Monday, June 29, 2015

First Born [TORCHWOOD]

First Born os one of the three  prequels to Torchwood's Miracle Day season, and I'm sorry to say it is by far the worst of the lot.  The gist is that Rhys and Gwen are on the run with baby Anwen and take to hiding in a remote Welsh village.  The village, of course, has something strange going on: no baby has been born there in decades, and it's monitored by a mysterious government-run "Weather Station."  There's a not-particularly-interesting plot involving aliens, and while the supporting characters are reasonably good, the annoying thing about the novel to me was its structure: incredibly short chapters, told from various points of view, creating a choppy and jarring read.  Best to pass up this one.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Eighteen [BUFFY]

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE PRESENT

“You sure they’ll be okay in there?” Xander asked, nodding his head in the direction of Buffy’s house as he started up his car. He had left it parked in the alley behind her house in the hope that it would avoid being damaged from the rioting, and so far his plan had worked.

“As safe there as anywhere, I think,” Buffy said. She was worried too. “The Jocertas are smart. They’ll stay in the basement with the phone at the ready. If something happens, they’ll call 9-1-1 and bar the door.”

“Maybe we should stop and pick up Anya,” Dawn offered from the back seat. “You know, Slayerettes at full strength and everything?”

“I think she’s ‘helped’ about as much as she’s going to,” Xander replied bitterly. He knew she would come if they asked, but he just couldn’t get the picture of her and Spike together out of his head.

As the car reached the street, none of the three spoke about the other person they were each thinking of: Willow. Although their friend was undoubtedly useful, the thought of what she had done to Warren was foremost in their minds. She could still be dangerous, and the temptation to use her dark magicks to defeat Castillo would be strong. They didn’t want to lose her again.

Xander drove quickly, but took several side streets. He could see several large crowds on the main streets, yelling and holding up burning effigies of various people. Riot-control police had finally arrived and were vainly trying to disperse the crowds. It seemed better to Xander to avoid as much of it as possible. When snowflakes started hitting the windshield, he could hardly believe it.

“This guy must really be pissed at you, Buffy. Changing the weather and everything,” Xander said. “You have a knack for attracting the worst of the worst.”

“What can I say?,” she replied. “It’s my job.”

“Looks quiet,” Dawn observed when they finally pulled to a stop outside of the condo Xander had seen Willow emerge from.

“Yeah. Doesn’t look like the sort of place demons would manifest or whatever. But you never know . . .” Xander shrugged.

“Remember,” Buffy reminded them as they walked towards the door. “I’ll go in first, you two stay in the back and—“

“We know, Buffy, we know,” Dawn interjected, rolling her eyes. “You’re the Slayer. We got that.”

Buffy tried the handle and found it locked, as she had expected. She backed up a few feet and then shuffled towards it sideways. She brought her leg up on the final step and with a powerful sidekick knocked the door completely off its hinges. She dove through and came up in a fighting stance, ready for anything. The place was empty.

They searched it quickly. It looked lived in—food in the refrigerator, liquor in the minibar—but every scrap of paper in the place was gone. Nothing to identify who had lived there or what they had been doing there. After a few minutes more of searching, Buffy threw her hands up. “Looks like a bust. Any other ideas? If you were a really smart vampire raising a freaking demon, where would you be?”

“Wait a sec,” Xander said, walking to the phone. He saw a blank notepad there and scribbled on it with a pencil. Faint impressions of what had been written on the sheet above it appeared. “Look: ‘11 p.m., Weatherly Park.’”

“Nice going,” Buffy said, obviously impressed. “Very Hardy Boys!”

Xander nodded. “I read like twenty of them in junior high until I realized they were all exactly the same.” He looked at his watch. “That’s like twenty minutes from now. Why would he go back to the park again? Willow and I were there earlier tonight—there’s no frost demon there.”

“When we were just starting out, I would have raced over and stormed in, ready to kick some vampire ass. But this is so obviously a trap,” Buffy said.

Xander nodded.

“So what are we going to do?” Dawn asked.

“Race over there and storm in, ready to kick some vampire ass. We don’t have any other leads, and our time is getting short.”

“Don’t worry,” Xander said reassuringly. “The Xan-Man has a plan.”

“Xan-Man?” Buffy said, raising a skeptical eye. “I thought you stopped calling yourself that years ago. Remember, you said it was lame?”

“Lame? I never said that. Who said that?”

When they got back to the car, they found a note lying in the passenger seat where Buffy had been sitting. It was from Spike and printed in an odd, slanted handwriting. Buffy was annoyed at the idea of him watching her all the time, but she read it anyway: “Ran into a fellow I met a long time ago. Had a word, cleared up some confusion in the lad’s head. Should be quite the party tonight. Now remember, don’t blame me for the lot of them—they’re not mine.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Xander asked.

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” Buffy replied. “He’s just trying to make points with me. But it’s too late for that.” She crumpled the paper up in a ball and threw it out the window. “Let’s head to the park.”

***

Wittingstone was not happy, and he cursed the fact that his driver had a cell phone. He sighed as he paced back and forth, clearing a narrow strip on the snow-covered grass. The wind had picked up, and it was coming down harder now. The worst thing was that he hadn’t brought a coat. He looked at the small gathering of figures milling around in front of him. Dressed in simple jeans and leather jackets, they weren’t cold at all—in fact, they were rather immune to changes in temperature. They shivered not from the cold, but from anticipation. Since he had brought them to Sunnydale, Mr. Castillo had kept his crew of vampires hidden. He had wanted to both make sure the Slayer was surprised and that he had a force held in reserve. After several days of pure boredom, they were anxious for fresh blood. Wittingstone knew they would be disappointed, however. Mr. Castillo was not likely to share his hard-won victory with them.

Although he was expecting something like it to happen, Wittingstone was still startled when a crossbow bolt came hurtling out of the darkness to embed itself in a vampire’s chest. It missed the heart, but the vampire still yelped in pain and tugged at it. A second bolt struck precisely the right spot on another vampire, causing it to burst into ash.

“Over there,” Wittingstone said loudly, but without shouting. He could see figures at the treeline about thirty yards away, hunched down.

The vampires rushed in the direction he pointed. They weren’t used to running in the snow, and he couldn’t help but smile at their comic antics as they slipped and collided into one another. The hail of crossbow bolts continued as the vampires advanced. Wittingstone walked in the attackers’ direction also, but stood well to the back and side of the vampires—he wasn’t about to be shot. As he drew closer, he noted that the attackers had a system. The male and Slayer shot the crossbows, as the younger girl, Dawn, reloaded them with bolts. It made a for a surprisingly effective attack, and three more vampires fell before the nearest were finally close enough to swat the crossbows away and engage hand-to-hand.


Wittingstone walked closer, slowly realizing that his feet were getting wet and that his shoes would probably be ruined. Another thing to put on the bill, he thought. He continued forward slowly, careful not to slip as the vampires had. The melee began in earnest, and he could see that the Slayer and her friends had abandoned the crossbows for stakes. Although almost a dozen vampires were still on their feet and attacking, he didn’t doubt that she would ultimately prevail. Her fighting skills made the vampires look like rank amateurs, and even with the burden of protecting her friends, she still slew vampires quickly and efficiently.

