Awake and Dreaming

The claiming of Tzipporah
Previous session introduction.

Life is hard…its especially difficult if you’re the spawn of the unholy union between a demon and human. Somewhere down the line a poor woman’s luck ran out and she was assaulted in the most violent and horrible fashion, bearing a child with both the soul and perseverance of a human but all the malice and hatred of a demon. Imagine a scenario where a soul is constantly being torn asunder and just as its about to break, both it and the attacker collapse from exhaustion…then… the battle starts all over again. Now contain that within a mortal body, throw in some demonic deformities, and look in the mirror. Welcome to your new life.

Sadly this is not far from the way you entered this world. Ptolus has a vast maze of dungeons and caverns deep below the city which hold great treasure and unspeakable horrors. The Delver’s Guild sends hundreds of adventurers over the years deeper and deeper to unearth these and more in hopes of acquiring vast knowledge, power and wealth. Years ago such a group of adventurers ascended the staircase and dove into the unknown in search of those very things. Among them was a young woman who’s grip on the magical arts was much stronger than her grip on reality. They slogged through the muck, kept on guard for constant attacks by beasts and much worse, always pushing forward to what seemed like an impossible goal.

On the third day they reached a large room with tall cathedral ceilings and strange markings covering the walls and floors. In the center of the room, hovering 2 inches above a pure white-stone pedestal was a deep green shard the size of a full grown man. It was then that the spiders made themselves known. Bravely the party fought them off but wave after wave continued to assault them. First the rogue succumbed to the poisons coursing through his body after countless bites and scratches. His screams could be heard as the spiders overwhelmed him and tore his bloated body to pieces. Next was the cleric with all his faith and conviction. Cleaved in two by a taloned leg he lay gasping on the ground for breath that would never come.

Seeing her companions struck down one by one unnerved the poor girl. She gathered what strength she had left and let loose a massive wave of fire that incinerated the remaining spiders. It washed over them like a molten wave of death, slamming into the crystal in the center of the room as it passed. Suddenly, everything went completely silent. No breath could be heard, the remaining three were struck mute, and all attempts to make any sort of noise was met with failure. Splitting slowly from the center, piece by piece, the crystal seemed to peel itself apart revealing a horribly twisted and warped human with jet black skin, wrapped in its own massive leathery wings. Horns protruded from its misshapen skull and its body convulsed with the first breaths it had taken in centuries.

The creature stepped down out of the remains of the crystal and turned towards the intruders. Breathing in deeply it exhaled a violent burst that seemed to push all the sound back into the room, knocking them to the ground. The next few seconds were a blur but they ended with both of her party members slain and the woman suspended in the air by her neck as the demon examined her. Its horrible toothed mouth formed into what could have been a smile as the smell of sulfur assaulted her lungs. In that moment the terrifying realization of what was about to happen crept into her head…and she desperately grasped for anything sharp to end her life with. The futility of this action seemed to please the demon as it began to work on her…

Twenty years later a similar group of adventurers from the Delver’s Guild managed to stumble upon the same room. This time they found a creature not human, but not completely demon, encased in an embryonic sac at the foot of a bone-white stone pedestal with green shards scattered all over the room. It appeared to be female, fully grown and approximately 22 human years of age. They freed it from its fraternal prison and drug it back to the surface. Shackled and gagged, this was to be its existence….or was it?

You are almost to the staircase when something odd happens. Call it demonic intervention, possibly the last gift from a twisted father. The hallway that had been secure for years burst forth with all manner of vermin and filth that leaps onto the party, getting into the spaces between armor and dragging them to the ground. Somehow you managed to slip away to a passage you didn’t even realize was there – you could have sworn the wall opened up. Guided by an unseen force you sprint away from the horrible sounds of digestion and the screams of agony. Something inside you smiles and you have no idea why, but it feels good.

