Friday, June 13, 2014

PBM: Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 8

In which the party learns to cope with the adventuring lifestyle...

Lyra
Less than an hour after going to bed. Lyra drags her sleeping bag and blanket out of the wagon. She laid out her sleeping bag and sat down on top of it, huddled under the blanket with her back to the flames, watching the forest.

GM
Staring into the darkness, the fire warming her back, Lyra nods, then begins to doze off.

Lyra jolts out of bed. Her bed. In her room in Waterdeep. Tall, strong walls around her. Her door locked. She looks around in confusion.

Not bothering to pull her dress on over the chemise she’d slept in, she strides over to the bookcase. Her favorite is still there, with its rich illustrations. She takes the book and sits on the bed, flipping it open. The illustration of a dragon is so detailed its eyes seemed to follow her.

She throws the book across the room.

As the book hits the wall, there is a heavy thump at the doorway. And then another. No, no, this was home, it’s supposed to be safe. At the third thump, she runs over to the bookcase to tries and push it in front of the door, but only manages to knock the books off.

Thud.

Thud. The door creaks with every strike. She puts her back against it to brace it, but black water begins to seep in from underneath. She can’t remain there, lest it touch her.

There are the curtains but no high window where there should have been, only strong stone walls. She tears down the curtains and throws them down to staunch the flow of water under the door.

The wood begins to crack with each strike. She crawls under the bed, as she did as a child.

With a final mighty crack the door gives way. Black water pooling around the figure standing there…

With a stifled scream, Lyra snaps awake and stares into the darkness, breathing hard, her heart racing. The air is still and cold, quiet save for Donovan’s snoring echoing from under the wagon. The fire has burned low without her tending it, and everyone else remains asleep. Three battered corpses lie by the edge of the clearing, unmoving…

Lyra
A calm, disciplined mind is your armor, Lyrathwen. Concentrate. Think of the safest place you know and picture yourself there. It felt like an eternity before her breathing slowed, the panic rising again with each tiny sound. No one else stirred. Had she fallen asleep on her watch?

Lyra rubs her eyes and gets up to stoke the fire, still half keeping an eye on the undead as if they might rise again at any moment. Before sitting back down, she paces around the camp twice, once with her human sight and once with her elven.

Donovan
About an hour before dawn there is a thump, followed by a groan, as Donovan wakes up, once again forgetting that he is underneath a wagon. After another minute of groaning, he crawls out from under the wagon, dragging the tarp, his bedroll, and his pack, which he had been using as a pillow, behind him and mumbling, “Well that was a bad idea!” He drops the tarp as close to the fire as he can get with Hrud, Rant, Teldicia, and Lyra already there, then goes to the back of the wagon, extracting the shield, scrolls, and other suspected magical devices as quietly as possible. Returning to the fire, he sits down with the collected junk laid out in front of him and wraps his bedding around himself against the morning chill. “G’morning Lyra,” he mumbles, “I’ve got this watch, you should try to get another hour or two of sleep before we head out.” He pulls his spellbook from his pack and begins flipping through it, looking for the spells he will need today.

Lyra
Lyra’s eyes looked red and tired as she nodded at Donovan in greeting. She wrapped her blanket more tightly around her shoulders before addressing him in elven. «I’m not sure if I nodded off and had a nightmare, or if something tried to attack my mind. I remember my safe place from my defense training, something pounding at the door as black water seeped in beneath it. Just as the door shattered to splinters, I found myself back in camp. I patrolled but saw nothing, yet I can’t quite shake the memory of it.» Huddled beneath the blanket trembling, Lyra looks far younger than her sixteen years.

At precisely dawn, the wind picks up abruptly. “Lyrathwen Aletheil Beragaion, I have been sick with worry.”

Lyra stirred, her eyes red and tired, memories of a tower with a dragon painting, its lower level full of black water full of skeletons fading. She covered her mouth to stifle a yawn. “Good morning, Mother.”

“Are you safe?”

More whispers on the wind. “Did you sleep well?”

