Hi guys! This is the continuation of the story from this blog post about betraying the party, and this one about splitting up the party. I recommend giving those a read as they give you some background to what's happening in this story (and they go over some game-play tips!) If you don't read those, I'm afraid you're going to be woefully confused, as the following post is strictly narrative. I hope that won't scare you away, though, because I'm really proud of it and I'd love to know what you all think.
The following story took place in our last D&D session. There was a good amount of time in the middle where are DM, Scott, just happily listened to the story unfolding. If there's any take away from this as a player and DM, I'll offer these thoughts:
1) Players: Make connections and relationships with the other characters. Become interested in their story, supporting their moments, and give them an opportunity to shine. This doesn't have to rest solely on the DMs shoulders. You can shoot questions towards other players to get them involved in a scene.
2) DMs: Give those moments to your players where they can feel AWESOME. Rolling dice is good, but they are there to serve the story (in my opinion) and if a fail or success on a roll will serve that, go for it. But if you're finding you're having players roll for EVERYTHING, try pulling it back a bit. Allow certain things to happen automatically and let the story naturally flow.
Without further ado, I give you the continued adventures of "Books, Brains, and Booze," the adventuring party of The Crown of Gornabaĉ .
As the sun above Dothia lowered toward the horizon, the streets continued to quiet. Arafirith waited in the market for 20 minutes past 5 bells, growing ever more impatient, just as the large Firbolg came into view. Astromel apologised for being late.
"Where could Ophelia be? What if something happened?" Arafirith said, frowning. She continued to scan the thinning crowd, her mood souring by the second.
"Let's not jump to conclusions. How about we give her 10 more minutes before leaving," Astromel eased back against a low stone wall and Arafirith reluctantly agreed.
The room was dark. Thin beams of light cut through the faded curtains, allowing those in the room to faintly see the old stool, a simple table and the mattress on the floor. Laying on the mattress was David, sleeping soundly, using a large oiled leather coat of a dockworker as a blanket. Lerissa's invisible form stood over him like a lion watching its unassuming prey.
As silent as the grave, she went to work. His daggers were moved across the room. Using her picks, the lock on the door clicked closed, making sure they wouldn't be disturbed. She let Maurice out of her backpack and he hid in the corner, the coveted magic stone clutched between his teeth. Lerissa then straddled David, kneeling on the edges of the coat, and so pinning him underneath her. And with her short sword resting just above his throat, she took her dagger in her off-hand and slid it into his gaping, drooling mouth.
"Good morning, Sunshine," Lerissa whispered as his eyes snapped open, "Now, you're going to answer all of my questions, because it'll be much easier to talk with your tongue still attached to your mouth. Do you understand?" He nodded slightly and she slid the dagger out. He licked his lips nervously, eyes darting around searching for the form he could clearly feel above him but couldn’t see.
"Who were you taking the egg to?"
"I was going to take it back," David swallowed, feeling the cold invisible blade against his skin.
"Bullshit. Who are you working for?"
"Charity. Just like you... I was going to take it to her."
"Try again, David. I'm beginning to lose my patience... and you don't want me to lose my patience." As she spoke, she weaved her bardic magic into her words, reaching into his mind, and infusing it with fear. She could feel him tense beneath her, freezing under the weight of terror. "Where were you taking it at 7 bells? Where is the back door?"
"Oh, you know about 7 bells? ….Yeah, fine. That's at the Countess's Ball tomorrow night. I was going to meet the client."
"Who is it, David?"
"Lerissa... you don't want to know that-"
Lerissa pushed the sword into his throat, revealing a bead of red as it cut into the flesh. David took in a swift breath at the pain, his eyes clenched tight as he braced himself. When he opened them again, his captor was now fully visible. Her Tiefling form, a dark shadow in the dimly lit room, the silhouette of her curved horns, red furious eyes intensely staring into his, the short sword at his throat and the blade of a dagger dangerously close to his eye. The gravity of his position was fully realised.
"What's their fucking name," she hissed.