Hours after your escape you surface in a small cave by the shore. It appears to be some sort of smuggling stash with a small group of pirates to match. They quickly pull you out of the water and put you before their captain. She leans in close and examines you before speaking. “My, you are a curious creature. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like you.” Her voice is both piercing and soothing at the same time. The patch over her eye hides a much more horrible story than the protruding scars around it would tell. “Welcome to the surface. Now after these chains come off you’re going to tell me a little about yourself and then I will tell you a little about what’s going to happen next. My name is Captain Rubix…”

[ This begins the entrance of Tzipporah into the game. I’ll speak with you more about what she has done since then and catch you up to speed when she is introduced to the party. ]

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Hook, line and job
Previous session.

“Excellent” Rubix says and walks back around her desk. She sits down, leans back and crosses her legs. Opening the top drawer of her desk she removes an expensive looking cigar and a small twinder twig which she uses to light it. Taking a long drag and letting it out in several small smoke rings she looks up at the ceiling thoughtfully before turning again to you.

“Now that we have a legally binding verbal agreement,” looking at both of you directly, “We can discuss the rest of the details.” She turns slowly around in her chair as she smokes the cigar, releasing little clouds of smoke circles every now and again.

“I run an operation here called the ‘Port Sea Trading Company’. I’m going to speed things up and assume you’ve already heard about it. We deal in all sorts of merchandise, ranging from artifacts and armor to slaves and salvage. Naturally moving such items across the sea can be dangerous. Pirates loves to attack ships just like the ones you’re going to be working on, looting and killing the crew. It’s a shame when we have to kill them all and deposit their bodies at the bottom of the sea. Losing potential employees always hurts a little.” She pauses her spinning as she says this and cracks a little smirk, then continues her slow rotation.

“We have clients who would like to move some merchandise from this fair city to a location undisclosed to employees such as yourself. Due to the sensitive nature of their cargo and the amount of ‘insurance’ they have purchased, we require a sizeable guard to ensure its safety. The route they have chosen is not the most safe. Let’s be honest…it’s pretty damn dangerous and would put and peril you suffered during YOUR previous escapades to shame.” She chews something for a second in her mouth and then spits into a brass jar on the ground.

“The ship leaves in two days at sundown. You are to report to Tobias downstairs at that time. Take the next day or so to get your affairs in order, write your will, have your last supper, whatever you need to do. When you come back try not to get yourself a tail. I don’t need any MORE complications than I already have.”

She stops her spinning and puts her cigar out in the ashtray on her desk. Folding her hands across the desk, she leans towards you. “Don’t disappoint me and you’ll find that this can be the start of your new career…on the outside.” Her gaze hardens as she stares you directly in the eyes before standing up again and staring out the large window, her back to you.

“Oh and on your way out, leave the silverware in that sack by the door. I don’t care about the food or the shoes but I doubt you’ll get past the minotaur while you still have that on you.”

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A meeting with the captain
Previous session.

The minotaur lowers his towering 8-foot frame down to your level and looks you square in the eye before repeating the phrase “Moonshine” in a low growl. He sniffs you and then stands up to his full height. You now notice several scars around his neck and his wrists…signs he was at one time a prisoner in some form. Captain Rubix has been known to “free” creatures from all walks of life and give them a “second chance” by employing them. The towering creature moves towards the door and removes a heavy wooden bar then knocks three times. A lock clicks, the doors open and you are gestured inside.

The room is furnished rather well for what it is. A small seating area off to the left with two high-backed, well worn leather chairs adorned with patches and flanked by reclaimed coffee tables (which are really just crates with fancy tops on them). The walls are filled with book shelves, various trinkets, antiques, old books and other knick knacks. A large oak desk sits in the back of the room directly in front of a large windows which overlooks the dreary rooftops and businesses which call the docks their home. On the desk are stacks of papers, an ink pen and ink, a pistol and several daggers.

