Third Sul of Rhaan, 998 YK

~ 1.1 The Bloody Bridge ~

upper cityThe gloom of the evening had long since stolen across the spires of the upper city’s trade quarter when it began to rain.  A ragged black sheet of thunderheads slowly dragged in from the eastern plains and over the King’s Forest until finally, the entire city of Sharn, from Tavick’s Landing out to the western wall, was beset by the deluge.

Far from the seasonal drizzle that typically accompanied the first breath of winter into the city; what began as a downpour only continued to increase, the wind flinging sheets of rain across paved cobblestones in a muted staccato.  Water began to pool along the darkened streets, reflecting the everbright lanterns and casting off faint yellow shimmers into the night.

Near the topmost reaches of the Dura quarter, hundreds of feet in the air above the lower city in a wide, open-aired plaza, several cloaked figures milled about, chatting amongst each other despite the fury of the storm.  Connecting the plaza to an adjacent tower, an arched skybridge extended off to one side, the curve of its railings made visible by a series of lanterns hung across its length.  Beneath one such lantern, lit by a small pool of reflected golden-yellow light, the crumpled form of a man was visible lying against the railing of the bridge.

~ ~ ~

One of them cried out a sudden warning as a heavy, plated hand rasped over the railing of the bridge and a cloaked figure vaulted into their midst from out of the night.  He struck wildly at them with both his axe and his mailed fists, driving them back with a savage flurry of blows; it soon became clear that they were no match for their foe.  The group of strangers responded to each others’ cries for help, fighting desperately to stave off his attacks.  Soon the call for the guards was sounded, and as the shrill whistles of the Sharn city watch drew nearer, the hooded figure, giving a piercing screech of frustration, vaulted once again over the railing of the skybridge and back into the gloom of the evening.

As the travelers glanced over the railing, trying to catch sight of their foe, one of them, a Warforged, came over to inspect the body that lay resting beneath the lantern.  It was of an elderly human gentleman, the elegant crimson of his robe slowly turning a dark shade in several places.  Even in death, he clutched tightly to the leather satchel in his hand.  The unabated rain had begun to pool around his body; small tendrils of pink draining away from it between the cracks of the cobblestones.  His identification papers marked him as a certain Bonal Geldem, professor of Sharn’s renowned Morgrave University.  Among the few coins and foodstuffs in his possession, an examination of his satchel revealed a neatly wrapped journal decorated with metal engravings on its cover.  The Warforged, his eyes glowing brighter for an instant, seemed to recognize the symbol prominently displayed on the front of the journal – a stylized hammer and anvil within a circle.

cannith seal

The sudden heavy splash of boots on rain-soaked cobblestones drew the group’s attention to the arrival of the city watch.  A dour-faced dwarf sporting a cropped beard stepped forward, muttering curses under his breath.  He was flanked by two others dressed in uniforms of green and black studded leather, brandishing crossbows and an orb of conjured light that was painfully bright to look at.

Collecting the nearby witnesses to the encounter, the dwarf, a captain of the guard by the name of Dolum, began to conduct a rather haphazard interrogation of the travelers.  Though their story was met with some initial skepticism by the captain, the other witnesses who had seen the encounter on the bridge soon began to offer similar accounts, corroborating their story.  As the watch concluded their investigation yielding no results, Captain Dolum once again turned his attention to the travelers, marking them to be foreigners by their attire.

“You lot”, he barked.  “What business have ye, roarin’ about the streets of our fair city these wee hours of the mornin?”

Motioning his fellow guards closer, the group of rain-soaked travelers was herded against the wall of the nearby inn, as the white-hot orb of light was once again thrust rudely towards their faces.  From left to right, the travelers offered their names and reasons for being in the city, and with each response Dolum scribbled something into a worn, leather-bound notebook.

changelingThere was Mox, a young Brelish woman of slender build with a tangled mop of brown hair that obscured her face.  As she flippantly yawned her replies to the captain’s questions, she produced a single gold piece from within the folds of her cloak and began to spin it deftly across the tip of one finger.

