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Squall - probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse skval: useless chatter (Merriam-Webster)
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thieves' World - Black Snake Dawn


If you are just picking this up, I suggest reading the previous posts first!
Prelude : Characters : Act I : Act II : Act III : Act IV : Prince and Steel : Festival : Kadakithis & HellHounds : Sikkintairs & Portals : The Swans : Stepsons vs. Jubal : Roxane : Beggars Revenge : Beysib Debacle : Turghurt


Black Snake Dawn
(Note: this is using the Green Ronin module of the same name.)

After finishing their business at the Aphrodisia house, Gagino presents Kalima with a day's worth of concerned messages from her mother. After skimming through the early messages, the last one seems to contain the most relevant and pressing message.
“Dearest Kalima, The Palace continues to be a hotbed of activity. I've recently learned that as soon as the Beysib were spotted in the ocean a few weeks ago, a Ranken noble, Raiden Sa Velle, was brought to Sanctuary to discuss how Sanctuary may access a number of his mercenaries for hire. The Prince-Governor paid a substantial sum for this man and family to come to Sanctuary for the business dealings. The past few days have soured the relationship and the Sa Velle's have left the Palace and have taken up temporary residence at the Golden Oasis. The daughter, Jenna, has gone missing, as of the previous night. Sa Velle is crying foul play, and demands that the Prince do something to find his daughter, return her safely and to compensate for his worry and heartache. From what I know of these sordid people, the kidnapping may be true – by whom I could not guess – but the retribution demand is a just a play for some extra coin; no doubt to spend on the Street of Red Lanterns or similar pursuits. However, this does open up an opportunity for you and your friends. Molin Torchholder has been tasked with the return of Jenna and plans that between your past successful work for him in the past, and the current misunderstanding, as he puts it, with your friends, a deal can surely be negotiated. I believe he means to clear all of your names in return for a satisfactory investigation into this girl Jenna. Please take this note and the accompanying mark of Molin Torchholder and visit with him as soon as you can. Good luck, and I hope this leads to better days in the very near future; Sabellia knows Sanctuary can use some light in these dark times.”
Kalima shares the letter with her friends, and a quick decision is made that, as usual, things are not optimal, but this might be a solution, as dubious as it sounds. Preparing for a long night, the Group sets out for Torchholder's luxurious accommodations in the Temple of Vashanka.
At the Processional, Modig is immediately recognized and an arrest is made. Jack and Kalima get the guards to listen to them, and quickly present the Marque from Molin Torchholder. This results in an armed escort to the Temple of Vashanka and direct confirmation from Torchholder himself. Grumbling, the over zealous guards leave the Group in Molin's greeting room.
Molin essentially repeats what Sequina's letter has already told them, but without some of the personal observations. The Group works out a complete pardon for Olric and Modig, as well as a guard harassment cease-and-desist for Jack, Malkar, Kalima and Gagino. Torchholder agrees that if they find the girl, dead or alive, these particular woes will be overcome.

The Group asks few questions of Molin, and are interested in getting this over with. Molin gives them individual medallions that will keep the guards from arresting them in the near future, and the group decides to get to the Golden Oasis as soon as possible. They are turned away at the door for not having the 'proper attire' and are referred to a clothing shop down the street.

An hour or so later, and quite a bit of shabooza lighter, entrance to the dining room is attained. When asked, the serving girls talk about the Sa Velles, and a young man is pointed out in the room. It is Jerome, the son of Raiden and the brother of Jenna. Jerome is drinking, and is halfway through his second bottle of wine, each of which cost more than all of the clothes the Group just purchased. He's not too talkative or very helpful, but the Group presses him and convinces him that they are here to help. Eventually, he takes them up to the double suite that he shares with his sister.

The suite has two separate bedrooms; Jerome's is clean and tended to, but Jenna's is a disaster. Apparently, Jenna brought her lover with them, much to Jerome's obvious disgust. She and her lover have wrecked the room in the most horrendous of ways, from minor vandalism, to the disgusting act of a chamber pot kicked to disperse its foul contents onto the floor. Searching the room for any clues, they find a brick of krrf, a small disgusting idol and a painting of a man. Jerome reveals that it is of Treight, Jenna's lover.

