[⚔Swords⚔] Session Report: Shadow Port Shuffle (with modifications)

(Featured image taken from Shadow Port Shuffle)

Last, last Sunday (11 Dec), I ran a killer game of 13th Age with the Shadow Port Shuffle module from Tales of the 13th Age, the 13th Age Organised Play Programme. We had 5 players, and most of them were new to the system. It was a pretty memorable session, however, and players got to experience having their One Unique Thing and Backgrounds woven into the narrative.

I modified quite a bit of the scenario though, so there are a few plot loopholes here and there.

Without further ado, here’s the write-up of the session.

Character Bios

(written by the player who controls Regar; partially edited by Jim)

Tara, Cleric of the wilds. Abandoned at an orphanage when she was young, a mere toddler, young Tara grew to be a strong-willed woman who found her calling amongst the faithful. Carrying out various errands for the Order discreet and otherwise, she honed her skills in medicine, divine magick and persuasion, which often came most handy together. However,  her comely good-looks and caring personality towards Azrael hide a profane past and a warrioress who isn’t qualmed about meting out justice – in the form of a bloodied mace.

Matt, Paladin who roams the lands. Little is known about this figure, but enough time spent in his company shows him to be on a sort of Crusade and his methods are revealed to be far from savoury. Inclined to bash first and talk later with a very mixed set of moral codes – he induces a sense of unease to those around him. Yet he is reliable, always the willing first, to take a step into the fray of danger where no one else would set foot.

Azrael, Ranger with a dark past. Once the commander of the Crusader’s armies (the Crusader is the mortal champion of the dark entities that dwell in the beyond; most people would not even utter his name – worrying that it might summon him), he has escaped that life and seeks obscurity in the career of a woodsman, even adopting a pet and falling in love with a Priestess to play the part of normalcy. Yet his past is never one to forgive and now seeks to catch up with him.

Regar. Wizard from a dishonoured clan.  Born into the prestige of the Dragon Empire’s elite, yet inept in the martial ways. Though the honorable sort, when the clan fell to a rival guild, Regar was mistakenly branded a traitor and cursed in the Prince of Shadows’ name (the trickster whose name is now a common legend).  Now he has no choice but to further pursue the sciences of magick and seek the elusive figure to undo his mistake of a curse.

Chapter 1: The Dark Jester’s Tavern

They stared at one another, a mix of distrust and fascination in their eyes: the couple Tara and Azrael—cleric and ranger, both servants of the wild, though the latter had deeper secrets buried; the paladin Matt whose chest heaved righteous fury, and the newcomer Regar who had barely just weaved his way past the crowd to their table, carefully tucking away the bandages about his arms. The rest of the Dark Jester’s Tavern was packed and darkly humoured, its patrons roaring gigantic mirth and handing ill-coveted money beneath tables; none gave the odd table at the corner and its four occupants a second glance. Let he who cometh through the doors be about on his own ventures and intrigues.

The uneasiness broke when the tavern door swung open. A figure, whose features were darkly obscured by the long cast of shadows from the tables, came into view of the four, who had by then turned their gaze towards his direction. The figure, a tiefling with the horns typical of his half-demonic roots, seated himself before the four without invitation and spoke, his voice thin to a point.

“Huh, so you are the ones chosen for this. Well then, let’s get down to business. Me name’s Samuel, Samuel Dirrel. I believe we have a mutual friend—“

“Mutual friend?” interrupted Regar suddenly. “I would not call him a friend.”

In response, the tiefling but sighed, “Fine, our mutual acquaintance then. Anyway, it’s a simple task that needs to be done. You may have heard of the legendary Celestial Seal, that which grants the power to shape worlds to Him who holds it. It lies in the mansion of the nobleman, Morgan Navale. Find it, retrieve it, and bring it back here before dawn.” Then, getting up, he added beneath his breath, “You have six hours.”

