In this session, I’ll be running an NPC cut scene (on two fronts), with the goal of determining, (1), what happens to the mask and who the thieves are, and, (2), what is Mitra's true motivation for delivering this seemingly valuable item to some seemingly bad people. To do this, I’ll draw from some of her personal motivations. I'm a little trepidatious that I’ll only find something that won’t hold up consistently. Why is it so important she needs deliver the item?
Drawing from her personal relationships, my assertion would be that her nemesis, Xavier Zalibar, and perhaps the Zhentarim organization are truly the ones behind this. Perhaps her friend, the dwarf, Sanbar Axegrinder, is somehow in some trouble and that his plight will only be remedied by delivering the item. That’s the best I can come up with. I’ll use that as the context for the whole affair.
In any case, here are the cubes I’ve rolled for this session:
The Faceless Warrior
The wizard, Hacarthor Aengrilor, followed his counterpart nervously. The sudden turn of events had precipitated quickly, and during the time his unseen servant had come to deliver the news, many more things might have come to pass. Even though the spirit could appear and depart seemingly instantly, it was not so.
Aseneth had also insisted that the wizard deliver this message to his employer directly, the contemptible self-preserving coward! Now, the wizard had followed the assassin on his pony to the ruined keep some scant miles into the hills outside of Luskan.
There, Aseneth's master, a former member of the Black Network, had spent a small fortune to purchase the little abandoned castle. As the two approached, they saw a single curtain wall with battlements, the only intact visible portion of the fastness rising up out of the hill like the jawbone of a broken skull. No other structure could be seen standing whole. However, a new construction of timber erected in front of the ruin formed two watchtowers that flanked the still defensible causeway that rose up to the crown of the hill. The two rode slowly up, viewing the bleak rocky landscape and cloud enshrouded hills that frowned upon them. Black clad men armed with crossbows and spears watched warily from the wall and timber towers as the two riders approached.
Going through the portal of the wall, they entered a still standing gatehouse. There, their horses were cared for and the two led through a compound toward the ruinous portion of a large house. Some sections were excavated, and soon the two followed their escorts down a winding stair to a subterranean level that was still intact and functional. Support beams upheld a partially ruined ceiling in one section, but otherwise sconces were lit by bright torches and webs and dust swept away to give the place a somewhat "tidy" appearance, even if it was anything but cozy.
Soon the two stopped before a stout door. Upon rapping on it, it opened to the guests. Inside was a large hall with two lofty columns. A bright fireplace and some venting that allowed for daylight almost made the place feel like an above-ground dwelling. At a large board sat a slender well-dressed man in his middling years with short dark hair tapering to a sharp widow's peak at his forehead, and well-groomed mutton chops about his jaw. He wore a black velvet doublet with a silver pendant of a raven. His dark eyes sparkled with intelligence and he absently popped two grapes into his mouth from what was prepared on silver trays before him on the board.
"Master Zalibar," Aseneth said with a modest bow. "I present you with the wizard."
"Master Aengrilor, I presume?" said Xavier Zalibar in a musical tone, but without amusement. "I understand you have a message about our dear tomb raider..."
Hacarthor stepped forward without a bow, trying to appear distinguished, but shifting himself fully through the small doorway awkwardly and clearing his throat. "I am...and I do!" The fat wizard looked down with a haughty expression of (feigned) satisfaction of the pronouncement. Zalibar continued to chew without emotion waiting patiently for the gluttonous pig to come out with it.
Hacarthor cleared his throat again and continued. "It seems that a number of events have impressed delay upon the quester."
Zalibar again looked indifferently at the wizard. Hacarthor immediately reminded himself that the man sitting opposite him was not to be underestimated. He had learned through his spiritual servant that the former Zhentarim was a master of manipulation. It was said that he knew a man's price simply by looking into his eyes. He had a knack for ferreting out sensitive weaknesses of a rival and twisting those nerves for his own use, earning him the epithet, 'The Puppet Master.' Slowly, the wizard's confidence began to wane. How should it be so? he wondered. I am a wizard of the Host Tower of the Arcane!
The wizard continued. "There are two matters — one is that there is trouble erupting now on the old Trade Road that will waylay any travelers or caravans. The hordes of the High Moor and Dragonspear have been stirred and now threaten that region."
"That is very unfortunate," Zalibar said.
"She is not in immediate danger from that. It is the fact that she is no longer in possession of the mask — it seems she was robbed in Soubar."
Zalibar regarded the wizard coldly for several minutes, popping another grape in his mouth. "When did this transpire?" he asked.
