Liera had never gone to prom before. Verde couldn’t have known the void she would fill by setting her up on a blind date with Inky. Liera got to experience it all… The gentlemanly gesture when Inky pulled out Liera’s chair at Sap’s freshened garden getaway diner. The awkward moments when nobody knew what to say. The two course meal plus dessert. The smell of Inky’s hair color and styling. The cheerful chaperone that was Verde attempting to make the night something to remember. The wild rave (cleverly titled “Love Never Undies”) held in the throne room, complete with substances that would be illicit in any governed country. Aeriarthia’s magically manipulative musical strummings designed to create the baffling, unfamiliar emotion called “love”, and succeeding for long enough to confuse Liera. The seductive talk of love contracts and becoming the ultimate power couple as gods. The cold calculus of your date evaluating your potential worth to their life as you do the same.
And the heartache. The moment when you kiss your date with much anticipation, and they scream in pain as your kiss sears their unholy flesh with divine radiance. The moment you realize some of your so-called friends had more important things to do than help your date succeed (Kavi!). The consolation when you slap your chaperone, demand a refund, then accept the hug that you needed all along. Because sometimes, being an involuntary warlock of Amaunator going out with a lich and without protection sucks. Because sometimes, life — and unlife — is just not fair.
Lady Alathene was not pleased to hear that Inky had gone on a date. Despite Kavi’s best efforts, reason and logic stood no chance against crazed stalker love in the Lady’s view of the world and her relationship with Inky. She has never given up on Inky, citing their common ground and long history. Lady Alathene is desperate to destroy Shar to ensure that Inky will return to her and worship Seluné, as he should have long ago.
She demanded Verde reveal the identity of Inky’s date – Verde refused. Lady Alathene gave Verde three options:
- Reveal the date’s identity
- Leave House Moonstar forever
- Fight in a duel of honor that would see Verde a pile of ash on the carpet.
The situation was dangerously tense as Verde was raring to fight, but defused once Gardener Meredith was identified as the date by King. Murdurous intentions were derailed when Oris revealed that Meredith said Inky was in love with another woman. Lady Alathene needed no further encouragement to cast herself in that role.
Soothed and flattered, the stationary Lady was back to business. She sees a completed Deck as a major tool for the defeat of Shar, and indicated she had several leads. She gave the party Card Moon so they could keep in touch and as a reminder of Seluné’s power, and tasked the party with acquiring a Card in the Wealdath. She indicated that challenging Lady Elessime’s source of power may prove revealing.
Lady Alathene also made clear that the Blackstaff possessed at least one card, and they should pay her a visit.
After Oris made an exceptionally diplomatic comeback from earlier idiotic statements, Lady Alathene gifted him Card Fool. Even in its protective pouch, Card Fool provides a muted but never-ending stream of derogatory commentary for Queen Oris the Dragonfodder.
Verde’s Card Moon, on the other hand, makes pleasant sounds of wind rustling — and the occasional grumpy noises as it argues with (and tries to push away) Card Flame.
Blackstaff Vajra Safhar is short, for a Blackstaff. That’s hard to remember when the Blackstaff Tower door is closed and things seem on the edge of going south.
The conversation started pleasantly enough. There was an immediate audience, a cordial reception, and friendly condescension to Kavi about the merits of “nature” versus the intricate, nuanced weave of The Art. There was vague conversation about the power of the Blackstaff Tower wards. Vajra and the party caught up on matters of shared interest like a new Cult of the Dragons Reborn temple permit application, Asmodeus’ newfound Shadowfell restrictions, the number of cards in a shattered Deck of Many Things, The Weekly Inky, and the travels of Zule the Muscle Bound’s march across the Anauroch Desert into the Dale Lands.
Then King Oris opened his big mouth, and things got tense. Sensitive to the suggestion that her Cards be taken (in addition to the Puzzle Box Oris was convinced she had), and even more sensitive to King Oris moving to use Card Fool, she bound Oris using an epic version of Hold Person, forcing him to keep his hands raised. [Note: Those with good insight would have realized she seemed much more tense than you remember her in the past.] After rolling preparatory initiative, Kavi noted that Vajra had flat-out suggested a one-way “trade” of cards into the safekeeping of Blackstaff Tower, but Vajra was nonplussed.
Further talk defused tensions somewhat. After Oris realized she had not revealed the full truth about Zule the Muscle Bound’s defeat, Vajra revealed her concern that Open Lord Neverember had led the army that defeated the warlord – he is said to have killed Zule personally. Vajra never saw the Puzzle Box. However, she recalled that the Masked Lords’ votes have slowly shifted toward Neverember’s agenda, and lately his more radiacal agenda items have been being defeated by the slimmest of margins: 9-11 against. Vajra has been asked by Open Lord Neverember to investigate Durnan “The Wanderer” and one other Masked Lord for treason. Durnan Is Neverember’s most outspoken critic, and she advised talking to him, telling him “the wind sent you”.
Vajra opened the door and allowed everyone to leave (though she marched Oris out for him), and asked the party to investigate the political situation and verify there was no intrigue. She is obviously nervous that something is afoot, given it is her job to identify and remedy such events.
