8/5/1472 (Misty morning giving way to a bright day and crisp, chilly night)
05:40 – The group receive word from their guild; the Draxian is staying at “The White Raven”; a nice place located on the southern edge of the High Hills district, run by Irinite native Khazen Mistenway; a vyrleen. Locally renowned for its fine vyrleen “home style” cooking and cosy atmosphere, it is a favourite place for both the nobles of the High Hills, and the working folks of the Smokestacks and Plaza district. It is also a place that a lot of artistes and bard hang out, smoking vyrleen pipe weeds, drinking too much, and giving impromptu performances. Of late it has become the haunt of one Deshayne Vallara; a female human bard from the North Republic who is gaining a lot of attention both through her physical beauty, and the sheer magic of her voice and the pieces she plays on her acoustic guitar.
It is reported that Uzruel spends a lot of time in his chambers, his door guarded by two hooded men. These guards allegedly emanate a silent aura of menace palpable enough that the rooms adjacent to the Draxian's are unavailable to hire at present due to the disturbed nights and foul experiences of those staying in them. The only time he comes down is each evening, when he joins the thronging crowds to listen to the bard as she weaves her enchanting songs, and takes his only meal of the day.
05:50 – 07:00 - The group discuss how they will approach the Draxian. They consider a direct, aggressive approach, but quickly realise the pointlessness of trying to intimidate an individual raised in the nightmarish chaos of the collapsing Draxian Empire. They then discuss the possibility of Emmiven, based on the illusory image of the renegade they have seen at the Order's HQ, taking on Balskus' form; hopefully confusing the Draxian enough that he may, in his surprise tell them something useful, or even better, think him to be the true renegade and give them a wealth of information. This plan hits a snag when they realise that Balskus has created a homunculus; a small, batwinged humanoid with purple skin, black teeth and eyes, and features disturbingly similar to Balskus' own, and that without it, the ruse would fail. Luckily, the faerie drake offers to take the diminutive monster's form.
However, this plan is abandoned in place of a more sensible one. The group decide that Emmiven will take on a random form, and spend the day in the inn; chatting with the staff, eating and drinking, and keeping an eye out for the Draxian or for anyone suspicious. The rest of the group (bar Grigori who wishes to scribe just one more ritual, and who has not slept in nearly 24 hours by this point) will stay in a nearby inn, waiting for word from the assassin, who will lurk near the White Raven through the day, keeping an overall eye on everything. With the word given, the group will enter the inn, and then, with any information gathered, come up with a better informed plan on what to do to get the information they need from the Draxian.
The group get a little more sleep, save Emmiven, who leaves the Staff of Wands and weaves his way through the misty streets of the city, heading eastwards and a little to the north, to the place where the High Hills blend into the northwestern edge of the Smokestacks.
07:45 – 16:00 - Emmiven arrives as the White Raven; which is closed at this time, and mills about the area wearing various guises until the doors open, and he can enter.
The Raven is everything the warlord – with his dislike of the shorter races – was dreading; a “twee” place with low beams, fitted stone walls, and rush covered flagstone floors. Despite the gentle late spring warmth, a fire burns brightly in a hearth, and various trinkets – swords, shields, decorated slings, polished windstones and the specialised bit and bridle used by vyrleen for their riding dogs – hang from the walls.
Apart from two human mercenaries that watch the doors, the entire staff of the inn are vyrleen, and Emmiven notices that The bar has two distinct zones. The eastern side is normal sized, the bar behind being fixed with small platforms in order to allow the tiny bar staff to stand eye to eye with their patrons, whilst the western side is (to the warlord's mind) comically low; built to cater for vyrleen, ghaerduun and other races of shorter stature.
Despite his feelings, Emmiven manages to be not only polite to the barman (who happens to be the inns owner, Khazen), but to be positively pleasant, and he is surprised to find that Khazen is both witty and extremely likeable. The warlord is persuaded to purchase some of the inns fine fare, and soon he is ploughing through all kinds of vyrleen sweet meats, through thorn bread, honey cakes, sugar biscuits and crisp cider. Emmiven also hires a room across the way from Uzruel's, and learns that the rooms adjacent to the Draxian's are out of order due to “problems with the pipes.”
