Monday, September 15, 2014

Inquisitor Faustus and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

13 Eleint

Faust, having arrived in Hillsfar in a “the enemy of my enemy must know more about my enemy than me” kind of mindset, questioned the Professor Aiderns and the Maid in the Iron Mask about Hillsfar, looking for leads on who in the town might know how to get him into Zhentil Keep. After getting everything he thought he could from the three locals, he decided that the shrine of Torm should be his first stop.

While walking to the shrine, Faust came abreast of another man, similarly concealed under a cloak and moving under cover of darkness. The man moved to intercept Faust, but appeared unarmed. When addressed, the man explained that he was in love with a woman from a family that was warring with his own and asked Faust to deliver a letter to the lady for him. Faust agreed and was given the wax-sealed letter and a crystal which that man said would “transport him to within striking distance of the lady’s home and then lead him to her,” when struck against a hard surface. The man then slinked off and Faust went his way.

Just before dawn, Faust arrived at the Shrine of Torm, a simple marble statue of the god with a stone offering bowl inside a small garden attached to a modest dwelling. No one was about, so he decided to rest and pray before the shrine. He waited until dawn had passed and the streets had become lively, but still no one came to the shrine.

Faust went and knocked on the door of the house, then waited a quite a long time, listening to the sounds of someone being roused from bed, then stumbling down the stairs. Finally the door opened and he was greeted by Rayko Moonwind, a sleep-addled, middle-aged man wearing the stole of an ordained layman. The shrinekeeper invited Faust in, offered him some tea, and proceeded to attempt to answer Faust’s questions concerning local politics, Hillsfar’s relationship with the Zhents, and who in the city might know how he might get into Zhentil Keep. The man tried to be helpful, but knew little, eventually direction Faust to seek out a scholar named Grond at his home near the university. Faust turned to leave, but felt suddenly dizzy, nauseous, and feverish. Rayko suggested that he should seek out a healer at the medical school.

Faust made his way out into the street and began walking in the direction of the university, only to be accosted by a pair of Red Plume soldiers. “What’s that under your cloak?” one asked.

“A shield,” Faust replied.

“Aren’t you even going to try to lie to us? Alright then…”

Faust, with some puking on his part and some snide comments from the guards about public drunkenness, was taken in hand by the two soldiers and bounced off towards the Hillsfar Arena where he was thrown in a cell for the crime of bearing arms in public. He protested a bit and asked about “due process” (and other such nonsense)—only to have it pointed out that they had asked and he had admitted to the crime.

Faust was thrown in a cell with a two human children and a dwarf, all three of which were in for violating the city curfew, an elf slave, in for “theft” (running away), and a sailor with a sword on his hip, who was also in for violating the no-weapons ordinance. He was allowed to keep all of his equipment and was informed that his “trial by combat”, or “execution” as some of the guards referred to it, was scheduled for the afternoon. He puked again and, noticing flees on himself, tried to explain to the guards that he had “the plague”, but was ignored. Faust curled up in a corner of the cell and went to sleep.

Faust was awakened, still exhausted and feverish, several hours later to the sounds of a crowd massing above. They listened to the sounds of prisoners being dragged from adjacent cells for some time, then, finally a half-dozen soldiers came to Faust’s cell. The guards grabbed the elf slave to haul away, but Faust insisted that they should take him instead. So the guards deprived Faust of his shield, handing it to the elf and making some snide remark that if he was trading execution times with the elf, he should trade crimes as well.

Faust was marched down the hallway and thrown through a door into the Arena. He stood dazed for some time by the bright sun and the noise of a crowd of thousands cheering. When he could see again, he noticed the torn-up corpses of a fair number of slaves littering the sand of the Arena floor, and a trio of lions (looking extra angry because they were being held away from their kills by long chains).

Faust raised his hammer, shouted something about Hillsfar “being judged” and unleashed a guiding bolt at the nearest lion. The bolt hurt the lion, but in a way that only served to enrage the beast more. Seeing that he was overmatched, Faust pulled the crystal from his pouch and banged it against his hammer.

A lattice of light suddenly surrounded Faust, enmeshing him in its glow. Suddenly, he found himself sealed within a room of crystal. Nightmare landscapes rushed by outside, each flashing past so quickly he wasn’t really sure of what he’d seen. Eventually the buffeting motion of the crystalline room slowed and came to a halt. The faceted walls unfolded around him and dissolved back into the small stone he was holding.

