City of a Thousand Deaths

Prelude: First Impressions
A bold new band arrives in Waterdeep

Your first sense of Waterdeep is an assault on the senses: the cries of dockworkers, the stink of the day’s catch, and the aroma of a hundred different dishes hawked by street vendors compete with guild colors and the brilliant morning sky for attention as you step from the Lady’s Mercy onto the docks. It’s not your first glimpse of such a city – you boarded the Mercy from Baldur’s Gate, itself hardly a backwater – but the sheer number of ships in the harbor, the teeming masses, and the imposing presence of the castle atop Mount Waterdeep make you wonder if the city’s nickname – City of Splendors – isn’t just the hyperbole you assumed it to be.

You have barely a moment to take it in before the thump of your baggage on the dock next to you takes you back to the task at hand. Berran Ironhouse, the agent from Candlekeep who hired you to protect him during his journey north, motions you all closer, to better hear him over the bustle of the port.

“Gather your things,” he says. “We’ve got rooms waiting at the Sleeping Serpent.” He gestures at the warren of warehouses, storefronts and taverns that ring the docks as far as the eye can see. If the inn’s there, it’s not obvious where. “And don’t get your hopes up,” he grins. “It’s just as cozy as it sounds.”

Berran looks around at his sellswords. Orthik Muffinhead, a dwarf priest of Moradin, rested on the haft of his warhammer, his kind eyes belying a ferocious skill with the weapon. The dwarf poked Gidder Harpell in the ribs, getting his attention; the mirthful human mage was always captivated by something, and the harbor’s sights and sounds were hard for anyone to ignore. Calvia Kessemer noticed, and laughed, captivating everyone, as she always did. Beautiful, charming, and quick with a blade, the half-elf bard stood easily on the dock, at ease as she always was, regardless of where she stood. Ryeltar Oblodra, the last of the group, held a little back from the others, a hood covering most of his face, as much to protect his sensitive eyes from the sun as to avoid alarming any dock workers who may not have welcomed a drow sorcerer in their midsts.

It’s a motley group, Berran thinks, but it has the makings of a formidable one. Which is good, considering….

“We’ll get settled in first. You’ll have a few hours to explore, but be back by twilight. We’ve a deal to strike tonight, and we’ll want to be prepared.”

With easy grace, the grey haired man picks up his backpack and turns to lead the group away from The Lady’s Mercy, then turns back over his shoulder for a final comment.

“Just remember, when you’re exploring” he says. “It’s outsiders that call Waterdeep City of Splendors. The people of the Dock Ward have another name.”

“City of a Thousand Deaths.”

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The Sleeping Serpent

Beer cleans up so much easier than blood, Alaerd mused. The innkeeper sighed, and stared despondently at the spot on the table where Berran Ironhouse died. The assassin’s blade had passed cleanly through the back of the man’s neck. Likely the man was dead before his head hit the table, drenching it – and the chairs, and the floor – with blood.

The next thirty seconds had been terrifying. The dead man’s bodyguards had reacted violently, and although the assassin hadn’t come alone, he’d underestimated that motley crew. Even disoriented by flash bombs and alchemist’s fire, the wizard had the assassin unconscious before he made it out the back door. At least, that’s what Keypip said. The poor girl had been caught between the assassin and the dwarf charging after him. She was sure the man would escape, but he just stumbled and fell to the floor, like something heavy had hit him. Only, nothing had, as far as she could see. Until the dwarf’s hammer smashed the man’s head all over the back alley.
Something else that needed to be cleaned up. That, and the bar, which had been sprayed with acid, drenched in ice, and scorched with fire in the space of half a minute. A carpenter was doing what he could with it.

At least the inn was better off than the Fishgut Cleaner’s digs up the street. The whole Ward was abuzz with that inferno. It was somehow connected with the attack in his inn, although the gods’ knew how. All he knew is that the sell-swords had pursued the surviving assassins right into the gang that was burning the place down, and the gang wasn’t none too happy to see them. THAT was a fight he was glad happened outside. Keypip said Merrick the ropemaker’s apprentice had gotten a firsthand look at the whole thing, and told her what happened.