"I only know them as 'J'. I was working with Omir. The original heist... ya know... the one in Silverport. I was going to take the egg and cut the Coin out ... a job within a job, ya know? I called in the guards, was going to get away with the stone myself. Bypass the Coin and make some extra cash by taking it to Omir. He knows we were burglarizing his home, too, and let it happen. He knows. But I was going cut out Omir and meet the client at the Springfeast Ball and give them the stone directly."
Lerissa considered his words, taking in the deceptions, the betrayals upon betrayals.
"There's something you're not telling me, David. What is it?"
The half-elf man squirmed under the pressure, "There's bigger stuff happening, Lerissa... you don't want to know..."
"Tell me everything you know," she growled.
"It... they're part of a plan. To fix all this. They've got some solution."
"What's wrong with 'all this'? Who's 'they'?"
"What's wrong? You and I both have seen how fucked up the world is..."
"Is it something with the Chain?"
"That's some people in it. Not me. I just did the sneaking and stealing stuff. Thought if I got the stone to J first I could get in good with them, ya know? Do it myself, before Omir or anyone else. They... I'm part of something bigger, Lerissa. Thought I could make a difference somehow. I was going to meet J, bring him the stone,” he paused before admitting, “...and I was going to tell him you guys had a second one too." At that point, David deflated, "I'm not going to make it out of this room, am I?"
Lerissa looked at David, his blond hair dirty and unkempt. His green eyes from his Elven heritage. She could see the residue from the glue he used to adhere the fake nose to his face. It was a sad sight from the opulence they had shared in high society parties and blackmailing nobles. More jobs they had worked in the past flooded her mind; the laughs they had shared, the drinks. The first time they met, a few years before. He had become someone that she loosely trusted - as much as one could within the Coin - but that was gone. He had found himself seeking favour with a cult claiming to have the “solution.” And the original heist was still in question. Did everyone work for someone else?
"David... you broke the rule… don't steal from those within the trade."
He opened his mouth to reply but was cut short as Lerissa drove her short sword into his side. He screamed in agony as the blade drove deep. As it made contact, Lerissa released a few words of Infernal, sending the guttural music deep into his mind as if each word was another blade. Blood poured from his ears and nose. He jerked against the coat in an attempt to throw Lerissa off, but he couldn't gain purchase. She responded by driving the short sword upward, cutting into his lungs. And with one quick motion, she drew her dagger across his throat. She hadn't noticed the tears falling down her face until it was over and his unconscious body bled out on the mattress.
Someone smashed into the door, causing it to splinter. The sudden noise pulled Lerissa back to the moment and once more she went to work. She couldn't be found here. The guards would be coming soon.
"David! I know you're in there!" It was Ophelia. She'd found them. Probably by using the scrying mirror. They must've left that morning to get here by now. Lerissa didn't respond but made short work of David's pockets and bag. There was a very ornate, curved dagger with a jade hilt, a pouch with some gold, his hip flask, and a journal. She tucked it all away and just as she was finishing, the door burst open.
Ophelia stood in the doorway, taking in the sight. David's corpse drenched in blood, Maurice's little head sticking out of his hiding spot in the corner, and Lerissa, blood splattered across her front and tear stains on her cheeks.
"Why?" was all that the Moon Elf could manage. She, herself, was covered in her own blood, sweat and tears, and catching her breath from running across town.
"Hi Ophelia," Lerissa put on the backpack, and used the very helpful prestidigitation cantrip to clean herself up, as if nothing had happened.
"Why did you kill David?”
“It had to happen…”
She paused, looking lost, "I trusted you."
"Looks like you learned your lesson.... Listen, we need to get out of here."
"Where is it? Where's the egg?"
Lerissa looked back at Maurice and nodded to Ophelia, gesturing for him to hand it over. Maurice looked confused but pulled it from his own bag. At the sight of it, Ophelia sighed in relief. Finally, she’d have it back and she wouldn’t have to worry any more. She stepped forward to retrieve it from the dachshund and just as she reached out, he threw it out the window.
"No!" Ophelia jumped out the window after the artefact, quickly cast feather-fall on herself and lightly touched down.
