Sha'Als Watch Reports

Week 15 - Stoned

A few days ago, a distress call arrived in Sharn. The mayor of a town that lies in the center of the forests in the Northeast was calling for help. Located in the borderlands, the citizens permanently live in fear of the shadowy and evil creatures that are said to live beyond the mountains. These days the dimensional boundaries are fluctuating, causing the powers of darkness to grow stronger than usual (at least this is what I was understanding from what a local cleric was trying to explain me in complicated and long-winded explanations). Our mission was to protect the innocent from anything that may be lurking in the shadows.

After gathering intelligence about the target region and related criminal records, we (Firiel, Dusk, Sir Verrodin and me) set off to our endeavour. During the journey, we sailed up the dagger river and then advanced on a rental horses and three ponies (travel costs fully covered by the client). The road through the forest was wide and properly maintained and easy to follow. At the break of dawn, we switched on the lanterns to find our way and detect potential ambushes.

Suddenly, Firiel spotted something dark in front of us, approaching with a high velocity. She managed to jump off the road while pointing her lantern towards the threat, that turned out to be a ghost knight on a horse. Almost immediately, Dusk was hit and injured by his spear. The attacker passed right through her. The others pulled their horses away from the assault, towards the side of the road. At some distance behind us, he turned around behind us to start a second assault.

Turning around, I was preparing for battle and quickly went mentally through my watch equipment to determine the most efficient tools for this situation. Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: short swords, saps, crossbows … but no holy or magic weapons to fight ghosts (note: apply for more appropriate weapons as soon as I'm back from this assignemnt). Cursing the lack of proper equipment of city watch recruits, I slipped down from the saddle onto the ground to do the only option left for me to do: taking up a defensive stance on the road and taunting the attacker by every trick in the book. It worked astonishingly well. Even though the ghost rider got hit by a splash of holy water from our paladin, it directly charged me, blind with fury. In the very last moment, I managed to dodge the deadly spear by rolling sideways into the dirt.

The attacker stopped a little ahead of us and with ostentation blocked the road, the spear pointing back into the direction we came from. There was a surprisingly chivalric air to the gestures, as though he tried to warn us not to proceed any further. Luckily, we managed to cool down quickly enough in the heat of the fight and successfully greeted the ghostly knight in orcish. He wasn't able to speak out, but his gestures and drawings in the sand were talking a clear language: If we would continue on our quest, we would likely encounter a fate worse than death. An undead basilisk was haunting the town in distress, turning people into stone and carrying the victims away. Moments later, the knight vanished into thin air.

After a short discussion, we decided to proceed with great care. We used mirrors to protect us from the petrifying stare of any basilisk lurking in the woods and safely arrived at our destination. The locals were happy to see us arriving alive, even though Dusk was injured and we lost her pony in the ambush. Treating us like heroes (Firiel did tell what had happened, not without making the skirmish with the ghost knight sound epic), we were invited to an opulent feast.

At the table, all of the important people of the region were gathered. The atmosphere was very festive at the surface, but something seemed to be wrong… I spotted a soup├žon of guilt in the behavior of our hosts and something was not entirely right with the food either. In an attempt to warn my friends without raising too much suspicion, I tried to find a language, no one except us would be able to understand. Telling aloud an exquisite pun in Halfling, I managed to figure out that noone on the table did react. Whoever understood the language should have burst out in laughter or have a really hard time in concealing his amusement. Halfling seemed to be a safe language for our party to communicate in… until a little later I was reminded by Firiel that we have a much more subtle way of communicating, at least with her acting as a "relay".

After dinner, we were guided to our bedrooms where we discussed our observations. Sir Verrodin also sensed that the people were less hospitably than they seemed. Apart from the priest, everyone seemed to radiate a more or less evil attitude. Our observations were backed up by the fact that a spice used in the seasoning was not exactly a poison, but had a weakening effect when consumed. I was able to detoxify our group and with some effort managed to synthesize an antidote which Dusk started to replicate. Also taking shifts in taking guard, the night was short for all of us.

