The Alexandrian

Ptolus - In the Shadow of the Spire

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE

SESSION 8A: WAKING IN CHAINS

October 7th, 2007
The 24th Day of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty

Dominic woke to the cold taste of iron on his wrists. His hands had been chained above his head. He could hear people moving around him – the sounds echoed oddly. There was cold stone under him and against his back. He could feel that his wounds had been bound, but there was little strength in his limbs and it seemed as if every muscle and bone ached.

Dominic surreptitiously opened his eyes and looked around, trying not to attract attention to the fact that he had woken up. He saw that his companions had been chained up next to him (although it seemed as if Ranthir remained free). They were all in a damp cave of some sort, half of which appeared to be an underground lake. One of the serpentine creatures was just coming out of the Ptolus - Malkeen Balacazarwater, hauling a wooden crate to join a stack of similar crates. Several human workers were breaking the crates open and inspected small packages inside. He also saw a large adrak (a lizardman) with its back criss-crossed with scars and dozens of bells tied to him in a variety of ways. There were also several exits from the room: Two by way of water, a dry tunnel in one direction, and an iron door set into the wall in the other.

A man and woman were standing nearby, perhaps ten or fifteen feet away. The man was wearing robes of blue and white, with a hood that loosely covered his brown hair. He had handsome features made all the more striking by the star-burst tattoo emblazoned over his right eye. He was saying: “I didn’t want to interfere with it. When I looked at what it was doing… Well, the black tendrils were beautifully woven. I wasn’t sure what it was doing, so I left it and came back up to meet you. I thought for sure that you’d have some insight into it, Gattara. You have such a gift for such things.”

The obese woman next to him giggled, trying too hard to be attractive. “Flattery will win you everything.” She wore make-up an inch deep and gaudy Ptolus - Gattara Vladaamjewelry galore. Intricate curls of thick, red hair fell down across a bloated face of mascara and blush.

The man spoke again: “Hmm… But now she seems to have escaped. Which rather complicates things.”

The woman answered: “I’m sure it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.”

Agnarr groggily awoke just in time to hear the last of this exchange. Like Dominic he did his best to feign sleep, and it seemed to succeed (although Dominic realized his friend had awakened as well).

It made little difference, though, because the man said: “Na’haras, wake them up.”

Suddenly a man appeared from Dominic’s left. He seemed to step out of the slightest sliver of shadow. Dominic had no idea how he failed to notice him before. The man’s face was ghastly pale and, as he walked up to Dominic, he gaped his mouth – pointed fangs giving way to reveal an utter blackness, as if to look inside him were to look into the void itself. As if it were to look at death.

Na’haras slapped each of their faces in turn, forcing them to wakefulness.

He came to Agnarr last, and the barbarian waited carefully for him. At the last instant before Na’haras’ blow would come, Agnarr lunged forward and tried to bite at his hand. Na’haras, however, easily slid back out of reach and then casually reached forward and viciously backhanded Agnarr so that his ears rang with the force of the blow.

The man with the star tattoo crossed over to the prisoners. “If you want to live you will answer me and answer me quickly. Who are you? Why are you here? And what business did you have with the wreck of the Arrowhead?”

With a perfectly straight face, Agnarr answered: “My name is Jasin.” He pointed at Tee, “That’s Phon.” He pointed at Elestra, “Tellith.” And, finally, Dominic, “And Zade.”

“And what were you doing at the Arrowhead?”

Tee answered: “We’re delvers. We saw the ship sink and we thought there might be something valuable. We didn’t realize there was a prior claim.”

Agnarr: “Right, so if you could just give us back our equipment and let us go…”

The man with the star tattoo smiled. “But now you’ve seen my cave.”

Agnarr: “But we don’t know where it is. So put us in blindfolds and—“

“But you know it exists. No, I think you’re going to have to work for your freedom.”

Elestra: “What do you want us to do?”

“Let me show you. Na’haras! Bring her!”

Na’haras undid Elestra’s chains, grabbed her by the hair, and dragged her across the cave. On the far side of the crates, Elestra saw a glass coffin with its top shattered.