Lerissa, also in a panic, turned to run out the door when Maurice nipped at her ankle to stop her, “Lerissa, wait!” Angry and confused she turned back to him to see him pulling another stone from his bag. Before she could respond, Maurice cast Invisibility on both of them and ran. Darting through the hallway, they dodged past the confused and terrified man of the house who was brandishing a chair poorly, his wife encouraging him from behind. Once outside, they heard a scream as David's body was found. It gripped Lerissa’s heart, but she pushed it aside roughly. Now wasn’t the time.
Meanwhile, Ophelia reached out to the stone before her, resting on the cobbles, only to have her hands pass straight through it. She’d been tricked again! Panic filled her whole being as she took off as fast as she could around the terraced buildings, back to the front of the house. She slowed to a stop. She took too long, rounding the buildings. They would likely be gone once more. Panic was replaced by despair and she slumped off to the side. She was too late.
From where they stood, about 100 paces up the road, Lerissa and Maurice could see Ophelia. They were still cloaked by magic.
"Maurice, what are you doing?!" Lerissa asked, deeply confused.
"I don't know!” Maurice barked. He was a simple dog, and liked simple things. Bacon. Food. Peeing on things. Sniffing good sniffs. Having a good roll in good smells. But things hadn’t been simple all day! He’d been sleeping and then was taken by Lerissa away from everyone else! Then they went off across the country side. Bouncing around in a backpack isn’t the most comfortable way to travel! And David ran off with the egg?! And then Lerissa stabbed him for it?! These things weren’t simple. Maurice tried his best to express himself, “This egg, it's not good, Lerissa."
"No, you're right. It's not..."
"It's causing a lot of bad things to happen. I think we should just get rid of it..” He thought for a moment… where to get rid of things? “Let’s bury it somewhere and forget about it!"
"We can't do that because someone else will find it. That would be bad..."
"People are getting stabbed over it. You stabbed David. What if Ophelia stabs you for it?"
Lerissa tried to calm herself, "Maurice... Ophelia won't have to if we give it back to her. It's going to be ok."
"I don't know..."
"Come on. It's going to be ok..."
Maurice whined a little. He didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. But he gave in and offered the stone over to Lerissa, dropping the invisibility spell. In the distance, a call for the Armsmen could be heard.
They approached Ophelia, and Lerissa held the stone out to her, "Ophelia, here. Let's go get a drink. We can't stay here... and you can't be looking like that." Ophelia put the stone into her bag while Lerissa quickly used prestidigitation to clean her up, "Where's Arafirith and Astromel?"
Ophelia's jaw dropped, "Oh no... I was supposed to meet them in the market!"
She led the way south along the Ring Road, passing a group of Dothia Arms men as they did.
They walked in silence for a moment before Lerissa said, "It wasn't personal, ya know."
"It felt personal."
"Well, it wasn't. I left your other things, didn’t I? I just needed the one. That was it. The job needed to be finished. But.... but everything's changed." Lerissa frowned.
After a moment, Ophelia said, as if to herself, "They were right. They tried to teach me, but I guess I had to learn it for myself through experience."
"What do you mean?"
"My teachers. They said there's nothing here for our people any more. That this continent was full of dangerous things, which is true. But also that the people of the continent are self centred and self-serving with no sense of how the world really is. They can't see the wonder in the mundane."
"I hope you don't judge the entire continent based on me."
"Well, no... I guess not..."
Up ahead they could see the towering Firbolg first, and then Arafirith came into view. As they approached each other, Ophelia started to say something, but Arafirith pushed past her and gave Lerissa a shove, "What the hell?! Where have you been?!"
"Hey Arafirith..." Lerissa gave a weak smile, "I've been here... welcome to Dothia?"
Arafirith shoved her again, "What the hell? Why?! What have you to say for yourself?"
Her anger was palpable. Lerissa glanced around and said in a hushed tone, "Look, I'll tell you everything, but not in a place so.... public. Let's get a drink."
Astromel said, "Yes! A drink sounds good. We could go to the Arkshade Inn? I got a room there for the night."
Lerissa could feel her shoulders tighten, "No, not there... Omir is staying there. It’s not safe."
"Yeah, I could sense him when I was there, but I didn't see him."
"Let's find some place nearby."
