Taking Care of Business

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Bhára, Karth
Source: The Speaker in Dreams

The Cellar
After reviving Karth and taking a quick breather, the heroes were ready to continue the search for the missing Ser Alein. As she did not appear to be anywhere on the upper levels, Torea suggested they look in the cellar. As the party headed back down, they found that the feelings of unease they’d felt when they first entered the bookshop were growing again. Citing the need to find somewhere quiet to lie down and watch the world spin around them, Gil and Tasklar abandoned their mates to whatever fate awaited them down below.

As the remaining heroes descended into what appeared to be a meeting room of sorts, their feelings of vertigo and disorientation grew unbearably intense. Bhára found herself clinging closely to her brother’s side as though he were some kind of good luck charm she could use to stave off her burgeoning feelings of inadequacy. Karth, meanwhile, found himself being deafened by a constant buzzing in his ears. Berrian, however, managed to hold himself together and moved to open a door in the south wall.

As the door opened, the group was assailed by a babbling of voices coming from an amorphous blob in the middle of the floor. Another gibbering mouther, this one flanked by two of the mad sorcerers. Beyond them lay a woman in a red gown, grimacing in pain as she clutched her hands to her ears.

Trying not to look at the maddeningly distorted walls and floor, Berrian charged into the room and swung his magic sword at the monster, Bhára following closely at his heels. While Torea stood motionless in the doorway, stunned by the mouther’s babbling, Karth pushed through and, blissfully unable to hear the babbling, charged into the fray.

Despite Bhára feeling like she was running on empty, and Berrian and Karth still injured, the heroes managed to prevail in short order. Soon, the mouther was nothing but a pile of goo, and the sorcerers had followed their leader into the afterlife. Trying not to throw up, Torea staggered across to her master and knelt down beside her. Shakily getting to her feet, Ser Alein asked for the heroes’ help to get her back to the shrine. Once there, she would explain all that she knew.

At the shrine, after changing into something more comfortable, Ser Alein thanked the heroes for rescuing her. She explained that she had heard a cry for help outside, but when she’d gone to investigate, she’d lost consciousness. When she’d next awoken, she’d found herself in a strange place. She didn’t know how she’d ended up wearing that red party dress, but she suspected that the crazy sorcerers, whom she’d heard refer to themselves as “Those Who Hear”, had planned to sacrifice her in some mad ritual. In gratitude for their efforts, Ser Alein offered to let the heroes rest in the shrine overnight. Karth happily accepted, while the Starflowers were simply too exhausted to go in search of more luxurious accommodations.

Downtime
The next morning, the Starflowers felt well-rested enough to head out into the fair and find a spot to set up shop themselves. They proceeded to spend the better part of the day using their magic to clean and mend people’s garments* to earn a bit of coin. As they worked, a small boy approached them with a message from the dwarf weaponsmith, Shoomma, congratulating them on their efforts to clean up the city and inviting them and their fellow heroes to a feast to be held in their honor that evening.

Meanwhile, Karth had wandered about, getting the lay of the land, and ended up paying a visit to the thieves’ guild. When he stopped by the elves’ booth, they showed him the invitation. Aware that they still had the wererats in the bell tower to deal with, the group decided that they’d leave them until after the party.

The Party
Everyone who was anyone in Brindinford was at the Stony Gaze Tavern, so named for its medusa theme, when the heroes arrived. Ser Alein and Torea accompanied them in their fully knightly regalia. Various aristocrats schmoozed with them, and the Starflowers were able to make accommodation arrangements with one well-heeled family for after the party.

Curiously, Baron Euphemes II did not attend the party, sending his sister, Eriana, in his stead. Various locals assured them that this was perfectly normal, however. As a token of the city’s gratitude, Lady Eriana presented each of the heroes with a fine silver brooch set with a purple amethyst.

The feast itself was lavish, with roast boar and plenty of ale and mead for everyone. The entertainment culminated with a poetic retelling of the heroes’ exploits, with some episodes fabricated from whole cloth but all very grand and heroic. There were also numerous toasts and much applause in the heroes’ honor.

Ambushed!
The party lasted well into the night, and as the last guests staggered away, the heroes departed with their would-be hosts. As they passed a dark alley on their left, a low voice called out to them. The heroes caught a brief glimpse of a hulking figure shrouded in a cloak that was quickly obscured by a blast of freezing air that billowed out into the street. As the heroes shook off the cold, they saw with dismay that both Torea and the kindly nobles who had been escorting them home were frozen solid.

Charging after the retreating figure, the heroes entered a confusing maze of alleyways. A number of assassins leapt out of the shadows to attack with steel and spell. In addition to a number of roguish types, armed with short swords and hand crossbows, the heroes also found themselves being attacked by another of the mad sorcerers from the bookstore, as well as a pale figure with hellish symbols on his robes who seemed to be able to conjure up hellfire. The hulking figure who’d cast a cone of cold at them was nowhere to be seen, but a well-armored woman wielding a glaive entered the fray and quickly displayed magical powers of her own, at one point rising up into the air to land on a roof above.

Berrian had climbed up onto a roof to take out a pesky assassin with a crossbow. Seeing the woman with the glaive standing across the alley from him, he backed up and attempted a running leap. Unfortunately, he misjudged the distance and began to fall. Luckily, his sister had his back and saved him from embarrassment by casting feather fall on him.

