 27 (3+24)

…well, that stunk. Fortunately my bad sneaking rolls wind up being probably good enough to get by.

With Greymantle's reply, Orensland would give a hearty green light to Greymantle to putting in a word with the captain for learning how to apply poison to blades.

As for the crystal ball, bummer. If the Maramos's have an idea on how to obtain one permanently, that would be great, but if not he would ask if he could get access to one just long enough to scry his father. I assume Orensland cannot see what is produced from a scrying spell, only the spellcaster could do the scrying and relay verbally what is seen. Hence the desire to get access to a crystal ball.

And finally, Orensland would casually ask if cult members happen to be in the city, and hopefully that gets some conversation on the matter going. It is likely that sensitive information will not be discussed over dinner, but hopefully they can shed some light on where we want to go from here.

Thev
Ha. It's hilarious to see the discrepancy between the reactions of the rest of the party… and Khaska. Because that's exactly how Khaska would react to all of this: a perpetual state of discomfiture.

He'll have to figure out how to properly use the Hat of Disguise. At present, since he can't quite hide himself in the Maramos complex, he'll mainly plan on using it whenever he goes out, taking on forms that will be less notable. He's not exactly keen on exploring, especially since he can't sneak about like Orensland, but he would be interested to find if there were any shrines to Pelor/Teresh in the city—and if there are other Maha'i about (the former he wouldn't ask about; the latter he might). If he finds there are other Maha'i around and that it would be safe to go about as one, he might just use the Hat of Disguise to change his markings, horns, and clothing.

If he can get the person who will fit his armor to come to the Maramos complex, he'd prefer that to going out on that errand (on which he couldn't very well disguise himself anyway, as its success depends on his body being visible).

Most of his time, however, he would want to spend in the library, researching. A couple areas of his research would include:

  • Tawru
  • Urziana, the demon involved with Kvanir somehow
  • Maha'i in general; he knows that there are some on the Death Side, and is curious what vampire records (or other records they have in their possession) say
  • Maps of Darkcrest (if he can get a copy, that would be good; he'd want to provide it to the Bringers or the Knights eventually, as maps are incredibly valuable!)
  • Peaceful Children
  • Slave trade records
  • Zyrbryxion Swamps
  • Anything else that could give a strategic or tactical advantage against Darkcrest (though he wouldn't seek this out too deliberately, as not to blow their cover. No playing with giant orrery-rooms to find solar eclipses without a cover story!)

If anyone else has suggestions for what Khaska could do, let me know. I'll keep thinking about anything he might want.

Eryx (DM)
Crosis, please give me Gather Information, Spot, and Listen Checks. Greymantle assures you that traveling with a servant of the House of Maramos will still allow you to be discrete, and can even serve as a protection. Few of the other vampire covens/houses would dare incur the wrath of the House of Maramos. He's happy to provide you with a basic map of the city, but it's something that he has sketched out for you. There doesn't appear to be solid copies of maps, since the people of Jenoa haven't yet invented google maps.

Thevarou, Greymantle says that has seen very few Maha'i in the city in all his years, but he will inquire for you. It's possible there might be some. He would also be happy to send a servant with you in your travels outside the Maramos' complex. The official blacksmith and armorer of the House of Maramos is at your disposal, and refitting your armor will not require you to leave the complex.

If you're going to leave the complex to poke around the city, please also give me Gather Information, Spot, and Listen Checks. The same goes for anybody else, really.

Crosis
In that case, Orensland would like to get the (discrete) tour first, then do some sneakery after. Note (and I'm writing this before I make the rolls) Orensland doesn't usually rely on gathering info for… gathering info. He trusts more in his ability to observe unseen than his ability to haggle people for information. But I will provide the roll, because you requested it. Use it as necessary.

  • Gather Info: 19 (rolled 16 + 3)
  • Spot: 23 (rolled 11 + 12)
  • Listen: 21 (rolled 16 + 5)

Not too shabby! Looks like Orensland may notice quite a few details. For the sake of narration, you may want to include something about Orensland marveling over his cool new Eyes of the Eagle.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin has a morbid fascination with the vampires but certainly does not trust a one of them. He will spend as much time as possible studying -partially subjects of magic that would be hard (or impossible) to find elsewhere. Including subjects that are deemed to "black magic" for faint of heart scholars.

Thev
Great! He'll get his armor adjusted by the Maramos house armorer, then. How convenient! And he thinks he will go out in the city at least once, though he'd want to go with someone. Would anyone in the party want to come with Khaska? He'd probably disguise himself as a human or whatever would be least conspicuous (perhaps based on Orensland's reports from his wanderings).

Gather Information: 15 + 2 = 17
Spot: 13 + 6 = 19
Listen: 4 + 6 = 10

BlackWolf
Rynn's major objective will be to find out about slaves in the city. He'll start by asking Greymantle about it, letting him know that he's looking to acquire some very specific ones. Later on, when they get the chance to talk to Lord and Lady Maramos, Rynn will reveal to them that he's searching for his lost wife and child. He'll hope to appeal to their own happiness over their own reunion.

Also when we dine with our vampire hosts, Rynn will ask them about the upcoming war with Arkenos. He's curious what they intend to do when that day comes. Is that an event that will impact them much, or do they try to sit it out? Will they have allies from there? It occurs to the ranger that perhaps they end up needing to fight as much as anyone else, depending on what kind of evil comes from that moon. Rynn will couch this line of inquiry by stating that as a mercenary (which they believe him to be) he wants to be on the right payroll when the time comes.

A few months ago, when Rynn thought his wife likely dead, he might have been tempted to "indulge" himself here in Darkcrest. But now he feels that this may be the closest he gets to his family reunion and thus has steeled himself against any such thing. In fact, his demeanor is one of no-nonsense, and perhaps verging on anger or annoyance. He's certainly not acting like his usual outgoing and friendly self, even to the point that he's a bit emotionally distant from his companions. In this regard, perhaps he's acting more like his mercenary cover story than he ever has before!

But despite that, Rynn will gladly accompany Khaska around the city or to the library. Aside from his personal quest, he doesn't have much he desires to do or accomplish in Darkcrest. One of those few things would be to investigate getting his hand-crafted bow enchanted, or getting better magic leather armor. He doesn't want to lean on the Maramos' generosity in this though; he wants to preserve any favor he has from them toward getting his family back. He has ~3,000 gp on hand, as well as a pair of +1 longbows (which we looted over time) which he hopes he could get ~2,000 gp for selling at the usual half-price.

Apologies to everyone for delaying the game (yet again). Partly it was because I was trying to figure out what Rynn would do, and what purchases he'd try to make. And really, though I've narrowed it down to bow and armor, I still haven't exactly decided which purchase makes the most sense (or if I try to sell of the new, expensive bow to fund making mine better…), but I don't want to delay things further. Still gotta do my character leveling up too…

  • Gather Info: 12 (rolled 2 + 10 bonus)
  • Spot: 17 (rolled 9 + 8 bonus)
  • Listen: 21 (rolled 13 + 8 bonus)

Orensland had been prepared the moment he saw the layout of the city on their way in. A city designed for passage of vampires, making sure there were shadows everywhere even during the daytime?

Shadowdancing. Heaven.

“I was hoping to be able to look around Darkcrest myself,” he piped up, “but I don’t want to infringe on protocol in a vampire city or get into a fight.”

“The public areas of Darkcrest are for anybody. We would be happy to have one of our servants escort you around. As far as protocol, please don’t enter the lands of one of the other vampire houses. There are many in the city, and though few would dare challenge the House of Maramos, it’s best to not entire their house compounds unless invited.”

“Perhaps a tour of the city with a servant, then,” said Orensland. He had no intention of sneaking about with one of the servants, but a first-time tour wouldn’t be a bad idea to orient himself.

“And is there anything that we might be able to help you procure, in the meantime? You need not go shopping, if that is your intent. We have been told to do that legwork for you.”

“Actually,” Orensland said, “there is something. I was wondering if there were a way to acquire a crystal ball. Particularly one of the ones that you can communicate through. I have enemies I wish to keep tabs on, and friends I might wish to contact.”

Greymantle gave a low whistle. “An item of that rarity and power is hard to come by. Even if Lord and Lady Maramos have one, I don't know that they would part with it. You would have to ask them. I regret that I am unable to help more at this time.”

“Fair enough. Do you know of anybody in your house that knows about poisons and their use on weapons?”

“Of course! Captain Gendry and several of the militia leaders are skilled in their application. When not on duty, it would be simplicity itself to have you train with them.”

“That would be wonderful. Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Greymantle. I would enjoy going out into the city tomorrow morning, after a good night’s rest.”

Sanjin jumped right in. “I was wondering if there was a library that I might be able to visit?” The elf almost stumbled over his words. He had spent years, nay, decades, on the Death Side looking for lost magic and forbidden knowledge. And now he had the resources of a high-ranking vampire house! Yes, please!

“Oh yes, Lord and Lady Maramos have an extensive collection of books, and are on good terms with a few other vampire covens that similarly have excellent libraries. What are you seeking, specifically?”

“Books on magic. I would imagine that a powerful sorceress such as Lady Maramos would have, or knows who would have, such books.”

“She does, indeed. That can be easily arranged, both a visit to our library and to the libraries of other houses.”

“I look forward to that, but would also like a good night’s sleep.”

“We will show you our library tomorrow, and perhaps Lady Isabelle, our wizard-librarian, can be of assistance in helping you find what you need.”

Khaska was next. “I would like to accompany Sanjin to the library. There are some areas of research that I wish to pursue while here as well. Also, I was hoping there might be others from my race here. Are there many Maha’i in Darkcrest?”

Greymantle frowned. “I am sorry to say that we do not see many of them. I will make inquiries for you, and our library and resources are also at your disposal.”

“In my travels, I have acquired some better armor, but it was outfitted for a human.”

“Ah, Master Erilidar would be happy to help. He is the official armorer for the house of Maramos, and I could take you as soon as you like.”