What happened was her fiancé had gotten himself set on fire and thrown out a second story window by some man, dragon, wizard thing, while a gang of thugs burned the whole place down. Rogue dragonborn, everybody’s saying, although Sergeant Fremon swears it wasn’t. Too short, he said. Man sized. But Sergeant Fremon’s dragonborn himself, and Patrolman Kep said they were getting different accounts from different witnesses, so the verdict’s still out, there. Shame about the place. It was a front for thieves, and all, but the Fishgut Cleaners weren’t a bad bunch, as gangs of thieves go.

If that attack was a turf grab by a rival gang, Alaerd thought, his new neighbors were going to be less sociable.

Alaerd thought about that a moment. Them sell-swords were still living upstairs. With a violent new crew around, that might be a bad thing. But if that crew comes hunting them…. Well. That could be bad for business.

First things first, Alaerd thought. Fix the bar. Clean the blood up. Get a stand in for Keypip while she mourned. One way or another, the Sleeping Snake was staying open for business.

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Session Summary 2: April 25th, 2009
Insects, Kobolds, and Filth

After a successful battle with a group of beetles infesting a collapsed section of the sewer, the group found themselves no closer to their goal of tracking down the group of thugs responsible for the assasination of Berran Ironhouse. They did recover the body of a fallen dwarf warrior, and gave him an impromptu burial in the rubble. The armor he used, fire resistant as it was, did not save him from the beetles, but perhaps it would serve Orthik better.

Ultimately it did, but not before the group got itself hopelessly lost in the labyrinthian sewer complex. What’s worse, the prolonged exposure to the noxious fumes was making everyone ill, with the exception of the impossibly resiliant Calvia Kessemer, who managed to take even exposure to disease in stride.

While the group failed to find its way to safety, or to track down the thugs, they did stumble on a small stronghold of kobolds, situated in an old complex of some kind with the sewer flowing around it. Seeing an opportunity to seize a safe resting place, they attacked. Ryeltar bluffed the kobolds long enough to cause them to lower their defenses for a moment, for fear of a drow attack. A moment was all Orthik and Calvia needed. They leapt past the traps and obstacles the kobolds had erected to deter attackers and smashed the defenders in the first redoubt. Steeped in cunning, the kobolds lead a flanking action, but Gidder and Ryeltar repeled it with force, acid, and conjured clouds of daggers. At the end of the battle, the group held a part of the kobold stronghold, but as they paused to catch their breath, they could hear the counter-attack coming.

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Epilogue 1: Farthik
Fall of Kaen: the Aftermath

Epilogue, Part 1: Farthik

Investigator Farthik nudged the body with the ball of his foot, careful to avoid the blood still coagulating around it. As Kaen’s head began to roll over, more blood flowed from the neck wound, and Farthik quickly jumped back. It was one thing for the patrolmen securing the scene to get blood on their boots, but he chose his footwear in the traditional Proudfoot way: he went without. And anyway, it would be unbecoming of an investigator of the Watch to be covered in blood.

Farthik took a step back from the sorcerer’s corpse and looked at the devastation around the room. It was a battle zone. An eladrin woman lay dead by the balcony, but that was the least unusual part of the crime scene. The bodies of small dragon-like creatures were everywhere – more than a dozen of them. There were five, egg-like glass and porcelain sculptures arrayed about the room, in various states of damage. He had an inkling that when the on-duty arcanist arrived on the scene (if he ever arrived on the scene, the worthless layabouts) he’d tell him that the sculptures weren’t just sculptures, and the dragon-things weren’t just dragon-things, and that the shimmering, blue and silver circle inscribed on the ground next to the eladrin’s body had something to do with all of it, but what did he know? He was just an investigator.