Chapter 2: Out in the Streets

A quick discussion was conferred around the table when the tiefling was ensured to have left, and a plan, rough and tumble as the group itself, was set in motion. Yea, verily, they were not wholly given to trusting one another yet, save for Tara and Azrael who could not be separated. The salted chill of Shadow Port’s night air, in accompaniment with the careless chirping of crickets, was a welcome change to the stale, sweaty vapours that had permeated the Dark Jester’s; the reverie was quickly left behind when the four stepped out on to the streets, along with Tiny, which, in an ironic twist, was a rather gigantic hunts-dog that doubled as the other loyal companion to Azrael.

None were familiar with Morgan Navale nor Shadow Port – famously named the Den of Thieves, or, to the knowing traveller, the thriving hive of utmost scum and villainy. Upon inquiry, the innkeeper Marek had noted that they should speak with one called Lars Redfist, he whom the Port’s men proclaimed the de facto mayor. It had been easy task following that to find the Redfist, and the paid mercenaries guarding his mansion-cum-office had easily allowed the group in when Tara bade promises of importance with regard to the meeting.

Within the room was he, a man of age yet with great discernment, at his desk scribbling on a parchment when the group entered. Warily, they stood before him; Lars Redfist glanced up and smiled wolfishly.

“Ah, visitors at this time of night. Welcome. Please, take a seat—“ he began with a voice hard and smooth as tempered steel, to which all acquiesced. ”May I offer you a drink?”

Distrust was a seed scattered and sown in the moral grime of Shadow Port, and the four had reason to distrust Lars. The drinks were declined, but Matt, not wanting to offend him, immediately continued upon, “We wish to inquire about Morgan Navale. What can you tell us about him?”

A slight twitch in Lars’ countenance was the giveaway that there was no love lost between him and Morgan Navale. “Why, I can tell you lots,” he answered, the smile never leaving though the air about it shifted. “You must be after the Celestial Seal—“

“Uh, no…?” Regar interjected.

“—and you must deliver it to the Prince.”

“Uh, no…?” came Regar again, a strain of futility in the words against the knowing look before him. Lars simply leaned back comfortably.

“Yes. Come now, let us be upfront about certain matters. Regardless, however, I have no love for Navale, and it would please me to see him brought down. In fact, I will give you this little morsel of information for free. He has a party tonight, a ball. His mansion is towards the South-eastern road here.” He pointed to a map that he had removed from a drawer and lain on mahogany table. “It is a fairly big mansion, perhaps bigger than my own. And that is all I will tell you… unless you have something more to offer me than just false hope.”

All sat in thought, looking hard, when Azrael broke the silence—to the surprise of everyone, for he had been quietest amongst all since their departure from the tavern. A man of few actions and fewer words, none but Tara would speak with him, for there was an unknown fear buried deep in the primal recesses of their minds when they cast gazes upon him. But, when Azrael spoke, his voice was laden with curiosity:

“That sword of yours… may I touch it?”

Lars, who had stood up, turned his eyes to the sword at his side at this unexpected request. He grinned, lopsidedly; it was not wholly pleasant.

“Please, be my guest,” he returned, holding out the sword-and-scabbard in his sword arm to a somber Azrael who raised his.

Though it looked as such, it was not cold wood that Azrael’s hands grasped, but hellfire that retaliated to his touch. His expression bore the pain well, but the speed with which he shot back his hand stunned everyone, and Tara would have leaped to him had the harsh grimness on his face not forbidden her. A symbol on the hilt, one familiar to Azrael, had gleamed at the touch. Lars smiled.

“A farewell gift that I had taken for myself when I, too, defected from the Crusader’s army.” He turned his head to reveal a deep, wide gash along the back of his neck. It was repulsive, resembling of the marks that one found from the half-severed heads of the guillotine. “Yet I am the only one who can wield its power, for it is silent to those without the Crusader’s mark, and it bites those that have turned away from the Crusader. And to my knowledge, there has only ever been one who had accomplished that feat.” He stared at the sullen Azrael. “Well, this does remind me—I do have something I want. You may do me a good turn, and in return, I shall pass on information that may help you to acquire the Seal. Well, friend Azrael—“ and if Azrael had been puzzled as to how the other could have known his name, he did not show it on his still-taciturn face “—will you agree to this exchange?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Nothing much, except that Navale has a dagger called Lightsbane which I seek. The jest here is that only he who has wholly walked from the Crusader’s ranks may wield it. My place is here and I have no wish to antagonise Navale face-to-face. You, friend Azrael, however….” His voice trailed off; further words need not have been said.