“Tomorrow,” Khaska said. “Your hospitality is wonderful, but it would be nice to have a good night’s sleep for the first time in months.” He did not mention this was partially because there was no threat of waking up to Lady Maramos feeding on him. Even though he was in her complex, the fact that she, or any other vampire, could not enter this house, had eased his mind more than he expected. He had not realized how tense he had been about travelling with a vampire until the threat was removed.

“And, Rynn,” Greymantle said, turning finally to the ranger. “What wishes do you have that I may be able to assist with?”

“I would like to speak to someone about the slaves of Darkcrest,” he said. “I’m looking to acquire some very specific slaves, and wouldn’t know where to start.”

“That would be with me,” said Greymantle. “I am in charge of running much of the day-to-day operations of our complex, and am familiar with the slave trade in our city. You are looking for specific types of slaves, or specific individuals?”

“Individuals, if they are here. Truth be told, they may not be.”

“I would be happy to assist in your search, and with my contacts and resources, if they are here in Darkcrest, we can find them and purchase them for you. That is well within our power.”

“I would also, I think, like to speak with your armorer. It would be nice to upgrade some of my weapons and armor.”

“Master Erilidar is at your disposal. I assume you, also, would like a good night’s rest first? Would any of you like company in your quarters as you retire for the evening.”

The young lady standing next to Mister Greymantle looked at Rynn and smiled, but Rynn steeled himself. Thoughts of his Juliet sprang to his mind, and steeled him against the possibility of “indulging” himself. “No, thank you,” he said. Everybody else similarly declined, and, after months of travel and sleeping on the ground, and full of delicious food and good wine, the party slept well that night.


Sanjin was practically giddy as the young man swung open the doors to the library. He and Khaska were escorted in after breakfast, and after Khaska and Rynn had visited the elven armorer, Master Erilidar. Rynn had gone to speak with Greymantle about the slaves in the city, and Orensland had left to go get the “tour” of the city.

The library was a much larger room than either of them were expecting; it probably took up most of the basement of this wing of the main Maramos mansion. There were two different levels, with spiral staircases at each corner of the room. In the center, hanging from the ceiling and dominating the room, was a model of Pressen and its major moons, including Arkenos and Jenoa. Sanjin was surprised to see, hanging on the wall straight ahead, the skull of a dragon in the middle of an obsidian arch. Probably a copper dragon, from the looks of it. And a decent sized one, to boot. Not a wyrm, certainly, but certainly a dragon who was well into adulthood when he died. There were many book cases on both levels, parallel to the doors and perpendicular to the length of the room, and and there were several desks and comfortable chairs for reading. The carpet, much like everything they had seen so far in the mansion, was exquisite, various patterns and Everburning torches were at the end of every other bookcase, casting their light throughout the room. The other bookcases had art busts or sculptures in front of them, some grotesque and horrifying, others beautiful and well-crafted. There were some windows at the very top of the side walls, but they were narrow. The light would mostly be from the torches, it appeared. Two skeletons stood at attention near the entrance, unmoving.

“Lady Isabelle,” the servant called out, softly.

“Ah, our esteemed guests,” a young woman’s voice came. The sound of a book closing sounded through the room, and a young lady appeared from behind one of the bookcases on the second level, wearing long flowing white robes. She was followed by four small orbs of light. Sanjin noted they were castings of Dancing Lights. Lady Isabelle came to the edge of the platform and then turned into a cloud of mist, moving through the guardrail and slowly drifting down to the main level. The lights followed her. She re-materialized.

“That will be all,” she said.

“Yes, my lady,” the servant said, and then turned with a sharp bow and closed the doors behind him.

Lady Isabelle had been an elf before she was turned into a vampire. Her hair was short and spiked, black as the night, as was her lipstick. She had on one finger a gold ring, and around her neck a pendant. Sanjin noticed that her ring was from the University of Drequorun, where had had once studied, and where his twin was a student. Khaska was put off, again. He supposed he had been too optimistic to hope that the wizard-librarian of the House of Maramos wasn’t a vampire.

“I have been commanded to put all our resources at your disposal,” she said, moving forward. “What is it you wish to look for?”

Sanjin was happy to go first. “I was hoping there was a spellbook or two I could look at to copy spells into mine.” He held his spellbook up.

“Yes. Come with me,” she pointed to one of the skeletons. She moved to a bookcase in the back corner and pulled from the shelf several different books of varying sizes and conditions, loading them into the waiting arms of the skeleton. “These are all spellbooks from various wizards that were enemies of the House of Maramos. They no longer need them, but among them all every normal wizard spell available is to be found. There are, of course, many duplicates of the low-level spells, but you can peruse them and copy them as you wish. I will have ink and supplies brought down for your work. Any defensive spells have already been removed from the spellbooks. They are safe to use.” She spoke to the skeleton. “Please place these on one of the regular desks.” It turned and moved to do so.

“Normal spells,” Sanjin said. He was disappointed. “I had been hoping …” he paused.

“For some abnormal spells,” she said. She nodded, and moved over to a different bookcase, pulling four more books off, each looking like each other, red leather with runes inscribed on the cover—a matched set, and handing them to the same skeleton.

“Place those on the antimagic table.” With a flourish she swept her hand down the spines as the skeleton moved away. “The spellbooks of Saint Corwyn the Dread, a vampire Lord who ruled his lands for a thousand years. I believe you will find many spells here that are not usually found in respectable places.”

Sanjin put his hands on the top book almost reverently. Khaska almost didn’t like the look on the wizard’s face.

“You will have to read them on that table,” she said. “It has a antimagic field cast on it. If you do not, you may very well go insane from attempting to read the books, and we can’t have an insane wizard running amok in the library.” She cocked her head. “Though insanity has … other uses. Perhaps I could show you them sometime.”

Sanjin pursed his lips. He had no desire to indulge any vampire in any way. “That will not be necessary,” he said, diplomatically. He was here for knowledge, nothing else. “Thank you. I will begin perusing these.” He sat down at the antimagic table and cracked open the first spellbook of Saint Corwyn the Dread.

“And what can I assist you with, cleric of Pelor?” She walked up to him, very suspiciously. “I don’t know if we have ever had one of your kind in here before.” It was unclear to him if she meant “his kind” as a reference to Maha’i, or to clerics of Pelor. “To be frank, I wasn’t even sure your kind could speak or read.”

Maha’i, then.

Despite the insult, he responded with his cover story. The lie came easier this time, having rehearsed it and now lived it for several months. “I serve Teresh, whom you call Pelor, because my father wished it, but I am not an enforcer of rules or conduct. I seek knowledge. Nothing more.”

She seemed to buy the lie, which was true enough, in many ways. “And what knowledge can I assist you in finding,” she said.

“I am seeking knowledge of several items. First, anything that might point to a history of my people here on the death side. Second, knowledge of a particular demon named ‘Urziana.’ Third, the Zyrbryxion swamps and why they are so dangerous. It would also be nice if there are any maps of Darkcrest itself, for inclusion in my notes.”

“Do you seek to write of your experiences here on the Death Side?”

Khaska’s ears perked up. That was a possibility he had not considered to add to his subterfuge, but why not?

“I think so,” he said. “But I fear I am not gifted in the written word. Perhaps others will be able to put to page what I have experienced in life.”

“Perhaps this would be of use to you, then,” she said. She turned to mist again and rose up to the second level, retrieving a book and coming down. “The writings of Tebbins Ferrick on Darkcrest. We made a copy of his entries on Darkcrest before he departed back to Laishtek. He even signed this book itself after checking our copy for accuracy.” Lady Isabelle opened the book to the front page where, in the large flowing script Tebbins had signed his own name. Khaska was nearly breathless. It was one step removed from Ferrick himself! A copy of the actual original, and then signed by the famed explorer!

“I have read the journals of Ferrick,” she said. “This one was, I think, never published anywhere.” She cocked her head. “Perhaps I could show you our printing devices. I’ve developed them myself and think they may be of interest to a scholar such as yourself.”

She moved to another shelf, back where she had retrieved the spellbooks of Saint Corwyn. “As for your help with research on a demon, the Codex Demonicus would be the best place to start. It contains basic information on many demon species, their physiology, magical abilities, the planes they come from, and in many instances lists of known members of their species.”

And then she moved over to another bookcase to pull one final volume out. “The History of the Death Side, volume 50,” she said.

“Volume 50!” Khaska was surprised there would be so many.

“Don’t let the number fool you. Whoever wrote them decided to number them based on which millennium they correspond to. I don’t know that there ever were any written for, say, anything before the 49th Dark Times. But Dreadlord Zyrbryxion, the Bringer of Eternal Night came to power and ruled the marshes now named for him during the 50th millennium.”

“Zyrbryxion is a person, then?”

“A black dragon. He ruled the marshes that are still named for him through at least the 51st and 52nd Dark Times.”

“So, the most recent Dark Times, then?”

“Yes. He would have been a Great Wyrm by then, nearing his twilight. The kind of being even the forces of Arkenos would not have dared challenge. A pity he died before the Knights of the Silver Dragons began enslaving or slaying the chromatic dragons. Zyrbryxion would have personally wiped them all out for such an affront to dragonkind. We have The History of the Death Side, volume 51 as well. I assume some ambitious scholar in the next millennium will write volume 52.” She furrowed her brow. “Perhaps I will.” Then she straightened. “I believe this is sufficient to get you started. If you need anything, ask one of the servants and they can assist you though, they are just skeletons, so simple explanations and requests are all they can handle.”

“Oh, also,” she moved to the table she had deposited Khaska’s reading on, and reached for a box that had been sitting in the middle of the table. The cleric noticed that each table, except for the one Sanjin was reading on, had a similar box. One of the boxes on the first tables by the entryway was open. She flipped the lid open and four lights, the same as were following her, came out. “These Dancing Lights will obey your commands and follow you anywhere in the library.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I believe I have what I need to get started.”

“Very well. I will have the magic spellbook supplies sent down immediately, Mister Sanjin.”