Which led him to the problem of his “deputies.” That lot could shed a lot of light on this mystery, he wagered. The black elf saw much, but revealed little, and that giddy wizard with the silly smile understood more than he let on -at least where magic was concerned. The woman, too, as beautiful a human as he’d ever seen (all too tall and too skinny for his tastes), she looked like she knew her way around a spell, and could be discrete to boot. That’s why he’d sent them down this path. Fight fire with fire, right? Farthik sighed. They’d fought fire with a bloody massacre. Starting at the Battling Babe. He knew they’d have to strong arm their way into the tunnel, but he was shocked to find the owner dead. Plus, Patrolmen Kip said they’d had to clear a path through a pile of bodies just to make it to the top floor – and found two more piles in the basement. Bloody bloodbath. At least the fire hadn’t spread to the surrounding buildings.

Farthik took out his pipe and struck a spark. Maybe it was the dwarves. The one was a brawler, but the other looked like some sort of holy man. Then again, he imagined the dwarven version of holy had as much in common with Yondalla’s feast days and the pile of corpses downstairs did spring cakes. He let the smoke fill his lungs and held it. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift a moment, then exhaled, feeling some of his tension drift off with the smoke. He laughed. It was that elf, he thought. He’d pegged the elf as the safest of the lot, but he was wrong. That goliath Sek-thon, Kaen, half a dozen others downstairs – they were killed by arrows. That Correndell was the one he’d underestimated.

Still, he couldn’t argue with results. He had planned to play this off as a hit by a rival gang, and, honestly, the piles of dead only made the story an easier sell. It didn’t hurt that they’d looted everything of value on their way out. Moral queasiness aside, this was all probably for the best. Kaen had shown himself to be ruthless, and the thugs who’d flocked to him were no better. Sek-thon….well, he’d have to hear their explanation for Sek-thon. But overall, probably for the best.

“Sir?”

Farthik turned. Patrolman Wallak stood beside a pale kid clutching a carrying case to his chest, barely checking his nausea, from the look of him.

“The arcanist?”

“What? Oh, no.” The kid shook his head, and held out the case. “Sketch artist. Devlin Thom.”

“Don’t give it to me, boy. I can’t draw a stick.” Farthik looked at Wallak and jerked his head at the sorcerer’s body. “Let’s have a look at him, then.”

Wallak and another patrolman started straightening the corpse so they could roll them over. Thom stood there. Farthik jabbed him with his pipe.

“You new?”

“Oh! No. Right. I’ll get set up.”

“First dead body, son?”

“No, of course not. I’m from the city.”

Farthik raised an eyebrow.

“There’s crime in the North Ward. Just…not so much all at once.”

“Stick around the docks. You’ll get used to it. Anywise…” Farthik gestured at Kaen, as Wallak finally succeeded in rolling the rigid body over. “It’s this one we’re worried about.”

Farthik stopped as the man’s face rolled into view, his heart racing. Thom’s case clattered to the floor. Wallak jumped to his feet.

“Careful, you!” he shouted. “This is a crime scene!”

“Llira’s song! That’s…” Thom pointed his finger at Kaen’s now upturned face, and Farthik slapped it down.

“Get him out of here!”

“But that’s…”

“That’s no-one, damn you! Now, Wallak!”

The patrolman jerked Thom down the hall. He looked ready to protest, but Farthik threw the sketch kit into his chest, and Wallak had him down the hall before he knew it.

“There’s a whole pile of bodies downstairs to draw. Spill ink over THAT crime scene.” Farthik stared hard after the kid, who got the message. He trotted down the stairs ahead of Wallak.

“Gods.” He rubbed the palm of his hand against his forehead to stop the throbbing, then took a long drag off his pipe. Only then, did he turn back to the corpse.

Yondalla preserve us, he thought.

What have we done?

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Epilogue 2: Ekrall

Ekrall willed his body still as the deepdweller took another step forward. The stocky creature was almost on top of him, and even closer to Iglek, but was too blind to see the crafty spear-fighter. By the time he did, it would be too late. One more step….

Ekrall leapt to his feet and uttered the word the magic had taught him. His blood surged with heat and power; magic being magic, the blast he unleashed on the foolish interloper was as cold as the breath of mighty Icektoth, the white head of Tiamat. The creature raised his shield to catch the brunt of the blast, and might have succeeded,but Iglek’s spear knocked it back down. Icicles were forming in its already pale beard when he hit the rancid sewer water like a falling ice floe.

