Temporarily dumping the first five parts of TOSD until I can find somewhere else to put it.
Spoiler: 1. Drohungard
Well of course the home of the drow (literally "dark") elves would have "dark" or some variation thereof in its name. Otherwise, how would anybody be supposed to know that we lived there? We couldn't have somebody just wandering around expecting some jolly (read: drunk as a badly-planned analogy) dwarves, sly but ultimately cute gnomes, or even, Nevakin forbid, surface elves! Shocked gasp! Thems! Ohhh nooo!
Of course given that this is an at least slightly forward-thinking continent we happen to have the (mis?)fortune of living on, we wouldn't dream of being racist, oh no. No racism involved here, of course not.
It's just fact that the surface elves were scheming bastards who drove us out of our lands and into the caves that we live in for no particular reason other than expansionism, or maybe even just racism. Yeeaahh... that makes sense. It's just them what're being the racists!
It's 'cus they's surface elveses. That's why. Them surface elves is always racists. All of 'em...
say any acquainted with the history of the drow with no apparent irony.
As a cave, as a natural formation, it's nothing special. Just a large area where, for one reason or another, rock has rather noticeably failed to appear. As a city with things like architecture and windows, it's the same kind of story. Just a place that defies the outside by not having a severe lack of buildings. We're a functional race, for most intents and purposes. Those are our houses: a lack of nothing. You have to be functional, practical, when you've no contact with the outside world and the main gain in life is to personally gain the favour of Nevakin. There are thousands of us; I hardly think she's going round with a clipboard going "ohh, Na'cine hasn't finished her history homework: minus three favour points." But that's religion, and for the time being, at least, we're stuck with it. It's not like atheism or anything else could ever gain a foothold in all the dogmatism going round. I mean, half our idioms mention her in one way or another.
Politics-wise, it's a complete web of lies and deceit that you could just unravel by thinking something along the lines of: "well, Ker'anson gave me his quote unquote guarantee that he'd have my back if we were ever up against Ci'vaula, so the one thing that can be guaranteed is he won't." It's astonishing that nobody's ever thought of actually telling (shock gasp horror) the truth for once, so people think the opposite.
There are a grand total of 64 ruling houses, although if you want to talk in terms of actually wielding any significant power, it caps out at about a dozen. The rest are either just fragments, remnants, descendants or the ghosts of previous houses, or a new upstart house planning to single-handedly revolutionise the system, or the gov-apostrophe-t, or the "freakin' universe, man". As the proud Secondborn Son of the Almighty 57th House (in, rather obviously, descending order) I can boast having exactly zero power. Hell, I doubt if anyone had ever even heard of the house, let alone a boy - and a second one at that!
We managed to gain this glamourous (read: W-list) lifestyle by eliminating threats not when they attacked, or when they were still dormant, but before they had even thought of being a threat. Somehow, it's worked and House Asmodean is amongst the greats, if only to nab all the cocktail shrimp backstage. We are probably known as the only house which, in a language seemingly centred around the apostrophe (or 'postrophe if you will - and they will) has a name which lacks one. The fact that we'd only have our house recognised from pub quizzes is not lost on us, and most of us spend our days jostling for whatever power percolates down from the top. I never really participated in this affair, if only because I really couldn't be bothered with it all, and had better things to be doing with my time - that is to say, anything else. But it really shouldn't have come as a surprise that despite wanting to get involved as little as possible in the matter, the matter was, slowly but surely, involving me.
In the way that most things that bring utter despair to those involved happen, it all began on a Monday. I could go on about how it brought my whole world crashing down upon me, but in reality my hold on drow politics was already tenuous at best. At the very least, I doubt Nevakin would ever care what rank of son you were if, either way, you were part of one of the least powerful houses in existence. I'm a practical man, and I'd much rather be not dead than a soon-forgotten martyr to whatever cause I could be said to follow. So when my elderbrother turned up with a crossbow, there wasn't much point in staying. I would like to stress at this point that I was to be killed because I might try and have him killed at some point in the future
So I left.
Not a big thing, I mean, I had been contemplating just packing up and jumping ship for a while now and this was just the final push I needed. I made decent progress the first day, not really running to anything, since the geography we'd been taught could be summarised as "thems be evils above; don't go there", but running away from the place where I was wanted dead. I'd forego a master plan in favour of just not being killed.