“Do you see it?” The man with the star tattoo asked. “Linech’s little girl has run away. Bring her back to me.” (At the mention of Linech’s name, he watched Elestra’s face closely, but she betrayed no familiarity.)

Elestra: “And what do we get in return?”

“You’ll be rewarded as well as any man might be rewarded. You’ll leave with your lives.”

Agnarr: “Fair enough. But we’re injured.”

Tee: “And we’ll need our equipment back.”

“But if I give you everything, what stops you from simply escaping?”

Dominic: “We don’t know where we are?”

The man laughed a small laugh. “A fair point. But, no, I think not.”

In the end he had them unchained one by one, and returned to them most of their equipment: He kept the holy symbols of Elestra and Dominic, and the bags of holding held by Agnarr and Tee. In slight recompense, he withdrew four potions of healing from his robes and allowed them to drink of them.

BACK IN THE WATER

The man with the star tattoo pointed them down the dry tunnel and told them that the little girl had fled in that direction. “Be back in half and hour or I’ll send Na’haras to fetch you back.”“Why don’t you just get her yourself?” Agnarr asked.

“Because I find it easier to get other people to do my work for me. And you should be glad that I do.”

As they moved off down the tunnel, Elestra said, “Don’t antagonize someone who has a fang-faced, void-mouthed guy to order around.”

Once they were out of earshot they discussed strategy. One theory was that, after they found the girl, they could wait for Na’haras to follow them, kill him, and then come back, clear the cave, and get their equipment back. But Tee, as much as she wanted her equipment back, didn’t feel like they could really take the room. This put them between a rock and a hard place: Who did they deliver the girl to?

Agnarr cracked a sunrod and observed that they were now doing the same job (retrieving the girl) for three different employers: Zavere, Linech, and the man with the star-tattoo.

The tunnel didn’t go far before it took a sharp turn to the right and dead-ended in a pool of water.

Nobody seemed that eager to go swimming again, but they were all still under the effects of their potions of water breathing, so Tee ducked her head under. A quick glance told her that the pool was very deep indeed – in fact, it formed a kind of stone tube heading straight down and out of sight.

All four of them eased themselves into the pool and swam down. The stone tube went almost straight down for forty feet and then bottomed out in a T-intersection. Agnarr, taking the lead, headed to the left. But as Dominic, in the third position, paddled his way out into the tunnel, a giant eel – at least nine feet in length and as thick around as one of Agnarr’s thighs – slid out of a crevasse. Elestra was the only one who saw it, but before she even had a chance to shout out a warning, the eel had wrapped itself around Dominic’s throat and began squeezing the life out of the priest.

Elestra darted forwards and tried to plunge her rapier into the eel, but between Dominic’s thrashing and the eel’s writhing, she missed. Tee, similarly, had little luck bringing her weapon to bear. But Agnarr flipped around and performed a rapid scissor-kick to bring himself alongside the eel, where his greatsword tore huge chunks from its rubbery side.

As the eel writhed back in pain, Dominic managed to get enough purchase to break free. This allowed Agnarr’s greatsword to come about in a mighty, unhindered swing that cleaved the eel in half. As the eel’s lower half drifted away, a burst of black blood filled the water and the eel launched its fangs at Agnarr’s face. Agnarr reached up one hand and literally forced it into the eel’s mouth, keeping the fangs from closing. He spun the greatsword about with his other hand, cried “For the glory!”, and plunged the now flaming blade down the eel’s gullet. Tee, directly opposite Agnarr, jerked back in the water as the tip of the flaming sword jutted out into the still-spreading black cloud of the eel’s blood.

Agnarr cocked his head to one side and considered the partially baked meat of the eel. He idly ripped a chunk of flesh from its side with his teeth, savored it for a moment, and found its taste to be bitter and unwholesome. He spat it out and ripped the eel off of his sword.

Leaving the eel’s corpse floating behind them, the party continued down the tunnel. Agnarr took the lead for awhile, until he realized that trying to track Linele through the water was a relatively fruitless endeavor.

