Session Five: Still Time

In memory neither true nor false…

Krobach and Darnan splash down into the underground river, and make their way to a ledge on one of the river’s rocky banks. The ledge is clearly of worked stone, and the pair begin to walk downstream.

Above, the chamber from which the party made its separate escapes fills with guards, briefly stymied by the illusions Caladh uses to conceal the two escape routes.

Further above, Caladh realizes that the river the Krobach and Darnan leapt into must have forked from the Blackwater. Moreover, he guesses that the fork happened at or near the place that Aliana’s murderer vanished while swimming the Blackwater.

Caladh feels compelled by this realization to attempt to reach the underground river, and manages to convince Kael and Max to follow him, though they are reluctant to face the dangers of the water. Having decided upon this course, Caladh offers the worried Francis a few silver pieces and wishes him luck. Under the cover of Caladh’s illusion, the trio makes its way to the chamber below ground. Caladh’s illusory voices and Max’s rather more dramatic explosions distract the guards long enough for them to make the leap into the underground river.

The three have rather more difficulty with the river than two who preceded them, especially Kael, who finds his slight frame unsuited to the rigors of swimming a current. A quick contrivance by Caladh using some rope and a light spell just barely manages to bring them all safely to the surface.

Meanwhile, some minutes ahead of them, Darnan and Krobach reach the end of the river. It cascades down a short drop and into a domed chamber, where the considerable stream slows and disappears into a pool that seems much too still and small to receive this water. At the far side of the pool, softly glowing snow, like motes of frozen light drift and float down into a pile, from which another stream of meltwater flows into the pool.

A small, pale woman with dark hair sits by the pool, strumming an exotic stringed instrument and singing in a breathy, mellifluous voice. She is clad in white silks, and her sleeve is marked with a red line that encircles most of her upper arm, stopping short of a curious symbol, three red lines radiating from a single point in a sort of truncated star. She seems to notice the arrival of Darnan and Krobach, but does not acknowledge their presence in any way. The two approach the singer, and still she takes no notice.

Krobach is bold enough to attempt to get her attention directly by clapping his hand down upon her shoulder. Without responding directly to anything Krobach or Darnan has said or done, the singer raises a hand to catch Krobach’s wrist, almost as if it were a natural and inevitable part of the motion she uses to strum her instrument. In the instant before Krobach and the singer make contact, the scene changes.

The singer continues to play from her seated posture, a few paces away. The woman who holds Krobach’s wrist does no more than continue to hold him, while the one who stands behind him holds an exotic metal weapon to the barbarian’s throat. It curves curiously in to the woman’s dainty hand, but the lethal nature of the object isn’t to be mistaken. Another of the singer’s companions stands behind Darnan, menacing him with a massive length of steel, a pole long enough to be a staff and thick enough to be a club. The one holding the weapon says, “I wouldn’t move.”

Darnan takes this in stride and follows the gun-toting woman’s advice, not even turning to see who stands behind him. He does reply, asking her to set down the weapon so that they might all speak. Krobach’s response, after a hesitation so short that it may well have been imagined, is rather more confrontational. He reaches up to swat the weapon away from his throat and out of the woman’s hands. The woman dodges with effortless grace, and fires. A deafening report issues from the weapon, and blood begins to pour from Krobach’s neck, while the projectile that caused the wound, moving too fast to be seen, ricochets from the far wall of the cavern.

Undaunted by his considerable wounds, Krobach screams out his fury and reaches again to tear the weapon from the attacker’s hand. This time, the woman’s grace is not quite sufficient, and the weapon clatters to the ground. When she stoops to retrieve it, Krobach is agile enough to seize it first. The two combatants square off at this new impasse, and the singer finally stands and calls an end to it.

The multiple forms of the singer melt away swiftly, leaving three silk-clad figures in the room. The singer, showing signs of strenuous exertion, introduces herself as Aliyya Al-Rashid. The now-disarmed gunslinger’s form melts away, revealing a man with a slight frame, not so delicately built as Aliyya. Whatever illusion caused him to appear in Alliya’s guise fades, revealing a face with a slightly manic, unfocused look, which undergoes another swift transformation into an expressionless mask as Aliyya begins to speak. His name is given as Batin Al-Rashid. The woman who stands behind Darnan is a plain-faced, homely woman wearing heavy metal armor under her silken robes, bearing the holy symbols of unfamiliar gods. She is Da’ith Al-Rashid.