Peering at her through the gloom, the captain softly drew breath as he noticed a strange, silvery translucence to the woman’s skin.  Grabbing the light from his fellow guardsman, Dolum brought it close to Mox’s face revealing a solid, if rather pale, complexion and a tight-lipped smile.  Wiping the rain off his brow and blinking several times to clear his eyes, the captain moved on.

The next figure hid his visage within the hood of his tattered cloak, and when he spoke his ranger2voice was hoarse and awkward as if from disuse.  As the light was pushed closer to him the man turned away; for the briefest moment the delicate features common to the elven race were visible, marred by a hideous scar that raked across his face.

To the right of him stood a warforged, its burnished metal plates glowing faintly with reflected lantern light; a walking suit of armor – broad shouldered as an ox and standing several hands above even the tallest of humans.  The construct peered down at the dwarf with two brilliant emerald eyes.

“You there, rust-bucket, what’s yer name?”, barked the dwarf.

At this, the automaton’s eyes softened their glow for a moment and its armored face took on an expression that seemed almost pensive in nature.

wf artificer“Name…”, it repeated thoughtfully.

To the bafflement of those around it, the armored figure reached into his backpack and withdrew a slightly shriveled apple, which it then raised to its metal jaws and began to chew.  As the dwarf stared up in disbelief, from the half-eaten apple, a seed fell – bouncing off the construct’s plated toe with a pinging sound.

“You may call me ‘Appleseed’, if it please you good sir”, the automaton replied.  He stooped slightly, as if to bow, then reached down to retrieve the fallen seed, placing it carefully into an envelope taken from his bag.

Shaking his head wonderingly at this and scribbling into his notebook once more, the dwarf turned his attention to the next waiting figure, a small, oily-haired gnome with darting eyesgnome and a sprout of hair below his lip that seemed a poor attempt at growing a soul patch.  Giving his name as ‘Votto’, the gnome claimed to be a student at Morgrave University, studying under the very same Professor Geldem murdered on the bridge that night.  At this, the captain appeared to take interest, whispering something in the gnome’s ear and making another entry in his notebook.

In great contrast to the diminutive stature of the gnome standing beside him, the final member of the lineup was a hulking mass of scale and muscle.  Even in the absence of the snout protruding from beneath his massive rain cloak the figure would have been unmistakable as a warrior of the Dragonborn race.

dragonborn axeStanding nearly as tall as Appleseed, Calibretto amazingly appeared even more armored than his Warforged companion.  The thick, interlocking scales of his natural hide were further augmented by metal scale armor crafted by hand.  From beneath the ridge of his brow line, a pair of luminous reptilian eyes narrowed their slit pupils at the harsh light of the guards.  Taking note of this, Dolum slowly began to back away, motioning for his companions to do the same.

~ ~ ~

Following their interrogation by the city watch, the travelers found themselves musing over the night’s happenings while drying themselves off at the Cloud Dragon, a nearby inn.  While in the midst of their reflections they were suddenly interrupted as the door to the common room swung open – three individuals, their black garb soaked through by the rain, stepped in to the warmth of the tavern.  Without pausing to dry themselves by the fire, the trio approached the group where they sat near the bar.  One of them, a rather plain-featured woman with thin, blond hair, stepped forward and addressed the group in a low voice:

“If you would know the truth behind the murder on the bridge this evening, come to the Broken Anvil tavern at dawn.”

Without pause, the woman turned abruptly and headed towards the door with her companions following suit.  Quietly observing the scene, Appleseed’s sharp eyes took note of the signet ring the woman wore on the index finger of her right hand; it bore the coat of arms of House Cannith, the House of magewrights and artificers.  Bearing the Mark of Creation innate to their house, the dragonmarked craftsmen of House Cannith were afforded a near complete monopoly on the production of magical items here in Sharn and throughout Khorvaire.

As they discussed the events of the night, and possible reasons for the involvement of a noble house such as Cannith, plans were made to set out the next morning in the hopes of uncovering the truth behind Professor Geldem’s murder.

