Ptolus: Blood in the Streets
Loyalty for what? (Baffin grapples with uncertainty after the mission to retrieve the Black Moth book of necromancy)
Gaaahh! Did I wake up on a different plane today? What the hell just happened back there?
As confusion reigned inside him, Baffin hustled along the underground passageways of the Undercity. When he moved among the other adventurers and delvers, their senses revealed a lone, sturdy dwarf, anxious and dirty, as if he were separated from his comrades and trying to find them.
Separated from his comrades was true. The day began with Nameless and then Ophelia behaving strangely, and then Snow, too. Well, no, Snow was Snow, constant in her drinking and her abuse of Baffin. The bard had thought her surliness was a result of worshipping the Raven Queen, but that was not a religious requirement. Baffin pointed out her lack of humor, and of course, the shifter promptly threw ale in his face, ale she dearly cherishes yet willingly wastes to confirm his point.
The bard found it puzzling that she so enjoyed heaping abuse upon him, while never showing him any respect. The brainless jokes about his weight did not yield to even grudging respect after he painfully slimmed down over the last year. His efforts with new clothing, polished equipment, and fine ale, and hours of pleasing music for the new Snow had failed miserably. Instead, the latest abuse was the imagining of a bird dropping its business on his hand.
The shifter has never warmed to me nor shown kinship in our adventures. She hates my guts. I thought we had put behind us the incident of stealing from each other’s packs. Though wary, I trusted her with that necromancer’s book and told her not to give it to Ophelia. In fact, she convinced me to give her the book, by arguing to not give it to Ophelia. Then she promptly gave it to the unstable sorceress. I was a fool.
The bard was terrified of Ophelia now. She had a bond with the necromancy book and the look of someone obsessed or possessed. How did she do that? She nearly killed us all with that necromancer’s book, without even a hint of strain. She convinced Snow to give it up by claiming that she would open and use the book to help us. But she did not. Perhaps she is obsessed by necromancy and simply wanted the book for herself?
Earlier at lunch the unperceptive bard failed at first to notice the strange marks and stranger behavior of the sorceress. Then came the shocking news of her family being killed. Ophelia was extremely upset, rightfully so, though she showed little outward emotion as she sought time alone to deal with the tragedy. The bard fully supported her wishes and also let her know that the party would be there for her when she was ready. After returning to the Minstrel, however, she readily agreed to go on the mission offered by Maris, rather than begin investigating the mystery of her family’s supposed murder.
Why would the mission take priority over her family? Certainly, she did not agree for the money, that’s my style not hers. Ah, it must have been the necromancy book. She did ask Maris about opening the book … then in the fight, she deceived Snow and did not use the book to aid us. And, of course, she refused to part with it afterward. Seems doubtful she intended to harm us, but she clearly wished for the book and wished to open it.
Perhaps she knew it would not hurt her, but only us? So she knew what she was doing. As Vennman would say, ‘Necromancy bad.’ He refused to have anything to do with those black arts or those who traded in such. I miss his scholarly insights … and strangely, his excruciating tales of his turbulent past. I miss my friend Vennman. I wish he was here now.
I wonder if Ophelia is truly studying the dark arts. Maybe she is obsessed with her studies and never intended to relinquish the book of the Black Moth to Maris. I just dealt with obsession over Lolth’s Bracelet, and I cannot see someone else go through that. Her brilliant plan to free Nameless and Snow from Phaetos’s curse led me to the agonizing decision to give up the Bracelet … and the dark thoughts of personal gain. I had to do it to save my comrades. But perhaps her plan was merely a plot to begin her necromantic studies with Lucien? She seems to have grown closer to Lucien and spent much time with him this past year. Perhaps she is using him for her own game, too? Pelor’s Pity, we cannot have another Leska and her inquisitors!
Baffin’s illusion had worn off, but he had reached the Undercity Market without being overtaken by his crazed companions. The exhausted bard finally rested for a short moment to recover his strength and senses. Though little else was clear to him, he knew to avoid the Ghostly Minstrel and Maris. She and her current employer, Killraven, would likely mete out fatal punishment for the botched mission.
Fortunately, Baffin had spent much of his youth exploring the Undercity, its businesses and markets, and its denizens. He knew several out-of-the-way taverns, seedy shacks really, only fit for the poorest and least welcome above ground. Few people bothered to visit, which perfectly suited Baffin. He badly needed to hide and rest.
After renting a tiny room from an old, wizened tiefling, Baffin paid the man a few gold with the promise of more if no one, under any circumstances, disturbed him. Taking in the closet-sized room, the flimsy wooden door, and the dirt floor covered with stale but clean rushes, Baffin smiled ruefully. After wedging the door shut with his long sword, the former street orphan curled up on the floor against the door and quickly fell asleep.
