Saturday, 16 March 2013

Break-in at the Doomguard Headquarters!

Big things are starting to happen here in The Long Game! A prophecy was foretold which vaguely
Dallas Kasaboski
indicated serious change and conflict for the characters; a character's back-story was fully revealed, along with the dangers which come with it; and we had picked up a companion along the way. In this session, the characters make their way across the continent, back to base and onward!

The Canitian Hunt had ended, and the characters were packing up their belongings. Ever-ready, Kalgar paced around, bored, until he spotted a group of women on the other side of the Drum Circle. Telling the guys he was going to try his luck, Alvyn asked what race of woman he was looking for, to which Kalgar replied, "Old enough."

As Kalgar walked over, he noticed that they were surrounding a well-dressed knight. He was sitting down, running his hands through his perfectly coiffed hair, and trying to fend off the attention of the women. In an effort to divert some of the attention, Kalgar called out to the knight.

"Hey, how's that problem treating you? You know, the one we were talking about before?"

To which the knight replied, "Uh? Oh! Yeah, that one! Right, um, well, the shaman said it might be days before its fully healed, could be contagious."

"Oh, that's too bad, best be careful!"

And as he said that, the ladies moved away, looking for someone else to fawn over. The knight looked to the dragonborn and thanked him for his help. With a snort, Kalgar followed the women.

After too short of a time, Kalgar started to make his way back. He was never very good with people, only really able to lead them in battle. His romantic experience included one shipmate and a few barmaids who liked his quiet, intimidating presence. Alvyn had been watching all of this, and when Kalgar was gone, he looked around and spotted a woman he thought would be right for Kalgar.

Strong, pretty, and looking like she wasn't having a good time, Alvyn talked with her, telling her of the hunt of the mammoth and Kalgar's role in the whole affair. As Kalgar made his way back, Alvyn motioned him over, introduced them, and promptly vanished. With only a few words, Kalgar and the woman went off to her camp and were gone for some time.

Some time later, as Tong, Alvyn, and Shizuka were in the middle of deciding the best course to take back to Chalybs, Kalgar returned, whistling Rant and Rour, an Aesian tune he would hum from time to time.

Deciding that they didn't want to take the long way around, and because they still wanted to avoid the highly militarized country of Adamantina, the characters chose a route which would skirt the border of the Dragon's Waste, and then around Cupro, before arriving in Chalybs.

Loading their horses, they started the journey. As they left Canitia, the land quickly turned to desert. The Dragon's Waste was a giant desert which no one returned from, and the characters did their best to stay as close to the Adamantinian border as they could. Not too far south, a great wall appeared, out of the landscape, blocking off the border between the two countries. Facing the Waste, the walls were incredibly high, with giant golem-like creatures every so often, and warforged who sat in watchtowers. It was a very foreboding sight, and while they looked inactive, the adventurers knew from lore and legend, that should they approach the wall, they would see just how active the defenses were.

Halfway to Cupro, they heard a voice calling out to them from one of the watchtowers.

"Hey! Do you like pancakes?"

To which Alvyn replied, "Yeah..."

And with that, a package went sailing through the air, and landed just in front of the horses, bouncing off the sand. Inside, were pancakes. Trying some, the party realized that they were actually not bad, considering they came from a warforge in the desert.

"Did you make these?" Alvyn asked.

"Sure did! There were some stores of food sitting here and since they were going to go bad, I decided it would be okay to use them. My name's Faulty! How are the pancakes? I can't really taste so I wasn't sure."

"Uh...they're not bad, considering. Anything else going on around here?"

And with that, Faulty explained how an error in manufacture had left him with a bump in his head, causing him to act a little differently than the others. He basically just sat around all the time, trying to think of things to do, and he decided to try his hand at cooking. When asked about the Dragon's Waste, he said he hadn't seen anything from there in some time. As the party began to move on, it was clear that Faulty was pretty lonely. Alvyn took out a card, with some information on it about where to be contacted, made a paper airplane out of it and tossed it up the wall using a combination of the wind and his mage hand power. Telling Faulty that someone may come by later to chat with him, he thanked him for the pancakes and continued the journey.

There wasn't a lot of excitement along the way, and very quickly everyone settled into a routine. Every morning, just before dawn, Tong would awake with a powerful burst of energy, practicing his forms and causing all kinds of noise. Alvyn had taken to practicing his forms right along-side Tong, though he was barely awake and simply used Tong as a timing device, of sorts.