The elf nodded and waved her off, already engrossed in the evil spellbooks of the vampire saint. She left, the skeletons opening the door for her and then closing it, returning to their posts. Khaska felt a chill go up his spine, now with just his companion in this cursed library, but opened his books and began to read.

As he suspected might occur, the History of the Death Side was written in elven, and the Codex Demonicus was in draconic, neither of which he read. He had prepared Comprehend Languages in case this would happen, and so was able to begin reading after casting the spell on himself.


Orensland was out and about by himself, as was his wont. Even a city like this, run by vampires who would be merciless to those who infringed upon their order, would have thieves. Maybe even a thieves guild. There would be people who knew information, and who might part with it, or who might whisper it to friends, unaware of the shadowdancing elf nearby.

Unfortunately, the city was so large, that he found it difficult to track down people who might be of interest. Not just any servant shopping for food or going to the butcher would be of equal value. He began tailing people who looked more important, people that, he assumed, were the equivalent of Captain Gendry, or Master Greymantle. Unfortunately, even after three days of following people and spying, he wasn’t that much closer to discovering anything really important. He could tell that there were multiple factions of vampire covens, and that some of them were opposed to the House of Maramos, while others were allies. He did take notes on which houses were in which camp. Perhaps they could discover some subterfuge; perhaps a house that claimed to be allies were, in secret, enemies. He smiled as he made more notes in a small ledgerbook he had acquired from Master Greymantle. He had noticed that Rynn wasn’t his usual chipper self. Partly that was, the rogue assumed, because of the revelations about his wife and child, and his attempts to find if they were in the city. But it was probably partly from just being in such a large city. Rynn, despite his developing tracking skills and such for inside a city, still seemed much more at home in the open wilds.

Orensland felt the complete opposite. The skills he had learned to be a thief from his father, as much as he hated how that learning process had gone, were serving him well here. And with his additional shadowdancing abilities as well, he was enjoying himself thoroughly. He glanced up at the sky. Pressen was still waxing, and that meant he still had plenty of time. Lord and Lady Maramos had invited them for dinner that evening.

He sat, perched atop one of the buildings overlooking one of the main thoroughfares, then picked a new mark to follow. Donning his Eyes of the Eagle, even these months later he was still slightly amazed at how they enhanced his vision, and remaining blended into the shadows, he clambered down the side of the building into the alleyway and then moved out into the crowd, following the lady returning from the butcher’s shop with a whole slew of choice cuts.


Rynn indeed felt very out of place in the city for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t just that he was surrounded by vampires, was staying in the house of a vampire worshipper, and was constantly surrounded by signs of the fake bargain they had made by usurping the place of Kaylee’s mercenaries. It was that he had, frankly, never lived in such “splendor,” and, aside from attempting to see if Juliet and his child were in the city, there wasn’t much for him to do.

He had discussed several new upgrades with the weapons and armormaster Erilidar, but hadn’t yet decided on anything. He found himself sometimes just wandering the Maramos complex while his companions were out and about. Sanjin virtually disappeared every day right after breakfast and didn’t return until dinner. Khaska was not as dedicated, but still spent several hours a day in the library.

This day, however, the Maha’i wanted to venture forth to the city itself. Lady Isabelle was in the library copying some magic spells herself, and he didn’t desire to be in the company of the vampire wizard any longer than he had to. He had found a decent map of Darkcrest in the writings of Tebbins Ferrick, a map he had copied himself. It was a little out of date, according to Lady Isabelle (several of the lesser vampire houses noted in the map had gone extinct since the map was made), but still served well enough to get the basic layout of the city itself. Upon leaving the Maramos complex, he donned his Hat of Disguise and used it to change the markings on his fur, the style of his horns, and even the color of the armor he wore. He was self-conscious, because it appeared that Master Greymantle was right. He had not seen another Maha’i in the city as of yet.

The two of them were perusing the marketplace, which served as both a somewhat normal market, though it seemed the noble “chosen” didn’t deign to do their own work. Most of the people present seemed to be normal humans, dwarves, gnomes, elves, etc. Rynn remaked on this to Khaska, who nodded.

“The rulers of this city seem to function as aristocrats in other societies. Many servants and underlings to do their bidding as they ‘live it on’ in their palaces and mansions.”

“Live it up,” Rynn said.

“Ah, yes.” The cleric looked up at the sky where Pressen was in view, nearly completely lit. “It is near mid-day. We could return to the residence of our benefactors, or we could find a tavern to eat here in the city.”

“Honestly, I don’t think that I would mind eating in a tavern. Master Greymantle feeds us good food, but I miss the feel of the open road, sometimes.”

Khaska snorted. “You are a rare individual who is content to eat a rabbit he caught that day rather than the cooking of such fine chefs as are employed by the Maramos family. But I would rather not walk all the way back just to return to the city afterwards. Let us find a tavern.”

Master Greymantle had supplied them each with a pouch of gold coins and with it they were able to easily buy a pretty good meal, even if a tavern meal, a few blocks from the main marketplace. Khaska ordered a spinach and mushroom stew, while Rynn a hunk of lamb with some bread and cheese. Rynn also ordered a glass of wine.

“You seem to have taken a liking to wine,” Khaska said.

“I’ve always just seemed to like ale, but apparently the Maramos’s don’t ever drink it, so it’s grown on me the past few days.”

The serving boy returned with their orders a few minutes later, putting them down hurriedly, nearly spilling Rynn’s wine, and then moved away quickly. Khaska was immediately suspicious of something and looked down. There was, tucked underneath his bowl atop the serving plate, a piece of paper. He drew it out.

“Huh. That is intriguing.”

The note read:

My coven will double whatever the Maramos coven is paying you for information about the goings-on in their lands. If this offer intrigues you, meet a contact of mine at the beginning of sunrise twilight in two days, at the corner of Druil and Garzan > streets, on the north end of the city.

“I suppose we had best go back to the others and let them know,” Rynn said, upon reading it.

The waiter returned after a few minutes, still petrified. Despite Orensland’s constant reminders to stay in character, Khaska could not help but look the boy in the eye. “You were only the messenger, and need not fear retaliation.” The boy relaxed a little. Rynn spoke up.

“You wouldn’t tell us anything about the person who gave you this note for us, would you?”

The boy shook his head, and vanished with their cleared plates. He did not return.


Khaska and Rynn returned to the Maramos complex with some time to spare. Master Greymantle was awaiting them expectantly.

“Welcome back!” he said, grinning. “I hope your day was enjoyable. Dinner will be served in the main dining room of the mansion in an hour and a half. I will send servants to escort you there in just over an hour.” Then he turned to the cleric. “Khaska,” he said, “could I accompany you to your quarters?”

Khaska and Rynn exchanged glances, but Khaska turned to Greymantle. “Of course.” When Rynn was out of earshot (his quarters were on the first floor, Khaska’s on the second), Greymantle spoke, whispering. “I am sorry it has taken me so long, but I have been able to locate one of your kind in the city! I’m afraid that she was working cleaning out the sewers, so it took some doing but we’ve managed to clean her and heal her after purchasing her from the city guard. She is in your quarters now.” Greymantle bowed and then turned to head back down the hallway.

Khaska opened the door to find a young Maha’i female sitting on one of the benches in the antechamber to the rest of his quarters. She was wearing a silk dress that clung to her, and was, to Khaska’s sensibilities, way too revealing. He also noticed scars on her hands, places where the fur did not grow due to past injuries, and her horns were chipped, her left one missing the very tip of it, giving her an uneven look. When she saw him, she stood, and knelt before him as he closed the door.

“Hello, Master Khaska. What would you ask of me?” He detected a tremor in her voice.

Khaska stood there, completely flabbergasted for a moment. A swirl of emotions engulfed his heart. The effrontery of Greymantle, thinking that sex was the reason he had inquired after his own kind! And then … embarrassment at seeing a woman of his species so uncovered, acting so subservient from her abuse. Then anger at a society that would demean a woman who should be honored.

Perhaps he took too long to decide on a course of action, but eventually he realized he had to do something. Staring at her would be awkward if he kept it up for much longer. And there wasn’t a lot of time before dinner, he felt.

Not wanting to further disturb her, he tried to surpress his anger and shock at the situation, pushing those emotions down and doing his best to cultivate the desire to not disturb the woman. She had been watching him this entire time, and he wasn’t sure how much of his inner turmoil she could intuit.

“My lady,” he said, covering his eyes in a traditional sign of respect. “I would ask your name, and for you to stand and enter. Do not fear; I will not hurt you.”

He wrapped his hand in a loose part of his robe and held it out to her (direct touch between Maha’i men and women was not permitted). He had made allowances in the past months with Jenika and Amara, but they were not of his race and were outsiders to his customs. He would not comport himself the same way with this Maha’i woman.

“I am called Feral.”

An odd name. He wondered where she had received it.

She gingerly took his hand and he brought her from the antechamber into one of the other rooms, more of a room with chairs. He guided her to one of the couches and had her sit. Then he sat on the floor in front of her.

“I am sorry you have been treated the way you have here. I will assure you that I did not request you be brought here to …” he paused, looking for the right words, “serve me. In our land, you would be shown the respect due to your sex.” He glanced around, then stood and left to the bedroom, retrieving a spare blanket from one of the chests. He offered it to her, but was careful not to touch her as she took it from him.

She paused, unsure what to do with it.

“It is,” he sighed, “that is to cover yourself. The clothing you were provided is far to inappropriate.” It took her a moment, but she eventually covered herself with the blanket, making sure that as little of her body was visible. Khaska nodded. “I will see to requesting further clothing for you. But I must know; have you known any other land? How did you come to Darkcrest, and how long have you been here?”

“I was born here,” she whispered.

“And your parents were slaves?”

She nodded.

“Have you known any of our kind from them, and now me?”

She shook her head.