The day passes quickly for the warlord, helped along by the pints of bitter mead and the glasses of sweet vyrleen wine. The ebb and flow of customers is pretty normal – a quiet morning, followed by a crowded dinner rush (mostly factory workers, smeared in sweat, soot and oils), and a mellow afternoon. As the afternoon (a misty and warm one, alive with the first butterflies of the year and the distant chirruping of birds) draws on, so Emmiven watches as a table next to his own is cordoned off, and a small sign placed in the middle of it, next to a silver goblet inscribed with slightly disturbing, thorny runes and set with mottled rubies. The sign reads simply “RESERVED FOR - UZRUEL, DRAXIAN ENVOY”.
A plan forming in his slightly tipsy mind, the warlord swims up to the bar and catches the attention of the young vyrleen lass now serving there. He grins, and asks “Young lady, I was wondering if I too could reserve my seat like that table there is reserved” he waves vaguely in the direction of Uzruel's table, “only I understand it will get quite busy in here later, and I would hate to loose my prime seat.”
The lass fetches her father, who quickly appears and agrees to save the space for a nominal fee. Emmiven then informs him that a friend or two may call for him, and he would appreciate being made aware when this happens. With Khazen agreeing to his, he then staggers (slightly) up the stairs to the inns third floor, and to his room.
16:05 – 18:00 – Emmiven is in his room for only a short while before a tapping at its window draws his attention to the cloaked figure of the assassin. He moves over to him, and notes the sunburn reddening his usually pale features, and the grimy sweat standing out on his brow – a legacy of a hot day on the rooftops, exposed to the rays of the suns without shade.
Emmiven waves at him.
“Open the pissing window you twat.” hisses Jaeger, thumping the frame with irritation.
Soon Jaeger is in the welcome cool of the bedroom. Emmiven tells him of what has transpired, including the sheer luck of having a table next to the Draxian's own. Jaeger tells him that he shall let the others know, and they will enter the tavern, but remain separate from him.
Meanwhile, Grigori has managed to get a little sleep, and feeling groggy and thick headed, he leaves the Staff and heads through towards the White Raven.
Back at the inn, a slight lull falls over the lively chatter of the crowds as a figure dressed from head to toe in voluminous robes of blood red, edged in gold and scribed with thorn like runes, descends the stairs, an aura of oppressive malevolence radiating from them. Rings of bloody Draxian gold and Bloodmarble glint with dark power on their long fingers, complementing the black polish painted on their exquisitely manicured nails, and a vague dimness seems to surround them; a pall of unnatural gloom that darkens both the physical being of those it nears and which shades their souls. The figures face is lost in the hood, a masking spell concealing it in darkness.
The crowd parts as the figure drifts towards his table. He stops by the ropes surrounding it, and waits until one of the vyrleen, spotting him over the crowds, leaps down and moves it for him. The figure whispers something to them then, and hands them a triangular coin of tarnished electrum, the vyrleen handing him a tall, fluted bottle of brown glass, covered in thorny, Draxian runes, which he takes to his seat.
By the time the priest has arrived, the inn has begun to fill with younger folks; students of art and poetry, drawn by the promise of hearing one of Deshayne's performances, as well as other townsfolk who have come to either join them in their appreciation of the bard or to enjoy the establishment's fine foods. He notes that the barbarian and drakven are by the western bar, the genasai skulking forlornly a little way from them, and ignoring them pushes through the crowd, shuddering as he makes contact with their sweating, hot bodies. He forces his way to the bar, and after a short while catches the barmaid's attention. With disgust clearly etched in his voice, he informs her that he is here to see Emmiven (using the false name they have concocted), and is directed to the cordoned off table in the corner. Without a word of thanks, or buying any beverages, he pushes his way to the corner...
...Only to find that the reserved area is taken.
From their fine clothing, made in the latest styles, they are young nobles, a man and a woman. They are entwined, kissing deeply, their hands drifting all over one another, and although they must know they are sitting in a reserved area, they seem to have not a single care in the world.
“You are in my seat.” snarls Grigori quietly.
The couple continue to kiss, either ignoring the cleric, or unaware of his words in the midsts of their lust.
“You. Are. In. My. SEAT!” Snaps Grigori, finally getting the couple's attention.
Clearly not used to being questioned, the man immediately takes umbrage. He scowls at the priest, and with an arrogant, sneering voice, tells him to make himself scarce as his seat has been taken. His woman sits next to him, smiling suggestively at Grigori, her painted eyes hooded and dilated.
