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The Cabal of Eight Pt.24: Plate of Scorpions

Fauna (played by Jenn) rapped on the black lacquered wooden gate beyond a rounded plaster archwayGornix mages guild insignia sunk into a white plaster wall. Meanwhile Excor (played by Cris) cast Prestidigitation on himself to clean up and produced a 15gp bottle of fine wine from his robes hoping to allude to his social refinement (an Ivoran noble enraptured with Westlander chic).

The cast iron peep opened and through the iron grill, they could see the sour-face of an aged servant. He immediately admonished Fauna to use the bell-pull, which was right next to the gate next time. So she pulled it as the servant opened the gates to let them in eliciting a disgusted sigh.

Cris: “Ha-ha! Typical druid.”

The servant was a skinny hunched Ezmerian of advanced age. He had a short but pointed white beard, a polished sun-darkened pate, and a well-worn dark blue cloak hanging from his boney shoulders. They entered the gate and thus the servant guided them through the short outer courtyard into the entrance foyer. The primarily Hyvalian style home was a luxurious two story which they could see as they walked through the courtyard.

The entrance foyer had red plastered walls with a black lacquered double door in each with only the one through which they were to be led ajar. The ceiling was open to the sky with the tiled roof over-hang angled down to direct rainwater into a shallow central tiled pool, a water collection basin. Tucked in a corner, a plaster model of the city surrounded by bronze dragon on a columnar pedestal. The dragon’s gold plating was flaking from the collecting verdigris of the bronze underneath.

He led them through the open door into a colonnaded walkway surrounding a formerly lush atrium through which they could see the shuddered windows of the story above that overlooked it. They walked to the right where three archways opened along the walkway, the first being the dining room. All three white plaster walls of this room bore murals depicting well-dressed diners, though in archaic fashion, enjoying drunken feasts of plenty. However, the paint had fallen away with some of the plaster in several places due to neglect.

The group took their seats in high-backed chairs set around the rectangular dining table. The dark wood table was set with gold candlesticks and plates of fresh fruit on a plain white cloth. The group was jenky about sampling the fruit and the hors d’oeuvre when served fearing poison or drugs. Gornix (played by Gil) and Excor were loath to eat until Fauna having faith in her cult leader partook. Szoo (played by Isis) was stuffing his face regardless.

It was during hors d’oeuvres that their hostess made her grand entrance and introduced herself as Virtra Wefa. She carried herself with great confidence in her elegant attire. Sweeping into the room she glided to her seat after the refined manners of an Ivoran noble. She was quite a beautiful older woman. Although worn deep into her face was a permanent bitterness. She had stark black eyes with straight dark auburn tresses that fell well below her waist. Her hair was secured with two large gold hairpins and pulled back tight from her high ivory forehead. Gold raindrop earrings dangled from her ears.

The Ivoran dinner tradition was followed ritualistically not out of a true sense of tradition but out of habit carried out joylessly by the lady and her servants. Excor and Gornix were the only members of the cabal to interact at this time. They exhibited a refined social aptitude and understanding of formal Ivoran tradition. This prompting questioning glances from Fauna and Szoo that were left unanswered. Dinner started with an aperitif, a strong syrupy yellow wine-liqueur. Awkward conversation and pleasantries ensued.

Virtra told them that they were awaiting a late and for now nameless dinner guest so seconds on the aperitif would be permissible. For some reason this prompted Gornix to try to charm the stone faced and grim woman.

Gil: “It’s so I can get in there. I want to marry her for her money.” Cris high-fived him.

Nevertheless, it was all in vain Virtra easily saw through his clumsy overtures. Clearly, she considered him her social inferior though he decided to give his full name and aristocratic lineage in the effort. His full name was Achiren Gorenix and he was the youngest son of a minor noble family in an Ivoran city-state to the north along the Ivoran Coast.

After an hour or so according to the candle-clock at the rear of the room, the last guest finally arrived. To the consternation of the young mages, the long awaited surprise guest was Crochi Aengham. The very same Crochi Aengham that was the Sapphire Confraternity Seeker that summoned them to the guildhouse for a discovery hearing. As he sat, Excor spotted a similar rope scar around his collar as Fauna had also happening to spot the same on Virtra even under her heavy gold and silver necklace. He did his best to not share this observation via voice or expression.