Eventually he was able to coax the story out of her, but she spoke slowly, and uncertainly the entire time. Her parents had been slaves, as had their parents before them. Maha’i in the city were the lowest of the low among the slaves, suitable only for manual labor. No vampire house would have them work in their mansions or lands, and so slowly the Maha’i in the city were sold off to other interested parties and taken from the city. Her father had been used as a gladiator, and her mother kept around as “comfort” for him. Despite this horrific story, she indicated that her parents had grown to love each other. Eventually, her father was killed in the arena, and her mother, stricken by grief, was killed later by their master, who was outraged by the loss. Feral was only a child, sold off to work in some mines in the Abghat peaks. Eventually sold back to Darkcrest, she was passed from several owners, always performing manual balor.

Coaxing this out of her took some time, and Khaska eventually heard a knock at the door. He sighed.

“Thank you for telling you your story, Feral. I have been summoned to dinner with our hosts, and must go, but will send for more appropriate clothing. I will be back in a few hours and would speak to you more.”

She nodded.

“Yes, Master Khaska.”

“Please don’t call me that.”

“Yes, Master.”

“No, don’t call me ‘master.’ ‘Khaska’ will do.”

She didn’t respond, and he bowed before her (this time making so sure his horns weren’t threatening that he nearly stretched the front of his neck too far) before leaving.


Khaska was decidedly out of sorts, Rynn noticed, when he rejoined the party. The cleric was trying his best to put on a good face, but something had disturbed him greatly. However, with Greymantle and several servants around, the ranger didn’t dare ask what had happened. That would have to wait until after dinner. The Maramos’s awaited.

The main dining room of the mansion was an incredible sight, practically shining with gold statues, great yellow-tinted marble floors, and and red curtains laced with gold trim. At one end of the room was a large painting depicting Lord and Lady Maramos, she her hands outstretched with arcane fire alighting off of them, and he with his sword in an en guarde position, blood dripping from it. At their feet were two corpses, both also vampires from their fangs.

The party was escorted to their seats near one end of the long table and signaled to wait, which they only had to for a moment, for just then Lord and Lady Maramos, along with several other vampires, swept into the room.

It was the first time any of them had seen Lady Maramos since they had arrived, and she looked decidedly healthier. Orensland supposed being able to feed more regularly would do that to any creature, even an undead vampire. She had on an elegant purple dress with a plunging neckline and, when she turned, an even deeper back. She had on several bracelets and a necklace, and her dangling earrings nearly reached her bare shoulders.

Lord Maramos wore an elegant black suitcoat, slightly longer in the back, made of fine cloth and embroidered with lace, a red sash across his chest from his left shoulder down to his hip. The jacket and pants, though they convered all his body, did little to hide the bulging muscles beneath them. It had not been apparent when he was wearing his armor when they had first met him, but Lord Maramos was built like an ox, heavily muscled, yet with a spring in his step. He pulled the chair out for his wife, and she sat first. The other vampire women, Isabelle among them, then sat, and then the men joined them, including the party.

Captain Gendry and several militiamen were stationed at the vampire side of the table, figures standing like statues, fully armored. The servants fluttered in to the room and began serving the first of what would be several courses. They poured wine or water (Khaska’s preference for not drinking wine was known by now, of course) in the cups of the party, but brought out separate containers for the vampires, pouring a thick red liquid into the goblets of each of the “chosen.”

Clearly, blood.

As the group finished their appetizers, and as the servants began clearing their plates, Lord Maramos finally spoke up.

“I hope that you have been happy in your accommodations. Your assistance to my wife was most welcome, and once again we thank you for your service. It was above and beyond what we could have expected from you.”

Orensland wiped his mouth and spoke up, still playing the role of the mouthpiece for the group.

“Your people have been most generous and we have no complaints.” He smiled, and patted his stomach. “I fear our biggest complaint might be that you are feeding us too much!”

Lord Maramos laughed. “I hear you have been training with some of our militiamen, Mister Orensland. Perhaps I should have Captain Gendry work you harder in a sparring session or two.”

Orensland smiled at that. The training in poisons had been going well, but he hadn’t actually done any sparring with Captain Gendry or any of the others. He glanced over at Captain Gendry, who nodded at him.

“Master Greymantle informed us of your unusual request, Orensland,” Lady Maramos said as the servants brought out the first main course dish—roasted lamb with vegetables. “Unfortunately, we have no crystal ball capable of doing the things you wish, and none of our allies here in Darkcrest do so. My child, Lady Isabelle, however, has the ability to cast Greater Scrying. She is currently creating two scrolls of the spell for you. They should be done …” she glanced over at the other vampire.

“In two days,” Lady Isabelle said. “One is complete. I could have it delivered to your quarters, but I suspect that you will want to come study the scrolls with me in the library. There I can help you understand the magical notation with no chance of mishap, so that when the time comes for you to cast the spell yourself, you will be in little danger of the spell misfiring. The scrolls are for your own use, however you wish, whenever you wish, but I can cast the spell myself and convey the appropriate information to you.”

“Master Greymantle ascertained that you wish privacy for the spells, especially if using them to communicate,” Lady Maramos continued, “but perhaps we could just cast Scrying. You should be able to see the subject through the mirror Lady Isabelle uses as focus. Perhaps that would be of assistance before you desired to speak to your enemies through your own casting.”

“That is a generous offer. I will consider it,” Orensland said. He turned to Lady Isabelle. “I would very much like to not be sent to the nine hells when reading your scrolls. I will join you in the library when they are complete and you can help me learn to read them without incident.”

Lady Isabelle nodded.

“Rynn,” Lord Maramos said. “You have not availed yourself of much of our hospitality. I can respect a ranger, such as yourself, being self-sufficient. In my human days, I journeyed over much of the death side with little but my wits and weapons to keep me alive and safe. But Greymantle has informed us you seek to find a pair of slaves, but it appears they are not in Darkcrest. Do they have particular meaning to you?”

“They do, my lord,” Rynn said. He tried to keep a straight face, but wasn’t sure how well he kept his emotions in check. “My wife was kidnapped by slavers years ago. I recently learned that she was with child when she was taken. It is my Juliet and child that I seek. I would hope that, with your recent happy reunion, you would be sympathetic to my quest.”

Lord and Lady Maramos leaned in to speak to each other from where the sat at the head of the table. They conferred for a long moment before pulling apart and Lord Maramos continued speaking.

“Our resources to find her are limited to Darkcrest and the areas controlled by our city, and though Greymantle will continue to seek them here, if he has not found them yet, it seems unlikely they are here. But we have allies in the slave trade on the death side who may be of assistance. We will inquire with them.”

“Are they allies with the Cult?” Orensland asked. “I have long wondered what my fellow dragon worshippers are doing on the Death Side. Miss Heppler, my cell leader in Laishtek, did not know.”

“That is a matter between you and your superiors in the hierarchy of the Cult of Skyrnyn. However, some of those very superiors will be joining us in the near future. We have sent a message to them, and they will be coming to collect the information my wife gathered on their dealings on the Living Side. But that will likely be at least weeks, if not months, from now.”

“For your going above and beyond the initial conditions of your contract, I will gladly introduce you to them,” Lady Maramos said. “With the work we have done with them, I have much sway, and can use it to your advantage, Orensland.” She looked at Rynn. “Possibly with your quest to find your wife and child as well, but success there would depend on a great many variables beyond our control. If I were religious, I would say a prayer to Vecna that they will be found alive and returned to you.”

Rynn wasn’t sure how he felt about the one-eyed, one-handed evil lich demigod assisting in his quest, but he didn’t let that show in his face.

“Thank you, Lady Maramos. I would love information and assistance however I can get it, in the hopes that my wife and child are alive and that they can be found.”

By this time, they were on the second course, fish and rice with steamed mushrooms.

“If they are found, you need only ask, and we will purchase them for you,” Lord Maramos said. “Even if years hence, you need only ask.”

“I fear the window on my time to find them is closing,” Rynn said. He saw here an opening to transition to his other question—the forthcoming war with Arkenos and the Dark Times. “When the Dark Times comes, I imagine it will be more difficult to locate them.”

“You speak words of wisdom,” Lord Maramos said. “The Dark Times will affect us all in some way or another. It took decades for the moon to recover, ecologically, from the last war with our sister moon and the effects of being so close to Arkenos.”

“How will it affect you here?” Rynn asked. “Will you have to fight? Will you attempt to sit it out?”

Lord and Lady Maramos conferred for a moment again.

“We have made arrangements with the Cult of Skyrnyn that will allow us, we think, a greater chance to survive the Dark Times should fighting be necessary. I would not want to divulge more without the permission of the Cult’s leadership, though,” he indicated Orensland, “we may acquire that shortly in your case, Mister Orensland. You have expressed desires to move up in the ranks of the cult. We can at least facilitate your introduction when some of the leaders arrive here, but we have no control over the internal politics of our allies.”

“If you or the cult is looking to hire mercenaries to help with the fighting, if that is necessary,” Rynn said, “I would be happy to offer my services. I like to be on the winning sides of things, and it seems to me you have things well in hand. I’d like to be on the right payroll when the time comes.”

“That is certainly something we may consider in the months and years to come,” Lord Maramos said. “By the best calculations of our scholars, at most we have six or seven years before the moons converge. It may be as few as two or three.”

Khaska’s ears flattened against his head at that thought. That movement brought him to the attention of their hosts. “And Mister Khaska, how have you been enjoying our hospitality. Lady Isabelle reports you have much interest in the history and scholarship concerning the Death Side.”

“Indeed,” he said. “Your library records have been most helpful.”

“Have you seen our printing machines?” Lord Maramos asked. “I would think such devices would be of interest to a scholar such as yourself.”

“I have not yet,” he said. “Though Lady Isabelle has invited me to do so.”

“And what is the end goal of your research?”

“The Lady Isabelle thought that perhaps I might write a book on the history of my people on the Death Side, though I fear I have no skill at writing. Perhaps my information and notes could be given to one who does, and such a book could be produced one day.”

“Is there any information you have been unable to find?”

“I fear more detailed records of the slave trade regarding my people are not the kinds of records that are meticulously kept, but Master Greymantle has helped as he can. I fear that portion of my research is not going well. The copy of the Codex Demonicus did not have the information on the demon I sought, as well.”

