Sunday, July 20, 2008

Session XXVI

Most of this is recap and update to cover the time between games. Session 26 was a game of solo's. I didn't take detailed notes of Ekikos combat against a Trikreen (although all the characters said they attended the event).

The following was written over several emails from our illustrious GM. I've tried to remove a lot of the one-on-one and Q&A stuff he wrote. It was (by far) the longest email conversation the game's had to date.

The court case against the Shadowknave (Conclusion to Act IV)

The Shadowknave's criminal trial is called to order at the Lady's Ward City Court building by Judge Black Ogustus, a dark-skinned Ortho human Guvner who begins the proceedings by reading from his faction's cannon. "In these hallowed halls, the wheel of law brings justice to the wrongdoer, vindication to the wronged, and order to the disordered." It's been three days since your group's return from the Citadel of Fire, and you find yourselves in a small court chamber with a cluster of robed Guvner advocates, clerks and scribes along with a handful of dark-garbed Mercykiller bailiffs and a gaggle of disparate witnesses and criminals. Although proceedings seem rather confusing and chaotic to the uninitiated, its soon becomes clear that the Guvners have everything well in hand as preliminary proceedings are soon underway.

One fact which escapes you at first, but which is soon made clear is that the room is so crowded due to the fact that it contains all the personnel for three distinct criminal trials which the judge is to hear during that session. The Shadowknave's hearing is actually the second one on the docket and so you're all made to sit through a few hours of unrelated legal sparring before legal advocates for and against the Knave are called forth by a Guvner clerk. Three individuals respond to the summons. The advocate for the prosecution is a gnomish Guvner in a powdered wig named Vorbert Pebbletoss. The advocate for the defense is Nye; a tiefling with spiked hair, a colourful waistcoat and who is surrounded by a handful of gemstones orbiting his head. Rounding out the trio is a legal envoy from the bureaucracy of Hell; an ogre-sized humanoid devil with a dark barbed hide, huge bat wings and a snaking prehensile tail who introduces itself as Ylvirron the Cloven. Ekikos' younger brother Kastor nearly faints at the sight of the fiend.

In brief, Vorbert lays out a series of straightforward charges against the Shadowknave including 1. participating in a criminal conspiracy against a chartered faction, 2. abduction and unlawful detainment of a citizen (Kastor Yourgos' son), 3. assault against a citizen resulting in mutilation (Kastor Yourgos' son), 4. magical assault (various named and anonymous victims) and 5. assault upon a city official who is acting in the line of duty (Chryseis Pallas, Notary 1). As proof, he present the Knave's own signed confession along with the testimony from Chryseis, Kastor and a Dustman factotum speaking on his factol's behalf.

'Sly' Nye on the other hand weaves a meandering tale on behalf of his client; one in which the Shadowknave is portrayed as some type of peculiar anti-hero who went about waylaying barmies in the Hive to start them on an unorthodox path of healing and redemption as newly dedicated factioneers. He calls both Eliath and the flame-haired Tyloric as witnesses in the Shadowknave's defense and manages to draw a compelling and affirming story of sorts from them. All in all, his case is oddly compelling as he further manages to cite various court cases in which other unorthodox and possibly illegal examples of goodness and kindness have been validated by the Fraternity of Order's adjudications.

Ylvirron the Cloven on the other hand, presents the Court with an imposing stack of legal documents. Their exact nature eludes most of you, but it appears that the detail a pre-existing case of breach-of-contract litigation which the bureaucracy of Hell wishes to level against the Shadowknave in an extradition petition. Both 'Sly' Nye and Vorbert argue against the petition, citing issues of jurisdiction. The devil in turn attempts to refute their claims of jurisdiction by presenting the judge with papers identifying the Shadowknave as a citizen of Hell and further pointing out that the defendant has no valid Sigilian ID and is thus a foreign expatriate in Sigil. It's all very convoluted and in the end, Judge Ogustus calls a recess to contemplate all the presented evidence and testimony.