The group found a small unassuming tavern called the Five Stars and when they went in, Astromel offered to buy a round for everyone, "Look, you guys go find a table. Emotions seem to be running high... I'll get you all something."
Ophelia put her hand on his arm, "Something Dwarven... an ale or whiskey or both. Don't care... just something.....strong."
"You got it."
The party sat at the table in a secluded snug for privacy.
Arafirith looked over at Lerissa, "Where's David?"
"He's dead. I killed him."
Lerissa sat forward, "He, well…. eh…. It's probably best I start at the beginning.” Lerissa frowned. What was the beginning? “Have you ever heard of the Wooden Coin?" She was met with blank stares, "What about the Talon?" and again, the party shrugged. Lerissa sighed, "Ok, well... they're crime organisations. I'm a member of the Wooden Coin. We mostly deal with money laundering, casinos, smuggling... that sort of thing. More often than not, my job has been the Face," Lerissa smiled brightly for emphasis, "I talk to people, find out information, secrets. I've also done some thieving. Little things... But then a big job came in and I was hired for it. A really high profile job for a powerful, unknown client. A lot was on the line for this one. We were lifting one of the stones, although I didn't know anything about the artifact at the time. It wasn't my place. You do the job, stay focused, and keep it clean. The heist was taking place during an art gallery showing of a private collector, and the Stone was the main draw. Maurice and David were part of that team," Lerissa looked down at Maurice who was cocking his head to the side confused, "...the other Maurice."
"Ah! Right," he wagged his tail.
Lerissa sighed and continued, "David was working the front of the house with me, while the others were working behind the scenes. Well, like I've mentioned before, the job was compromised. I thought it was all Maurice. But apparently David was working with Omir to get to the stone first. He called in the guards and everything went to shit."
She took a sip of her drink, steading herself. This much honesty, this much free information, this is not how she operated. If Charity knew about this, she was sure there would be..... consequences. "Anyway, that's why I needed the stone. When I found the second one in the pile of treasure with the Prisoner, it was like a weight was lifted. I could take it back to Charity. I could give it to them and prove that I didn't betray the Coin. I could clear my name. It would all be ok.
"I know you made that phony magic stone, but that wasn't going to do the trick. They'd see right through it. I needed a real one," she looked over to Ophelia, "And it was obvious that you weren't going to give me one. They're too dangerous. You said it yourself. You weren’t going to give them to anyone for any reason. So.... I did what I had to do. But... but things have changed."
"Why didn't you tell us? Why all the lies?" Arafirith's voice was laced with confusion and compassion, but her black eyes seemed to be on fire as she stared into Lerissa's own red ones.
"That's all I've known," it felt like a pathetic excuse, but it was the truth. "And I genuinely didn't think you'd give me an actual stone. But after I left with the stone last night with David and Maurice, I woke up this morning and David had run off with it.
"I chased him here and tracked him down as fast as I could. When I found him, he was asleep. I questioned him and got as much information as I could. Like I said, he's been working with Omir the entire time, including the original heist. But he wasn't planning on taking the stone to Omir this time. He was bypassing the Coin and Omir and going directly to the client. But it sounded like he'd been taken in for more than just gold. He only new the client as 'J.'"
Lerissa continued her tale, David's belief that he was part of something bigger, as well as when he was going to meet J.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Ophelia echoed.
Arafirith leaned forward, "We could've helped you figure this out. You didn't need to do it alone."
Lerissa didn't have an answer, at least not one she could verbalise. She had read the situtation and acted in a way to get to the end she had wanted.
"So, what's the plan then?" Astromel said from his corner seat.
"Well, I'd rather not have the Coin as an enemy. Charity… She's my boss and mentor. Taught me everything I know and practically raised me. They’re like..." she cleared her throat, "I need to take something to Charity in the morning. I've got to two plans and they're both very stupid. You see, I believe Omir is meeting Charity in the morning at 10 bells to finish the job. I'm supposed to bring her the stone at half-past nine. Presumably, Omir will be meeting J at the Ball in the evening afterward. So my plans are -one- We give Charity the dummy egg and feign ignorance when it's inevitably discovered. Or -two- hand over the real stone and then steal it from Omir before he can give it over to J." She held her breath.