When Wittingstone finally came within speaking distance, only six of the vampires were left fighting. The boy, Xander, had been slightly wounded on one arm from a vampire’s claw, while the younger girl had been knocked to the ground and was just now standing up, guarded by her older sibling. Wittingstone prepared himself. He could feel the power of the demon flowing through him, ready to be released through his words. He wasn’t looking forward to it, however. If the process of completely entrancing just one girl earlier had been tiring, the consequences of attempting to do it to three at the same time could be quite painful. Yet it was what Mr. Castillo wanted, and Wittingstone never disappointed his employers. He had a reputation to maintain.

“There is no need to fight,” he said, loud enough to be heard over the din of the battle. “We are all part of the same community, and members of a community never want to hurt each other. We’re friends now, too. Friends don’t fight.” He watched as the vampires reluctantly took their cue and backed away. They weren’t affected by his words, however. Only humans could be influenced or controlled by Solasheyk’s power.

Wittingstone saw the male human tap the Slayer on the shoulder and then point in his direction. All three looked at him curiously. Wittingstone was confident he was getting through to them, and continued. “Throw down your weapons, friends. We can go for a drive, and meet some other members of our community. I’m sure it will be an enjoyable experience.”

Buffy, Dawn, and Xander dropped their stakes to the ground. Their jaws slackened slightly and they stared ahead, as if dazed. “Excellent. Right this way,” he said, motioning towards the street and his waiting sedan. They began walking. “We’ll see you back at the Hill,” he said to the vampires. When they had left, and the Slayer and her friends were in the car, he put his hands to his head and doubled over. The pain of channeling so much power was intense, and had given him intense headaches. His nose began to bleed, and it took him a few minutes to focus enough to stand up straight again. Mr. Castillo better be happy now, he thought, before getting in the front passenger side and instructing the driver to start the car.

There was only an inch or two or snow on the ground, but Wittingstone was no longer in a hurry and instructed the driver to take it slowly. He looked over his shoulder. The Slayer and her friends were quietly sitting in the backseat, staring straight ahead. Twenty minutes later, the car turned onto the road which would take themup Kingman’s Bluff. 

“Sir?” 

Wittingstone looked up and over at the driver. The driver nodded towards the road. “We may have a
problem,” he said. 

Wittingstone looked as the car crawled forward. A woman stood right in the middle of the road, facing them and holding something. A second later Wittingstone realized it was a pistol. He didn’t recognize the woman at first, but he never forgot a face—it was one of his fellow human operatives, a woman his employer used as a courier and for other odd jobs. Mr. Castillo must have a message for me, he thought.

He instructed the driver to slow down even further, and they pulled to a stop next to the woman. The driver lowered his window and the woman leaned in. She smiled, switched the pistol to her left hand, and then with her right hand punched the driver right in the jaw. Before he could stop her, she reached in and turned the car off, grabbing the keys. Blood spurted out of the driver’s mouth—he moved to open the door, but the woman held the pistol up in front of her and he changed his mind.

Wittingstone heard the rear door to the car open and then slam shut. He saw that the male from the back seat had gotten out and began talking to the woman. He was confused: without direct instructions, the boy shouldn’t have been able to do that. With the two so deeply involved in conversation, Wittingstone decided it might be a good time to leave. He turned from looking to the left and looked to his right, a hand on the door. He saw the Slayer standing there, arms crossed, and changed his mind as well.

***

“What do you think you’re doing?” Xander exploded. Amara was about the last person he had expected to see, and the fact that she was holding a gun—a real gun, like the one Warren had used to kill Tara and shoot Buffy—made him nervous.

He saw her lips move in reply and then remembered the earplugs. He yanked them out and heard her say something about rescuing him.

“We don’t need to be rescued, though I appreciate the thought. This is all part of the plan,” he said.

Amara stared, disbelieving. “Part of the plan? You mean, to be captured and taken to the hill where Castillo is?”

“Exactly,” Xander replied. “Clever, isn’t it? You see, we had these earplugs and we knew Wittingstone thought he could entrance us or whatever, so—“

“Well, I guess you didn’t need my help after all.” 

“What are you doing here Amara? You’re involved in all of this, aren’t you?” 

“Never mind. I just came to make sure you’re okay. I’m really leaving now.” She shook her head and
started to walk away. The wind and snow swirled around her as she trudged off towards her car. She was angry at him for being angry at her—after all, she had just tried to save his life.

He followed her. “Listen Amara, I’m sorry, okay? I know you’re just trying to help. It’s just that we got things figured out here. Except I don’t have you figured out.”

She turned and faced him, and decided to get it over with. “I used to work for Castillo. Still do, in fact. Errands, messages, things like that. Four years ago he asked me to go Arctic Ridge and make sure you and your friends stayed there until he arrived. I didn’t know what he was then.”

“And that’s why you disappeared after the lodge?”

“Right. I realized what was happening when the vampire attacked, and it all started to make sense. So I left. But a few months ago I get a call—Castillo has set up offices in a building here in Sunnydale, and wants people he can trust working for him. I remembered that’s where you said you were from, so I decided to come. I thought I might see you again—keep him from getting to you.”

Xander wasn’t sure how to respond. He had known her only for that one day, and although he remembered it fondly, he had never expected to see her again. Especially since he didn’t think she was really alive until just the other day. “That was . . . a very cool thing to do,” he said finally. “And maybe when all of this is over, we can—“

“Except I didn’t realize how much you would have changed. You’re not the sweet boy I met at Arctic Ridge.”

“You kinda caught me at a bad moment,” Xander said. “I mean, my best friend and my ex-fiancee are both . . . having problems right now. Not to mention the stress of dealing with Sola-something the Frost Demon.”

“It’s more than that,” Amara said. “You’re colder now. Bitter.” 

“It’s just that I’ve grown up.” 

“I don’t think so. But it doesn’t matter now. I really do have to go. Good luck up there, okay?” 

This time he didn’t follow her when she walked away. He watched as she reached her car and drove down the hill and out of sight. She didn’t wave, and neither did he. 

“Who was that?” Buffy asked when he returned. She had already removed her earplugs. 

“Just a ghost from the past,” Xander replied. “Nothing that matters now. But it looks like our nifty plan has been royally screwed up.” He looked into the car and saw the driver’s split-lip and bloody chin. The idea of taking Castillo by surprise by pretending to be entranced had been a good one, and he was disappointed to see it would no longer work.

“I wish Giles were still around,” Buffy confided. “He always researched great ways to destroy demon-thingies. But I guess we did well enough against Castillo without Giles several years ago.”

“Yeah, other than that whole setting-the-resort-on-fire thing, we did great,” Xander replied.

Buffy made Wittingstone and the driver get out of the car and start walking downhill. She wasn’t keen on the idea of simply letting them go, but they weren’t vampires and she knew there was no way the police would do anything about them. Also, by the time they reached the city again, Castillo and the frost demon would either be defeated or Sunnydale would turn into Antarctica. Either way, the pair couldn’t do much more harm than they already had.

“So what’s the plan?” Dawn asked, as soon as Wittingstone and the driver were out of earshot.

Xander looked at Buffy, and Buffy looked at Xander. 

“Well we better think of something else, and fast,” Dawn said. “It feels like the temperature is dropping every second.” 