Dark dreams devoured Baffin’s sleeping brain. In the twilight sky, a thin black cloud on the ocean’s horizon drifted toward the bard as he stood alone on a mountainside trail. The path wound tightly around the mountain, and far below, waves crashed ominously against the rocky cliffs. A chill wind buffeted Baffin and set his teeth chattering.
The cloud gained speed and filled out into branching wings of death as it rushed toward the terrified bard. Abruptly, the blackness shattered into thousands of pieces, each one now a bat that fluttered and flapped its way over the water, toward their prey. Silent lightning streaked the sky, and blasted the ocean. The oncoming horror stunned Baffin. When the shrieking mass of claws and wings descended upon the petrified bard, he could do nothing but dart his frantic gaze this way and that, as the bats bit into his flesh and sucked his blood and soul into their greedy mouths. With a wrenching scream of agony, Baffin awoke, breathing hard and dripping with sweat.
Goddamn it! I’ve never seen Nameless wear a cloak nor anything so tightly wrapped over his fur. Sure, he said he needed it because the spring was cool, and that sounded reasonable at the moment, but then later he said the cloak kept him cool. Kept him cool?! That cleared my senses. The spring has not been so cool as to warrant a fur-covered gnoll needing to huddle in a cloak like an old geezer. And I’m not a genius scholar, but you don’t wear cloaks to keep cool. What’s happened to him? Why is he deceiving us, his pack? Then his evasive responses to our concern about his missing fur. Hmmm, something’s not right.
Baffin went to dig in his pack for water to clear his mind … and then remembered he had sacrificed his pack in the hopes of thwarting the trapped door. The bard sighed. Better to lose the pack, than the gold.
The trapped door … why did Nameless need Snow’s vitality after his tug-of-war with the chain? The rest of us were fried badly by the magical lightning, but he was the one desperate to recuperate. And Pelor protect me, he transformed into bats and flew across the water! What happened there?! I can only think of vampires who transform into bats, need coverings to keep cool in the sun, and feed on others! To hell with him feeding on me!
Oh, Nameless, what has happened to you? Where is the Nameless I thought I knew? What has happened to our pack?
Slumped in misery, his back against the door, Baffin fell into a restless sleep, deeply troubled by the drama and abuse disconnecting him from his companions.
Loyalty over Obsession (Baffin spends a year studying religion, history, and warfare)
“Achoo!” sneezed Baffin into the sleeve of his brown, woolen robe. The ancient tome thumped to the table with a billowing cloud of dust. Praise Ioun, but may Avandra favor me today in my choice of reading. The bard’s weary eyes puzzled over the runes and strange geometric designs inscribed on the dark red, leather cover. All that he could glean was the name Eslathagos Malkith and something about his failure or failed quest. Baffin knew Malkith was also known as Danar, the noble champion from long ago who collected and locked away evil artifacts within the Banewarrens he constructed beneath Ptolus. Tragically, Danar became filled with the evil that he sought to imprison, and now none spoke his true name, instead referring to him as the Dread One.
Suddenly, Baffin’s stomach let out a long, low moan of complaint, and a snicker or two from his fellow initiates followed. The bard hunched over his book to avoid the icy glare of Nimmeron, the young priest-scholar overseeing the studies of the initiates under his charge. Devotion to Ioun through the learning of ancient lore and uncovering of lost knowledge demanded a focusing of the mind on one’s studies. The body need only be sustained, not indulged, as Baffin was reminded daily.
Indeed, the bard – though no longer a bard in practice – had lost his chubby physique over the months of study in this monastery of Ioun. Upon returning to Ptolus after the end of Leska’s reign, Baffin found himself contemplating more and more the dark relic he wore around his neck. The small arc of metal was actually one of five pieces of Lolth’s Bracelet, a powerful and evil artifact, and the bard could feel his obsession growing each day. The joyful greetings of “Heroes of Ptolus” and rounds of drinks did little to abate his growing torment. Within a week of returning to his home city, Baffin began investigating how to locate the other pieces, and even possibly activate the piece he carried to find the other four.
A month of discrete inquiries with trusted arcanists, historians, priests, and even a few of his old Guild connections led him to the mysterious land of Kem along the Southern Sea. Kem was a place still reeling from ancient magical wars and thus the homeland to many mighty wizards and arcane scholars. The brooding bard was directed by his contacts in Ptolus to seek an isolated monastery, a temple of Ioun, on the northern border of mysterious Kem. There, he might find the knowledge he desperately desired.
Whack! A wooden rod cracked Baffin across the side of his head.