After a cursory glance at Jerome's room, they decide the next person they want to talk to is the father, Raiden. Pounding on his door for several minutes, they don't receive any entrance. Listening at the door, there is no sound of any activity in the room. Jack busts the door down, and they see Raiden sprawled out on the floor, as if reaching towards the door. Kalima checks him, and finds that besides the stench of krrf and alcohol, in his throat is a piece of meat. Apparently, Raiden has choked to death, and it may actually have been accidental. Trying their best to put the grisly scene out of their minds, they set about searching the room. They find a half-consumed brick of krrf, and some letters about the reason why they are here, including letters from Kadakithis with payment details, transport papers, and a pouch of money with 12 gold Ranken Coronations still in it.

Feeling they missed something in Jenna's room, they search it again and figure out what isn't there – underclothes, an over-cloak and a small stiletto dagger, one that Raiden impressed upon her to always carry, to give him the false sense of her safety, according to Jerome, later. Returning downstairs to talk with Jerome some more, they learn of the Sa Velle's slave, Crezda, who is nowhere to be found.

Bored with Jerome, Jack focuses his attention on the pretty girls who work as maids and servers for the place. He asks them questions about the Sa Velles and gets little but shy giggles and the occasional comment about how much time the guests spent in their rooms. Their dislike for the father and of Jenna is obvious in their demeanor, but not their words. Jerome seems to be the only decent one in the group. When they are questioned about Crezda, they avoid a direct answer, but say they haven't seen her since this morning. Jack promises to come back and take them out sometime and returns to the dining room with the others.

The Group leaves the Golden Oasis for the Bazaar. The sun is setting as they get there and the Beggars have set up quite a vigilant watch. With their deal with Moruth, the Group gets through their perimeter and to Gagino's tent unscathed. They meddle with the painting they found in Jenna's room, and find an obsidian disk hidden under the painting. They look it over, and decide they have no clue what it is, but they do know it is magical in nature. Perhaps their sometimes benefactor, Enas Yorl, may be employed for an answer.

Preparing to walk to the other side of town yet again, there is an outcry from the Beggars; an undead mob is attacking the Bazaar. The Group joins in the battle, and eventually disperse the undead, earning a few more cuts than they would have liked. They resume their quest, and go to Pyrtanis Street to inquire about this obsidian disk they found.

At Enas Yorl's house, they march up to the door, and knock. Gagino and Jack catch a glimpse of something off to the side, and the Basilisk they see causes them to feel faint of heart for a few minutes. The door opens, seemingly on its own, and the others drag the stunned men into the house. From behind the door, the house imp closes the door behind them with strength not obvious from his size. He bows, and leads them to a sitting room where Enas Yorl is waiting for them. He's dressed in his robes, with the hood drawn back. He greets them in a form that is a mostly human, very dark skinned male with a bald head and eerie, shimmering red eyes. He greets them cordially and asks how he can be of service today. First, they show him the idol from Jenna's room. Enas tells them all about a ritual called Black Snake Dawn. It is a particularly gruesome ritual wherein a human is sacrificed to Mathrax, the god of one thousand pleasures and pains. This ritual is to gain his attention directly at the site of the sacrifice, in order to conjure up an additional bit of mischief like a plague or something similar. If this is what the new Nisibisi witch is up to, she should be stopped, and catching Jenna is merely one part of that goal.

Next, they show him the obsidian disc, and he looks at it for a little bit before informing them that it is a communication device forged with Nisibisi magic. He also mentions that using it may sometimes suffer some mental consequences. He tells them how to use the device, should it come to that, but warns that it should never be used, but usually such warnings go unheeded.