Tee, therefore, was the one who led them out into a large, bowl-shaped chamber. The tunnel had been gradually rising, and the roof of this chamber reached high enough to have an actual surface with air above it.

Before swimming forward, however, Tee’s sharp eyes spied a giant crab nestled into a groove in the chamber’s rocky bottom. The crab was at least as big around as a dinner table, so the group hoped that they would be able to pass it by without a confrontation.

Unfortunately, as they swam near the surface, Dominic momentarily lost the rhythm of his swimming. As his legs churned the water, the crab propelled itself off the floor toward him.

Before the crab could reach him, however, Agnarr performed another quick reversal and propelled himself under the crab’s lightly-armored belly. His greatsword ripped open a gaping gash in the crab’s armor, exposing the soft flesh beneath.

The crab, instinctively, rolled over to protect its injured belly and swung a pincered-claw at Agnarr. Agnarr, however, quickly brought his legs up, and the claw passed harmlessly beneath him.

Meanwhile, the crab’s roll had brought the gash Agnarr had opened to face Tee and Elestra. As Dominic swam away from the combat, Tee’s and Elestra’s blades flashed out and, although they could not find true purchase in the crab’s flesh, they were able to chip away at its armor and widen the gash.

Thus, as the crab swerved one way and Agnarr twisted in the other, the gash was brought back into Agnarr’s range. A quick sweep of the greatsword ripped out the crab’s guts, and left a lifeless corpse to drift back down towards the bottom of the chamber.

With the crab dispatched, the group swam on into a larger chamber. There they encountered one of the serpentine sea-men dragging a crate from the Arrowhead behind it. From this they concluded that the girl had probably not gone this way – or, if she had, she must have escaped into the open ocean and would be beyond their ability to find.

So, noting the direction towards the open ocean, they turned around and swam back the other way. Passing back past the T-intersection through which they had entered the underwater passages, they found the tunnel gradually rising in height again, until finally they were trudging along in water only five or six inches deep.

Then, from ahead of them, they heard the sound of gentle weeping. Rounding a corner, they found a large, relatively dry cave. They had a moment to register the sight of a young girl with long black hair huddled against the far wall of the room. Then the girl looked up at them and they found themselves suddenly blinded by a bright burst of light.

When their vision cleared, they found themselves standing on the edge of a sea cliff looking out over the ocean. Verdant green grass surrounded them, running right up to the edge of the cliff itself.

After a long moment of silence and confusion, with nothing but the distant pounding of the waves below them to break the stillness, they heard a dog barking behind them. Turning around they saw a small black terrier cresting the hill, followed by a young girl with black hair tied back into a braid. Was it the same girl? They couldn’t be sure, having glimpsed the girl in the cave for only a moment.

The girl was playing with the dog – throwing a little red ball back and forth. Elestra bent and tried to grab the ball, but found her hand pass through it. She turned to voice her conviction that they had nothing to fear here – wherever here might be – but then there was another brilliant flash of light.

They found themselves standing in the middle of a compound made up of several buildings. The young girl walked around the corner of the nearest building with her little black terrier in her arms.

Suddenly there was an explosion and one of the buildings in the compound burst into flame. The little girl panicked and ran into the nearest building. The party followed her and found her huddled under a bed, hugging the black terrier tightly to her. Time seemed to eddy strangely, and they watched as the flames spread and the room filled with thick, black smoke and the little girl died.

Then, with another burst of light, the party found themselves back in the damp cave. The little girl was crouched against the far wall – her face pale white and laced with black veins – staring at them with pitch-black eyes. A golden pocketwatch was wrapped around her wrist and dangling between her fingers. “Why?” she cried.

And then there was another flash of light and they were back on the wind-swept sea-cliff. A few moments passed, and then they heard the barking of the small dog…

They tried to talk to the girl in the vision, and found that there was no effect. But they found that they if they spoke their thoughts as if addressing the girl in the cavern, she would reply.

But she was tempermental and confused. “Where am I?” she would demand. And it became clear that they would need to control their thoughts, for when one of the party thought that she shouldn’t have run into a building during a fire, her thoughts lashed out, “Are you blaming me?”

