The group traveled by carriage to the mining town of Uriel, Ezekiel's last known location. On the way to Uriel, the party spotted a wayside bothy made of stone. As they approached the bothy they began to hear a man's screams issuing forth from within; the door was kicked open from the inside and a group of misshapen ruffians emerged, one dragging a handsome man along by his golden hair. When the party intervened, they were told to mind their business by one of the ruffians, and thus, battle was joined.
At first, the ruffians had the upper hand, dealing tremendously dangerous blows with their two-handed butcher's blades. Grimm was cut down by an assailant, but the timely intervention of Tristan (and the grace of St. Othric) brought him back from death's door. Luka scurried about the roof of the carriage, firing at the ruffians as his friends wounded them with sword, axe, and glaive; one ruffian was terrified by Tristan's holy wrath and attempted to flee, but was dropped in his tracks by a difficult musket shot from Luka. Seeing that one of the ruffians was attempting to sling the blonde man onto the back of a horse to make off with him, Tarvin hamstrung the lout and then delivered the killing blow. Eventually, all the ruffians were dead in pools of their own blood.
Foes dispatched, the party could now converse with the man they had just saved from abduction. The astonishingly handsome man introduced himself as Madrigal Harpur (a nom d'artiste that immediately made some members in the party suspicious that he wasn't who he would claim to be). Madrigal told them that he was fleeing from Uriel, as the town had dashed the hopes of his life on the cruel rocks of despair. His fiancee, Tamara the town's constable, died mysteriously; Uriel's doctor claimed that a weak heart ended her life, but this didn't make sense to Madrigal as Tamara was "as strong as an ox," and was a former crusader and soldier in the prime of her life. No, Madrigal blamed Markman Hull, the proprietor of Uriel's brothel and Tamara's former lover.
Pressing Madrigal for more information, the party learned that Ezekiel works as Markman's enforcer in town, keeping the peace. Since the town's silver mining operation proved successful, Uriel had been prey to raids by bandits. Local law had proven ineffective at safeguarding the town...until Markman arrived with his band of ruffians--all of whom looked a bit like Ezekiel, though smaller and less imposing (or, perhaps, less fully formed). Madrigal also revealed that there seemed to be no end to Markman's enforcers; as soon as some died fighting off bandits (or just in regular drunken brawls) more would appear within a few days to take their places.
Madrigal believed that the now-dead enforcers had been sent by Markman to take him back to Uriel to be tortured or killed because Markman had never gotten over being cast aside by Tamara in favor of Madrigal. (While he told his tale, Tarvin listened intently for any falsehoods, but Madrigal seemed to speak in earnest; Grimm deftly rifled the man's back to make sure his story checked out, but all he felt in his cursory search was some sort of stringed instrument and the expected personal effects.) Thanking the party profusely for rescuing him, Madrigal set off to put Uriel forever behind him.
Onward to Uriel, a ramshackle "town" surrounded by a wooden palisade. The town itself was simply a street of wooden buildings surrounded by miners' tents and rough shanties. Passing by a tavern, a general store, and the town's doctor's office, the party headed straight to the brothel, a two-story building whose windows were thickly curtained. Entering the establishment, they were greeted by the sight of a wooden stage where a prostitute danced perfunctorily, a man in the corner playing a harpsichord, a bar running the length of the opposite wall, and a scattered crowd of drinkers, card players, and whores--all overseen by a tall, muscular man with arms crossed, hat pulled down over his eyes, and tusks jutting from his lips. The party recognized their mark, and Luka recognized that this "man" was actually an orc (1).
(1) - In Krevborna, orcs aren't so much a race as a type of being that can be grown via sorcerous means. They're sometimes referred to as the "cauldron-born."
The group converged at the bar to hatch a plan to bring Ezekiel in, where they had some banter with one of the fallen women and a bartender who wanted to make sure they understood the purpose of a brothel. In the end, they favored the most direct of approaches: Luka grabbed a bottle of liquor from the bar, walked over to where Ezekiel was standing, offered him a drink, was rebuffed with a terse "Don't drink," and then Luka threw the bottle at Ezekiel's head and went for his pistols. Ezekiel proved quick on his feet; he dodged the bottle and managed to bring a meaty, iron-shod fist into Luka's ribs. Although faster than he looked, Ezekiel was soon surrounded by the party, who quickly began stabbing and shooting him like so many senators on the Ides of March.