“Does not the House of Lancel have a different copy of the Codex, Isabelle?” Lady Maramos asked.

“I believe they do.”

“Perhaps you could arrange for Khaska to peruse that copy.” She looked at Khaska. “With such books, different copies have different information. The House of Lancel is an ally of ours, and perhaps their copy may have the information you seek.”

“That would be most helpful,” Khaska replied. “Also, perhaps there is something that you can tell me, however,” he said. “In my research on the Living Side, I came across a group, relatively recently organized, called the ‘Peaceful Children.’ I fear they are so new that there appear to be no records of them in your library. Perhaps the History of the Death Side volume 53 will have something to say about them. But they operate in Laishtek, where a great many of my people live, and I was wondering if you knew anything about them, or what avenues of research about them I might pursue.”

Lady Maramos smirked. “The Peaceful Children would barely warrant a footnote in that history. You are right that they are a very new organization. They, too, were allies of the Cult of Skyrnyn, but they betrayed the cult, and were massacred in recent months. They will not recover.”

The party’s thoughts returned to their having tracked the pilgrimage from Hammerdine, and how it ended at the town built around the secret shrine to Nerull. A town that had been literally razed to the ground, the death god insulted in his own shrine. The wrath of the cult was severe, indeed.

“Do you know the nature of their involvement with the cult?” the cleric asked.

“I have suspicions that they supplied labor for the cult’s works here on the Death Side, but I do not know for sure. We were tasked with helping print items for their use and occasionally to keep an eye on them to make sure they were keeping a low enough profile, but aside from that we have had no dealings with them. You could ask the cult leaders when they arrive.”

“If it will be many weeks or even months before they arrive,” Khaska said, “we do not wish to overstay our welcome.”

“You will not,” Lady Maramos said, almost forcefully. “You earned our gratitude. Take advantage of it.”

By this time dessert was being brought out, a chocolate cake topped with various fruits. Rynn had thought that vampires would only really drink blood (certainly Lady Maramos only had done so on their trip), but it seemed they also could eat regular food, and at least in the House of Maramos, had excellent taste in fine cuisine.

Eryx (DM)
So, there’s obviously a lot in this post, which is what I suspected would happen.

Major points that I would like input on.

1. The note from the rival coven of the House of Maramos. What do you all intend to do about it? Unfortunately none of your Gather Info checks where high enough to determine which house is so actively plotting against the House of Maramos. Orensland has a basic idea of the political landscape in Darkcrest, but that’s it. Most Houses seem allied with the Maramos coven. But there is a group of houses that are not, and thus the city exists in a perpetual a state of “cold war.”
2. DeltaWolf, you can basically copy any spell into Sanjin's spellbook that you wish. I’ve sent you a PDF of the 3.5 edition Book of Vile Darkness which similarly has additional evil spells. You can copy any of those as well, but be aware of some limitations due to Sanjin's good alignment. You do have limited time though, so I’d like you to make a list of the spells from both sources you would want to copy, and in order that your character would prioritize, and we’ll just let you work through the list until the high-ranking members of the Cult of Skyrnyn show up. I’ll roll for how long you have once I have your list in hand, but it will be a while. Also, keep in mind that you'll have to "translate" the spells into 5E spells at the end of the Codex. We'll work to make sure that all is on the up and up with regard to game mechanics between 3.5E and 5E.
3. I tried to give the basics of what Khaska has learned in the dialogue. If you want more specifics, ask and perhaps we’ll just cover it in the gray box instead of putting it in the narrative or perhaps in the wiki on relevant pages. This post was very very long.
4. Rynn doesn’t get the impression that he would be imposing on the Maramos’s or risking an attempt to buy his wife and child if he upgraded his armor and weapons. So we’re back to … what does he want?
5. Now that you have the basics of Feral’s story, what does Khaska want to do concerning her, Thev?
6. Anything else I didn’t cover or that you want to do in Darkcrest with this new information?

Also, it is technically time for upkeep (several times over), but since you are staying as guests of the House of Maramos, you don’t have to pay anything for any of the months you were on the road.

For those interested, I picture some of the basic details of the library to be like this picture, especially the general orientation of the bookcases. In looking at pictures of fantasy libraries, there is some great art to be found online!

Crosis
Power to you, Eryx, for sacrificing a good night's sleep to get this done. My hat is off to you. :)

In regards to the note, Orensland wouldn't personally want to take up the rival coven on their offer. He has no need for a "double" money offering, as what he currently has is beyond his tastes as is. I'll write more about that in a second. Furthermore, while we're not exactly true allies to the Maramos house, there's not much incentive to run off and ally ourselves with a similarly evil coven of vampires. So in regards to meeting people on that street junction, Orensland would not volunteer himself.

…However, that doesn't mean Orensland wouldn't go! He's been scouring the city for information, and this is his first real chance to get some. He'd like to go and find the contact, hopefully tailing them to their employers. He'd arrive a couple hours before the deadline, hiding in plain sight enroute as well as at the scene, and watch all passerby activity carefully. Hopefully it's not the most crowded of streets, and potential targets would be few. Regardless, Orensland wouldn't oppose other members of the party going, though he would not recommend it. Unless we want to do a sting operation to bring the dealers out of hiding (say, Rynn shows up to talk to the person, Orensland listens in and tails the person afterward, etc). We may like them more than the Maramos's, we may not, but more information is always good. Regardless, Orensland would not personally jeopardize his relationship with the Maramos's, as they are his way into learning more about the Cult, the slave trade etc.

Another motive for scouting out this new coven that Orensland may or may not disclose to the party members is a bit more personal. If pressured he'll say, but otherwise keep it to himself. In essence, Orensland grew up largely targeting large, wealthy, arrogant higher-ups. While allying with Lord and Lady Maramos is a means to an end, Orensland would soon grow uncomfortable living in such lavish accommodations. While continuing to stay at the mansion for appearances, Orensland would remain in the city as much as possible. Furthermore, while technically the Maramos couple is off-limits for pulling the kinds of stunts Orensland would normally pull on those of such status (for now), he would probably see scouting out this coven as an opportunity to blow off some steam. It's a higher-up target, and Orensland would be lying if he said he didn't miss the thrill of setting someone's house on fire.

Orensland would also like Rynn/Khaska to point out the waiter who gave them the note. If things don't work out at the street corner, he'd like to try his hand at scaring the boy into talking. I'm thinking of sneaking him up on him all wraith-like, put a knife to his throat, then threaten to kill him if he doesn't tell relay the proper information. Then vanish without a trace immediately afterwards. I'll roll Bluff (Orensland would never actually kill the boy) and Intimidate checks down below. Hopefully the method of interrogation would enhance the effectiveness in some way. If he still doesn't get any information, he may spy on the boy for a couple of days. We'll cross that bridge if we come to it, though.

On that note of growing increasingly uncomfortable, Orensland would also take to pick-pocketing when scouring the city. I'll add Sleight of Hand rolls in a moment.

As for the scrolls, that's perfect. He would use one of the scrolls as soon as he could to get an idea of his father's location. A simple Scrying spell should do just fine, he has no wish to communicate with his father. As for the other scroll, it seems we have a few options. Are we estimating that Jared would have arrived at his destination by now if nothing went wrong? Or would it still be a few months? If we don't receive some kind of Greater Scrying message from them in the next couple of months, we may want to use the scroll to try to peak in on Jared. Otherwise, Orensland would just hold onto the scroll for now. Though he would suggest Rynn get a similar scroll for trying to locate his wife.

Orensland would also be up for some sparring, mostly out of boredom again. Does that increase my skills in any way?

Also, did Orensland really not find a nest of thieves/the thieves guild by this point? I feel like they would have been relatively easy to find with that spot check. See the theft, follow the thief, etc. Oh well… I guess he'll continue to be on the lookout.

I think that's it as far as my character goes. It may be fun to bring Feral back with us to Rhun, though. Two outcast Maha'i, who I presume feel at least somewhat alone as the sole members of their race for the entirety of their lives, may be happy to find someone like them. Also, if Rynn is interested he could ask about Inyel the Blood Ranger. At the very least to make sure he doesn't accidentally cross paths with her in Darkcrest.

My rolls:

  • Hide: 44 (rolled natural 20+24)
  • Move Silently: 26 (rolled 2 + 24)
  • Spot: 26 (rolled 14 + 12)
  • Listen: 22 (rolled 17 + 5)
  • Gather Info: 15 (rolled 12 + 3)
  • Sleight of Hand: 26 (rolled 5 + 21)
  • Bluff: 19 (rolled 9 + 10)
  • Intimidate: 16 (rolled 11 + 5)

An absolute wraith. This should be good.

Eryx (DM)
You have seen no evidence of a thieves' guild, and in a city this size, you frankly find that a little weird. When you try pickpocketing, what kind of people are you going to target?

BlackWolf
Rynn agrees that we should not deal with the rival coven. Although betraying the House of Maramos could sow disruption amongst the evil-aligned, it would also put us in considerable danger. Like Crosis mentioned, we don't need the money, so it's hard to see what other benefit we could gain from it. Besides, Rynn is almost sympathetic to the vampires now that he sees this city. So jaded has he become against the rule of law that he can actually appreciate how the rule of strength in this city mirrors nature. He's starting to believe that any big city will harbor corruption.

Almost being the key word though. Rynn does not like the open slavery here, especially how the "lesser" beings are treated. But there is nothing for him to do about it at this juncture. Perhaps we should tell Lord Maramos of the note to further solidify our alliance/trust with them? (Ironic, given that the ranger's original desire was to just kick open Lady Maramos' coffin by daylight.)

Scrying for Juliet is a good idea; unfortunately Rynn could not make use of a scroll. The spell is not on his class list, nor is he trained in the Use Magic Device skill. But he will ask Lady Isabelle to cast the spell for him. It's not as good since she'd only have secondhand knowledge of the subject, but it's as close as we're going to get.

