Days of Wonder

Monday January 9, 2012

Three months.

It’s been three months since I’ve laid eyes upon this killer, and yet in ways it has felt more like three years. With a raised eyebrow I observe that the time has not served this particular Drow all too well. It would be generous to refer to his clothing as tatter rags; his black, embarrassingly bare feet sink deep into the muddy cesspool that is the alleyway. From a distance I would not have believed it was he, but at close range — close enough to feel the chill from his cold, militant glare — there was no doubt in my mind that the person who now stood before me was no other than the fearsome Kelaonar Baenath.

I look over at Daedrin; he wears an expression that mirrors my own personal sentiments. He has all of a sudden made his presence known? For what purpose? Is this desperation? Is this treachery?

Three months ago, we — all four of us — had sauntered and strutted into the Old Capital, the glory of our past victories keeping our noses pointed up towards the sun and the moon in the skies. Our collective hubris had us stumbling through the most perilous of situations and wallowing through the most dangerous of dissensions. Nevertheless we continued to ignore the many signs that insistently illustrated the destruction of our group dynamic, and our first few minutes in the Old Capital became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I blink, and that entire battle rips through the insides of my eyelids. The heavy, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach upon realizing that we were neck-deep in a battle we couldn’t win. The rage at the irony that after having destroyed an entire city, after having sown the seeds for the destruction of all civilization with our combined genius, we were going to die at the hands of some dirty lycanthrope street gang. The horror upon witnessing Fflamdwynn don the Helm of Seven Deaths in a moment’s desperation. The numbing sense of inevitability that spread through my arms and legs as I watched Fflam’s small figure plummet towards the hard, stone streets of the Old Capital, two of Kel’s arrows protruding through his back and out his chest.

I blink and I see and feel all of this — and then I am back in the present, three months later, standing with Daedrin and Kelaonar in a stinking alley behind a hole-in-the-wall pub, surrounded by the sounds of distended bellies and fornication; surrounded by the overwhelming culmination of the consequences of all of our actions.

This is the fate of The Wolf Pack. The mere utterance of our name should have struck nothing less than abject terror in the hearts of any and all listeners. Yet, here we stand: one of us is dead and most assuredly not buried; one has been reduced to the level of a street urchin; the other two have been forced into working for the slimiest of gangs in the slimiest district of the slimiest of towns.

It was earlier today that, while toiling away in the “forge” (a pitiful excuse for one!), I was informed that a rugged drow was looking for me, claiming to know who I was. I immediately sent word out to Daedrin in the training fields, and we quickly made plans to rendezvous with this individual at this place and time.

Now, I hear myself ask the Drow what, after all this time, he wanted. Absently, I marvel at how casual I sound — at how easily these words seem to flow over and off my tongue. My skull resonates with the echoes of a million questions and just as many silent exclamations. However, before I can even begin to sort through them all, Kelaonar drops the bomb — in his typical deadpan, emotionless fashion no less. I can’t help but chuckle despite feeling a sharp spike of panic within me.

The drow lets us know that Argyll Houndstooth is looking for us. He lets us know that one of the most powerful and most feared Tieflings in all the world wants us alive and is willing to part with a heckuva lot of platinum to make sure this happens. A dreaded silence descends upon us like a blanket of fresh snow.

There is a moment where all words are inadequate; each of us is working through, and coming to terms with, our sudden unity amidst crisis. I inwardly curse Kelaonar’s ploy — I did not know his intentions, but at this point in time they were moot, for The Houndstooth Trading Co. was on our asses. I began this journey excited at the prospect at having Argyll as an ally — now I have been forced into a reality in which this juggernaut is a clear, present, and dangerous enemy. Something needed to be done.

But what? With a vague agreement to seek Argyll out the next day, our palaver concluded. We left with the precision of our plans matching the level of our camaraderie. Daedrin and I returned to our meagre gangland accommodations; Kel returned to the street life.

