The Journal of Micar’eyl Auvrymtor: Politics by Other Means
So a few days later I and the crew attend a the town council at a former inn called the Dragon’s Gauntlet. The situation is that the Oghmanyte priests have barricaded themselves up in their temple and are evidently releasing monsters into the streets. Or at least monsters are showing up, and I don’t know where else they could have come from.
Anyway, there’s a lot of pointless arguing and no one seems to have the authority to make a decision. Really shows the weakness of this ‘anarchy’ stuff Branwen is always going on about if you ask me. Maybe people who can’t submit to a leader deserve to die.
One bit of surprising treachery is that Alisara Callum, the council leader I’ve been negotiating with, has gone full appease mode. She’s arguing that Helm’s Hold were mistaken to trust strangers (which is to say, us) and that they should seek the Prophet’s forgiveness. The only one standing up to her is Doloran Bard, the anti-spellscar guy who can be counted on to oppose anything she says.
This doesn’t seem like the smart play for Callum and we’re all a little suspicious, but it’s Valtha who realizes what’s going on. Stepping right up to Callum, Valtha wipes some “sweat” off her skin and shows it’s actually slime, the sure mark of being mind-controlled by the aboleths. Trust miss creepy to know that on sight! Callum breaks down completely after that and gets hauled away. I follow to question her a little more, and from what I can make it in her ravings she was assaulted in her own home. An aboleth crawled into her place at night and poisoned her. I ask Branwen to track it back to see how it got into the city, but a heavy rain has washed away the slime trail and all she finds are a couple of plaguechanged ghouls killing somebody.
That pretty much leaves Doloran Bard in charge, mostly on the account of him being able to yell louder and argue longer than everyone else. Freedom, everybody! That doesn’t leave Halas Dalren, the half-elf leading the spellscarred, looking too happy, but they put off the inevitable war for now due to the bigger threat.
So the mercenary contract Callum signed before she got controlled goes through, and a force of a dozen Bregan D’aerthe warriors shows up at the Old Dirty Dwarf. Yay! Their leader is Aerlyse Cresthill, who is actually only a half-drow. Goes to show how much of a meritocracy the Bragan D’aerthe is. I don’t know much about her other than that she does psionics, the mind-magic stuff. I tell her I’m glad she’s here and I am confident in her leadership skills, which neither of those is exactly true but you have to say it to show good faith. She asks me if I’m being sarcastic! I guess mind-magic makes it easy to sense insincerity, but I assure her I didn’t mean any harm and she seemed satisfied.
Anyway, Horst has a plan. He wants to go back down through the tunnels and do a magic ritual to plug up the back door leading out from the catacombs to the sewers before the final assault on the cathedral. It’ll keep any of the aboleth cultists from making an escape and also keep anything coming up from the underdark and into the catacombs from escaping either. We all contribute, with me adding a countersong I’ve been developing against the aboleth madness-songs and Valtha conjuring up a few dead Helm clerics as guardian spirits. (Ho-ho, I am punning there.) Anyway, it’s a tense mission but Horst gets the ritual off without a hitch.
The monsters are still getting out into the city, but some of our Bregan D’aerthe troops (who aren’t blind at night like the Mintarn mercenaries) report that they are definitely doing it by jumping from the cathedral walls onto the roofs of nearby buildings. If Helm’s Hold can take back control of the cathedral, the threat from the plaguechanged monsters will be eliminated.
I suggest questioning the patients for more information on this ‘green elf’ who is supposedly running things deep below, but everyone gets very upset. Ooops! I accidentally used the word ‘torture’, which apparently emphasizes the physical coercion side of questioning. Language is hard, everybody! Don’t be mad.
Anyway, the wonderfully free council in which anyone can stand up and say any old shit gets another visitor the very next morning. It’s a shadar kai (that is like a human who has been infused with shadow magic so they are less inferior) named Katryn Ulfbinder. She’s there as a representative of Netheril. They are offering their support against the approaching army of orcs (did I mention there’s an approaching army of orcs? Turns out there is!) if Helm’s Hold becomes a protectorate of Netheril. She makes a point that the Netherese once helped Neverwinter in the same way, and that turned out great. (I do not know enough Neverwinter history to contradict her.) Doloran Bard and Marcon Dunfield (leader of the Mintarns, remember) are negotiating with her.
Even though it is completely none of our business, and we can always run away when they are gambling with the lives of their families and homes, somehow everybody in our little group gets a chance to speak because freedom, everybody! So of course Branwen, Marcus, and Valtha are all like, “Netheril is bad!”. Marcus accuses them of being behind the werewolves, though of course we don’t exactly have any proof of that beyond the testimony of dead people, so Katryn just denies it. I think some of his points about how convenient it was that Netheril just happens to show up now manage to score some points, though.