Two days later, Judge Ogustus reconvenes the Court to hear his decision against the knave. First off, he chooses to delay processing the infernal extradition petition until the Shadowknave has fulfilled the terms of his sentencing within Sigil. Ylvirron the Cloven seems disturbingly pleased with that decision and retires from the court; much to everyone else's relief. Continuing along, the judge next reduces the charges of criminal conspiracy from a severe plaint to that of a serious plaint; a legal distinction which seems to please the defense since it rules out the possibility of capital punishment altogether. The rest of the assault charges stand however, and Judge Ogustus orders the Shadowknave be turned over to the Mercykiller faction for final sentencing and incarceration in the Prison.

As one of his final acts in the case, Judge Ogustus signs and seals some Harmonium paperwork which validates the awarding of the Shadowknave's (and his accomplices') possessions to that faction and to the group of private citizens who participated in the capture of the convicted prisoner.

Crossguard events (Intermission)

A few noteworthy things occur in Crossguard in the days following your group's triumphant return from the Plane of Fire. The first is that, on a rainy day, Javius the potter hires Yourgos and Nestor (along with Ludvik and Ekikos if they're interested) to move the large wooden armoire out of old Captain Nbod's room. The armoire, being so large and unwieldy, proves rather difficult to maneuver down the stairs and out the door. All in all it takes several hours along with ropes and levers to safely load and secure the armoire onto a rented wagon. The buyer turns out to be Maribach; the same severe human Taker tax-woman in Shou finery who'd previously evaluated the room's contents a few weeks earlier. She in turn gives Javius a hefty purse and further offers Yourgos the porter and his son Nestor a few silvers to pull the wagon halfway around the Cage to the Hall of Records in the Clerk's Ward.

Also, a day or two after he's called to testify in the Shadowknave's trial, a despondent Eliath turns up at the Athenium. It turns out that, in light of his suspicious reasons for joining, his fellow Godsmen have turned the poor prime away from the Great Foundry and further kicked him out of his room at the faction boarding house on Blood Boil street. So once more Eliath finds himself homeless and without means of support in Sigil. To get by, he soon returns to doing what he'd been doing before his abduction; collecting, refurbishing and peddling junk on the streets of the Lower Ward. The revelation that his near-death experience and subsequent divine vision were staged seems to have robbed the man of his spirit however. Although he's warmly welcomed back into the heart of the neighborhood following his absence, Eliath nonetheless seems disheartened and inconsolable. Although he's more lucid than he ever was before his abduction, the man nonetheless falls back into the comfortable position of playing the babbling fool for the amusement of the neighborhood's children. As he used to, Eliath spends many nights sleeping in Heinrich's smithy when he isn't scavenging around the Lower or Hive wards. Soon Eliath can be seen rummaging through midden piles while sporting the dark olive colours of the Bleak Cabal.

The dusky skinned Captain Vorten asks to speak with Chryseis in his office when she reports for duty at the Lower Ward Harmonium garrison the day following the Shadowknave's trial. Having read her full report of the events that took place in the Mortuary and the Citadel of Fire, he has some observations he'd like to share with her. To begin, he expresses his and his superiors' favorable impression as to the results produced by a newly inducted Notary; identifying and bringing down a sizable criminal conspiracy is certainly impressive by anyone's standards. He does have a few performance criticisms to pass along however. Although the circumstances in which Chryseis found herself while pursuing her investigation were admittedly very difficult and necessitated a good deal of improvisation on her part, her choices weren't always in keeping with Harmonium ideals. Captain Vorten has three such examples to offer his subordinate. The first is that Toranna the Grey should have been arrested and held for trial rather than handed over to the Dustmen. Likewise, the various mercenaries and personnel of the Citadel of Fire should ideally have been held for questioning and possibly criminal proceedings rather than allowed to go free. Lastly, the evidence collected in Imogen's quarters should have been retained for Harmonium inspection rather than turned over to the Dustmen. The good Captain reiterates that such mistakes are easily overlooked when the extremely difficult circumstances and Chryseis' own inexperience are taken into account, but advises the priestess to meditate on them if she wishes to one day become an officer in the Harmonium. Speaking of faction advancement, Captain Vorten concludes Chryseis' performance review by telling her, with a wink, that he's already submitted her name for a commendation and promotion.

Following in the wake of Chryseis' initial performance review, Captain Vorten's recommendation bears fruit for the young priestess. During the monthly recruit indoctrination ceremony held at the City Barracks, the imposing Factol Sarin calls Chryseis to the fore to accept a promotion to the rank of Notary III. Following a few more months of dutiful service along with the successful completion of additional training courses, the Factol repeats the ceremony six months later by further promoting Chryseis to the rank of Notary IV.

