CotH – Chapter Seven: Fireworks

Several days after the clearing of Faith’s Fortress, the party celebrating the return of Lady Lisandria and the restoration of the great city of Highchurch continues. The citizens of the city have missed a great many of their sacred festivals in the long days since the fall of House Baptiste, and with Lord Murray-Baptiste and the High Priest of the Cathedral of Alethia, a carnival was declared for a week-long celebration. And what a celebration it was!

Masks were donned, feasts were held, drinking and games of chance were embraced with a gusto not seen in years. It was a great time, and one the party embraced, at least for a while. Lord Murray-Baptiste had been using his contacts to collect information related to the party’s inquires: specifically concerning where Chadwick’s children are, what precisely the Lords Council Army is up to and who is leading them, and where a man who betrayed Kareese, a vile gunner named Taric, might currently be.

The party had also been keeping a mindful eye on the Crown of the Heartlands, kept safe in Arius’s possession at all times. After reading the curious letters from Waverly Boarhardt, Arden Gearston-Mills, and Lady Blackbriar, many of the part game to wonder just how many people are after the crown, and what their aims are once they get it.

Ukko: What were we thinking letting the paladin carry the crown? How are we supposed to abuse it’s power now?

Not all of the party laughed at Ukko’s jest. After some revelry, Lord Murray-Baptiste sent messangers to the party that he found information critical to their cause and has called the party to meet him at the inn and tavern near the city center: The Red Dragon Inn. Arriving, the party made your way to a table set up in the back of the room, and joined him for dinner and planning. Kareese found a rather attractive young bard to spoon during these proceedings, but kept mildly aware of the situation.

Sitting with the benevolent Lord Murray-Baptiste, a waitress arrive to take the party’s order. With Lord Baptiste-Murray getting the tab, the party ordered their favorite dishes. As they ordered, Kareese opened Kinley’s Book of Domesday, seeking to connect with the Crow book she spoke with during their ride to Kingsbridge for any information on the children they were so worried about.

Kareese: How fares Taintsville, friend?

Crow Book:Hello Kat!

Kareese:  Hello, Crow

Crow Book: Our situation still seems dire.

Kareese:  Is there some type of specific help you need?

Crow Book: A miracle, it seems. This war must end before more children die.

Kareese:  Can you tell me who is capturing and killing these children? What possible reason is there for this?

Crow Book: I now believe I can, but I’m not certain that I can trust you. Why do you seek this information?

Kareese:  Weighing our options, Crow. Aid your Taintsville, or desperately seek out more children.

Crow Book: Tell me their names. Some trust will be repaid in kind.

Kareese: I know the name of at least one, Jalen

Crow Book: The young magician is safe. And Alive.

Kareese: How do you know this?

Crow Book: Because they are in my care, of course. Other eyes watch, Kat. I cannot tell you where they are, but I will say young Jalen and his companions are safe from what hunts them for now.

Kareese:  Are you in league with or against the black court, Crow?

Crow Book: Neither, I am in league with mankind. The court is in peril, as is the nation. What drives them against each other must be stopped before it is too late to repair the damage.

Kareese: And what is that, dear friend? How can we help?

Crow Book: Three threats drive this war. One I know, and have driven out. One I suspect, but cannot face. One remains hidden to me.

Kareese: You’ve been incredibly helpful, Crow. Let me know if I can assist you further.

Crow Book: One thing I need.

Kareese: Go on…

Crow Book:  A man has gone missing. A man with many secrets.

Kareese: Does he have a name?

Crow Book:  Find me Vincent Dubious, if you can. With him much depends.

Kareese: Any leads? Which threat does this have to deal with?

Crow Book: If there is a lead, it will be where his power was strongest. Kingsbridge. Possibly at his bank. With him we will either find the truth of the unknown threat, or the threat itself.

Kareese: We’ll look into it. Alethia be with you. Peace be with you.

Crow Book: You have my thanks. The skittish child says to tell you Beauty is missing, and she is sad. For now, we must leave. Be safe, children.

Kareese shared what she had learned with the others as Lord Murray-Baptiste took to the table. He then shared what he had been able to find.

Lord Murray Baptiste: It cannot be questioned now that the Lords Council Army is behind not only the attack on our city, but the assault on Barrelbog and, from what I have discovered, dozens of other communities. They are raiding with a singular purpose, it seems. To find a group of children. After tracking their goals, I cannot be certain of what the connection is, but what I can tell you is that only one branch of the Lord’s Council Army (often called the LCA) is behind these assaults.

It appears to be the L.C.A: Special Division, the elite soldiers that used to be under Arden Gearson-Mills’s command before his death. Elite shock troopers wielding state-of-the-art thunder muskets. General Preacher has lodged a formal inquiry into their actions with the council, but appears to be getting the runaround. With his army occupied outside of Taintsville, I would be surprised if there is any hope of help from proper authorities.