For my part, I do some quick calculations and determine that a Helm’s Hold destroyed and overrun by orcs is probably still preferable from a drow perspective to a Helm’s Hold under the rule of Netheril. I mean, I don’t want to sound too cold. A saved, independent Helm’s Hold that owes gratitude to the Bregan D’aerthe is best of all. I’m just saying, if we can’t have that then it’s probably better that they all die than become Netherese servants. Praise Lloth!
So I speak up and tell them they can get a better deal. I tell them that the orcs are probably under the control of the Abolethic Sovereignty, and if we can destroy the Prophet and her forces then the invading orcs may turn around and go home as there is no longer anything for the aboleths to expend their orc slaves trying to rescue. I’m sure it all sounds very convincing, even if it is also optimistic half-assed theorizing.
I guess Horst’s conscience is bothering him, though, because he refuses to speak, saying it isn’t any of his business. If orcs slaughter the town because they spurned Netherese protection, he at least won’t have to feel guilty. It looks like the foolish optimism the rest of us expressed was enough, though, because Doloran turns down the Netherese and tells them that if Helm’s Hold can’t protect their town on their own, they deserve to
die under orc torture lose it. Ho-ho!
Afterwards there’s more discussion about the timing of the fight and the resources we have available. Marcus knows that Doloran doesn’t think much of the spellscarred and tries to speak up on their behalf, suggesting that they could play a leading roll in the fight. In doing so he uncovers the gaping wounds that both parties had been willing to ignore until after the Prophet was dead. This is both good and bad. By pushing the issue now there’s more motivation for them to settle it, but if it blows up then it could make the assault on the temple fall apart.
It starts to go bad with Doloran and Halas Dalren (leader of the Heirs of Azure) blowing up at each other. Well I have Bregan D’aerthe soldiers who are going to need reliable fodder in this battle, so I’m forced to step in and smooth things over like a good bae’qeshel telphraezzar is supposed to be able to do. I tell them they’re both being jerks and then tactfully suggest that Doloran has a point that the Abolethic sovereignty may be able to influence people through their spellscars and that Halas needs to make sure that only his most reliable, in-control comrades are anywhere near the heart of the battle. They both calm the hell down. Praise Lloth!
Marcon steps in to ask if we (and by ‘we’ I mean myself, Branwen, Marcus, Valtha, and Horst who are distinguished as being badass outsiders) are willing to help lead the attack on the cathedral. Horst negotiates a payment of 50 toals for each of us. Thanks, Horst!
We spend a couple of frantic hours prepping for the assault on the temple before the orcs can arrive. Branwen had already called on her friends in the Sons of Alagondar, and a bunch of them make a timely arrival as a supporting militia, bringing enough fine weapons with them to outfit not only themselves themselves but a lot of Helm’s Hold civilians to boot. I didn’t think they had enough resources for that … makes me wonder if there isn’t another silent backer.
We go in and it is a tough fight with some gibbering mouthers and mutated ghouls. I mean, really, who looks at a ghoul and thinks, “You know what would make this scarier? A mouth-stomach!” Aerlyse sticks with our main assault party meeting the brunt of the enemy forces, and her mind-blasts are super-effective. Still, it’s a very near thing. I go down at one point and so does Aerlyse before I feed her a potion. Near the end, Branwen and Valtha discover that some of the old statues of Helm have enough lingering divine power to ward off the monsters a little. That is enough to pull through.
There’s a commotion in one corner as we start mopping things up on the ground floor. Seems like Marcon Dunfield and some of his Mintarn troops have cornered a couple of priests who are trying to make a deal for their lives instead of turning into tentacled horrors. I hear them, a human, referred to as Brother Vartan. The other is a dwarf named Brother Satarin, probably the last priest of Helm still alive. Valtha talks to Vartan about what they were really up to here. It seems they were hoping to get information from the aboleths that would allow them to resurrect dead gods, starting with Mystra. Brother Satarin, of course, was interested in what they could do for Helm. My personal point of view would be that if you have the mojo to resurrect a dead god you probably have the mojo to make yourself a god, and it’s obvious what’s the better choice there. But I digress.
So the now-dead Brother Anthus was researching the energies of the Chasm in Neverwinter and discovered mutual interests with the aboleths. Apparently they think the Spellplague is the remains of the (now-dead) goddess of magic Mystra and it hung around after her form was shattered. I don’t understand all the details of what happened, but apparently Anthus got dead somewhow (oh, I wonder) and the Prophet took them over as a research group working with the aboleths to experiment on controlling Spellplague energy. Personally I would never trust a fish, no matter how tempting the offer, but maybe that is just me being racist.
