The Fair Streets of Brindinford

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Bhára, Gil (and Bruce the Goose)
Source: The Speaker in Dreams

Dragonmarked
Over the winter, Kaylessa approached the Starflower siblings and invited them to receive the gift of the Platinum Dragon. Although they were somewhat dubious of the religious implications, they had no issues with swearing an oath to do good and oppose evildoers and the like in exchange for more magical powers! They both stuck their hands in the silver fire. Berrian received the mark of healing, which allowed him to heal with a touch, while Bhára received the mark of the storm, granting her the ability to rebuke attackers with stormy energy. (The late Keluak Frostbeard had the same mark.)

The Return of Bruce
In the spring, the rhyme-loving halfling peddler, Bruce the Goose, arrived in Larchwood in search of the brave heroes who had rescued him from the plant monsters many months before. He was somewhat disappointed to find that only Gil was in town, though he took an instant liking to the elf siblings. Bruce was hoping for some companionship on his way to Brindinford for the town’s annual street fair.

Kaylessa had earlier explained to the heroes that it was about time they took their talents into the wider world, so she urged them now to accompany the halfling. She promised to let the others know where they’d gone.

Brindinford
Some weeks later, the heroes arrived at Brindinford, a walled town of roughly 5,000 people situated on the banks of the Brinding River. The fair had spilled out onto the open ground outside the walls. As the heroes made their way toward the main gate, they came across an old beggar woman. Bruce nicked a copper from her bowl. Noticing this, Bhára and Gil both donated several coins. She thanked them kindly, then stared shrewdly at Bruce for a few moments. Berrian gave her some more money, at which point she turned to look at him, and in a harsh whisper, “Beware those who hear the whispers in their dreams! They sleep fitfully now, awaiting the Speaker’s plans!” With that, she turned to the next group of travellers.

The heroes made their way slowly to the front of the line, where they found four guards in red livery peace-bonding everyone’s weapons. Swords were secured in scabbards, leather sacks placed over axe and spear blades, and so on. Anyone who looked like they might be a spellcaster were politely asked to tie leather strips around their middle and ring fingers and tie their component pouches closed. The heroes grumbled a bit under their breath but acquiesced, knowing that this was fairly standard practice in more civilized parts.

Inside the gates, they found the town’s main thoroughfare crowded with people. Taking in the various wares and entertainments to be had, they noticed that everything got noticeably nicer and more expensive the closer they got to the hill on the west side of town, on top of which was a walled compound. Berrian decided he wanted to find a new jacket (and a dress for his sister), while Gil went in search of healing potions.

The Fair Gets Foul
As the heroes reconvened near the bell tower at the center of town, shouts from nearby signalled a disturbance. The shouts turned to screams, and the heroes soon found themselves up against a press of people trying to get away from the source of the commotion. Berrian used his lordly presence to clear a path, parting the crowd as if by magic. Within moments, the companions found themselves facing four rat-men with a bunch of giant rats busily trashing market stalls and harassing merchants and so on.

The heroes had all had the foresight to dispose of their peace-bonding devices on their way through the crowd, and with no town guards in sight, the heroes decided to take matters into their own hands. Berrian charged forward, swinging his moonblade at the leader of the rat-men, a particularly wily fellow who seemed to moving around a lot faster than ought to be possible.

Gil took aim at one of the rat-men with his bow, only to discover that his mundane arrows were of no use against these cursed creatures. He then attempted to put the rat-men to sleep with his magic but only succeeded in dropping two of the rats.

Bhára hung back, using her magic, while Bruce darted in and activated his magic wand, which turned him invisible. He turned this to his own advantage by surprise attacking one of the rat-men as it ran past him to deal with Bhára. Unfortunately, Bruce’s nonmagical dagger was as ineffectual as Gil’s arrow had been, and the rat-man just grinned at the little halfling.

Berrian soon found himself surrounded by rats and rat-men. As the leader stabbed furiously away, Bhára went to her brother’s aid by casting a shatter spell. The spell killed one of the rats and ruined some of the merchandise strewn about the road, drawing the ire of one of the merchants cowering behind an overturned cart.

When Berrian succumbed to his wounds and fell to the ground, Bhára cast a twinned ray of sickness, harming one of the wererats and slaying their leader! The surviving rat-men turned tail and fled. While Bruce chased after one of them, Gil and Bhára ran to help Berrian.

Once away from the main street, the rat-man Bruce was chasing shifted back into his human form and then proceeded to take a roundabout route back to the center of town, where he calmly entered the nearby bell tower. Bruce then ran back to his companions to tell them what he’d seen.

By this time, a contingent of guards had arrived. They thanked the group for their assistance in dealing with the rat-men and told them that they could keep their weapons un-bound from here on out.

