The Old Windmill
It took until early afternoon for things to return to normal in Trollskull Alley. Once the lunchtime crowd moved on, the party headed to Renaer's. They showed him the gems that Akta had pulled from Dalakhar's pockets but they meant nothing to him. They also handed over the necklace of fireballs with the hopes that he could get them in front of the Blackstaff for magical inspection.
Renaer didn't know where Dalakhar had been staying while in the city. The gnome has little-known associates outside of Degault. But Renaer did remember that Dalakhar had been on friendly terms with one of his father's mistresses, a once-prominent artist named Kalain who used to live in an old converted windmill in the Sea Ward.
The party thanked Renaer and headed west. It wasn't difficult to find the building. What once had been a magnificent revitalization of a windmill had fallen into disarray. Ivy webbed around the structure as if doing its best to hold the crumbling stone together. More windows sat empty or shattered than remained whole.
They carefully made their way to a door sitting at the end of a footpath. Testing the handle, they found the door both locked and surprisingly sturdy. Taman set out to scout the perimeter. He moved through the long grass, rounding the corners of the west wing of the tower's base. He found an open window that sat opposite the door they had tried to enter in and crept up to peek inside.
Seemingly abandoning all caution, he popped up into the frame of the window. And found himself face to face with a stunned old man. The man shouted and tripped over his robes as he retreated. He fell with a thud and continued to scurry away from the window. Taman quickly tried to resolve the situation.
It took a lot of persuading to get the man to calm down, but eventually, Taman was successful. After some explanation and assurances that they were not here to harm anyone, the old man unlocked the door and let the rest of the party in.
The two-room apartment mirrored its inhabitant. It was plain, containing the necessities. But well-kept and clean. Vhaspar, as he had introduced himself, was a priest of Ilmater, the god of suffering. When not working at the Hospice of St. Laupsenn in the North Ward, he had taken it upon himself to tend to the tower's owner. He would bring her food, water, firewood, and occasionally painting supplies.
When the party told him that they had come to see Kalain, he reluctantly agreed to grant them an audience. But not before he issued a number of warnings regarding her demeanor. She was a shell of her former self. All joy and life that he had once seen had been locked away behind an icy vault. Now, she was little more than a recluse.
The party acknowledged the likelihood that she would respond unfavorably but insisted that they had to try anyway. Vhaspar nodded and led them up the winding stairs of the windmill's tower.
A Woman Scorned
The door at the top of the staircase opened up to a large rectangular room. Gorgeously disturbing paintings of various monsters decorated the walls. Each creature felt familiar in a twisted and distorted way. Images of ankhegs, gargoyles, and minotaurs were lined up with those of ghosts and hellhounds. And sitting behind an easel in the middle of this beautiful nightmare was a woman, furiously working.
Taman made to introduce himself but received no response. He tried again. And again nothing. As he went to make one last attempt she cut him off.
Kalain: Vhaspar, I don't recall admitting guests. Make sure to lock the doors on your way out.
Vhaspar immediately made to shuffle them out the door but Taman persisted. He stepped around the canvas. The woman's icy eyes slid to meet his. She had been beautiful once. But tragedy had stolen that from her. Now, lines of sadness etched the pain into the crevices of her face.
Before she could rebuff him again, he quickly explained why they were there. At the mention of the name Neverember she stood up so abruptly that she almost toppled the canvas and easel.
Kalain: (*voice like death*) Get out...
She stepped closer to a painting of a displacer beast and began to lift her hand.
Viigo jumped in and quickly explained that they were not friends with Degault. It was quite the opposite. They were here to find information that they might possibly use against him. Taman piled on.
Taman: Do you know anyone by the name of Dalakhar.
Her hand paused just off the canvas.
After a moment's thought, it dropped and all the anger seemed to be replaced with sadness.
Kalain: He was pleasant to me at least. No matter Degault’s temperment towards me, Dalakhar was always pleasant. He sent a letter to me just a few days past. I didn’t respond because of how close to Degault he was. And I couldn’t face that.
Taman: Do you know where he is?
Kalain: The letter came from the Inn of the Dripping Dagger. I suspect that is where he is staying. As for anything else. In the back, somewhere in storage, Degault left some papers. I don’t know why I haven’t destroyed them already.
Take it. Take it all. Do what you want with them but I want them gone. All of it. I don't want his ghost near me anymore. I can't... I can't stand it.