Later that night Daedrin and I were called into the offices of Maracos the Rough, the kingpin of the lycanthrope gang and our “employer”. The ugly rat man offers us seats but nothing to drink; his beady eyes regard us as prey while he lounges behind his desk, swirling a potent rum around in a grubby-looking glass.

In the dim, flickering light of a desk lamp, the notorious silver tongue of Maracos informs us that Maracos knows about our…predicament. It tells us that Maracos is offended that we would rush to honour our debts with Argyll while continuing to drag our feet towards honouring our debts with him. I bristle as it tells us how disappointed Maracos is that he, as of yet, does not own a Warforged.

Three months. I grit my teeth and silently marvel at how I have managed to persist for three whole months. I look into the smug, ignorant face of the ugly rat man and marvel yet a few moments more.

But the silver tongue of Maracos continues. It informs us that Maracos, in his wisdom, has already found a solution. Apparently the wererat had just finished up a meeting with Kel, where it was decided that the drow alone would set out to clear the debt with Argyll, “freeing” Daedrin and I up to “continue our work” with the lycanthrope “establishment”.

I exchange a quick glance with the dwarf. The plan was sound; this fact was just too difficult to deny. But one look at the greasy grin oozing out and across Maracos’ face told me that the lycanothrope kingpin WANTED us to read between the lines. There was no way the ugly rat man was going to let us out of his sight. Our employment was, in truth, not much more than a glorified imprisonment.

My chest burned with a numb, arcane wrath. This grubby little wererat had certainly managed to garner a tragically limited education along with his burdensome ignorance — but these only worked to mask a dangerous, razor-sharp wit. Whatever guile I possessed ebbed quickly away, leaving the pit of my stomach hollow and empty. All control I had presumed we held in this situation no longer existed. Indeed, I wonder if it ever had.

The impotence leaves me paralyzed. Motionless, I do nothing but listen as Daedrin’s gruff intonations end the heavy silence. Haltingly at first, but with growing confidence, he matches Maracos’ acumen step for step. With diplomatic flair he offers a sound rebuttal, putting forth a great case as to why allowing the drow to venture off on his own would not be good for business. My breath catches in my throat when he further asserts that our debt to Argyll involves no other than the Helm of Seven Deaths.

A lie and a risky ploy, but one that goads me back into the fray. For this, dear reader, despite the absence of steel, blood, and gunpowder, was indeed a battle. The weapons were our minds and wills, and we were being cornered by a villainous predator. I can see that Maracos has already begun to see Daedrin in a new light; a different kind of respect reflects off of his beady rat eyes as he nods a slow, cautious understanding to the sound reasonings of the dwarf.

I try to keep my rising desperation out of my voice as Daedrin and I insist upon the dangerous evils that the Helm of Seven Deaths introduces via its mere presence. To send one for it would be sentencing one to unspeakable forms of supplication, torture and death. It wouldn’t be long before Kel became either the Helm’s next slave — or the Helm’s next victim. Either way, Kel and the Helm would not be seen again, and nobody, theoretically speaking, stood to gain anything at all.

Except, of course, for Maracos, who stood to gain 1.5 platinum for turning Kelaonar over to Argyll to begin with. Something clicked within my head. As casually as possible, I point out to the ugly rat man that he could easily triple that amount if he turned all three of us in. Not only that, but with all three of us on the hunt for the Helm, the probability of its recovery increases exponentially. If only Maracos would be so kind as to ensure our safety from Argyll’s wrath, we would all work to bring the Helm back. Maracos has enough platinum to procure his precious Warforged muscle — and Daedrin and I are granted freedom from underneath the wererat’s thumb.

And so it was that Daedrin, Kelaonar, and I found ourselves the next morning, for the sake of appearances, bound and gagged amidst a troop of heavily-armed Tiefling soldiers in the centre of the Houndstooth Trading Co. Old Capital outpost. I take a deep breath, understanding how vital it was to stick to the plan. Nevertheless, I seethe inwardly as I regard our captor, the grotesque Iglit Houndstooth. The blue demon man was of pitiful stature; it quite looked as if this particular Tiefling had never been able to escape the curse of the Hunger. His horned head gleamed with sweat as he lumbered around his establishment, playing the big fish in a very small pond.