In the morning, Dusk continued preparing more doses of the antidote and Firiel went undercover to ask around among the children. Sir Verrodin and I chose to interrogate the priest, seemingly the only local we could trust. We learned that the basilisk had been killed by the knight some time ago, but he also quickly died from the poison. Since then the undead basilisk was much more aggressive than before and kept attacking the town regularly. Our only chance to end the haunting was to find the spot where the tragedy took place. We had to release both the souls of the knight as well as the basilisk to restore order again.

Tracking ground-zero in the woods was not easy and without the excellent map we had, we wouldn't have been able to arrive in time. Shortly before sunset we were waiting in cover for the basilisk to leave its hideout for attacking the village. When we were certain that the basilisk was gone, we carefully approached a rocky clearing and a cave. It didn't take long until we realized that the rocks around us were shaped like forest animals and… people. Here and there, the poor petrified victims had already crumbled, but most of them seemed to be more or less intact. And there it was: the bones of the basilisk and the remains of the knight who had heroically slain it and did not survive to tell the story. The spear, glowing with a mystical energy, stuck in the ground.

While Sir Verrodin prepared to safely grab the spear, Firiel casually went to the glowing artifact, putting on gloves… When she tried to pull it out, a sudden flash of green light dazzled us. A few seconds passed and Firiel began to speak orkish in a rather low register. She was now possessed by the soul of the knight. We learned that we had to destroy the sacred spear to release both souls that are otherwise bound to haunt this place for all eternity.

A horrifying screeching noise from the sky made us all look away. Above us, the basilisk had returned, willing to get revenge for its trapped and tormented soul. Luckily, it didn't attack us immediately. Somehow we managed to calm it down long enough to have the spear destroyed and both souls released into eternal rest.

It turned out that the townspeople tried to sacrifice us to the basilisk, as they did before with other mercenaries they hired in earlier days. Luckily, all of us survived this trap. We laid the bones of the brave knight to rest and the priest started to revive as many of the poor petrified victims as she could.

I'm not sure that I understood what was actually happening around me. It for sure consolidated further my attitude towards religion and magic. Without either of them, all the horrible things would never have happened in the first place. Why can't problems always be solved in a civilized manner: By talking to each other… or if all diplomacy fails, by packing a punch to settle any matters once and for all?

Week 20 - Freedom of Thoughts

Insanity is always lurking in Sharn and sometimes strikes fast. I've been approached by my fellow Dusk to assist in an investigation outside the watch responsibilities. Together with her friends Kehs'shana and Kalkhad, we moved out to track down a curious case of several people who recently seemed to have lost their marbles. It all happened in Upper Dura, incidentally in the same district where items kept mysteriously disappearing for months. Maybe I'd be able to solve two mysteries simultaneously.

We learned that several inhabitants of Upper Dura happened to have a their minds clouded within a short period of time. We weren't aware of any festival or orgy at that time and place. That could have explained this situation as group consumption of questionable mind-clouding substances wouldn't have been surprising. Plus, there is no substance known to me that causes such a special side-effect as reported for the affected people: All of them had literally holes in their heads.

On our way into the Upper Dura district, we came across a big wall, apparently consisting of green slime. It clearly didn't belong there and was quite solid: an angry mob was trying to pass or even tear down the wall from both sides. It didn't seem to cause an immediate threat to anyone. Therefore we didn't lose much time on it and visited the closest victim, living nearby a temple.

It was a middle-aged male citizen. His state of mind is best described to be "blissful". Irritatingly content with his surroundings and what happened to him, he seemed to have a great time, not fully grasping what had happened. At least he was still able to tell about his recent encounter on his way back from the market. In disturbingly quiet words he was reporting about a "box man with metallic hands". What it did to him was seemingly "funny at the beginning, but not so much later on". At least he realized that something unpleasant must have happened to him, even though he didn't seem to mind at all at the moment of our visit.

Inspired by the description, Kehs'shana suggested that it may have been a "psionic, pillar-like creature" with healing properties that could have turned insane". It didn't sound like the most likely explanation to me, though. In my mind, some more likely pictures of the offender were taking shape: maybe it was a sculptor with a chisel who couldn't afford to pay his rent anymore and then started to assault his fellow citizens in a desperate, yet cruel fashion. Maybe some posh, clumsy guy from Skyway dropped his trophy he obtained from a long journey - a fancy rock or crystal - and hit the poor man in his head while he wanted to buy a jack-in-the-box toy. Many explanations are thinkable, but we shouldn't begin with suspecting a mad healing pillar with metal hands in the first place.