Kalgar spent most of his time seeing to the horses and his belongings. He cleaned the sand out of his armour each night, made sure the horses were fed and watered, and regaled the party with odd bits of lore and fun from his days in Aes. Each night, before sleeping, he continued his tradition of drinking salt water, and pouring some on himself as he paid tribute to Melora and Kord. In the early part of the way, and between riding, he would exercise. It was easier to do so in Canitia, as he could use trees for support and rigging, but in the desert, he had few options. One morning, after Tong and Alvyn had finished their forms, Shizuka, who was mostly quiet and only practiced drinking every day, pulled out a black box from his belongings, and opened it. Inside, under some protective cloths, were a couple of practice swords. Similar to his katana, they were long, slightly curved, blades with a simple cross-hilt, but made of wood as all good practice swords are.

Tossing one to Kalgar, he invited him to spar. The katana felt comfortable in Kalgar's hand, although a lot lighter than he was used to. The khopesh was standard-issue in Aes, and fit Kalgar's style of hitting hard and hitting fast. The katana was a more delicate weapon, not fragile, just had a feeling of precision which the khopesh had but rarely evoked.

Kalgar and Shizuka practiced quite a lot on that journey. Without the emotionality of their last fight, Shizuka was clearly the more competent swordsman. Kalgar was fast, and powerful, but he lacked the precision and patience Shizuka had. With barely a flick of his wrist, the samurai could turn Kalgar's blade and riposte with his own. Silent at first, Shizuka began trying to assist Kalgar, giving him tips on form, showing how to hold the sword just so, and teaching the value of patience.

It was tough for Kalgar, but he was ever a willing student and it had been awhile since he had the opportunity to learn anything new. Still, he could tell that Skizuka was holding back a little, not in his prowess with the blade, but his motivations behind them and his own experience.

Calling him on this, Shizuka explained that there were three schools of samurai fighting. One believed in power and force, much as Kalgar seemed to; one worked to be patient and enduring, striking only when the opportunity arose; and the one he belonged to, the least popular school, believed in studying the flow of combat, and turning that to a warrior's advantage. It was a tough road to travel, but one which had served him well, except for one occasion.

As they were packing up, Shizuka made a very casual reference to Tong, admitting that he knew who Tong was, that he had been Victor Whitehelm. Taken aback, the party wondered how he could be so nonchalant about this knowledge. The samurai explained that he blamed himself for the failing at the Whitehelm Reaping, that he should have been able to make a difference, to stop Victor, and that due to his training in sensing the flow of energy, he was able to see clearly that Tong had been, but no longer is, Victor. After hearing all of this, and sensing the great shame and grief coming from Shizuka, Tong explained that there was no way Shizuka could have won, that invincibility was the reward given for the price he paid.

The next day, as they passed a ravine, Shizuka walked over to his belongings, and tossed the extra bag he carried, the one full of bottles, off the side. After that, he was a new man, waking everyday with the others to practice his ways and try to teach Kalgar the value of knowing the energy of combat.

As they were leaving the Dragon's Waste, they came to a crossroads of sorts between Cupro, the Waste, and Adamantina. There, in the middle of the road, stood a genasi, an elemental creature, with purple lines running all over his body. He said good-day to each of them in turn, and then directed his gaze at Kalgar.

"Hey, have you heard of Rayden?"

"Yeah." Kalgar replied. "He's some kind of thunder creature people have been talking about."

"Oh, he's more than that, friend, he is the god of thunder, the lord of storms!"

"No...that's Kord."

"Ah, but you're wrong. See, no one ever sees Kord, do they? But they see Rayden! He has been sighted in the waters after a storm, and rides the heavens on a blue creature. He creates the storms, why, next to him, Kord is but a demigod!"

"Oh boy." Alvyn said to Tong. "We're in for a show now." And he tried to get a better sense of who or what this genasi was.

"A demigod!? Why you!" And with that, Kalgar stepped off his horse. "You would praise this Rayden, someone riding the tide of Kord's might, and denounce Kord's power!"

Towering over the genasi, Kalgar gave him his most intimidating look. Taking a step back, the genasi raised his hands above his head and said, "Of course! Rayden bestows upon me the gift, which proves his power and claim. All of Hycintho knows and worships his might, observe!"

While there wasn't a cloud to be seen, a sudden clash of lightning was seen above the genasi, as well as the sound of thunder.