“Hardly at all. We saved a girl in the slums from rapers, bought supplies and weapons, crossed the black river, raided a dragon’s tower, and were attacked by undead during the night.” Lyra straightened, trying to compose herself. “I have important information that the council needs to hear. Would you be able to convey it? Firstly, Mace is arming the Xvimlar with swords of an alloy originating on Baator. And secondly…

There was no sign of life in the graveyard as we passed, not even insects and grave-worms. Lady Frantiska insists that it is full of pervasive evil, as if the ground itself is plotting ‘foul deeds’. The grass is blackened, and the ground mounded as if things forced their way out of the ground. We were attacked in the night by a skeleon, a zombie, and a wight. Even after the zombie had its limbs and head chopped off, the head rolled up and said “We are for you. We will be back…” Donovan smashed it to bits in panic after, and I’d felled both skeleton and wight. I dropped the skeleton right on its evil smirking face.”
For the first time in her life, Faelana did not know what to say to her daughter.

Hrud
Hrud woke, sooner than he wanted, to the sound of the others stirring around him. He felt like his old self; if the barbarian were given to introspection, he might have realized how disappointed that made him feel.

Rolling up his bedding and securing what little belongings he had to his horse, Hrud sat down on the low wall surrounding the campsite and ate his breakfast in silence, avoiding eye contact with anyone, for fear that they felt like talking.

The events of last night kept playing over and over in his head: Frantiska kissing him had been completely unexpected and thrilled him, even as it robbed him of his newfound abilities, leaving him feeling … impotent. But she had use some kind of healing magic on him, meaning that the source of that power – the river? – was harmful in some way.

But the kiss … Hrud had only been kissed once or twice in his life; occasionally one of the women in his people would find him amusing for a little while; soon enough, though, they wanted him to disappear. It was like people could only stand to be around him for a little bit before his very presence became an anathema.

And then Lyra’s words echoed through his thoughts. The accusation, and the look on her face as she said it, haunted him. The worst part was, Hrud knew she was right, despite his ignorance of the boundaries he’d overstepped at the time. Hrud was not a man of subtlety, nor did he have much grasp of propriety. This was why he’d been sent to live with Skadi outside the city, this was why he wasn’t allowed among his own people – he was too stupid and too dangerous, even without the river-sludge poisoning his brain.

Hrud felt the sting of tears again, but willed them away. He’d been too tired and surprised and unprepared to resist them last night, but today was a new day.

New, he suddenly decided, in more ways than one. Every Eraka needs a tribe, he thought, and he was determined to prove he belonged somewhere.

Frantiska
Frantiska rises much later than usual and quietly goes about the business of perusing her spellbook, and brushing down and saddling Thistledown. When finished, she walks her horse to the edge of the clearing, stopping briefly by Donovan, where he sits examining the various items they have collected. “Mr. Donovan, I am sorry about the disruptions yestereve. I was planning on scouting ahead and wondered if I might take possession of Sir Guy’s sword and the scroll which contains the spell of whispering winds.”

Donovan
Donovan hands Sir Guy’s Spoon and the scroll up to Frantiska, keeping his eyes respectfully down, “If you’re riding ahead, just be careful, we’ve already established that this is not the safest place to be…”

Lyra
Lyra sullenly eats her breakfast before carefully folding her blanket and rolling up her sleeping bag and putting them in the wagon. She still has dark circles under her eyes and and keeps stifling yawns. After Teldicia wakes up and has a chance to eat breakfast Lyra approaches her. “I … something’s been bothering me since last night.” She stops and takes a deep breath before continuing. “Hrud said something that made it sound like you knew, or at least suspected, that he was a telepath.” And you speak Baatezu in your sleep, but this is more important.

GM
Teldicia goes about packing up her meager possessions and smiles, “Yes, I’ve been monitoring him since we met. Not being able to understand what someone is saying is quite annoying, so I had to make a work-around. While I was listening, it became abundantly clear that he was the source of the mental static that has been affecting all of us. It was also pretty clear that he was too dense to be broadcasting it in any intentional or malicious way, so I thought it better to not mention it,” she shrugs as if to say, my bad.