Eventually, they made her understand that they had been sent by her father to get her back. But they were trapped in these caves by the “evil man with the star”. The girl fixated on the idea of returning to “daddy”, but had little patience for the discussion of other options or detailed plans.

When the party returned to the damp cave – the cycle of visions completed again – the girl fixed them with her stare and enslaved Elestra, Tee, and Dominic to her will.

Agnarr, with his savvy senses, easily noticed that there was something wrong with Tee and Dominic… so he saddled over to Elestra and whispered, “What’s wrong with them?”

Elestra: “Nothing’s wrong with them. They just want to help Linele get back to daddy.”

Agnarr shrugged. “Well, that makes sense.”

The party, resolved to Linele’s will, began swimming back towards the open sea. Tee, forced to abandon her possessions, fruitlessly fought against Linele’s control.

When they reached the open channel to the sea, they found two of the serpentine sea-men standing guard upon it. When they tried to stop them, however, the two serpentine sea-men fell under Linele’s gaze. One of them resisted, but the other – following Linele’s missives – turned on him and gutted him with his trident.

The surviving serpentine sea-man was left behind with a vacant gaze on his face, and a few moments later the five of them breached the surface. By this time, even Agnarr was under Linele’s control.

A TEST OF WILLS

Ranthir was still waiting in the little rowboat. Only an hour and a half had passed since they had slipped under the waves, and the meek mage had so far assumed they were merely searching for the wreck and its cargo. When he spotted his companions breach the surface a little over a quarter mile away, he directed Seanus to begin rowing towards them.But as they drew a little nearer, Ranthir spotted the little girl swimming between them… the little girl who was supposed to be dead, but was now moving with alarming alacrity. While keeping his eyes on them, he turned his head slightly towards Seanus and said, “Actually, why don’t you start rowing the other way?”

Seanus, with his back to what was happening was confused. “Why? What’s going on?”

“Row the other way!”

“Yessir.”

The mind-controlled members of the party began crying out. “Ranthir! Why are you going the wrong way! Ranthir!”

Ranthir shouted back at them, trying to pierce the obviously magical compulsion controlling their actions. He eventually managed to touch Dominic’s conscience by calling out the anathema of Linele’s nature, and Dominic was able to take the crack thus created and force his will through it.

Calling upon the divine power that lurked within his breast, Dominic forced Linele away from them. In response she called upon her other slaves to attack the priest, but this only caused them to challenge her control as well.

Any semblance of humanity was obliterated in Linele as she viciously attacked them. She gaped her mouth and they watched as her teeth narrowed and grew into razor-like fangs. Her fingers hardened into vicious claws. Her very touch seemed to leech strength and warmth from their limbs.

Worse yet, Tee watched as her dragon blade seemed to have little effect upon Linele’s sea-drenched flesh. And the small wounds it could inflict seemed to heal themselves almost instantly.

Indeed, their cause would have been lost if it had not been for Agnarr’s mighty, flaming blade. Cutting great swaths of steam through the gently rolling waves, the greatsword ripped huge, gaping holes in the undead girl. It even severed her spine, but like some horrible parody of a rag doll this slowed her not at all.

And then hope itself seemed to fail, as Linele’s cold claws fastened themselves upon Agnarr’s mighty thews and drained the very light of consciousness from them. The barbarian slipped into darkness, leaving the desperately flailing blades of Tee and Elestra to slice ineffectually at the horror that dashed between them.

But then Dominic slid back into the fray, and laid hands warmed with divine power upon Agnarr’s floating form. Consciousness returned and the barbarian’s limp grip tightened upon his sword and brought it around to hack the last vestiges of undead motion from Linele’s long-dead form.

As Linele’s lifeless form slipped beneath the waves, Tee caught her up and secretly – out of the sight of everyone, but most especially Seanus – slipped the golden pocketwatch from her wrist.

As the whole party climbed back into the rowboat, Agnarr looked at Seanus: “When we found her, she was dead, right?”