Buffy motioned for them to get back in the car. She slid behind the steering wheel and started it up. When everyone was strapped in, she drove up the hill, desperately trying to think of a plan. As they neared the top, she relaxed. She knew she was good at what she did, and she had people she trusted along with her. Plan or not, when the time came she knew she’d think of something and just do the best she could. It had always been enough before, and with any luck, it might just be enough again.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mynock Squadron Recap # 2 [RPG]

[4.6.5 ABY]

After their first day of challenges, the recruits file out to see the Leaderboard. Kero is dismayed to find herself barely in the top six (which will make the cut), while Torgo boasts about being in first place. Keth comes in at an impressive second, with Stavros closely behind and Waric in fourth. Waric pulls Kero aside while the others check their scores and asks her about the code cylinder she had discovered on the shuttle to Enoch V. The two decide to see if they can decrypt its contents. With time dwindling before curfew, the two seek out Stapos, the base's computer technician, but, after hearing from her that other strange events have taken place recently, such as an apparent manufacturer's defect with the Holocomm last night and an unfortunate power drainage with the automated defense cannons three days ago, they decide it would be best to turn it over directly to Lt. Tuvolo. The puzzled Aqualish says he'll look into it and that the recruits should hit the sack. Meanwhile, Keth, Stavros, and the Gungan Slaprat play a few hands of Sabaac.

[4.6.6 ABY]

The recruits are woken early and told to form up for a long run, but Kero, Waric, Keth, and Stavros are pulled aside and told to report to Major Orus Dei, Mynock Squadron Commander, for disciplinary action. On their walk to HQ, the four try to figure out what infraction they've all committed, and no answer comes to mind. At HQ, another of the base's pre-fab buildings designed for quick installation and removal, the four are quickly shown into Major Dei's office, where they find the lights dimmed and a fit, slim middle-aged man with black hair turning grey at the temples. Dei activates a piece of technology only Waric recognizes and then apologizes for the "disciplinary action" deception. He walks over to a computer terminal and activates an audio recording: "Mayday, Mayday, this is Vanir in Green 2 reporting major system malfunction. Trying to bring her in manually. Control surfaces locked! Eject in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1— system shorted, can't pull up!" Dei explains that this recording is the last transmission from Warrant Officer Moldva Vanir, the base's chief engineer, who was conducting a shakedown test of the now-crashed X-Wing after routine inspections showed some minor anomalies. With the crash, Vanir and most of the X-Wing were instantly destroyed, but a recovered flight recorder indicated a simple case of mechanical failure.

Dei explains, however, that the timing and location of the crash (right where the recruits had assembled) strikes him as suspicious, especially with the other incidents involving the Holocomm and automated defence turrets. The base is left with only one X-Wing and two-seater training vessels. He says that the code cylinder that Waric and Kero turned over last night contains an embedded Imperial encryption, but that it has not yet been decrypted. Suspecting there is a saboteur amongst base staff, Dei tells the four recruits that he summoned them to help him discover who it is while he makes arrangements for a possible evacuation. He plans to put the four recruits on KP and Litter Control duty as "punishment" for their "disciplinary infraction" so they can plausibly loiter and investigate who might be responsible.

At their suggestion, Dei agrees to compile a list of base personnel and to post a guard on the base's remaining X-Wing in case the saboteur's plan is to force an evacuation and then blow up the ship that Dei would likely pilot himself. He also gives Stavros a NabooTech Secure-A3 comlink to allow the group to contact him without risking the signal being detected or intercepted. After the others leave, Waric stays behind briefly and is forthright about his former past with the Imperials. Major Dei thanks the recruit for his honesty, and acknowledges that he both knows and has satisfied himself through background checks that Waric can be trusted.

When the four assemble outside HQ, they decide to begin the long run the other recruits are on so that they can talk about what they've just heard without being overheard. One of the issues they try to resolve is a cover story for why they all received disciplinary infractions; the idea of having pulled a prank together is suggested, but the straight-laced Kero is reluctant to go along with it. The four do determine a plan of investigation, with Keth investigating the security guard Wapos-Du, Stavros investigating the quartermaster Ainisi Noh, Kero investigating the computer technician Stapos, and Warick looking into the protocol/admin droid C5B9. Waric's excellent cadence makes the run go by faster, but at one point one of the recruits notices a strange mark on a rock outside the base perimeter to the southwest. Unable to make heads or tails of it, they decide to leave a small pile of rocks so that they can find it again if necessary.

After lunch and KP duty, the four recruits join the others in the rec center. Tuvolo explains that in the evening everyone will be tested on the flight-sims, but in the meantime, anyone who can display a secondary military specialty will receive a bonus on the Leaderboard. The Cerean Tazo-Rhi tries her hand at slicing, but fails, as does Slaprat with underwater maneuvers. Torgo is confident he'll easily pass Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol, but he forgets to fill his water canteens and fails before even leaving the base! However, his sister Torga will later succeed. Two recruits try to demonstrate Infiltration: Stealth, with Gatara succeeding but a bold Keth caught and disciplined for trying to steal a Reflec stealth bodysuit. Kero appears to narrowly fail the Combat Medic test, but somehow persuades Lt. Tuvolo that the medical dummy was programmed incorrectly!

However, the most stunning success comes when Stavros tries his hand at the Infiltration: Deception test. The gambler disguises himself as an old woman so well, that Tuvolo becomes irritated at Stavros' disappearance when the recruit is standing right next to him! Even more astonishing, Stavros is later able to disguise himself as Tuvolo himself so skillfully that bystanders are unable to tell which is the genuine article. Even the usually bad-tempered Tuvolo expresses genuine admiration at that.

While the secondary military specialty tests are taking place, Waric decides to take a look at the flight-sims. He notices a maintenance droid designated UR-90 lurking nearby, and something about the droid catches Waric's eyes as suspicious. Waric learns from the droid that someone else was in the sim room about four hours previously, and that the only personnel with authority to reprogram the droid are Stapos, Major Dei, and Moldva Vanir. Waric convinces the computer technician Stapos to download visual data from the droid's memory. The data has been mostly wiped, but a fragmentary image of the droid removing an access panel from Sim # 7 is seen. Further investigation shows that Sim # 7 has been tampered with: the canopy cannot be opened from the inside and a potentially lethal gas would be released once the program is underway!

At dinner and during KP duty, Waric tells the other three investigating recruits about his discovery. They speculate about who might be responsible.

That evening, the recruits enter the sims for a series of three challenges to test their ability to maneuver through an asteroid field, avoid enemy fire while flying through a narrow ravine, and dogfight a TIE-Fighter. Waric and Gatara win the first challenge, while Keth, Torga, and Gatara tie for first place in the second challenge and three-way tie puts Kero, Waric, and the Neimodian Dosh'Tu in first place for the third challenge. Stavros finds the third challenge incredibly frustrating and finishes near the bottom on that particular task, but a surprise awaits many recruits once they exit the sims and see the Day Two Leaderboard. The competition to make Mynock Squadron is nearing an end, and time is running out for the recruits to show what they're made of or be left behind.