Spoiler: 2: The King's Guards
The next day was a Tuesday, so it was bound to be better. Of course, practically anything would be better than a simultaneous near-death and near-Samath experience. Unfortunately, it started with a near-Amnestria experience instead, and it took a long time for me to work out which was preferrable. Whatever physical details could be described were wiped out of my mind in favour of the more pertinent detail: the arrow she was pointing at my face.
"And what might a drow be doing in these parts?" she spoke, acid behind every word.
I spoke the truth, if only because I had no frame of reference for any alternatives. "Um... not being assassinated by my brother?"
A quizzical look was the only response.
"Does that count?"
Before she could respond with any semblance of coherence, she was interrupted by a man in a suit of armour. "Halt!" came the automatic panacea of a greeting, despite the fact that the only one who had been moving for the past two minutes had been him. "Who goes there?" he added, despite the lack of going Amnestria and I were clearly showing. "Alsoifyoucangetthebowanarrowoutofthedrowsfacethat wouldbenicethankyou" he spluttered, his traditional avenues of speech failing him completely.
Thankfully, she did so, and turned to face the newcomer. Before she could get a word in, though, he interrupted yet again. "I... I think you should come with me."
Several confusing minutes later (the contents of which are thankfully lost to my memory) we suddenly found ouselves in the company of a dwarf and a human couple. Also we were apparently now new members of the King's Guard, and were going to rid the world of some nezume bandits.
I turned to Amnestria. "How did we--" I started, but was summarily interrupted by the cap-apostrophe-n.
"SILENCE on duTAY!" he screamed at the top of his voice, as if the element of surprise was giving him a severe allergic reaction. We approached a clearing, where several bandits were gathering, and for the life of me I can't tell what might have alerted them to our presence-- oh wait.
"Yer munnay ur yer laif!" announced the bandit. He was a nezume - a rat-man, for want of a better word. His tail flicked menacingly, his teeth bared.
"(Magic missile)," I whispered, sending a sudden burst of arcane energy towards the bandit who was clearly more prepared for defending against more physical attacks. He crumpled against the wall of a tent.
"Screwthisimnotgettingpaidenoughforthiscrap," he growled as he scarpered from the scene, one of the couple in pursuit.
The rest of them were surprisingly quick to deal with - a well-placed sleep spell took out half of them, the dwarf's axe taking out another. Amnestria barely had time to draw her bow before they were all dealt with. Two minutes later, they were all tied up and led to the nearest jail. "A gud day'sh werk," the commander said, nodding severely at us, before walking back to his desk.
"We were only out there for twenty mi--" the elf started, but was quickly silenced with a well-placed kick.
"A good day's work," the group's ranger repeated emphatically, glaring at her.
"For a good day's pay?" I ventured, wanting something to fill the hole in my pocket.
"Yesh," he admitted, going for one of the drawers in the desk. "Ern hunnert gawld peesees fehr thi itch if yi," his accent growing with every word. "Guud werk terdiy, see yi termahrrah."
Apart from a translator, that was all we needed, so we headed back to the nearest inn to turn in for the night.
I mean, it was half three in the afternoon but screw it. I was tired, Amnestria was tired, and her wolven companion that she had inexplicably decided to name "Squishy" was tired.
It would turn out that we would need all the sleep we could get, because around half-past-reasonable, we were awakened by a well-placed nip from Squishy. There was the unmistakeable sound of somebody trying not to make any. I readied my crossbow and pointed it at the door, and Amnestria braced herself on the opposite wall.
The intruder didn't come in by the door, rather, through the chimney and into the (lit) fireplace. He tumbled out, slapped at a part of his belt that had caught fire, and bared his teeth, waving his three - three! - swords, one in each gloved hand and one grasped by the nezume's tail.
I wheeled around and fired my crossbow, but the aim was off, and the bolt looked set to hit Amnestria instead! But the bolt deflected off one of the nezume's swords, sendng sickly viridian sparks flying off the blade. It plunged into his skull. He shuddered as he collapsed, and a sickly smell rose almost immediately from his corpse.
"What were those swords?" Amnestria gasped, not moving from the back. I moved to pick up one of the fallen swords, but as my finger touched the leather-bound hilt, a sickening nausea hit me an sent me sprawling, heaving. I looked back at the innocuous sword (or, at least, as innocuous as an instrument made for killing can look) and prepared to cast a spell. "Det..." I began, but my knees weakened and I fell to my hands. "Detect Magic."