As for upgrades, Rynn would like to get his personally-crafted masterwork longbow enchanted to be +1 Frost (or better). He'll keep the Flaming Burst bow for now so he has two types of magical options for attack. He'd also like +2 Studded Leather Armor (or better) and some Bracers of Archery. Those are the items he'd most like to get at this juncture, though he'd still be hesitant to ask for much. His companions would know of his few material desires though; so maybe they'd ask on his behalf? (Not that he would ask them to.)

As for longer term plans, Rynn thinks that having the vampires help Orensland with the cult could lead to our best information about them and the messes we've gotten entangled in. But there's definitely risk, especially if Amara is around. Given that it will be some time, the ranger isn't keen on staying around Darkcrest to wait for enemies to converge on us…

Thev
OOC: Whoa, I'm surprised Arkenos will be here so soon. Here I was thinking it was going to arrive five years after the party's travels began!

Regarding the rival clan: Khaska agrees that they should not betray the House Maramos. By the same token, he would be wary of revealing the note to the House Maramos as well, lest they set an ambush and their rivals learn that the party turned over their information. Khaska wants to keep a relatively low profile and avoid making enemies here, if at all possible. The one exception would probably Orensland getting in with the Cult of Skyrnyn—there's enough at stake, and enough potential there, that the risk is justifiable.

Khaska has learned about Dreadlord Zyrbryxion, but he still doesn't know why the swamps are so treacherous. That would be one topic of research. Given the reminder that the next Dark Times are around the corner, too, he'll redouble his efforts to find anything regarding Urziana, Kvanir, and Tawru; he knows the Relics of Tawru will probably be needed soon, and he'd want to heal Kvanir and find the Horn (if he finds any traces of it) as soon as he can. He doesn't necessarily want to be in Darkcrest when Arkenos and Jenoa converge, but so long as they'll be there, he'll take advantage of the situation.

Feral [pronounced FAIR-uhl? fair-ALL?] presents some additional complications. Khaska has to figure out how to respect her autonomy and value while not appearing to violate the norms of the city in suspiciously good ways. In pondering how to do that, he'll decide that the should use the same cover story with her as with everyone else in Darkcrest: he's a researcher, come here to study. (It's not worth it to risk blowing his cover.) All the same, he'll tell her that he plans on ensuring her freedom and safety, both in the city and when the party decides to leave. To accomplish this—leaning on the generosity of the House Maramos—he'll ask to have her ownership officially transferred to him, and will tell Feral that, until she is safe, she will need to mimic servitude when they are around others. (If she would like, Khaska could take her out to show her the city from a different perspective.) In private, Khaska would like spend time teaching her how to read (in a Silence spell for privacy and plausible deniability). Lady Isabelle's comments and the treatment of slaves in the city have somewhat stuck in his craw, you might say.

DeltaWolf
I'll take a look at that dark book of darkness you sent me. But for now I want to post so we can move on.

Eryx (DM)
Dark Book of Darkness. Haha. Supplied by The Evil League of Evil, perhaps?

So three questions before I think we can move forward (and I know that you generally qualify as an "audience member" per that "Types of Players" video I posted a while back, DeltaWolf, but I do want Sanjin to give his input on these decisions as he has opinions):

1. There isn't consensus among you about what to do regarding the note from the rival coven. Nobody wants to go to the meeting (except Orensland, who isn't going to the meeting but wanting to tail them back to their house lands). But it was suggested you tell Lord and Lady Maramos about the note. Will you do that, or not?

2. Orensland wants to go after the waiter that slipped Rynn and Khaska the note. Will Rynn and/or Khaska be willing to give up the information on this young man?

3. Crosis, you didn't answer my questions about who you would be targeting for pickpocketing.

Crosis

1. I floated the sting operation idea earlier, but I had a few more ideas on the subject. Killing multiple birds with one stone. A plan we could do: A) Tell Greymantle about the note in private. Tell him we intend to discover which coven passed Rynn/Khaska the note via the following plan. B) Khaska goes to the appointed location, Orensland nearby shadowdancing, Rynn and Sanjin close enough that they can be called in should a fight break out. C) Khaska tells the servant/coven representative that he has no desire for money. What he needs is all the information the unknown coven could possibly find on Urziana. If they can provide him with all the details Khaska desires, Khaska would be willing to trade information. Until then, no deal will be made. D) Orensland could tail the servant following the encounter, ultimately finding out which coven they belong to. E) even if we find out who the coven is, we explicitly tell Greymantle we want to see if they'll make good on their commitment to Khaska before we tell him who they are. He knows we're not backstabbing the Maramos clan (yet), so may feel all right giving us a few days to milk the other coven for information.

In this way, we get even more on the Maramos's graces, we discover who this other evil coven is, possibly find something exciting to do while we wait for the Cult to arrive, and Khaska has greater access to information about the demon. After all, while looking names up in a book is one method for discovering who's who in the demon world, I would assume that people in this city have means of directly contacting demons. Who likely know more demons. Who could learn directly who this demon is and how to get the information necessary to make Kvanir good again. If the unknown coven takes the bait, they may have resources necessary to find everything Khaska wants. Who knows? Their motivation may prompt them to seek even the more dangerous channels of knowledge seeking, should their desire to get information on the Maramos coven be sufficiently large.

It doesn't have to be Urziana. If anyone wants a ton of knowledge on any subject, this may be the time to get it.

2. Note that Orensland would not float the interrogation idea unless the sting operation doesn't happen/fails.

3. I didn't realize that Orensland not finding a thieves guild was not out of lack of trying, and that he's just as surprised as I am that he hasn't had any luck. This would make him more cautious than he normally would be out pickpocketing, as it appears likely that something scary keeps people from sharpening their sleight of hand skills in the marketplace. Orensland would go for easy targets until he learns more about the situation - people who are clearly wealthy, even arrogant, but don't seem terribly sharp, possibly drunk. Pickings may be fewer in a city like this, but apparently there's reason to be cautious.

…Also, though, Rynn makes a good point. If Amara is one of the Cult representatives that arrives in Darkcrest… I have yet to think of a scenario where we get out of there alive. Orensland would be scouting out possible escape routes from the city during his sneakery, should that prove necessary.

Thev
Interesting thought, Crosis. Khaska would be wary of doing this sort of double-crossing himself; he's not exactly the best in the party at bluffing. Would it be wise to send Khaska with another member of the party, who could do the talking in his stead (the object of the exchange could still be information for Khaska's research)? Further, Khaska would recommend that if we do decide on this move, we should coordinate with Greymantle on what information we give to the rival house just to try to preserve that trust.

Crosis
Orensland would normally be willing to speak in Khaska's behalf, but it may make tailing the coven representative a bit harder, especially if Khaska and whoever accompanies him are being watched. I assume that last point is a possibility, as Khaska and Rynn were tailed to that tavern once. Plus Orensland himself doesn't actually want anything the coven can offer, so he'd have to make something up. Probably just taking the money, now that I think of it. Anyways. Orensland would prefer somebody else go with Khaska, but if not, he'd offer his services.

  • Bluff: 16 (6+10)

Hopefully that would be good enough.

“My Lord,” Master Greymantle spoke up as the servants placed the cakes in front of each of them, “an idea, perhaps?”

“Yes, Danforth?”

“If Rynn were to find his wife and child in the future, and we wished to reimburse him, that might take some time and some doing. Perhaps it would just be best to give him some extra gold now, sufficient to purchase them in the future.”

Lord Maramos nodded. “An excellent suggestion, Danforth. Though I would not want to be seen showing too much favoritism to one member of your group over another.”

Orensland waved his hand. “We brothers in arms with Rynn are happy that he might be able to purchase his wife and child, should he ever encounter them. We’re not keeping a running tally of the generosity you’ve offered us and aren’t comparing notes. We are all more than content.”

“Very well then. Though, I warn you, Rynn,” Lord Maramos continued, “if the owners of your wife and child are aware that you want them specifically, and are willing to pay much for them, they will bleed you dry. May I suggest that you purchase them as part of a larger purchase, so it will not be as obvious what your actual intention is, and you will not therefore be taken advantage of as easily.”

“A wise precaution, my Lord,” Rynn said. “And I thank you for your generosity.”

“We are good to those who serve us,” Lady Maramos said. “And you have served us well.”


Khaska entered his quarters cautiously. He didn’t want to alarm Feral or to startle her. He closed the door behind him, making sure that it closed loud enough that she would hear it.

“My lady,” he asked.

Feral appeared from one of the adjoining rooms. He was very pleased that the servants he had asked had found more suitable attire for her. The robe looked comfortable, and she was even wearing gloves.

“I hope that my attire is now more suitable,” she murmured.

“It is, indeed,” Khaska said. “Fitting for a Maha’i woman. Do you know much about our people?”

She shook her head. “Just what I remember from my mother, from what she had learned from others.”

“Come,” he said, “I will tell you of our people and begin, I hope, to rectify the injustices against you. ”


Khaska left Feral in his quarters the next morning as he accompanied Lady Maramos herself to the House of Lancel, to consult with their Codex Demonicus. The Maha’i woman had slept well in his bed (he had taken the floor in one of the adjoining rooms), and they had taken breakfast together in his quarters. She was beginning to warm up with him, his sincerity winning her over. Her caution, which he acknowledged was fully warranted given her background, was waning ever so slightly.

They took a coach across the city, Lady Maramos made some quick inquiries about his research and his findings, and in turn expressed to her that she was looking much healthier since their arrival, but aside from these social niceties, they spent the rest of the journey in silence. Khaska hoped it wasn’t too awkward.

When they arrived, the head butler escorted them to the main house.

“Be on your guard, Khaska,” Lady Maramos whispered to him. “Lady Drakh is an uncouth woman, ruling by power and fear. A shame she rose to command such a noble house.”

