Ia. Bandits and Barkeeps

Session Date: March 18, 2019
Effective Character Level: 1

My human mother lived too quickly for me to know her well. My elvish father lived too slowly to want to know me. Upon my mother’s death when I was forty, with little still holding me to the current gathering of moon-elves in the Western Heartlands, I said my goodbyes and made my way out alone into the larger world.

Baldur’s Gate was my first residence, where I plied my trade as a scribe. My literacy and immaculate penmanship opened many doors for me, including those of older libraries and personal collections. I absorbed as much as I could, particularly of arcana and history, as I had judged my elven studies of these lacking. But there was no purpose to the knowledge; I simply accumulated trivia, with no greater goal in mind.

This all changed one night as I made my way back to my apartment, one summer night.

-notes from Theren’s journal

Welcome to Whitechurch

Theren’s quill paused in his journal; the barkeep approached. Four other travelers had pulled stools up alongside the half-elf in “Hunter’s Moxy,” this welcoming tavern of Whitechurch. The owner might have once been an adventurer himself, as his apron barely covered the front of his imposing bulk.

Still, it was with welcoming eyes that “Perkins Smythe” met then, inquiring to their reasons for travel and with what services he could assist.

It was there that Theren learned more of Gariff, a traveling human from a small hamlet few had heard of…

Rudolfo, a red-haired dwarf worshiping the god of carousing, war, and alcohol…

Yesod, a human shrouded by a tunic and spectacles, who mumbled often to himself but said little to others…

…and Lyman, the half-orc who resolutely and steadfastly declared he would avenge his father, fallen in combat.

And there was, of course, Theren himself.

Theren managed to sidestep the well-wishing by writing intently in his book. His ink, quills, and parchment declared him a scribe by trade, and this helped opt him out of most small talk. (He did not, however, point out that his scribblings were copious notes of the conversation around him.)

It was also here that the five newcomers got their first taste of what life along the Rapier’s Edge was like. There was no central authority on the island; and consequently, no standing army. What armed guards that arrived on ships stayed at the docks to protect shipments.

When magical troubles in the countryside arose (and arose they did, far more often than seemed warranted), citizens turned to the local militia and sell-swords. A local bounty office, in fact, maintained a list of current events, nearby threats, and rewards for ending those threats.

“There’s a bit of trouble goin’ on at Elderham, in fact,” Perkins informed them. “The cemetery is a bit too lively at night, if you know what I mean. Troutbeck too, though that’s more pirate ghosts than undead.”

“Any idea what’s causing it?” Theren asked, quill in hand. “Any arcane or religious symbols that keep popping up? Any notable figures or names?”

“Don’t right know,” Perkins admitted. “I just pass the rumors along; it’s fun, and it brings in the paying customers!”

Perkins also pointed out the popular destination of Augurn’s Hold to the north, which had its own arcane library and forbidden section, but a week-long magical census had barred anyone from entry or exit.

“Well, I’ve found my next destination,” Theren declared loudly. “Elderham seems as good a place as any to begin my studies of this island’s occult knowledge.” He turned to those seated nearest him. “You are free to accompany me, if you wish.”

The others nodded one by one. Elderham seemed an obvious choice for those wishing to enrich themselves or their pockets, and there was safety in numbers. A de facto party had emerged.

What’s a Tavern Without a Brawl

While the adventurers conferred over the best plan in approaching Elderham, a steady stream of patrons began filing into the tavern. They filled up the area nearest the front door and the walls first, then began moving the tables away from the center of the level. Before the troupe could ask about the events, Perkins returned with an announcement.

“I forgot to ask you! Every Thursday night we sponsor something of a local competition here at the Moxy: a round-robin brawl, with winner-take-all! With five gold per contestant (and two per spectator), the pot can get pretty big! Any of you interested?”

There were, of course, a few extra stipulations–no physical weapons, no killing blows, and a cleric would be on hand to rescue anyone too heavily injured. Rudolfo and Sterling signed up immediately.

Theren did as well. For one, the potential winnings they could take from tonight would more than help with supplies for the morrow. For another, Theren knew he would be fighting for his life outside the city walls, trading blows with monsters who would not pull their punches. Tonight was a perfect time to practice his craft in a controlled setting.

It was a good thing too that Theren was mentally prepared, as he was to fight in the first round.

Round 1: Theren vs. “Bullwise”

Theren stepped into the open space across from a muscular, tunic-wearing minotaur. “Interesting,” thought Theren. Then he reached into the minotaur’s mind.