Barely out of Enas' house, Jack wants to use the disc to see who is behind the scheme. The Group puts him off by deciding to go back to the Golden Oasis first, thinking that they should use it from a place where it was probably used before. When they get there, Jack gets distracted and starts chatting with the girls again. Dropping their guard a little more, they mention how worried they are for the slave, Crezda, they helped escape this morning. Jack asks them to divulge all the details to him and his friends. They tell the story that she stole some money from Raiden, and that she was going to try to get to the Vulgar Unicorn before she tried to get home to Ilsig. The girls also talk about how awful Jenna and Treight were, threatening them with violence and offering them money for disgusting activities. The girls quickly went out of their way to avoid the pair, not cleaning their room in fear of being in the room with them, not talking to them or even serving them in the dining room. This earned them great displeasure from their boss, but when he attempted to make up for them, he was treated similarly. He agreed to ignore them, and was going to evict the whole lot in the next few days, after they had spent some more significant coin. The girls mention their knowledge of One-Thumb and thought he could help slip her out of town. The Group talks with Jerome a little more, getting more information about his disappointment in his sister's activities, her involvement with Treight and his father's penchant for spending a lot of coin on krrf and whores. The Group excuse themselves from the monotony of self pity, and quickly decide to go find Crezda in the Maze.

On the way there, they find two grisly scenes, even for Sanctuary. Though it's very dark, Malkar spots bodies that are stuffed into an alley and poorly hidden. The first is a single woman, most likely a prostitute. The second scene is a man and a woman, both also presumably for hire. Both scenes found the bodies dirty and naked with contorted faces, contorted from pain. The bodies are decorated with many, many poorly executed cuts in shapes of symbols, symbols the Group does not recognize. The Group thinks the killers might be Jenna and Treight, continuing their reign of debauchery and violence, meting out depraved acts on the poor and wretched in Sanctuary's streets.
From the journal of Kalima:
I looked down at the body Malkar had spotted, feeling suddenly very weary. I recognized the woman -- one of the near-countless poor streetwalkers in Sanctuary, selling their bodies for the few padpols they might fetch, enough to keep body and soul together for one more night. Her last customer had viciously turned on her. Here she lay, stripped completely naked, tortured and bloody, cast aside with no more thought than someone might give to emptying a chamber pot... probably less.

If I'd have had a choice, I would have carried the body back to Sabellia's temple and seen to it that she was properly shrouded and buried, repayment to Sabellia for failing in her mission to protect women such as this. But there wasn’t time for that, not with the lives of at least two more women at stake. One of them would die at dawn if I and my companions couldn’t find her. The other might die even sooner than that.

Still, I couldn’t leave this body as it lay. Quickly, I unslung the knapsack on my back and pulled my light cloak out of it. “Not suitable for admission to the Golden Orchid”, she thought with an audible snort, “but it will serve here well enough.”

I shook the fabric out and spread it gently over the body. “Lady Sabellia,” I murmured, “Watcher at the hearth, Guardian of the night, your sworn servant beseeches you to protect this soul who has passed from my realm into yours. Lift her into your grace, which she did not know in life, and guide her to safety and peace at your hearth eternal. So may it be.”

Slipping the knapsack over my shoulder, I hurried after my companions.
2nd of Hespar
Getting through the Westside to the Maze is fairly easy as they use Torchholder's medallion at the Processional, and the Stepsons recognize them. Getting into the Maze, though, proves difficult. A bunch of ex-Hawkmasks are in negotiations with a group of thugs. Things are tense, and everyone turns to the Group with weapons drawn. The Group decides their quest is more important than delivering a sound lesson to some dull skulls. They back off quickly, and find a different entrance to the Maze, getting to the Vulgar Unicorn just after the 1st bell. Malkar decides to remain outside on watch as the others go into the bar. Looking around inside, they don't see anyone that matches Crezda's description. Approaching the man behind the bar and laying a generous bribe in front of One-Thumb, they inquire about the girl. One-Thumb is surprised, but informs them that the girl is upstairs in a room she just rented.

