The party approached the Pale Quarter from the West, splitting up to creep through the Boneyard and to the Grey Manse, where a sullen Idaaran let them in.
Amanda and the rest were not happy to see them. Ezra had gone missing, and the Hand hadn’t been seen since she’d been prevented from killing Ink. The group was under even more suspicion than when they’d left, especially when they told the Shade that Ezra had been taken captive by Chur’Aal, and that their next plan was to go and talk to Danae, who was actually still one of the good guys, really, because Ezra said so, look, you can tell from this note written in a “language” that nobody but Ink can read, and, oh, could they use that old tunnel up to Danae’s tent?
Amanda basically threw up her hands and acknowledged that if Kaijo’s crew wanted to wipe out the Shade, they could probably do so all on their own, so why argue. She went on, though, to say that the party could sleep in the Manse, and use the tunnel, but that, after that, they would not be welcome or allowed back at least until Ezra had returned. The party accepted the terms, then whistled up Page, asking the tiny pseudodragon to warn Danae that the party was coming later that night. They then settled in for a kip, planning to head for Danae in the quiet hours after midnight.
Ink woke up to a note laying on ze’s chest. It said, in Supernal, “I will take you into custody when you come. It will be okay.” Judging by the handwriting, the note had been written by who or whatever had written the ineffective note to Ink in Danae’s logbook while the party had been away. Who or whatever it was had been about Page’s size, but humanoid. Perhaps a fairy? Nobody could say.
But they gulped, gathered their things, and headed out, down to the end of the secret passage. As they went, they stowed their best gear in Pony’s bag of holding, and equipped lesser swords and bows. They didn’t want to lose their best gear when Danae arrested them. Y’know, just in case this was a trap.
They went to the end of the corridor, past the first set of lockable doors, to the locked and barricaded trap door that used to lead to Carracle’s Stall. Amanda and the Idaaran unbarred the way, and warned the party again that it would be closed behind them, permanently.
Kaijo sent Page up to warn Danae, then knocked an old secret knock.
For a while, nothing happened. Kaijo slowly pushed his way up, through the trap door, leading the group into Danae’s spacious tent.
The entrance to the tent was closed, but there was a great tear in the tent near where they emerged. Danae was standing with her back very pointedly to the trap door, which was casually screened from the rest of the tent by a pile of Danae’s belongings and equipment.
After they’d all clamored loudly out and closed the trap door behind them, Danae spun in apparent surprise, called for the guards, and had them disarmed, arrested, and hauled before Chur’Aal Az’Az’Guzuur. As they walked to the luxurious command tent, they were struck by how many familiar faces appeared among the ragtag mules. By the time they reached Lord Chur’Aal, they were all spattered with mud, shit, and gobbets of spit. Nobody threw food, no matter how rotten. The party followed Kaijo’s lead and knelt when they entered the tent.
The Captain of the Mules had clearly been roused from his bed. He sat in a command chair garbed in a loose dressing gown. Danae stood on his left, and Divinter on his right. When Red Hands entered, he’d almost pointedly greeted Danae as one might a lover. The astute among the party noted that Danae rebuffed him as one might an inconvenient display of affection, rather than an unwelcome one. The guards were sent away from the tent to provide privacy.
Chur’Aal conducted himself with a sort of insouciant, narcissistic cruelty that was almost a caricature of a spoiled, young tiefling noble. He asked after each of them, but mocked, teased, and ridiculed them at every opportunity. When presented with his mother’s letter, he stepped behind an ornate curtain for over half an hour to read it. It was clear from the sounds they heard that Chur’Aal was taking some time to indulge carnal pursuits with some guest behind the curtains, and clear from his increasingly intoxicated manner when he returned that he’d indulged in other ways as well.
At first he pretended his to take his mother’s message at face value (it had been written in code), but quickly left off his harassment of the parties and got to the point.