Cris: “D@%n! Why didn’t I notice before?”

The GM (me): “Because you didn’t bother to check.”

Cris: “D@%n guilds! D@%n cults! Screw this I’m not doing anything she wants us for!”

Dinner ensued. Bread and ale soup with bits of smoked meat and onions sprinkled with dried seaweed along with a platter of smoked fish, fried eel in salty sweet sauce, stacks of steaming flat bread, roasted mild yellow peppers, and a very dark purple wine in clay decanters were served. The few bits of conversation had in between dishes and dripping mouthfuls acquainted the young mages with Virtra’s dwindling family fortunes. As well as her plan to run for mayoral office on the Green Sash (the Oaks) ticket since she could no longer afford to be a part of the Gold Sashes (for a description of Ezmer’s political parties see The Cabal of Eight Pt.8: A Second Meeting).

Once upon a time her family had been of the top nobility but the current era had diminished her inherited holdings a generation prior and prevented any reclamation on her part by any effort. Excor thought that the candidates had already been declared. She explained that the vote to officialize them had not yet been made. There were just no other contenders currently. However, she had a plan.

Cris: “Ugh, I f@*#in’ hate politics.”

After the meal the digestif arrived, a berry-brandy served on a wooden tray, and the pipes came out. It increasingly seemed that Virtra and Crochi had something to say to the group. Nevertheless, they were saving it until their hospitality had relaxed their guests. Again, the young mages, save Fauna, became paranoid after realizing such.

Isis: “Let’s just hear what they got to say and get out of here!”

Gil: “Yeah man, before they try and do something crazy to us.”

Virtra began by telling them that the Dragon Summer (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.8: A Second Meeting) could be an advantage to her and her comrades’ goals but didn’t elaborate. Her “plan” implied that it would attract Whers to the city somehow. Then she dropped that she wanted the mages to do a job for her.

Virtra: “A representative from the Breadbasket is arriving in a week or two under guard to confirm the Oaks’ candidate, one Firstborn Hufom.”

Excor: “Reasonable people for reasonable cost.”

Cris: “Wait man, they may want us to assassinate him.”

She explained that if Hufom did not attend the inter-party vote those who would normally vote with him could be easily swayed. Therefore she could swoop in with her confederates to become the chosen candidate.

Virtra: “It would be best if he were to be permanently in dispose.”

Gornix: “Nope.”

Isis: “No WAY!”

Fauna (still internally trusting her leader): “I dunno guys…”

Excor: “Hell No!”

The group had made their decision and in no uncertain terms carved it in stone. Full-well knowing that they were now privy to information that could get them all killed they prepared to take their leave . It was likely that assassination attempts were to come their way shortly.

Excor (taking a rare break from his pipe): “Well. Just out of curiosity. How much would it pay?”

Virtra: “10,000 gold pieces.”

Fauna: “We’ll do it!”

Gornix: “Well we just have to stall the guy so he can’t vote right?”

Szoo: “Hell YES!”

Excor: “Okay we’ll do it but we won’t kill him. We’re not assassins. Also a 2,000 gold piece advance from the 10,000.”

Virtra: “Done.”

Before they departed, the time-scale would demand their leaving the city heading towards the breadbasket along the Trade Road East. They hoped that they would run into Hufom already in transit in 5 days’ time on the road. Virtra was to supply the driver and a wagon.

Over the next three days the young mages divvied up Virtra’s advance into 500-gp apiece shares, Gornix studied Haxat’s spellbook, and Excor busied himself transferring the rat cages housed in his and Gornix’s apartments to Jirek’s warehouse with a pair of porters he had hired for the job. Fauna on the other hand embarked on a small adventure on her own.

In preparation for the coming adventure, Fauna went to pick up alchemical supplies and components to brew some potions in the bazaar. She also wanted to stock up on yellow lotus and unable to secure a supplier on her own tracked down her contact, one Kosapio Belahgastro. Kosapio was a Creschan ex-pat and somewhat successful sea-trader. From the dusky Creschan woman Fauna learned of some adventurers of the Brighthouse faith, Kosapio being one of the faithful, newly arrived in town that have encountered something that they called The Tower of the Lotus (see A Mage from Poisonwood II Pt.8: Tower of the Lotus) in Rockhollow in addition to a possible lotus dealer. Therefore, the druidess decided to track a lotus dealer in a seafront dive that Kosapio had warned her against doing.

By late that afternoon, Fauna had found her way to the aforementioned locale in the harbor district alley-side between the shipwright and the Rondel (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.7: A Red Rat). It was an infamous bilge-polluted watering hole called the Black Barrel due to the scorched rotted wood barrel hanging over its saloon doors. From just outside she could smell the gross stink of ammonia, sticky dried ale, and a hint of the soaked lemon peel used halfheartedly to scrub the bar. As she entered, she saw a mostly naked corpse lying face down in a dark pool of its own coagulated blood. The Black Barrel was full of salty sea dogs, some obviously pirates mixed with thugs and various other shady individuals. Their bodies certainly added a palpable spice to the already thick and foul air within. None acknowledged the corpse.

So ignoring the corpse and the thick atmosphere Fauna surveyed the scummy crowd. She located her man holed up in a far corner surrounded by Bronzehead bodyguards who occupied the tables to either of his sides. Without much issue, she was able to procure some yellow lotus, 5 doses at 100 gp each. After that she continued to the market district to purchase more supplies amounting to a half wheel of cheese, 2 shovels, two 50lb. sacks, and 40 days trail rations.

Cris: “Man! One-Hundred Gold Pieces a Dose! You should’ve went for my contact um … Babia’s shop she might have a new shipment.” (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil for more info on Babia)

The following day before their departure the young mages continued to hurry to prepare and finish a few things. Excor & Gornix spent the day copying spells from Haxat’s book and Fauna brewed a See All potion. Gornix also managed to brew a Bear’s Endurance potion but which had the opposite effects (a fortunate[?] roll of a Natural 1). Finally they attended their cabal meeting on the 28th of Early Summer of which their leaders (Belrae and Riahm) were still absent yet to return from their expedition. The meeting itself was uneventful. The young mages had enough courtesy to alert the other present members (Jirek and Bumble) that they were also due to depart and would miss the next meeting on the 7th of High Summer.

The young mages filtered into the taproom of the Red Helm after the meeting. Gornix demanded from his companions that they have a “real plan” before they left on “the mission”. The players actually did spend about an hour arguing back and forth and coming up with various plans and ideas. Ultimately, however, they decided to “just wing it”.

The next morning of the 1st of High Summer as the golden orange of dawn was still just peaking over the walls the integral four mages met at the city gates. There they found the wagon waiting and its almost too friendly teamster, Corje ready to move out. They began to ride away through the massive city gates at opening. As they passed under the great arch, Excor spotted the ever ubiquitous noose scar around Corje’s throat.

Cris: “They sent that guy to make sure the job’s done. Whatever. Long as I don’t see ‘em do it.”

His tone of voice suddenly switched.

Cris: “Or to get rid of us after it’s done!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.23: Trial of the Cabal

Dawn broke over the high walls and battlements of Ezmer. The sky was aglow with deep gold and streaked with shadowed purples, pinks, and reds. The large purple moon and its great ring was but a shadow quickly fading. Similarly the lurking dregs of the city that lurked sank back as the sun rose. The foot traffic over the cobblestone streets turned from rag pickers to early rising laborers, merchants, and then tradesmen. The filth that had spent the night fermenting in the gutters began to flow anew as fleets of chamber pots emptied and faulty jakes began to overflow with the city’s morning movement.

It was the morning of the 24th of Early Summer, Excor (played by Cris), Gornix (played by Gil), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis) gathered for breakfast at the Red Helm tavern. They were uncharacteristically silent during their meal as the cool salted morning air was heavier than usual. After finishing breakfast, they had uniformly decided to leave all of the items that they had stripped from Haxat’s corpse in the Cabal Room upstairs for safekeeping. In preparation of the mandatory hearing that afternoon, they agreed to meet back up in front of the Red Helm on the eve of the hour of their appointment. From there they would then swing by and “scoop up” Jirek as a friendly witness and go as a group to the sapphire guildhouse.

Gil: “What if we don’t show?”

Cris: “Man they’ll just hunt us down!”

Gil: “We can hide or something.”

Cris: “They’ll find us! We can hide outside of the city.”

Gil: “Well…”

Cris: “Do you want to leave the city! ‘Cause that’s what we’ll have to do!”

Gil: “Oh.”

Until then they were on their own and free to finish any business they had before the trial. Hence Excor went to the shop district and there he bought a silver chain. Fauna went to Wensaer’s little alchemy shop and bought an Alchemist’s Kit. The old shopkeeper kept trying to engage her in conversation and asked about the Sapphire guild. Wensaer asked if she knew Gornix, she lied and said no, the old brown-robed alchemist believed her (successful bluff). Therefore she left with her kit. Szoo put in an order at a tailor shop for a new cloak, red with gold trim. Gornix was in the cabal room copying spells later joined by Excor. Eventually came the fateful hour and they gathered in front of the Red Helm before scooting off to the college library and from there to the Sapphire Confraternity Guildhouse in Guildsman’s Square.

The Sapphire guildhouse was a large multi-story expensively masoned stone-block building with a bronze mansard roof bearing a turquoise-green patina. The guards showed them through the finely made bronze double-door into a cathedral-like main hall with a huge dragon’s skull set into the floor among the flags. Guards herded them into a side passage then through a plain wood double-door and into a high ceilinged drearily plain room with unadorned stone block walls. The only light was from three tall and narrow glass paned lancet windows with intersecting tracery crisscrossing in black over the white sunlight.

Directly under the windows and limned by the blue shafts of light beaming in from the outside was the high bench upon which the stern-faced arbiter sat and on either side of that was the council-box where 12 council members of the guild sat and heard the evidence. In front of the tall and intimidating bench stood the Bailiff, a large humorless man with a brown beard striped with white and a well-made longsword at his side. The defendants’ box was before the bailiff and under the bench, a raised platform surrounded by a high wooden railing.

To the right of that was the Advocate’s table. An advocate being a guild official that presented the defense. On the left was the Informants’ table that acted as the prosecution or investigator for the guild. Behind a short railing which separated the front of the room where the tables, the Defendants’ box, council-box, and the bench were two rows of benches in the rear. Among the sparse pew-like benches meant for an audience sat a city magistrate and a few city guards should the need of arrest arise.

Cloaked in various elaborate clothes and robes with a blue and silver motif all of the guild officials were all old Ivorans. Some bore the silver acorn symbol of the Ezmer branch, some the eight-pointed star, though most bore a combination. Among them there was not a finger, neck, chest, or wrist that did not sparkle with expensive jewelry. It was also apparent that each was a wizard of some consequence. Along the lower gallery where the seeker (as Informant) and the young mages’ Advocate and themselves would stand adjudged stood several city guardsmen at attention armed with halberds just behind should the committee find them in criminal offense.

Thus they were put in the Defendants’ Box and the gate shut and bolted behind them. The arbiter banged his gavel and addressed the defendants.

Sapphire Guild Arbiter: “This court’s purpose is to assess the evidence before them concerning the slaying of one Haxat the Greater and to see if it warrants a trial or the involvement of any other authorities including the civil. There are no charges as of yet and any necessary fines will be levied for any violations of city statute or guildlaw due to our investigation. Do YOU understand?”

The wide-eyed defendants all nodded silently.

Excor (to his compatriots): “Aww man, these guys are here to find us guilty.”