~ ~ ~

The Broken Anvil tavern was situated in one corner of the Mason’s Tower in the Dura Quarter of the middle city.  Despite occupying the same cross-section of the city as the Cloud Dragon Inn, where the events of the previous evening had transpired, the change in going from the upper reaches of Sharn down to the mid-level of the city was immediately apparent.  The Dura Quarter was home to many of the merchants and craftsmen of the city, giving it a lively atmosphere as vendors hawked their wares to passers by.

In the upper reaches of Sharn, among the very top spires of the city, the wealthiest merchants, often the local heads of various trade guilds in Sharn and across Khorvaire, chose to establish their centers of commerce in the area.  In some cases an entire plaza, where various skybridges would meet between towers, would be devoted to representing the wares of a single guild.  The wealthiest guilds could sometimes purchase the entire upper level of a tower, holding business deals and negotiations with their clients under a skylit rooftop and spectacular views of the city below.

In the middle city these rigid clusters of trade were largely dissolved, and it was common to see many different guilds represented across a colorful array of merchant stalls, lining the various thoroughfares and bridges around the quarter.  The presence of the city watch was also conspicuously diminished.  Without the stern glares or reproach offered by a guardsman, some desperate merchants, grown bold in the absence of regulation, carried their goods with them – stopping people on the streets to hawk their wares.

crowdPacked tightly into a crowded plaza, amidst the shrill cries of merchants competing in their gouging of prices, the five travelers caught their first sight of the Broken Anvil tavern.  Resting at the far end of a wide terrace attached to the midsection of the tower, it was a small, wooden two-story building that had its own compound and gated entryway separate from the main thoroughfare leading through the Mason’s Tower.

~ ~ ~

From one end of the waiting room, the silken swish of curtains drew the group’s attention as a human noblewoman paused for a moment to glance over them before entering the room.  Wearing a dark blue gown, her sleek black hair bound up in silver and turquoise ornaments, elaydrenthe Lady Elaydren d’Vown of House Cannith spoke with a quiet grace to match her delicate features.  Thanking them for deciding to come, Elaydren began to relate the circumstances behind the murder of professor Geldem the previous evening.

The professor had been hired by Lady Elaydren to research the location of a long-forgotten family heirloom of House Cannith.  He had recently come into possession of an old journal detailing the whereabouts of an ancient Cannith creation forge, thought to exist far beneath the ruins of the lower city.  Accepting the Lady’s offer of the sum of a thousand gold pieces for exploring the ruins and bringing proof of the professor’s claim, the travelers set out toward the Tavick’s Landing district.  There they would find Dorasharn Tower, and a route into the depths of the city…

~ 1.2 Into the Depths ~

Winding their way down the lattice of bridges and walkways that spanned the depths of Tavick’s Landing, the travelers followed Elaydren’s roughly drawn map, soon finding themselves well beneath even the poorest living quarters of the lower city.  The brisk chill that could be felt throughout the city, heralding the end of summer, was markedly absent here.  The air here was warm, yet did not soothe or comfort those who inhabited these darker reaches of the city.  Moist, humid air swirled slowly downwards from sewer gratings and stagnant rainwater pools, sucked down into darkened maw of the lower city with a rotting, fetid gasp.

They came to a point in the sewers where several large stormwater drains, rising skywards out of view alongside the tower, converged with the sewer canals into a large circular chamber.  At the center was a raised platform which appeared to be heaped with numerous piles of assorted garbage and scrap metal, next to which lay a scattered assortment of shoddy tables and lean-tos.  Walking amidst the piles was a group of filthy-looking humanoid figures clad in rags, poking about and arguing loudly with each other.

The Rat’s Market, as it was known by the local inhabitants, was a place where scavengers of the lower city sold various goods they had found – often discarded or lost items, washed down from the upper levels of the city during the rainy season.