Seanus looked at the girl’s corpse, reflected for a moment, and nodded a vigorous yes.

As Seanus turned the rowboat back towards the Docks, the party gathered in the back of the boat and quietly discussed their plans. Finally they reached the conclusion that they had no choice – once they had reached shore, they had to take the girl back to Linech. Even Tee agreed, although she was very bitter at the thought of leaving more than 10,000 gold marks of equipment with their captors. (Not to mention her identification papers and their Delver’s Guild membership papers.)

A BARGAIN WROUGHT

But they had not gone far when four of the serpentine sea-men suddenly surfaced around the boat, surrounding it completely. One of them swam closer and spoke with a hissing voice, “Return with the girl or die.”

Tee quickly considered her options. There wasn’t much time left from her potion of water breathing. She leaned over, “Ranthir, give me your potion.” Ranthir quickly handed it over. Tee swallowed it whole and dropped over the edge of the boat. “Wait here, I’ll be back.”

Tee ducked beneath the waves, out of Seanus’ sight and hearing. She showed the serpentine sea-men the golden pocketwatch: “Take me to your boss. I have what he wants.”

The serpentine sea-man looked at the pocketwatch, then hissed. “Follow.” They began swimming back towards the coast.

Elestra: “Should we follow her?”

Agnarr: “Tee said we wait here. So we wait here.”

When Tee reached the cave where she had awakened in chains only a little over an hour before, she emerged from the waves to see the man with the star-shaped tattoo with the horrific creature known as Na’haras standing close by.

The serpentine sea-man crossed to the man and whispered in his ear. The man smiled. “I understand that you’ve brought what I want… Tee.”

Tee grimaced at the use of her actual name. Then, begrudgingly, “Yes.”

“Give it to me and you can take your things and leave.”

Tee handed the watch over and the man gestured for Na’haras to return the party’s possessions.

“Now,” the man said. “It’s important that you never mention this cave to anyone. If you do, I’ll know.”

“What cave?”

The man smiled again. “Excellent.”

Escorted by the serpentine sea-men, Tee swam out of the caves and returned to the rest of the group. She emerged from the sea and swung herself into the rowboat. Looking around at everyone she said, simply, “It’s done. Let’s go.”

A BARGAIN BROKEN

They returned to the Docks. As Seanus settled their rental fee with Sard’s Boats, the rest of the group quickly filled Ranthir in on the broad strokes of their ordeal. Tee told the others that the man with the star-shaped tattoo apparently knew their names, but didn’t tell them about the deal she had cut to get their things back.

When Seanus returned to them, they hired a carriage and rode it – largely in silence – back to Linech’s burrow in Rivergate.

Agnarr was carrying Linele’s body in both arms as they entered Linech’s office, and they had to remind themselves that he was expecting a corpse. But none of them could have anticipated the reception they received: Linech was furious.

“Where is it?!”

Agnarr grabbed Linele’s corpse by the neck and held it up, “What are you talking about? She’s right here!”

“Where’s the pocketwatch?”

“What pocketwatch?”

“The pocketwatch. It was in the coffin with her!”

“You didn’t say anything about a pocketwatch.”

“Did you steal it? What did you do with it?!”

It became clear that Linech didn’t really care about recovering his daughter’s corpse: It was the pocketwatch he wanted.

Linech told them to get out. Tee demanded their payment.

“What payment? You didn’t do the job!”

“You didn’t say anything about a pocketwatch!”

“Get out! And if I ever see any of you ever again, you’re dead! Dead! DO YOU HEAR ME?”

The party left. Nursing their wounds they hired a carriage to take them back down to the Ghostly Minstrel. On their way, they had their first opportunity to freely discuss the visions they had had while unconscious. The similarities and differences gave them much to ponder.

When they finally arrived at the Ghostly Minstrel, Tellith greeted them with a large smile from behind the front desk: “Master Agnarr! Mistress Elestra! Master Ranthir! Mistress Tee! Master Dominic! You have a guest waiting for you in the common room.”

NEXT JOURNAL ENTRY

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