Lyra
“I’d noticed the mental static, but couldn’t pinpoint the source other that it seemed to be moving with our group based on the reactions of others in town. It seemed to go away after Frantiska had been de-cursed, so I hadn’t even thought to associate it with him.” Lyra blinks, not sure she heard correctly. “Monitoring? Listening?”

GM
“Yeah, I can’t ‘mind-talk’, as Hrud calls it, like you can, but I can listen to people’s thoughts. Only surface-thoughts, mind you,” she says apologetically. “I can’t probe anyone, but it does let me get the gist of conversations, tell how many people are around, recognize when something weird is going on in their heads, that sort of thing.”

Lyra
And with no spell components, no less. Handy. Lyra smiles, but looks genuinely concerned. "Please be careful with it. I’ve heard using it around things like that— " Lyra gestures to the shattered ruin of the wight “—can be highly unpleasant or even dangerous.”

GM
“Yeah, my progenitor drove a few people insane that way, or so I hear.” She gets up and throws her bag into the back of the wagon, climbing up after it.

Frantiska
Frantiska takes the items and leaves. As soon as they are out of the clearing, Frantiska turns Thistledown towards the south-easterly road and gallops away at top speed. “What do you think Thistledown?” she says outloud as they ride, as much to herself as to the horse. “Was it a mistake to come to this place? Was joining these people the right decision? Can we really trust them?” She ducks her head to avoid a branch and rides on, letting her body be lulled into relaxation by the familiar rhythm of Thistledown’s stride. “The little girl, Amara, is clearly up to something, though I can’t imagine what. The barbarian, while seeming honorable enough, and apparently curious about Selune, has no respect for personal boundaries, and clearly doesn’t understand his own powers. Mr. Donovan is level-headed, but I dislike the way he looks at Lyra, Teldicia, and myself, or really any woman for that matter—he has a wandering eye about him.” Feeling she is sufficiently away, she slows Thistledown to a canter. “Teldicia is clearly hiding many things. She is definitely no elf. The Tyrran should be a known quantity, as Tyr is said to be very narrow in whom he will accept in his priesthood, and yet he has shown no inclination to rein-in the others. Lyra seems to be the best of them, at once competent and naive, but she is still young, and therefore unpredictable.” She pulls the horse to a stop and looks around cursorily, “At least these people show an interest in our quest, but they are also clearly motivated by profit. We were almost killed three times yesterday, Thistledown, does it really serve our queen and the goddess for us to be here?”

She tugs unconsciously on the reins, turning Thistledown in circles, mimicing her own indecision. “What do you think, Thistledown? We saved a girl from death yesterday, but not from her worse fate, we almost drowned, and our valor broke in the face of the walking dead. I’ve spent a century training for the life of the quest, but one misstep nearly killed me, and one look at that those rotting corpses scared me enough that I abandoned my new companions.” As her rage mounts she pulls harder on the reins, making the circle tighter and faster, and pounds angrily on her leg with the other hand. “Damnit Thistledown! What do I do!” She finally notices what she is doing, relaxes her grip on the reins, and begins to sob.

Donovan
Donovan climbs up into the drivers seat of the wagon after putting away his books and hitching up the team. “Ok,” he says, sounding exasperated, “can anyone else here Not read minds?” He wiggles around a bit to try to get comfortable on the bench. “Do we need to set some ground rules for interaction?” he uses his herald voice, as he likes to think of it, projecting to be heard by everyone in the clearing. “I know we all just met and we’re new at the adventuring thing, but certain baselines of trust need to be established. Getting at least verbal consent before reading people’s thoughts, talking in their heads, or otherwise violating their privacy seems like a healthy minimum…” He sighs and whips the oxen, and tugs on the reins a little too hard to turn them around, almost falling out of his seat when they jerk into motion. Once the team is steadied he continues. “I know we were all a little traumatized by yesterday’s events, but I suspect that’s going to be our new normal. We should at least make sure we feel safe with one another. So, do we need to have an airing of grievances when Frantiska get’s back? Are there any other ground rules that need to be established in order to have a smooth working relationship?” he looks around expectantly.