The first order of the court was the checking of their paperwork to make sure that they were all licensed mages (the licensing fees and licenses being issued by the guild of course) within the city walls. All practicing mages were required to register with the guild office and obtain a license to practice magic with certain restrictions, which can be overcome by purchasing additional licenses and/or extensions. Otherwise, a mage cannot practice any magic or cast any spells whatsoever and is subject to fines and/or imprisonment possibly even indenturement to the civil authority or the guild. Certain other things such as brewing potions and even medicines are license extensions of which the alchemists’ guild and barbers’ guilds get a taste. After a few hours it was determined the defendants had all of their paperwork in order.

However, as the court made its way to the story of the incident with Haxat it was found that Haxat did not possess the proper paperwork. Thusly, he was deemed an outlaw mage. This boded well for the defendants. Of course, the story was told, retold, and recounted ad nauseam until the committee was satisfied that they had the whole story with every mundane detail no matter how trivial as a part of the “official record”.

This continued until the council decided that they could tease out the facts which were then scrutinized for any violations particularly those that the committee could levy fines against. The long silences between each question of the court was not only frustrating but also agonizing for the defendants.

The extreme boredom of listening to the ritual monotone readings of law and legal regulation and the signing of documents made even longer by Excor’s insistence to read everything thoroughly in addition to the group’s anticipation as to their fates was definitely wearing on them (as well as their players).

Gil: “Damn. Should we just tell them everything.”

Cris: “NO! Don’t anybody tell them anything!”

Isis: “What!? Why’re you staring at ME! I don’t know anything!”

Jenn: “F@*k these GUYS!”

Isis: “SIS!”

Fauna: “SO you didn’t find anything right?!”

Arbiter: “NO.”

Fauna: “So we’re innocent then right?!”

Arbiter: “This was not a trial. This is a fact-finding committee to assess if anyth…”

Jenn: “F@#$ you guys then! I’m outta here!”

Fauna tried to open the latched gate to the defendants’ box but a guard stopped her.

Fauna (to the bailiff): “Are we free to go yet?”

Jenn (copping a ‘tude): “I’m just going to leave I don’t care what they do!”

So Fauna leapt over the railing ducking the guard trying to block her way. The Bailiff shouted, “Hey you street urchin you can’t leave!”

Fauna (at the top of her lungs and with the dismissal of her hand): “That’s what your father said to your MOTHER!”

As a result the entire courtroom burst into laughter. The guards at the entrance smiled but crossed their halberds to prevent her leaving; the Bailiff was not so jovial.

Isis (face palming): “Oh No Sis! You don’t get us off the hook like THAT!”

Several hours later the proceedings finally adjourned. In conclusion the young cabal members were acquitted of any wrong-doing. They did garner some commendation for rescuing their comrade Jirek. However, they were also admonished to apprise the proper authorities instead of taking matters into their own hands if similar circumstances should arise.

Hence they burst out into the waning sun and tangerine pink striped sky of evening from the main doors. Fauna chose that time to inform her companions that an acquaintance of hers had invited them for dinner. Of course, they all agreed to go never ones to turn down a free meal. It was when she guided them to the gate into the Western Cliffs District that they became a little wary.

Gornix: “How do YOU know someone who lives here!”

Fauna: “Well, we all know Bumble!”

She remained vague in any answer she gave to any question related to their host so eventually they gave up. Excor was the only member not to grill her, he just watched her intently. Regardless of any doubts they followed her anyway. The guards let them through the gate as their names were on the list for the evening. Then gave them directions to the house.

Gornix: “Uh. Wait. You don’t know where she lives? HOW do you know this person?”

Needless to say, Fauna was not forthcoming with that information as she lead them following the guards’ directions.

To Be Continued…

 

Hacked – No Blog This Week

hackedThis site was hacked yesterday and repairing the damage took all of yesterday thus taking up the majority of my blogging time. As a result I do need to rebuild a part of the site thus occupying all of my remaining blog writing time for this week. Next week the Cabal of Eight will return.

In the meantime you can always check out the Tabletop Meditations articles here or visit my Hubpages here.

Thanks for your time, patience, and eyeballs.

P.S. I also wrote some articles that are on Gnomestew:

The Finer Points of the FrankenGame

Can a Sword Smile?

Can an Onion Bleed?