The noble turns back to his love, and is about to return to her embrace when Grigori grabs his shoulder and fixes him with an empty, terrible stare. Any furious or arrogant response the noble was about to give withers when he feels a wave of pure malice and alien dread sweep through him from the cleric's dead-eyed glare, and he instead soils himself. He gibbers and tries desperately to think of something, anything, he can say to get out of this situation with his soul, let alone his life, intact. He does not notice the mould darkening the pocket where the vial rests, or the slight expression of pain that lies beneath a terrible, pallid mask of Grigori's features, and openly weeping with unnameable dread, he grabs his suddenly wide-eyed partner, and leaves the inn, choking in fear.
Suddenly himself again, the cleric slumps forwards. He then senses eyes upon him, and looking up, he meets the dark gaze of the Draxian. For a moment he fears he has given the game away. However, Uzruel raises a glass to him and inclines his head; a gesture of apparent appreciation at what had just occurred – a sign that he recognises his own? Grigori smiles, and grimly whispers to him “They didn't have a sense of humour did they?”. He is surprised when the Draxian offers him a glass of his blue, spiced wine and strikes up a conversation; his voice thick with the accent of his homeland.
By the time the warlord has come downstairs, Grigori and Uzruel are engaged in a conversation about the weakness of the common folk, and the foibles of power. As he approaches the pair, he flashes his other allies a quick look, and meets their slightly worried, slightly confused gazes, before moving to his seat and waiting to be introduced. It takes the cleric a while to even acknowledge him, and the introduction is fleeting to say the least. Emmiven tries to join in their conversation but seems to irritate the dark mage – a fact that forces Grigori to carefully take over the conversation, increasingly blanking Emmiven's input with his own.
The Draxian has allowed the veil hiding his features to fade, revealing his dark features; tattooed and handsome in a subtly unnatural, disturbing manner. Despite the priest's attempts to keep then warlord quiet, Emmiven manages to raise Uzruel's hackles even more when he is caught in a lie regarding his business in the inn, and he realises that quite desperate measures are needed.
He interrupts Emmiven mid sentence and asks, sharply, “Sorry my friend, but would you mind very much FUCKING OFF?”
For a moment Emmiven is stunned into silence. Then he sees the subtle wink the priest gives him, and the penny drops. He forces his skin to darken as if in a blush, and with a mumbled apology, rises and leaves, still a little dazed at the anger he felt rising within him at being spoken to so rudely.
Uzruel, disturbingly enough is staring at Grigori intently, a knowing grin on his face. “I think,” he begins, “that we shall talk after the lady sings. I sense there is more to you, and to your friends” - he gestures towards the rest of the group where they try to blend in with the crowd - “than I first imagined. I sense there is business to be done, and that....ah!”
The last exclamation comes as an expectant hush falls across the crowd, and a delicate, young human woman, pale of skin and blonde of hair, stands up on a small stage raised behind the bar, an acoustic guitar of polished song oak in her hands. She smiles at the crowd, her pale blue eyes glittering, and then begins to sing...
18:01 – 19:30 - Songs of magic and of legend. Songs of joy and of sorrow. Songs that weave true magic and conjure forth images of the heroes and villains they describe. Songs that momentarily take the crowd out of their mundane lives, and let them see the world as only stories can paint it.
Her voice is a thing of power; the tool of a true bard, and the performance, carried on the wings of her clear, perfect song and flawless musical skill, seems to take only moments - though by the time she is done, the light has faded to deep twilight outside. A moments awed silence after her performance, and then deafening applause. Uzruel remains silent, but a dreamy, far-away look is etched on his face and a genuine smile lights his face. After a moment he blinks rapidly, as if waking from the dream, and with a cough he turns to regard Grigori.
“To my room”, He growls.
19:31 – 20:00 – The group, gathered with urgent glances through the crowd, follow Uzruel to his chambers on the third floor. As they near the door, they feel a malevolent horror emanating from the figures that stand outside. Grigori catches a whiff of resinous oils and bitter herbs coming from them and under the hoods sees filthy, glyph inscribed bandages. They're mummies he realises; embalmed cadavers animated by ancient, evil spirits.
As Uzruel approaches, they shuffle stiffly aside with a faint moan and the crackle of stiff wrappings. He then raises his hands, mutters an incantation (the more sensitive members of the group feel hidden and most likely lethal magics powering down), and the door swings open revealing a lushly appointed bedroom, lit by a sullen reddish glow. Various exotic and disturbing items decorate the chamber; the huge, thick-boned skull of some multi-horned pachyderm, painted with twisting runes of vile power, a thin bladed, straight sword, apparently worked from obsidian, a collection of shrunken heads, which bear no signs of dehydration or mummification, but are perfect, tiny, silently screaming versions of their original forms, frozen in their moment of final agony by dark necromantic arts. Scrolls are piled on a desk, and a petrified scorpion sits as a paperweight on some documents bearing the inverted pentacle and daemon skull standard of Pentas Daemonica – the dread and legendary City of Stained Stones; heart of the disintegrating Draxian Empire.