DAY TWO LEADERBOARD


RANKING NAME POINTS

1st Stavros 37

2nd (tie) Keth 35
2nd (tie) Kero 35

4th (tie) Waric 32
4th (tie) Torga 32

6th (tie) Dosh'Tu 31
6th (tie) Torgo 31

8th Gatara 25

9th Tazo-Rhi 18

10th (tie) Stahlog 14
10th (tie) Szo-Dano 14

12th Slaprat 9

--------------------------------------

Director's Commentary (June 22, 2015)

Recaps can make sessions look better and smoother than they were, and my (admittedly foggy) recollection of this one is that I was disappointed in my directing.  Apart from the technical issues that plagued these early sessions, I had forgotten that mystery/spy plots require a lot of preparation because the PCs will (quite justifiably) talk to a ton of NPCs, compile information on alibis and timelines, backstories and motives, etc., and then look for inconsistencies that point to the real culprit.  I hadn't put in enough prep work and had to wing some of this, so I was just glad to escape the session without a major self-contradiction.

I liked and I think the players had fun getting a chance to try to show off what they did best to qualify for a "Secondary Military Speciality" (a concept ingrained in me through years of reading G.I. Joe character dossiers as a kid) in order to get a bump on the Leaderboard.  Stavros knocked everyone's socks off with his Deception (disguise) abilities, while Kero's player ended up having either having to red chip or make a crazy high DC Persuasion check to convince Tuvolo that she actually passed her Treat Injury check.

Waric's player did an excellent job figuring out that one of the flight sims was booby-trapped.  I had a good action scene planned for it, but you have to reward players who figure stuff like that out.

After this session, the PCs had climbed the Leaderboard and secured the top positions.  Barring a drop in future sessions, the main question would be which NPCs would join them in Mynock Squadron.  It was fun and quite challenging to try to give different personalities and accents to all of these NPC recruits, not knowing which would be become a major part of the campaign and which would effectively disappear.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Realms Toowoomba Session # 52 [RPG]

[29 Kythorn 1372]

Still trapped in T'Klack's complex on the far side of the mirror-portal, Ralkin practices stealth by seeing if he can move so silently that he can't hear himself! Later, he builds a throne and lounges on it.

In the Silverwood, Syd casts a spell to speak with Daisy's griffon, Binky, and asks whether Binky is happy. Binky seems to think that Daisy is his mother, and is grateful that she doesn't make him fly very often. After letting Garry catch and feast on a branta, Syd starts walking back to Silverymoon along with Daisy and Binky.

At Terrigo Multivar's house in Silverymoon, the others discuss their upcoming journey to Thay. The consensus seems to be to take the mirror-portal to Laothkund on the Aglarond Peninsula and then travel cross-country to the Thayan border in order to obtain a travel permit. There is some discussion about whether the group should disguise themselves, but Mellia says she is inclined to stick to the truth as much as possible. They glean from Multivar that the last time someone took the mirror-portal to Laothkund, the traveller returned in 10 days; but Multivar emphasizes there is a random element to the portal's operation and that this is not a guarantee.

Mellia, Myst, and Dolcetto walk to the Shrine of Tymora and witness a blessing ceremony: it seems that adventurers have been enlisted to journey to the Evermoors to push back the undead who have started to spill out in increasing numbers, and perhaps to find the mysterious forge where blight-blades are being made. After the ceremony, Luckpriestess Sul does as promised the night before and sends a surge of necromantic energy through Markus' body and asks it if Markus would wish to be returned to the land of the living. The body, which retains the memory of Markus' psyche, assents. Sul says she will perform the raising ceremony the next day. Dolcetto makes a large donation to cover the shrine's expenses, but tells Mellia the costs will have to come from the proceeds of the sale of the items obtained in T'Klack's complex.

Next, the three visit The Halls of Inspiration, Silverymoon's magnificent four-towered temple to Oghma and Milil. They witness a farewell ceremony for an elder member of the faith, and the effect of a dirge is so powerful it makes Myst tear up. He remains behind while the two females decide to return later, after the ceremony is finished. On the street, Mellia talks to one of the Knights in Silver and tells her that a deranged would-be paladin named Eve has been claiming affiliation with the city and should be detained. The two adventurers then witness a street performance involving actors playing Knights in Silver defeating a costumed "orc" named King Obould Many-Arrows.

The two finally arrive at the Vault of Sages, and get information from Athamis, a young priest of Denier who loves hearing stories about their travels but can't imagine actually going on adventures himself. He provides the two with a precis on Aglarond. He tells them the name refers to both a kingdom and a peninsula. The Kingdom of Aglarond covers the Yuirwood, a deep, dense forest occupied primarily by half-elves and foresters, and cities on the northern coast of the peninsula settled primarily by humans. The two races have long worked together to resist repeated incursions by Thay and are ruled by the Simbul, a hereditary queen. The southern coast of the peninsula is known as Wizard's Reach, and Laothkund is one of a handful of independent city-states that was an ancient colony of another nation. The Wizard's Reach is said to be wilder and less settled than the northern coast, and travel is often done by sea as travelling by road is too dangerous. Athamis says his most recent information is almost five years old, but that reports indicated that the Red Wizards of Thay had been exerting increasing influence on Laothkund and the other cities of the Wizard's Reach. Dolcetto purchases copies of maps of Thay and the Aglarond Peninsula, and mentions she is staying at Terrigo Multivar's residence. Athamis is alarmed to hear this and states that Multivar is suspected of being responsible for multiple thefts from the Vault. He provides a list of 25 tomes for the adventurers to keep their eyes open for while staying with the senile old wizard.

The two then return to The Halls of Inspiration and see that the farewell ceremony is complete. They find their way to Lorelord Ormast Keldellyn, an elderly man who walks with a cane. The adventurers explain that they are trying to discover whether their fallen companion Gelkar would wish to be raised but that his patron deity, Tempus, has no house of worship in Silverymoon. Keldellyn is resistant at first, stating that war is responsible for the destruction of knowledge and gives the example of the practice of setting captured cities to the torch, including libraries. Myst, however, persuades him that Gelkar had never destroyed books and was actually, perhaps ironically, a more peaceful man than most. Keldellyn says that as today is a day of mourning, he is sympathetic to their desire to speak to a departed friend, and instructs a junior priest to perform the necessary divine rites. Gelkar's animated corpse, however, reports that it is overjoyed to be in the hands of Tempus and should be burned.

The adventurers comply by taking Gelkar's body to a charnel house. Afterwards, on their way out, they run into Syd and Daisy with their animal companions in tow. The group decide to stop a supply shop for mystical regents. Daisy waits outside with Garry and Binky, only to find herself surrounded by a semi-circle of extremely tense Knights in Silver. It turns out that bringing a megaraptor into the city is frowned upon! Syd is called outside and agrees to take Garry back into Silverwood.

Meanwhile, Fargrim does some errands in the city and then asks a blacksmith where the best place to sell weapons in Silverymoon would be. The blacksmith gives a strange answer: "Mortimont's Fine Pastries". He says Mortimont gives the highest prices, but can be disturbing to work with. Fargrim finds his way to a small shop with its name painted in elegant lettering on the window. Inside, however, the walls and floor are bare except for a short, hairless man with protuding eyes standing behind a small counter. Mortimont proclaims his willingness to buy Fargrim's weapons, and takes a frankly creepy liking to the dwarf's red-bladed greataxe. Fargrim says he needs to consult with his companions and makes a hasty retreat.