GM
Brother Rant grabs his bag and leaps on the back of the wagon as it turns away. He hurriedly translates Donovan’s concerns for Hrud, then chimes in. “Phlan is a dangerous place, you all knew that before you came. For my part, I am grateful to you all for my life, and offer that in your defense. You have learned quickly to fight well together and have defended each other, despite your youth or inexperience, and there is little more that I could ask for from comrades in arms.” He stows his bag and sets his mace and one of the crossbows, loaded, near the back opening of the wagon. “For my part, I have no grievance with any of you, and you are free to use whatever means you think is appropriate to communicate with me. Likewise, as invasive as it may be, given the nature of our work, I welcome the use of any tools you may have to aid in our coordination. I also thank all of you for considering these things, many wouldn’t. Your concern for each other’s feelings does you justice, and Tyr smiles on that.” He sits down, his feet dangling off the back of the wagon, looking relaxed, but with the weapons in easy reach. “I pray that the rest of our journey goes more smoothly…”

“Yeah…what he said.” Teldicia shrugs apologetically again, “I’ve got no problem with you being in my head, Lyra, or you Hrud, and I’ll try to stay out of your heads unless necessary. I do ask that you make sure not to let me sleep through another fight…it sounds like I missed all the fun…”

Hrud
Hrud returns Donovan’s pointed look with a blank one of his own until Rant translates, at which point the barbarian rolls his eyes. “«The mind-talk is gone. Frantiska took it.»” Turning his pony around to take up a rear-guard postion, the barbarian mumbles something that only the cleric manages to hear, “Sing wong iku cemburu.”

Lyra
Lyra curls up under her cloak, hugging her knees and staring at the tips of her boots. Her voice is strained and quiet, as if she’s holding back tears. “This is why I’m not supposed to let people find out I’m a telepath.”

GM
As Donovan yanks on the reins and whips the oxen they try to turn quickly as indicated, only to realize that the harness does not allow anything nearing that level of maneuverability. The wagon lurches and starts to tilt sideways, rocking off of two of its wheels…

Lyra
“However, Hrud pretty clearly has latent abilities. I sensed psionic interference in town last night, although I’d misattributed it to other sources, and that well predates the river incident.” Lyra paused as the wagon lurched into the turn. “I might be able to help teach him to control…” Lyra yelps in surprise as the wagon suddenly tilts and scrambles for purchase as she starts to slide down towards the other side of the wagon.

GM
There is much rattling and crashing as the wagon upsets, the carefully stacked statues and goods topple from their purchases, crashing into the canvas sides of the wagon and ricocheting around the hold. Lyra, grabbing hold of one of the bows, finds herself briefly dangling above the debris as it crashes past her. Brother Rant is thrown from the back of the wagon, landing face-first in the mud. Amara goes hurting in the opposite direction, right past Donovan and Teldicia to land on the tongue between the two yoked beasts. Luckily the tongue and yoke hold without breaking, and the wagon settles back onto all four wheels as the oxen complete the turn. Amara and Rant sport some minor bruises, but there are no injuries otherwise. The only significant damage is to the jars and crates which held your stores of food, which have been almost completely smashed by falling statuary.

Lyra
Everything was ruined. Lyra starts sobbing.

Donovan
Donovan curses under his breath, lets go of the reins, and reaches down to help Amara back up. “Ok,” he says with a sigh, “does anyone know how to drive for real?” He sets the brake and goes into the back to help clean up as best they can. He grabs the shield and uses it like a shovel to start scooping up chunks of broken glass and spilled vegetables and dump them outside.

Lyra
Where it had fallen near the food crate, the Simbul seemed to be lying in a pool of strawberry blood. Lyra was thankful the vials of holy water were still in her belt pouch. “Since we have ropes and tarps, we might be able to secure the statues a little more effectively. Is there anything else fragile for which we need to more carefully consider storage?” Lyra looks concerned as the muddy cleric climbs back in the wagon. “Are you alright, Brother Rant?”

GM
Brother Rant shrugs, “I’m fine.” He grabs the statue of the Simbul and heaves it upright. “Donovan,” he says, “if we don’t know how to drive, we might take turns walking ahead of the animals to lead them…”

Donovan
“Sure, It’s not like Mr. Brisket and Sirloin can move that fast anyways.” Donovan tosses another shieldfull of junk outside and then starts looking at the statues. “If we can push all the statuary up against the sides we could lash them to the poles that hold the canopy.”

