This is a sporadic series based on the one-on-one campaign I’m currently running for my partner (who plays both characters). I’ll take some liberties, but for the most part this is entirely based on the events of those sessions.
Episode Two: Rigging the Game
The Healer’s Hall in Prapol was one of the larger structures in town. High walls, large frosted windows, and a grand decorated entryway made it stand in sharp relief to the squalor surrounding it. It boasted two fine dwarf-carved stone doors, each individually engraved with the crest of the Healer’s Guild – a hand set in a sunburst.
Ash’s boot planted right in the center of that handprint design as she forced the heavy doors open. In her arms, the recently-deceased Victor.
The sterile white-tiled interior of the building was bright and blinding; she stumbled forward, squinting. Ahead, she could just make out the silhouette of a reception desk. There was the vague outline of a person sitting behind it.
“Resurrection services! Quick!”
Ash didn’t see where the white-cloaked healer emerged from; they were suddenly beside her and helping support Vic’s weight.
“How long has he been dead?”
Ash faltered, uncertain. “Forty minutes, maybe?”
“Less than an hour, is good. That’s okay. It’s good. We’ll take good care of him, don’t worry.”
Vic’s body was scooped unceremoniously from Ash’s arms by a towering Giff medical assistant, able to wrap his leathery hands easily around Vic’s entire form. He tucked the limp body under his armpit and ambled through the back doorway, Vic’s legs dangling and swaying to and fro, the healer close behind fussing at him to “mind the head”. The door slammed shut and bolted with a mechanical click. Ash was left alone in the entry hall, with the person behind the desk.
“Are you covering the cost?” The droning voice was indifferent. Eyes adjusted to the bright interior, Ash could now see the receptionist was Giff as well, seated in an extra-wide swivel chair special-made to accommodate the larger-bodied species of the multi-verse. The woman didn’t avert her gaze from her screen. She was squinting at something, face inches from her monitor, brow knit in concentration. Several tiny candles of varying shades adorned her desk; some with designs, some solid colored, most still in their original wrapping, and all unburned.
“Yes, I – Yes, the cost. How much will it be?”
The woman produced a pair of tiny glasses from her desk and set them on her snout carefully. She stretched her thick fingers over the keyboard.
“One moment, please.”
Clack, click, clack. Click. Clack, clack. Clack.
Ash stood silent, waiting, listening to the rhythmic sound of this woman’s slow, one-finger-at-a-time typing. It was soothing.
On the other side of the screen, the woman finished placing her order for four 24-packs of miniature vanilla-scented candles. The packs were buy-one-get-one-half-off. An excellent deal.
“One. Thousand! Gold?!”
Vic was not pleased.
“How’m I ever gonna afford…Fuckin’ hell, the ship, Ash! Will it even still… The contract – do you think? Is there even time? Where would he have gone? Oh, what are we gonna do about the damn ship?! Fuck – that was most our gold, Ash! Couldn’t you have talked them down? Why didn’t ya – “
This was going to continue for awhile.
Ash ignored Vic for the most part; she had enough of a headache as it was, and her shoulders ached from dragging his literal dead weight back to town. It took a steaming plate of herb-roasted chicken with tangy blue sauce at the inn to soothe his temper enough for Ash to tune back in.
“…be the ticket, don’t ya think, Ash?”
“Yes? You were saying, it would be just the ticket.”
“Right! The gambling problem! That’s our in, Ash, we just gotta get ol’Carl into a friendly match – something we’re sure to win.”
Carl Thunderbelt. The Tongass big-wig with a fancy ship and, reputedly, a penchant for high stakes games. Ash had to admit, Carl Thunderbelt sounded like exactly the kind of rich asshole that would bet a ship on a game of chance.
“You’re still good with dice, and – “
“We can’t actually bet on a real game of chance, Vic. If we’re gonna do this, we – “
A cough interrupted her thought.
Korick stood over the table. Behind them, a mismatched group of three others was lined up like an entourage.
“Vic? This a good time?” The slim githyanki stroked their chin.
“Korick! We were just talking about that fellow with the ship you told me about. Sit, sit!”
Korick did so. The entourage waited behind them, shifting about uncomfortably in their line as they tried to look nonchalant.
“Good to hear, good – You remember I mentioned those fellas before, what got fleeced by Ollie too? These’re them, here.” Korick jerked a thumb back to the entourage. They all attempted to stand up straighter and look more imposing. “Figure they make a good crew, with the common interest’n’all.”
It was a motley group. Vic took each in, one at a time, measuring them up.
In the center, tallest by several heads, was an aging Giff man wearing a faded military uniform. Likely imposing in his prime, he now looked more suited to a backyard barbecue than a battlefield. He carried a simple wooden crutch, supporting a withered left leg.