On our way out we noticed that the slime wall was gone while we were inside. We decided that it probably had been diversionary tactics hinder our investigations. While we still discussed our next steps, we were interrupted by a sudden and loud trembling. Screams of horror joined into the noise and people were running past us, apparently away from the source. We immediately started running towards the noise, dodging the scared citizens as good as possible. The noise up-swelled with every step we took and hit us with full force when we rounded the last corner. The sudden and pure force of sound made us stop. Dusk and Kalkhad were even deafened. The rest of our team had a hard time resisting the earsplitting buzzing that filled the road. In front of us we spotted a swarm of seemingly a thousand of dancing fireflies.

As we found out, it was a cloud of lost thoughts that was floating in front of us. Dammit, again an opponent without eyes, kneecaps or other vulnerable body parts! There was no way for me to threaten, attack or even distract this hostile apparition. I had to helplessly watch it attacking (more or less) innocent citizens. The poor buggers were only able to flee as quickly as they could, but many still got harmed. Many were bleeding, limping away into safety.

The fight took only a very short amount of time. The only thing I could do was receiving a fire bomb from Dusk. Kalkhad started to dance, acting as a decoy. Seconds later the thoughts were gone. I learned afterwards what actually had happened. Dusk managed to add a shimmering, golden thought to the buzzing entity: "teleport me away". This allowed Kehs'shana to actually use a teleport spell and get rid of our opponent. It is a bit unclear to me where it went, but I was assured that it would now roam a location inhabited by sentient beings with extremely unlawful habits. I assume, that this solution is better than having the towers of Sharn being shaken and finally destroyed by uncontrollable free thoughts.

Our second victim immigrated from Adaria and was in a catatonic state when we met him. He also encountered something described as "spinning arms" in a back alley close to the market.

Victim number three on our list was extremely confused and grumpy. He was a wizard, therefore it is not a too uncommon state of mind for him to be in. Nevertheless, he had the same type of head wound as the others. It looked like a crude trepanation that must have caused some serious brain damage. He also remembers an incident on his way to the market. His grumpiness apparently was mainly caused by a spell he had forgotten due to the incident.

We decided to head for the market when we heard booming noises north of the city. Luckily for us, we could magically figure out that there were apparenly two huge humanoid figures were fighting in the distance. This is probably related to a historical battle that took place in that location about 300 years ago. They appeared to be astral constructs and not immediately threatening Sharn. We couldn't have had any effect on them anyway. Luckily, the figures and the sounds were dying away after a while, enabling us to focus on the case.

At the market, we didn't spot anything suspicious in the beginning. But after a short while, we noticed a strange pillar standing in the market, appearing to be oddly out of place. Remembering our earlier theory about a sentinent pillar-automaton, I pulled together all of my eloquence and started to talk sense into this seemingly inanimate object. With the support of my companions, I daresay that my monologue would have been convincing lesser gods to grant me any wish within their powers. In the old days, bards would probably have translated my performance as being laid with a mithril tongue. Poppycock! I'm just a simple watchman doing his duty. Sometimes, physical force is the weapon of choice, but it is much healthier to try out at least a different, de-escalating strategy. Usually, adding weapons to a fist-fight only reduces the amount of body parts still attached to the fighters afterwards.

To our great relief, the pillar unfolded to some sort of automaton and remained calm… for a couple of moments. It tried to grab and drill the heads of both Kehs'shana and Dusk. Only more careful talk prevented both of them to get actually harmed. The being apparently tried to "cure" them without need. After a short discussion, the entity decided to return to "someone [who] nneds daily treatment.

To prevent the machine to cause more havoc, we followed it to a building in the vicinity. It worked its way through a wall and disappeared inside. As there was no door to knock, we teleported inside. It was an nice, rather average place. An extremely old man was sitting in a chair, watching us. We found out that it may in fact be the aged "Al Sharaf". He accused us of being assassins and made a wall appear in front of us, blocking our passage. Again, we teleported through the obstacle to get closer to that strange old… or rather ancient man with his heavily bandaged head.