“Baffin!” barked Nimmeron. “Wake up! How do you expect to achieve the status of acolyte by spending study time for sleep? Know you not that your initiate’s project is due next week! Enlighten us with your dissertation on drow artifacts, or be banished from this place. You showed much promise when you first arrived, but I sense your devotion has waned!”
A crack of the wooden rod across the other side of Baffin’s head punctuated Nimmeron’s rebuke.
Is it time to break your arms, you insufferable bureaucratic bully?! And that stick is going right up your … oh hell, I’ve got to calm down. Gotta play along. How else can I freely study the books and scrolls here to learn more about Lolth’s Bracelet?
But, damn, I’ve been studying for months, and starving all this time for Pelor’s Pity, and I haven’t learned anything useful. Well, other than the Raven Queen’s followers are not required to forsake their sense of humor. That’s just the surly shifter’s natural deficiency. As far as initiation rites go, learning the rudiments of various religions and the basic rituals of Ioun and this monastery was not half bad. Taking up the ascetic’s life of a scholar? Only a means to an end.
Baffin’s spirit was worn down. As an initiate-scholar, all his possessions were stowed away in a locked trunk stored in a small antechamber to Nimmeron’s room. Now, Baffin only had his monk’s robes … and Lolth’s Bracelet. On the initiation day, Nimmeron mysteriously came down with food poisoning, and an eager Baffin had helped the suffering priest-scholar maneuver the trunks into their current location. When Nimmeron was indisposed, Baffin quickly recovered the dark artifact.
Though its presence against his skin instantly eased his mind, it also weighed on his spirit, almost as if he carried a physical weight on his shoulders. He found himself clasping the metal piece against his chest and staring with wide-awake eyes late into the night:
I should get rid of it.
No! Never! It is powerful, it will help you.
But it’s so heavy, and I can’t carry it anymore.
It will fall into the wrong hands. And then what? Leska and her inquisitors all over again? Or worse? Do you want that?
Then you must hold onto it. Keep it secret. Unlock the powers within and overcome the weight. Be patient. You will succeed.
Eventually, Baffin would drift into an uneasy sleep, and night after night, he endured the same internal argument. Each morning, he awoke with just enough renewed energy to tackle his studies for the day. Lately, however, he felt himself being pulled deeper into confusion and lethargy, as his readings did not yield the knowledge he sought.
Today, he struggled mightily to attend to the red leather book in his hands and the history of the Dread One. The noon meal was still hours away. Grinding his teeth, Baffin began to re-read the page his eyes had just passed over.
An acolyte entered the study area and whispered to Nimmeron, while both men glanced at Baffin.
Crack! The wooden rod landed atop Baffin’s head. “Baffin,” Nimmeron intoned. “Leave with me now.”
Aw, not another private mentoring session. I don’t know how much longer I can answer the same dumb questions about my faith.
Baffin walked in front of the priest-scholar, who prodded and directed his charge with the wooden rod. Unexpectedly, Nimmeron’s prodding led them to the entrance hall of the monastery, and there stood a tall, weathered man with feet wide apart and hands on hips, his cloak and clothes dirty from long travel. The man was grinning widely at Baffin.
“Lorio!” blurted Baffin. Whack! The wooden rod came down on Baffin’s head.
“Silence, initiate!” bellowed Nimmeron.
The man Lorio laughed. “So this is what you left Ptolus for?” he asked in amusement.
Speaking with authority, Nimmeron responded, “He is studying to join this renowned place of learning and become a holy scholar of Ioun. What is your business with him?”
“Ha!” snorted Lorio, without taking his eyes off Baffin. “Holy scholar? Baffin? I see the studying has lost you your gut, but if you’re here to become a priest, then I’m a dwarf paladin of Moradin. And here’s my divine sword.” Lorio cheerfully grabbed his crotch, while Baffin scowled back at him.
“I’m here,” he continued, “to retrieve this lazy, meat-pie stealing dog. We need your help.” The last sentence Lorio spoke with sudden seriousness.
Thinking back, Baffin recalled his first meeting with Lorio. Almost a decade ago, the seasoned rogue had snared a young Baffin and dragged the bold and duplicitous youth to a meeting with Hayman Knapp, Guildmaster of the thieves’ guild in Ptolus. Baffin went from being a street orphan, a homeless beggar and thief, to an apprentice and eventually a trusted member of the venerable Longfingers Guild, with a bed, friends, and true comrades.
Baffin locked eyes with Lorio for a moment, and then the half-elf shrugged his shoulders and turned toward Nimmeron. In a disdainful voice, the bard commanded, “Out of my way, you piece of demon dung, before I break your rigid neck.”
