11 Rova, 4711 (11 September, 2011)
Journal of Lostara Rufano
Today, after a pouring rain rendered our busking attempts quite pointless, we (Nix and I) went to Vizio’s tavern in the rego Scripa, to attend a most curious meeting.
Our friend Janiven Key (she’s worked for several guilds and mercantile interests, sometimes as a caravan guard but more often as a city guide and bodyguard for visiting merchants and business partners that the guilds want to keep out of trouble with local thugs or the shadow beasts that patrol the streets at night. Janiven has a reputation of being a bit rash (for example, she recently dragged her charge half-dressed out of a whorehouse when he refused to head back to a safer part of town before sundown) but quite trustworthy) invited us, and was very mysterious about the whole affair, promising that all would be made clear directly.
Nix was very cautious; using his Scripa contacts to find out about this Vizio.
It turned out, that Vizio’s was a place where merchant guards went to relax, gripe about their employers, and look for more work. Several months ago, however, the Vizio patriarch passed away, and the surviving family moved out of Westcrown to go live with kin in distant Corentyn. The place has new owners reputed to be a half-elf man and a human woman—although they seem to be taking their time getting the tavern off the ground and open for business.
So when we showed up, in time for supper, we asked Jan about this and she told us, that she and her partner were indeed the new owners.
Supper was satisfactory but not exceptional; roasted fowl and ground tubers with greens and a boiled sun-cake to finish up. At the table we met:
a garderner from the rego Pena, Stuggs by name;
a studious, clerical man called Urta;
a massive, seemingly slow-witted Tiefling named Karsa who is a tavern bouncer;
an arcane practicioner, Simon-Louie;
a shop-girl Halfling called Tiddley, whom I suspect of having a larcenous streak;
and her friend, a cleric named Drella.
Janiven joined us; she seemed preoccupied and even a bit worried. I asked her about this and she admitted that she was concerned about her partner, who should have been at Vizio’s by suppertime. But, overcoming her worry she called our meeting to order after the cloth was pulled and the nuts were brought out. She assured us that we’ll be done in less than an hour, with plenty of time left over for everyone to get home before sunset. Her speech was short, but delivered with great passion. I’ve tried to copy it here:
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me here. I have chosen each of you for a singular reason —everyone here, myself included, has suffered, whether we realize it or not. I have lived in Westcrown my whole life, and although I love this city, I must admit, as must you, that despite our peace and prosperity, we continue to suffer. Fear should not be an expected part of life, and yet each night brings fear to our doorsteps.
Yes, Westcrown has been safe from war and famine for nearly seventy years, and yes, our businesses has prospered—but this safety and prosperity has been bought in the coinage of fear and prayers to Hell. Other lands live free from tyranny. Other cities do not fear the night. Other governments do not cede the streets to monsters of the infernal shadows.
Westcrown was once such a place, and she wants to be such a place again.
Westcrown is not only her buildings and canals and docks and history—she is also her people. Westcrown is our friends and neighbors, our mothers and fathers, our siblings and cousins, our sons and daughters! With but a small group of supporters and dedicated brothers and sisters, we can earn the trust and admiration of those people. A Westcrown free of these shadowy beasts that stalk our streets is one step closer to a Westcrown free of the devil that is the Thrice-Damned House of Thrune!”
Jan truly believes that she and a small group of like-minded friends can improve the lives of the people of Westcrown, but that they must take care not to appear as rebels or rioters. We must form their own band of protectors, and must work to win the admiration and support of the citizens by doing good works and providing what aid they can. Key to this tactic is the fact that Westcrown is largely ignored by the rulers of Cheliax as a home-in-exile for the old nobility. As long as we work to win the hearts of Westcrown’s citizens by good deeds and avoid as many direct entanglements with the government as we can, the House of Thrune will continue to ignore what they’ll interpret as “petty squabbling” in the old capital.
After this we were all quite moved and each expressed our willingness to support and take part in this righteous endeavor, starting with the pious Urta – it turns out he is a priest of the Bodyguard, Iomedae herself. Even the dull witted Karsa showed some enthusiasm.
