Two-Faced Jewel: Session 7
A half-elf conwoman (and the moth tasked with keeping her out of trouble) travel the Jewel in search of, uh, whatever a fashionable accessory is pointing them at.
Last time, Saelhen and Looseleaf continued their scouring of the evil torture wizard’s evil torture tower for clues as to the identity of the murderer terrorizing the towns of Barley and Wheat. They found a bunch of mysterious documents of ominous character, but they’ve yet to check out the tower’s hidden basement- and the ne'er-do-well lurking within…
The basement doesn’t immediately contain any horrors, unless you’re the type to get the jibblies from a messy room. There’s dirty dishes (recently used), empty beer bottles from a Zeishus Brewery, and discarded clothes everywhere. It’s very lived-in, and whoever lives-in here doesn’t seem like they were expecting visitors.
Saelhen takes a look at the desk nearest the stairs, next to a well-used recliner and a recently-extinguished candle. She gets a nat 20 on her Investigation, and finds that the desk has been rotated to face the wall, concealing a drawer that doesn’t look like it’s been opened in some time, judging by the cobwebs.
What’s inside is mainly more of the sort of thing they found on the sixth floor- technical notes on neurology and pain magic. With the critical success, she’s able to piece together that the odd numbers on the abrasive letter found upstairs were some sort of pain measurements the letter-writer was providing to Lumiere.
They also find a less academic, more personal note, expressing frustration with his own research.
“Why would the Burnscreamer’s rituals require Abyssal? Even a god like him shouldn’t have any connection to the demons- what is he playing at?”
“If I could just correct the sigil, I could bypass so much of this nonsense…”
Saelhen then gets a nat 1 on her Religion roll to know what that means, and assumes the Burnscreamer is the frontman for a metal band her dad likes.
As they search the rest of the room, they notice- at the bottom of the central shaft- a circular basin in the stone floor. It’s stained red, but it’s dry- not as much blood as you’d expect to see given the carnage on the sixth floor, so it seems like it’s been recently emptied or cleaned out.
Oyobi, meanwhile, checks the locked door by the stairs, and finds it… cold? I wonder what that means vis-a-vis-
The extremely sneaky +9 Stealth person hiding braced against the walls of the central shaft fucks up right about then, and slips a little, letting out an involuntary “Gh- shit!”, alerting the party to his presence.
Saelhen tries to chase after this person by parkouring off those same walls, gets a 9, and faceplants in the blood basin, leaving the issue to the party member who has wings. As the hider flees through one of the doors in the shaft, Looseleaf uses her darkvision and 24 Investigation roll to pick out the right door and give chase.
(Meanwhile, the rest of the party heads up the stairs normally- and Saelhen orders Orluthe to bust down the front door, so they can go outside and catch anyone trying to escape by rappelling down the side of the building. This turns out to be unnecessary, because when Looseleaf detected that the front door was magic and assumed it was a trap, this was incorrect.)
Benedict I. (GM): (“who knows what kind of trap could be on this magic door? better go up and through the window into the room full of traps, instead”)
(i was laughing so hard)
(it’s just an automatic door!)
Looseleaf: Honestly, the people in town oversold this place.
They made it sound like such a deathtrap and really it was just a bunch of spiky bots.
And comfy pillows.
Benedict I. (GM): Well, when they were there, there was a living evil torture wizard actively trying to take them prisoner and torture them.
Looseleaf botches her Investigation roll to search the torture lab she emerges in, but… that doesn’t stop her from just checking each and every possible hiding place one by one, manually. She alights upon the correct solution swiftly- checking inside the broken remains of the iron maiden.
bBenedict I. (GM): Anyway, Looseleaf, inside the corpse of the iron maiden, you find.
A rather heavy man, performing a downright heroic feat of contortionism to suspend himself inside the door without getting impaled on the spikes.
“Can you pretend you never saw me?”
Looseleaf: “That depends on what you’re doing here, I guess. Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Saelhen du Fishercrown: oh that is a nervous man
Arnie: “No one. Nothing. I’m, uh, supposed to be like, dead, probably.”
“So I’m not here.”
Arnie Zeishus is the deadbeat husband of Cassie, the innkeeper from Barley, who fled town a while back. He explains that after fleeing his responsibilities in Barley, he tried to set up shop in Wheat running a brewery, but got in trouble flouting the brewing regulations of the Ecumene of Harmony. So after getting arrested there and breaking out of prison, he decided to sneak into the torture wizard’s tower and lay low as a squatter in the guy’s basement. He figured he might get caught and tortured, but it couldn’t be worse than what the townspeople wanted to do to him.
Except, as luck would have it, the torture wizard was already dead when he arrived! So he’s been making a home of the place with Lumiere’s old animated housekeepers, using the torture wizard’s fearsome reputation as a way to keep anyone from tracking him down and making him do stuff like clean up a distillery explosion or pay child support or what have you.
On the other hand, someone has been sneaking around his tower doing something sinister on the sixth floor that results in blood pouring down into the basin periodically, and he’s stressed out of his mind wondering who the hell is doing that and how he’s supposed to avoid getting caught and/or killed by them.
(He notes that the “KEEP SHOUTING” sign was his attempt to get intruders to at least give themselves away by making noise, after they were clearly ignoring the “KEEP OUT” sign he put up.)
Looseleaf also takes the time to ask if Arnie here knows anything about someone named Choss.
Arnie: He looks surprised. “You know Choss?”
Looseleaf: “Let’s say that Choss is a figure of importance in this investigation.”
“Anything you could tell us about how they arrived in town and what they did in town would be appreciated.”
Arnie: He shrugs. “Choss was there before I was- she’s a real weirdo.”
“Knows how to party, but- gotta say, her stuff’s a little too strong for me.”
“A crazy high at first, but it gets- whoof, intense.”
Looseleaf: “She’s an apothecary of some kind?”
Arnie: He laughs. “You could say that. She’s got herself a little drug lab in town, always smells like burning. Don’t know how she gets away with it- some of that stuff’s gotta be illegal.”
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “And how old is she, approximately?”
Arnie: “Eh? She’s- hard to tell with lizardfolk, s'not like you can read the wrinkles…”
Looseleaf: Ah, of course.
Saelhen du Fishercrown: yep
Arnie: “Seems youngish, though? Party girl through and through.”
“Just, uh, if she offers you a blend, don’t take it unless you’re ready to spend the next hour feelin’ like fire ants are chewin’ their way out of your skin.”
He shudders a little.
Looseleaf: “Hm. Sounds painful.”
Arnie: “You have no idea,” he laughs.
They also inquire about the locked freezer room- and why Arnie would hide out here, in dangerous torture tower, rather than just running off to a city, which is a little weird that he didn’t do. Arnie claims there’s just groceries in there, and no stolen wine bottles whatsoever, he certainly isn’t a thief and he definitely hasn’t been lying low out here because if he goes to a city some old pals from Thunderbrush might find him and want him dead, no sir! He would never ever commit a crime, [“wink wink” in hand-signed Thieves’ Cant].
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “Of course. I can’t imagine we have any thieves here.” [Nudge nudge.]
Looseleaf: “In the meantime, Mr. Zeishus, you mentioned having done something that.. makes going anywhere where you might meet someone from Thunderbrush a dangerous thing?”
Arnie: He fidgets. “Uh, well…”
“I, I try to leave all that behind me.”
“You just… don’t want to get involved with the ghost dryad mafia. Just a tip.”
He drops a little bit of exposition about something that may be coming up- apparently, Thunderbrush used to have these huge skyscraper-sized trees, but they got chopped down in some sort of war or raid a while back, and now the Stumps are ruled by the necromancer ghost dryads of those trees who used the last vestiges of their power to cheat death. Apparently Arnie was strongarmed into doing crimes for various ghost dryad mafiosos and made too many enemies, so he fled to Barley to shake the heat.