When he returns to Multivar's house, he finds the others have returned as well. They journey back with him to Mortimont's, and earn just over 10,000 gp by selling the items looted from T'Klack's display chambers. Mortimont continues to show a fascination and unhealthy desire for Fargrim's greataxe, constantly raising his offer until it reaches almost 4,000 gp. At last, Mortimont brings forth a small pastry from behind the counter and offers it to the dwarf. Fargrim backs away slowly, slides the silver greataxe that Dolcetto made him on the floor, and says that Mortimont can keep that one instead. Although the dwarf leaves, Mortimont's thirst for the red greataxe is not satiated!

The adventurers return to Multivar's house. That night, while the others are sleeping, Dolcetto searches through some of the old wizard's thousands of books and finds two that were on the list of books stolen from the Vault of Sages.

Syd and Garry spend a peaceful night in the Silverwood.

[30 Kythorn 1372]

First thing in the morning, Dolcetto and Fargrim walk to the Vault of Sages to pick up the two maps she paid to have copied. She also turns in the books she recovered the previous night. Much to her dismay, however, the priests of Denier say the books constitute proof of Multivar's crimes and promise to turn him over to the authorities. After leaving, the two adventurers witness a procession of individuals wearing red robes; thinking they may be Red Wizards of Thay, Dolcetto insists on following them, only to be told by a bystander that she must not know much about magic because, in fact, the procession is the graduating class of the Lady's College. The two then return to the Shrine of Tymora and pay for the revivification of Markus, a startling sight, but Fargrim handles it calmly: "How ya' doin?" he asks.

Meanwhile, Syd takes Garry to the deepest part of the Silverwood and instructs him not to eat any "two-leggeds." The halfling then flies back towards the city in the form of a bird.

At Multivar's house, Mellia is startled to hear the voice of her old rival Procul in her head. Procul says "What have you done? Gideon struck feebleminded! In divination circle, inscribed the rune for Allia! Risking cross-planar communication! Babbling same answer over and --" Alarmed, Mellia sends a telepathic message to her old friend, the potion maker Hestia, asking her to check on Gideon and let her know what has happened. Before she can worry too much, however, loud raps on the door announce the arrival of a black-robed figure who sternly announces himself as Magistrate Tiven, and says he has a writ to search the premises for stolen books. The Magistrate's men begin hurling books to and fro, dumping many in a large cart to be examined later. Mellia berates Tiven for going about things in such a ham-fisted way, and says she'll make sure Multivar cooperates in finding the books. The old wizard tries to wheedle his way out of the problem, first by trying to jump into the mirror-portal and then by casting a spell, but his efforts are foiled by Mellia and Myst. Eventually, all of the books are found and Tiven leaves, vowing that charges against Multivar are likely to come in the near future.

Exactly one hour after midday, Ralkin is pulled through the mirror-portal shouting "my throne!" He first tells Multivar that the amulet the adventurers were sent to retrieve was accidentally left on the far side, but finally admits to Mellia that he has it. The kenku says he's reluctant to return it to Multivar because he's dubious the old wizard is its rightful owner, but in the end Ralkin turns it over. While Syd watches from outside, in the form of a bird, Dolcetto, Fargrim, and the newly-raised Markus return. Daisy gives Markus back his familiar and uses the magic shovel she obtained from Gelkar to heal him. Daisy then tries to talk Syd into coming with her to Startop Mountain, but the halfling is uncertain. He says he must depart to check on Garry, but will return at sunset in two days' time. As Fargrim and Multivar break into a wine cask and start swapping tales, Mellia and Dolcetto discuss whether they should leave through the mirror-portal for Laothkund that night or wait until the magical items taken from T'Klack's storeroom can be identified. Dolcetto persuades Mellia to wait, stating that once the tiefling finishes learning a new spell, the party will be able to travel fast enough to more than make up the time.

The sun begins to set on another eventful day in Silverymoon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Seventeen [BUFFY]

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: FOUR YEARS AGO

Buffy felt helpless as she watched Willow being led into the room, followed by Castillo and almost a dozen vampires. The little cabin had literally become wall-to-wall undead, rendering all of the exits impassable. Buffy wanted to do something, to strike out at this creepoid who thought he was so suave, but she couldn’t see any scenario where she could both take him down and keep Willow from becoming a midnight snack.

Her hopes dimmed further when she saw that Willow was handcuffed, and that the vampires had brought extra pairs of manacles for her and Cordelia. And what about Xander? Buffy thought to herself. If he can come up with a plan to kill a baker’s dozen of vampires all by himself, we’re saved.

“You see, we’ve been watching you for quite some time now, and I’ve heard of your exploits as a Slayer,” Castillo said as one of his employees secured the manacles on Buffy. “And thus we have prepared accordingly. You will find that not even a Slayer can extricate herself from handcuffs of that material.”

Buffy tried anyway, and found that he was right—they were made out of some kind of plastic that tightened and pinched the more she struggled to get loose. The three girls were forced to sit with their backs to a wall in a corner of the room as the vampires stood eyeing them and occasionally snickering to themselves.

“What is this, Biker Vampires From Hell? Well, anyway, let’s hop to it. It’s getting late, and Cordelia needs her beauty sleep,” Buffy said, trying to regain some control. “This is the part where Doctor Octopus tells the imprisoned Spider-Man about his plot to take over the world, just before Spider-Man escapes and destroys the Doomsday Death-Ray Laser Cannon, right? So what’s your clever super-villain codename?”

Willow and Cordelia turned and gave her surprised looks, but then relaxed visibly—they had been through this before too, and Buffy always came through for them. She’s got a plan—she always does, Willow thought. It’s like magic or something—as long as we’re together, nothing can ever really hurt us.

Castillo’s lips pursed tightly, and he did not smile.

“Feeble attempts at humor in the face of danger,” he said. “Yes, I’ve been told about that too, and I assure you my men and I have a highly developed sense of humor—we will laugh heartily when tonight is over. But since you asked nicely,” he continued, aware that everyone’s attention was on him, “my name is Angelino Castillo. Some of my men call me Angel, because, so often, I am the last thing people see before they die.

“And as for my ‘plot to take over the world,’ as you put it, I can put your fears to rest. I have nothing so dramatic in mind--the world, so far as I am concerned, is four-fifths rubbish, not worth anyone’s time to bother with.” He kneeled down right in front of Buffy. She could feel his hot breath on her face and instinctively turned away. “No, I am merely a businessman, Ms. Summers, looking to expand my operations from the east coast to the west. Currently my company is developing some rather important weaponry for the government, which will be demonstrated on Sunnydale’s vampire population shortly. Of course, the Slayer and her Watcher must be disposed of first.”

“You create weapons to kill vampires?” Willow interjected, disbelieving.

“Oh yes, it will be rather profitable. Of course, the military does not realize that my employees and I are of the unliving as well, with full control over the weaponry and its activation codes. But as for other vampires, what do I care? This way, you see, I gain total control of any efforts to eradicate them—and therefore I can except me and my own from the process, ensuring a healthy profit all the while.”

“This is all so cliche,” Buffy said. “Some leader-vampire, stronger than normal vampires, tries to take over the Hellmouth. Been there, done that. Remember the Master?”