At the moment we rematerialized inside, Kehs'shana got attacked, but she was able to dodge it. The man asked me with his brittle voice: "Are you Timmy?". Hoping that it would de-escalate the situation, I affirmed his assumption, only to hear his immediate response: "You owe me money". Before I was able to react, Al Sharaf removed the wall, appearing to be utterly confused about the situation. "Who are you?" was his next question. The dialogue that unfolded had then revealed that he suffered an extremely severe case of Alzheimer. His automaton had been used to treat his condition, but due to his anatomy and the age of the machine, something got horribly wrong. Instead of curing, the machine started to randomly harm people while thinking to being helpful.

Bottom line is that we manged to sell the robot for a good price, where it got fixed and used in non-harmful ways thereafter. The revenues allowed us to buy a powerful ring of age-protection. It should assist Al Sharaf in re-gaining sanity and live his remaining years in dignity, instead of apathetically vegetating until death would release him. We decided to donate the remaining money to charity.

Week 21 - Hide & Sew

We were called to investigate into an unusual crime that has been committed in the posh district "Copper Arch" in "Upper Tavicks Landing". It was indeed atypical. Instead of the normal thefts, intrigues, dubious financial transactions, inexplicable deaths of people in powerful positions or similar, property had been damaged at big scale. The club house of the "Order of Cockatrice" an - even for Upper Tavicks Landing - very posh and snooty society had been raided. In the previous night, someone or something had caused a lot of property damage. The casualties range from bent silverware, to smashed vases, to furniture, to entire floors up to a massive outer stone wall. Further, many trophies gathered by the club members have been stolen. Interestingly, these things were primarily of sentimental value to the owners, but not necessarily the items with the highest materialistic value. This crime is regarded as being an unspeakable insult to the victims.

Investigations in this matter have been assigned to my team members Jacques, Percival, Talion and me. Right in the beginning we were facing the most unpleasant and tedious task: having permission granted to access Copper Arch. It is not only a difficult bureaucratic act to get permission to enter the district armed, no… that place has a ridiculously formal and strict dress code.

Luckily, Jacques lives in that place, he even is one of the victims. He already has access to the district, even with his weaponry of choice. For me, being a copper was helpful also, at least regarding the arms. The usual tools such as short sword, sap and even a standard "Shrubbery&Cook" crossbow may be carried legally while on duty. For Percival and Talion on the other hand, the "Temporary permit to carry or bear arms, damage inflicting or otherwise potentially harmful or lethal objects (including, but not exclusively: heavy, blunt, sharp, pointy, hot, cold, poisonous) in security&safety weaponry-control locations, enforced by the watchful watch and/or privileged inhabitants" (internal code: A38) had to be requested. While queuing in the bureaucratic offices, the wife of my trusted colleague Sgt. Semicolon dealt with preparing the most agonizing part of our duty: She spent the time ironing and polishing my dreaded parade uniform.

When I finally had the arms permits granted (possession of not-too-exotic weapons (Talion) and the use of fire magic (Percival)) I returned to the watch house to get dressed up. When I stepped into my office, the horror stuck me. There it lied on the desk in front of me: The clean, spotless, carefully folded parade uniform. No real issue with the white linen trousers, except that they most likely would be ruined, even after a tiny brawl or by just patrolling the cleanest streets of Sharn on a rainy day, same with the shirt. Just that the shirt will definitely have a serious issue with the shoulders and any place where the decorative "breastplate-ish" accessory made of shiny steel will keep rubbing on every step I take. Even the artfully cut leather padding added here and there wouldn't protect the delicate clothing from wearing out quickly. At least, the leather may even have an actually protecting effect in a fight. The steel-thing that I had to strap around my upper body looked stunning, figuratively speaking, definitely not literally. The thin metal plating was lighter than the normal one. Sadly, the brass ornaments and ridiculously fancy "flaps" attached to the shoulders were effectively adding to the weight again and at the same time were reducing the agility of the wearer again. I would be surprised, if any of the clothing (except for some of the leather padding) actually reduced the force of an opponent's blow with any weapon. The cavalry boots standing besides are so high that they even cover the knees, again the most unpractical type of clothing imaginable. The stiff black leather was so shiny that the reflection of my face nearly blinded me in the very moment I spotted the helmet and the face went pale.

