Three for the Twelve

Uncle Ortach's Last Days
or, fragments, bits, and pieces

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The following information is gleaned from Aunt Serenia, and she’s done her own homework in advance. It seems that this is everything available at this point to the family.

  • Ortach had been working, as a House member (but not an Heir) as the leader of a team of surveyors who traveled throughout parts of the Shadow Marches looking for potential sources of dragonshards. For the last few months his team had been detailed to train new members and hired contractors.
  • He had been operating mostly in the southern areas of the Crawling Swamp, northwest of where you are now. He was training some new hires from there, taking them into the swamp and tracking down potential shard fields, as well as teaching them House doctrine and whatnot. He’d had to let go a few people for reasons Serenia does not know.
  • There are a few different tribes of humans and orcs in that swamp that are not aligned with Tharashk, and have at times given outsiders trouble – Ortach had clashed with them on a few occasions, with one time resulting in the death of a tribesman.
  • Ortach was concerned about some of the people the House had working for them in Valshar’ak, a small city his team had used as a base of operations for resupply between forays into the swamp. Serenia is unsure of the details, but knows that Ortach was particularly troubled about what he described as “behavior unbecoming of decent men” from someone he’d had to deal with in Valshar’ak.
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The City of Stilts
and family obligations

Meta

I’m going to take some liberties with character action & decision here, in the interest of moving the story along.


Foen recommended, as they navigated between and around stilted buildings and walkways, that they not widely announce their presence, considering the fact that they may well be fugitives at this point. House Tharashk was made up of three large clans, with many families in each. In some family and clan matters, the House was of lesser importance; the loss of a close family member, especially one who’d been so influential in one’s life, was such an instance. Regardless, discretion was probably the best approach at this point.

Foen guided the boat through the darkness, taking a circuitous route to his family’s home. Since it was late at night – the small hours, actually – it was easy to arrive unnoticed. His family’s compound, made up of several buildings connected by walkways and surrounded by a fenced perimeter and large trees, was dark but for a cluster of dim lights on the second floor of one house. No doubt, this was where his uncle’s deathbed lie.

His arrival surprised those who were awake, and word quickly spread that the nephew, the one who’d been like a son to Ortach after his own children had died, was home. Foen’s companions were given water and a place to rest while the young barbarian was brought to his uncle’s room. It was obvious that death was near by the smell: a combination of rot and the incense burned to cover it. Foen’s brow creased and his face darkened as he approached…this did not appear to be a disease, and no wound was obvious. Ortach’s wife stood as Foen approached the bedside, still holding her husband’s limp, grey hand. The man’s breathing was shallow and quick, and he wheezed slightly with each breath.

“I had no idea…how did you…?” she asked, holding back tears, mixed with surprise. Foen embraced her, trying to lend whatever support he could to a woman he knew as well as his own mother. “I’m here now” he said quietly, unsure of how to deal with the many conflicting emotions and thoughts swirling in his head.

The woman sat, and Foen kneeled at her side. He took a long look at the dying man, then at his wife, trying to make some sense of what was going on – and what had caused it. Serenia seemed to sense his thoughts and locked eyes with him as a subtle, fierce glint came to her eyes.

“No, this was not natural, my nephew. This was murder.”

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The Crimson Ship
or No! It's not deus ex machina!

Meta
I need not recount what happened, since you were all there. I culled that plot device from the Explorer’s Handbook and melded it with an implication of the Draconic Prophecy for two reasons. First, you guys wanted to get out of town quickly and completely, so this provided a ready means. And second, it gave me an opportunity to make a clear connection between the Prophecy and you folks. So off the the Shadow Marches you go. In addition to whatever other story stuff you want to add to this post, picking up where it leaves off, feel free to post ideas about magic items.


The Captain nodded as he looked down on the four men sitting in the launch. He’d asked them to sign on to a bargain, and they had. He had promised transport to anywhere if they met his request, and they did – and here they were on the other side of the continent, in a day. They had also been rewarded, unexpectedly, with a gift from ship’s hold, a treasure trove of arcane implements.

Mist surrounded the ship as it sat in still water. The cargo net was pulled back into the ship by unseen hands, and the four men began to row in the direction that the Captain had indicated before they parted on the deck. As they rowed the fog thickened around them and for a moment all they could see were one another. Then a familiar smell met Foen’s nose, quickly followed by familiar sounds. The fog cleared as quickly as it had gathered, and before them they could see the lights of Zarash’Ak, the City of Stilts. Situated over a massive swamp, the de facto capitol of the Shadow Marches, and home to House Tharashk’s largest holdings, was a jumble of wooden building connected by walkways, rope bridges, and some stone structures. There was little uniformity in height, with some buildings being only a few feet above the water, and of one level, while others sat atop large stone pilings and reached several stories high. Cat tail and milk weed clumps made navigation somewhat of a challenge. Massive floats of lilly pads required careful rowing, and many twists and turns. Foen immediately began giving minor course corrections – he knew exactly where to go. He was home.