He ruined me. For no other reason than I had loved him.
Take it all and make sure he suffers as I have.
The Neverember Papers
The party moved through a small bedroom and into a packed storage closet. Paintings had been stacked at all angles. Small dates had been penned in the bottom corner of each. Akta found one from a number of years past. It was the perfect representation of a griffon. No distortion. Just the beast in all its elegance.
As she followed the timeline, it became a record of her descent into madness. Each subsequent piece was slightly more twisted than the last. Until they were just as distorted as the ones that had been hanging on the walls in her studio. Akta continued to sift through the art and eventually uncovered a three-drawer cabinet.
The top drawer was stuffed with individual sheets of paper. Pulling them out and reading a few, she suddenly had the feeling that she was intruding on something personal. Setting the love letters a side she searched the second drawer and found much the same.
The third drawer, however, contained a pile of neatly stacked papers with a piece of twine holding them together.
A Small Kindness
Having found what they had come for, the party left the storage closet and made their way back into the studio. Kalain was once again sitting in her chair, but she was no longer painting. Instead, she seemed to be lost, staring at the half-covered canvas.
As they entered she turned to them.
Kalain: Did you find what you needed?
Akta nodded and they made their way to the staircase. But Akta paused and turned back to the woman.
Akta: I just wanted to say, that your art is beautiful. I was wondering how much it would be to purchase one.
Kalain stared at her as if she could not understand the words. Then a moment later she shook herself out of the stunned silence.
Kalain: Why, thank you. Very much. You are the first to say as such. (*looking over all the pieces on the walls*). Which one?
Akta thought for a moment and then pointed to a picture of a manticore and then to one of a displacer beast.
Akta: I can't decide between these. They are both beautiful.
Kalain surveyed the pieces before nodding to herself.
Kalain: Then taken them. A gift for your kindness. (*a genuine smile*). But allow me to say my good-byes.
She stood and moved back towards the painting of the displacer beast. This time she allowed her fingertips to touch the canvas. As she made contact the image shimmered and the once-static creature turned its head to look at her. She smiled as the feline's paw pulled away from the canvas. It gracefully landed on the stone floor. Kalain reached down and placed a stained hand on its head. The beast stretched out to meet it and almost purred as she scratched behind its ears. A few moments later she knelt and placed her forehead against its own before allowing it to return to the canvas.
Turning back to Akta she smiled.
Kalain: Take good care of them.
The Dripping Dagger
The Dripping Dagger was a well-known watering hole of sellswords in the heart of the Trade Ward. The inn itself housed a taproom, a kitchen, and a private meeting room on the first floor. Stairs at the end of the bar led up to two levels of guest rooms.
The party entered and sat at a table in the middle of the room and a human who was built like a half-orc approached to take their order. Taman did his best to get information from the man but was unsuccessful. He then attempted the man to allow him to head upstairs and see if his friend was present. He was rebuffed again. There was a rule in the Dripping Dagger that only those who paid for a room or who was with someone who had were allowed on the upper floors.
Taman sighed and asked if he could get a room for the night. The man returned with a key and the drinks and Taman made for the staircase
Taman’s room was at the very end of the hall on the second floor. He let himself into the modest room and immediately made for the window. The room overlooked the adjacent alley which would prevent anyone from the street from seeing what was happening. Lifting the latch on the window, Taman stepped out onto a narrow ledge and began to inch his way to the adjacent window.
Popping the latch was a relatively trivial task, made somewhat more difficult by the fact that he was balancing on his toes, pressed against the building. But it lifted and he pulled the window open, slipping inside.
The room itself was much like his. Except it was immaculately clean. Everything had been arranged and looked as if it had been wiped down. The wood on the chair gleamed. The fireplace was completely soot-free. Aside from the impeccable state of the room, only one thing stood out to Taman.
Resting on the carefully made bed was a black stone with a white symbol of an eye painted on its surface. Thinking that this may be the stone they were looking for, Taman slipped it into his pocket and turned back towards the window.
The taproom was empty for the most part. A group of men, seemingly from the docks, sat in the far back corner. They laughed and shouted at each other as they drank from large tankards. There was a young minstrel near the hearth who was doing a mediocre job at playing his lyre. And there was a table against the front window where four duergar and one shield dwarf sat.