Behind the desk sits a woman approximately 5’-10” tall with brown hair tied back in a poly tail. She wears a blue captain’s coat, black pants and black leather boots. Upon her head is a weathered and beaten brown leather hat. She is scribbling something on a piece of parchment as you enter. The minotaur enters the room behind you and closes the door. She finishes what she is writing and places the pen down. Leaning back in her chair she looks up at you with curiosity. She gives a small smile and then begins to speak.

“By now you’ve probably heard that I am Captain Rubix. Welcome to my establishment. I’m sorry things are…the way they are at the moment. We are doing a little re-organizing and these little events rarely ever go as planned.”

I hear you’ve been down on your luck when it comes to money and work. It must be a lucky coincidence that I happen to have both…and am in need of two ‘contractors’ such as yourselves. Before I go into any details about what I need, where I need it to go, payment, all the fun stuff, I want to know if that would be something that could interest you.”

Rubix stands up from her desk and walks over to the window. She stares at something intently in the distance for a moment before continuing.

“A little bird whispered in my ear just last week about a pair of prisoners who escaped Overreach and managed to survive the desert that surrounds it. Rumor has it that they were headed in the direction of our fair city and could have taken up residence here already.

She turns to the players with her hands behind her back walking slowly around them as they sit in their chairs.

Imagine that, two criminals on the run probably looking for money and a way to avoid being sent back to that dreadful place. I’m sure if they found the right people, made the right friends, they could avoid such a fate. People who don’t get along in this town don’t seem to go very far…and partnerships can be VERY mutually beneficial.”

Rubix winks at the players before continuing.

“But back to my initial question. Would YOU be interested in a little contract work?”

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A deal on the docks
Previous session.

Exiting the alleyway your nostrils are immediately assaulted with the smells of fish, sweat and opportunity. The Docks of Ptolus are not what you expected. Attached to what could be described as the “ass end” of the city they are a collection of old buildings, forgotten storefronts that have been repurposed (but not rebuilt), rough stone streets lit by streetlights which do not seem to match one another. Everything here seems to have been part of something else at one point until a crafty merchant came upon it and decided the front landing to an abandoned building would better serve the area as a street merchant cart.

As hard as it is to imagine, the people working on the docks seem to match the buildings themselves. A hodge-podge of humans, dwarves, elves, orcs and goblins, a few minotaurs and the occasional lizard man can be seen manning trade carts, loading and unloading merchant ships, repairing and arming exploration vessels, and running the various shops and taverns that litter the streets along the docks. The guard presence, although a bit more frequent, seems to be a bit more relaxed. They don’t seem to be looking for anyone in particular and are more concerned with keeping the peace and cargo moving.

The docks themselves appear to have stood the test of an undetermined length of time judging by the various markings and scars the wood wears. As the lifeline and main supply to the city the sight of their ingenuity does not disappoint. You can postulate that no less than a thousand crates per night are moved to and from this port carrying all manner of items and trade goods. Watching the workers you feel a bit of excitement. There is definitely opportunity here and you would do well to find it.

Moving down the busy stone street you eventually come to a tall 4-story building that has seen better, more vibrant days than its aging structure would suggest. It is one of the oldest buildings in the area but has seen a large amount of maintenance and renovations to the outside with what looks to be the most drastic when the 4th story (obviously not part of the original design) was added). The aged stone walls contrast with the mostly wooden upper floor to give the building the appearance of a small castle keep. A large, hand-carved sign out front identifies this as the “Merchant’s Gallows Tavern.” From the fierce glow through the windows you can see a bustle of activity inside. You know this to be the headquarters of the Port Sea Trading Company as well as the office of Captain Rubix.

A group of dwarves dressed in work clothes push past you, headed towards the front door in search of food and drink.