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On a cave wall...
...signs & portents, ca -9500YK

Shadows danced across the rock face as the hobgoblin continued to paint. He was deep in a trance, having been awake for nearly three days of non-stop painting of the deep cavern’s walls. His acolytes knew better than to interrupt him. They left food and water at the edge of their master’s work area, and stayed out of his way, taking notes on his mutterings and keeping a record of what he painted, for sometimes he erased or covered some of his creations, and they could not be sure what was important, and what was not.

He climbed a pillar and reached out, high above their heads, and drew light, undulating lines…were they hills? Water? Then an object among them – a boat? Then more streaks, this time in black, around and on the object – sometimes such designs were taken to mean strife, or trouble. Then a final red slash of paint nearby, and crossing part of the design…and he collapsed, falling to the floor below.

Another vision had ended. Now it would be up to the scholars and the OO’ to determine its meaning.

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And suddenly the image blurs
...and the GM asks that you go with it!

Meta
Go with it! Mishka remembers everything that has been commented on and posted thus far, and also that the Sentinel Marshals were not sent to the docks for the erstwhile fugitives – in fact, they’re on a different case entirely. All four of the team are on the ship. Read that line again, and also this: he’s been there all along.


Mishka suddenly grasped the rail along the side of the ship and steadied himself. Slightly green in the face and with a sheen of sweat, it appeared that he was already seasick. A pair of sailors smirked at each other as they hustled by, preparing the sails for departure.

The Marshals walked past the Rusty Scupper on their way to another, smaller, ship, where they produced papers that allowed them to search the hold and cargo manifest. Most Marshals worked several cases simultaneously, and the security issue back at the compound was a momentary distraction from Davod d’Deneith’s primary mission at this point: that of confiscating a stolen shipment of dragonshards.

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There is nothing to see here...

Looking out on the blockade in the harbor, Foen looks to his cohort to determine the next course of action. Exclaiming with great certainty “I know I can reach the bow of that ship with one jump once we get just a little bit closer. They won’t know what hit ’em!”

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Come Here, My Boy
or, Mishka receives an unexpected summons

The entire compound was locked down – at least that’s how people were referring to the temporary security measures implemented by House Denieth at the request of the Council of the Twelve. Everyone’s credentials were checked going in and out, and everyone signed the log. A number of expired assignments were discovered, which would have allowed unauthorized persons within the walls. One deceased member of House Phiarlan was even discovered to still have active permissions…heads would roll over such oversights.

It had been four days since the murder, and thus far no suspects had been announced. This did not stop the rumor-mongering that had taken over practically every conversation; productivity had dropped off noticeably.

Mishka, although he’d never admit it, was glad that something had taken the attention off him. He kept himself busy with all the miscellaneous House work he could get his hands on; there was always paperwork to complete and certify – all manner of grunt work that, in many cases, only House heirs were allowed to do. Slowly, it seemed, his image would be rehabilitated. He was, therefore, justifiably surprised when he received a summons from an office within the Tower itself. He didn’t play the fool and question it, as one who was sure it was in error might do. Those who officed in the Tower were simply not wrong about whom they wanted to meet. He quickly finished filing the old cargo manifests he’d been in all day, and made his way to the nearest sky barge dock.

30 minutes later he was standing in a dark, windowless office at the core of the 13th floor. A wizened elf dragged slowly on a hookah and looked at him through the wisps of silver-grey hair that hung over her forehead. She had not motioned for him to sit, so he did not. She had not asked him to speak, so he remained silent. Thus far she’d only looked at him – looked him up and down as if examining a draft horse or some other thing for sale. She’d made a number of somatic movements with her hands, as well, obviously casting a spell and not caring if Mishka noticed or disapproved.

The awkward silence was on the verge of becoming outright uncomfortable – the sort that provokes odd comments – when she exhaled a cloud of blue smoke and finally spoke.

“You will tell me of this mark the changeling wears.”

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The Investigation Unfolds
..between competing interests

Sentinel Marshals locked down the compound by noon. Everyone seeking to enter or leave had to sign a roster, either for those who were assigned to the compound, or had permission to be there. It was unprecedented, offensive to the thin-skinned, and created lines at both gates, but it was necessary in order to track movement. They had the situation well in hand, even with the bustling about of Marvor d’Sorenstrum, Master Inquisitive of House Medani. He could move as purposefully as he could seem from place to place within the compound, making vague pronouncements to his small retinue of followers; the Marshals would do the real work. The killer, and any possible accomplices, was probably not in the compound anymore, so the real search would have to begin outside the walls.