Reaching out with his arcane senses, Alvyn gave out a short, hard laugh, recognizing the sorcery at play here.

Taking his khopesh off his belt, he raised the blade solemnly to his face and then toward the heavens, "Kord, let's end this."

"I'll show you the true power of the lord of storms. For Kord has proven his power and guides my arm!" And with that, clouds formed overhead and as Kalgar struck the ground, the area rumbled and shook with the threat of divine retribution.

"Go back to your country and save your tricks for the tourist, you charlatan!" Alvyn mocked, as Kalgar remounted and the party continued along their way.

After that, Kalgar was pretty quiet, musing over the encounter and knowing that if this worship of Rayden was as wide-spread as the whole of Hycintho, perhaps the Oracle was right when he said that the thunder god would challenge the lord of storms. Praying to Kord for the strength to continue to fight for him, the only sounds he made were the sudden exclamations when his anger caught up with him.

"I can't believe that guy! Rayden! Pah! Those fools!"

With a nod of their heads, the others let Kalgar be as they crossed farther into Cupro. Not too far into the country, they were spotted by a female dragonborn riding a camel. Turns out she was border patrol for Cupro. (So much for a stealthy return to Chalybs.)

However, she wasn't really intimidating, and the party could tell she was just really bored at her job. She asked them where they were heading, and Alvyn, seeing no reason to lie to her at this point, said they were going to Chalybs. She said that they looked as if they were going to skirt the border all the way down and she offered a faster, more direct route.

"What's the pinch?" Tong asked, not quite getting the grasp of slang yet.

"Well, in the future, I was hoping you'd do something for me in return. I don't know what it will be, but you'll just owe me a favour."

The party thought it over. Tong and Kalgar especially knew the power of an unspoken promise and the pain of breaking your word. Alvyn knew this as well and as he tried to find out more of what she was thinking, he realized that she didn't seem to want them to do anything lethal, just something to perhaps help her move up the ranks and away from boring border patrol. Thinking it over, the party agreed that they would help when the time came.

With that, the dragonborn led them through a circuitous path through the caverns of Cupro. Along the way, they saw several giant statue-like beasts. Recalling a bit of lore, the party remembered that while Adamantina had their wall to protect them from the Dragon's Waste, and the dragon within, Cupro had their guardian statues. They had no reason to believe that these didn't work, because they had never had a dragon attack. This further explained the dragonborn's boredom at her post.

One part of their journey took them past The Screaming Pit, an aptly named place which gave everyone a chill. Even during the height of day, the bottom of the Pit could not be seen, and as they made their way past the thin ledges of the cavern, the sound of the wind would come from the pit when they least expected it, sounding like screams of terror. On top of that, there were displacer beasts, creatures which could teleport, above them, watching them. Every time the screams stopped long enough for the party to relax, another would start up. At one point, Kalgar could not take it and when one scream startled him, he roared back defiantly. For a time, the pit was silent, but not for long.

Finally, at long, long last, they made it back to Chalybs. When last they visited, the Plumber's Guild had just reached a settlement and the Sanitation Guild were threatening a strike. It seems they were in the full midst of that, as the city smelled terrible, garbage was strewn all over the street, and news of the strike was on every bulletin window they could see. Covering the events was special anchor Mountainface, a goliath whose catchphrase was pretty well known in this country.

"...invasion of Albus by the armies of Adamantina continues, some of the citizens have refused to retreat. Holding up in one of the northern cities, it looks like we're in for a siege. Locally, the Sanitation Guide and the Chalybs Council have not settled, leading to further escalation of the garbage situation. As the Mayor states that they are still in consultation, the picketers run the streets adding their protest signs to the debris-ladened streets. If they don't clean up this mess soon, the country will be at a standstill, and if you don't like it, well, you can take it up with my face!"

Explaining that they had business to attend to, they left Shizuka at a nearby inn, and continued to the Doomguard headquarters. Shizuka still didn't know of any of that and Alvyn wanted to keep it that way. Underground, security was tighter than normal and they were almost not allowed in. Tribulus Griefblade, Alvyn's mentor, finally led them in, and it seems the garbage situation wasn't constrained to the surface.

People were running around everywhere, and the entire place looked ransacked. Leading them in, Tribulus explained that someone had broken in and messed up the place, obviously looking for something. They had yet to know who did it or what they were after and they could use our help. Since we hadn't been here in some time, he knew we weren't responsible. As Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar looked around, Vex, the swordmage librarian we had encountered last time, came by and asked Alvyn for help. He needed to sort the contents of the library if they were going to find out what has gone missing. Rushing off to help, Tong joined him.