“I will do it.”

“Fantastic!” the Redfist clasped his hands in cheer, and from his drawer, he withdrew a parchment. It was an invitation to the ball, written in gaudy letters.

“Navale wants to rub it in my face.” he swore. “Well, we shall see who gets the last laugh tonight.”

“This… gash,” Tara interjected as she got up and towards him, “can it not be healed?” Lars shook his head. “Nay, the physician had tried his best, but he could only mend the wound,” he replied, a finger rubbing at the scab.

“Perhaps I can try to do something about it,” mused Tara, upon which there was a sudden spark of delight in Lars’ eyes. “You can?” The interest in his voice grew.

The wound had been old and had long healed into the ugly scab that it had been. Lars had allowed Tara to work on it, though his hand never left his scabbard. Nonetheless, her hand wove back and forth, up and down, driven by mechcanical expertise; it never tired. Eventually she got up and smiled. “There.”

Lars felt the scab, but it was no longer there, its place taken by a faint brownish streak.

“My lady, that was truly miraculous. I cannot express my gratitude in mere words, but I shall try. Now, listen closely. Navale’s mansion is about three storeys high, but make no mistake, where you want to go is to the vault below. There is a direct passage to the vault from the main hall that connects to the front courtyard. This hall will also be the ballroom for tonight. However, from what I know, there are no guards there. I have reason to believe he uses something… more than mortal to guard the vault.

“Yet there is another way down—through the kitchen, there is an access shaft with a platform that runs downwards on a pulley. It leads down into a series of tunnels beneath the earth that will take you to his vault. You see, his vault was carved into solid rock, to prevent would-be thieves. The caves have their own natural defences, but you look the capable sorts, and I would venture that they would not even be half as dangerous as what he has upstairs.”

“Have you been to Navale’s mansion before?” Regar suddenly quizzed. At this, Lars’ eyes softened, and for the first time, his smile disappeared; his gaze stared not at Regar, but at a time long past. “Yes… once we were friends, but that is for the historians.” The grin returned; the lines were harsh once more. “Is there anything else I can help you with? I give you my word that I have told you all that I know.”

Chapter 3: The Ball

Guests were already beginning to stream in when the group arrived at the mansion of Morgan Navale. Indeed, it was an event for the high and influential, those who held the keys to the fate of the Dragon Empire. The group stared at the mansion from a safe distance, studying, watching. From within the decadent halls came faint, lilting tunes.

Whether one would call it providence or skill is unimportant to the development of events, for it was through the sheerest stroke of fortune that had everyone pull through. When Regar broke from the centre path in the courtyard—against Tara’s insistence to not do so—and skirted around the house towards the kitchen, forks, knives and spoons began to quiver and tremble, their heads slowly shifting towards him. It was the quick thinking of Azrael, who was near the kitchen at the time as he had volunteered to sneak through the rear courtyard with Matt, that had saved Regar from being speared by kitchen cutlery: in the split instant when the cutlery were about to eject from their trays, Azrael pounced on the lot of them and dashed them into his pack. The sigh of relief from Regar was very real.

They were again almost thwarted when the head chef, Jordan Rammey, emerged from around a corner with a look of implacable fury. More looking for the nearest target as a means to vent his anger than to actually acquire a satisfactory answer, he demanded to know what the guests were doing outside of the kitchen. Matt mumbled an excuse that even he himself could not quite remember when asked about it afterwards, but it was sufficient to send Rammey storming away, looking for another target to rage against after realising he was not supposed to intimidate the guests. The missing cutlery, the group surmised, might have had something to do with his rampage.