But our camaraderie was short-lived! A teenaged urchin, winded from running, burst into Vizio’s – “They’ve got Arael!” he called out, then immediately doubled over in a fit of coughing brought on by his long run. Janiven’s face grew grim as she comforted the lad and asks him to explain himself; in a moment the lad recovered enough to spurt out, “The dottari nabbed Arael, and the Hellknights of the Rack are trying to get custody of him! There’s a bunch of Hellknights on their way here now! I only just made it in here; they’ve already surrounded us!”
Janiven explains hurriedly that Arael is her half-elf partner, who had been expected at Vizio’s some time previously. At that point, the sound of clanking armor advancing on the tavern became apparent. The urchin was indeed correct! I went to a shutter and counted twelve armigers and at least three full fledged Hellknights – Knights of the Rack if I saw the insignia right and I think I did. There was no hope for it but to flee.
Jan had prepared for this; a sturdy hatch is pulled up and a passage revealed leading below the cellar – down, indeed, into the sewers of Westcrown!
She then tries to delay the Hellknights by closing the kitchen door, pulling down shelves to create obstacles, and using a tanglefoot bag to further complicate things, before following me
through the hatch. The urchin, Morosino by name, has gone to the front with Karsa to show him the way. He is showing us curious sword-shaped marks, cut into the walls down here.
Janiven explained, “Arael and I made these marks a few months ago when we explored the sewers. We marked all the intersections so our people could find their way.”
As we travel, the noise of the Hellknights tearing apart Vizio’s Tavern diminishes, but Janiven is sure they’ll follow: “They might take a few minutes to search in the tavern, but some are going to follow us down here after they grab a lantern or make torches. They might even try to infiltrate the sewers ahead of us if they can guess our route. We need to keep moving.”
And keep moving we do. We split up – Janiven with Stuggs, Tiddly, Simon, Drella and Morosino, and me with Nix, the priest Urta, and Karsa. In this way we will confuse pursuit and hopefully get clear.
Our malodorous, underground trek carried us into the path of Hellknight Armiger trios not once, not twice but three times – and the third time, they were already engaged with skeletal undead when we smashed them. None escaped to tell any tales, each one found a new home at the base of the sewer pits. Also many more of the strange skeletons were uncovered but the priest Urta knows how to burn them with holy fire! Praise be to Iomedae!
After a night of flight and filth in the sewers we found the way out – just as we were ready to
collapse from weariness. Only the indefatigable Urta was still chipper on this morning.
Janiven and her charges met us at this former temple of Aroden, our safe house. All of her group escaped the trap unscathed – the gods smile upon us indeed. Over breakfast Jan tells us, when Arael first came to Westcrown several years ago, he was distraught at the condition of the city’s abandoned shrines to Aroden. Nowhere else, he thought, had the corruption and fall of the once proud empire of Cheliax more blatantly exposed its shame than in this… The ascendancy of Asmodeus-worship has discouraged many people from public worship of other gods, leading to some temples closing as their followers stopped attending, prayed at home, or changed to other churches.
This shrine to Aroden, like many others throughout Westcrown, isn’t technically abandoned—it belongs to the church of Iomedae now, but no one has tended it for years. Arael decided to use this old shrine as a safe house for his latest project for precisely these reasons. The combination of it being a sacred place to his religion and being a building the city government ignores makes it a perfect place to serve as our headquarters.
Furthermore, long-standing laws that forbid secular groups from looting, rebuilding, or
otherwise harming houses of worship work well to prevent too much Hellknight interest in the building. Yet just to be safe, Arael is careful to hide all indications that the shrine is now inhabited. Its facade is as old and filthy as it ever was, and he’s covered all interior doors and windows with dark curtains to block light sources from within. Very few of Westcrown’s citizens know that Arael has cleaned up the interior of the shrine—and most of those are now among us, his growing group of followers.
