22 Gozran, 44 NC
The party rapidly dispatches another wave of guardsmen, including subduing a man who appeared to be their officer, and then takes a few moments to rest and rearm.
When they advance into the next chamber, Jacob gasps in dismay. Dominating the center of the large room is huge ring of interlocking black stones covered in a mix of Elvish and an unknown script. “He’s built one…he’s built a gate…”.
The doors to the chamber slam shut, save one, and through that one enters Gideon Nell, carrying a bleeding, beaten, and unconscious Poppy by the nape of the neck. He tosses her idly to the corner of the room. He gloats somewhat gleefully that he has both Jacob Dain, who caused him so much grief in Riverton, and Sanorin, who his master has been seeking, within his lair. Like all evil masterminds, he takes a breath to reveal his evil plan, then Syl shoots in him in the face.
A fight ensues. Gideon is inhumanly strong and tough, but the party gangs up on him. When they finally strike a death blow, the body of Gideon bursts apart and a giant fire demon emerges, and the fight continues. At one point in the fight, Matten receives seemingly direct intervention from the spirits of his sword. After a brief struggle, the party brings the demon down. Almost immediately, everyone feels a lurch in time as it seems to slow down and freeze in darkness, then speed back up again. In the blink of an eye, the party finds themselves surrounded by dozens of soldiers with crossbows.
At their head is Leitus ar’Shamrael’Vin holding a small device (presumably the time dilation device he gained some infamy for). The Elf has the alabaster skin of age, but it seems to be black-veined and cracked with warpstone poisoning. He’s irritated that Gideon was defeated, but he seems singularly obsessed with discovering the path “the book” took out of the South, and begins the interrogation sure that Jacob had some information. He then focuses on Nimue. “You’re Colonel Levin’s youngest…” he says. Then asks about where her father’s possessions are. “The old wizard caught up to him didn’t he?” he continues, “But he doesn’t have the book now, I can feel it…”. He goes on to explain that he finally collected enough warpstone to build a Waygate and “take the battle to Kishara personally…” but he needed a final key to be able to activate it. His rantings were somewhat disjointed. The session ends with a cutscene:
You’re standing there, hands out at your sides, trying not to make any sudden moves as Leitus paces and gloats. Your eyes drift past the still form of Poppy and you suppress a gasp as you realize she’s looking at you. And she’s smiling.
She sees that she’s caught your eye. Her smile gets a little bigger, and she winks at you.
You cough despite yourself, and for the moment, all eyes in the room are on you.
It’s as if everyone is moving in slow motion except her. Poppy hops to her feet. She drops a small knife from her sleeve and almost casually puts it into the groin of the nearest guard. With her free hand she grabs the man’s crossbow as he drops it and puts the weapon to her shoulder.
There’s a moment, just the barest sliver of time, when Leitus turns and catches her eye, an exclamation of shock on his lips, and then the back of his head explodes as Poppy’s crossbow bolt enters his left eye and bursts through the ancient Elf’s skull.
You’re going to die. You know you’re going to die. Dozens of fingers are reflexively pulling on dozens of triggers. As the thought occurs to you, you see Poppy throw the spent crossbow at Leitus’ device. There’s a lurch as you feel time slowing down even further.
Then an instant of cold, terrible, nothingness.
And then the feeling of speeding up again. And you’re in an abattoir.
There’re bodies…and pieces of bodies…everywhere. The entire chamber is drenched in blood. It’s like a wild animal was unleashed. And power. Something. Several somethings. Of immense power. Were spent…died in this room. The world is a little different than it was just moments ago. It’s hard to describe, but you feel it.
The only thing moving is Poppy.
She’s huddled against the wall, next to Leitus’ time device, and she’s rocking back and forth slightly, muttering something quietly. She’s covered head to toe in blood and gore and she’s cradling her repeating crossbow in her arms. It looks like the weapon was shattered in the fighting.
She looks…smaller somehow.
Sanorin seems to snap out of the shock at the scene and rushes over to see if she’s hurt. You and the twins following close behind.
When she notices Sanorin, she shakes her head and half-mutters, half growls…
“They took my Adder…they took my Adder…and your…your rings…your rings took my dwarf…and your swords…your cursed, bloody swords took my Moriel…and…and…,” tears start to make streaks in the blood on her face as she looks up at Sanorin, pleading, “and I don’t want to see Isaac Vane…I don’t want to go to the South…he’s going to take my hands…I can’t lose my hands….”
When someone wants to claim the bounty on killing a Halfling in the South, they have to present the hands.
Sanorin kneels in front of Poppy, a realization dawning on his face. “Lily. You’re Lily’s little girl.”
Poppy looks up at him curiously, clearly surprised and confused.
“And your father. Ned. He was a fletcher. Did he teach you to shoot?”
Poppy nods. Gidget is openly weeping now on Faun’s shoulder.
Sanorin continues. “There was a little girl…after Whisper marched out of The Downs. She was maybe six… We only had a few hours to look for survivors before the patrols found us. I figured she’d hid under a home that’d been torched because she was just…coated in ash…. When I called to her, she slipped away like a frightened shadow. We never found her.”
Poppy’s staring at him, her face slack, but her eyes wide with surprise.
“It was the town hall,” she whispers, “the ash…it was from the bodies…”
Sanorin reaches out and touches her hand. “I don’t know what happened to you next, Poppy Lilian Fairweather Sokeldodge. But…I’m sorry…I’m truly, deeply sorry…that I failed to save you from it.”