“Yeah, Buffy pulverized him!” said Cordelia, scared, but able to speak up.

“Literally,” said Willow, nodding at Cordelia.

“The so-called ‘Master’ was a fool. I knew him back when he was simply called Heinrich Nest. And
opening the Hellmouth to unleash pure evil upon the world? What sense is there in that? After a few decades of rampaging and blood-drinking, the novelty wears off. Then what? Now don’t get me wrong,” he spoke politely, as if he were rubbing shoulders with an old colleague, “a little mayhem and terror is enjoyable in short spurts. But what about the Moliere, the Racine, the Chardonnay, or the Wagner? The finer things—what would their place be in such a world?”

Castillo sighed, as he realized from their faces that the girls, except for perhaps Willow, had no idea what any of the names he mentioned referred to. He stood up and walked back towards his men, then faced his captives again. This witless banter is pointless and almost depressing, he thought. Best to end it now and be on our way.

He walked over to Buffy and then kneeled towards her again, holding her still with his arms. She struggled, but he had the strength to keep her in place. His face contorted into a vampire’s visage as he opened his mouth and aimed his fangs for Buffy’s throat. He could literally taste her as his teeth met the thin skin around her neck and prepared to plunge in. But they stopped there, and he pulled his head back.

“I believe you have convinced me, Ms. Summers. This has been done before, perhaps in every instance when a Slayer has fallen to her former prey. I would hate for your death to be repetitive—the least I can do is make your last moments the stuff of legends. Yes, something more memorable, more . . . cinematic comes to mind.”

He stood up and pulled her to his feet. He turned towards two of his men and said “Watch the two girls while I’m gone. Do not begin until I have returned. The rest of you,” he continued, looking at the other vampires, “may return to the trucks. Inform the drivers that we will be ready to depart shortly.”

He pulled Buffy gently along with him towards the door of the cabin. She hated to leave Willow and Cordelia behind, but I might actually get a chance to do something if it’s just me and this Castillo creep. Outside, she saw a long row of motorcycles parked neatly in a row. She hadn’t even heard them pull up, and wondered idly if they had been walked up slope. Castillo pushed her towards the seat of the nearest motorcycle, and then climbed on behind her. He was tall enough he could still reach the handlebars, even with her sitting on his lap. The engine kick-started and he said loudly in her ear.

“Have you ever ridden a motorcycle down icy mountain roads before? I believe you will find it most . . . exhilarating.”

She didn’t answer.

***

Xander turned and saw what could only be a vampire rushing up the stairs towards them. The creature was dressed like the kind of ruffian that couldn’t get past the Bronze’s bouncer, but his fangs made it clear he meant business. How did it get here? Maybe Cordy was right—maybe Buffy is a vampire magnet. Xander backed up and tried the doors to the guest rooms—they were locked, meaning he and Amara were trapped on the balcony with a vampire in between them and the stairs!

“Amara, when I give the word, run,” he said, keeping a close eye on the approaching menace. Amara was strangely quiet, but Xander didn’t notice as the adrenaline surged through him. He was both relieved and distressed to see that the vampire’s eyes were fixed on him as well—it meant Amara had a better chance to escape, but it reduced his own chances.

When the vampire reached the top of the stairs, it walked slowly towards him and then darted forward. It was on Xander before he defend himself and punched him hard, knocking him against the wall. He dropped the lamp and it skittered along the floor on its side, sending a cone of light rolling against the ceiling.

“Run!” Xander shouted. He was no Buffy, and being struck like that hurt. The vampire advanced on him again but this time Xander was ready and landed a solid shot to the vampire’s jaw. It didn’t hurt the creature much, but when Xander grabbed the vampire’s hair and slammed its head into the wall, it stumbled back several feet.

Xander sprinted for the stairs, but the vampire recovered quickly and tackled him, wrapping up one of Xander’s legs and bringing him to the ground. It started pulling Xander back, while the boy clawed at the floor to keep from going. Xander looked behind him and aimed carefully with his free leg, smashing it into his attacker’s chest. He got to his feet just as the vampire got to its own.

Xander noticed the lantern had rolled near him. Grasping it with both hands, he brought it far back behind him as the vampire charged for the last time, and then swung it around hard like Sammy Sosa trying to set the home run record. The lantern shattered as it violently struck the vampire right in the side of the head, knocking the unholy creature into the banister. It crashed through as Xander lost his grip on the lantern, and everything—the vampire, the remnants of the lantern, and wood from the banister—struck the ground below.

Xander barely managed to maintain his balance to keep from falling off himself. On his hands and knees, he saw that the gasoline lantern had ignited when it struck the ground, and that the vampire and the floor all around it were starting to burn. The vampire screamed as it ran around frantically, spreading the fire all over the dry wooden floor.

Xander got to his feet and looked around frantically for Amara. Where is she? he thought, trying all the doors and pounding on them. They were still locked. Did she slip past us? “Amara!” he shouted. He was already coughing from the smoke caused by the fire below. “Amara!” he shouted once more. Still nothing.

He ran for the stairs, the bottom of which had just caught. He hurled himself down them and leaped the last few steps, over the flames. All around him was fire and thick smoke. He crawled around, his eyes filling with tears and his throat spasming with coughs. He couldn’t even see the exit and realized he was probably wandering around aimlessly. This is it, he thought, burning to death in the middle of a ski resort. Ironic, I guess.

Everything around him grew dizzy and he was just about to pass out from the smoke when he felt something tugging at his shoulder. He couldn’t see what it was, but he instinctively followed it. The next thing he knew, he was laying on the snow outside the lodge, gulping in the fresh winter air. Several yards in front of him, the lodge was an inferno of flame and smoke. Well, if Buffy gets to burn down high school gymnasiums . . .

“Good-bye, Xander,” a girl’s voice said, and he saw Amara leaning over him. “I have to leave now. It was . . . memorable.”

He felt her kiss him gently on the lips and then she was gone. He tried to call out to her, but speaking justmade him cough more.

After a few minutes laying in the snow, he felt well enough to stand up, though still shaky. For the first time since they had arrived at Arctic Ridge, it was snowing—a light but steady swirl of snowflakes. If there’s one vampire . . . there could be more. Xander started running for the cabin to warn Willow and the others before it was too late.

Next Chapter

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mynock Squadron Recap # 1 [RPG]

Four years ago, the Empire suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of the Rebel Alliance. After the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Emperor Palpatine, Imperial forces found themselves on the defensive against the emerging New Republic. However, war still rages across the galaxy as system after system remains under control of Imperial warlords vying to take Palpatine's place. To help bolster its tenuous foothold, New Republic High Command has authorized the creation of a special military unit dedicated to high risk special missions. Now, on a remote moon, new recruits arrive ready for a position in the elite Mynock Squadron . . .
----------------------------------------------------------------------
On board the Mon Calamari Cruiser Liberator, two New Republic pilots are summoned to a shuttle bay. There, a shuttle craft will take WARIC (a male Human with a partially reconstructed cybernetic head) and KER0 (a young, focussed Human woman) on the short hyperspace voyage to a rocky moon named Enoch V, home of the newly-formed Mynock Squadron. The shuttle pilot, Vasper Janz, tells the recruits that they have a difficult path ahead of him, citing his own experience as a failed recruit for the elite unit. He tries to engage WARIC and KERO in conversation, but they're each focussed on what lays ahead and remain terse. While on board the shuttle, KERO notices something odd about one of the access panels. Discrete investigation reveals a hidden code cylinder which she pockets. There is little conversation among the recruits, although WARIC reveals his desire to "Kill as many Imps as he can".