Hacarthor began to sweat. He hated specifics with regard to his reconnaissance, because his messages were defined by visions only, and only within proximity with the spirit. He had no idea how old the vision was. It also questioned his methods, which, admittedly, were far less grandiose and impressive as his many greater counterparts in his order. Nonetheless, he wagered a guess. "Only yesterday."
Zalibar chewed. When he swallowed, he said, "Send your spirit back out. Inform us when something different happens."
The wizard was astonished. How had Zalibar known his methods? Stammering for a rejoinder, he found himself backing away with a nod. He turned abruptly and left.
Zalibar regarded the door at the wizard's departure. Aseneth addressed the former Zhentarim agent. "What shall we do about the Black Dragon?" he asked.
"Come!" said Zalibar with an amused tone. "Let us walk and talk together..."
The man leapt to his feet with youthful exuberance capable only by a man who is unburdened by concerns even though he just heard troubling news. The two walked down a short corridor and down a stair. There, they came to a strong room guarded by five sentinels. Beyond an iron banded gate of stout wood came the sounds of pounding and the ringing of hammer and anvil. A guard unlocked the door and the two were ushered through.
"Mitra is capable," Zalibar said as they walked. "She can handle any bumps along the road."
"And the mask? She's lost it! Why don't we convince the wizard or his friends to ensorcel the mask here and be done with her?"
"The reason, my skilled bladesman, is twofold: King Folcoerr's mask is a much older, still, artifact than most know. It comes from the age and realm Imaskar, the Artificers, long before the reign of the Naive King in what is now the Dales. Since only men could wield magic in that realm, it was cursed upon the item that none could handle the mask for long save the masters that made it or those who knew its secrets — as well as the women who could not work sorcery. Only a woman can touch it and not be twisted by the mask's effects, and I would trust no other woman to the task. And a second reason..."
The two walked along a portion of the passage that crossed a span of stone arch amid a great roughly-hewn chamber that was hot with the fires of forges, the smell of smelting and sulphur, the ringing of iron, and the song of dwarves.
Coming to the ledge, the two looked out over a workroom of forges, vents, and tables. Dwarves of a similar variety or stock, kin most likely, with sandy-white beards and dark brows worked the tools and milled around their industrious projects. At the center stood an intersection of iron rods and planks forming a busy network of scaffolding around some large work. Aseneth descried some behemoth monster of metal underneath that was studded with evil looking blades and pikes. Massive shoulders surrounded a central forward protruding head, but without a face.
Zalibar cleared his throat. "Master Axegrinder, how fares the work?" he called out, turning his attention from his servant to the dwarves below.
An older muscular dwarf among them turned and looked up to the men in black. The dwarf's dark brows furrowed in hatred. "Despite the poor pay, lack of proper food, meager accommodations, and unfriendly inn staff, I would say extremely well," he answered flatly. Aseneth noted that the dwarves were all in leg irons. The assassin allowed himself a brief chuckle at the dwarf elder's facetious humor.
"The deal still holds, master Axegrinder" replied Zalibar in an delighted tone. "Once you and your kin finish the iron monster, your friend Mitra delivers the golden mask, then you are free to go and your womenfolk will be returned to you unharmed. Pray the Damaran bladeswoman holds to her end of the bargain."
"All we have is our words and our deeds," Sanbar Axegrinder replied evenly. "May Clanggedin measure us all to ensure the two balance."
Zalibar sneered and the two men in black departed. Speaking to Aseneth again, the former Zhentarim whispered, "...and that's the other reason we can count on her, regardless of what setbacks beset her now. The fool woman not only loves him, but also owes this dwarf a debt."
That part covered, I move on to the remaining unused cubes: the "L" and Lightbulb. I had to force that last part to make sure everything holds together. Not sure if it's convincing, but I'm rolling with it. Next, we cut our scene to the thieves in Soubar.
Okay, this could be difficult. "L" is easy. These are a pair of thieving noobs, totally ignorant of what they're supposed to do. Two because a lone goblin wouldn't make it on his own. The lightbulb is the tough one. Illuminate? Electricity? Screw on? Switch? Xenon gas? Some of those sound good, but man, I'm having tough time coming up with what that means in a way that will produce a meaningful twist. I think I'll roll one more for clarity:
I like apples! That's health, food, or my favorite: temptation!
Kwizzel and Stordfast arrived simultaneously in the abandoned warehouse. Water dripped from assorted fissures in the roofing, it smelled of old spoiled grain, and roosting crows made continual ruckus from their nests about the rafters, not to mention the abundance of droppings, feathers, and other stuff that littered the area. For Stordfast, an orphan from Calimshan grown up on his own in a different town each year, and his only friend, Kwizzel, an exceptionally ugly goblin rogue cast out from his tribe in the north, it was a palace. And today, they were as richly rewarded as kings.