The wheels were quickly set in motion with Tara and Regar in attendance of the party, and Azrael and Matt standing in wait in the kitchen; Tiny the Massive Dog was patiently seated not far from the enclosure of the mansion, preferring to direct his attentions to a persistent fly. He was assured in his own way that his master and mistress would return shortly to take him for another walk, not knowing that his master was at present hiding behind a wall next to the kitchen’s fireplace while a nobleman calmly detached himself from the fancies of the busy attendees to make his way towards the kitchen. It was only when the mistress intervened at the last desperate second and spoke sweet words of deceit to him that he was lured away—Morgan Navale, self-made and -proclaimed nobility of Shadow Port, was whisked away by desire. From behind, Azrael and Matt peered around the wall from where they had flattened themselves. Their sighs of relief were very real too.

Both noticed the shaft in the corner. The platform was still there, though it had collected much dust, and the chains that secured it to the pulley were rusted. Not wanting to waste more precious seconds, they clambered atop it and tested the hoist. A pull and a tug, and they were able to lower themselves into the wet bowels of the earth; the creaking of the chains were very effortlessly drowned out by the song and gaiety of the ballroom.

“Should we really go down there?” Tara muttered absently as both she and Regar stared at the door before them. The kitchen was no longer an option to reach the vault—Morgan Navale had sent for a few men to guard the entrances to the kitchen, and no one but Chef Rammey was to enter. Only the stairwell that connected to the ballroom, that which Lars Redfist had warned of and which Tara and Regar now stood before, remained as an option.

“There’s magical energy emanating from within,” Regar whispered, putting his ears close to the door. He opened it a crack, and both peered through. The room beyond might well have been an empty cellar, were it not for a great construct that stood to the side: it was a round, shimmering plane that stretched out to frames constructed from a mixture of natural crystals and obsidian. These last few details were deduced by Regar, who himself had come across scholarly writings of such a construct. Not a few of the wisened men of Axis had called it a ‘portal to the nether realms’.

Tara entered first, then Regar, caution trailing them like a ghost. The sounds of the ball melted away as Regar closed the door after him. The portal continued its low, ghastly groan, a great mirror that dominated the room with its unworldly reflections. Tara stared after it even as she treaded catlike, when she stopped and stared at the floor.

From the deep recesses of her mind crept up a string of harsh, dark whispers that she felt a flicker of familiarity with, yet had never seen before. She blinked, and in the core of her vision she still saw the room, only now with inexplicable colours coalescing into lines that traced from the centre of the construct to randomly scattered palm-sized points across the room. A quick study in that instant was all Tara needed to ascertain death at the touch of those magical trigger points.

“Follow my steps, and do not veer,” Tara warned harshly as she deftly made her way across the length of the room, Regar close behind. The air throbbed, beating with magic, and more than once Tara was unsure that it was not her own racing heart playing tricks. The seconds ebbed, and then relief washed over both as they crossed to the other side. Here was another stairwell leading further downwards. There was no hesitation here. They ventured forth.

No sooner had they both taken the first step down when they heard a terrific growling noise threatening to tear forth from the portal.

Chapter 4: The Vault

The darkness in the subterranean network was almost overwhelming. Once, Matt had broken through a loose stone panel that had concealed a pit. There was no severe injury, and it only took a moment to get his wits about him before he regained his second wind. They were more careful to proceed after that, but uncertainty bit them when they had to come to a halt: before them was a path that diverged two ways—one further swallowed by darkness that held a mass of unascertainable scuttling noises, the other lit with pulsing golden runes, inscribed deeply into the walls. Matt and Azrael considered this thoughtfully, then chose to meet darkness; they could not determine the nature of the golden runes, but knew on an instinctive level that it bred danger.

Veering to the left, they advanced. The darkness ahead was thicker than before; they could barely see beyond a few metres now. Midway, Azrael held out a hand to arrest Matt in his tracks. “It’s getting louder, the scuttling,” he signaled, more as a thought to himself than to the other. Their gazes pierced the darkness to make out a mass of dark, overlapping outlines shifting and splitting, merging and contorting, as of an abyssal wave out of the alien darkness.