The stabbing party was interrupted by a paunchy, middle-aged man with thinning hair, a salt and pepper mustache, and a striped waistcoat thundering down the stairs, yelling that there didn't need to be any violence under his roof. The man caught Tarvin's eye and immediately Tarvin knew that this man was his great friend. Tarvin agreed that perhaps there was no need for violence, so the melee was halted (despite a parting pistol-whip from Luka). Everyone (except Ezekiel, who slunk upstairs to lick his wounds) retired to the bar where the newcomer introduced himself as Markman Hull, proprietor of the Green Flute brothel.
Tarvin broached the idea of giving Markman some recompense for letting them take Ezekiel into custody, but Markman wouldn't hear of it. He explained that Ezekiel was necessary and integral for his operation. He offered to show the group exactly why Ezekiel was so important, asking them to follow him down into the basement... Tarvin and Grimm followed him, but Luka and Tristan managed to slip away unnoticed.
Down in the basement, Markman unlocked a door at the end of an ale cask-filled basement, revealing a series of black iron cauldrons filled with bubbling greenish fluids from which escaped wisps of noxious vapor. Markman told Tarvin and Grimm that the inhuman Ezekiel was like a plant one could take cuttings from...and grow more orcs within the cauldrons by using a "special family recipe." The orcs were important because they were the only things so far that had proved strong enough to keep bandits from raiding the town and killing the miners. Protected miners means silver flowing into the town, which means money that could be spent at Markman's brothel. (What he didn't say is that he fed off the pleasures enacted under the roof of the Green Flute.) Without Ezekiel, he couldn't grow more enforcers to keep the peace and the town would surely die off due to the predation of bandits.
Cut to Tristan and Luka, climbing the stairs to the second floor, easily following the trail of blood left by Ezekiel. They find Ezekiel sitting on a bed, head down, clutching his wounds. Luka pulls a pistol. Ezekiel says "Had it coming," and is dispatched point-blank by the ranger, who then takes Ezekiel's head as proof to collect to the bounty.
Cut back to the basement, where Markman hears the gunshot ring out and realizes that he's let some of these interlopers out of his sight. He tries to rush back up the stairs, but Grimm attacks him. Tarvin, still believing that Markman is his great friend, grapples Grimm to stop his two best friends from fighting. While grappled, Markman bends his face to Grimm's, their lips touching...and then everything goes black for Grimm. In that twilight place between life and death, Grimm hears a woman's voice behind him, her breath hot on his neck. She says, "It doesn't have to end like this. Your friend, the master to whom you are loyal--and you are the most loyal man I have ever met--is bewitched by that creature. Without you, his chances of leaving alive are slim. Will you accept the darkness to fight on?" Grimm recognizes the voice; it is Ivara Olashenko.
Grimm accepts the bargain, and finds that he lives and breaths once more. He breaks Tarvin's hold, and continues to battle Markman, whose arm has now transformed into a hideous, elongated claw the color of old, congealed blood. Tristan and Luka venture down the stairs, into the pitched and confusing fray. Grimm rushes Markman, throwing him to the ground; Luka sends a bullet through Markman, that ends what passes for his life. The man's body changes form, becoming a monstrous thing with a horned head and bat-like wings. His head is taken as a trophy as well.
The upstairs rooms are duly looted, with the coin, silver nuggets, and gems expertly extracted from a locked safe by Grimm. Outside, the fallen women who worked at the brothel openly wondered about who would protect them. They were joined by Dr. Robisard, the town's pipe-smoking doctor, who also wondered who would keep the bandits away from Uriel without Markman and his army of orc spawn acting as a deterrent. The characters succeeded in their goal of collecting the bounty to bolster their relationship with the White Ravens, but at what cost to the town of Uriel? Yes, they killed a fiend and his henchmen, but what if they were a necessary evil? The characters are not immune to this consideration, already plans are underway to find a relative of the Sellvek family, arm them with some hired soldiers, and set them up to usher Uriel into a new era of safety and prosperity. And maybe, if things go well, there will be a financial benefit for the Sellvek family as well. Perhaps Uriel will one day be rechristened Sellvek Heights, eh?
Returning to Chancel, Grimm finds a letter from Ivara waiting for him. It says, simply, "We should talk."
* * *
- 337 gp each in coin, silver nuggets, and flawed gemstones (includes bounty paid by the White Ravens)
- The Black Resonant Bell (which will need to be identified)
- Ezekiel's greataxe (which is a magical greataxe +1)
Tarvin has Inspiration for the best roleplay of a charm effect I've ever seen
Luka has Inspiration for single-mindedly pursuing his prey/goal
(note that you can only have one "point" of Inspiration at a time)
Grimm rolled an 11 on the table
Renown update -