Monday, 26 August 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS, Episode 13... Nahemot Nights Through the Eyes of Ursula

After a week of rest and recreation in Romani, the remaining party members are seeking the favour of the local lord, Geta Shaoul. They are to carry out the assassination of the sorcerer Kharzan, at the behest of Geta Shaoul's second wife, Lila. Ursula reflects on what they have gone through, and considers what they may yet face ahead.
(this "thirteenth episode" is actually our fifteenth playing session:
write-ups are sometimes smashed together when not a lot happens. 
Not a lot happened in this session...)

Like this but at night. Use your imagination, dammit.
21st Sositi
As the small sailboat glided across the dark of the Ishmakh lake, Ursula allowed her hand to trail in the water. Initially she had felt pangs of nausea: boarding the one-masted sail boat had reminded her of the unpleasant voyage across the Crystal Seas a month ago. Letting her fingers glide through the cool water somehow ameliorated her queasiness.

Looking to her demi-human companions in the faint light of the sailboat's sole lantern, she detected no outward signs of similar sickness. Indeed, her comrades seemed never to show much suffering at all. Perhaps it was in their blood. Like her, Analicia had been horrifically burned by the blue reptile (she hesitated to call it a dragon, it still seemed so unreal), and was still unable to wear clothing close to her body. Yet while Ursula had spent the week wallowing in pity at Rebekah's decrepit infirmary, Analicia had diligently plied her trade as a carpenter down by the harbour at Romani, and had hustled a handful of silver coins for her troubles.
Horace, for his part, had spent the week following the instructions in the Manual of Gainful Exercise. He looked all the better for it, but whether it would improve his performance in combat remained to be seen. If he had shown any outward emotion over the past week, it was for the loss of his magical hammer, rather than their gold or even the soldier Kuriakos.

At that moment, Ursula wished that Kuriakos was there. She was unsure if she had it in her to do what they had been instructed. Killing a rat, or even a goblin was one thing... but another man?

"So, uh, when it comes to it... this is a job for you, right Analicia?"

The elf maid grinned wryly in the dim lantern light, the shadows flickering as the boat pitched up and down in the waters of the lake. Her answer came in a hoarse whisper, probably audible to Zeke, the boatman.

"Well, why not you, Ursula? You've killed as many as me, if not more."

"Not that I've been counting, but I don't think that's quite right. In any case, your methods ae more suited to such a task, on account of their greater subtlety..."

The pair bickered as quietly as they could, vaguely going over the details of their even vaguer plan, hoping that Zeke would be unable to decode their mumblings. He had been honest from the start, saying that he had been ordered not to ask too many questions of them, but that they would need to remind of that, as he felt very curious. He had given them two gold coins, again saying that he was merely doing as instructed.

Zeke had been suspicious when the four foreigners had arrived at Romani's tiny dock that sundown, and quizzed them as to why their were four when he had been told there would be two. Ursula, in spite of everything, was pleased that she had been brought along, but she was apprehensive about the presence of Bolg. Even though she was quite certain she would sever her ties with the Old College, she still felt responsible for the student, even if he was beginning to exhibit some magical prowess.

Indeed, Bolg's progress puzzled her: she had been handed him after meeting her mentor, Dr Maus, at the oasis of Okraha. Since that time, nearly a fortnight ago, he had exhibited little to no magical potential. The boy could barely prestidigitate, and yet in the space of a few days he had manifested the power to summon a familiar spirit, a spell Ursula had not taught him. She had pressed him for information, but he had been evasive. He claimed not to require a spellbook (and, gods! if she had her spellbook now!), merely the arcane focus Maus had given him, which Ursula had since confiscated.

When the others had told her they were to spend a week recuperating, she had hoped she might use that time to translate and learn some of the spells she had recovered on their journey. Fortunately, these had been sequestered in the saddlebags of her steed Nicemare, which along with other magical accoutrements and materials had been recovered as they fled the citadel. Unfortunately these materials were no longer to be found once she had recovered enough energy to carry out her studies, and their disappearance troubled her greatly.