The stairs to the rooms are on the outside of the building. Once outside, they inform Malkar, and start upstairs to find her room. Just inside the entry door, they hear a door being smashed open down the hallway. They rush to the sound and find three men menacing a frightened woman, who is cowering in a corner of the rented room. Jack and Kalima rush in to help her. One of the men swipes at Crezda, knocking her down and starting some blood flowing. Jack draws his weapons, fiercely attacking two of the three men. Kalima rushes to the aid of the girl, trying to stop the bleeding. With a quick tie of a bandage, she then stands up, defending the girl with attacks of her own, helping Jack take down two of the men. Modig awaits an opportunity, deftly tumbles in and takes out the last man from behind.

Bringing Crezda to awareness, and getting her to trust them is not easy, but eventually she is calmed and they can question her. She tells them a long tale of her initial capture by pirates several years ago, and falsely sold into slavery to the Ranke. Raiden bought her three years ago, and she's been looking for an opportunity to leave ever since. In Sanctuary, Jenna was still smitten with Treight (an awful man she had met in Ranke months ago), Raiden was drowning his troubles in krrf, and Jerome his own in wine. She was being ignored for the most part and figured that she could be gone a day before her absence was noticed. She took the money from Raiden, and set out for this awful place in the Maze, as directed by the girls at the Golden Oasis. One-Thumb was barely accommodating, but willing to take her money. When she had come upstairs, she'd been followed by those men. She thinks they caught a glimpse of the gold Coronation she used to pay One-Thumb with. The Group questions her about the ship and what she thought Jenna was up to.

She replies, “Jenna and Treight left last night, late and unobserved by anyone but myself. They were talking about the awful things they wanted to do in the name of fun. They wanted to find prostitutes and 'teach them a lesson', drink, and search out some Opah. They made some mention of a final night of entertainment.” She shudders visibly, and stops talking.
The Group decides to stop questioning her, and tell her they will get her out of Sanctuary, tonight, if possible. When they leave the Vulgar Unicorn, Malkar greets them, bow in hand. “Lookie who I ran into!” Their new friend, Zip, is at his side.

Zip hears the story of Crezda, and the Group's plight of the evening, and agrees to help them out. He sends word out and gets two of his PFLS revolutionaries to escort Crezda through the tunnels to make her way north to Ils. Modig tells her to take a few days to rest at the Brown Bear, a safe haven when she mentions his name. Olric may still be there, and would probably welcome a leisurely trip to Ils, in pleasant company. Crezda erupts in thankfulness and some tears, and soon leaves with Zip's men.

Refocusing on Jenna and Treight's trail, they guess that the new Witch may be working in the swamp, like Roxane was. That being true, the path that the two murder scenes they found seemed to be leading west. They decide to continue their way west, keeping a sharp eye out for more bodies carved up in this most vile fashion. Although an obvious place, they find more 'party favors' consisting of two mutilated girls near the Slippery Lily.

Leaving the Maze, the Group rounds a corner right into another hoard of undead. Surprised, the Group gets swarmed with undead, which causes a nauseous reaction to everyone from the horrendous smell. The Group retreats for a better attack formation. Jack uses the flat of his blades, Kalima her quarterstaff, and Modig makes use of a few leftover firetraps. Zip and Malkar provide ranged support with sling and bow, respectfully. Eventually the crowd is dispersed, but the encounter has left Jack heavily wounded and Kalima unconscious. They do what they can to make sure they can press on; Jack only slightly better off than Kalima.

They go on another few blocks and another body is found, but this one looks familiar. Horrified that this might be a friend, they take a good look, and it is not anyone they know, but they recognize Treight. He's similarly dispatched in an alley, but his throat is deeply cut, his clothes torn off and he's been emasculated; not tortured and killed like the others, but still left for dead like the rest. Modig steps in to search his nearby discarded belongings and Treight sits up, groaning unnaturally. His lifeless corpse is reanimated. Jack is staring agape while the others beat Treight to another death, maybe this time permanently.