I mutter a quick “praise Lloth” and Aerlyse tells me to cut the act because there are no priestesses around. I am not even going to engage with that, seriously. Leaving the great Houses does not mean you escape from Lloth, but how is a snotty half-drow who can just go cozy up to some human god going to understand that?
So in an effort to dig himself out of the pending execution he is looking at, Vartan advises us to bathe in the well of Helm and gain power. Me, Marcus, and Horst are all “hell no”. This guy is a proven traitor and liar who has every reason to hate us, and I’m not not following his advice for anything. Branwen and Valtha bathe, mostly because they’re so beat up that they’re desperate, and seem to benefit, but I stand by my choice.
We go down and face the prophet Rohini in another battle. She has sort of idol singing a song of madness in the back with her, but I zero in on it and manage to shut it down with the countersong I have been working on. Nice try, aboleths, but you start using music to infest people with madness and you have walked into my house! Yeah, don’t mess with a whisperer of the dark queen! I’ll save you the suspense: they do manage to worm a tendril into my mind, but I’m starting to understand this stuff and manage to destroy it the next day.
Anyway, Rohini goes down surprisingly quickly after that. Turns out she’s secretly a succubus (wow!) and briefly uses her powers to charm Branwen, but she and her minions can’t hold on against us. That’s succubi for you, I guess. Once you get past their deceptions and charmed slaves, they have all the staying power of a … well, of a virgin faced with a succubi!
I talk with Aerlyse after the fight. She thinks it was a good fight and really seems to enjoy battle, but I wonder what a good fight is. I think a good fight is a fight that makes a good story after it’s over, but any fight could get you killed.
I take the chance to ask her why a half-drow would join Began D’aerthe. She gives me the usual answer about how a half-drow is hated by both humans and drow and this was the only place that would accept her and all of that, which seems more abstract than I expected. I thought (and I tell her so) that the obvious answer was that one of her parents was a Bregan D’aerthe member. She seems a bit taken aback. Apparently she doesn’t know who her drow parent (father I guess it must be) actually is. She does say that Kimmuriel always took a liking to her. Well, that’s suggestive.
Since we’re battle buddies and all now, Aerlyse tells me her actual mission is to watch over the agent at Castle Never. Thom Kreel is the agent there, the one with the hat of disguise pretending to be human. (Oh, so that’s the one who dropped off that magic book for me.) Aerlyse is the spy assigned to watch him, because the Kimmuriel faction always has to be watching the Jarlaxle faction and vice versa. (I am more or less a member of the Jarlaxle faction, if that’s the sort of thing you formalize.) She points out that I probably have an agent watching me. Watching for what exactly, I’m not sure.
The confusing part of all the spying, even to me, is that we’re not exactly an organization with a lot of rules. So it’s not the usual thing where you spy on other members to enforce the rules. It’s more to make sure that we don’t follow out natural selfish instincts and hoard opportunities to our own advantage. If you know you’re being spied on anyway, it’s easier to justify not trying to sneak a valuable chance off for yourself. Or that is what I think, anyway. Another Bregan D’aerthe might give you another answer. Maybe the real answer is that we have more time than work, and this lets us occupy all our members. That could be true as well.
I take in the town, sing some victory songs, and try to improve the reputation of the drow race. The orc army seems to disappear and scatter, so … I guess I was right about that? Praise Lloth, I’m smarter than I think, apparently. Suck it humans, my wisdom saved your town and stuff.
I find out later from Valtha that she looked through the cultist records and they were not as far along on the resurrection of gods as they implied. She does find why the Spellplague chasm formed. The sarrukh, one of the five creator races, created an enormously powerful artifact called the Source Stone with a warmer world within (like one of those demi-planes you hear about powerful mages creating for themselves). When the world grew cold they retreated into it. They were going to emerge during the reign of Nasher Alagondar, but the “Hero of Neverwinter” stopped it. The Source Stone remained, though, and when the Spellplague came the Source Stone absorbed wave after wave of the energy and became a whole world of Spellplague radiation beneath Neverwinter. Pretty good guess there are tunnels that connect the Chasm of Neverwinter to the Crypts of the Vigilant Eye via those tunnels we found, and they all wind through the Underdark to Gauntlgrym.
This expedition seemed like a much better idea before I started it.
|Branwen Farlong||The Revolution Begins|
|Marcus de Tylmarande||The Battle of Helm’s Hold|