Kareese, you might be interested to know that the Special Operations force seems to be led, on paper, but someone matching the description you gave me. Captain Taric is the chief of staff for the unit, operating from the Crownbridge Garrison outside of Kingsbridge. The garrison is a hard day’s ride from here, but I urge caution. Crownbridge Garrison is a very misleading fortress. While it is simple to enter, it is designed to be a trap. Once inside, it can be extremely difficult to find your way out again. It is impossible to sneak into, there is only one way to approach it, and that is along the long, narrow bridge to and from Kingsbridge. You will be seen for ten minutes approaching and leaving, perhaps less with a hard ride. But secrecy will not be an option.

Of your child friends, I have news as well. Though it may not be good. They were spotted outside of Port Heartlands after causing a major disturbance in the town square. Reports from the coachmen are oddly tight lipped for their ilk, but from what information I was able to buy they were seen heading east towards the Genevian Highlands. As to where, I couldn’t say.

What I can tell you is… dire. The Lords Council Army was definitely after them, as were some local bandits. There also were reports of a strange group of men in fine suits and black carriages in pursuit. I know not who they were, but they were definitely not friendly from all accounts.

You are heroes of our people. If you choose to stay here, we would love to have you lead our city guard. We could make you very comfortable while giving you plenty of work to keep you busy. Should you dive into this danger, we cannot officially follow, but I shall provide carriages and supplies to get you to the Crownbridge as soon as you are ready. As for what you should do with that Crown… that is beyond my wisdom. I see no path it can take that will not lead to greater bloodshed across our lands. Act with caution, friends.

Think on your plan tonight, and enjoy your dinner. I shall call upon you in the morning.

As Murray-Baptiste excused himself, the waitress arrived with the party’s order food. As she laid out the spread on the table, Kareese disentangled herself from the bard to answer Arius’s question on why Taric is so important to her, revealing that he murdered her husband and child, and is at least partially responsible for her becoming a vampire. She hates his with a deep passion, along with all vampires in the Lockwood.

No sooner had she shared then than a group of three oddly-clad men in robes arrived at the Inn and walked up to their table. Wishing the party well, the Waitress turned to see the looming men with hoods and cloaks and gasps, stepping backwards into Arius’s chair and tumbling both of them to the ground. Arius didn’t quite manage to catch her, but did help her to her feet as she yelps and makes her way back to the common room. The hooded and cloaked figure ignored her as she left, striding forward with his two dull-looking associates to regard the party as they ate their food. Beneath his hood, the party could barely make out the faintest shape of a skull, though if it is a carnivale mask or something more… real they cannot tell. Despite the cowled and shadowy appearance, he was actually a rather small person. Despite this, he seemed to be compensating as hard as possible to look taller.

Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni: Good evening, ah, ladies and gentle-peoples. The name’s looey. Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni. Maybe you’ve heard of me.

After a brief history check, none of the party knew him.

Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni: Ah, well. I’m known to some. My associates and I are here representing a fellow named Vinny the Thrall Keeper. Him you’ve heard about for sure.

The party had not heard of this person either.

Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni: Well, you should have. Vinny the Thrall Keeper. Yeah. Vinny, he’s not friendly like me. A real hard ass. It’s made out of bone, the whole ass. Every inch, pearly white. He has this little habit of enthralling people he doesn’t like. And then he keeps them. He doesn’t let them go, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, Vinny is representing the interests of a very prestigious woman, one who goes by a number of names, but to us of the black court we fondly refer to her as our Godmother. This you have heard of.

Her, they knew. Lady Morgaine Blackbriar, the Dark Lady of Taintsville and well known vampire villain.

Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni: Yeah, that’s her. You see, she has some real pretty white hair. Beautiful really, as pure white as my undead grandmother’s bonemeal cannoli filling. And that hair of hers, well, it would just look so much more lovely with the proper adornment. And so, my associates and I are here today, on behalf of Vinny the Thrall Keeper, who is looking on behalf of our Godmother, to acquire a specific trinket.

A round piece of gold, like a diadem, or a tiara. You might call it a crown. The kind you might have in the heartlands. We are prepared to pay a very handsome price of 20,000 gold for it upfront, with your choice of noble holdings across the realm within six months of delivery once our Godmother takes her rightful place on the throne.This is an offer you can’t refuse.

Rather than refuse the offer, the party feigned as if they did not have the crown at all, a fact that they sold with a cunning amount of deception on Arius’s part, backed with a good bit of help from Kareese’s bardic magic. Looey backed off, for now, but told the party the deal would be open for a time into the future.

After Looey left the party, everyone noticeably signed and enjoyed their meal. As they did, Arius checked his bag for the crown.

It was missing.

Arius’s insight flashed back to the waitress, the one who fell upon him, as being the only one close enough to take the crown from his bag. As one the party roused into action, rushing to the barkeeper to ask after her.

Bartender: What waitress, we don’t have table service. Ask the lady from your group who placed your order for you.

With a curse, the party realized they had been played and charged out into the carnival in the streets.

With the celebration, the streets were filled with literally hundreds of people in a massive, flowing crowd. Almost everyone was wearing masks. From what the party recalled, the waitress had red hair, a scar over her eye, and was wearing black. This was not helpful, as with most people dressed in the hoods and cloaks of carnivale, the party had to go person to person to reveal them, seeking their quarry.