The room was bathed in a cool glow, and each of the three swords gave out a blinding aura: a blackness so black, a lack of light so dark it seemed to suck out all the light from around it, an aura that could only belong to an - or indeed, three - items of overwhelming necromancy. I blinked the spell away and slowly crawled towards the corpse of the assassin, and removed his gloves. I put them on - evidently, gloves must be able to dispel or deflect the aura coming from the swords, or else the nezume would have had to defeat us with his vomit - and tried the sword again.
Nothing, thankfully. I kicked the corpse into the corner and put each of the swords, one by one, in the corner. Try as we might, neither of us could focus on our trance for the rest of the night an the bags under our eyes were all to visible when dawn came.
The next day, we brought the corpse (and with it, many enquiring stares) to the police headquarters. We had already decided to keep two of the swords - after all, it would just get locked away and with us they might be at least useful.
"Is this usual?" I demanded of the commander. "Being attacked in the middle of the night by a nezume assassin carrying a sword of overwhelming necromancy, I mean."
He blinked once, twice, three times. Seeing no immediate response, I heaved the corpse onto his desk, disturbing the various ornaments and paperweights that littered the desk. He protested little. "We managed to deal with him, o'course," I said, matter-of-factly, despite the fact that Amnestria hadn't moved for the whole battle.
"Um, um, um... good work!" he stammered. Not even his accent wanted any part of it. "Bu... but we, uh, wouldn't want, er, any additional, say, liabilities to our team..."
"No, I bet you wouldn't," I said dryly.
"So, em," he continued, apparently inventing new interjections with each breath, "we're gonna hafta let you go."
Frankly, I still wasn't sure what manner of thing we were being let go from, but that hardly seemed to matter. I turned to leave.
"Wait, wait. O'course, we can't exactly let this sword keep hanging around here, can we? It might get stolen, and then where would we be? I'd be happy to take it off your hands."
Which he promptly did, and similarly promptly chucked up his half-digested breakfast unceremoniously onto the corpse.
"You, uh, might want to wear gloves," I advised, to cover up the elf's giggling. He hurled once more to emphasise his point. I took it that it was probably time to leave the city, and Amnestria seemed to agree, as did the remnants of Old Aunt Betsy's Rummerdump 5a.m. Special that were slowly but surely sucumbing to gravity. "Damned drow and his damned swords," we heard the previous owner of the 5a.m. Special moan as we showed ourselves out.
"So whewe now?" I prompted, knowing somewhere between next to and basically nothing about geography (besides the oft-mentioned "thems be evil, don't go there" that I felt was being debunked with every waking second on the surface) and hoping that Amnestria would know any measure more, which, for someone who had spent an entire century on the surface, surely shouldn't be hard.
So, at her request, we made for "that stall place, Stallter or summat like that" after a quick helping of Old Aunt Betty's Rumblebelly 8a.m. Special.
After around six hours' walking, we chanced upon a little clearing that the road to Stallter (apparently) cut through. We also happened to chance upon its current inhabitants: five kobolds gathered around a campdire, all of which looked quite disgruntled at having their rest disturbed. One of them shouted something indeterminable at us which I could only guess to be a generalised curse. Then, the lead looked more carefully at us, then yelled something at his comrades and levelled a contraption at us. I quickly stepped away from its line of fire (which was more or less whichever way its long barrel looked to be facing) and attempted a sleep spell on the group. Two of them flopped comedically to the ground. However, transfixed by the intricate markings on the kobold's gun, Amnestria stood still, exactly in the line of fire of the lightning bolt that shot out of its barrel. Shaken back to reality, she readied her bow and fired an arrow at her attacker, which bounced harmlessly off the lead's sheathed halberd and away from battle.