Crime Scene Investigations
Bhára mollified the angry merchant by repairing some of his broken wares with her mending spell while her companions paused to catch their breath. Shortly after, another contingent of guards, this one led by a stocky woman, arrived to begin a proper investigation. As the woman was clearly some kind of officer, the heroes approached and attempted to share their own information with her. She made it clear she didn’t think much of adventurers, but she thanked them for their help just the same.

The officer, introducing herself as Lt Shella, told the group that she suspected the rat-men might be behind a series of grisly murders in Southspur, the city’s slums district. At that, a street urchin piped up with more detail: several people had disappeared off the streets of Southspur in recent times. No bodies had been found, but there was plenty of blood left behind!

Shella accepted the heroes’ offer to investigate the bell tower, although she almost instantly regretted doing so, for they proceeded to march over and bang on the door until the old caretaker, Turvin, appeared. Berrian tried to convince him to let them in so they could discuss some elvish methods that might enhance the sound of his bells. The old man was insulted and attempted to shut the door on the heroes, but Bruce got in the way and found himself wedged in the crack. As the heroes tried to overpower the old man, Lt Shella arrived and furiously told them to stop what they were doing, reminding them that this was the city and that they couldn’t just go barging into someone’s home like that! Bhára angrily snapped back at her and stormed off.

Gathering Information
Things didn’t appear to be going so well at this point, so the heroes decided to back off. Gil decided to see if there was a thieves’ guild in town. After greasing a few palms and wetting a few throats, he managed to locate the guild, based in a merchant company’s office. The head of the guild, a friendly human named Thos, was pleased to meet Gil and gave him a few tips. He suggested that Gil go and visit old Shoomma, an ancient dwarven smith who was well-liked by everyone in the city and knew just about everything there was to know about anything.

Gathering up his companions, Gil went in search of the dwarf. On their way to Shoomma’s smithy, Bruce and Bhára both noticed someone following them. The guy looked to be a thug, with long, slicked-back hair and a crossbow with a weird contraption on it. They suspected he wasn’t alone.

As Gil got down to business with the old lady dwarf, Bhára and Bruce kept an eye on the square outside. They could see the thug wandering around in the square, pretending to mind his own business. Another guy with much the same look came along shortly. Bruce decided to try and spy on them from closer up and attempted to sneak behind a statue but the thugs spotted him and headed towards him. They proceeded to get into a bizarre conversation (which Bhára was able to follow thanks to her ability to read lips) that started with the thugs attempting to lure Bruce into an alley so they could show him where the wererats were hiding and ended with Bruce attempting to convince the thugs that he was leading them into an alley to show them something.

Meanwhile, the others were able to glean some valuable information from the straight-talking Shoomma. She told them that she’d heard rumors that rats were crawling all over the old bell tower. The tower had been looked after by members of the same family ever since it had been built. Shoomma had known the previous caretaker quite well but didn’t really know the man’s son, Turvin, that well, since he mostly kept to himself.

She added that, over the past few weeks, a number of her fellow artisans and shopkeepers had reported being approached for protection money. Those who refused were frequently burgled shortly afterwards. She suspected that the wererats might be behind it, since it would be easy for them to escape detection via their shapechanging abilities.

Rats in the Alley
At this point, the rest of the gang noticed what was going on out in the square. Thanking Shoomma for her help, they followed Bruce as the thugs attempted to lead him (or was Bruce leading them?) into a narrow alley. There, they revealed themselves to be wererats themselves and proceeded to pump Bruce full of bolts using what turned out to be repeating crossbows!

Hearing Bruce cry out in pain, the others raced to the entrance. Berrian shot bolts of fire at the wererats, while Gil acrobatically bounced around the alley to get in behind the far wererat, which had succumbed to a fit of laughter brought on by Bruce’s magic powers. He was able to stab the downed rat-man several times with Reszur, his magic dagger, before it shook off the charm. Bruce pulled out his magic wand, but this time all he managed to do was read the surface thoughts of one of the rat-men (who was beginning to think about trying to escape, as well as wondering what would happen to “the plan” now that Squim was dead). Meanwhile, both rat-men were able to resist Bhára’s hold person. With both wererats quite hurt by now, though, Gil risked another sleep spell and was pleasantly surprised when one of them dropped to the ground unconscious.

At that, the one on the ground got to his feet, muscled his way past Gil, and disappeared into a maze of alleyways. Content with one prisoner, the heroes stripped the rat-man and tied him up. Along with the repeating crossbow and a spare cartridge, and some money, they found a small bag containing a strange white powdery substance. Suspecting that this may have been how the wererat leader had been able to move so quickly, they decided not to touch it for now.

They dragged the bound wererat into a backroom behind Shoomma’s forge. When he woke up, Berrian intimidated him into talking. The wererat told them that his gang did indeed live in the bell tower. No, there weren’t any tunnels underneath it. There were about ten wererats, including Turvin, and maybe a dozen giant rats in the tower. The tower had five floors. Turvin lived on the ground floor, while the rest of them lived on the second floor. The rats mostly lived on the third floor. The fourth floor was full of gears and pulleys and things. The top floor housed the bells.