Alliya seems particularly surprised and impressed by Krobach’s conduct, and pleased, despite herself. When Krobach lobs the gun out into the pond in the center of the chamber, Batin leaps forward to snatch it out of the air. He chastises Krobach for seeking to cast aside such an expensive gift, and offers it to him handle-first. Krobach gruffly refuses the offer, saying he has no need of witch’s devilry. This serves only to intensify Aliyya’s surprise and reluctant admiration. While Da’ith bemusedly returns the weapon to its holster, Alliya suggests they set aside violence for the moment, and forgive one another. Krobach spits in her face. Alliya, unfazed, simply offers Krobach healing, which he brazenly refuses, preferring to stanch the bleeding by pressing his hand to the side of his neck. Even through her air of imperturbable serenity, it seems that Alliya is curious and pleased with Krobach’s responses, though she also seems to think the fact that he’s making such a good impression is more inconvenient than anything else.

In the moments of conversation that follow, Alliya reveals that she and her companions are members of an organization known as the al-Rashid, and that they are in Blakholm for some purpose of their own. It seems they know much of what has been happening in the town, though they don’t know everything. Or at least, they feign surprise when Darnan tells that they’ve already encountered the blue-cloaked Cormyrian, and that he plans to encounter the man again.

Aliyya suggests that this would be a bad idea, and begins trying to talk Darnan around to the subject of where on the surface he’d like to return to. However, she’s interrupted by the arrival of Max, Caladh, and Kael. Kael is still irate about his ducking in the river, and doesn’t notice Caladh’s reaction in time to keep from walking right into him. Caladh, meanwhile, is literally stopped dead in his tracks upon seeing the white-cloaked al-Rashidi with their distinctive red markings.

Though it’s clear that Caladh has at least heard of the al-Rashid, and knows more than the rest of his companions, this knowledge isn’t sufficient to gain any advantage over them, and the party is unable to coax any more information from Aliyya. She seems to be growing anxious as time passes, and eventually resolves to simply send the party back to the surface without entertaining any more of their questions.

As soon as this decision is made, the blue-cloaked killer appears behind the party. He glides past them, silently, and walks up to the al-Rashidi, pausing to throw his bloodied hammer into the pool. Aliyya says, “They were just leaving.” to which the man replies, “No, they weren’t.” Darnan interrupts by asking the man’s name and takes a swiftly thrown knife to his shoulder for his trouble. The Cormyrian then turns, drawing his blades, and charges toward Darnan with murder in his eyes. Darnan has no time to make any defense whatsoever, but at the last moment, the Corymrian’s preternatural speed is checked for an instant by some thought, and he proceeds to very deliberately miss Darnan with two lethal strikes before turning away to the al-Rashidi. This close call does give Darnan the opportunity to see clearly the face of the mysterious man; a half-elf with red hair going to gray at the temples.

Once more, the proceedings are interrupted by the sounds of Blakholm guards coming down the tunnel toward the chamber. Aliyya shouts for the party to handle the guards while the Rashidi handle the Cormyrian. A bomb from Max the efforts of the others suffice to dispatch the guards with relative ease, despite the injured condition of the party.

The al-Rashidi are faring rather worse against the Corymrian. Though he is outnumbered by them, the blue-cloaked dervish clearly outclasses them all. Moving almost too quickly to distinguish individual strikes and steps, he dances with his three opponents. Aliyya glances away from her own engagement for a moment, long enough to notice that the guards have been engaged and that the pool in the center of the chamber has begun to glow faintly, and stir itself raising a spiraling current with no visible source.

Upon seeing this, her eyes widen, with surprise or fear or something else entirely, and she shouts, “Jump!” Max complies, jumping into the pool and vanishing . The Cormyrian proceeds to destroy Aliyya, using a series of slashes that nearly dismembers her. Without the The remainder of the party is a step behind Max, pausing to finish off the guards before making the leap into the pool. Darnan stops to try to drag Aliyya’s mangled body into the pool as well. The Cormyrian, taking note of this, turns and says “There’s still time…” to the dwarf, before turning his attention back to his fight. Without Aliyya’s magical song to bolster them, the remaining al-Rashidi are doomed. Batin is unable to fire another shot with his gun before the Cormyrian closes with him. The Rashidi rogue gives in to his maniacal laughter, and calls “Try again!” to the party standing in the pool. He lobs his pistol toward Caladh instants before being decapitated by the Cormyrian. Darnan does manage to bring Aliyya’s body to the pool, and he and Caladh finally step in.

Beyond the reach of reality…

As you step into the pool you feel a terrible, shocking sensation that overwhelms you just before you lose your ability to feel any sensation at all. The void takes you, an emptiness that is deeper than emptiness, the deprivation of even potential space in which emptiness might exist. Each fragment of your existence crumbles away from you in the face of this void, happening with blinding speed and agonizing slowness in the timelessness of utter nothingness. When so little remains of you remains that another non-instant of this condition would lead to your utter annihilation, the nothingness is gone replaced by reality so vividly different from the void that you cannot comprehend it for a moment. Perhaps you will never comprehend it.