But Arius would have none of it. He immediately cast Locate Object, and like a blood hound began to chase down the thief as fireworks exploded overhead.

As the party followed him, timed perfectly with one of the fireworks a high-powered thunder musket was fired by a sniper on a roof above the street, striking Ukko. He managed to spot an LCA: Special Division sniper tracking them. Using his attunement to storms, he smote the sniper with a flash of lightning and it dropped off the roof and out of sight.

As the rest of the party got closer and closer to the thief, she suddenly turned and pushed Arius back just in time to not be hit by the LCA: Sniper, in a move that surprised everyone, before she darted off into the crowd. Ukko summoned a massive bolt of lightning in the street, causing a mass panic. As the villagers fled, it became clear that there were a number of gentlemen in the street wielding guns and cane swords also after the thief and the crown. The party managed to down the thief and take out these mysterious gentlemen, only to have the thief kip up and flee to a back alley. They followed quickly.

In the back alley the party cornered the thief as she rounded a corner to find a large number of the mysterious gentlemen once more. This time they were led by a strong, muscle-bound man who rivaled John Clonter is size and strength. In an epic test of physical fortitude, John and this bodybuilder faced off in the street as Azmaranthe and Ukko fended off the sudden return of the LCA: Sniper high above them. Arius chased the thief across the alley, fighting off a small army of rats and a rather evil Murder Hobo along the way.

Kareese, fed up with it all, brought force a conflagration of fire to end the Mysterious Gentlemen and largely cleared the field. Having caught the thief once again, they raided her pockets while she was unconscious and found a small pendant with a clasp, a dagger, a smoke bomb, and finally the crown. Just as they tried to take it, she regained consciousness, used the smoke bomb, and fled. She was much slower now, and the party managed to dog her closely as they followed.

Following the Thief to the street beside the Highchurch of Alethia at the center of the city, they watched as she dashed into the church courtyard. They passed an empty Black Carriage as they followed, cornering her in the middle of the courtyard where an old priest was smoking and watching the fireworks.

Old Priest: Oh… hello! Where did you come from? ~blows a smoke ring~ Lovely night, isn’t it?

The Theif tries to flee down the grassy gardens, only to be stopped by a number of vampiric thralls led by two vampires.

Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni: This is them, boss. The thief girl’s got the goods. The shiny guy and his goodfellahs were the louts that didn’t take the deal.

Vinny the Thrall Keeper: Fine. I’ll deal with this. Looey, Thrall Kern has the Domesday book outside the city, use it to tell Lady Blackbriar that our search is over. She will have the crown by daybreak, and the country soon after.

Looey “Litchface” Vamperoni: Right boss! Off I go!

As the thief backed away, more of the mysterious gentlemen appeared with mastiffs and the muscle-bound warrior once more. Concerning the thief, they called to her.

Strongman Gentleman: Young lady. Lets not make this difficult. Give us the crown, and you may leave. We’ll even assist you. Let’s be… civilized.

As she backed up towards where the party was, the crack of a thunder musket indicated that the LCA: Special Division sniper was still after them. An insight check from Azmaranthe allowed her to notice that the sniper was after them, and them alone. Not the thief, not the crown. Just to kill.

As a massive, five way battle began, the Thief did her best to get the old priest into the cathedral before joining him inside. After fighting a good effort against overwhelming forces, the party fought their way to the cathedral and barricaded themselves inside as the gentlemen and vampires fought each other on the church grounds.

Inside, two old priests and bandaging the Thief’s wounds. As the party enters the old priest steps forward to intervene.

Old Priest: “Hold, warriors! This is holy ground to our lady and protector: Alethia. None may draw weapons here, save in sanctioned competition.

Bisho Meyers: I am Bishop Meyers, the highest priest to Alethia in Ovid. This is my parish. Who are you? Heroes you may be, and we are thankful for it. But I am afraid I have offered this young woman sanctuary. In these hallowed grounds, I cannot allow you to touch her save in sanctioned combat. Our lady allows for single combat. One on one. Fairly matched and fully healed. If you wish it. (he turns to the thief) Child, you know I cannot deny this. It is part of our ways. Are you prepared?

Arius stepped forward, determined to reclaim his charge. And the battle began. It was a close fight, but Arius’s holy light prevailed and cast her down. Restored to the crown, he demanded to know who she was, and why she had stolen the crown.

She pulled off her mask, revealing bright red hair and a nasty looking scar that ran from her forehead to her jaw, and stared boldly at the party.

Thief: My name is Kino, daughter of Enzia, granddaughter of Cinemus Regalus XXII. And I am the last surviving heir to the throne of Ovid. The throne, and that crown, is rightfully mine.

With a sudden silence, the party gasped. Outside, the mysterious gentlemen were victorious, but only two survived. One, the Strongman, pulled his companion up and helped him to their black carriage, and they fled from the scene of carnage to report. From a distant rooftop the LCA: Sniper pulled back, knowing her chance was lost.
And fireworks continued to explode overhead, celebrating heedlessly as circumstances below became more and more confusing.

Continue on to Chapter Eight: With Some Vengeance (Part One)