Ekrall and Iglek hit the water right after. The fallen deepdweller’s comrades were quick to respond, and fiery missiles lit the tunnel inches above their heads. It’s what they always did. These things were sturdy, sure, and strong, but they lacked cunning, thought Ekrall, sinnowing after Iglek through the admittedly putrid waste water to the other side of the sewer, where the wall provided cover from the volley of darts still falling the water around him. They’d be rushing forward now, depending on the missile fire to keep their heads down while their hammer wielding brethren invaded Mudscale territory. If they were smarter….

The shaman dove to the sewer floor, then pushed up out of the water, exploding onto to the small catwalk along the sewers edge. The deepdwellers were there, just as he supposed, charging behind shields, hammers ready to strike. Ekrall called forth his magic again, Kurtulmak’s birthgift, and sent a bead of ice darting towards the oncoming shields – and over them. He heard a bark, just then (what the warmbloods called laughter?) and a shout in their unintelligible tongue. They thought they had him. Warmbloods never could tell when they’ve become prey, he mused.

The ice bead struck the overhead guideline, and cut clean through. Without it, there was nothing holding back the hundredweight of debris, trash, muck and filth suspended in the net they’d hung over the catwalk. A moment later, there was nothing left of the deepdwellers’ bold, predictable charge. A pair of swift jabs from Iglek saw that it stayed that way.

Ekrall ignored them, scurrying back across the rickety gangplank to the western redoubt – one of the three redoubts that had once held many claws worth of his cunning Mudscale clan mates. They were down to three, now, but it was still the clan home. Eggs may yet be laid in its heart. Young may yet crawl their way through shell to swell their numbers. The surface dwellers had given him his first glimmer of hope since the false Tiamat had led so many Mudscale kobolds away, but it had been many days since the human and her followers had left in pursuit. Perhaps they were dead. Perhaps the dark elf betrayed them, and sent these others to plague them. Kurtulmuk hadn’t shown him in his prayers, but perhaps he yet would.

But first, there was the matter of the dart throwers.

“Urthuk,” he called across the chamber, as he sped across redoubt towards the gangplank on the other side. “Ready yourself.”

The shaman raced across the gangplank, and another wave of bolts flicked from the tunnel, but he was moving too fast. He hit the far catwalk and rushed toward the tunnel, knowing he’d be fully exposed once he cleared the corner. He called on his birthgift, and power welled within him. When he came around the corner, the deepdwellers were waiting, down the hall. Too far. He leapt for the sewer water, but they were ready for him, and he was in easy range. The darts flew.

And slammed into dragon-scale, as Urthuk burst from the water to intercept the fire. He barked in triumph as the volley ended, without a scratch between them. The deepdwellers grasped for hammers as the wiry Ekrall leapt from the water again, this time in their midst, dwarfed by the stocky attackers all around him. Too close to escape.

When he unleashed his power, nothing remained in the hall to threaten the Mudscale clan.

“Praise Kurtulmak,” he said. “Praise Tiamat.”

“Let none disturb our nest!” shouted Iglik, from the catwalk “Let none….”

The fireball cut off the rest of his words.

Ekrall stared in shock as the plume of flame raced towards him. Urthuk proved faster, pulling his shaman down and covering them both with his shield. The fire washed around them, singing robes and licking scales. When it cleared, Urthuk glanced over the shield, then grabbed Ekrall and pulled him into the water.

“Clever,” he said, before hitting the water.

Ekrall got one glimpse of the hall before he went under, and it made his tail switch in panic.

There was a new tunnel in the middle of the chamber, and deepdwellers were pouring out of it.