A horde of great mites, each as massive as a dog, broke through the darkness in a terrible screeching surge, and in but a split second, they were all over the paladin and ranger. Their fangs dripped burning death, though Matt was able to cleave a clear path through most of them. Azrael swung his blades this way and that, dancing a symphony of death, but more came upon him, and pain seared through his arms and back. Still, much death did his scimitars reap as back and forth he continued to leap, raining death upon the repulsive critters.

The surge began to slow, then melted away as the mites scurried away in all directions from the fury of the two men. Only when silence proceeded the chaos did the two sink to the ground, one to catch his breath, the other to nurse an outpouring of blood about the shoulders. The wound was not infected, and Azrael was careful to cleanse most of the venom that had found its way through his armour. His arm fully wrapped up with strips of cloth, he got to his feet to find Matt staring ahead. He turned to look too.

There, not far ahead around a bend in the tunnel, flickered dimly the fiery flames of a lantern. Matt rose to his feet, then Azrael next. The light brought a glimmer of hope that they were near that which they sought, although wariness never left their side. Still grasping his injured arm, Azrael grunted and pushed forth, when Matt declined with an outstretched hand.

“You are injured,” gestured Matt. “Let me take point.” Placing himself ahead, he glided down the passage, sword in hand, caution looming. He peered around the corner—it led to a straight corridor that ran to a wooden panelling at the end. How thick the panelling was, neither he nor the watching Azrael could tell, but a voice whispered at the back of their ears that that would be the vault of Morgan Navale.

Like furtive panthers, they swept down the lit corridor, muscles tensed in anticipation of further surprises. They were fast approaching the panelling closer; then, they were no more than a few bounds from it when they were arrested in their tracks by a shattering crash followed by another, then another—one by one, each lantern behind them began to explode in a massive burst of flames.

It was all they needed to break their brief respite. Startled shock turned to a will to survive; charged with renewed vitality, their legs carried them further with every bound than they could have normally managed. Matt, however, was beginning to fall behind. The chain of exploding lanterns was fast keeping pace with him, and it was only a matter of time before he was caught in the blast of one. The explosions drew nearer and nearer, and it was the desperate, momentous, last-ditch effort from Azrael that saved them both when he threw all of his power into his sinews and, leveraging upon his mighty momentum, heaved Matt by the collar, thrusting himself into the wooden panelling with all of their weight behind the force of a battering ram. The panelling gave with a thunderous shatter as the last of the lanterns blew, blasting dust into the room where the men had rolled into.

Stunned by the sheer impact but relatively unharmed, Matt and Azrael rose to their feet as the dust settled, the former unable to hide his awe at the prowess of the ranger, who was then nonchalantly shaking away loose splinters. The wooden panel was now a gaping aperture that demarcated their rude entrance. This then was the vault of Morgan Navale… but where was the Seal? Cautiously, they proceeded. Ajar rooms of different sizes greeted them as they passed, when they rounded a corner and saw two familiar figures ahead curiously observing the surrounding rooms.

Rejoined with one another, Matt, Azrael, Tara and Regar were quick to exchange accounts of prior events. There was an interest sparked, of course, as Matt and Azrael told the latter two of the grotesque critters that dwelled in the subterranean caverns. At the same time, there was some visible trepidation as Tara recounted the great crystal portal and the unknown terror lurking behind it.

Not to be swayed from the object of their intent, however, for time was not their ally, they all agreed that the tales were best left over ale and brie. Urging haste, they scoured the remainder of the massive subterrane, then halted before a sizable chamber, its entry barred by a great stone door. Regar approached it, sensing its low magical hum.

“Is it trapped?” queried Tara, but Regar shook his head.

“No… not really. It can be opened. See,” he demonstrated, “even now I am able to push the door open. It is not locked. But there is something about it…. It is familiar to the touch. I might have come across this in one of the older books. It is a rather archaic ward that cannot be disarmed, but I do believe it is harmless, save that it will warn others of our presence.”