The remaining three kobolds charged, slashing furiously (in both senses of the word) at us and roaring in triumph as they all missed. Squishy charged in climatically from the fray and tumbled into one of the near kobolds, knocking it into another, also placing itself (thankfully) between the lead kobold and the elf. I fired my hand crossbow, but as the bolt soared through the air, he managed to fire off another shot which didn't bother to stop with just Squishy but went through it to its master, too, who collapsed in a heap, unconscious. The bolt hit, though, and the lead kobold tried to fire off another shot, but he had underestimated the thing's weight and fired during the turn, neatly taking care of a third kobold, as Squishy savaged the fourth. A final shot from my hand crossbow finished the leader off, and the battlefield fell silent, bar Squish's panting, which immediately, as if on cue, turned into a mournful howl for its master. I managed to bandage up Amnestria's wounds to a reasonabe degree, before hiding her behind a bush. I ran the 10-or-so kilometers back to town, and, having procured the correct wand, hurried at a similar pace back towards Amnestria. Waving the wand in a random pattern, I attempted to cast the spell.
After another two minutes, the wand had been retrieved from its new home (embedded in a nearby eucalyptus at the other end of the grove) and this time, its spell was cast correctly. Groggily, the elf woke up, gloved hand immediately shooting to the hilt of her sword and finding it, thankfully, still there.
"You... you saved my life," she whispered. "But you're a drow... why would a drow..." she shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs that had gathered there in the last few hours, and at last took note of her surroundings.
"Wait, why is it dusk already?" she demanded, eyes widening at the sight of the already-setting sun. "What did you do?"
"I was running all the way back to town to buy you this wand and save your life, that's what," I replied matter-of-factly.
She stood up and wrapped her arms around me. "And here I was thinking all drow were evil," she confessed, tears forming at the corner of her eyes.
"That'll be 45gp," I reminded, feeling the chilling glare immediately. "I'm chaotic neutral." She sighed, and reached for her purse.
Spoiler: 4: Stahltor
By the time we arrived in the town actually called Stahltor, the next day had already dawned. We made our way to what I had been assured was a place where we could buy and sell the things that the Iron Empire didn't exactly want bought or sold. It wasn't long before "overwhelming necromancy" was on the lips of each and every patron of this service.
That evening, we were approached by an interested party. As usual in these sorts of exchanges, no names were given. If I recall correctly, they were Death, Sauron and King Arthur. We were something along the lines of Fat Man and Little Girl, despite none of the adjectives being remotely true. We haggled for a good half hour before coming to an agreement - 4500gp for each sword, and an additional 500 for the "secret" of how to "unlock" the mysterious "powers" safely. I handed the swords over, and Death grabbed the handles eagerly, before immediately keeling over - and dying.
"The secret is wear gloves," I smirked before darting behind Squishy. King Arthur charged for us immediately, greatsword held high, with a roar of "I knew we shouldn't have trusted a drow!" The wolf bore the grunt of it, but not before I loosed a shot from the kobold gun I'd picked up from the roadside. The burst of (some form of) energy seared the air as it travelled, before hitting the knight square in the chest. Only enraged, he slashed visciously at Squishy, who managed to dodge the hits. The elf launched an arrow at Sauron, who hadn't participated yet, bar searching his comrade's wallet. He wheeled around, moving his mace to try and block it, but he was too slow and the arrow sunk in.
In a furious rage, he launched a spell of burning hands at us, which singed a large portion of her hair but otherwise did nothing. I fired another shot from the gun, and Amnestria did the same with her bow, having formed a battle strategy along the lines of use your most powerful attack on the most powerful enemy, which, given the circumstances, wasn't as hare-brained as what she usually came up with; although, for those not blighted with the haranguement of being Amnestria, that isn't the most difficult of concepts.
As Arthur charged once more, I lowered my halberd and gingerly thrusted it at him. As it connected, a bolt of energy shot straight though the blade and into the same spot the previous hit had opened. And then there was one - Sauron, who was promptly and savagely savaged by the savage Squishy.
The alleyway fell quiet, and the reality of the past minute or so started to sink in. We had killed people who had, to all intents and purposes, had no intent or purpose to kill us. It wasn't self-defense. Hell, it probably wasn't even manslaughter.
It was murder.
"Murder..." I whispered to myself, as if the wind could catch the word if it were any more substantial and thrust it back at me in some kind of protagonistic double-take. "We just murdered three innocent..."
"Ha!" Amnestria cackled, triumphantly. "Keep the swords and the money! How didn't you think of this sooner? Evil or not, you drows sure have some good ideas."
I regained my common sense hastily and reclaimed my sword from Death, careful not to meet my Rumblebelly 8a.m. special a second time (you never know).