Once inside, they are joined by Jaeger, and the party get down to business.
Uzruel is clearly fully cognizant that this band of unique individuals are allied with the Unified Order, and from this, he quickly works out that they are seeking his occasional contact Balskus. He clearly enjoys the groups' surprise at his ability to deduce all of this, and a smug smile shapes the sounds of his words. He informs the party that he knows exactly where the renegade is, and that if they are willing to help him, he shall tell them exactly how to find him. He warns them that without his help they stand absolutely no chance of getting close to him as “he dwells in a place particular to him”, and adds the caveat that his price will not be cheap.
Cautiously, the party agree to listen to the Draxian's offer – although before he starts Jaeger tries something, saying “From what you have said, I reckon Balskus is in Clanktown.” - noting with pleasure the unconscious response from Uzruel, which as good as screams “YES HE IS!!!”, although he merely shakes his head and looks a little irritated.
Having given the game away (though still unaware of this fact) Uzruel begins to discuss the task he wants the group to complete for his cooperation.
“In Draxia a particular narcotic incense is commonly used in meditation, ritual, and for relaxation. Named Yangir by my people, it is also known as White Poppy Wax on Fey and by the Dwaer'Syth as Maesh'Tcheterti; 'Dream Biter'.
“It is a crumbly brownish white material which smoulders readily if lit, emitting a strongly musky smoke which lulls those breathing it into a stupefied state, during which one may gain insights into problems or travel into the shadow planes.
“I was a particularly enthusiastic user of this material in my homeland, and I brought a large supply with me six moons ago when I first came to Irin. However, this supply is now almost completely gone, and the only place I has been able to divine holds any is currently out of my reach; within a sealed Darkold'Sebbathorimite chapel about a day and a half to the west of Irin.
“This is a particular concern to me as should I be forced to go without for too long I shall sicken and weaken until I fade away”.
Asked why the supply in the chapel is “out of reach”, the Draxian looks genuinely disgusted.
“Because a bunch of Solum'Tassadexites calling themselves the 'Knights of the Blazing Oriflamme' stand vigil over it, and because there is said to be some kind of evil spirit within. Powerful though I am, I do not flatter myself to think that I could best the entire troupe, and even I am not insane enough to try and tangle with the wraiths of long dead clerics, dedicated in their foul lives to Darkold'Sebbathor.”
“So then,” begins Jaeger slowly, as if mulling over the envoy's words, “You want us to take on these knights and undead instead? Is that it?”
Uzruel's eyes glitter.
An uneasy tension passes through the party (save Schnecke who after several days of relative peace is itching to hit something with his latest acquisition), and with faux sincerity, Seren makes Uzruel aware that the group will “see what they can do”.
Both parties know that actually going through with any kind of attempt to rescue the drugs from the sealed temple would be a last ditch effort to find the renegade.
20:01 – 09:00 - (9/5/1472 – Fog slow to clear, leaving a cool but sunny day. Chilly night with clear skies) The group leave Uzruel and his foul room, and leave the White Raven. Returning to the Staff of Wands they ask their rogues to look into the availability of Yangir from sources other than sealed temples raised to the glory of the most wicked and vile of deities, and (ironically) Jaeger makes contact with the shadowy priesthood of the House of Killers to ask the same. During this time, the group's contacts let them know a simple fact – contrary to what Uzruel told them, Yangir is fairly easily obtained, and more than a few traders with a taste for danger or the truly exotic have stocks of it. It seems that the Draxian may have actually been more interested in getting the vile site cleared of enemies than in the drugs supposedly contained within it.
Annoyed at the envoy's attempts to manipulate them, the party consider a number of scenarios ranging from stark, bloody revenge, to knowing cooperation. However, they decide that if they accomplish their goals without any input at all from the Draxian, so much the better.
09:00 – 00:00 – This day is spent utilising the parties various underworld contacts and the official repositories of knowledge with the Unified Order, in order to try and track down any relatively unique vices the renegade may have. Jaeger is utterly convinced that Balskus resides in Clanktown – or New Forge as it's inhabitants call it - a small settlement thrown up by the warforged that rises 2 ½ miles to the northeast of Irin, and he feels that if the group can identify a rare item that only a mortal would crave, and locate a supplier taking it to the town, they may find a lead they can exploit.