As Iglit and Maracos retired to an inner office to finalize all arrangements, I took solace in the fact that this would soon all be over. We would essentially be free of the lycanthrope’s clutches, and what remained of the Wolf Pack would soon be back on the road to adventure. These thoughts entertained me until they crumbled to dust at the sound of uproarious laughter.

Maracos and Iglit emerged from the inner office, chuckling and clapping each other on the back like old friends. An arcane chill slithered down my spine as I glared upon what was surely imminent treachery. After his meeting with Kelaonar, the wererat showed no signs of hesitation in offering to throw the drow underneath the proverbial horse-and-carriage. How naive of me to assume he wouldn’t consider double-crossing us at a moment’s notice! I shifted my weight in order to conceal the movements of my wrists as I tested the dexterity of my bonds. Hmm…it appeared as if these knots had been tied by slow, orc children. I sat back on my haunches, waiting for the right opportunity.

From their elevated platform, Iglit and Maracos let us know that, indeed, the terms of the agreement had changed. Maracos would still receive his 4.5 platinum, but before relinquishing us, his “captives”, over to Houndstooth, he was given permission to turn us into wererats ourselves, thus permanently enslaving us to him and his gang. With a sadistic giggle he approached us, his jaws opened wide to reveal rows of putrid, rodent teeth. Thick saliva bubbled down his chin and dripped onto his frock, as viscous as honey. I growled through my gag in frustration; this couldn’t be how it all was to end! Where the heck was Jeeves?

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The clear, baritone voice booms into existence from behind us, ricocheting off the walls and causing everyone to freeze in their tracks. Everyone in the room seems to turn in unison, and very soon all eyes are upon the new arrival. The lithe eladrin stands just inside the large open foyer, having emerged from a room deeper in the establishment. Despite donning priestly attire, his posture is imposing and violently demands respect. One hand is already reaching behind to wield the horrific battle-axe that lies in wait across his back. His dark, pupil-less eyes never stray from Maracos the Rough.

The Tiefling guards immediately draw their weapons, and the mysterious stranger lunges forward with a frightening burst of speed. Tension snaps like a cut tendon, and then there is only chaos.

Off to my left I hear a bloodthirsty roar and turn to see Daedrin tearing out of his bonds using nothing but brute strength! Like a runaway train he barrels headlong towards the raised platform. The sounds of the clashing of steel cause me to whirl around: the eladrin newcomer is practically surrounded by Tiefling guards. Paying no heed to the longswords cutting into his side, he swings his axe in large, devastating arcs. Kelaonar, also freed from his bonds, leaps upon the guards, savagely trying to wrest one of their weapons away from them.

A gurgling sound returns my attention to the platform; Daedrin has managed to vault onto the platform and wrap his large hands firmly around the neck of Iglit Houndstooth. Despite his rather short statute, the dwarf seems to loom monstrously over his adversary. A menacing, blood-curdling growl erupts from deep with his red mane of a beard. The Tiefling claws fruitlessly at Daedrin, his demonic eyes wide and frantic.

Daedrin raises his gruff voice so that his threat reverberates through the entire room: if the Tiefling guards didn’t kill Maracos right this instant then Iglit here would soon be suffering from a snapped neck. The room hesitates; for a moment nothing but the pathetic sounds of Iglit’s blubbering disturbs the sudden silence.

Maracos the Rough, the wily trickster kingpin, chuckles. He shakes his ugly little rat man head and simply mentions that if he dies, the lycanthropes would no longer be able to provide protection to the Houndstooth Trading Co. whilst they attempt to transport goods in and out of the Old Capital. Without him, the Houndstooths would have no way to conduct business. He shrugs and smiles at Iglit.