A separate shuttle delivers STAVROS (a somewhat cocky Human) and a gungan recruit named Slaprat. A third shuttle brings KETH (a Zabrak male) and some other recruits.

Upon arrival, an Aqualish named Lt. Tuvolo assembles the twelve potential new recruits and advises them that they will undergo a rigourous series of training exercises. Only the top six candidates will be inducted into Mynock Squadron, as half of the Squadron has already been selected and are away on maneuvers. As they are talking, KERO and STAVROS notice one of the base's patrol starfighters peel away from its wingman and head staight towards where everyone has assembled. KERO realizes it is about to crash and she warns Lt. Tuvolo who shouts at the recruits to seek cover.

The X-Wing explodes on impact, sending a wave of fire and debris into the quad. Extremely flammable fuel sprays from the wreckage, and fire threatens to engulf the base's fuel supply and its fleet of training starfighters stationed nearby. In the confusion, KERO is wounded, although she makes it to partial cover, and several cadets are injured or stunned. STAVROS gets the injured Slaprat to safety and saves the Gungan's life with timely medical intervention.

KERO realizes that if the fire reaches the fuel containers, the base could be destroyed. She rushes to a lift-loader and begins to carry the fuel containers to safety. The fire spreads quickly though and it looks as though she won't make it in time. WARIC and KETH, having grabbed fire suppression equipment, dash in and creates a fire break just in the nick of time. The flames are diverted and then suppressed entirely as KERO removes the remaining fuel containers.

Tuvolo advises the recruits to grab food and medical attention as needed prior to the start of the first test. Many of the recruits babble excitedly about what kind of malfunction could have caused the crash but WARIC sits quietly and attracts the attention of KETH, KERO and STAVROS. The four of them discuss their goals (joining Mynock) and philosophies (luck vs. tactics).

The first test for the recruits is the shooting range. Each recruit has the chance to fire at more and more difficult targets. One miss and a recruit is eliminated. Although several recruits are eliminated quickly, most hang in more multiple rounds. KETH gets a bullseye in the third round but then misses in the fourth. Soon, however, only the Rodian Torgo, KERO, STAVROS and WARIC are left. Torgo misses in the sixth round, while KERO misses in the seventh. STAVROS and WARIC engage in betting and banter as they stage an impressive display, with WARIC making trick shots. Eventually, the two tie for first place by missing in the ninth round. Tuvolo is suitably impressed with them.

The next test is hand to hand combat where two combatants attempt to be the first to score three "hits" on the other. Six recruits, KERO and WARIC among them, are eliminated in the first round, with KERO failing to score a single hit against the Neimodian Dosh'Tu and WARIC trips out of the ring to lose to the Cerean Tazo-Rhi. In the second round, STAVROS and KETH appear closely matched with each scoring two hits and exhibiting tremendous defensive skills, but KETH perseveres for the victory. In the third round, KETH prevails over the aggressive and demeaning Torgo and he goes on to overall victory in first place.

After everyone's finished the hand-to-hand trials, Lt. Tuvolo orders everyone to hit the showers. When the recruits come out, they notice he's posted the Day One Leaderboard. As only the top six will make it into Mynock Squadron, the recruits crowd in to see the standings so far.

LEADERBOARD, DAY ONE

RANK POINTS NAME
1 20 Torgo (Male Rodian)
2 19 Keth (Male Zabrak)
3 18 Stavros (Male Human)
4 17 Dosh'Tu (Female Neimodian)
5 12 Waric (Male Human)
6 11 Kero (Female Human)
7 9 Torga (Female Rodian)
8 8 Tazo-Rhi (Female Cerean)
9 7 Stahlog (Female Quarren)
10 (tie) 3 Gatara (Female Ewok)
10 (tie) 3 Slaprat (Male Gungan)
10 (tie) 3 Szo-Dano (Female Kel-Dor)

-------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (June 14, 2015)

This was the beginning of a new Star Wars role-playing campaign using the Saga Edition ruleset.  After the enormous success of the Clone Wars Campaign, the players pushed for me to do another campaign.  I wanted to make sure it had a different feel, so I went with a very focussed campaign where every PC would be a member of a Rogue Squadron (fighter pilot/commandos) knock-off called Mynock Squadron.  I know a couple of players were skeptical of being given a directive for character creation like this, as in the past I've always run a "group of adventurers" campaign allowing full freedom in character creation.  Still, I wanted to challenge myself and the players, and use some of the optional rule subsets in the Saga Edition line (things I'll cover in a future post, like "Organization Score," "Requisition Allocation", and "Rank & Privileges").

One thing that made this campaign extremely tricky was that the players had relocated since the Clone Wars Campaign.  Waric's player (who ran A'tel and others in the Clone Wars Campaign) was still in Toronto, but myself (as director) and Kero's player (who previously ran Arresta in the CW Campaign) were in Australia, and Stavros' player (who previous ran Doxen in the CW Campaign) moved to Calgary.  It was thus extremely hard to get a time that worked for everyone, and the best we could do was a late night for those of us in Australia (running from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and an early morning for those in Canada (starting at 6 or 7 a.m.!).  It was unfortunately one of the things that made the campaign less enjoyable than it otherwise may have been, but it was an important way to stay in contact with good friends now halfway around the world.

To boot, in these first few sessions there was a lot of difficulty in finding a good, stable virtual tabletop.  This first session fell a little bit flat due to the technical problem, and it didn't end up being quite as exciting as I had hoped.  We ended up burning through three or four virtual tabletops in the first half dozen sessions before finally finding one that worked well (using Google+ and Roll20.net as a "hangout").

The last thing I'll say on this session's commentary was that the Leaderboard idea was "real."  I had 8 NPCs and the 4 PCs all competing to make the Squadron by finishing in the top half of the Leaderboard.  I made all the NPCs using a random generator, and had no idea which ones would make into the Squadron and continue into the campaign, and I told the players out-of-character in an e-mail: "And the top-six restriction is for real--anyone who can't beat out some randomly-generated NPCs, many of whom don't even have a level in a Heroic class, may have to play their back-up character or make a hasty use of the infamous Red Chip :)"

In future posts, we'll see how well they did . . .

Next Recap

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Realms Toowoomba: Session # 51 [RPG]

[flashback to 25 Kythorn 1372]

After seeing Ralkin disappear through the mirror-portal, Mellia spends the rest of the day looking through Terrigo Multivar's unorganized collection of books for information on Thay. Most of what she finds is useless histories of ancient wars and political squabbling, but she does develop a partial picture of what modern Thay is like.