Lady Elaydren’s map provided no further directions other than mentioning that the site of the forge lay much further down beneath the tower, perhaps to the original foundations of Sharn itself – long since covered up by generations of building.  Attempts at bartering for information in the Rat’s Market concluded with threats of violence by the locals (though the party did uncover several spectacular relics amidst the trash – foremost of which was a ‘magical’ blanket that purportedly doubled as a fine cloak), eventually it was Appleseed’s diplomatic sense that gained them the information they needed to continue on, even procuring a guide in the process.

skreelTheir guide, Skreel, was a filthy human with yellow, crooked teeth, balding hair and breath that reeked beyond even the stench of the sewer.  He ushered them onwards into a maze of twisting paths through the tunnels, long since fallen into disrepair.  After a certain point the paths began to slope further downward into the depths of the city and small piles of rubble and gaps in the walls became increasingly visible.  At one such gap in the wall, after clearing away much of the grime and dust, a path large enough for the party to climb through was exposed.  As Skreel turned to leave them, the coarse-spoken ranger of the group, Draeden, tossed him several gold pieces from his pouch.  Fawning over the ranger and crooning his praises, Skreel promised the party a steep discount should they ever require his services again at the Rat’s Market.

~ ~ ~

Walking through what appeared to be the ruins of old Sharn, long since built over by new layers of construction, the travelers soon came across a wandering patrol led by a fanatical Warforged claiming to serve the Lord of Blades.  Thanks to the ranger’s keen ears, the party was able to prepare an ambush and met their foes armed and ready with a slew of deadly traps and spells.

~ ~ ~

Before them stood a massive circular hatch mounted in the wall, bearing a stylized hammer and anvil within a circle – the ancient crest of House Cannith.  After a thorough scan of its surface revealed an acid trap that was quickly disarmed, the party opened the door to proceed further downward beneath the tower.  However, as they passed by the open hatch, the allure of the gleaming mithril crest caused several of them to pause.  After some debate, a plan was hatched to remove the crest from the door and use it to deceive the Lady Elaydren into thinking it had been recovered from the ancient Cannith foundry.  Standing several paces away throughout the course of this discussion, Barstom, captain of Elaydren’s house guards, slowly shook his head and wondered if anybody had bothered to listen to his introduction, given only minutes earlier.

Tossing their newly dismantled mithril crest into a bag, the party set off down a narrow, dusty tunnel leading further into the depths.  After a long descent the tunnel abruptly ended at a 30 foot drop into the base of an enormous cavern.  Securing ropes onto a few jagged edges of the broken tunnel wall, they slowly descended down to the coldness of the cavern floor.

cavern

Through the absolute dark of the cavern, the party slowly navigated their way through ancient ruined structures by the light of their lanterns and sunrods.  At one point, the party was beset by the cavern’s local inhabitants – primordial ooze-like creatures and other small scavengers dwelling on the cavern floor assailed the travelers as they explored the ruins of an ancient manor.  The ensuing battle proved nearly too much for them, and at one point a horde of scurrying rats overwhelmed the brave ranger, but in the end they were able to defeat their foes to continue on.

After eventually making their way to the cavern’s northern edge, built alongside a massive stone cliff wall, the light of their lanterns at last revealed a large structure bearing the ancient crest of House Cannith emblazoned above a massive iron door…

~ 1.3 The Forgotten Forge ~

The grand foyer of the structure housing the ancient creation forge of House Cannith was an impressive sight to behold.  Even after centuries of disuse, the cracked pillars and caved-in sections of the ceiling and walls did little to detract from the beauty of its fine craftsmanship.  An array of mosaic artwork covered the floor tiles, showing images of ancient Cannith heraldry.  Various metal statues were on display as well, ranging from simple busts of ruling monarchs in centuries past to sculptures of beasts both large and small – some so detailed and animated that they seemed almost alive.  At the far end of the room, a series of immense stone columns extended down a long hallway, leading further into the structure.

As they began to walk down the columned hallway, a sudden low thrum could be felt through the foundations of the building, setting everyone on guard and causing loose rubble and dust to trickle down between the cracks in the ceiling above.  Slowly, one by one, the lanterns attached to each column began to flicker on, growing steadily brighter in intensity until the entire hall was brightly lit in golden, amber hues.

houndProceeding further into the foundry, the party was surprised to discover the continued operation of several Cannith hounds – ancient guardians in the shape of enormous metal beasts, magically enchanted to seek out and destroy intruders.  Despite having the element of surprise, the aging, rusted guardians fell quickly enough to several well-placed blows, granting free access to the rest of the building.

~ ~ ~

The heavy brass door eased open on its hinges, letting in a wave of heat and blinding light into the narrow hallway where they waited.  Pressed flush up against one side of the wall, Draeden quietly tested the string of his bow as the rest of them slowly crept up to his position, peering into the glare of the room.

Inside, rows of workbenches were visible, covered with assorted bits of armor and warforged parts.  On the side nearest to the door, several anvils and barrels of water were set up, with an assortment of weapons scattered about.  In the far corner of the room, a dark iron columncannith forge about twenty feet wide and 40 feet tall rose up out of a white-hot vat of liquid metal.  The column was inscribed with an array of strange runes and lines, each radiating a heat so intense their outlines appeared blurred.

Next to the column, barely audible above the roar of the fires, a group of warforged appeared to be arguing loudly with each another.

“You are a fool, Cutter.  Favored though you may be of our lord, not even you will be above reproach when word gets back of the results you have produced here”

One of their number, standing a full head taller than the rest and clad in a dark hooded cloak, replied in a gravelly voice, “The blame lies with those human imbeciles.  Their flesh is weak, and cannot endure the heat of the forges.  Tell your contact in the city to find me more who bear the mark, and we shall see about your results-”

Mox gave a sudden, sharp intake of breath as the heavy brass door swung open fully, hitting the adjacent wall with a dull clang.  For a tense moment, not a word was uttered as the group of warforged paused mid-conversation to slowly turn in unison at the disturbance, revealing a tightly packed group of armed adventurers crowding the entryway into the forge.

“Kill them!  Rend the flesh from their bones!  A fresh sacrifice for our Lord of Blades!” screamed one of them.

The words were halfway out of his mouth when Draeden’s first arrow took him straight in his eye, rupturing the socket and tearing out the back of his head in a shower of black ichor and splintered wood and metal.  Nocking a second arrow before his first had even hit its mark, the ranger loosed another shot, this time aimed at the one closest to the door.  Both warforged collapsed to the floor instantly, not moving.

From the various workbenches around the room, piles of what had initially appeared to be different warforged spare parts began to stand up, looking around on the tables and seizing the nearest weapon they could find.  These warforged were different.  Unlike the solid chrome of those that were grouped next to the forge, these appeared as a patchwork assortment of different colors – some dark, some silver, and many appeared to have parts that had corroded with rust.  As they stood up from the tables with a series of squeaks and groans, they turned their gazes towards the party and began to advance.

Charging up the set of stairs leading to the entrance of the room, the warforged were met with an onslaught of arcane and physical attacks issuing forth from the beyond the doorway.  With a volley of magically enchanted crossbow bolts, Appleseed stalled the enemy’s advance.  Whether by magical or alchemical means, those nearest to him found their attacks empowered by the artificer, granting them a sudden surge of energy.

Brushing aside his fellow warforged, the tall, cloaked figure addressed as ‘Cutter’ charged up the stairs, brandishing a longsword.  Swinging his sword around in an attempt to deflect the arrows and bolts that assailed him, Cutter finally managed to clear the top of the stairs, flanked by two of his brethren.  A terrifying crack split the air as something slammed into one of the silver warforged, bowling him over backwards and down onto the staircase.  With a sudden, savage fury Calibretto was upon them, smashing his heavy axe repeatedly into their armored bodies, peeling back plates of warforged armor as if it were tin foil.warforged troops

The three warforged soon surrounded the dragonborn, grievously wounding him as the battle-crazed fighter seemed content to stand his ground and trade blow for blow.  Taking advantage of this distraction, Mox was a ghostly figure on the edges of the room – slipping in and out of the shadows to deliver her precise attacks.  Several more warforged began to stir from the tables, but with a gleaming flash of her blade she once again put them to rest.