Iglit’s wide eyes snap from Daedrin, to Maracos, then back to Daedrin. A look of disdain passes across his demonic features. Hope and desperation drain from his eyes as he sneers that if the business crumbles, Argyll will kill him anyway. Resigned to his fate, he calls Daedrin’s bluff.

I grit my teeth. Maracos. I shrug out of my bonds and, grabbing the rope, race headlong towards the platform; towards the rat man. I dive headlong, catching him around the waist in an attempt to tackle him to the ground; he stumbles but doesn’t fall. Nevertheless I hold on tight as he, cursing venomously through clenched teeth, tries to wriggle free.

A sound like a clap of thunder to my right as a volume of air is suddenly displaced. My arms still firmly clamped around the rat man, I turn to see the mysterious newcomer suddenly looming over us, fearsome battle-axe raised high above his head. His robe is blossoming with large, expanding blood stains, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Beads of sweat stand upon the eladrin’s smooth forehead as his thin mouth curls into the sneer. His eyes stare daggers into Maracos’ as he brings the formidable weapon down upon the kingpin in a devastating blow!

Maracos’ howl of pain stops the action for good. Knowing that Argyll wants us alive, and considering that three of us were unarmed, the guards didn’t want to continue to fight in fear of killing us. It was now clear, however, that we would rather die than be turned into wererats, so Maracos, favouring his axe wound, begrudgingly conceded that this particular stipulation of the deal could and would not be honoured.

With everyone still on edge, it was decided that Kelaonar, Daedrin, the mystery eladrin, and I would remain at the Houndstooth Trading Co. until the arrival of Argyll. Whatever possessions we had would be brought to us. Everything was winding down — however, the eladrin still loomed over Maracos, his fiery gaze drilling deep into the lycanthrope’s soul.

His robes and his wrath told me that this individual was of the Church. He ovates his disdain for the heinous act of creating more lycanthropes, and to highlight his point he smashes the butt of his battle-axe into Maracos’ jaw, shattering it instantly. The kingpin goes down in a heep and is quickly helped away by associates. As he leaves, his black, beady eyes glare at each of us in turn, making it very clear that this was far from over.

I lay the parts of my dismantled pistols out on the bed in an organized fashion, and begin cleaning them one by one. Over several hours of downtime we’ve been able to get better acquainted with the eladrin, and he with us. He is Kal-El, a travelling avenger, who has been helping Kelaonar out here and there in his quest to survive on the mean streets. A formidable and charismatic figure, he tells us he has made his way to the Old Capital in hopes that he will be able to re-establish the presence of the Church in the city. He has no qualms about evangelism, and in the hours that have passed we have all heard our fair share of the Good News. However, considering the eladrin’s humbling prowess in battle, it is difficult to discount his claims to any significant degree.

Kal-El had arrived at The Houndtooth Trading Co. mere moments before we did. Kelaonar had told him about Argyll’s bounty the previous night and the avenger had immediately gone to the establishment in order to inform them of the drow’s whereabouts. True to the wanted poster, he was awarded 1.5 platinum, which he eventually uses to buy a house on the other side of town. It was then that we were brought in, and he stepped in just in time to prevent us from becoming lycanthropes. Truly I owe my continued, untainted goblinity to him!

The door to my room is suddenly unlocked from the outside and swung open; I turn to see a Tiefling guard standing in the doorway, the grim look on his face enough to inform me of the return of Argyll. I quickly finish up and allow myself to be led back out into the main foyer, where I join the others. Argyll Houndstooth stands upon the platform; he looks down upon us with a sharp intensity.

We hurriedly bring the powerful tycoon up to speed, and the Tiefling visibly stiffens at the mention of the Helm of Seven Deaths. Well does he know the potential evils that the helm continually hungers for. Well does he understand the importance of finding such an item as quickly as possible and removing it permanently from the world. He imparts us this task, providing that Kal-El comes with us; the eladrin is given the specific task of killing anybody — including any of us — that decides to don the helm. With that, we are returned to the streets of the Old Capital, the fate of many once more resting within our hands.



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