Swinging the door wide open you are bathed in the warm glow of a warm fireplace, the smells of food and drink, and the loud and often boisterous musings of wannabe adventurers. Stepping inside the room appears more lively and welcoming than the outside of the building would suggest. No less than thirty patrons are seated around tables in the middle of the room, around the large fireplace to the left and perched upon bar stools at the bar to your right. In the back a large staircase ferries longer-term customers from their rooms on the second floor.

A short, burly dwarf mans the bar and seems to direct traffic coming from the kitchen in the back. His long beard is flecked with the signs of age and dignity. He wears a clean apron and a rag is slung over his shoulder as he moves to and from the liquor bottles and mead barrels in the rear. Every waitress who exits the kitchen is given orders by him on where to go and where to bring what. You are fairly confident that he is the man you should be talking to.

As you are standing around taking this all in his eyes dart over towards you and in a loud voice he bellows, “Well come on in and keep the weather outside. I’ve got some seats at the bar right here if you fancy yourself in the drinking mood.”

When you approach the bar and sit down the dwarf heads your direction. From where you are seated you can see an elevated ledge behind the bar he is using to keep himself at eye-level with patrons. He looks both of you up and down and gives a little smirk before grabbing two mugs from under the bar and filling them with Ale. He sets them down in front of you and to your surprise the glasses are the cleanest you have ever seen. The dwarf himself seems very put together and tidy as well and you can tell he’s been doing this for much longer than the lines on his face and the color in his beard suggest.

As you drink and eat he makes his way back over to you after sometime. Dez’s question about the location of Captain Rubix prompts a smile and a response. “I had a feeling you would be asking such things. Since I haven’t seen you around the area before i’m going to assume you saw one of our fancy ‘Help Wanted’ posters.” He takes a step back and looks at Dez, then to Zarpa, then back to Dez again. “You are taller than I expected, but the goblin is spot on.” He walks to the other end of the bar and motions for a waitress who hurries over to him. He converses with her for a moment and she turns to head upstairs.

A few curious minutes later she reappears and speaks with him again. Walking over to you he extends a hearty smile. “I don’t believe i’ve brought me manners with me this evening. The names Tobias and I run the Merchant Gallows. Not a cent moves in nor a customer moves out without me knowing…and you two have moved yourselves into some lucrative territory.” You notice that as he is saying all this the people around you seem totally oblivious. Either they are doing a VERY good job of pretending not to hear you…

[Perception check…you both pass because I said so…]

…or [with the passed check] they are purposely ignoring what he is saying for fear of “hearing too much.”

“The Captain has taken an interest in you two. I’m not sure what she has planned nor do I want to know. That’s none of my business at this point in the venture. I’ll give you to the end of your mean to decide whether or not you want to follow one of my waitresses upstairs to the offices.” He turns away from you and goes back to serving other patrons and directing traffic.

Gesturing towards the same waitress he spoke to earlier, Tobias approaches the end of the bar and leans over towards you. “Missy here will take you upstairs to the Captain. We are in a sort of…transitionary period so you’ll have to excuse her if she’s a little shorter with her words.” The waitress, a small fair-skinned girl who appears to be in her early twenties with eyes that bare an age long past that, leads you towards the large staircase at the back of the room and up the stairs. Very few people take notice of your absence and as soon as you leave the bar your dishes and mugs are wisked away as new patrons take your place.

Up the stairs and into a long hallways with doors lining either side. You deduce that this must be the “inn” portion of the building and as you pass several rooms you can hear giggling or other, more “playful” sounds. This could be one source of income for Rubix as prostitution in the main city is often frowned upon and prosecuted harshly in the more upscale sections. Several doors have shoes hung over the handles. [You know this as the universal “do not disturb” signal]. Various platters are placed outside the doors along the hallway walls awaiting pickup.

The door at the end of the hallway is much larger and made of a more sturdy material than the rest. You guess it to be some variety of oak. Missy pulls out a key ring, fumbles with the keys for a second before finding an oddly shaped one, and unlocks the door. She gives a little huff as she swings the heavy door open and gestures for you two to go through. “Head to the top of the stairs and tell the guard Tobias says “Moonshine.” The cryptic and odd-sounding instructions are all you are left with as she closes the door behind you and then locks it.