The helmet… well… it is a good deal higher than the ordinary one, again very thinly plated and coated in ornaments. Up front, a coat-of-arms is depicted. It is one of the traditional motifs from the city watch with a meaning that has been long forgotten. It resembles some sort of lion which is dancing on his hind legs, eyes wide open. His front claws are holding a sap and a buckler. The lion seems to chew on a bunch of tiny sheep and cows. A claw, probably from a huge bird of prey, is entering the depiction from the right border while firmly gripping the lion's tail. Seemingly attempting to increase the ridiculousness of the helmet, Mrs Semicolon attached a huge purple plume to it. THAT was the final adjustment of the uniform that would inadvertently change my appearance in the streets from cock to peacock. It was the perfect outfit for getting a free beating&mugging in the lower districts.

After dressing up, I preferred to sneak out the back door and meet the others at the entrance gates of Upper Tavicks Landing. As expected, Jacques looked posh as ever. Percy was dressed up in an elegant fashion, yet far from being overdressed. Talion did his best to get access to the district: his clothing was rather ordinary, clean and undamaged. He must either have spent a good deal of his savings to buy them or he may have tapped a source of disputable legality. In addition, it must have been the first time that I've seen him shaved.

We reported to the check point and entered Upper Tavicks Landing, proceeding along the cleanest and least smelling roads I've ever seen in my life. Jacques guided us towards the "Order of Cockatrice" guild house. A long, straight road lead to the house and from quite a distance, we could without effort spot a gaping hole in the front wall. As we approached, I realized that a considerable amount of rubble was lying outside of the building. In the area formerly known as "inside the building", the count of damaged masonry was considerably lower. It could be best described as damage caused by a wrecking ball hitting the walls from the inside.

A guild secretary who introduced himself as Kellen picked us up at the main entrance and answered our questions on the way in. We learned that two night guards on duty were injured when the walls "exploded" and were sent to hospital. Further, the guild house is usually locked and completely empty during the nights. The access keys to the halls are only handed out to guild members. Not even the guards are allowed to enter the guild house and patrol the inside. We inspected the damage in more detail. It was mainly statues and stuffed animals missing. Most of the more valuable items were still more or less in their original place, often smashed or shattered, but not stolen.

We decided to interrogate the injured guards at the hospital. One of them - Lorm - was conscious when we arrived. He reported that last night very loud noises could suddenly be heard from inside the guild house. He described it as somehow resembling an elephant. They could not see what was going on inside and the other guard set off to check it out. Therefore the poor man was very close to the collapsing wall and got severely injured. He also remembered that an artist and a couple of workers were let inside in the late evening, but the all left a good time prior to the incident.

Luckily it was possible to have the unconscious second guard healed by a hospital priest at special request (cost: 50g). Still not fully recovered, he told us that he has seen "all trophies set off at once". The only noises he heard were the sounds of smashing. While this happened, the place had been engulfed in light before it suddenly went dark around him. It was not entirely clear to us what all of this that meant. The most reliable piece of information he could provide us with was the name of the artist: according to him it was the well known elf Nialyas.

Before setting off to the artist's home, we checked the surroundings of the guild property. Apparently, there were at least two places that are open during the night time: the beauty place "Transmutation" and a spirits shop selling very exotic beverages. The spirits shop was open at that time and we asked the owner which of his employees worked at the night shift. It turned out to be the young half-elf Ernesto who heard a lot of crashing noises without being able to spot anything more detailed.

We had the impression that Ernesto was withholding some vital information. He apparently was afraid of telling his boss about it. We attempted to extract this additional information from Ernesto, but first the shop owner had to get distracted: Jacques asked for a wine tasting of the most exquisite bottle in the wine cellar. In the mean time, Ernesto told us about "things carried off in the dark" and could even point to a certain direction. We tried to figure out where a large enough place could be located in this district. It must be a place large enough to hide a huge Megalodon, a mammoth and other large animals. We didn't reach a clear conclusion and therefore set off to visit Niaylas, who lived roughly in the same direction. On our way, we suddenly were attacked by the Megalodon from a side alley.