To the Giff’s left was a short, stocky holy man of some obscure order dressed in plain brown robes, with the top-center of his head shaved. He appeared human at a glance, but his shoulders and face were unusually broad.
Finally, somehow most out of place, the person on the Giff’s right was a lanky human boy no older than fifteen with thick square-rimmed glasses and acne covering every square inch of his unfortunate face.
“They got qualifications?”
“Oh yeah, of course, Vic, all had their own ships after all, yeah? This here is Blue – ” Korick first introduced the Giff military man, “He knows his way around a ship. Knows his way around guns too. Served in some mercenary company for a few decades, real tough guy.” Blue grunted his assent.
“And, uh, well, this here is Brother Anthony. He’s a priest of Nautuus.” Vic had never heard of Nautuus, but with all the demi-planes out there, one can’t be expected to know every god in existence. Now that he was getting a better look, he could see Brother Anthony was actually a Dwarf. His mistake was understandable; where there should have been a thick beard, Brother Anthony instead had thick stubble. Vic marveled – Was it a curse of some kind? A personal preference? Or was it the rules of his order, and he shaved multiple times per day? Vic resisted asking as Korick continued: “Good to have around in a pinch, knows how to mend wounds. Knows how to swing a hammer too.”
“And this here’s Big Tim.” The teenage human stepped forward and thrust forward his hand towards Vic. Vic gave him a firm businessperson’s handshake, causing the boy to recoil and jerk the hand back. He cradled the hand as he turned back to Korick.
“So this is the guy, Korick? What can he do?”
Vic rolled his eyes. “I respect attitude, kid, but – “
“Don’t call me kid, scale-face.”
Ash retreated behind the rim of her own mug, unable to stifle a snickering fit. Vic smiled at Big Tim. Rows of tiny, razor sharp teeth glinted in the half-light.
“Why don’t we all sit, huh? Let’s get another round and talk shop.”
The building had been a toy factory, once. This was before Tongass, before Prapol was Prapol, when it was known by another name.
People were lured there by promises of work and better lives. They found the same barren wasteland that hopeful migrants find on Prapol today. Many had risked all on the journey; they could do nothing but remain and make the best of things. In this way, many were snared.
The town itself was run by a vampire. Nobody knew this at the time, or it is much less likely they would have taken the risk of coming to the demi-plane.
One day, a group of adventurers came through town. This was an unusual occurrence for such a remote mining settlement. They stayed only a week, concluding their visit by driving a stake through the heart of the town’s leader. They waved to cheering crowds of liberated workers as they sailed off into the sea of stars.
Maintaining a town in such a remote location proved difficult in the aftermath.
Supplies ran dry. People began to move out, those that could. Those that remained lived with little, the land unable to provide for them. There was famine. The toy factory was built as a last-ditch effort to revive the settlement through industry. It was created as a joint venture by the people of the town, who came together and volunteered their time generously to ensure its success. It was a labor of love.
The toy factory revitalized the settlement. People began to move back. New structures were built. New life was breathed, forcibly, into the wasteland.
Ten years later, Tongass acquired the company. Five years after that, they closed the doors of the factory. Prapol was more profitable as a mining town.
The interior was massive and mostly empty. Abandoned machines adorned the outside walls, rusted over and long-since made useless by the rigors of time.
At the center of the factory floor, a single hanging light was rigged over a well-used folding card table. On either side of the folding card table, a grey metal folding chair was set. More chairs were set towards the back of the factory floor in a line, lights wired behind them to shine blindingly towards the card table at the center. Anyone seated at the center would see only outlines of people in the audience. Big Tim, it turned out, had a talent for electric work.
Vic hand delivered the invitation: an underground dice tournament, high stakes and exclusive, held in secret locations. It was one of Ash’s finer works. Carl Thunderbelt seemed unlikely to decline. Hook, set.
Vic darted about the factory floor, ensuring all the elements were in their places and everybody knew their parts.
Big Tim was at the door, watching for the guest of honor. They had all put together the fanciest-looking outfits they could find for the event. It turns out this is hard to do when you don’t have any money to spend. The results were underwhelming, hence the creative lighting of the audience (where Blue, Brother Anthony, and Korick were all set). Among the entourage, Big Tim was the only one that owned a suit. By default, he was volunteered for door greeter.
Ash was at the table. She was the lynchpin of the plan as the player; everyone pitched in to help her look the part. An emerald green bowler hat adorned her head, borrowed from Vic, and she fiddled idly with a polished silver pocket-watch in her right hand, borrowed from Blue. The pocket-watch had a gold-plated cover that flipped open to reveal a tiny portrait of a handsome young Giff man set inside. Ash assumed it to be a younger Blue. He wasn’t interested in discussing it.