In the end, only two would-be assassins survived, hightailing it away into the darkened streets. Both magic-users were cut down, with the diabolist’s body turning to ash upon his death, and even the glaive-wielder was laid low, at which point her broken body transformed before the heroes’ eyes into a blue-skinned giantess with small horns on her head and hair as white as snow. An oni! How strange.

While the group searched their attackers’ bodies, Bhára sifted through the diabolist’s ashes and came across a small black pearl that was warm to the touch. Feeling it contained some magic power, she pocketed it. Later, when she’d had a chance to examine it properly, it turned out to be a pearl of power.

The heroes helped Ser Alein carry Torea’s frozen remains back to Lurue’s shrine. Although she again offered her home to the heroes for the night, they gave her some space to mourn in private. As they rested, the heroes were troubled by bizarre dreams. Images of their would-be assassins mingled with hissing words that twisted and writhed together, like snakes within their minds, making their sinister intent clear despite their foreign syllables. After what felt like an eternity, words suddenly rang out clearly over the cacophony, as if howled by a madman: “The bells toll! The gate swings wide!”

The Baron’s Proclamation
In the morning, the heroes were roused from their troubled rest by the blaring of trumpets coming from the direction of the keep. Gearing up, they headed out into the streets and followed the crowds to the square below the southeast tower. Up above, the baron himself appeared on the parapet. With an oddly emotionless voice, Euphemes began addressing the crowd. Speaking about the lawlessness and disorder that had overwhelmed even the efforts of an heroic band of adventurers, not to mention the town guard, the baron announced that he would be bringing in a new force of law to make the city safe again.

On top of that, the baron issued some new edicts, among them the ending of the street fair and the closing of the city gates. Carrying weapons would also be prohibited. The septry would be closed and the godsworn declared outlaws. All able-bodied citizens were also ordered to report to duty in the militia.

At this point, Bhára spotted a shadowy figure lurking in the background. Her keen elven vision allowed her to see a pair of milky white eyes peering out of the figure’s cloak. She passed this information on to her brother, who bristled in anger – the baron was being controlled like a puppet!

As Baron Euphemes concluded his speech, a tall, skeletal figure with shimmering gossamer wings stepped into view on the roof of the tower. A tail like a scorpion’s lashed around behind it, stinging at the empty air. With that, the baron turned on his heel and disappeared into the tower.

As the crowd erupted into chaos, Berrian let loose a fire bolt at the retreating figure. His shot went wide, but the town guard noticed and began making their way towards the elf warrior.

Just then, cries arose from the crowd as a column of fire rose into the air from the direction of the Andarian Septry. The sky began to darken with hellish smoke. As the guards drew closer, Ser Alein suggested they head for the Reality Wrinkle bookstore. It would still be empty, and it was unlikely that anyone would think to look for them there.

Evading the guards easily, the heroes soon found themselves on an empty street, face-to-face with a large monster with ruddy scales and sharp talons. As it leapt towards them, Karth and Berrian ran forward, blades flashing, and laid the creature low.

As they made their way back towards the bookstore, they saw a number of other fiendish creatures chasing people through the streets, laughing gleefully at the mayhem they were causing.

Terror in the Streets
Back at the bookstore, the heroes discussed their next steps. Bhára told everyone about the figure she’d seen lurking behind the baron, and they concluded that he was being manipulated by someone. It would also seem that someone had summoned fiends from the Nine Hells. They would have to be dealt with.

Ser Alein mentioned that there was a druid enclave in the woods on the other side of the river, not far from the bridge at the north end of town. The druids and rangers there might be able to provide some assistance, should help be needed.

When Bhára complained that this wasn’t their problem and they should just get out, Ser Alein pointed out that if left unchecked, the fiends would spread. It would eventually become everyone’s problem. If there was an open portal to the hells somewhere in the city – and the pillar of fire above the septry seemed to suggest to the knight that there was – it needed to be closed urgently.

After some further discussion, the group resolved to head for the thieves’ guild across town in an attempt to reunite with Gil and Tasklar. Unfortunately, as they made their way through the eerily deserted streets, they were accosted by a group of frightened-looking militia members led by the bony fiend they’d spotted earlier. It spoke in their minds, telling them they were under arrest for breaking the new law against carrying weapons in the streets. Berrian drew his sword and yelled at the fiend to come and take it. He charged in to attack, and the others watched on in horror as the fiend rent him with its claws and stung him with its venomous stinger. The elf collapsed to the ground, his face pale and sickly.

Karth dashed forward and grabbed his friend’s limp body, then everyone made a run for it. Grabbing a potion and pouring it down Berrian’s throat, he thrust the elf at his sister and then shouted for the fiend to follow him. He split away from the others, telling them to get back to the bookstore. The brave half-orc led the fiend away from West Hill, buying the elves and Ser Alein time to get back to the bookstore.

 

 

*Berrian and Bhára’s players have been using some of their PCs’ downtime days to run a “drycleaning” business. While they have a physical shop, run in their absence by an assistant, back home in the elf kingdom, they can actually operate from anywhere since they mostly just use their prestidigitation and mending cantrips to due the cleaning and mending.

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