Giving Zarpa a blank stare that seems to say, “I’ve been through much worse than you could ever do to me” the girl locks the door behind you. The staircase is narrow and steep, leading up to a small landing and then up a little further where it opens into a small room. A well-worn couch occupies the left wall, a rug covers the floor in the middle, and two battered arm chairs with a table between them are placed to the right. In the center back of the room is a large door with the symbol of the Port Sea Trading Company (birds with a flag/ribbon behind them). Next to it stands a rather large minotaur dressed in hide armor with a PSTC tabard adorned in blues and yellows. His massive arms are folded across his chest and you can see various implements of destruction strapped to his back and side. He eyes you suspiciously as you enter the room but does not move from his post.

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It was a dark and stormy night...
Previous session.

“No seriously, it is. The dismal weather is only exacerbated by the lack of coin in your pocket as you sit in the run down room you’ve rented. The harbor district of Ptolus may not be the best looking place to stay, but the leaking roof and straw mats are better than the jail cells and endless routine that Overreach has forced upon you over past year. It’s cold outside and you pull the ratty blanket closer around you and try to setting in to get some rest.

Reflecting on the past two weeks leaves you with mixed feelings of accomplishment and desperation. You are beyond the wall, you’ve made it out. You’ve made it all the way here into the arms of poverty and anonymity…but you are free. The other eight were your cellmates, people you confided in, people who helped you plan your escape. Six months of watching guard patterns and buying information finally paid off. There’s a weak link in every well-oiled machine, a weakness to be exploited, and this one was caused by something as petty as money.

You’re not quite sure what happened after the riots started. Everything moved so fast. From your cell to the mess hall, into the courtyard and out into the guards quarters. There was so much blood, so much screaming. Running faster you were on the outer wall, crossbowman down but he’s not dead. You couldn’t bring yourself to do it. Dragging your goblin companion along you secure a rope and down the wall you go. The human looks down at you while you run across the plains…a cross between pity and relief. Relief that someone else is there with him.

In truth Ptolus was not your intended destination. A supply caravan was moving past and the opportunity presented itself to join up with them. An elder gentleman took a liking to the goblin and they drank the rest of the journey to the city. Just outside the city he hid you in his wagon and through the gates you went. The “Delver’s Guild” didn’t seem like a place you wanted to start your tour of the city with. Too many people, too many guards and much much too brightly lit. Slipping down a back alley you surveyed out from a small cliff and decided the harbor seemed a bit more secluded.

The first few days were the worst. A routine sweep of the area by the city guard erupted into a battle with some smugglers who would rather not be found. Swords and spells crashed into bone and flesh as you hid behind a pile of crates in a nearby warehouse. All this over the lack of identification papers. The next day you secured your own.

Forged human papers are not too hard to come by and being vouched for by a local bar maiden who had recently found out she was pregnant after a one night stand and needed the money didn’t cost too much. Goblin papers on the other hand are a different matter. It came to a poor blacksmith, down on his luck and deep in debt to a dangerous few, who threw up his credit and honor to back the paper that let a little green menace into the city as a “legal” citizen. As well as keeping the guards happy during random checks these papers would allow you to purchase items over 100g…should you ever happen to acquire that much money again.

Right now you’re broke, cold, tired, walking on eggshells and in desperate need of work and coin. The docks seem unusually busy this time of night. People load and unload ships by torch light, taverns stay open much later than normal and “Help Wanted” ads begin showing up on every street corner. Something big is happening and it might be just the thing to get you out of this gutter.”

( **When starting the adventure and before posting your first response take your leftover gold from buying equipment and halve it. The cost of buying the forged papers has depleted what little gold you were able to scrounge up from odd jobs and getting yourself back on your feet. )

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