“Investigation is as much a science as it is an art as it is a craft. It is…multifaceted,” stated the half-elf, hoping to project an air of authority. He picked up an ink blotter from the desk and turned it in his hand before putting it down, never looking at it.

“It’s about the clues…the tips…the details every killer can’t but help leave behind. Killers paint tapestries; it is my job to see them.” d’Sorenstrum’s retinue included a few apprentices, who eagerly wrote down everything he said, a bodyguard, who stood outside the room, and a representative of House Joraso, who would open doors for him, literally and figuratively.

‘Whoever did this was really good. Crumb! I’ve got to get my head in gear…get it together, Marvor, you can’t ride on yesterday forever’ nervously thought the man, trying to look focused as he looked over the room, his head pounding with the remnants of Karrnathi vodka.


Meta

I’ll post an update about where we ended with you guys a little later, today or tomorrow.

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There is nothing natural...
...about murder!

“This cannot get out. No one outside this room may know that one of the clan has done this. And no one may know of the possibility of a mark, of any sort. He was murdered; unfortunately we cannot prevent that from becoming known, thanks to those Jorasco fools and their mouths. What remains to be seen is just how much we can…” the elf paused, “…control the narrative.”

The others in the dark chamber nodded or murmured in agreement, all with grim expressions and furrowed brows. That a member of one of the changeling clans – one of the best-kept secrets of the Twelve – had murdered the halfling was almost certain. Unless the culprit used some magic to appear as a changeling, that is. That the changeling had manifested a mark was almost too shocking to consider, but given recent discoveries about the Draconic Prophecy, and the beliefs of some scholars, in that very room, they needed to find this individual and study him, or her, or it. That was much even more certain than the halfling’s murder, and far more important to the seven men and women around the table.

“There has been a murder. The victim did not see the attacker. The motive is, as of yet, unknown. The Council of the Twelve will affirm these facts, and graciously accept the assistance of House Medani’s expert inquisitive, that drunk, Sorenstrum. His family connections and the momentum he’s still coasting on after his last case of note will ensure that he will be the lead inquisitive. His incompetence will be of great help. We must find the changeling Flet, and determine if it is to blame for this crime. Furthermore, we must do so in a manner that neither betrays the existence of the clans, nor – under any circumstances – even implies a mark of any sort. Are we agreed?” asked human, bearing the Greater Mark of Making across half his face. More nods and grunts followed.

“We must develop a plan.”


Despite the initial efforts of the administrative leadership of the compound of The Twelve, it was impossible to keep the news secret for long. Within hours of the examination by Jorasco healers, the departed Thurber was questioned via arcane means as investigators attempted to get to the bottom of his death. The answer: murder!

Murder by near-perfect assassination by an unknown assailant…word is that the hapless halfling was attacked from behind while doing routine paperwork, and the identity of the killer was still unknown. House Medani had already offered its best inquisitive to lead the investigation – an attack on one House, in the domain of the Twelve, no less – was an attack on all houses.

Portions of the compound were put on lockdown, and access to the floating tower was blocked to all but the most high-ranked personnel. Although some normal business continued, given the size of the compound, the crime – and not its investigation – was on everyone’s mind.

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Coming Home
...and covering tracks

The old man rubbed his wrinkled forehead, then picked up the quill again, quickly signing the authorization before letting himself think about it anymore. He would grant the youth’s request, allowing him to cash in a considerable amount of House service credit on behalf of not only someone else, but a member of another House. The Tharashk heir would be home, today. Family mattered – that is, Orien family – most, but those with a real appreciation of such ties had to respect the ties of others. And, it would create a future opportunity for favors within the Finders’ Guild, which was always a good thing.

Events moved quickly after this, with paperwork filed, a travel slip generated, appointment made, personal bags packed, and one dimensional leap across half the continent. Foen was home, and could hurry to his family’s lodge, hopefully with time to spare.

Meanwhile, the many faces of Arko! sat for interviews with library scholars, and a great deal of research into Dragonmarks was done by a variety of unremarkable men and women from several Houses. The halfling’s body was found, along with his half-completed notes, and the standard investigation was launched. Thurber was not young, but neither old, and known to have been in good health; his death did not immediately provoke suspicions, but it was odd. Due diligence was required, beginning with an autopsy by Jorasco authorities. If they were not satisfied with their findings, they could always get the story directly from the deceased through arcane means. It was likely routine, and they’d have it resolved within days, if not sooner.

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