Death of Sophia

In an unfortunate turn of events, eight months following the group's return from the Plane of Fire, during the month of Exaltation, the elderly priestess Sophia's health takes a turn for the worse when she suffers apoplexy which leaves her partially paralyzed, bed-ridden and largely unable to speak. Prioress Ismene dutifully tends to her beloved mentor while the other Athenium priestesses lead the local congregation in prayer sessions. Sophia's declining condition soon leads Ismene to summon Apollo and Hermes physicians from the Lady's Ward temples to the Priory. They can do little more for Sophia however except to pray to their gods and seek to make the elderly priestess comfortable. Over the next few weeks, countless masses are held in the Athenium while the younger priestesses endeavor to host an assortment of distinguished visitors who've come to the Priory to visit with the ailing former-prioress. Fittingly perhaps, Sophia passes away in her sleep early in the morning of Mortis; a holiday dedicated to the veneration of the dead. Most of the smithies and business' throughout Swordhold remain closed as a show of respect over the ensuing days of mourning. Three days later the late Sophia's remains are paraded through the streets by the other Athenian priestesses, all the way to the temple of Hermes where a delegation of Hades' priests take the body through a portal for interment on the slopes of Mount Olympus. Ismene follows along with the delegation only to return to the Athenium the following day with a reliquary containing the late Sophia's preserved heart.

As the months slip by, life in the Cage continues. The regular rumors of The Lady Pain's appearances makes the rounds of the Cage's alehouses while the dabus continue their endless toil to keep the city from falling apart or drowning in a tangle of razorvine. Some months following your group's return to the Cage, a particularly juicy bit of faction-related chant being bandied about Sigil catches Ludvik's attention. It seems that the bombastic new prime Factol of the Fated, Duke Rowan Darkwood, has initiated a secret romantic relationship with the young driven tiefling Factol of the Mercykillers, Alisohn Nilesia. Rumors of their late-night rendezvous and supposed back-room trysts in the Hall of Speakers are soon the talk of the town. Some faction high-ups grow concerned at the possibility that this relationship heralds a new alliance between the Mercykillers and the Fated. Since they both each recently ascended to the leadership of their respective factions, a major shakeup in Sigil's political landscape is hardly out of the question.

New laws

Three months after Sophia's death, many of the city's chantmongers (including Ludvik) are employed by the Mercykiller faction to spread word of a new simplified penal sentencing reform on behalf of Factol Alisohn Nilesia. In part it reads: "Henceforth, all crimes committed in Sigil fall into one of three categories, and all crimes committed in the past get reclassified according to the new structure. For all felonies (such as murder, rape, burglary, or arson), the Mercykillers' new punishment is death. For all misdemeanors (such as assault, embezzling, jaywalking, begging, or vagrancy), the new punishment is 10 years' hard labor in the Lower Planes. And for all other rules infractions (such as failure to pay fines, falsifying reports, and so on), the new punishment is 10 years' incarceration in the Prison."

This unexpected and unilateral penal reform is unprecedented in Sigilian history and causes a major uproar throughout the Cage. Nowhere are the cries of outrage louder than within Clerk's Ward's Hall of Speakers. Calls for the forced removal of Nilesia from the position of Factol are bandied about as the Mercykillers begin dutifully overseeing this major reorganization of the penal system. Although many Factols and Factors of various chartered factions are shocked to learn the truth, it is an inescapable fact that, according to the Fraternity of Order, the Mercykillers are well within their rights to affect sentencing reforms within the city as they see fit.

The Mercykillers contend that their Factol is not without some sense of fairness, though. For instance, a berk who's already served more than 10 years for operating a tavern without a license is now free to go. But sods serving life sentences for previously committed felonies are now getting being shown to the leafless tree. And so begins a seemingly endless number of daily executions; most held outside the Prison in Petitioner's' Square for the public, but also in smaller little used venues such as the old public gallows in Hangman's Square.