On the table were two dice cups. This was the biggest expense of the event, having been specially acquired by Vic and Ash for this game. The cups were felt lined for minimal noise when rolling, molded to fit comfortably in the palm of the roller, with a fine wood finish and a patented “cheat-proof” rim.
They were also enchanted. If Ash traced a number in the bottom of her cup with a finger before rolling, that is the number the dice would turn up.
Carl Thunderbelt arrived exactly when the invitation instructed him to. He was a garishly dressed Dwarf with a finely groomed beard, silk suit, and flashy jewelry all framed beneath a sharp stetson-style hat. He stood out in Prapol in all of the worst ways.
Ash played her part. She eased in, letting the dice run their natural course at first. Then she set the trap. Using the enchanted cup, she made it look like she was on a losing streak. Carl seemed to have the upper hand. He was confident. Then she went for the throat. Why not bet bigger, make it more interesting? She heard he has a ship. She wants it. Carl wants Big Tim if he wins. Big Tim’s eyes widened in panic. Ash ignored him.
It was a deal.
With the enchanted cup, she easily swept the set. Her time as a pickpocket made tracing numbers on a cup bottom undetected a simple matter, executed flawlessly. Carl blustered, but couldn’t prove foul play. Victory was declared. By the rules, the ship should be theirs. Unfortunately, as they soon discovered, Carl Thunderbelt had never been fond of playing by the rules.
“Help! HELP! Thieves! Murderers! HELP!”
It was close to midnight. Prapol was a ghost town at this time, only a handful of people on the streets. This was fortunate, since a high-ranking Tongass executive was currently tearing through those streets screaming for help, Vic and Ash hot on his tail.
Every window and door remained barred tight. Prapol was not fond of Tongass executives.
Carl’s stubby legs left him little chance to evade Vic and Ash. They followed close behind, hoping he would lead them to his ship. It was clear he had no intention of parting with the vessel amicably. Vic would have to take it. Once again, Carl complied with their plan perfectly. He politely led them to the dockyard of Prapol – a grimy, fenced compound with a handful of landing pads mostly utilized by travelling merchants and rich VIPs such as Mr. Thunderbelt.
Carl Thunderbelt’s former ship was the finest in the compound, opulently decorated with an unusual abundance of superfluous cosmetic features such as gold-etched patterns along the length of the hull, a completely unnecessary spoiler on the rear, and a tacky figurehead of a nude dwarf woman with a magnificent beard flowing out behind her affixed to the front. The figurehead was, naturally, cast in gold.
Two warforged currently worked at the vessel, welding polished gold plating onto the nose just below the figurehead. Carl ran to them, yelling all the way.
“Tin! Brass! These vagabonds are fixin’ to try to steal my baby! Protect me!” Tin and Brass straightened to full height, shoulders set back, hammers and wrenches wielded in their hands, as they turned towards their employer. Each stood at least 7 feet tall. Carl rushed to get behind them as quickly as he could.
“Fucking hell.” Ash muttered to herself, nocking an arrow and taking careful aim at Mr. Thunderbelt’s retreating form. The arrow arced through the air with glorious precision, its trajectory painted right on Carl’s right calf. Or, it would have been, had Carl not turned to gauge the nearness of his pursuers and tripped on a rock at that exact moment, launching, instead, his left eye socket into the arrow’s path. Carl’s lifeless corpse slid the final few inches to Tin and Brass’s feet. The two warforged looked up at Vic and Ash. A moment of tense silence passed.
Vic spoke up.
“This fella was only your employer. We won this ship fair and square. You can just take your pay and walk away now. No hard feelings.”
Tin looked at Brass. Brass looked at Tin. Another tense moment of silence passed.
Finally, Tin leaned down and rustled through Carl’s belt, searching. He found what he was looking for – a pouch of coins. He lifted it into the air to show Vic. Without another word, the pouch of coins hooked onto Tin’s belt and the two warforged workers took their leave.
Vic assembled Korick and the entourage. They needed to make themselves scarce around Prapol, and quickly. Meanwhile, Ash stowed Carl’s corpse among the cargo of a merchant vessel bound for a distant border world. That cargo was copious amounts of guano, which easily overpowered the scent of the corpse below decks. It wouldn’t be found until the shipment on board was sold.
Before the sun rose over the barren plains of Prapol the next day, Vic and Ash were gone.
In three weeks, Carl Thunderbelt’s body was found on a distant world and recovered, as expected.
His life insurance policy, as a Tongass executive, guarantees resurrection services in cases such as this. Like waking from a dream, Carl finds himself transported from laying in the dirt on Prapol with an arrow sticking out of his eye, to laying on a slab table in a sterile white room surrounded by healers in sterile white coats fretting over the Ersatz Eye they were setting into his ruined left eye socket.
Carl grabs one by the collar of their coat and yanks them close, inches from his face. He manages to gurgle out two words before slipping back into unconsciousness: