Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Shapechangers: Chapter 2

The venue for the ball will be 'The Patrician's Club', the finest gentleman's club in the whole of the city, a multi level sprawling establishment that boasts restaurants, gaming rooms, gardens in addition to a fine and spacious ballroom. The tentative start of the ball is 9.00pm thou the majority of attendees do not normally arrive until 10.00pm.

Dirkwood and Ulrich feel they have no reason to stand on ritual and thus arrive early at around 8.45pm. The pair cluster around the entrance casually watching the hive of frenzied preparation swirl about them, Ulric pops the stopper on a wineskin from his six bag bundle of wineskins filled with ale and offers it to Dirkwood. KC arrives a few moments shy of 9.00pm wearing an emerald shimmering dryad inspired outfit complete with a mask, the demi-humans curtly acknowledge her appearance and then give each other a meaningful look.

As time passes more dwarves, gnomes, halflings and humans arrive and mingle around the entrance together with Dirkwood, Ulric & KC. Eventually the grand doors of the Patrician's Club are opened wide and the Mid Winter's Ball of Greyhawk formally begins. The horde of demi-humans enter the establishment and make a beeline towards the food and drink.

The festivities get into full swing as more and more attendees arrive, there are Dwarves from the settlements of Karakast, Dumadan and Greysmere (with some of the younger ones sporting a look not dissimilar to Urza Jaddo, that is shorn beards and high flung hair!) Ulric doesn't know what to make of it and neither it seems do the Dwarven Elders but it has an immediate reaction on all non-dwarves present and hushed whispers erupt around the ballroom.

There are Elves from Celene, Gnomes from the nearby settlement of Gottesegrottell(a Greyhawk Protectorate), halflings from Elmshire, Mages from the Guild of Wizardry (with Keemor being introduced as the new 'Head of Post Mortem Communications') and the Circle of Six (formerly the Circle of Eight) including such legendary figures as Mordenkainen, Bigsby, Drawmij, Otto and Nystul, Mercantile Houses from near and far, Nobles Houses of the City of Greyhawk, Clergy of numerous denominations and finally dignitaries and their consulate staff from a wide array of foreign lands.

The sunken eyed, haggard looking Baron Quentin Nibble-Pibbly arrives at the Patrician's Club and is heralded inside to little notice or fanfare. Downcast, the stooped knight plods across the ballroom to mingle as best as he is able with the other foreign consuls. To complete his evening Starfast Chaos-Destroyer, the newly appointed Ambassador of Geoff arrives to great cheers and raucous applause. The old warhorse is accompanied by a pair of beautiful women on each of his gleaming uniformed arms. Oh Joy. 8-)

A suitably cloaked and warded Caerendil Elandanior is helped into one of the carriages bearing the crest of the House of Ptreides by a team of crack footmen. Seated within his carriage he finds his fellow passengers to be the youngest son of the Count, eleven year old Viscount Bruhl, his older sister Katrin and her chaperone for the night the noble Lord Henway.

The procession of carriages begin their leisurely journey to the Patrician Club as Caerendil the Bard converses and entertains his fellow passengers. The scholarly Lord Henway inquires whether the Bard is still actively adventuring as he is always on the lookout for new monsters to add to his menagerie. He'll pay top money for worthwhile specimens. Katrin and Bruhl let on that their elder Brother Kerner (the Count's heir) is secretly seeing a girl in Greyhawk to much teenage giggling. The carriage soon arrives at it's destination and the Count's party are ushered inside and then formally introduced.

With the celebrations in full swing and with most of the invited having arrived, the floor of the ballroom is cleared to allow for the first of the night's dances to commence. Mordenkainen and his fellow mages gather to conduct some great magics to make the dance floor appear to float on the tops of clouds.

As masked couples begin to glide onto the floor, a young nobleman asks KC for her hand in a dance. Accepting, she is swept onto the ballroom floor and soon loses herself to dancing. The pair are well matched as they twirl and pivot around the floor in flawless precision (One day Morgy I'm gonna make you pay for forcing me to write this stuff!)

Meanwhile the sullen paladin stands alone and unloved. He watches as the laughing Ambassador of Geoff wheels around the ballroom asking partner after partner for a dance and meeting with no rejection. Baron Quentin takes another large gulp from his emptying wine glass just as a series of loud gasps from one segment of the gathered crowd draws his attention. The turning of heads cause others to pause and seek the cause of the commotion and very soon the majority within the ballroom are casting eyes towards the epicenter of the exclamations and onto...

Caerendil the Bard standing resplendent in his fantastically insane costume!

Defying quantum mechanics and various other universal constants ... Time itself comes to a standstill ... an appalling stillness falls within the ballroom punctuated in regularity by the gentle sound of a fainting female body (and the odd elven one).

