Loose Threads

Scene 1: Brindol Gentleman’s Club

Andraki Lenn, proprietor of this high-class tavern, prides himself on providing a clean, sophisticated venue for Brindol’s populace to seek entertainment and drink. The main attraction of the Gentleman’s Club, however, are the female dancers whose burlesque routines are as mesmerizing as they are outrageous. The most popular of Lenn’s dancers is a striking elven female known only as Corinna.

While you’re talking to the bouncers, one of the waitresses comes out of the club on break. As luck would have it, it’s Violetta; she used to work at Belden’s Rest, the Overlook inn run by the Tengs, whom you exposed as low-level worshipers of Asmodeus. Violetta, ever the professional, has clearly put the Belden’s Rest episode behind her, and doesn’t bear you any ill will. In fact, the closing of Belden’s Rest is exactly what allowed her to move to Brindol, and land a better-paying job at the Brindol Gentleman’s Club. She gives the bouncer a friendly but sharp slap on the shoulder: “These are good folk, Ron. They exposed a cult of devil-worshipers back where I’m from. Cut ’em some slack.”

You spot Ellis Sheppard in a crude disguise (wide-brimmed hat, cloak) at a table near the front. He orders a drink, which he’s forced to pay for with a large quantity of dirty copper pieces and pennies, while Violetta looks on with irritation and contempt.

After Corinna ends a dance, she finds Ellis at a side table, sits on his lap, and kisses him with an ease and intimacy that suggest they’ve done this many times before. In the bustling crowd, it’s easy enough to get close to Ellis’s table without being seen. However, the noise prevents you from overhearing more than snatches of conversation. From what you can make out, Corinna wants Ellis to buy her a particularly fine jewel, but Ellis doesn’t have the money. He reiterates that he’ll get paid when “that damn eladrin half-wit gets what’s coming to him.” Eventually, he begs Corinna to buy him another drink; while she’s at the bar, he pulls out a letter and peruses it for few seconds, then stuffs it carelessly into his back pocket.

Given Ellis’s rapidly diminishing sobriety, you don’t have much trouble purloining the letter.

Dear Sir. Regarding the merchandise in which we have expressed interest, please be advised that your first priority is to ascertain whether said merchandise can be shipped to the usual location. As our principal considers the cargo to be of exceptional value, you would receive double your usual finder’s fee, and a substantial bonus if everything is in mint condition. Please make haste with this shipment, as we intend to relocate our business in the very near future. Yours, etc.

Scene 2: Hall of Great Valor

You haven’t been to the Hall since the night of the reception in your honour. It’s unchanged, though quite deserted during the day. Sertanian, the old caretaker of the hall, greets you with a smile and hug for Nissa. He hasn’t forgotten that you saved him from death and torment in the dungeons of Castle Rivenroar. He invites you to stop a while and enjoy a cup of tea while you tell him what’s on your mind.

You intuit that the best way to open the conversation is to focus on the cut-throat mentality of Brindol’s rising moneyed class. “I wasn’t always the doddering caretaker of a dusty museum, you know,” Sertanian says. “Decades ago, I was a successful art dealer in Brindol. Oh, I wasn’t particularly wealthy, but I knew a thing or two about art, I was passionate about the business, and I didn’t make my living at anyone else’s expense. I honestly believed, then, that most other folk felt the same way I did. That is, until a conniving little upstart, Alton Wexford by name, commissioned a forgery, bribed my appraiser into passing it off as genuine, and exposed the work as a forgery. I was disgraced, forced to close down my gallery and sell off most of my collection to the very man who had ruined me. It took me twenty years to live down the shame and get this job as caretaker of the Hall of Great Valour.”

The Fist brings up his own childhood as an orphan, forced to hoist himself up out of poverty in order to earn his way in a pitiless world. It’s the sound of a trumpet to an old warhorse: Sertanian is off. He hobbles to the magically lit glass case that contains the platinum longsword you retrieved from the dungeons of Castle Rivenroar. “Look at this sword, friends, the sword you endured great peril to recover for Brindol (and praise be to you!),” he exclaims. “Its beauty is the beauty of simplicity and virtue, of honest craftsmanship and respectable toil. It’s an unblemished symbol of the truth of our collective existence, a near-perfect example of aesthetic bliss in material form.” A spasm of bitterness crosses his lined face. “However, it may interest you to know that of the paltry visitors to the Hall of Great Valour, almost no one spares a glance for this longsword. Why? Because it’s not studded with garish jewels, nor does it have a gaudy lineage or mysterious magical powers. And the nobility who are supposed to exemplify the truth that this sword represents are too busy filling their own coffers. Have you seen the row of abandoned buildings on the eastern side of town? Dozens of poor folk forced out of their homes because of a fire carelessly started by one of the town’s pampered elite a few months ago. But no one cares.”

While Sertanian knows a lot about history, you know that the city has recently taken over the abandoned buildings, with the view of turning them into warehouses for the merchant class. Construction has begun; it’s very unlikely Dara would be able to hide there.