In memory neither true nor false…

As suddenly as it began the melee is over as if it had never occurred. Whether it is a trick of mind and memory, time and space, or something altogether different, the room is silent again, and the tension is heavy in the air, weighing down time until it moves so slowly that the present moment is remembered rather than experienced. The Captain pulls the blue-cloaked man from his seat. The figure flows with a dancer’s grace to stand before the three guards. He lowers his hood, and surrenders, leaving the tavern escorted by the guards.

The common room of the Blood-Eagle is silent, for a moment, as three guards begin to lead away the pale and sickly man. Kael contemplates the blue cloak he has just acquired, and looks about the room in uncharacteristic consternation at his companions. Krobach falls from his stool, which is inexplicably and suddenly broken, evincing a bit more confusion and surprise than the tavern’s other patrons would expect. The party shares a rapid series of significant glances while Franz looks around the room frantically seeking their gazes. Krobach acknowledges Franz’s confusion with his usual gruff casualness, which confuses him even further. Max is simply absent from the room.

Caladh, the first to truly recover his wits, calls out to the blue-cloaked man, asking the Dahab what will happen in three day’s time. The Dahab, genuinely dumbfounded, only has time to gasp out “How did you know about that?”, while the guards begin to chivvy him along. Caladh, entreats Franz, by name, to hold the prisoner long enough to ask him some questions, which only flusters Franz further. The confusion lasts long enough for the Dahab to reveal only what the party had already heard, the Dahab’s warning to leave the town before the event.

In the aftermath of their sudden transposition, the party gradually realizes that Max is missing, and that they have the opportunity to act on what they now know. Darnan moves to find the Butcher’s first victim and attempt to save his life and learn more in the process. Finding the home of Samuel Alderman, the party aggressively talks its way into his home, using what they know of his immediate future to cow him into accommodating them. Darnan remembers the ransacked drawer and opens it to find another silver disc. Samuel suggests that the group reconvene in his forge to converse more safely.

In Samuel’s forge, the more of the mysteries of Blakholm are revealed. The silver disks possessed by the Butcher’s victims represent membership in Black Water, a Thayan espionage network. Black Water had been largely defunct since the end of the Brother’s War; with no Thayan command to answer to, the spy network had no agenda. However, the Cormyrian was in the process of reactivating cells and providing motive force to them. The cell in Blakholm had been occupied in finding evidence to confirm rumors that Fitzwater had arranged the death of the previous mayor.

Upon hearing the details of the murders the party was trying to avert, Samuel seemed at first confused, and then insistent that the murders could not have been the work of the Cormyrian. He claimed the Cormyrian acted and fought with precision in all things, a statement borne out by what they’d witnessed in the cavern by the pool. He ventured a guess that the Butcher’s murders were Rosewood’s work, not the Cormyrian’s, and that any semblance of obedience to Rosewood on the Cormyrian’s part was a ruse or an act, or some other stratagem.

At this point, Franz burst into the forge, having tracked the party from the Blood-Eagle, and demanded to know what was going on. The party gave as good an accounting of events as it was capable of, and Franz received as good an understanding of events as he was capable of: some confabulation involving crooked wizards. Kael, at this point, stepped forward with a plan of action, to prevent the murders of the Black Water agents, and to secure the safety of the party, and perhaps even to save the life of Springland. Franz was dispatched to discover Max’s whereabouts, and the rest of the party departed on its own tasks with Samuel’s help.

. * * * * * .

The next day, at the performance of the Behran, Max suddenly found himself in the Triangle, among a noisy crowd begin to settle into a slightly quieter audience. Having awoken from oblivion into strangely familiar but completely unfathomable circumstances, Max settled himself on the ground, opened his pack and began cobbling together an infamous Waterdhavian Iced Tea, a potent beverage that contains no tea at all (and no ice whenever Max mixed one; no need to water it down).

He was interrupted in his pursuit of liquid comfort when he was accosted by none other than Billy Rosewood himself, flanked by two thugs and demanding to know where the rest of the party was, and where they’d taken Samuel. Max’s attempt to brazen it out and seek drunkenness failed before Rosewood’s calm statement that he had access to people who could commune with the spirits of the dead.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the identity of Samuel and his relationship to the party had completely slipped his mind at this moment. To buy himself time, he’d spun the first story he could think of, telling Rosewood exactly where he’d seen Francis, outside the exit from the mines he remembered blasting either days in the future or a few hours ago.