The others were quiet for a moment.
Very slowly, Ophelia pulled the egg-shaped stone from her bag. It's smooth pale surface reflecting and refracting in a way that caused it to appear almost liquid. She held it out to Lerissa, who looked at it almost in disbelief. But when Lerissa went to take it, Ophelia held onto it firmly, "I hand this over in the understanding that if you betray me again, if you are still lying, I will wipe you and anyone even remotely associated with you from this world and the history books. Do. Not. Cross. Me. Again."
Lerissa smiled, "You are learning. I understand." And she took the artifact.
"I don't know," Arafirith said, "This just doesn't feel right. I need some air." Before anyone could say anything, she left the table to stand at a door leading out of the tavern. Lerissa went to join her. The air was cool, cutting across the heat from inside. Winter was coming to an end and you could feel it in the air.
The other Tiefling was frowning, her pink skin dulled in the dim light, "Why would you continue to want to be part of that organisation? What good are they?"
"We don't want the Coin as our enemy. They're a valuable asset as well. Lots of connections that we wouldn't otherwise have."
"I just don't like it. I want it all to be over." After a few moments they walked back to the table, and Arafirith asked, "How do you all feel about the plan?"
"I think it's a win-win," Astromel chimed in, "Lerissa gets to take the egg, stone, whatever, back to Charity and doesn't lose face with the Coin and we'll get the egg back from Omir afterward. The only one not getting what they want is this J person."
"Well, I do have a confession to make. I've been in contact with the Sect I ran away from, letting them know about the stones and arranged to meet them at the Drunken Dachshund. They've already sent someone after me, I'm afraid. While I honestly believe that were we to give my people the stones, they would never be used. They'd be secured away forever. But this would leave Lerissa high-and-dry. No, I believe our best option is to steal the stone from Omir between him receiving it from Charity and giving it to ‘J’."
Arafirith still frowned, unconvinced, "I just don't like it."
"I've an idea," Lerissa put in, "I ran into Omir while in disguise in the market! He thinks I’m a magical item merchant. We arranged to speak this evening around 8 bells at the Arkshade Inn. One of you could join me and we could tease out more information about the meeting he'll be having with Charity. More than one person would be suspicious, though."
"I could go with you while disguised," Ophelia offered, "It would likely be helpful to have someone there with knowledge of magical artifacts."
"We can use the room I've reserved there as a base of operations. I could also go search Omir's room in the meantime?" Astromel offered, "Arafirith, you could come with me?"
Lerissa jumped in, her energy growing, "Maurice could go with you, too. Omir would recognise him if he was with me."
Astromel turned to the dachshund, "That'd be good. You can see what you can smell?"
Maurice nodded, "Yeah, alright. I can use my sniff-snuffs."
"I still don't like it," Arafirith intoned.
Astromel leaned forward, "You could stand watch... you don't even need to come into the room."
"Arafirith," Lerissa spoke, "What's the problem? You know this is much bigger than any of us now? David? Omir? This J person? They're planning something much bigger. Something dangerous and we can't let them walk away with the stones. We need to see this through."
She let out a sigh, "Fine...I just want it all over with."
"Come on, then. We don't have much time before I'm meant to meet up with Omir. Let's make our way to the Arkshade. We can discuss the logistics on the way." Lerissa downed the rest of her ale and led the way out of the tavern.
A cool wind blew through the street as they walked toward the Inn, Arafirith bringing up the rear. She continued to feel conflicted as the wind pushed through her hair. She raised the hood of her cloak against the chill, as she heard a small whisper that made her stop short. Listening closer, the wind whistled through the ally and she could just make out a familiar voice. It sounded like her old friend, Vance,* and the wind picked up a bit, whispering into her ears alone.
"Ari," it said, "Be careful. There's much more going on than you know. Keep them safe. You'll be seeing someone familiar very soon..."
*Earlier in the campaign, Arafirith retrieved a goblet, which reconnected her with the spirit of a long dead friend named Vance. She has spoken with him before using the goblet, which to everyone else appeared to be mundane in nature.
Thanks for reading! - Sarah