“How dare you?!” retorted the outraged priest-scholar. As he reared back his arm to strike Baffin again with the wooden rod, the bard quickly punched the young priest in the stomach and grabbed his arm. Pulling the wooden rod from the gasping man, Baffin smashed the rod into two pieces over Nimmeron’s head. Clamping a hand over the priest’s mouth and thrusting him into the arms of Lorio, Baffin muttered, “Keep him quiet. I’ll be right back.” After regaining his possessions, dressing, and re-equipping himself, the bard, energized and renewed by the sight of his friend, gladly departed the monastery of Ioun on the borders of mysterious Kem.
While riding a pair of strong horses on the journey back to Ptolus, Lorio informed Baffin of the Guild’s need.
“The Guild has learned that House Khatru is secretly purchasing a shipment of arms and armor from Killraven. The weapons are supposedly of superior craftsmanship, of dwarven make from outside of Ptolus. You know those military meat-heads of Khatru, they like their toys.”
Baffin grunted with assent. House Khatru prided itself on its military might and martial prowess, and its members were arrogant boors and self-righteous jerks.
“But why buy from Killraven and her criminal organization? What about their public claim of being noble defenders of the city?” Baffin asked in a puzzled voice.
“Ah, well, apparently someone in Khatru offended the dwarves a while ago, and now they refuse to sell to Khatru or anyone who enables Khatru to own their goods,” Lorio laughingly answered.
“Why am I not surprised?” sighed Baffin. “If those meat-heads spent less time beating in each other’s brains in their training, they might avoid such stupidity. So where do we fit in?”
“House Rau is graciously bankrolling us to steal the shipment and the payment. We sell them the arms and armor at a discount, they sell the goods outside of Ptolus, and we keep the Khatru gold. More importantly, we set House Khatru and Killraven at war with each other. That helps House Rau, that helps us.”
“I see. And why am I needed? You recall I am longer part of the Guild.”
“That’s why you’re leading the attack,” deadpanned Lorio. “The Guild cannot be caught in this and risk the might of House Khatru and Killraven’s organization set against us. You’ve got nearly three months before the shipment arrives in Ptolus to prepare for the mission. Fortunately, you’ve slimmed down already, so now all you need to do is get yourself in real shape, then form and train a team from the recruits wanting to join the Guild.”
As Baffin sat in mute shock, Lorio continued, “Look, you can do this. Aren’t you one of the Heroes of Ptolus? Hey, are you listening to me?”
Baffin turned his head to look at Lorio and then laughed. “So what’s in it for me? And what have you got for lunch? I’ll need my strength to fight Khatru and Killraven!”
Loyalty over Profits and Politics (Baffin struggles with whether to join the Gate Pass Resistance)
“Uuugh,” groaned the half-elf Baffin as he was awakened by the cleric Buron. All the half-elf could think was, “Just let me sleep for another day or two, so I can recover from an exhausting, brutal, and ultimately pointless night.” Did we repay our debt to the Resistance by finding their gnome contact? Somehow no. Did we walk into not one, but two, ambush attacks on the Resistance last night? Yes. Did all of my comrades lose their minds and sign up for this incompetent organization? Yes!
“Would you please join us downstairs for breakfast?” gently requested Buron. “We all eat together in the common room.”
“Whoa! Sign me up for that,” thought Baffin, as he got up and began dressing with more urgency. Hmmm, where did I put that apple? And wasn’t my cloak pocket stuffed with a few more rolls? Oh well, they must have fallen out. Or one of my hungry comrades ate them last night – it was a rough night for everyone, after all. Better restock at breakfast.
Brushing away crumbs from his rumpled clothes, the bard ambled downstairs with everyone and replayed in his head last night’s private conversation with Buron. So the Resistance leader wants Lolth’s Bracelet for himself to fight for his cause? How noble. What is it with people who proclaim their good intentions yet embrace any method to reach their goal? Even Vennman, that impulsive, hot-head, refuses the short cut of the dark arcane forces.
At the breakfast table, Baffin remained lost in his own thoughts. He had to decide if he was going to join the Resistance and remain with his friends, or abandon them in search of more profitable and glorious adventures. Politics only profit the leaders. We are just pawns when we sign up for their games.
“I am joining the Resistance,” announced the half-elf, to his own surprise. Cheers from his comrades, especially Moog’s enthusiastic calls for celebration, made Baffin smile and lifted his mood considerably. He made the right decision. Growing up as an orphan in the streets of Ptolus, he understood the true meaning of friendship and loyalty, and it had been a long time since he was with such dependable and excellent comrades. Besides, someone was going to have save their bacon the next time Vennman started a fight. “Mmmm, bacon, my stomach could use more bacon,” mused the bard to his empty plate.
Note: Baffin’s log is continued in the Adventure Log, starting with Session 14.