This table is what caught Viigo’s attention. Three of the duergar sat facing the room, but judging from their clothing, it was likely they were also from the Dock Ward. The same could have been said for one of the duergar who sat facing the window.
It was the last, and largest, of the group that Viigo focused on.
He was shirtless with leather straps serving as suspenders that struggled against his broad shoulders. Sprawling across the majority of his dark brown skin were tattoos in black ink. A number of designs that Viigo did not recognize were punctuated by one he did, the Eye of Xanathar.
For a long time after Taman had slipped upstairs, the dwarf sat hunched over his drink. He didn’t touch it once, only surveyed the street through the hazy glass. While his compatriots continued to converse, his muscles twitched and tightened as he shook his head. His right shoulder and tricep flexed as he squeezed the tankard.
The sound of his fist hitting the table was like a thunderbolt in the semi-quiet room. Then he stood and turned.
Noska: E’nouf! I un had et wet is waiting. This here piss wata. An of tha shet ya call music
Now that he was standing, Viigo realized that his left arm, from the elbow down, had been crafted of metal. The dwarf lifted his prosthetic hand and pointed it at the minstrel.
Noska: Get up dar en toss tha room. See what ya can find.
Hearing this, the four duergar jumped from their seats. At the same time, the barkeep stepped forward.
Barkeep: I’m sorry gentlemen, but I’ve already explained to you. You can’t go up there.
The dwarf gave a deep, rumbling chuckle as he turned to face the barkeep. A sinister smile spread across his face.
Noska: Ah, das right. Yer rules. Well, heres ta ting…
And before anyone could react, the metal fist connected with the barkeep’s throat. There was a crunch and a winded gasp as he reeled. But the second blow landed on the side of his head, sending the large man spiraling to the ground.
Noska: Fuck ya rules. Any-un else got rules we need ta address?
The men from the back corner stood, almost by instinct, and turned towards him. With a quick flick of the dwarf’s good hand, the metal arm fell free of the metal piece connecting it to the stub of his left arm. In one motion he pulled a modified crossbow from a hook on his belt and slid it in place. There was an audible click as he turned it and locked it into place.
Then he trained the bolt on the group of men.,
Noska: How many uf ya ya tink I can kill ‘fore ya get ta me?
The men stopped advancing and slowly returned to their seats. Noska turned back to the taproom as the duergar bounded up the steps. He surveyed the party and recognition flashed in his dark eyes.
Noska: Well, by mah beard, look who it is. Ahmaergo had lots ta say ‘bout yous all. But you (pointing his crossbow at Akta), he couldn’t shut up ‘bout ya.
Mah name is Noska, and its mah lucky day.
Kalain and Her Paintings
As her darkness turned to madness, she began to pour more and more of herself into the paintings. They became a reflection of the twisted reality living within her. Her isolation only served to enhance her loneliness and, in time, she began to confide in the paintings themselves. To all of her senses, the creatures in her art would come alive and tend to her. They were her beloved pets even though she was not certain that they were real.
When she went to say goodbye to the Displacer Beast, she did not know that the party could see the creature as she did. It was simply her way of beginning the process of moving on from her trauma.
Noska has been tasked with finding Dalakhar and the eye that he stole. Where Ahmaergo primarily operates out of Skullport, Noska runs Mistshore. And as such, he is more plugged into the happenings of things at the street level.
The Black Eye
The stone that Taman picked up was actually a marker given out by the Xanatharian Gang as a grizzly promise. If you received this marker, your life was considered forfeit. It was simply a matter of time. The marker Taman grabbed was meant for Dalakhar.
What Went Well
- The roleplaying by the PCs was great. Akta’s ask about Kalain’s paintings actually threw me off a bit. Originally, I was going to have Kalain turn cold again. But Akta’s sudden gesture really turned the dynamics of the relationship. It made the entire encounter much more memorable and I wanted to reward Akta for doing that. That is why I turned the paintings into a gift.
- Also, because of that, Kalain became a much more interesting NPC to me. It added some depth to her personality and I wholly intend to weave her back in down the line.
- The cliffhanger with Noska landed really well with the group and opened up some interesting story options.
What Could Have Gone Better
- The ending of the session where Noska loses his temper felt strange to me. The whole scenario was improved based on Taman’s actions. I wanted to create some urgency. But it felt like it happened so quickly that I may have missed an opportunity to weave some more tension into the situation.