Kalgar looked at Tribulus and suggested he take a look at the security of the place, since books weren't really his thing. Agreeing with Kalgar, Tribulus said he was going to "question" everyone who was here, to find out if there was any help from the inside. While Kalgar checked every possible, and unlikely, entrance and exit point, questioned local sentries, and had a general look around, Tong and Alvyn were hard at work sorting the contents of the Doomguard's library. With his usual acrobatic flair, Tong was reading and whirling books back into place faster than most people could see. Using all of his limbs, Tong was flipping through books, unfurling scrolls with his toes, and kicking the contents of the library back into order. Alvyn was sitting on the floor a little ways from him, calmly reading an article here, a page there, whilst books, tombs, and ancient texts whirled above his head via his mage hands. Any passerby not already accustomed the unexpected would have found the sight to be quite incredible.

They worked all through the night, and by the end of it they met up with Tribulus.

"The library has been sorted." Tong announced.
  "And what did you find?" Tribulus asked.

With a weary eye, Alvyn said, "It seems the only two things which are missing were two ancient scrolls, one for summoning a creature, and another for binding it to one's will."

"Great, well, we know what they want to do, but I have no idea who did it. I questioned everyone here and no one seems to know anything about how this happened. No one helped them or leaked information, as far as I can tell. Kalgar, did you find anything?"

"No, sir. I did a thorough sweep of the perimeter and even tried a few unlikely possibilities. Your security looks pretty tight. I'm no expert, but it doesn't look like anyone has or could have broken their way in. This leaves us with three options, as I see them: either I missed something and someone was able to gain entry somehow; you missed something and someone here helped them or was in on it; or someone more cunning and powerful than us was able to get in here and out without us knowing it, perhaps messing up the library to throw us off."

"Hmm, they only took those two scrolls and Vex says the vault with all the real valuables wasn't even touched. That might tell us something. Maybe the Brass Company had something to do with it." Alvyn suggested.

"How so?" Tong asked.

"Well, we know that they hold very strictly to their contracts, so maybe they were commissioned to steal those scrolls, and nothing else."

"Still," Tribulus started, "that doesn't explain how they got in, or how they knew about us in the first place."

"Well, the Doomguard was just compromised in Aes, that's another factor to consider."

"Good point Tong, also, isn't there a Brass Company recruitment office somewhere in Chalybs?" Alvyn asked.

And with that, Tong, Alvyn, and Kalgar made their way across the city to the Brass Company office. More like a fortress than an office, the building was blocked off from main access by a large wall in the front of which was a giant brass door. Alvyn suggested that Tong and Kalgar use the cards given to them by the recruiters in Canitia to gain entry, while he would take a more stealthy look around. They needed to find some evidence of the Brass Company's involvement in this, if any, and either way, it would be a good chance to learn more about the organization.

Presenting their cards to the guards outside the brass door, they were allowed in, and directed to the Brass Company building itself. Everything was beautifully ornate, done in the Arkhosian style except instead of the many colours and metals usually used, brass adorned the walls, statues, and ornaments. Tong and Kalgar were greeted at the door by a Commander who, upon seeing their cards, was more than happy to show them around. She explained the history of the Brass Company, a group which formed quite a long time ago, and showed tapestries depicting their involvement with several large battles and wars through the ages.

Meanwhile, Alvyn had climbed to a high floor of an adjacent building and, turning invisible, landed on the roof of the office. Sneaking past the guards and down a ladder, he came to a door. He pulled out his thief's kit, but found he couldn't get past the lock. Circling around another building, he managed to make his way inside. There, he found a tiny office with chairs, some barrels of odds and ends, and two guards eating lunch. Across from them was a vault. Casting sleep on them, he found that they were a little more alert than they seemed, and as soon as they felt drowsy, one of them released a spell clouding the room in smoke. Looking around the room, they were unable to find Alvyn, and using a combination of all his cantrips, Alvyn was able to get them out of the room, and get their keys. He used this to gain entry to the vault where he went through everything. After a thorough search, however, he was unable to find the scrolls or anything to indicate the Brass Company's knowledge of the Doomguard.

Downstairs, Tong and Kalgar were being shown the training facilities when a guard came from upstairs and mentioned to the Commander that they might have a problem. Realizing Alvyn might need more time, Tong and Kalgar tried to distract the guard.