Rosewood left to investigate this circumstance, while Max remained at the concert and attempted to cajole the guards minding him to let him get a drink. Franz discovered Max’s presence and rescued him from the guards, and proceeded with Kael’s plan, bringing Max to an appointed meeting place. There, they found Kael, who quickly tried to bring Max up to speed. However, this was explanation was rapidly derailed by Max’s revelation that the first thing he did upon returning from whatever the portal had done was send Rosewood off to the mines.

Kael’s plan, which had been formulated without knowing where Max was or what he would do was suddenly obsolete. But the half-elf was capable as anybody of rolling with the punches. The present plan was aborted, with the intention of trying to follow the party’s memories as closely as possible, fleeing the Springland manor into the mines, to escape and meet the al-Rashidi below ground, and flee the battle with the Cormyrian through the swirling portal. However, this time, Franz was to ensure he was among the guards in the mines, and would enter the portal with the party.

. * * * * * .

The plan was executed, though not without difficulty, and the party found itself in the underground river again. However, the conversation with the al-Rashidi went rather differently this time. Aliyya revealed that when her mutilated corpse was dragged into the portal, she simply died a few days ago, when the party was regaining its bearings in the Blood-Eagle. Fortunately, Da’ith had been on hand to resurrect her. It was unclear whether Darnan was therefore responsible for killing Aliyya or saving her life, but she seemed inclined to consider his choice better rather than worse, and even offered her (not unqualified) thanks for it.

She seemed resigned to facing her death again, as she’d arrived at the conclusion that the fight had to go as it had gone before, but her resolve was not nearly as imperturbable as it had been on their first meeting. She’d been shaken by her experiences.

Just before the Cormyrian arrived, she revealed to the party that the swirling portal which had worked its strange magic had not been her doing. Rather, it had been the Cormyrian, who in fact intended for the party to return to the Blood-Eagle and change the events of the past days. The party did not have time to digest this information, or change their intentions to account for it before the Cormyrian was upon them again.

The party made its escape, this time with Franz, who arrived via the river tunnel, sprinting and gasping, just in time.

In circumstance almost entirely real…

As suddenly as it began the melee is over as if it had never occurred. Whether it is a trick of mind and memory, time and space, or something altogether different, the room is silent again, and the tension is heavy in the air, weighing down time until it moves so slowly that the present moment is remembered rather than experienced. The Captain pulls the blue-cloaked man from his seat. The figure flows with a dancer’s grace to stand before the three guards. He lowers his hood, and surrenders, leaving the tavern escorted by the guards.

The common room of the Blood-Eagle is silent, for a moment, as three guards begin to lead away the pale and sickly man. Kael contemplates the blue cloak he has just acquired, and looks about the room in uncharacteristic consternation at his companions. Krobach falls from his stool, which is inexplicably and suddenly broken, evincing a bit more resignation and irritation than the tavern’s other patrons would expect. The party shares a rapid series of significant glances with each other and with Franz.

They begin to move with a combination of coordinated ease and efficiency and repeated hesitations and confusions. The mark of the prescient. They find Samuel, and initiate a rather simpler plan to keep the Black Water agents safe, under the assumption that the it is Rosewood’s man or men, rather than the Cormyrian who is seeking to kill them. The party manages to stay almost entirely out of sight with the agents’ help, but need to ensure that Rosewood will seek out Max.

As ever, Kael has a plan. He goes on a crime spree with Krobach, a series of petty and not so petty thefts (including Simon Winthrop’s greatsword for the barbarian), thus drawing the attention of Hank and Rosewood. The two then staged a dramatic scene in which Krobach and Kael ambushed Hank. Hank was given the impression that the two had planned to snuff out Hank and take his position in Rosewood’s organization. However, Kael “betrays” Krobach, claiming he’d prefer to work with Hank and Rosewood and cut Krobach out of the picture.

He informs Hank then, of the members of the party working to save the Black Water agents, and tells him that their plan involves having Max present in the audience of the Behran’s performance. He sends Hank off to inform Rosewood while he “disposes” of Krobach.

. * * * * * .

This plan, too, works with no insurmountable difficulty, and the party is in place to do as it will. They are free to simply avoid Springland, the underground river, and the portal entirely. They will not, tonight, meet the al-Rashidi, although Aliyya suggested that they were likely to meet again at some time. The party gathers at the mouth of the mine, knowing that Rosewood has ventured into the mines to find a dead end.

They follow the path they know he has taken, and corner him in the last chamber.

Rosewood is surprised, but not entirely discomfited by this turn of events. Caladh demands to know why Rosewood is slaying Black Water agents, his voice harsh with controlled emotion. Rosewood puts off the question with forced calmness.

Darnan offers him the option of an easier question, and asks Rosewood which hand is his good one. At this, Rosewood smiles nervously and indicates his right. Darnan approaches Rosewood, hefting his axe, when Rosewood’s six invisible bodyguards materialize to intervene.



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