Hrud
Hrud walks his pony over to the wagon, “«Maybe I should drive».”

Donovan
Donovan listens to the translation then yells, “Sold!” He gestures for Hrud to take the driver’s seat, then goes back to cleaning up,

Hrud
Hrud stows his gear under the driver’s seat and ties his pony off at the back of the wagon. “«Whenever you’re ready.»”

Frantiska
As everyone works to clean out and right the wagon, Frantiska comes riding back into the clearing. She shakes her head as she looks at the clearly upset oxen and the mess and activity in the cart. Seeing Hrud climbing into the driver’s seat she rides up beside him, “Hrud, aku minta maaf tentang semalam. Apa yang saya lakukan adalah sebuah kesalahan. Mari kita tidak pernah membicarakannya lagi.” Hoping that she conveyed her meaning properly she turns Thistledown back towards the road. “Lyra, the road looks clear for the next few miles,” she looks at the sky, “it should be a clear day today, hopefully we will make better time.” She rides out a head and waits for the others to be ready to leave.

Hrud
Hrud is so shocked when Frantiska speaks to him, that he utterly fails to glean the meaning behind her words. However, her tone was not one of animosity, but reminded the barbarian of a focused merchant, ready to do business. If elves were anything like his own people, Hrud doubted they would be discussing the insanity of the previous night anytime soon, which he was perfectly fine with.

Lyra
Lyra looks up from the knot she’s tying, sweat beading on her forehead. “Thank you for checking, Frantiska. We should be nearly done securing the cargo.”

Frantiska
As Frantiska waits for the others, the throbbing pain in her forehead returns. She rubs her temples and looks around impatiently. Not again! she thinks. As the throbbing builds, her vision blurs slightly, small white dots, like tiny starbursts, dance at the edge of her vision, along the horizon. She blinks, rubs her eyes, and looks around. Strangely, the dots move, seemingly of their own accord. She looks around, trying to follow them, and sees them collecting around Lyra, as if attracted to her, until Lyra is entirely outlines by the things. She blinks again—the specks disappear and the pain subsides slightly.

Shaking her head in confusion, she stretches, pats Thistledown’s side, and checks the many swords now collected on her person, making sure everything is ready to leave for real. As the pain and the dots return, she looks around, trying to watch how they move and wondering if they mean anything…

GM
Frantiska sees the dots congregate again around Lyra, but also around Teldicia and Hrud. The specks around Hrud seem fainter than the other two, but also seem to pulse in time with her headache.

Donovan
Donovan tosses one last egg shell out of the cart, double and triple checks the new moorings on the chariot, and takes a seat on the back of the wagon by Brother Rant. “I think we’re all ready to get moving,” he looks up at the sky, “and only two hours or so behind schedule.”

As the wagon jostles back into motion he pulls out a couple of the items he was identifying. “Brother Rant, Frantiska, Hrud, which of you would like this shield? It has the power to turn anyone who strikes you into a friend. This ring is also pretty neat if anyone wants it. It can allow you to move without leaving tracks and to see invisible creatures and objects. It also appears to have some other abilities that could be unlocked if you were willing to shove your hand into a burning funeral pyre…not that I would recommend such actions. I’ll probably hang onto these other scrolls.” He holds up Yargrund, bathing the interior of the wagon with light, “Also, this hammer is awesome, it lets you speak dwarvish. I have no idea how to fight with something like this though. I think everyone has a magic weapon already, so whoever wants the hammer can have it. Otherwise I’ll just stash it up front in case we meet a dwarf.”

Hrud
Hearing Rant’s translation of Donovan’s descriptions, Hrud asks if he could carry the ring. “«Sounds useful for hunting.»” They ride along for a few minutes more before another idea finally germinates within his skull, “«Anybody here speak Dwarf – without the hammer?»”

Lyra
Lyra rubs her head. Of course they’d all stop not talking to each other just as a headache was coming on. Everything seemed so loud. “I can pick out bits and pieces, but not necessarily the whole meaning.”