As Calibretto’s wounds worsened, the enraged fighter seemed to become even more reckless.  Adopting a suicidal two-handed grip on his axe, he swung it in broad cleaving arcs – striking several foes at once but leaving his own defenses completely open.  With a shout, Appleseed hurled a curative admixture towards the wounded dragonborn from the doorway.  Noticing this, but unwilling to drop his grip on his axe, Calibretto snapped the potion out of the air with his jaws and bit down, draining it of its contents and spitting the shards of broken glass out over his opponents.

Striking down the remaining warforged allies, the party turned to focus its attacks on the still-standing Cutter.  Several of Draeden’s well-placed arrows now protruded from the dented and scored silver plate of Cutter’s back, and Mox began to tire from her continued flurry of attacks that seemed to have no effect on her opponent.

Seizing an opening in Calibretto’s stance, Cutter blocked an overhead axe swing with his longsword and followed with a gauntleted fist into the dragonborn’s belly.  The gauntlet was spiked and cruelly serrated on each digit, and when the warforged drew his hand back it was covered in a pulpy mess of blood and scales.  Roaring out in pain for the first time that battle, Calibretto reeled backwards several steps, clutching his gut.

“Yes fleshling, feel the gap that is between us”, hissed Cutter.  “Taste for a brief moment, the perfection of the Blade.  Forged in metal, we of the Blades are eternal…”

At that moment, the briefest flicker registered on the periphery of Cutter’s vision.  It was of a small gnome with a ridiculous goatee (or was that a soul patch?) tracing one finger lazily through the air as a shimmering white sigil appeared, and then dissipated.  Still advancing slowly towards the wounded dragonborn, Cutter was lifted up off his feet by a sudden force as his chest cavity exploded.  Chunks of wet, splintered wood and jagged metal rained down across the top of the stairs.  Flapping its sodden wings out from the center of Cutter’s chest, a final messenger streaked out towards the hallway exit only to be pinned, fluttering, against the wall by Draeden’s precisely aimed arrow.

Following an examination of the winged device by Appleseed, the message contained within was deciphered to reveal a connection between Cutter’s position as an agent of the Lord of Blades, and a powerful figure within the upper echelons of Sharn’s political structure.  Noting the reference to a certain ‘marked’ individual that had been aiding Cutter, Appleseed determined that this was likely a reference to the Mark of Making – a powerful dragonmark required to operate the creation forges.

After returning to the Broken Anvil Tavern, the adventurers informed the Lady Elaydren that they had succeeded in locating the ancient Creation Forge – the lost heirloom of House Cannith.  To their surprise, they found the Lady offering them a new business venture, this time as a mercenary attachment of the Cannith house guard.  They would be free to come and go as they pleased, provided that their actions did not conflict with the interests of House Cannith.  In addition, they would be required check in periodically with either Barstom, the Captain of the House Guard, or the Lady herself, to perform certain duties in the name of her noble House.  Despite some initial reluctance in the matter, the open-endedness of Elaydren’s offer and the promise of free room and board proved too good to pass up, and the group of adventurers agreed to her terms.

~ ~ ~

Delicately nodding her approval, the Lady Elaydren presented the party with their sum of gold, thanking them once more.

“For the time being, there is nothing more my House would ask of you, as we shall be busy in the coming weeks with excavating and restoring the remains of our ancient foundry.  Have you anything further you might wish to discuss with me?”, inquired Elaydren.

“Ah..Pardon me milady but we have recently come into possession of several warforged artifacts we were hoping to restore”, ventured Appleseed.  Reaching into his bag, he withdrew the remains of Cutter’s final messenger for her to see.

Smiling at this, Elaydren produced a small, leather-bound book which she flipped through for a moment, before fixing her eyes on Appleseed once more.

“I am uncertain if I’ve heard of any merchants that specialize in warforged artifacts in particular, but if you have questions regarding items of a magical nature, seek out Tazuul’s Antiquities in Upper Menthis.  I am certain he will be of service to you…”

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Published on September 26, 2009 at 1:30 am  Comments Off on Third Sul of Rhaan, 998 YK  
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