The sky above Faust was a dull red, colored by a huge sun. The land mostly flat except for clusters of craters dotting the dusty expanse. Hills lay a few miles off to to his right, and a lake of black, evil-looking water was visible straight ahead. No sound from any living creature broke the eerie silence.

Faust followed a trail up into the hills, lead by a slight pull from the crystal he held. The trail was littered with the rotting corpses of winged, vaguely humanoid beasts with spiny-skin and bifurcated tails. All had apparently been traveling in the direction he was now headed. He stopped to search a few of the corpses and acquired a new shield and a spiked mace made of a strange green metal.

At the first ridgeline, Faust came to a cross-roads, with one path leading down to the black lake and another heading further into the hills. A skull impaled on a pike at the crossroads began spouting green flames and spoke to him, warning that both paths were perilous and would leave him “ruing the decision for the rest of his mortal existence and then some”.

Deciding that he had clearly been duped, Faust broke the seal on the letter and read it. It said, in the tongue of the Baatezu:

Joy in desire more than desire of joy
Hath ever been my passion: mute from far
To love an unknown woman like a star;
To build in dreams no waking could destroy
Some island-palace far from life’s annoy;
By strength of spirit to force the silver bar
Of twilight till the dawn-gates stood ajar,
And gaze on Paradise, a dazzled boy;
To look forth o’er the ocean’s grey-lit foam
In the dim morning; and in starry night
Upon the myriad-mustered worlds above;
To emulate the unequalled, Greece and Rome,
Heroes and deeds, the heads of faith and fight;
To adore thee whom I may scarcely love.

It was signed “Kas’rarlin” and really was a love it seemed. He chose the hills and kept walking…

There were more devilish corpses along the trail, many being fed upon by large one-eyed bat-like creatures with scorpion-like tails. He gave the scavengers wide berth, and, after a few more miles of walking, he came to an octagonal tower, bristling with spikes and blades, with a gate shaped like a gaping fanged maw. Seeing no other living creatures around, he strode in.

Inside he found a mostly normal-looking receiving chamber: a large table covered with papers and quills, a few chairs, cloaks hanging from pegs on the walls. Sure, there was the spike-filled oubliette in the back corner, and a mosaic on the floor depicting a man being dragged down into the Abyss by feminine hands—but other than those things it seemed perfectly normal.

Faust swapped his old cloak for an attractive black one hanging on the wall. He stopped to rest for a while in the receiving room and, his mind wandering, suddenly found himself transformed into a bat. Realizing that it must be the cloak, and having heard footsteps above, he flew out of the tower and circled it from the exterior, alighting on a balcony on the third floor.

He knocked politely and was greeted by a beautiful woman, dressed for bed, with a pair of bat-like wings folded against her back. She demanded to know what he was doing on her balcony and he proceeded to recite the poem, then handed over the letter. Quite surprised, the woman, thanked him, invited him inside, and led him back down to the receiving room where she quickly wrote out a reply, sealing it with a kiss and spraying it with perfume.

Faust took the letter, excused himself, and walked out of the tower…

14 Eleint:

…As he walked away, a cream-colored butterfly alighted on his shoulder. He brushed the thing away, and, with a flash, suddenly found himself back in Hillsfar, in the alley where he had first met the stranger. It was night, and the city was lit up by a huge fire in the south, near where the university should be.

Faust began running for the docks, only to find a screaming mob fleeing in the same direction. The ship he had arrived on was pulling away, people clinging to the gunwales and climbing over each other to get aboard before it left, crying out about the plague. When the ship was no longer within reach, the crowd began commandeering other vessels in an attempt to escape the city.

Faust sighed and wandered down to the Drowned Rat, where he had told the man to meet him. The strange man was the only patron seated in the otherwise vacant bar. Faust took a seat across from him and delivered the letter. Kas’rarlin thanked Faust and passed him a small pouch. When Faust asked the man what he was, the man shed his cloak, grew to twice his normal size, and revealed himself to be a leering, winged devil, bristling with terrible spines and a crown of deadly horns. The barkeep fainted dead away at the sight. The devil thanked Faust again and vanished.

Left to his own devices, Faust opened the pouch, revealing 50 platinum coins and a rainbow colored gem. He stashed his earnings and walked back to the shrine of Torm to get some rest.