Donovan
“Sorry, I have a few friends who are dwarves, like Jerome, but I never got around to learning their tongue.”

Frantiska
Frantiska rides ahead of the group, trying to keep pace with the much slower-moving wagon, though this clearly bothers Thistledown. The spirited filly occasionally shakes her head in frustration and prances nervously. Frantiska finally gives the horse its head again, letting her run forward several hundred yards, then turning back and riding around behind the wagon. As the sun moves higher into the sky she finds that she has to squint, the light only adding to the pain in her head. Despite it turning into a warm day, she pulls the hood of the thick black cloak up over her head and suddenly finds herself rearing for a fight as the cloak sends images of glorious battle into her already compromised mind. Still, the mental noise of the cloak’s intrusion is less painful than the light, so she keeps the hood up. Overhearing Donovan’s talk of magic items, she rides a little closer and speaks up, “Mr. Donovan, I usually prefer to keep my hands free for shooting, but, lacking my bow, I could certainly make use of the shield. If I am going to be fighting hand-to-hand, I would not frown upon the added protection.”

Lyra
Lyra peeks her head over the chariot. “I could make a supply run for replacement food, clothes, and another bow if needed, but I’d have to find the wagon again, which would probably involve getting that information from someone here, unless I wait for us to stop. I could turn in the information about the undead to the council while I’m there, I suppose. And unload as much of this stuff as I can carry with me — which isn’t much, maybe twenty pounds.”

Donovan
Donovan nods, “That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. So what do you need to get a fix to come back?”

Lyra
Lyra looks sheepish. “It would require mentally contacting one of you, then either using Mindlink to ask you to send me a mental image of your current surroundings, or Sight Link to see what you see directly. Then based on that, I calculate where I’d need to come in based on the position of the wagon at the instant of translocation. Mindlink is significantly less intrusive, since the recipient only transmits what they wish to.”

Donovan
Donovan sits pondering as the wagon rolls along, “You can link with me, in any way you like.” He says this with a a strait, matter of fact tone, but with a slightly playful, suggestive gleam in his eye. “Having you able to travel at a whim and communicate at a distance is extremely useful, so I have no intention of hindering that.” He stands up and walks around the back of the wagon, holding onto the poles for support. “You should take the paintings, they’re pretty light and should fetch a decent price. Make sure you stay in the walled part of town, not the slums, and stay away from Jerome’s if you’re alone, his guards can be surly. You should try the Temple of Sune first for unloading the paintings, as the priests tend to be art-lovers. If that doesn’t work, try the school (the instructors are well-paid), Aylaran’s Silver Shop (she sometimes deals in art, but mostly metalwork and sculpture), or the market by the docks (look for the fattest most ostentatiously dressed shop-keepers). I don’t think there is a proper Bowyer in town but Aylaran also deals in some decent weapons, so you might check there for a bow—don’t trust Petroff’s, his stuff his mostly junk—cheaply and quickly made for hotheaded youngsters fresh from the training hall. You might also ask the Gondsmen, they’re good at crafting all kinds of things. Just don’t let them sell you on any improvements.”

Lyra
Lyra rubs her head again, completely missing the innuendo. “What would be the best place to enter town but not startle anyone? I’m most familiar with the temple to Tyr, but I wouldn’t want to impose.”

GM
Brother Rant speaks up, “If you transport yourself to the women’s dormitory I am sure Sister Theymr would not mind.”

Lyra
Lyra stands up and straightens her dress and cloak. She takes the strange green broadsword, but not the bow and quiver, and carefully picks up the stack of paintings. “I’ll contact you when I have concluded my business in town and am ready to return, or if there is an unexpected change in plans. I assume if I will be reporting on the undead to the council, I will be delayed for some time.”

Frantiska

Frantiska starts to say, “Wait, about the bow…” then sees Lyra vanish. She sighs. “I’m going to ride ahead again and make sure things are clear,” she says to no one in particular, though Donovan and Rant are closest. She gently snaps Thistledown’s reins and the horse shoots ahead down the road, mane, tail, and Frantiska’s hair streaming behind them.