It took him a moment to collect himself. “So it ends,” he thought. A strange calm descended over him, then, and he began to swim in Urthuk’s wake. The holy warrior was swimming straight to the central redoubt, where the nests were kept. He meant to make his stand there, as was proper. There would be no young to raise to cunning, to scavenge and provide for future broods. There would be no mates to eat his flesh, so that he may live on and give spirit to future glories. They would die in an empty hatchery, and their enemies would burn their flesh. Perhaps it is well there were no eggs to crush. He would ascend the clanspire and call down Kurtulmak’s fury on the deepdwellers. Urthuk would defend him until they broke his body and sent him to Avernus. Then he would die, and the Mudscale with him.

He climbed from the water and raced for the central redoubt, as Urthuk covered him. Darts slammed into the shield, but it held. They rose to race inside, and the world exploded.

What happened in the next few moments, Ekrall couldn’t say. Flagstones pressed against his face. His vision swam, and sounds became distant. The deepdwellers moved forward, shields raised, hammers in hand, but they moved slowly, as if time had slowed in the blast. Behind the sheildbearers, the deepdweller’s shaman crossed the gangplank, staff in hand. “Strong and clever,” Ekrall thought. “They deserve the nest.” The shaman raised his staff toward him and aimed. Ekrall looked past the implement into his rival’s eyes, and it exploded in blood.

For one moment, he thought Tiamat had struck through him, but in the next, his heart sang.

The Mudscale Clan lived.

Kobold warriors swarmed out of the tunnels and over the invaders, crashing into shield with claw and spear, with surfacers’ steel. Shocked, the stocky things fell back, fighting towards the tunnel, but before he blacked out, Ekrall knew they’d never make it.

His bargain with the human woman had held. The surfacers had kept their promise.

As he passed into darkness, the future of the Mudscale Clan were born again.

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Epilogue 3: Belhorn

Epilogue 3: Belhorn

Erllia Trickykin placed the cup back in its saucer so the others wouldn’t see the shaking of her hands. She sat on the porch of the surface house she and Belhorn had first rented when they arrived in Waterdeep. They couldn’t afford a proper turf house; to even rent one cost twice what they paid here, itself a luxury in a city overflowing with tenements and apartments. But the over-sized dwelling had served as a home, until….well, that’s what they were gathered around here for, wasn’t it?

Most of her family lived well away from Waterdeep, in the farms outside Daggerford, but since Belhorn’s disappearance, her mother, sisters, and several cousins had made the trek north to support her. So they said.

Her mother placed a reassuring hand on Erlia’s shoulder, but she shook it off. She didn’t need to turn to sense her displeasure. Her mother’s flustered expression had been part of her daily routine over the last few weeks. With Belhorn missing for weeks, the family’s words of comfort turned from support to persuasion, to encouragement to “face facts,” and to “start thinking about her future.” A future which involved Daggerford, and, she was fairly certain, the youngest son of some respectable family. She needed to place her faith in the gods, and accept the path she was given, they said. Discussion stopped altogether after that.

But after the adventurers’ visit, her mother saw a chance for compromise. They’d either bring Belhorn back, or she’d pack up those few things he’d left her, pack the wagon, and settle in for a new life back home. Erlia agreed. At least in Daggerford, she’d not have the empty house to cook in, and his empty bed for sleep.

So it came down to this: her shaking hands, a samovar of tea, and half her family offering sympathetic expressions as they watched the fire burning in the distance.

“It’s probably just a coincedence,” she had said, when they first saw the smoke. From her family’s reactions, nobody thought so. The way those adventurers had held themselves that morning, she didn’t either.

A gout of flame spouted from the fire, and her mom placed a hand on Erlia’s shoulder again. She moved to shake it off, but found herself grabbing it instead, holding it to her face, eyes squeezed shut. She felt like a child again, accepting a hard lesson, the sting made bearable by her mother’s gentle steadiness. Memories flooded through her: of open fields, of kennels filled with scampering dogs, of her father’s cloying pipe smoke, of life before Belhorn. It had been good then. It could be good again.

It was right then, right that very moment, when she accepted her mother’s advice, accepted that the path before her didn’t include the man she had spent the last six years loving, it was right then that her mother’s hand slipped away, that she knocked over the samovar as she ran down the path and threw herself at him, at Belhorn, at the man she couldn’t live without, who had returned to her.

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