Shuddering from that experience, the Group looks West, across Caravan Square to Downwind. It seems they only have one more place to go through before they reach the Swamp. Malkar goes out ahead to see what sort of trail he can pick up, and goes South a ways, presumably to cross the river at another place other than at the bridge. The remainder of the Group figures that going through Downwind may provide more clues or maybe that Jenna isn't that far ahead of them after all. The 3rd bell rings as they approach the bridge to Downwind. The guard shack that used to be here has been scavenged for resources, undoubtedly by the Downwinders.
Once entering Downwind, the shadows seem to move of their own accord, but it is really just the local populace circling the intruders. Not part of Moruth's beggar organization, these pitiful denizens organize in a poor, but concentrated attack in hopes of any boon; money or items they can sell or trade for food, drink or Opah. The Group stands their ground, and deflects the attack, killing half a dozen before the Downwinders scurry back to their respective holes.

Entering the swamp, Malkar seems to just appear out of nowhere, and says he found the trail to where they had found the Death Squads before. The dawn is fast approaching, and they must get to their destination quickly. They find the clearing, and see that the ritual is already in progress. Jenna is bound to a crucifix, and a half a dozen or so lizard-like creatures guard the perimeter. A dark-skinned witch is circling a strangely purple glowing fire, and performing a ceremony.

The Group forms a plan quickly and moves in to execute. Kalima makes use of her magical owl, summoning the large being again, and orders it to snatch Jenna, and take her to the Temple of Vashanka. Modig prepares the last of his fire traps. The owl swoops in and snatches Jenna just as planned. Modig leads the attack with a few smart tosses into the middle of the ceremony. Caught unawares, the guardian creatures shriek in pain, but not for long as they drop left and right. The witch stops pacing, and focuses on her chanting while the rest of the Group rush in with attacks of their own. Arrows and rocks thud into the witch from Malkar and Zip, and sword blows from Jack follow the arrows. The witch struggles to remain standing, but amazingly continues to chant. Kalima follows Jack and swings her greatsword in a mighty arc, cutting the Witch to the ground, finally stopping the infernal chanting.

No one says anything for a few minutes. As they take in the scene, the fire grows brighter and bigger, as if coming to life. The purple beam shoots into the oncoming dawn, leaving the fire burning like a normal campfire. A collective sigh of relief is heard, followed by nervous laughter and eventually a raucous congratulation of back slaps, arm punches and silent prayers. Now they just have to finalize their deal with Torchholder.

The journey back is uneventful. Morning is again finding Sanctuary, revealing its night of violence and action; there is plenty to clean up, but no one seems to be interested. While the Group walks the Wideway, they see the fishermen are already out. The fisherman seem to be the least concerned with the city's happenings; at least someone has some peace in this wretched place.

Finding themselves at the entrance to the Temple of Vashanka, the Group is escorted to Molin's rooms, where they find Jenna sitting nervously on a small couch, with Molin working at his desk. He finishes up the document he is working on, stands and sprinkles sand on the freshly written ink on the paper in front of him. He inspects it for a minute longer, and offers it to Kalima for her inspection.

“Here is our agreement. An owl depositing this girl on my balcony was surprising, but ample proof you completed what you set out to do. I wasn't sure how long it would be before I saw you, but I wanted to the paperwork out of the way. I suspect that this will be sufficient; simply present this to your Mother, and she will know what to do.”

With that, Kalima takes the paper and reads that not only are Olric and Modig pardoned, the rest are no longer wanted for questioning. The Group also have been awarded the most minor of Ranken titles. Jack speaks up and informs Molin of their extensive injuries, and requests compensation for healing. Molin scowls a bit before regaining his composure. He goes back to his desk and scribbles a quick note, and shoves it into Jack's hand saying, “Go to the Temple of Sabellia. And go now.”

The Group files out of the room, going downstairs and home.

Torchholder looks at the girl on his couch, “Come here, girl.”
She stands and walks tentatively towards the High Priest of Vashanka; he reaches out to her, embracing the shocked girl. She takes a moment and returns the embrace. A dagger from the priestly robes appears and he thrusts it into the neck of the unsuspecting girl. He holds her while her life escapes, whispering: “It's too bad they found you dead.”