Analicia and Horace were questioning the boatman about the location of various bath houses in Nahemot, and he gave a good account of a city divided between its utlra-religious, Kyran half and the districts of the more open-minded Thranes. Ursula reminded her companions that it was the Bishoftu bath house that they needed to visit, and that their mission was to be carried out the following day. Zeke explained that he knew a massage parlour located next door to the baths and, owing to the baths being open to the elements, rooms on the second story of Madame Palfrey's afforded a view of them.

"Oh yes... and it has... shit, how do you say it in your language? A fairy?"

Zeke's announcement was met with blank stares. Ursula pointed at Analicia:

"You mean, like her?"

Zeke smiled.

"No, I mean a real spirit. Maybe you'll find out, although its only the rich customers who get to spend some time with her."

Analicia frowned, unaware that she was stroking her snapped antler. The boatman looked from her, with her pale white skin and ridiculous blue hair, over to the diminutive figure of Horace. Ursula wondered what this backwater boatman made of such exotic creatures.

"Might be wise for you two to try to blend in, even in the Thranian half. Officially, non-humans aren't tolerated."

The motion of the boat was now soporific rather than nauseating , and although the lights of the small city were beginning to take up more and more of the black horizon, Ursula allowed her eyelids to drop. When next she opened them, they were already disembarking the reed-boat onto an empty wooden wharf. The stench of rotten oysters filled the air.

"I will meet you here , after sunset tomorrow. If you lose your way, it is the Assurkka, the old dock. But your bath house is not far from here: follow the lane until it hits Bishoftu street, then head left. You will spot Madam Palfrey's first, it's the only two storey building in that quarter of the city."

The party assented, pulling their hoods over their heads, and making their way into the night. Ursula sighed as she spotted Analicia concealing the dagger Lila had given them. Were they really doing this? Were they really going to a brothel to spy on a bath house to murder a man on his birthday?

Ursula's thoughts drifted as the party progressed through the long lane of Nahemot. What of Ulf? She knew from both the gnome, Erky, and the simple village girl Rebekah that he had travelled to the citadel. Could it be that he had survived and remained a prisoner of the goblins? In any case, it was but a small matter. If he yet lived, then it would make their return trip all the better... if not, it was no greater loss on top of what she had already felt. When he had left her, nearly one year ago, it was like a sudden bereavement. But it had hardened her, and even when after making the long journey south she had neither the expectation of seeing him again nor the desire to do so.

Did she still feel the same? 

Almost somnambulant, Ursula had no awareness of how they had negotiated the fees for the room at Palfrey's, nor had she paid much attention to the recce of the community well, nor had she heeded Bolg's clever use of his familiar spirit to gain a better understanding of the layout. By the time she was present in the moment, she was staring out of the window of a massage parlour and down into the open-air hot springs of the neighbouring bathouse.

Four obese men sat in one of the hot springs, all but one of them completely naked. The folds of their flesh made their sex organs invisible, which Ursula found disappointing. It was always curious to see how men differed from one another in that secret aspect, from a purely scientific perspective, of course. The female baths were a little more revealing in that respect: for a long time her gaze lingered on a corpulent old woman, whose pendulous breasts hung almost to her waist. The old woman doted on a small, hairless cat that she had evidently brought with her, and seemed keen on displaying it to the group of young women who latterly joined her. They were beautiful, of course: young and lithe and dark of skin, the taut coils of their hair raised in spectacular globes, or braided in long black ropes and threaded with coloured beads. There were six such of them, and Ursula gazed upon them with envy, though she was not quite sure why.

A loud snore drew her from her reverie: Horace was sleeping somewhat fitfully on top of one of the horsehair mattresses. Bolg shared with him, but the opposite way around, so that the boy's feet were positioned mere inches from the dwarf-cleric's nostrils. Ursula hoped they had been washed recently.

Analicia claimed not to sleep, merely requiring three hours of "trance" each evening to recover fully. She was sat cross-legged in the centre of the floor, upon one of the plush goose-down pillows with which the opulent chamber had been furnished.

So one of the beds was empty. Ursula tested the horsehair mattress: it was firm yet pliant, and promised a level of comfort she had not even considered since leaving the northern shores of the Crystal Seas. It was dressed in a sheet of fine Inoko cotton, and at its head the remaining goose down pillow rested against the wooden headboard.

Ursula stared at the bed for a long time.

She unrolled the dirty blanket she had carried with her since leaving home, curled up on the floor and went to sleep.

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