“Ah, Lorraine!” A voice came from ahead. The head butler had just opened the double doors at the end of the hallway and they could see inside. A woman dressed in spiked armor was wiping her sword off with a rag. Further in, also in plate, was the body of a dead whitecloak. Lady Drakh used the rag to also wipe her mouth off. She had obviously recently fed. Khaska noted the blood on the marble floor, still slowly spreading from the corpse of the dwarf, but his eyes were drawn hypnotically to Lady Drakh’s face. She had once been human. A large scar split her features, carving a red welt from her left eye, which was white, diagonally down to her chin. She had no hair, having shaved her head, revealing burn scars on her scalp. She had been seriously injured before she had been turned.

“Lady Drakh,” Khaska’s vampire host intoned, inclining her head ever so slightly.

“I don’t supposed you want to feed? He’s a fresh kill!” She indicated the body with her jagged and curved longsword before sheathing it.

“No thank you.”

Lady Drakh shrugged. “Your loss. Blood always taste’s best when it’s from a fresh kill, all flooded with adrenaline. If you can get them a little drunk, all’s the better.”

“Yes, I’m sure my guest doesn’t want to waste his time with the intricacies of blood delicacies.”

“Fine, yes, let’s get on to business.” Lady Drakh turned to one of the servants. “Drain him and bottle the blood.” Khaska had to deliberately focus and say a pray to Teresh not to be sick.

“Yes, my lady,” the young woman said.

Lady Drakh stomped out of the “I took the liberty of reading our Codex Demonicus and looking for information on this ‘Urziana.’ Our copy does have some information on her, she was a succubus in the service of Bathalm the Everburning at least several centuries ago, and I just happen to know a demon who also works for Bathalm. So I summoned him.”

Khaska was abjectly terrified.

Lady Drakh led them down into a basement apartment, past some cells that smelled of rotting flesh. Filthy prisoners cowered from Lady Drakh as she swept past iron gates until they reached a room with a thick oak door.

As she opened it, they were met with abject shrieking and a cacaophony of words that Khaska didn’t understand. Lady Drakh yelled a few words back and whatever it was grew silent.

“Do you speak Abyssal?” She asked Khaska as he entered the room.

Bound inside some kind of summoning circle on the floor, the runes slowly pulsing with purple power, was a demon, tall and lanky. It’s ebon skin dripped with some kind of ichor and its body conformed to its skeleton as if it were starving. It’s long jaw was snapping and grating on itself, but it was no longer shrieking. Khaska was sure it was a babau.

“I do not.”

“Draconic? Celestial?”

“I do speak Celestial.”

“Very well then,” Lady Drakh concluded. She turned to the demon and spoke a few words to it again, then pointed at Khaska.

It turned its eyes towards him and the cleric had to steel himself.

“He won’t hurt you. He can’t,” Lady Drakh said. “And even if he tried,” she drew her sword, “I don’t mind some more exercise this morning. He’ll answer your questions.”

“What information would you ask of me?” the creature hissed, it’s guttural sounds almost an insult to the language of the Celestials.

“I come seeking knowledge of a particular demon, a succubus named ‘Urziana.’ I am told she served Bathalm the Everburning, whom you serve.”

The babau chuckled. “She used to work for him. She failed to seduce one of the Dragonriders from the Knights of the Silver Dragons, and earned Bathalm’s wrath. She escaped and has been hiding on your world ever since.”

“When was this?”

“Roughly a century ago.” Well after Tawru’s corruption, then.

“And why do you seek Urziana?”

Khaska was reluctant to reveal all of the details, but a vague outline didn’t seem dangerous. “In my research into ancient history, I have discovered one of my people who contracted with her. I wish to learn more of the nature of the contract that I may understand the story better.”

“If it was before her exile, Urziana acted as proxy for Bathalm. He would know the details of the contract, but for such beings as succubi or incubi, it involves sealing the pact with sex.”

“And the pact would then be lifelong?”

“Yes. The only way to release this person from the contract would be to kill her, breaking the magic bond with Bathalm, or slaying Bathalm himself, thereby voiding the entire contract. Did this person die under the contract?”

“Near as I can tell.”

“Then his soul belongs to Bathalm. Do you wish to free his soul?”

Khaska hesitated. “I am sure there are those that would.”

“Anybody who could bring proof of Urziana’s demise to Bathalm would be richly rewarded. His servants have crossed this moon many times searching for her, but she was among his best servants at infiltration, being undercover, and of course, seduction. My master has long since given up trying to find her.”

Khaska didn’t want to press further, worried he might give away more of his motivations.

“Thank you for your time,” he said. It was an awkward thing to say.

“Thank you,” Lady Drakh said. She incanted a prayer and waved her hands. The babau shrieked words at her as the light from the runed circle on the floor flared up. He folded in on himself in a moment, then vanished, the sound of his cries disappearing, as if he had been yanked far away. Their echoes slowly died down in the stone room.

“Well, that was a most unpleasant experience,” Lady Maramos said.

“Hey, you wanted answers. That was the best way to get them,” Lady Drakh said. She turned to Khaska. “You can borrow my copy of the Codex if you like, but I don’t know if it will be of additional help.”

“I will at least peruse it and return it to you,” the cleric responded.

“As always, the House of Maramos thanks you for your continued support,” Lady Maramos said, turning away to leave.

“Watch your back, my lady,” Lady Drakh replied.

“Always.”

On the way home, Khaska inquired about Lady Drakh. Her story was an interesting one, with parallels to Tawru’s. She had been a paladin once, a member of the Knights from centuries ago. Corrupted and turned by the then-leader of House Lancel, she had lost her paladin powers and had turned to consorting with demons to regain magical abilities. She was now a blackguard, and somehow the bond with the demons had severed her bond with her vampire sire, the bond that normally forces the vampire child to obey the wishes of their creator. With the bond broken, she slaughtered him as he rested and took control of the house of Lancel in a bloody coup. She had ruled it with an iron fist ever since.

“She is the worst of us, in many ways, prone to indulgence and self-destructive acts, but she is a powerful ally. In some ways, her unpredictability is precisely why she is so valuable.”


Orensland glanced up at the sky. Sunrise twilight was about to begin.

The location was an ideal one for a clandestine meeting. The intersection of Druil and Garzan was out of the way of the main thoroughfares, yet with several ways of getting in and out of the area. Several of the nearby buildings were abandoned, and he had been shadowdancing in for several blocks now. None of the rest of the party were comfortable either betraying the House of Maramos, nor with informing them of the note and this new development. Orensland had decided that he could at least tail these folks and try to find out which coven they were working for. Information was power, after all, and in their circumstances they could use all the power they could get! He had been waiting, hidden atop one of the roofs overlooking the intersection, for several hours. He glanced down at the pouch of money he was fiddling with. He had taken it from a man going to purchase slaves, and had watched with delight as he realized his cash was gone and he could not purchase what he had wanted. After watching the man be beside himself for a while, Orensland had snuck off to the rendezvous spot.

A gnome appeared down one of the streets, walking slowly, apparently somewhat drunk. Orensland watched him carefully. Other than an elf that had passed through about twenty minutes ago, nobody else had come through. Perhaps this was the contact the note spoke of. As they got closer and closer, he started. He knew this gnome! He had met him all those months ago, in the ruins near the Niktean Wastes, he was one of the Glittersail Brothers. They had said they were headed to the Death Side, and well, looks like their travels took them to Darkcrest.

Was this his contact? He glanced around. Sunrise twilight was about to begin and there was nobody else here. Unless the contact was hiding and waitng, like he was, there wasn’t anybody else around. He smiled to himself. These gnomes were responsible for the deaths of several of the locals, not to mention the attack on the outpost. The shadowdancer ruefully thought to himself that perhaps the very existence of the party of him and his friends was due to these people.

That didn’t excuse their actions.

The gnome wandered through, still drunk-appearing, and slightly singing to himself. Eventually, a few minuts after twilight sunrise began, he began to wander off.

Orensland followed.

After a few blocks, the gnome began to move more quickly. As the shadowdancer suspected, he had been faking the drunkenness. Orensland tailed him, staying hidden in the shadows as much as possible. Eventually, the gnome met up with another gnome, one of his brothers. Orensland crept closer.

Unfortunately, they began to speak to each other in gnomish, which Orensland didn’t understand. It was obvious that the newcomer, holding and petting his weasel, was unhappy, but the “drunk” one shrugged. Together, they moved off.

They wandered around for a while, Orensland was pretty sure to throw anybody tailing them off, since the “drunk” one was looking around surreptitiously, but eventually, seeing no sign they were followed they moved off and headed to where he hoped they were based. Eventually they made their way into the center of the city and entered a gateway to the lands of another coven. The House of Lancel.

Well, he thought to himself. That was interesting. He had no desire to go sneaking into a rival coven’s lands, and so made his way back to the House of Maramos. He sought out Rynn, and after explaining his findings, and being slightly chastised by the ranger for acting without the permission of the group, he suggested they go find Khaska and Orensland in the library.

Ranna began to growl at the skeletons the moment she entered, but Rynn shushed her and pulled her with him. The two sketeletons stood unmoving by the door, having received no instructions in the recent past. “This place is so cool!” Orensland said, looking around at the grotesque art, the multiple volumes, and the dancing lights hovering above Khaska. “They have a dragon skull!”

“I’m sure you didn’t come here to admire the décor,” the cleric said, a bit exasperated. Orensland certainly wasn’t following standard protocol in a library to be quiet. Luckily it was just Sanjin and Orensland at the moment.

Orensland brought Khaska up to speed, and after coming to a stopping place, Sanjin joined them. He had to be told the entire story of the party’s first encounter with the Glittersail brothers.

“They were studying the ruins?” he asked.

“Well, one building in particular,” Orensland said. “In fact, just one part of the building. A black stone archway that …” The shadowdancer fell silent. His eyes glanced across the room … to the black stone archway on the back wall, under which the copper dragon skull hung on the wall “… exactly like that black stone archway.” He pointed to it.

“Wait, they were studing that thing?” the wizard asked.

“Or one just like it,” Orensland replied.

Eryx (DM)
Apologies for the delay. I’ve had a bit of writer’s block about how to proceed and I think I finally cracked it.