As he suspected, the minotaur’s headspace was little more than a jumble of broad archetypes, ill-informed assumptions, and superstition. It would be trivial work indeed to trigger an instinct, summon a half-formed phobia, and then–

Bullwise glanced upwards in sudden disbelief as the ceiling began to crack, bend, and break towards him. He staggered out of the way, jostling surprised patrons as he fled the ring. However, the confused looks about him soon clued him in, as was the fact the crumbling ceiling had made no sound as it fell. Realizing his error, he rushed back towards his opponent.

“Unfortunate,” sighed Theren to himself. “I was hoping for a quick forfeiture. Well, no matter.”

Despite his confidence, Theren still felt his ribs cracks when the minotaur bull-rushed him into the wall. Spitting blood, he put his palms on both side of the fighter’s skull and concentrated. To the minotaur, his pulse began to pound in his ears–a migraine of deep, dolorous bells.

With each passing heartbeat, the pressure built in his head, a crushing resonance of pain. The blood from Theren’s mouth was soon matched by a gush from Bullwise’s nose. The hands gripping the half-elf loosened, the bullish eyes rolled back in their sockets, and the minotaur collapsed in a limp heap.

“Winner!” Perkins shouted, declaring the match over. Rudolfo the cleric rushed over to administer aid, and Theren sat down heavily to await his next round.

Round 2: Rudolfo vs. Sterling

From all appearances, it seemed to be a worthy matchup: a hill dwarf cleric versus a half-orc paladin. Even with no weapon or shield, both were sturdy fighters and could well hold their own in battle. The fight might last until both were weary, bleeding, and exhausted.

In reality, the fight was short and underwhelming. When the first two fist blows of the fight went wild, the hill dwarf uttered a single word in Dwarvish. Lyman erupted in a flash of light, whereupon he fell to the ground clutching his gonads.

Rudolfo was quickly judged the winner of the fight. Theren squinted an eye at Lyman as he hobbled back to his chair. Had he simply thrown the fight? Well, he was unlikely to ever really know, and it would be rude to ask.

Round 3: A Dragonborn vs. Some Guy

If the second match had been a let-down, the third was simply comical. A dragonborn–a follower of ancient, mystical beings in both purpose and form–had been paired against a human on likely his first scrap.

After a few minutes saw the dragonborn chase the intimidated human about the arena, tossing flagons against the pursuer, the human finally took a knee. The dragonborn was declared the victor.

Final Round: Theren, Rudolfo, & Dragonborn

For effect, the final round was a three-way brawl among the hill dwarf, the half-elf, and the dragonborn. As soon as Perkins sounded the bell, the dragonborn opened his mouth, letting loose a spray of acid and venom in Theren’s direction.

Only quick reflexes saved Theren’s face from being engulfed by the poison, but he grimaced as it ate into his chest, back, and arm. He quickly moved his fingers and muttered under his breath; a sheen of cold fog suddenly began flowing off his form.

Dispensing with pleasantries, Rudolfo threw himself across the arena and tackled the dragonborn, yet failed to take him to the floor. Wrestling against the grapple, the dragonborn again took a swing against Theren–but instead encountered a skin of frost, freezing and shattering the bones of his hand.

His magical armor holding (for now), Theren risked a look inside the dragonborn’s mind. He was in luck; the other’s mind was already fracturing, torn between the sudden throbbing pain in his right hand and the dwarf on his waist. With a deft touch, Theren again amplified that throbbing into a pulsating, thunderous din.

Rudolfo uttered a word again, and another flash blinded Theren and the dragonborn. Already weakened by the double onslaught, the scaled fighter sank to his knees and slapped the floor, signalling his defeat.

Only the dwarf and the half-elf remained. Theren looked over to where his frosty shield was still melting before the radiance of Rudolfo’s word. It took only a glance for him to know that a calmer, more orderly mind awaited behind those dwarven eyes. The fight would be desperate indeed, if even winnable; not only had the dwarf sustained no damage so far, but he could heal himself as he fought.

In the end, their party had already won the earnings; the only question now was who would collect them. Theren saw no reason to continue a pointless fight, yet he also saw no reason to simply bow out because he would lose.

To break his mental stalemate, Theren withdrew the symbol of his patron–a serpent coiled to infinity, pressed in the shape of a coin. One side shewed the serpent’s fangs, the other its tail.

As Rudolfo watched, Theren flipped the coin into the lantern light and caught it. The serpent’s tail shewed. It was time to withdraw from the fight.

Theren bowed low towards Rudolfo, then took his own knee. “I defer to your strength, hill dwarf. You win this match.”

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