“What are the effects?” questioned Matt.

Regar shrugged. “It is dependent on its creator. Beyond that, I cannot tell you more.”

Try as they might, neither Regar nor Tara could determine a way to affect the ward. It was then decided, after a very brief bout of deliberation, that there could only be one solution.

Regar’s nerves were taut to breaking point, but his hand was held steady as it pushed the door in. What came next was felt by all—there came an omnipresent groan, deep and sonorous, which faded into a slight tremor; barely had a few seconds passed when the walls and ceiling trembled, as if the earth had come to life. Azrael and Regar wasted no time in entry to retrieve the dagger and Seal—an ordinary-looking stone plate with an owl carved into one of its faces—that lay on adjacent pedestals. A desire to leave was urged as the trembling intensified, and with both Seal and dagger in possession, no one had qualms about a hasty retreat.

There were two exits—the caverns back, and the stairs up. The four thieves were contemplating this when they heard metal footfalls upstairs, distant but nearing. However, this was immediately displaced when a howl from the portal room upstairs rocked the walls. Chaos and bloody brutality quickly followed. Clangs of steel rang out, muffled by the closed vault door, but above them rose a greater clamor of pounding, crushing and screams that culminated into muted gurgling noises. As the four hurried towards the cavernous network, for the choice of exit then was obvious, they all heard a thud as of some flung object against the door to the vault.

But this was no time to pity the dead. The caverns were now left empty, and though still maintaining hold over their faculties, their feet were ignited, especially once they could see the dim outlines of the vertical shaft that would take them back into the kitchen. To their fortune, it held all four of them, and they quickly hoisted themselves up, away from where grim, dark madness lay.

Chapter 5: The Return

There was a stark, ghost-like contrast now from before, as the group emerged into the uneasy silence of the ballroom. Desolation lingered as the guests had rushed out in panic amidst the chaos; even the sounds of slaughter from the portal room was no more. All four were plucked to full tension. Treading with padded feet, they neared the stairwell leading to the portal room—at Regar’s insistence, the rest reluctantly agreed to have a peek inside.

The door was ajar partway. Death lay strewn everywhere in the forms of torn, scattered limbs and glassy eyes of shock. The only evidence that this had been done by something beyond mortal ken was a brief glimpse of a gargantuan quadruped having the tail of a scorpion and the head of a deformed lion, before it disappeared into the shimmering planes framed by the blood crystals.

The four saw death smile upon them with horrific eyes and dripping teeth. Without even an instant’s hesitation, they fled from the scene, putting whatever remained of their energy behind their thighs and calves, their faces drawn in lines of dogged determination to live another day. They ran till they were well-distant from the mansion, near the alleys and streets that would take them back to the Dark Jester’s Tavern. There they paused, and looked at one another, breathing harshly.

Hoarsely, Regar grunted in spurts, “Well then friends, it is almost dawn and we have with us what we came for. I say we take the shortest route back to the Jester’s and be done with this cursed night.”

There was no protest to this. Matt had by this time recollected most of his spirits, and offered to take point. He advanced, and they slunk through alleys and crossed roads where shady exchanges were whispered under hushed tones. The sights did not matter so much as the star-frosted cosmos, now with a hint of scarlet. Dawn approached.

But they were not far from the tavern now, Matt wagered, as they prepared to cross a junction whereupon two alleys intersected midway, when the soft tread of their footfalls and silent breaths were interrupted by a guttural roar—the first warning of danger. From the shadows crashed forth a shape that would have dashed Matt sideways into the walls, had he not reacted in time. The figure caromed on to the floor but quickly rolled up to reveal a half-orc, brass knuckles gleaming evilly in hand. His barrel chest heaved from the strain; his lips drew back in a wicked grin, showing his fangs that were typical of the orc race.

“The Seal! Give, and no one gets hurt,” barked the half-orc.

At this, from out of the shadows emerged more ragged forms, some small, others tall—elves and halflings, of the same degenerate caste that so predominated Shadow Port. They whipped out knives that came to vicious points; their smiles were not wholly pleasant. Slowly, they hemmed in on the group from all sides, trapping them in a deadly enclosure.