Sertanian’s mention of abandoned buildings turns up a homeless ex-innkeeper fallen on hard times. This man, a human named Korell, is the brother of Kartenix, the traitorous former city guardsman who sold information about Brindol to Sinruth’s reconstituted Red Hand, and who was executed in the dungeons of Castle Rivenroar. According to Korell, Kartenix once owned a small cabin in the woods just west of Brindol; after Kartenix’s death, Korell figured he’d see if anyone had claimed the cabin. To his surprise when he visited one evening, he saw torches burning in the cabin. Evidently, someone else had taken possession of the cabin. “Real rough-looking types, too. Dark-haired woman with eyes that could drill right through you. Born killer, she looked like. She had a couple of blokes with wicked-looking maces flankin’ her. I knew better than to stick around. Getting involved with criminals is exactly what got Kartenix killed.”

Scene 3: The Laughing Manticore

A squalid, noisy tavern, but not without its charm. Fierce-looking warriors trade drinks and tall tales, while hardier types bet a week’s pay on winning arm-wrestling contests. Nobody glances at you twice as you enter. It’s been weeks since you’ve been in Brindol — apparently, you’re yesterday’s news.

You get invited to a game of whist by the insolent Edgar Sommerfield, newly minted as a city guard captain, and a taciturn, cold-eyed middle-aged man, John Garnett, a prison guard at the Brindol Jail (black gloves on hands).

Subtly, you manage to give yourself a few more spades and a few less clubs. This maneuver allows you to overbid on spades, with a prearranged signal letting your whist partner know what you’ve done. Applause at your bold bid, but Edgar mocks you, comparing you to a Jimmy Jordan and his friend Billy Benson (“Shaky Hands” Billy, as he was known), who would always show up pretending to be high rollers, but inevitably lose the shirts off their backs. Raucous laughter. Garnett says nothing, but offers a faint, cold smile. For some reason, the Fist feels uneasy.

You trick Edgar into thinking you have one more club than you actually have, allowing you to trump his king of diamonds with the four of spades.

Dummy only has one trump left. You’re positive Edgar has the queen of spades and eight of spades, while you have the seven and ace of spades. Turn order is: Dummy, Edgar, you, and Garnett. Acting on a hunch, you call for Dummy to lead with the ten of spades. The smart play for Edgar: play queen, force your ace out, so that Garnett’s nine is leading. Instead, Edgar blunders out of fear: he plays the eight, letting you take the trick with Dummy’s ten and the next trick with your ace, locking up Edgar’s queen. After you beat the pair and collect your winnings, an admirer from the crowd approaches. It’s the gnome Madrick of the Freeriders. He knows who you are through Megan Swiftblade, and has heard you’re looking for a dark-haired woman called Dara. He doesn’t know where she lives, but he can tell you that she includes a fierce-looking sniper in her entourage. “Don’t let that guy get a clean shot at you if you can help it,” he advises. “He can cripple you with a single arrow.”

Scene 4: The Woods

It only takes you an hour to find the woods outside Brindol. As you enter the woods, the whistling wind takes on a keening, mournful tone, as if grieving some unspoken loss of its own. A faint mist rises up from the ground, and every footfall echoes like a pickaxe striking solid rock.

Gathering your courage, you wend your way through thick clusters of trees, armed only with a torch for light. Outside the radius of your torch, the woods lie in shadow and ominous quiet. Your steely resolve allows you to trace a path through the trees, until you come upon a small clearing, where thin, arrow-shaped stones lie scattered in a rough circle. Moonlight dapples the edges of the stones, setting them a-glitter. Nothing stirs here, nothing moves. You can almost hear your own heartbeat.

This clearing was once dedicated to Corellon, god of art, music, and the fey. But what was once a place of joyous worship has turned to desolation and darkness. Unbidden, a snatch of song repeats over and over in your mind:

All is alike—joy or sorrow, whatever it be, for I have no feeling
But am, as it were, a thing stunned, ever in point to fall down
For sorry fantasies are wholly in my mind

This clearing is the site of a fey crossing, a natural portal into the Feywild. Unlike most fey crossings, this crossing cannot simply be activated by a ritual. Some sequence of events has to happen before the crossing opens.

Shivering in the chill October air, you look for a place to stand where you’ll be protected from the swirling wind. As you stride toward a large boulder that looks like it will offer some respite, you notice that one of the circle stones is pointing toward a large oak tree at the edge of the clearing. You can’t shake the feeling that pointing every stone at the oak tree might lead to something.

You arrange the stones so that they all point to the oak tree. For a few seconds, nothing happens, and you feel vaguely ridiculous. However, as you wait in the darkness of the trees, a sound gradually picks up in volume. It takes you a moment to realize that it’s a high-pitched moan, the sound of a woman in the last stages of madness and despair. So gradually that you’re not even aware that time is passing, the spectral figure of a woman appears, dangling by the neck from a rope tied to one of the branches of the tree. This is not an old crone, though, but a younger woman, who might have been beautiful in life, but whose ethereal face is now contorted by the grief of her wordless screams.

Just when you think you’ve reached your break point, the dangling figure stops screaming. In horror, you watch her broken neck unnaturally and slowly turn until her eyes are fixed on Nissa. At you lock eyes with her in mounting fear, she opens her mouth again, and whispers: “Are you my poor child?” At these words, the figure vanishes. As you rub your eyes and look around the clearing again, you notice that the stones are once again arranged as they were before.

Loose Threads

Scales of War jayrajiva