However, Stordfast frowned at seeing his friend tugging mightily on the reins of a great black beast as he approached the rendezvous point.
"A horse?!" he said with exasperation. "You fool! What are we supposed to do with a horse?"
"Sell it!" squeaked Kwizzel. At the sound of the ugly villain's voice, Umbril reared up.
"Then we will be hung as horse thieves. Best not attract attention...why don't you think for a change?"
"But, methinks it's a pretty horse...a horse to fetch a pretty coin!"
"It doesn't matter. Wait until you see the loot I found! You can buy ten or more such black stallions."
"Why would I buy a stallion? I hate horses."
"And they seem to hate you too. Let the thing go!"
Kwizzel's shoulders slumped in defeat. After all he had gone through! It was a great mess to bring this one. Even after knocking the stableboy senseless, scaring off half the horses as a diversion, he had scraped his knee on some loose boards. And the black one was feisty! In defeat, he loosened his grip on the white-eyed beast. He reared up again, and Kwizzle winced, fearing it would trample him.
In a flash, the dark horse turned and flew away at a tremendous thundering gallop.
Stordfast then unlocked the gate of the old storehouse and the two stole inside their dark and smelly abode. Once lanterns were lit, the young man emptied his loot on a wine stained table. A good number of coins jingled, some rolling off into different corners. The goblin scurried after them greedily.
Then, he unloaded the other item he was proud to have snatched. It was wrapped up with care and tied with twine. It was heavy...perhaps something gold! Tongue hanging out with anticipation, Stordfast undid the bindings and opened it up. Immediately, he gasped with astonishment.
Staring up at him was a visage both beautiful and horrible at the same time. A ruby and opal encrusted mask of dull gilt work looked up with vacant eyes. It was demonic and twisted into an exaggerated smile. The gemstones themselves were cut into small cruel-looking horns, set around the eyes and around the crown of the mask.
Just then, Kwizzel come up behind and looked on. "What is it?"
Stordfast couldn't quite take his eyes off of the thing. He managed to answer absently, "It's a, it's a...mask, silly!"
"Methinks it's ugly!"
Stordfast snorted derisively. "That's ironic YOU saying that..."
"No I'm not, I'm a goblin!"
"No, I mean... never mind."
"What's it made of?"
"Gold, and rubies, and other stones...it must be worth a king's ransom!"
Kwizzel then let the gold coins slip from his fingers. The two thieves' eyes met. Then both sets darted from one another back to the mask in Stordfast's hands. The mask was heavy, but seemed alive, sending the dim orange light of the lanterns dancing about the gloomy place as though it were a crystal chandelier festooned ballroom. Sudden longing for the thing immediately flared in Stordfast's breast...a deep desire that knew no boundaries. He would kill to have the mask.
Something in Kwizzel's stance belied that he was tensing to spring at the thing, to snatch it from the lad's hands. Immediately, cruel thoughts came to the Calishite's mind; thoughts that he had never before considered except out of self-preservation. Rage and jealously overtook the goblin's already ugly features and twisted them into a hideous grimace of murder.
Then, the goblin threw himself forward. The two grappled and rolled on the filthy floor, the goblin's dirty nails reaching for the young man's eyes. The Calishite kicked and knee-thrusted the goblin several times in the midsection. It cried out and lost its grip momentarily. Stordfast twisted and scrambled away. A nasty bite on his ankle caused him to cry out in pain and the mask skittered from his fingers. The two climbed over one another, biting, kicking, screaming, and scratching, each filled with complete jealousy and hatred fueled avarice.
They grasped for the thing, and Kwizzel won out, getting both hands on the mask and pulling it to his belly. Stordfast was on top of him and got his two hands around the goblin's neck. The smaller opponent shrieked. As he did, the eyes of the mask seemed to light up with fiery orange luminescence, though neither one seemed to notice. They were solely intent on either grasping the item or killing the other. Kwizzel would not let go, and slowly the life was choked out of him.
The final victor panted, overtaken by violence and malevolence. The young man tossed the goblin's corpse aside and picked up the now glowing mask. He held it up lustily and laughed; the laugh of the insane. Quickly, the lad looked around with paranoid eyes. He gathered a few necessary belongings, including a large cloak, a hat, a pack, wrapped up the mask again and left his nearly year-long home in Soubar without a look over his shoulder. He even left the few coins on the floor where they were scattered.
Although he had no other home, knew no other people, had no other friends, he had a new and urgent sense of purpose. He knew where to go where he might reign in a kingdom of his own. So, he stole away quietly, heading for the main road out of town.