Jacques managed to dodge a first bite attack from the humongous jaws, but still gets severely hit by the head. In return he managed to get a clean strike at the shark. Its skin was clearly thick and tough, but there were visible cracks and it seemed to be rather dry. Where it got hit, it burst open and it was bleeding a considerable amount of sawdust. The rest of us was not able to penetrate the skin, but enraged our opponent even further. It furiously attempted to bite Percival, who elegantly dodged the jaws. Then, the shark made another quick movement. In horror, we looked at the empty spot of plaster where Percival had been standing just moments ago. He had been swallowed!

In a desperate attempt of vengeance, Jacques evaded just another attack and managed to critically wound the beast. He even mocked it by etching something into its hide. It resembled the character "C". Talion and I were able to exploit this distracting moment to place even more hits. I lunged forward and thrust my sword deeply into its gills on the right if its head. In the following seconds, everything happened very quickly. Jacques elegantly sidestepped the jaws again, barely evading a serious injury, though getting hurt. Dodging the swallow and smash attacks with style, he maneuvered into a perfect position for the final blow. His rapier finally injured the shark severely enough to "kill" it… again. Dark puffs of smoke left its eyes, its fins twitched for a last time before sinking to the ground.

For a moment of silence, we were all standing there, exhausted from the fight. It was when we realized how the shark actually moved: he was lying on a big wooden board with wheels. We could probably have run away to a safe distance instead of having Percival killed… Percival! All of us were suddenly thinking the same: "Rescue Percival! He may still be alive inside that taxidermic horror!". It took a while until we foud a weak spot in the hide to penetrate and open up a hole big enough to access its "innards" - a lot of sawdust and most of the loot from the raid. Poor Percival was missing as well as the following items:

  • 2 masks
  • 1 schema
  • several scrolls of ancient writing

As we found no trace of Percival, we decided to report back at the club. When we returned, we were very happy so see our grinning comrade waiting for us to arrive. He managed to teleport out from the stuffed shark during the fight and remained mostly unharmed.

For a second time we set off to interrogate the taxidermist Nialyas, who resides in a huge mansion. Inside, the place looked a lot like a lush forest. This clearly was the home of a rich elf. He told us that the animals were in fact animated by him the night before, using some experimental animation magic. This was part of the agreement with the club: "as lifelike as possible". Unfortunately, he was clearly overdoing his task, causing the animals to accidentially wreak much havoc, which didn't seem to stir him much. Only when he learned about the broken wine bottles, he appeared rather shocked and called it "a tragic incident".

He could tell us some interesting facts about the missing items that we couldn't retrieve from the shark's "guts". They are probably part of fire giant magic and may somehow be linked to the basics of animation.

As if nothing had happened, Jacques asked Nialyas to restore the deceased shark for a second time, this time without being animated. Instead, the Megalodon carcass should be re-purposed as an exclusive club-room. When I heard this request, I really had to hold myself back to not hit Jacques with my sap in the head. After all this trouble, I just wanted to get back home to take a nap. It was high time to get dressed down to normal…

Epilogue

With every day I'm doing my duty in the city watch, the purpose of what I'm doing is more and more questioned. When I joined, I was young, enthusiastic and wanted to make Sharn more worth living. I thought that the entire city watch would be acting as a shining beacon of morale in my home city.

Gods, I couldn't have been more wrong. I learned a lot about from my mentor Sergeant-at-Arms "Yohanan Straight". He taught me about ethical behavior even in dangerous situations on patrol in the streets. Also, during my excursions with the "Wayfinder Foundation" I was able to peek around the facade of the the institutions that are in reality controlling Sharn. I was genuinely shocked that even in the higher districts, the same disgusting spirit of greed and control-by-fear is residing. True, the upper class is living in much nicer and cleaner houses, but this is only concealing the fact, that the entire society is eaten away by corruption, violence and exploitation.

I have to face the sad truth: The souls of all citizens are dark inside. The bloodthirsty "beast" is even lurking inside myself. I can feel it trying to erupt to the surface every single day. It is hard to fight it. It is slowly devouring my soul, any moment I don't pay attention. I don't know how long I will be able to hold it back. My spirit of being a "good guy" is in constant pain. I can't bear the pressure any longer. Only spirits seem to be able to soothe it for a while. Sobriety hurts. Time to get a quantum of liquefied solace from my drawer…

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