Kavi wondered whether perhaps a criminal guild had gotten their hands on the Puzzle Box, but guard reports of criminal activity have only recently increased. Kavi ventured that a Puzzle Box would be a handy way of digging up blackmail to sway votes…. Kavi also wondered whether the Puzzle Box might leak information it gained to others that would be next in its chain of bloody ownership. And, oh yeah – Kavi questioned the wisdom of secret codes when Vecna is a primary enemy of the party.
Much to Verde’s disappointment, the conversation ended before Verde could get dewey-eyed on Vajra. Much to Oris’ disappointment, Vajra refused to let them see the tower’s panoramic TV.
While travelling to the Yawning Portal Inn over Undermountain, home of Durnan “The Wanderer”, the party took the opportunity to spread Cult coinage (via a 1:1 exchange program with occasional donations), Cult brochures (glossy color double-sided prints encouraging people to “Be the dragon inside”, and are a treasure unto themselves for the poor), and Cult propaganda (like dubious coupons giving a month of membership free). They mused about having a dragon spotlight in the clouds around the Earthmote, and discussed the merits of having a bungee jump off the Earthmote that serves as snack time for hungry hungry dragons. Shameless.
None other than Durnan himself was tending the bar at the Yawning Portal Inn, taking the party much by surprise. He has apparently found a happy place for himself turning his Undermountain plunder into a profitable, relaxing business. After downing various alcoholic beverages (firewine for Kavi, and “organophosphate-free mineral water” for Sap), conversation quickly turned from a distinct lack of interest in paying for entry to Undermountain’s ever-changing dungeon to talk that was best had in a windowless back-room protected by wards made by someone who knew what they were doing.
Durnan rolled his eyes at the close-enough passphrase proffered by the party, and confirmed the patterns that Vajra had noticed in the long-term shift in political leanings of the Masked Lords. He didn’t seem overly paranoid about its cause, and wanted to see how the vote went in a couple of hours.
Upon inquiry, Durnan revealed that his long-time friend Bernard (who made a fortune in Undermountain with Durnan but preferred the rich city life in “retirement”) had recently changed his voting. It’s strange because Bernard seems normal — but when it comes to votes, he is voting along Neverember’s agenda. Durnan knows this because his Mask is magically linked to Bernard (apparently with Vajra’s approval if not work), and he can use the magic to tell which Masked Lord is Bernard.
Durnan was a simple man that didn’t like complex talk of plots and intrigue. Soon the party was back at the bar for round 2. Kavi tipped generously (to much appreciation), and put a Cult coin on the line that Aeriarthia could, in fact, down that Dragon’s Breath firewhisky. After put it down in one swallow, and Patron #17 lost his tab money – but gained a Cult coin.
Waterdeep Office Of Housing and Urban Development (WOOHUD)
Having returned to Waterdeep, King Oris felt it important to acquire a plot of land for their new Cult temple to sit on, since they didn’t want to convert the safehouse. After bribing each person in the long line with a Cult coin, Oris found himself
bribing coincidentally gifting one final Cult coin on the woman at the counter. The woman explained that the temple application needed to be approved at the public hearing that evening, but that’s the Office of Temple Affairs. She was, however, happy to provide Oris a copy of the application. When Oris asked about property on which to build the temple, she wanted to know whether Oris really wanted another plot when the old demolished Tiamat temple grounds had already been arranged by Gardener Meredith. Oris considered the idea of a raise for the Gardener… then discounted it.
Meanwhilst, the squabble over the line positions up for grabs had just ended.
As the time for the public vote approached, Kavi verified the areas wards looked secure (the no magic in, no audio out wards did indeed look secure), and then made his way up 40’ towers to observe the proceedings. Sap followed suit on a different corner of the open-air auditorium, avoiding detection by guards distracted by an angry group of demihumans. Kavi saw Bernard leave his house and enter the Central Palace, but couldn’t keep sight from there.
King Oris took the opportunity to point out to the agitated demi-humans gathered that the Cult was a great alternative to an overly-taxed lifestyle in Waterdeep, and they should consider the proposition offered by certain shiny brochures (lugged around in the Body Bag of Holding)! Even the most agitated seemed receptive to his well-delivered remarks.
Once everyone was admitted to the auditorium, Lord Neverember brought the meeting to order. He initially forgot the routine procedural vote on the Cult temple application, but it passed with a 2-1 margin (with the remaining 17 “not giving a shit”). He then moved on to the only item of substance on the agenda: a proposal to double taxes on demihumans, purportedly as a fair means to make up unexpected tax collection shortfalls. Bypassing debate, he called for an immediate vote.
Sensing a similar faint, sinister magical thread in 10 of the Masked Lords — akin to a delayed effect spell that’s not yet triggered — Kavi suggested Oris and Verde use Card Flame and Card Fool on one such Masked Lord. They did so successfully, Verde with ease and Oris only after the card made a fool of him.
And then, the Masked Lords voted. And the vote was 11-9… in favor. Oops.
Open Lord Neverember smiled, his self-assurance of the vote’s outcome evident, though he was subtly expressed surprised at the vote of the Card-altered Masked Lord. He seems personally satisfied at the new burden being placed on demihumans.
Neverember is about to adjourn the meeting… what will the party do?