According to her research, the land is governed by the Red Wizards, an order of extremely powerful spellcasters. Each of the schools of magic chooses one leader as Zulkir, and the eight Zulkir together decide on the fate of the country. In the past, this often meant invading neighboring countries, but in recent years Thay has adopted a policy of trade and has established trading enclaves in several cities across Faerun, exchanging magickal items for gold. Slavery is quite common in Thay, and patrols of gnolls and "blood orcs" constantly scour the land for escaped slaves or foreigners who are present without a permit. Everyone in Thay is either a Red Wizard, a noble, a commoner, or a slave.

After finishing looking through Multivar's books, Mellia casts a Sending spell to an old friend and then visits the Vault of the Sages, the massive structure that represents Faerun's preeminent assembly of knowledge. She's told by a junior priest of Denier that it is near closing time and should return in the morning where materials will be waiting for her.

[26 Kythorn 1372]

After successfully defeating T'Klack and recovering Multivar's spider-shaped amulet, the adventurers return to the first level of the complex via Myst's levitation spell. Syd is an excellent spirits and casts a spell on Garry to allow his animal companion to walk on the walls and ceilings! The two race along the complex in boisterous play. Ralkin, meanwhile, tells the mysterious being in the weapons room that his master is dead and that he is free to depart. The being departs after expressing his gratitude to Ralkin and Daisy.

With the weapon room now unguarded, the adventurers take stock. There are dozens of weapons inside, and everything is in exquisite condition. Fargrim realizes that some of the weapons are even made of silver, cold-wrought iron, and even extremely-rare mithral! Daisy takes a silver greataxe (pestering Myst to explain whether it will hurt various types of enemies more), and Fargrim outfits himself with an urgosh and battle axe to the point where he looks like walking weapons cabinet.

As the inventory continues, Dolcetto awakens and remembers having been filled with frenzy in the arena. Ralkin teases Dolcetto about her folly in charging into the amulet and explains how he found the amulet under the dark elf's body. Realizing that much of her equipment is missing, Dolcetto finds Myst and says she was only holding the items belonging to Gelkar pending a final disposition of his remains. Myst seems to believe his fellow tiefling, and returns the items.

Syd and Garry continue to frolic, must to Dolcetto's annoyance. Still, she shares her theory that if the two of them are in touch with the adventurers when the duration of the mirror-portal's spell ends, they will be transported back to Multivar's house with them. Upon examining the weapons' room, Dolcetto suggests taking every single item present for future sale and then proposes a means to divide the proceeds among the adventurers. The others don't argue, but also don't seem to care one way or the other. The tiefling loremaster then magickally divines whether anything is magickal and learns that, although nothing in the weapons room is, every one of the items taken from T'Klack's secret room displays some type of magickal aura. Dragging over a hundred pounds in weapons behind her, the determined loremaster heads outside when the group has determined to wait for the mirror-portal's magic to end. That night, Myst magickally conjures a small cottage. Although temporarily stranded in a forbidden wasteland, the adventurers find their night's rest uneventful.

Back in Silverymoon, Mellia sends another message via magic. She seems disappointed in the response. Returning to the Vault of Sages, she hears about how red is a forbidden color in Thay unless one is a Red Wizard. She also views a map of Thay, but determines that 50 gp is too much to spend for a copy. When she returns to Multivar's residence, she asks the old man if his mirror-portal could travel to any countries outside of Thay, as she is worried about the permit requirement. Multivar flips through his densely-scrawled book of notes and says there is a portal to the city of Laothkund, which he describes as being in Aglarond.

[27 Kythorn 1372]

Mellia sends a magickal message to Cain, and is annoyed at the response. Hearing a knock on Multivar's front door, she realizes that Bettina has arrived in Silverymoon and was directed here after asking questions at Wayward House. Mellia explains that Markus is temporarily away, but should be returning any day. Mellia then visits the Vault of Sages to inquire about Aglarond. She's presented with general reference books on the east that mention the country is heavily forested and populated by humans on the coast with ancient elven communities said to be lurking in the Yuirwood, and that half-elves are extremely common. However, the tomes specifically on Aglarond are in part of the Vault's catacombs undergoing reshelving, and it may take a couple of days to be found. Mellia then inquires about Kossuth, and gets a picture of the deity's faith that seems completely at odds with what she knows about Cain! Later, so as to better pass as a noble in Thay, she purchases some expensive but very well-made articles of clothing and jewellery.

Meanwhile, back on the far side of the mirror-portal, the others pass the time waiting for the return spell to activate. Syd works on training Garry, Dolcetto and Myst trade spellbooks, Daisy interacts with Gelkar's shovel, Ralkin cogitates about a new trap, and Fargrim waits bored and somewhat listless. As the afternoon's light begins to wane, suddenly Fargrim, Daisy, Myst, and Dolcetto feel themselves starting to tingle and their vision starting to fade. One of them cries out that the mirror-portal is drawing them back, and Syd makes sure to hold on tightly to one of them. Ralkin, who was several yards away, sees his companions starting to disappear and leaps to grab ahold, only to land just inches short with a mouth full of dirt! The kenku takes the matter philosophically, however, and returns to the complex to start removing the traps that T'Klack had installed.

At Multivar's house, the adventurers suddenly find themselves back in Silverymoon. Garry is shocked to find himself indoors, and runs rampant, crashing through doorways and furniture before escaping to the streets with Syd barely able to keep up. Startled passerby are stunned to see a dinosaur on the streets of Silverymoon, and Syd decides the best way to calm his companion is to turn into a dire eagle and literally pick Garry up! Syd and Garry start flying towards the Silverwood, and Daisy, excited, mounts her griffon, Binky, and flies with them. The adventurers and their mounts land in the forest and decide to rest there for the night.

Back inside, Dolcetto informs Mellia of Markus' death in battle. Mellia says she is not surprised, as the swordsman was always taking chances, but hopes the group will manage to have him raised from the dead. Dolcetto also tells her how useful Syd and Garry were, and that if it can be arranged, the two should join them in Thay. Myst seems willing to go as well. Multivar, for his part, is flabbergasted that none of the adventurers have returned with his amulet, as it was left in Ralkin's possession! Dolcetto explains that Ralkin has "slower reactions than a stone golem," but surmises that the kenku's should return soon, since he entered the mirror-portal only a day later than the others.

Dolcetto then tracks visits the city's shrine to Tymora, and sees that a gambling night is being held. She talks with Luckpriestess Aratha Sul, who agrees that, come morning, she will cast a divination spell to discern whether Markus wishes to be returned from the realm of the dead. Dolcetto's efforts to learn of Gelkar's wishes, however, are stymied, as there is no formal house of worship of Tempus in Silverymoon and a guard at The House Invincible (devoted to Helm) says the loremaster has come to the wrong place for divination magic. Dolcetto decides a visit to the Halls of Inspiration (devoted to Oghma) is in order, but it is closed for the night.

Meanwhile, Fargrim says it would be best if he explained to Bettina about what happened to Markus. He finds the former sailor's wife in a room at Wayward House that she has hastily remodelled in a nautical theme (perhaps to the dismay of the inn's chamberlains!). Fargrim says that Markus died bravely and with great valour, and that his dying words were of love for Bettina. She sobs, but is comforted by the dwarf's partial lies.

Late that night, Dolcetto and Mellia talk about the best way to approach retrieving Cain from Thay. They decide to further investigate the Laothkund option, and to have the magickal items obtained from T'Klack's complex identified.

The night's rest passes without incident.

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