Chur’Aal seemed fascinated by the options presented by Kaijo for betraying Thuz’Ur, and thoughtful at the notion of possibly marrying Ran’Imil out from under the doomed king, or after his death if it could be arranged. He welcomed the party’s support in opposing An’Ikar, and seemed simultaneously irritated and pleased that his mother was bringing her forces to M’ziir. He also wanted to know if they party had any notion of what his mother meant when she said that Mazzegur had told her that Darakor was waiting on the Fullness of Fate before acting. They did not.
It took a bit. They all had to swallow their pride, and Kaijo had to show his tattoo and say his name a lot, but the group convinced Chur’Aal, over Divinter’s objections, and Danae’s professed doubt, to hire them on. Given his ultimate impatience and apparent intoxication, the party wondered how much he’d even remember of the conversation the next day, but Chur’Aal said he would consult with them further later, and assigned them to Danae’s command.
Danae led them out of the tent, Divinter glaring as they went, and out to where Ezra was being held.
Danae left them before reaching Ezra, and told them to meet her back at her tent when they were through. Several of them caught a glimpse of an unfamiliar fairy tending to Ezra’s wounds before zipping away at their approach.
Ezra was naked in the stocks, and had obviously been badly beaten. One of his eyes was swollen shut, several of his ribs were broken, and his mouth was a ruin. Despite this, he greeted the party warmly.
They released him, and tended his woulds as best they could. After conferring for a moment, agreed to take him to Ohma at his tent near the Bulwark. On the way, Ezra shared a great deal.
He explained that Danae had, apparently deliberately, been infested with an Ix’iil spirit. Through some discipline or magic Ezra didn’t understand, she had cordoned the spirit off inside her own mind and was able to shield her true thoughts from it without letting the entity know. She could even, with great effort, deceive the spirit (which saw and heard what she did) into believing she was doing, and saying, and seeing things differently than she truly was. This had allowed her, through means he was not able to fully disclose, to communicate in secret to him about her state. She was, he assured them, still quite loyal to the Shade, such as it was, and to the wellbeing of the Pale Quarter and its denizens. She was also gathering tremendous knowledge about the Ix’iil, though much of it was still trapped in her mind for the time being.
They got Ezra to Ohma, who somberly greeted them and took charge of the broken bard. The throck assured them that he would retun Ezra to the Manse. Ezra assured them that he’d talk to Amanda and the remaining Shade for them.
And the group returned to speak to Danae.
Their meeting began with some very real seeming harsh words between Kaijo and the former leader of the Shade. Then, unexpectedly, Ink strode forward and slapped Danae hard and loudly across her face.
That’s when things got weird.
Ink’s blow caused a strange, now familiar inky image of a stylized beetle to flow across Danae’s face. Then time slowed down, the torches in the tent grew viscous and dim, and everyone in the tent had the abrupt experience of a shift in their perceptions that the wizards would later describe to them as stepping towards the Shadow realm, plane of nightmares and lost souls.
They saw a ghostly, tentacled mass, about the half Danae’s size, fly violently out of her and away from the tent. Apparently slapped out of her. They also saw Danae’s shadow grow and expand, seemingly possessed of ominous bat-like wings and great curving horns. Then, in a dreamlike tone, as they all sat stunned, Danae, who had fallen to ground, gasped and began to speak.
She gasped and seemed near panicked. She confirmed what Ezra had said, and warned them that, while the spirit had left her for a moment, she didn’t know how long she had to speak plainly before it returned. She said a great deal, much of it senseless and muddled, and most of it quite disconcerting, before warning that the spirit was returning, and that she couldn’t be entirely sure if she could cordon it off in her mind successfully again or not.
Abruptly, the strange spell was broken, time and light and thought returned to normal, and Danae stood up and punched Ink, hard, across ze’s face. She told the group to find tents, set up near her, and report in the morning.
- Danae says: Don’t trust The Hand or Radyran, they were traitors all along.