So how does this affect the city's gladiators? Well, there are so many executions to be held that the gnomish proprietor of the New Tyr's Blood Pit accepts the Mercykillers' offer of cheap condemned prisoners for execution in the arena. Although many are simply hanged, many prisoners are allowed to fight each other in lethal matches to possibly delay their own deaths for a few days. Soon enough the Pit is awash in bloody mass combats; all of which leave the independent and contracted gladiators (such as Ekikos) with no means to support themselves. The wily Felgar manages to keep the peace in New Tyr by paying off the various lanistas and their top tier gladiators.

All told, condemned prisoners of the Mercykillers are executed in the hundreds, and soon enough the toll surpasses a thousand souls with no end in sight. Reports of violent riots in the Prison make the rounds of the city's alehouses, along with whispered rumors of a growing schism within the Mercykillers' ranks as well as between the city's chartered factions. Most bashers cling to the notion that the madness will soon stop once the bulk of the condemned have been executed.

The stories we tell

We saw each other, either by the happy accident of having all be home at the same time -- or in passing in th travel throughout the city.

Eki worked as an instructor at the gymnasium. While the pay was decent, he regularly spent most of it on food and lodgings closer to the gymnasium. Chrysaes worked long shifts, and did much to improve her rank at the local barracks.

We trade tales when our paths cross. This first one we learned several months after it happened.
One night, while in Crossguard doing some mending work at Henrick's forge, she saw a group of tall, cloaked strangers go to the Atrium. One went in, and a few minutes later with Merissa. She points towards Chryseis, and he walks up to.

The stranger is accompanied by a trio of Dabus. The stranger has a palatable presence. Even in the dim light of the forge, his skin seems to glow as if he's standing in full light. He speaks in Hellenic with an elliean accent.

He recites a piece of of the Illyad to Chryseis. He names himself Ardalis, son of Hefiastos. Chryseis' beauty inspires him to play a song on a small twinned flute. When he's done, he asks Chryseis about her first memory. He admits to knowing two others like her, his father's servants--the Courre Chryseis. They help Hefiastos walk, stoke the bellows, and perform various tasks around the forge.

Ardalis believes Chryseis was made by Hefiosa, but Hefiosa only made two Courre Chrysaes. He says the forge that Chrysaes described as part of her first memory sounded like one of his father's forges near the mountain. There he made jewlery for the water nymph's who cared for him. He also says she is ... unfinished, but doesn't ellaborate.

Using only his bare hands, he molded a decoration to Chryseis' shield. The sheild became polished and lit with his touch, and buffed by a single breadth. He bestows a laurel leaf crown, wrought by his bare hands from a gold coin. She is invited to visit his father's forge. He plays a song, and then departs.

Ardalis is credited with having created the flute.

Ludvik's tale was also learned over beer at the Keg & Casket.

Ludvik was heading home one night, just after the rain stopped. He's coming back from a night along the ale house row. He hears something quietly moving about nearby, sounding like a 4-footed beast just beyond the range of his vision.

He catches the sight of its silhouette. A large wolfhound maybe? As he tries to follow, he's has to hurry as it begins to move faster and faster. Just as he thinks he's lost the trail, he finds that the silhouette has paused, as if waiting for him to catch up.

He finds a tattered piece of parchment hanging on the razorvine. It's an old wanted poster for Chaplain Earnest. The silhouette leads him a merry chase. Down alleyways, and back to the Alehouse run - in front of a fiend bar named the Styx's Oarsman. Two men stumble out of the bar in front of Ludvik. There he sees that Earnest has grown a beard in the last year. Earnest talks to the bouncer briefly, before turning away from Ludvik and walking down the lane.

Ludvik follows, and when Earnest stumbles down a lonely lane-Ludvik gets his attention and attacks. The fight is quick, and deadly.

As Ludvik walks away, a wolf howls in the distance.

Eki's tale is of his first fight in the arena. While short, it won his great acclaim. He regaled us with tales of the character he plays, and his plans for the future.

My own tales were slight. I'd spent the year working in various places. I saw the treasury, and spent a month or two in labour there. I helped out at a cookhouse in the Hive, and spent several months traveling the city with a slowly recovering Eliath. It was only in the later months, however, that I realized something was wrong. When I came home, I found the eye. To my surprise it moved on its own. The voice that had haunted my dreams and visions had come from the eye. Needless to say, when I left home again--the eye came with me.

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