These followers include (besides those already mentioned) :
Amaya (CG female Tian human expert 1): Amaya is a well-mannered glassblower and an incredibly beautiful woman who’s somewhat self-conscious about the effect her appearance has on others—she dresses plainly as a result. She hopes someday to visit her distant kin who still live in Magnimar and Sandpoint. (Potential: bard.)
Ermolos (NG male Chelish human expert 1): Ermolos is incredibly muscular, a physique the result of a long apprenticeship as a blacksmith. He walks with a slight limp—a lingering effect of a childhood illness. His father, Ermolos the Elder, was a relatively well-known adventurer who vanished on an ill-fated journey to Thuvia several years ago—Ermolos still clings to the hope to some day travel across the Inner Sea to find his missing parent. (Potential: fighter.)
Fiosa (LG female halfling expert 1): Fiosa is a house servant who is friends with many halfling slaves; she takes advantage of her freedom to help her kin as best she can. She has a very real respect for Janiven and Arael after they helped her smuggle several halfing slaves out of Westcrown (and out of a particularly heinous merchant’s home), and her newfound faith in Iomedae is quite strong. (Potential: cleric.)
Gorvio (N male Chelish human expert 1): Gorvio works for his uncle Jacovo, a horse trader, but has increasingly grown curious about his ancestry—his vibrant amber eyes (among hints he’s overheard from his uncle during the man’s frequent drunken bouts) make him suspect that somewhere in his past lurks the blood of a tiefling or two. (Potential: sorcerer.)
Larko (N male Garundi human commoner 1): Larko lives a simple life as a dock worker, but daydreams of his childhood in the hills east of Westcrown and hopes some day to be able to afford to move out of the city and live a hunter’s life. He’s the strong, silent type, rarely speaking unless he has to. (Potential: ranger.)
Mathalen (LN female Chelish human commoner 1): Mathalen is a thin and wiry woman who worked as a porter but found the job dreadfully dull. She got through her days by making sure to take frequent breaks to meditate and purge her mind of “the poisons of menial labor.” This attitude struck her employer as lazy, and she was recently fired from her job and thinks of the Society as her new calling. (Potential: monk.)
Rizzardo (CN male Varisian human commoner 1): After stowing away on a Chelish ship, Rizzardo found himself more or less stuck in Westcrown years ago. He earns his keep working at odd jobs as an unskilled laborer, but has to switch jobs frequently as a result of his temper and impatience at following orders from one person for too long. He only joined the Society because of a powerful attraction to Janiven, but has since grown to enjoy the company of the others, particularly Ermolos, who he insists sounds like his little brother. (Potential: barbarian.)
Sclavo (LG male Garundi human expert 1): A soft-spoken yet intractable (if secret) worshiper of Iomedae, Sclavo has long worked as a scribe for one of Westcrown’s courts. He longs for a day when the laws of Cheliax can be reformed, and sees this group as a tool that, eventually, can be used to do just that. (Potential: paladin.).
Tarvi (CG female Chelish human commoner 1): Tarvi’s parents own a prosperous jewelry store in Westcrown—the “Glitter Palace.” She’s worked there for years, but is far too witty and intelligent to do the job well. In those years she has engineered the failure of no less than a dozen attempts by her parents to get her married into nobility. Her true passion is studying magic—she has little time for romance, and hopes some day to be able to create and sell magical jewelry. (Potential: wizard.)
Vitti (N male Chelish human expert 1): Vitti is a strange, eccentric man who dyes his hair green and refuses to eat any food he doesn’t grow or catch himself. A talented woodcarver whose works earn him a modest income, he prides himself on the fact that he only carves wood that’s been harvested from deadfalls and other trees that died of natural causes. (Potential: druid.)
Yakopulio (CN female gnome expert 1): Of all the Society, noisy and irreverent Yakopulio is the least religious—she wears her atheism proudly, and her eagerness to contradict often sparks arguments among the others in the group. She works as a bartender (and moonlights as a pimp) at a tavern called the Bruised Eel, and many of the others in the Society don’t understand what Arael sees in the offensive gnome. (Potential: rogue.)