[Kalgar]"Steve? Is that you? Don't you owe me money?"
[Tong] "Yes, remember that one time, in the past, when we met, at the place?"

[Guard] "My name is Frank...I don't know you."
[Kalgar] "You sure? You're not just trying to back out of our bet, are you?"

Try as they might, Tong and Kalgar could only buy Alvyn mere seconds as they weren't very good liars. It was just enough and Alvyn was able to make his escape. They left the office, Kalgar and Tong telling the trainees to thank the Commander for her time.

Alvyn explained what happened as they made their way back and as he tried to gain access to the Doomguard, he met with a female gnome who did not look very pleased. The others had learned her name was Trixie and that she and Alvyn didn't like each other very much.

Back and forth their argument went, becoming louder and more heated until finally, they embraced, and kissed each other passionately.

With raised eyebrows, and lowered jaws, Tong and Kalgar stood there quite stunned. Alvyn had shown nothing but disdain for her the last time they were here, and so this was quite shocking. Kalgar shook his head and remembered a shipmate of his whose arguments with him turned into a fist-fight, a night together, or both. Tong wandered off to meditate mumbling something about "re-directing certain energies".

Alvyn explained to Tribulus what happened and they talked about the state of the Doomguard. They obviously had to move the headquarters for it was pretty exposed. While Alvyn wanted to move it out of Chalybs, Tribulus thought with their contacts in place, it was better to move it somewhere inside the city. He agreed that perhaps the vault should be moved, but where?

Kalgar suggested they use the strikes to their advantage, as so much was going on up there, it could cover things up, but he wasn't sure how that might work.

Working off of that, Alvyn suggested they detonate one of the old underground sanitation stations, blaming the strike for it, and using that to their advantage as they move the headquarters. Tribulus also suggested moving the vault outside of the city, perhaps in the old human city in Aurum. There was a rumour of an old linked portal in that city which might help making the move that much easier. The city once was the capital city of the human empire Nerath, and after the Great Betrayal, had been destroyed by dragons and unused since. It might make a nice, secluded spot.

Agreeing that we would check it out on our way to Ruber, (the land of the tieflings, in an effort to rid Tong of the Edge of Sanity), we picked up Shizuka from the inn and were on our way.

The trip was pretty quick, and as they came closer and closer to the city, the grass beneath them turned red. Shizuka said he had heard that it was called bloodgrass and that it had started after the destruction of Nerath. It spread slowly, but surely, and legend had it that this stuff would soon cover the entire continent. People had also noticed that any animals which had grazed the grass for too long started to develop red lines around their eyes and eventually, these would cover their entire body. Additionally, any animal which was born here and lived its entire life near the old city seemed to be stronger and faster and more dangerous than the same type of animal raised elsewhere. Studies were inconclusive whether the grass had this effect or if it was something else, but it was an interesting thought.

As the party came closer to the city, they could see the ruins of walls, buildings, and towers. Night was fast approaching, and they could tell they weren't exactly alone here. Ghosts, first appearing only in the corner of your eyes, suddenly became very visible. Silent, these ghosts looked like one of the Cyfandir News Casts, as they were just repeating events from their last days alive. In one corner, ghosts were seen screaming and running, then burst into flame and melt, only to repeat this process a short time later as the riders rode by. To the right, a group of young humans cowered and pointed to the sky and were suddenly squashed, by what no one could see.

Tong suggested they climb a tower for a better look, to try to find out where portal might be. Before Kalgar could offer them some rope, Tong had already somersaulted several feet up. As he was just climbing over a window near the top of the tower, he came face-to-face with a ghost! A young woman, on fire, she ran toward the window, passed through Tong and Alvyn, falling to the ground, repeatedly. A little spooked, but none the worse for wear, they made it to the top where they both agreed that the portal would probably be closer to the centre of the city.

Knowing where to go, they made their way back down. Alvyn suggested they make camp for the night, hopefully somewhere free from ghosts. They found an old room, or what was left of it. Its three walls protected them from the wind somewhat, and there weren't any ghosts around.

Drinking some of his saltwater, and asking for Kord's strength, and Melora's understanding of the chaos which surrounded them, Kalgar poured some of his saltwater on himself, and some in a half circle in front of him hoping it would help protect him from ghosts as he slept. Falling asleep in the corner of the old building, Kalgar dreamed of battle.

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