But the exertions from the mansion had not yet taken their toll on the four, who simply gave back glares of equal threat. Nerves throbbed on the cold air; then, death became personified. Like a battering ram, Matt tore at the elven thieves first, his blade singing death. Regar was electrified with frenzied energy too; fighting for his and Tara’s life, his blades melded into bluish blurs that fell red, while Tiny leaped and rebounded with all the ferocity of his breed and past training. A massive cloud of colours suddenly erupted and blinded their foes as Regar retracted his hand to reach for another spell, this one glowing a myriad of colours. It exploded as he flung it towards the half-orc, showering him with acid. The half-orc’s bloodlust, however, was not to be denied.

“Zulata will have the Seal tonight!” he roared with animalistic fury, charging towards Tara with crimson in his eyes. Tara, for all the outward appearance of her fragility, easily held her own, stepping this way and that, avoiding Zulata the half-orc until, seizing an opening, crashed her bludgeon upon his skull. He stumbled, and would have had her there and then as he swept his fists in blind fury. It was at the last moment when Tara shifted her weight, more luck than skill, that had saved her. The force of the blow upon her shoulders sent her wheeling back, but Zulata was a primal force that could not be stopped.

Her sinews at the ready, Tara watched with clouded eyes, preparing to clash with the almost feral half-orc. It was over as quickly as it had begun—like a bolt of lightning, Tara whipped about her charging foe and with one clean sweep, felled the flanged end of her weapon hard upon the back of his head. Zulata half-stumbled to his knees, when a canine form leaped from behind and ended his wretched life in a disembowelling clamp of razor fangs. The half-orc was dead before his limp form crashed to the ground.

The fight ceased with near immediacy; the rest of the thieves suddenly stopped and looked at their dead leader, then turned to flight without pause, their screams echoing down the dark alleys. All that remained were the dozen dead and the three men who turned their attention towards Tara, whose grim expression had now softened into something like pity.

“Shall we?” she muttered, looking away.

The tavern was mostly empty now, save for a few unsavoury characters who stared at the group as they re-entered it once more. The lights were hardly as warm as they had seemed just hours ago. They sat at the same table with solemn faces when the greasy voice of Samuel Dirrel came plainly to them. With the same swagger, he approached the table looking pleased.

“That was mighty fine work, if I may say so myself. Now, the Seal, if you please.”

Regar, however, sensed the possibility of betrayal, and demanded, “Not till we have our payment.”

A flicker of amusement crossed Dirrel’s face. “You are in no position to make demands, especially if you think you can get out of here alive, I can assure you that.” At these words, the rest of the room began to direct stares towards the four, their hostile eyes hinting. “However, I am also a man of my words,” continued Dirrel, still smiling, “and I also assure you that you will be well-rewarded.”

Regar felt the burning eyes, and true to Dirrel’s words, he knew they could not leave without relinquishing the Seal. Heavy-handedly, never breaking Dirrel’s gaze, he removed it from his coat and placed it in the outstretched hand.

To everyone’s utter horror, Dirrel, upon receiving the Seal, raised his hand and solidly dashed it to the floor. It broke into four quarters, whereupon a map rolled out, having been hidden in the hollow of the seal. This, Dirrel deftly scooped up and tucked into his vest.

“There,” he gestured cheerfully, “is your payment. I believe that is 50 odd gold a piece.” And as abruptly as he had entered, he turned to walk away, leaving these words trailing behind him:

“Oh and that was only an audition. Our mutual friend shall reach you again when he is ready with your test.”

THE END

Jim’s note: I hope you guys enjoyed the read. Those of you who follow my blog probably already know that I’m a huge fan of 13th Age, and I’m really glad to have finally finished this write-up, even though it took me a while. If you’d like to stay up-to-date on the line of subsequent posts, you can follow S&S via Facebook and Twitter. Until 2017, happy holidays and may your dice rolls be amazing.

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