If it wasn’t brought up here in the post, assume that you’re moving forward with new armor, items, research, etc. Though, Khaska isn’t teaching Feral (pronounced like the adjective, i.e. a feral child, i.e. FAIR-uhl) how to read inside a Silence spell, since they wouldn’t be able to hear anything! (It doesn’t create a magic wall of no-sound-penetrating, it literally erases sound from the area of effect.) There’s plenty of privacy. It’s not a problem.

There wasn’t real enthusiasm for any of the major proposals surrounding the note from the rival coven. So I had Orensland act on his own to gather more information. That seemed, to me, the best way to move forward given your collective input.

So, you all now know two things:
1. The Glittersail Brothers are in town, and are staying with House Lancel. They were the go-between for the rendezvous.
2. House Lancel is, it appears, opposed to House Maramos, and is therefore deceiving Lord and Lady Maramos.

How would you like to proceed? What would you like to do next?

Crosis
Sweet! And just for the sake of things, how has Orensland's thievery gone so far? :D

In terms of overall knowledge and questions, can we get the gist as to who this Bathalm the Everburning demon is? He doesn't sound like a terribly pleasant fellow, but still, knowledge can be power. Orensland would also suggest that Sanjin or somebody more inclined to admire magical decor to ask about the archway.

As for how to move along, Orensland would come to a basic conclusion. As much as he dislikes the Maramos household simply because they are evil, I should think that Lady Drakh is a much less respectable entity. I think it's safe to say that, if we had to give someone grief while here in the city, she and her household would be the more fun targets. Plus it would just make us look even better on the side of the Maramos clan. However, more information is key as to how to proceed.

So! Orensland would like to talk to the gnomes. He'd like to see if they ever leave the mansion in question, particularly from the door he saw them enter from. He'd likely spend a day or two watching for their patterns, then approach one in private and tell him he's interested in what they have to offer. (He can say he was there at the meeting place, but wanted to know who he may have been signing on with in advance and followed them back to their mansion. He'd also swear to having never told the House of Maramos of the note). To help sell the lie, he would make clear that monetary rewards are not of interest to Orensland or his party members. He'd like to know what they truly have to offer, and if they draw up blank he may suggest aid against the upcoming Dark Times or unique ways to enhance the prowess of Orensland and/or the party members. That could include knowledge for Sanjin. Orensland suspects the gnomes are partial to interesting knowledge, as they study ancient magical artifacts for a living.

Orensland would first wait to get an idea as to what the magical archway is before talking the gnomes, probably through Sanjin. It may help in his discussion with the gnomes, though he wouldn't blurt out that he knows of a similar archway to the one the gnomes had been studying. It depends on what he learns about the archway, but I suspect he would lean toward keeping that knowledge secret.

Orensland would tell the party, but not the Maramos leaders yet. He'd wait until after the meeting to decide when to let them in on this sneakery.

What rolls will be required of me?

BlackWolf
After hearing about Lady Drakh, Rynn does not like the idea of her taking further power in Darkcrest. She is apparently stable or canny enough to keep control of a major coven for quite some time and is prone to violence. Although the Coven of Maramos is certainly evil, they at least have some notion of civility.

As for the Glittersail Brothers, we never did discover what they had been up to, researching that temple ruin so long ago. It was never clear whether they were complicit in the deaths that Nathan caused, but they certainly didn't care to make any kind of restitution. Rynn is somewhat interested in knowing more about what they are up to, but is wary since they know of us by name.

Rynn isn't sure how to proceed and will defer to Orensland's intuition at this point. The ranger feels out of his element, unsure whether to interfere or not. If Orensland wants to act, we at least have some plausible deniability on both sides, given that we know of those Brothers from before and the House of Lancel is supposedly aligned with Maramos.

Eryx (DM)
I did mention in the narration that Orensland had pilfered a coin purse from someone out shopping who, when he discovered it was missing, was absolutely beside himself with grief. That's how the thieving is going.

For knowledge on Baltham the Everburning, Khaska can easily find that information in the Maramos House copy of the Codex Demonicus. He is a Balor Demon who particularly enjoys waging war to control the passages from one world to the next, or between planes of the Abyss, or between the planes themselves.

If Sanjin wants to investigate the archway, how will he go about doing that, DeltaWolf?

I'll need Hide, Move Silently, Bluff, Diplomacy, and Sense Motive rolls from Orensland.

Crosis
Yes, but how much did he get? :D

Hide: 44 (natural 20 + 24)
Move Silently: 39 (15 + 24)
Bluff: 25 (15 + 10)
Diplomacy: 16 (10 + 6)
Sense Motive: 8 (8 + 0)

Going from amazing rolls to meh rolls, but nothing close to a natural 1, so I'll take it.

Thev
Thanks for the reminder about the Silence spell. Given that Khaska's use therefore allowed the party to decimate the Whitecloaks, I really should've remembered… In that case, Khaska will just continue tutoring Feral.

Khaska, of course, is appalled by Lady Drakh, and upon conversing with his fellow party members, will concur that he's fine keeping on the side of the House Maramos for the time being. (Looking ahead, he wouldn't be opposed to revealing the information to Lady Maramos, somehow, after the party has left the city.) However, he would be in favor of further investigation— it's very curious that the Glittersail brother should be here, too, seeking information about a house with fixtures similar to the ones they were investigating on Gallidus. He'd offer Orensland his Hat of Disguise to meet up with them, if Orensland thinks it would be of any use; indeed, the Glittersail brothers could have sought us out because they recognized us, and they could laugh off a disguise. (A Maha'i, a Ranger, and an Elf walk into a tavern…)

Regarding Baltham, Khaska would scour any records there might be for information about not only finding demons, but slaying them (of course, as part of broader research; he'll be sure to read widely so that his interest won't seem so singular). In hopes of finding Urziana (seemingly a difficult quest in itself), he'd also look into means of luring demons into the open.

Eryx (DM)
Orensland found 47 gold, 12 silver, and 18 copper in the purse that he pilfered.

I'll need a post from DeltaWolf and then I think we're ready to move forward.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is interested in investigating the archway. He would start by seeing if the archway sparked any knowledge he'd previously obtained.

  • Knowledge (Arcana): 29 (18 rolled + 11 mod)

He would then cast Detect Magic (if/when possible) and if the archway is magical try to determine the school of magic.

  • Spellcraft: 25 (13 rolled + 12 mod)

After all that he would see if he could find any information through research -noting the location of the ruins he was told about with the gnomes (is there a skill check I should use for this?).

Eryx (DM)
The skill check about the ruins the gnomes were previously investigating would be Knowledge (History). Given your situation in a well-stocked library with some good basic information to start with, I feel an accurate way of representing your searching the library would be to give you the 5th edition rule Advantage on this check. Roll twice, and take the higher roll. Post it here, and I think we're ready to rock.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin doesn't have Knowledge (History) so here is a basic Knowledge

  • Knowledge: 20 (3, 17 rolled + 3 mod)

Sanjin immediately walked over to inspect the archway more thoroughly. “I thought it was just part of the décor.” He reached up to touch it, running his hands along the ebon surface. He began musing to himself, his voice growing quieter with excited awe. “If there are two, there may be more. But what would be the point of having a bunch of magic archways …” his breath caught. “They’re gateways. I bet they connect to each other somehow. Or maybe that you can get them to connect to each other. Like a, a doorway between places.” He had spent decades on the death side searching for ancient artifacts and now he had just stumbled upon one. Maybe more than one. Maybe a series of them! “You would need to know how to activate them, obviously.” He began to mutter some arcane words and cast a Detect Magic spell, focusing on the archway. “Conjuration spell on the item. It’s clearly magic of some kind.” He focused for another moment. “Powerful, too.”

He pondered for a moment, then rushed over to a desk, pulling out one of the large drawers. He flipped through the papers in it before finding what he wanted, and pulled out a very old map of Gallidus. He layed it out on one of the tables. “Can you show me where the other archway was?”

They were able to point out where it was, more or less, just on the northern outskirts of the Niktean Wastes. He looked at it, then grabbed another map of the world from the drawer, and laid it out on another table. “I’ll have to do some more research, but we may have found some kind of ancient transport system. We use something sort of similar at the University, access to the advanced magic books, the kind you don’t want amateurs accidentally stumbling upon, is restricted. A circle of teleportation takes you to that part of the library, and it’s always guarded on both ends by elite eldridtch knights, mageslayer-types. Even the location of the building is secret from all but the highest officials of the library. It could be on some island in the middle of the ocean for all we know. Or buried somewhere on the death side.” He shrugged. “Who knows?”

“Well,” Khaska said. “This is all certainly troubling news. The House of Lancel is pulling the cloth over the eyes of our benefactors. I must admit, as evil as Lord and Lady Maramos are, Lady Drakh coming to more power would be much worse.”

“I agree,” Rynn said. “She is both stable and canny enough to seize and keep control of a major coven for some time, and is prone to violence from what you’ve said, Khaska.” The cleric nodded, nearly shuddering at the memory of her blood-stained curved and serrated longsword. “The Maramos’s have at least some notion of civility.”

“So do we tell them?” asked Orensland. There was a long pause. The shadowdancer was wary of moving forward in a major way again without the permission of the group. He still felt slightly bad for forcing their hand to come to Darkcrest, and Rynn had just chastised him for acting without the party, again. He looked from the ranger to the cleric, and back to the ranger again.

“I would think not yet,” Khaska said. “Perhaps gathering more information would be prudent. Sanjin can continue to investigate these archways, and Orensland could perhaps approach these gnomes on his own terms, instead of theirs.”

“I think that a wise approach,” Rynn said. “When we find out more, we could tell the Maramos’s if we feel it appropriate. We already have their trust. It may cement us more with them, and subsequently with the cult, and if it helps reduce Lady Drakh’s infleunce, all the better, I think. But more information first.”

Eryx (DM)
That will end this chapter.

This page is part of the campaign story. << Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >>