Episode Forty - Cup and Sword
Episode Forty – Cup and Sword (Level 15)
*Although they now realize that they have likely killed everyone at the casino who may know where Professor Jennish is being held, Vash, Tobias, Ichtaca, and Darius head there to try to find some sort of clue, that is, as soon as they are all mended, Catzin is stabilized, and the ship is secure. Lyda and Carmenith keep watch over Catzin, who lies ill with a fever. The mood is tense as the four men set out. Ober Orindel is still at large, Jennish is missing, Ambassador Vitali is freely mass-murdering here in the town, said Vitali has likely reported their presence to Dythan Mathis, Tobias has offered passage north to 50 starborn assassin-warlocks, Tobias and Darius are at each other’s throats over Lyda, the ship is newly damaged, and they have less than three days before Chorrom Viln’s pet eitharmos informs his order that they are in town.
*On the way to the casino, the heroes step aside into an alley, to investigate strange movement and energy coming from Tobias’ belt pouch; his bag of holding, where he has stashed the drinking blade and the winter cup.
*When Tobias opens the bag and removes the sword, the energy streaming out makes it clear to Vash that there are two artifacts of immense power in there, not just one. The sword is kindling with some sort of still-growing reaction to being put in proximity to the cup, and it is partially unwrapped, indicating that the two artifacts may have touched. The cup is also showing a lesser reaction, deadening the skin on Tobias’ chest under his pocket, an itchy gray patch of cracked, deadened flesh.
*The others convince a reluctant Tobias to reveal that he has the cup of winter. He explains that it was once used to bring life to a body for Daemoth, near the dawn of time, and that the inscriptions around the lip of the cup indicate that different types of blood can “bring life” without the elaborate rituals he transcribed.
*When Tobias pulls out the cup to show them, it deadens another patch of his flesh, a small spot on his palm. Alarmed by his friend’s scratching his chest, Vash forces him to take off his shirt, and Tobias discovers the patch there. Unable to treat him for now, they begin handling the cup with tongs.
*They then experiment on a rat, finding that bathing a dead rat in another rat’s blood in the cup creates a miserable zombie. They put it out of its misery quickly, but, in disposing of the blood, they spill some down a sewer grate. Vash sterilizes the cup with fire, and it’s carefully stowed away from the drinking blade, in Ichtaca’s bag of holding, at his hip. The skin under Ichtaca’s belt pouch immediately begins to itch.
*The heroes arrive at the casino to find it closed. The Sayl family has taken terrible losses, and the bodies of the dead are lined up for relatives to identify. Grieving families crowd the main floor. On top of that, the starborn prisoners being held below have escaped, and killed a few more guards, and word has it that Ambassador Vitali himself was here, furious, and asking questions. Darius tries to gather information in disguise, but no one seems like a likely candidate to know where professor Jennish is being held.
*Now desperate enough to try something rash, the heroes retrieve Thollan’s body from the base of the cliff and smuggle it back to a warehouse near the repair yards and the ship. Its eyes have been eaten by birds or crabs, and it’s not in pretty condition after several days of exposure. From the inscriptions on the cup of winter, Tobias becomes relatively sure that different “qualities” of blood will produce different results. He also determines that the best possible blood to use in the cup would be that of a pure-hearted Jhareth who worships the Jharric gods, preferably a virgin. Knowing just such a person, Vash and Tobias heads back to the ship.
*Carmenith trustingly donates a sample of her blood when Vash asks for it, asking him for reassurance that “Tobias thinks its safe”. As Tobias is handy to give such reassurances, all goes well. His only concern, he tells Vash, is that the energy stored in her soul will amplify the effect of the cup. His hope, however is that this will allow them to bring Thollan to life as he was, not as a zombie. When they return to Ichtaca and Darius in the warehouse, Darius has taken on the form of a member of the mafia he knows died today, one chosen only because Darius heard his name before he died. They pour Carmenith’s blood into the cup and then Ichtaca pours it back out again onto the corpse.
*Thollan stirs back to life, his body healing, but his skin turning grey as it does. His eyes scab over, but do not restore themselves. He’s a far less pitiful being than the ill-fated rat-zombie, but he’s still an undead creature. He is a revenant. A revenant gifted with super-human strength, they quickly discover, probably a side effect of Carmenith’s soul. Darius is ready to greet Thollan, speaking to the frightened and disoriented blind man, calming him down. Once he’s calm enough to lie quietly and converse, he recognizes the voice of the man Darius is impersonating, and greets him with relief as a friend. In that role, Darius explains what has happened, giving a version of events that casts the “new clients” as sorcerous agents of a rival mob, and the murderers of his father and so many of his organization. He explains that he’s here with some people those illusionists were impersonating, that they’ve been of great help to the family in a terrible time, and that they need Thollan’s help to be sure the prisoner Jennish is returned to them, not taken by the murderers.
*Ichtaca, meanwhile, realizes there are still a few drops more of the blood in the cup, and pours them out onto the skin where Thollan’s ruined eyes should be. This interrupts the conversation as Thollan screams in new agony, and his eyes bulge grotesquely, but eventually settle into functional, normally proportioned eyes, a dead black, like those of a shark. Ichtaca sees that a few drops of the blood also spilled onto some gravel, and the tiny pebbles are shaking. Before they leave the warehouse, he’s got a small collection of pebbles bouncing and rolling around at his feet. He gathers them up and tosses them into the sea.
*Thollan leads them to an innocuous hat shop on the north side of town, which the friend Darius is impersonating told him about not long before. The Sayl family has a safe-house beneath it, known to only a few of the most trusted of Ezachi Sayl’s associates. Thollan’s not supposed to know about this place, and has never been here, so he turns to Darius for help finding the entrance, who has to pretend he can’t recall exactly where it is. After a search, Tobias finds the secret door in a back alley, leading down below the shop. Thollan takes up watch in the alley, hiding in the shadows.
*Ichtaca charges in, with the others close behind him. He descends down a long tunnel and a few sets of stairs, hearing the sounds of a fight from up ahead. When they emerge into a large, furnished chamber with several cells off of the sides, they see Ambassador Sansochin Vitali locked in combat with three changeling impostors, one each impersonating Vash, Ichtaca, and Tobias. Professor Jennish is battered-looking but alive, chained up in one of the cells on the far side of the room.
*The heroes jump into the fight, and it’s a frustrating one, with both sides turning on the newcomers. Vitali’s every strike is augmented with a mixture of divine and psionic magic, and he shows no emotion at all as he stuns his opponents with magic that feels like a violation. The starborn drop smoke bombs, obscuring the entire room then moving quietly about to strike. The fake Tobias flees, ripping into the real Tobias as he passes him in the smoke. The fake Vash strikes often and hard, but focuses his attacks viciously and repeatedly on Darius, wounding him badly, with extreme personal malice. The fake Ichtaca tries to make off with the Professor in the smoke and confusion, and very nearly gets away with him through clever impersonation, persuasion, and trickery. Vash runs to intervene, striking at the impostor but missing in the smoke. Through sheer bad luck, the professor lunges forward to help at that very moment, catching Vash’s maul to the side of his head and falling to the floor with a terrible head wound.
*Finally, the heroes turn the tide, Darius taking out the two remaining starborn, while Tobias holds Vitali’s attention so Vash and Ichtaca can take him down. The heroes are trying to take these three men alive, but that’s a difficult task with such lethal foes. Tobias has Vitali mentally stunned, unable to react as Vash batters him back against a wall. Then Ichtaca strikes with the whip of Imbakao’s spirit magic, intending to capture Vitali. He’s startled when the whip rips into Vitalis’ soul, pulling it clean from his body. He barely determines how to put it back in time to keep the captive from dying. The smoke clears, however, and the mottan ambassador and one of the changelings are both alive, but unconscious. They do what they can for the Professor, who needs immediate medical attention if there is to be any chance of saving his life. They rush off.
*When the party arrives up in the alley, they find a shocked looking Thollan standing over the headless corpse of the changeling Tobias. Thollan swung wildly at the man as he passed by, and landed a lucky blow that left a splatter and a hole in the wall behind where his head had been. He’s shaken by his first kill, but Thollan heads back to the casino, wrapped in bandages like his father was, to take his father’s place and lead the mafia. He plans to hide his condition under the ruse that he’s caught his father’s disease, swears that his father was always right about the evils of magic, vows to be a man, and takes his father’s place with a new appreciation of his methods.
*Vash and Darius take a small detour now, racing to beat Thollan Sayl back to the casino, find the body of the man Darius is impersonating, and steal it before any relatives identify it. Vash can feel his invisibility starting to wear off, so they work fast. He uses his shadow-vassals as “ghosts” to start a panic, then snags the body, which he holds so that it appears rise up and chase some of the fleeing crowd. They take the body to an alleyway, and arrange it so that the man appears to have been killed by common thieves on his way home to meet up with Thollan. All this takes them very little time, then they hire a coach back to the ship, arriving minutes after Ichtaca and Tobias.
*Ichtaca and Tobias wrap their two captives in rugs, the muscular barbarian carrying them easily, with Jennish secured gently against him with his free arm. The two men are slowed by throngs of carnival revelers, but make it back to the ship with no incident. Ichtaca leaves the professor with Lyda, then moves to secure them in the brig, in manacles of true from stolen from the eitharmos, before they can regain consciousness. Lyda and Carmenith are quietly discussing something on deck when the men arrive with Professor Jennish. Lyda’s reaction to seeing her father so terribly injured is off, and she doesn’t run to help him until Carmenith reminds her that she is a doctor. Tobias knows at once that this isn’t his love, and Carmenith doesn’t feel right to him either. While Waylin Cordell runs forward with a cry to help his friend Jennish with a healing potion, Tobias pierces the minds of the two women onboard, exposing them both as changelings. One is the same Carmenith Darius saw back in the Casino, being offered as a trade, with every intent of escaping shortly after. The other is the leader of this little group, one Arkan Tessamach, who had planned to impersonate Darius, but is now in Lyda’s form, a role for which he had not studied.
*Tobias brings the impostors to their knees in psionic agony, and demands to know where Lyda and Carmenith are. They reply that they arrived just in time to see the two women being carried out of a porthole by a tentacled maniac of a man who seemed to have them drugged. He took them into the sea hours ago. The man they describe is clearly Tobias’s father, Ober Orindel. Reaching out through his psionic bond to Lyda, Tobias can sense that she’s alive, but unconscious. He concentrates long and hard, picking up her direction and general distance. Ober is moving straight north at an impossible speed, deep underwater.
*Vash and Darius arrive as the two new changeling half-breeds are being chained in the brig with the others. There is no choice but to split the party. Ichtaca wields Lakhi’s pearl and summons a pod of dolphins, who have heard of him from the ones the adventurers traveled with once before, and are thrilled to take on this chase. Tobias, with his link to Lyda, goes with Ichtaca. Vash wants to go after Carmenith, but knows he cannot leave Darius alone with the dangerous Vitali, and old and canny enemy that Vash knows far better. He also knows that he’s best equipped to resist Vitalis magic, which can dominate a man’s very will and turn him against his allies. Reluctantly, Vash stays behind.
*Before they go, both Ichtaca and Tobias need healing from Chamanaltia. Each has one or more patches of deadened gray flesh from exposure to the Cup of the Winter King. This effect of the cup’s seems to be a side-effect of the cup’s exposure to the drinking blade, and may be temporary, but the damage already done is not. Chama has to cut the dead patches out, including an inch deep patch on Tobias’ chest and a similar one on Ichtaca’s hip. She heals the wounds over, but the stick-golem has little concept of pain beyond knowing how to heal “damage”, and the entire experience is traumatic.
*Ichtaca and Tobias ride north with the dolphins, racing to catch Ober before he reaches something the dolphins tell them lies along his projected path; an underwater Yaloin temple. The dolphins sing to Ichtaca, who communes with them by chewing his special herbs. They swap stories of glory and battle as they close on a dangerous foe with increasing enthusiasm. Tobias uses his arcane skills to keep the pod on track, rallying them through Ichatca to use currents they know and close the gap. It’s a long, hard swim, but after several exhausting hours in the water, they catch up enough to catch sight of their quarry. Ober rides on a great kraken, deep underwater, with the two women held at his side in his tentacles. Each has an air bubble over her face to prevent drowning, but neither is conscious. The kraken is angling down in the final stretch of this race, descending towards a glowing green temple like spun glass, rising up from the sea floor.
*Tobias reaches out with his mind, taking an unsuspecting Ober entirely by surprise, from behind. He jerks Ober off of his mount, disconnecting him from Lyda and Carmenith, who drift off in the dark water. Dolphins retrieve the two women, taking them into a protective circle around the younger pod members at the surface, back and away from the conflict. Tobias floats by his two escort dolphins, eyes and mind connecting with his father’s as Ober turns around, staring at his son in anguished insanity. In a wordless, intimate conversation that lasts only seconds but seems far, far longer, the two exchange much.
*While Tobias and Ober float in open water, staring at each other as if transfixed, Ichtaca has a moment of glory. Mounted on the largest dolphin, he leads the charge down towards the great kraken, discovering quite by accident that he can manifest the spirit energy of his tattoo as a glowing green trident of spirit-energy instead of vines. His warriors outstrip him in speed, closing in on either side of and behind the great kraken, and driving it back towards him. Harried on every side by warriors who ram it repeatedly, the kraken turns on Ichtaca. The Norlythin rides right into the reach of the great beast, building speed and increasing the power humming in his spirit-weapon, then rams the trident home in the creature’s huge eye.
*Tobias finds himself in a place he’s avoided out of fear and pain, in the broken mind of a father he never really knew. Ober was ruined and insane long before Mathis fully enslaved his mind, the seeds of that insanity planted along with the taint that turned him into a mimmessarch. Ober fought it for years, not knowing what was growing within him until the night Tobias was born and his beloved Elena died. The night he saw Dythan Mathis crooning over his wife as she screamed and died, saw the impossible child rising up in a halo of wrongness. At that moment, the blessing for which Ober had journeyed to Forteth and paid so much, the blessing he’d been promised would prevent the future the monks had forseen, the blessing he’d counted on to protect the family he was about to create, revealed itself as a trap, a seed of insanity and corruption, growing unseen within his body, causing him to become a mimmessarch of unusual corruption internally, without any physical manifestations in his outward body or conscious mind. The wave of unnatural psionic and aberrant magic streaming off of the infant triggered the final stage of Ober’s corruption, doubling him over in awful pain, breaking his mind even as his body erupted in tentacles.
Tobias is forced to relive that moment with Ober, as well as the moment they next met, when Ober tortured Tobias nearly to death again and again, only breaking free of Mathis’ control long enough to express hesitation once in all those long hours. After he was captured, he sat for months in isolation, locked in Tuoch’s old quarters, with not one word from a son he both loathes and loves, a son who cannot bear to look at him. Only Carmenith has been kind to him, bringing him books and meals as she once did with Tuoch, speaking with him softly through the door, though he never answered the girl. Her kindnesses did not spare her when he saw his opportunity and snatched his two captives.
In Ober’s tortured mind, he had no choice but to turn back to his old master. He hoped that bringing these gifts would ease the way back into the Yaloin. He expressed madness, grief, love and hate mingled for Tobias, blaming him for Elena’s death, for his own descent into madness, yet desperately longing for something different, emotions he remembers he could once feel for his older children; emotions alien to him now.
Tobias is horrified, but grim. When he hears Mathis’ presence cutting into his and his father’s communion, he severs a brief communication between Ober and Mathis. Then, seeing no other course, and with merciful swiftness, he shatters what remains of Ober’s flung open mind, killing him instantly.
*The kraken’s death cry and Ober’s brief call to Mathis call out an army of aberrant squid and mimmessarch warriors, which rise up to meet Ichtaca’s dolphin army, and the water grows cloudy with blood and drifting organic debris. Ichtaca rallies his army to him, and leads a clean charge to break through the enemy, and allowing the pod and their human passenger to escape. Strangely, the Yaloin don’t pursue them, and Tobias can feel Mathis’ presence falling farther and farther behind, until it fades from his perception in the distance.
*Vash and Darius interrogate Ambassador Vitali first, and Vash is quickly justified in his decision to remain behind when Vitali invades Darius’ mind ordering him to release him. Vash snaps his friend out of it, and Vitali dispassionately offers to tell them whatever they’d like to know in exchange for his freedom. Although everyone in that room, including the emotionless Vitali, knows that it is a lie, that Vash and Darius can’t afford to let the Ambassador walk out of here alive, they agree to the deal. Vitali cooly informs them that nothing he can them will give them an edge against his master; Dythan Mathis is a foe so far beyond them that they can’t hope to challenge him.
*Vash questions Vitali about his murderous habit of cutting out lovers’ hearts, and learns that long ago, when he was Anotros Sansochin Vitali, he and his Silphenite brother Anotros Bartoli Ciprano were already murdering together for sport. Mathis offered them power beyond power, and they became his disciples, devoted servants entirely unconnected to the Yaloin order he’d founded. He endowed them both with psionic magic, blending it with the divine power each already wielded, making small demands in return at first, but increasing them over the years until both were utterly bound to him. Vitali had shown far more promise, and Mathis offered him an experimental increasein power, promising to reward him for the risk. He cut out Vitali’s emotions, a part of his very soul, and filled the void with a corrupt blend of psionic and aberrantly divine magic. Vitali was rewarded, as Mathis bent others to his will, making him a Lord, and an Ambassador, one who could travel freely anywhere on his tasks, immune to local laws, and free to take with him Ciprano as his personal priest. Vitali soon came to feel the void in his soul as a loss, and found a way to fill it temporarily; by ritually harvesting the hearts of those who felt powerful things, and thus psionically devouring the energy of their emotions. Love was best, he soon discovered. Love was the most powerful. Mathis fed this growing addiction, welcoming another way to control this powerful servant.
*They learn that here in Dulunum,Vitali arrived on the ship openly, with a full diplomatic party, in the guise of friendship. He came to “greet old friends”, but was actually there to learn what he could for his master, Dythan Mathis, and also to gauge for himself the “ripeness” of certain hearts among the party he wants very much to harvest. Vitali was disappointed to find most of the party out of town, but met the professor, and realized that this man’s heart, full of grief over his long-lost wife and son, would be the perfect addition to his collection, along with the long-coveted Lyda’s, and possibly those of Vash and Carmenith. He knew he couldn’t have Tobias’, the heart of his master’s “vessel” is off limits. The professor knew exactly what the ambassador was thinking when he started asking questions about Vash and Carmenith’s relationship. When the crafty Mottan worked his way around to Lyda and Tobias, he’d had enough. He caught Vitali by surprise and threw him off the ship and into the harbor.
*There were many witnesses; Ambassador Vitali did not attack. Instead, he complained to the governor, and reported magic on the ship, which set in motion a series of official searches and retaliatory harassment of the crew by the town guard. When the witch-hunter arrested Jennish, Vitali approached the Sayls with an offer to buy him. Ezachi Sayl, however, later decided to sell Jennish to a new, higher bidder, the starborn changelings. The Ambassador came to the casino to demand his prisoner from the Sayls, learned that the “other clients” had escaped and were en-route. However they’d learned of the safe-house, they were on the way there now. He followed them and demanded Jennish, followed by the confrontation the heroes interrupted.
*Vitali is unsurprised and unoffended when Vash does not release him. Before he is executed, he merely says, “My master has other servants than I.”
*Darius leads the interrogation of the three starborn half-breed changelings, all of whom, in their twisted true forms, are male. They are brothers, one of many small groups of elite operatives within the organization, each group made up exclusively of Magister Omechroth Tessamach’s offspring, each group working independently, and each such group known as “a hand.” The changelings don’t have too much useful information to give beyond what Darius already knows. Each has met their father, but none of them know where he lives. Each despises their father, who sees them as failures even as he uses them to find the one he truly seeks; a survivor of “the fall.” This hand should have reported Darius’ existence to Omechroth the moment they learned of his presence, but they did not. They are loyal to Omechroth’s second-in command, Anducaid Ylcuroth, who has found some way to communicate with them from his prison in the court of their enemy; the exarch Mezeliar Wroth. Anducaid has turned this hand against their father, using their hatred and jealousy of their brother Darius to control them. They sought to replace Darius’ friends so they could destroy him emotionally, make his life crumble down around him, and drive him to take his own life. Then, they could report it sadly to their father, and claim that is was not them; the “full-blood of the fall” did it himself.
*Arkan Tessamach is his half-brother, Darius now knows. He, and these others, all the half-breed changelings he’s met, all the offspring of this Omechroth Tessamach, a phantom who runs a powerful, world-spanning organization so clandestine that even most of the factions within it do not know of each other’s existence. They worship the unspeakable eye, and claim Mezeliar Wroth as their enemy. Arkan reveals nothing more of use, nor do his brothers. They spit and curse at Darius, some whining like victims, others defiant and cold, but each one unrelenting in their jealous hatred of him.
*This particular “hand” are hateful, twisted creatures who yearn for his death, and as soon as Darius has learned what he can from them, he executes them without a trace of regret, far better treatment, in his opinion, than what they deserve, both for what they did to Catzin, and for what they were planning to do to him and his friends.
*Darius and Vash rest and wait for the return of the aquatic rescue party, each one’s sleep troubled by worry and a long day full of disturbing events.
*For reasons that are about to become apparent, the exposure of the Drinking Blade to the Cup of the Winter King is significant.