"Look at this!" a shriek came from the left. The elf was holding up King Arthur's breastplate with a considerable mass of King Arthut's breast still attached to it. "You've only gone and put a hole in it. I was going to use it as armour for Squishy!"
"Alrighty then," I declared with as much sarcasm as physically possible, "we'll just go and take him to the local priest who'll raise him back from the dead and then we can kill him again without scratching the nice shiny armour then. Let's do that."
She sighed and rolled her eyes, as if this plan of mine was thoroughly below the standards she expected of people - and which, I hastily wish to add, she had met perhaps only once or twice in the course of her life so far. "But the armour will still be scratched!" she explained wiith a voice as condescending as humaly possible. "Use your head next time, ok?"
My palm met my face within a matter of milliseconds.
Spoiler: 5: The Broadwater
In the night, something happened, announced by a quick nip from Squishy. If it was morning already, it was the small hours where nothing good could ever possibly happen. So familiar was the premise of being woken up while in an inn at half-past-reasonable that I already knew Amnestria would be at the back of the room in shock and that I would be aiming my hand crossbow in the general direction of (for lack of a fireplace) the door. However, it wasn't an assassin this time.
In fact, the Stahltor City Watch had turned up at the inn we were staying at, demanding that certain magical shortswords were to be confiscated. Apparently, the Iron Empire had ruled at some ancient time that magic weapons were a "danger to the citizenry" and a "threat to the fabric of society" et cetera, et cetera, so an edict (or act, or proclamation, et cetera, et cetera) was issued stating that all such items were to be confiscated and summarily locked up in a steel tower (which gave the city its name) until the end of time, or they became non-magical once more, whichever came first.
There was no real possibility of fighting back this time, and I highly doubted I'd get in as lucky a shot as the previous early-morning encounter, so we decided just to go with it. After all, being in low esteem (to say the least) with one city watch was bad enough. We handed over the weapons - reluctantly, in the case of Amnestria - and paid a small fine for their possession. I thought it prudent to tell them to wear gloves before they tried taking them, instead of after.
So of course, we had to leave the Iron Empire. Too many things had happened there, and at least one of them was bound to come up and bite us later. That morning, we made for one of the towns that dotted the banks of the great river, the Broadwater - so called because it was broad, and had an unmistakeable watery quality about it.
I had already crossed it once, on my adrenaline-and-fear-fuelled sprint away from Drohungard, and crossing it back again would lead us closer to Dunkelheim, the samll drow town above ground with which wares could be traded between my kin and the "thems be evil" surface folk. I didn't know anyone there, having spent all of my life up until Monday living in Drohungard, but there were easy ways to traverse from one to the other, all the while staying (as most drow preferred it) underground. There was a ferry available to take, and for a small fee, it would take us the mile or so across the Broadwater and drop us off at the town on the other side. As we sat on a rickety bench on the similarly worringly rickety craft, we mulled over our options.
"So we can't go to the land of elves, because you're a drow," Amnestria started.
"And we can't go to the land of drow, because you're an elf," I reminded her. Not that her race would hinder her at all there - it wouldn't have a chance to before her observance skills comparable to that of a partially-sighted muskrat finished her off. She'd never see the blade that would inevitably end her life in the underbelly of Dunkelheim (or just the belly of Drohungard) - and she probably still wouldn't if it had been stuck between her eyes.
"We can't go to the land of goblins - and if we do, we shouldn't stay long, 'cause of the papwerwork," the elf remarked, bringing me (regrettably) away from visions of her timely demise.
"Paperwork?" I parroted, incredulously. The few goblins that had come to Drohungard iun the past hadn't exactly been bureaucratic, to say the least. Inebriated if you were being kind.
"You'/ll find out soon enough," she said, "since the only place we can go is the land of dwarves, and we'll have to go through Grūmfeld to get to it."
"But aren't there dwarven towns near the Broadwater?" I asked. I knew enough to know that dwarves were on the far side of Grūmfeld from us, which meant the great river would line its eastern border. No town would be by the river but have nothing to do with it.
"Bah!" the cap-apostrophe-n of the HMS Ten Planks of Wood splurted, interjecting himself into the conversation with as much subtelty as a sledgehammer. "None o' 'em bastards've gotta port!"
Apparently, dwarf towns would be by the river and have nothing to do with it.
End of Session 1.