- Danae says: Beware the astrologers. It’s been them all along. They are waiting for the Fullness of Fate.
- Danae says: A man name Jim will be coming. But not soon, probably. When he comes, keep him involved; don’t let him leave.
- Danae says: The Fairy will write more notes, and can tell if Danae can be trusted. Be careful with the fairy, they can’t do without her.
NEWS AND RUMORS
- The Blood King wears a glowing ruby diadem on his brow which enslaves the will of those who look upon it.
- The Blood King of Azeth is actually a changeling posing as the heir to House Azil. The true heir escaped and is behind Aechell’s aggression.
- The Blood King of Azeth is freeing the slaves in the cities he conquers, and is ending the tyrannies of the Elder Bloodlines.
- The Blood King of Azeth has taken D’kath, and Okorian, and his armies will arrive outside M’ziir within the next few days.
- The armies of M’ziir are not likely to be able to withstand more than a day or two of assault by the armies of the Blood King. Thankfully, the armies of Queen Ren’Raatha Az’Ebbezuur should be coming from Darakor any day now.
- The armies of Darakor are never coming. Queen Ren’Raatha has allied with the Blood King already.
- King Thuz’Ur has gone utterly mad, seeing gnomes everywhere, and blaming them for M’ziir’s questionable readiness for war.
- The Gap has a functioning, if rudimentary, gate now.
- King Thuz’Ur has increased the bounty on gnomes to 500 gold pieces
- King Thuz’Ur is executing his family, friends and advisers on a daily basis.
- King Thuz’Ur executed his cousin, Shepherd Aran’Ik, for treason a few days ago, and plans to execute Aran’Ik’s sister, An’Ikar Az’Guzuur.
- The Ikar family has fled M’ziir.
- Edur Bennigan, king of New Cormorell, has been executed by Aechelleth, who, through some unknown magic, projected the king’s death into the sky for all in the Blessed Lands to see.
- The God King of War, Aechelleth, is behind the Blood King’s success.
- The Blood King is Aechelleth in disguise.
- The hills and mines all along the Gandoran range are overrun with goblinoids and giants.
- The late Queen Amra’Ur’s family, the Ebbezuurs of Darakor are pretty unhappy about her being executed.
- King Thuz’Ur has shut M’ziir to all trade from Azeth, D’kath, and Okorian. The Shepherds’ Guild is not pleased
- The Pale Quarter is being converted to a defensive bulwark, with an earthen rampart running north to south along it’s eastern edge.
- Sheraz’Aal Az’Zoran, lady of L’ekar and mother to Chur’Aal Az’Guzuur is marching her troops towards M’ziir to support Thuz’Ur and resist the Blood King.
- Lady Sheraz’Aal has summoned aid from her family in Shek’zur to aid in the battle for (or against) the Blood King.
- Lady Sheraz’Aal still hates Okori’s (people from Okorian) 21 years after her husband’s death in a skirmish over territory, and will never join the Blood King so long as he is allied with that city.
- Palers who did not enlist in the Mules and who aren’t otherwise possessed of useful skills are being made slaves.
- The Ix’iil are actually running the Mules
- There has been a huge uptick in goblinoid raids in the Westcrook and Northcrook, outside M’ziir. The Blood King is implicated.
- The Shepherds are planning a coup, having decided that all the nobility of Mokiir is corrupt (in a bad way).
- The Shepherds have increased recruiting.
- King Thuz’Ur’s Court Astrologer, Martesse, has prophesied disaster for M’ziir, and all of Mokiir, should Isra’Asiel take the throne.
- The Blood King has slain the Court Astrologers in Azeth, D’kath, and Okorian.
- Several members of the former street gang The Shade are now working for Lady An’Ikar Az’Guzuur
- Thuz’Ur will wed the widow Ran’Imil, hated sister-in-law of Lady An’ikar. Ran’Imil will be Thuz’Ur’s fifth wife.