Looseleaf also comes to a realization regarding some hints dropped earlier in the townsfolks’ tragic backstories:
Looseleaf: (actually, wait, i just realized: choss is probably chitch’s daughter, the timelines there line up perfectly and maybe this whole dragonborn business is a total red herring we invented for ourselves)
(what the shit, lumiere, you kidnap a guy’s daughter and raise them as your own child? that’s fucked.)
Looseleaf occupies this Arnie guy by interrogating him about these things, while Saelhen slips downstairs to try to pick the lock to the freezer room.
Eventually, after a bunch of failed rolls and more small talk from Looseleaf to keep Arnie occupied, Saelhen pops open the lock. Inside, she finds a fairly large and frigid room. There are meathooks hanging from the ceiling, empty. There are shelves lining the edges full of frozen food.
And to her right, there’s another door- this one out of place with the rest of the construction, made of a strange stone shot through with rivulets of glowing orange. There’s a symbol on a stone circle embedded in the door:
Before she checks that out, though, she checks the darkened back of the room- which contains some tubs filled with ice.
And those tubs have corpses in them, with the four-pointed wounds.
It is not especially likely that Arnie had no idea these were here, in a room he claims to use to store groceries and has the key to.
Looseleaf, meanwhile, attempts to read Arnie’s spirit to determine his alignment and general intentions. His Deception beats her Insight, but what she does manage to get is…
Arnie is afraid.
He is filled to bursting with terror and desperation more intense than you’ve ever felt from anyone before.
And the fear does not seem directed at you.
Meanwhile, Saelhen tries to get that door open. What’s the deal with that thing, huh? There’s no handle, so… she has the bright idea of slapping her mysterious god icon bracer (the one that when previously slapped against a magic thing opened a pit to infinite bats) against it, see what happens. And I get very excited, because ohohoho, I didn’t expect that, I had to think through the ramifications of doing that, and…
…then I work through those ramifications, and what I realize is that, as far as the players would know, the end result is just that the door slides open, and nothing else of note occurs.
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “Why am I even here I just wanted to help a nice little girl show up her dipshit inquisitor mom now I’m in a pain room investigating pain machines…”
Looseleaf: (looseleaf warned you about getting involved in the case, she warned you dog)
There’s also a bunch of weird machines, and more of Lumiere’s notes, which Saelhen goes and nabs as many of as she can. Then she beats feet immediately, not wanting to spend any longer than necessary in the hell lab. The problem is, she doesn’t want to leave any sign she was in there, so…
Saelhen du Fishercrown: Does tapping the exposed bit of stone with the bracer again close the secret hell door?
Benedict I. (GM): Nope.
Saelhen du Fishercrown: hmm.
poking it with her finger?
Benedict I. (GM): Ouch.
Saelhen du Fishercrown: physically pulling the stone upwards while muttering “fuck fuck fuck ow ow ow”?
Benedict I. (GM): Oh, hm, yeah, that would work.
At first there’s no effect, but as you continue to pull and the pain gets worse and worse…
Roll me a Constitution save.
Saelhen du Fishercrown:
CONSTITUTION SAVE (3)
Benedict I. (GM): That’ll do it! Your pain feeds the door, and, satisfied, the mouth closes.
Looseleaf: How extremely concerning!
So Saelhen goes back upstairs, the party secretly confers and exchanges information, and… something has to be done about Arnie.
His expression changes, suddenly.
Arnie: “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“This doesn’t have to happen.”
Looseleaf continues to try to offer help to this guy, inferring that he’s being forced to do someone else’s dirty work. She rolls a 20 on Persuasion! So… what happens following them cornering and exposing the culprit is not the rolling of initiative. Still, though…
backs up a step.
“You have no idea.”
“You’re talking like you can help me?”
“That’s impossible. No one can help me.”
“I- I’m fucking cursed, dammit!”
Looseleaf: is he?
i have magic sense, he is clearly not actually magically cursed, right
Arnie: “What are you clowns going to do about it? Nothing!”
“What are you going to do, kill a dragon?”
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “You are entangled here. If Looseleaf says so, then I trust her intuition and her investigative prowess. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re entangled in such a way that there is no way out for you.” Saelhen shrugs. “Theoretically, the device on my arm is responsible for drowning a small city in vampiric monsters from beyond the stars. And yet there was a way out of that, and a genuine silver lining into the bargain.”
“I want you to understand that I am absolutely sincere when I say:
There is always a way out.”
Arnie: “That’s- there’s no way! There’s only one way out!”
“He’ll free me from the curse if I do what he says, and that’s the only way!”
Looseleaf: …That is not how dragon-curses work at all.
Benedict I. (GM): Not as far as you’re aware, no.
Doesn’t seem like anyone’s told Arnie.
They continue to try to convince him that there’s hope, that he doesn’t need to do what the dragon says, that they can help him. And Arnie just keeps pushing back, refusing to acknowledge any of it, weeping and shouting and doing whatever he can to avoid believing that he didn’t have to do any of that, that there was any other way- because if there was, he’d be a monster, right?
Meanwhile, Vayen… is standing a ways away and staring at them all, as usual… but this time, he’s smiling. No one here has ever seen Vayen smile before. He looks like his birthday came early. And as they’re on the verge of a breakthrough…
Arnie: “Fucking- you don’t think I know that?”
“I know that! I know he’s manipulating me!”
“But what else do I do?”
Vayen: “You could kill yourself,” Vayen suggests.
Looseleaf: “Vayen what the FUCK?”
Arnie: “What the fuck- shut up, asshole!”
“I’m not dying! Not here, not nowhere!”
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “…Vayen, you are placing a remarkable number of ticks in the ‘leave you at the side of the road’ column.”
Vayen: Vayen shrugs. “It’s the most reliable way to neutralize a dragon’s curse.”
“It’s the sensible thing to do, if you don’t want to cause collateral damage.”
It’s as though he deliberately picked the one thing to say to ensure that this argument would keep happening, and not reach a friendly resolution. The hell is his problem?
Still, the party keeps trying to talk this guy down.
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “And – Arnie, surely you don’t think the dragon would hunt you down? Dragons don’t go out of their way to punish us; they just use us to accomplish whatever it is they’re planning. He’ll make it someone else’s problem.”
“I know the type. Arnie, it wouldn’t care enough to hunt you down. What seems like a personal connection, like it caring about you – if it tries that at all – it’s just an implement. It’s a way of getting you to do what it wants. Go to ground effectively, and it won’t bother to spare the effort.”
Arnie: “What are you, talking like some kinda dragonologist? The hell do you know about dragons?”
Saelhen du Fishercrown: “…I am not a dragonologist, no,” admits Saelhen.
Looseleaf: “…Are you a dragonologist?”
Arnie: “Of course it could hunt me down! Damn thing’s got magic items out the ass and it flies faster than I can run!”
“As soon as it saw me going somewhere it didn’t tell me to, I’d get turned into a midnight snack!”
“And then I go to ground, and the curse kicks in, and I end up dead or worse anyway. Sounds great.”
“Or, I stay here, gut a few self-righteous fucks who treated me like dirt for a while, and maybe the thing keeps its end of the bargain and lets me go!”
Yeah, that’s a confession, and like, not one that makes him look great. Still, given this guy’s weirdly high rolls on physical stuff, and his apparent aptitude for murdering people, they’re not super sure they want to fight this guy- on top of just, not exactly wanting to fight this guy.
What are they going to do? They have to come up with a plan- and their plan has to take less than three weeks to pull off, since Arnie only has six corpses left in the bathtubs, and the dragon wants two corpses a week to prove he’s still doing the job.
(And is it even worth going to all that trouble just to protect this guy from the consequences of his actions?)
Next time: a plan is hatched, and the party gets back on the road.