Her chin shakes, and then with a great sob she tosses the crossbow aside and clings to Sanorin, weeping. For a moment there’s no sound but four halflings reliving the loss of their people.
Without looking up from Sanorin’s shoulder, Poppy says, “gun powder.”
Sanorin leans back, and Poppy looks up.
“I have sixty-two casks of gunpowder in my powder magazine.” She looks at Jacob. “Is that enough?”
He rubs his beard for a moment, then shakes his head. “No, not to destroy something of warpstone.”
Poppy nods, then looks at Kagdir.
“Is it enough?”
Kagdir wipes a single tear from his eye and grins. “You’re goddamned right it’s enough.”
We slaughtered our way through the next couple of groups, and yes, slaughter is the right word. Jacob’s magic did most of the job, but at least these were mainly armed with crossbows and blades, so though they had little chance against his attacks, it felt less like a massacre than some of the earlier fights.
And then we ran into, I don’t know, possibly the commander of the forces. He wore a shiny armour and a sword; what is it with certain people and shiny armours? Yes, gear should be taken care of properly, but shiny armour is just a big “I’m an authority here, shoot me now” sign. A soldier would prefer his gear clean, well kept, and as unobtrusive as possible. Not standing out increases your chances of survival, after all.
We pushed further into the stronghold, and came into a new room with a stone circle at the center. The room sent Jacob into a near-panic, and that in itself was disturbing enough.
Do you know how, sometimes, you get a sinking feeling in your stomach before someone tells you something you absolutely do not want to hear? Like, oh, “We have to charge uphill to get to the enemy archers. I didn’t know it’d be so steep, it looked flatter on the map.” Or “You know those food supplies we were going to get yesterday, that were supposed to last us through the next two weeks? Well, someone messed up and sent us winter uniforms instead. Yeah, I know it’s summer and a hot one at that, but, as I said, someone messed up.”
I got that feeling just as Jacob opened his mouth and told us that Leitus had somehow made a Waygate. And then, the doors slammed shut. Except one. Gideon walked through that door, dragging Poppy with him. A battered, bleeding Poppy. Then he carelessly tossed Poppy to one side; it wasn’t possible to tell whether she was still breathing, but that would have to wait.
He started talking, baiting us. So rather than waiting for him to say something that might tip the scales in his favour, I lifted the crossbow I’d grabbed earlier and fired. See, that is the advantage to being a soldier, rather than, say, a knight or some sort of hero. I don’t have to talk to the bad guy first. I don’t have to wait for him to strike first. My goal is to kill him.
I only grazed him, though, but at least it stopped the talking and started the fight. The first part of the fight was almost easy, but in the moment he would have gone down, a demon burst out of him, and the fight suddenly got a lot uglier.
At one point, I thought Matten was dead, but somehow he survived; had I been the religious type, I might have suggested divine intervention. Or perhaps it was his sword. Or something else, it didn’t really matter, what was important was that we won, in the end.
Then time stuttered and suddenly we were surrounded by soldiers with crossbows. And with them, an old old elf, a small device of some kind in his hand. He seemed annoyed with losing Gideon, but he was more interested in a certain book. Then he looked at me. “You’re colonel Levin’s youngest…”
That this old elf knew who I was, who my father was, it was a somewhat terrifying thing. Now, after it is over, I cannot say why, but I decided to try to keep him talking. Ah, who am I fooling; I wanted to see if he would reveal more about my father. He never talked about his past, and though my brothers knew more than me about him, they were kids when father left his old life behind, so anything they knew would’ve been filtered through the eyes of children.
I was also hoping that Leitus, in his arrogant ranting, might let slip something that would give us an edge. He asked about my father’s possessions, specifically a book. A book that he obviously lost, somehow, to ‘the old wizard’, who didn’t have it anymore. Right. That book. He wanted, or so he said, to take the fight to Kishara by building a Waygate, but for that, he needed the book.
Syl coughed, and pretty much everyone looked at her. While we were all distracted, Poppy acted. She killed a guard, grabbed a crossbow, and put a bolt through Leitus’ head. Then she threw the crossbow against the device Leitus had been holding, and time hiccuped.
There were blood and bodies everywhere. Or parts of bodies. The soldiers who had been with Leitus, I suppose. And Poppy, she was sitting by the wall, rocking back and forth. She was rambling about someone taking her dwarf and her Moriel, and how she didn’t want to see Vane, because she thought he was going to take her hands.
Sanorin and his shadow halflings were already at her side. He stared at her, and spoke: ““Lily. You’re Lily’s little girl.” And your father. Ned. He was a fletcher. Did he teach you to shoot?” Poppy nodded, and though she might very well have been the one behind the carnage around us, she somehow reminded me of a small, frightened, unhappy child. One of the other halflings was crying.
It seems Sanorin had know her, or at least her parents. He spoke again, about how he’d tried to find her, but failed. Then she was clinging to him, crying, as if she was, indeed, a small child.
Then she spoke. “Gun powder. I have sixty-two casks of gunpowder in my powder magazine. Is that enough?” She was looking at Jacob, who shook his head, telling her that it wasn’t enough to destroy warpstone.
She turned to Kagdir. “Is it enough?”
He grinned. “You’re goddamned right it’s enough.”