By late morning, Balskus' love of a certain type of cigar, imported from a small kingdom in the Central Meridian Isles comes to light; a rare imported item that only a few traders supply. More time is spent trying to find the names and associations of those merchants, and by nightfall, one particular group of merchants – a cabal of warforged native to New Forge – are identified as the most obvious and likely candidates.
A few fingers are put out of their sockets, and a few threats made, and more information is gleaned by the group. Apparently on every 10th, 20th and 30th day of the month, a warforged named “Dent” visits a certain steel works in the Smokestacks. Whilst there he negotiates legitimate deals for steel trade between the factory and New Forge, as well as moving on less legitimate items. From what the group can learn, one of these dodgy cargoes is, from time to time, the renegade's special cigars!
With something akin to glee the party set about planning an ambush for this unfortunate living construct, for if what they have learned is correct, he will be making his visit to the eastern district at first light the very next morning.
(10/5/1472; Misty start, then bright, sunny day. Very warm. Cool and clear at night)
00:01 – 05:00 – The group steal a few hours sleep, before slipping out of their Inn, and heading through the misty streets towards the distant gloom of the Smokestacks district. Few are about at this time, fewer still willing to tangle with a group packing the likes of Seren, Schnecke, Varracuda and Jaeger, and they make excellent time.
05:01 – 05:35 - The Smokestacks is a district of monotonous red brick walls, which frame the straight, narrow cobbled streets, used mainly for deliveries, and enclose the huge factoriums and fabricatories themselves. A constant pall of smoke hangs over it, belched from the towering chimneys that give the area its name, and a thin, slippery coating of soot covers everything, making everything grimy and filthy. The air is sharp with the chemical bite of fumes, and when there is any kind of water vapour in the air, it is choked by stinging smogs that can choke those caught within them. Few animals or plants thrive in this area, apart from the cooing filthwings, and indefatigable wiregrass, and only the dundorin tend to feel at home in this polluted, dingy place.
The group navigate the streets, their eyes and throats smarting in the smoky atmosphere, and eventually they find the one they are looking for – a street with no name, just a number that designates its start and finish location in comparison to the adjacent streets. Like all the others it is narrow, cobbled, and closed on both sides by 40' high walls of mortared red brick. Here and there along this length of road, huge gates of steel, bearing the name of the factory beyond them break the monotony of the wall.
Several groups of workers are offloading supplies through some of these gates, their voices carrying along the narrow streets weirdly, and the party realise that finding a secluded spot from which to launch their attack may prove difficult in these functional thoroughfares. However, they then spot a lone warforged in the distance, bearing a huge backpack, moving along the street towards them from the east, a walking stick in his hand, a deep dent clearly visible in his head, and so are forced to improvise. Moving as a loose circle, the party move towards him; half passing him by, the others remaining in front of him. Then, all at once, the last group rush him, catching him by surprise, and carry him towards the relative seclusion of the streets easternmost end. There he is slammed to the ground by Schnecke and held there by the blades and crackling energies held to his throat.
“What? What did I do? Why are you doing this?”
“Shut up machine.” snarls Jaeger, “You have something we need, and you are going to give it to us. If we are happy with it, you may even get to leave here alive and unscathed.”
The warforged, looking pathetically like a cowering human as he scrambles to placate the group, quickly reveals that Balskus is indeed one of his cabal's customers and that he resides at the very heart of New Forge, in a fortified smithy. He tells the party that the renegade has become utterly beloved by the 'forged - especially those of the Forging Flame – for he heals the wounded and helps those still in service to the Order to shrug off their binding rituals and to become free. The 'forged see him as an emissary of peace and are incredibly protective of him – save those who follow the Ebon Eye, who think him just another meat puppet manipulating their people for their own unguessable ends – and he warns the party that any move against him would bring the entire town down upon their heads. He advises them to simply let him be, and hints that Balskus has made reference to a “great evil” perpetrated by his former peers, which he seeks to protect all the 'forged from. The group wonder if this is a reference to “Project Scythe”; whatever that is.
07:00 – By this time Dent has been arrested by the Order, and taken to await trial and almost certainly, execution. The group however are trying to work out how to extract a powerful mage from a fortified position, in the middle of an enemy stronghold, without getting themselves or him killed, or triggering a war between the clanks and the city of Irin.