Given how tough a time they’d had assaulting Feathergale Spire, the heroes were wary about trying to clear the bell tower. When their talk turned to setting the place on fire to smoke the rats out, Shoomma piped up that they’d be lucky to be run out of town on a rail if they tried a stunt like that. The bell tower was a believed landmark in the town, and wererats or no, the citizens of Brindinford would not appreciate it being damaged.

When Bruce got all up in the wererat’s face, he decided he’d had enough of the interrogation and shifted into rat form so he could escape his bonds. Bruce was too fast, though, and grabbed him by his tail and stuffed him into his handy haversack. Announcing to the rest of the crew that they had ten minutes, they hurried out to find a contingent of guards. They grabbed a large sack and wrangled the rat-man thug into the sack then handed it over to the guards with a hasty explanation that they’d caught one of the guys who had either taken part in the attack on the fair or was at least associated with those that had. The guards thanked them and then commandeered a cart to carry the wriggling sack back to their barracks.

At this point, it was late afternoon, the fair was winding down, and the heroes decided it was time to look for somewhere to stay. Suspecting that the town’s taverns would be overcrowded with fair-goers, the two Starflowers used their noble privileges to secure lodging with an aristocratic family living in the prestigious Keep neighborhood. They were able to vouch for Gil, as well, despite his rustic folk hero appearance. Bruce, however, opted to go and find lodgings with his friends in the town’s halfling camp, situated on the river just outside the north gate.

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Dramatic Interlude

A Stitch in Time
As our heroes huddle together, trying to keep warm on the cold surface of the metal cube, Berrian settles into a trance. Through his reflexive meditations, he thinks back over recent events. He recalls the fierce fighting in the marble tower. He recalls the look of maniacal glee on the air priest’s face as he tears a hole in the fabric of reality, sucking himself and his enemies into a literal void. He recalls how a strange wind composed of lost memories and snatches of conversation buffets the group, pulling them through a swirling vortex of flaming red energy. Only this time, he keeps falling. The vortex is swallowing him up.

Just as he feels that all is lost, an image comes into focus amidst the swirling colors. He strains his eyes, trying to make it out. It’s a sewing needle! His hand reaches out to take it … and as his finger comes into contact, he realizes what must be done!

Berrian’s eyes pop open. He looks around at his miserable comrades. He looks at his sister, still unconscious, a frown creasing her brow. He pulls the needle out of his pack. The old woman who gave it to him said it could never be bent. He’d tried many times, and so far, it was still as straight as an arrow. But what if … Focusing on the visions in his trance, he takes the needle in hand and applies pressure with his thumb. At first it resists but then slowly, ever so slowly, it begins to bend!

Suddenly time starts to flow in reverse! He is moving backwards, rapidly, and is soon spiralling back up through the vortex into the void and back through the rift into the tower. The priest is nothing but mist again, but Berrian remembers … as the insane cultist begins to coalesce, magic bags in hand, Berrian gives a shout of warning and attacks, stabbing his sword through the man’s chest.

With a howl of rage and frustration, Azoth the priest collapses onto his knees. His back arches as his head snaps up towards the ceiling. A rush of air pours out of his mouth, rapidly dissolving him into nothing! As his empty robe flutters to the floor, a rumble of thunder shakes the tower, followed rapidly by a flash of lightning.

A massive bolt strikes the point at the top of the tower. Fearthergale Spire shivers and quakes. Cracks form in the walls. The tower is falling apart! Time to leave!

Berrian grabs his unconscious sister and slings her over his shoulder as the others hurry into the entry hall. As the tower begins to fall apart around them, they work as furiously as they can to lower the drawbridge. In a daze, they scramble across and onto the plateau. A fierce thunderstorm rages above them, and Berrian thinks for a moment that he can hear a voice on the wind, but he can’t make out the words. The remaining knights and their winged ally have fled. As the heroes watch from a safe distance, the spire crumbles and falls into the canyon below, leaving nothing behind but a broken stump of marble where the stables had been.

The heroes limp back to Larchwood. After a warm meal, they curl up in front of the roaring fire in the Swinging Sword’s common room. As Kaylessa sits down beside them, Berrian stares into the crackling flames and begins to tell the half-elven woman a story …

A Wrinkle in Time
Unbeknownst to everyone, Berrian’s use of the needle’s magic has had an unintended consequence: the PCs are now in a slightly altered reality, one in which divine magic no longer exists. Berrian is now an eldritch knight rather than a paladin, and as far as he (and anyone else) is concerned, he has always been one. Saul no longer exists, either, and in his place is an alternate version of Keth, who is (and seemingly always has been) a barbarian rather than a cleric.

Kaylessa also informs the group that they’ve done what they can to make the town of Larchwood safer, and it’s now time that they take their gifts out into the wider world in an effort to make it a better place too.