The Bard, together with his ... beautiful partner ... glow and radiate out into the souls of all present (you remember that scene in Bablyon 5 when Kosh finally revealed himself?) Most people touched are warmed and heartened by the magnificent spectacle, a few, cruel souls are sickened to their very core. They wish to blot out the sight of the monstrosity with bile or gouge their eyes to eradicate all images of the blasphemy...

...the moment of immaculate perfection passes...

Great cheers and a general hubbub erupt inside the ballroom as a great mass of people surge to meet and touch the fabric of Caerendil and his magnificent costume. A few others, rush to the drinking tables to order stiff restoratives to calm and clear seared minds. As music and dancing resumes within the room, the great weight on the Paladin's spirit lifts and evaporates as his inherent font of goodness gushes forth once more...a grand Dama appears and asks the privilege of his company in a dance. The beaming, glowing paladin replies that he would be most delighted and taking his partner by the hand guides her serenely onto the marble floor.

The people at the Ball who have come for things other than dancing and socialising also congregate together in small knots to talk and negotiate. Ulric manages to gather several of the larger mercantile houses and Dwarven Elders together and manages to strike a deal in which if he and Urza are able to raise enough capital to buy a workshop / warehouse, equip it with the necessary tools, equipment and staff and then churn out a few of the "Warforged" prototypes that Urza says he can build then he and Urza will be very rich indeed (to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of gold pieces).

Moving through the crowd Dirkwood spots his olde mentor Nerof and pauses to converse. The pair witness the spectacle of the ball as they discuss Dirkwood's business and problems in the River Quarter in low, hushed tones. Keemor the Mage is also circulating amongst the crowds as part of the delegation from the Guild of Wizardry, eventually the trio of wizards arrive at the corner of the room hosting Mordenkainen and the Circle of Six. Tobin and Bubka offer muted greetings before moving on, but the Eladrin is starstruck at meeting his idol Bigsy in the flesh, he has trouble speaking as he is introduced to each of the legendary mages in turn and they in turn introduce themselves to him.

Recovering from this Keemor grabs a drink before spotting a large contingent of Drow elves nearby, relaxing and enjoying the ball's festivities (other party members also perk up at the mention of the word 'Drow' and the possibility of combat 8-)). Unsure of what to do, as nobody else seems to have noticed or seems to care about these fell creatures in their midst, the mage simply stands there open mouthed staring at the drow party for some time.

Eventually this subtle observation catches the attention of one immaculately dressed Drow Elf who leaves his fellows to walk over to the Eladrin and bow deeply in greeting. He introduces himself as Prince Melf Brightflame of Celene and the rest of his fellows as the 'Knights of Luna'. Keemor remains silent and simply stares between Melf and the other Drow elves unsure of how to respond. With a click of his fingers the glamour surrounding Melf and the other "Drow" melts away to reveal Eladrin and Wood Elves.

Eventually the name "Melf" registers within Keemor's keen mind as the creator of the Melf's Acid Arrow and Melf's Minute Meteors range of spells ... comprehension flares within the mage of just whom he's talking to ... and with it his ability to vocalise simple sentences.

As the ball continues into the early hours, more and more of our heroes head to the floor to dance and make merry (even the normally dour Ulric can be found here kicking his feet up in the traditional dwarven way). As the last strands of final song finish for the evening and people gather themselves and contemplate returning to their abodes, a shrill scream cuts through the festive atmosphere. The crowd parts to reveal a man stumbling into the ballroom. He wear the livery of the House of Count Ptreides splattered in blood. The man takes a few unsteady steps before falling heavily to the floor and there to stain the shiny marbling with his crimson blood.

The Count, his family and guards rush to the fallen man to learn of what has transpired. The fallen man's raises one arm and points towards the gardens and whispers '...they've taken the viscount' before falling unconscious. All present are shocked and a number of the party immediately head towards the gardens with the Count's men. Ulrich however, cannot hide his disappointment 8-)

A crowd soon forms in the garden around the scene of the assault and abduction, members of the City Watch form a cordon around it keeping the onlookers back. Nerof and Dirkwood arrive and are allowed through as are the Count and his entourage (including Carendil).

Preliminary investigations reveal 2 sets of tracks, one of a big man and one of normal size. Prodded by Nerof, Dirkwoord casts his keen eyes over the area looking for clues. The rest of the party arrive at the cordon and are negotiated through by the Bard. After a thorough search various clues and evidence are uncovered. There were 4 assailants, the big man, the normal size one and 2 fainter tracks, 1 possibly female the other possibly elven due to their faint markings. A scrap of purple silk, possibly from a scarf or shawl is found by the escarpment leading onto the road below. Party members cast their minds back to the ball and several do remember a man dressed in a shock of colours, possibly of an arcane bent that did sport a purple scarf in addition to other gaudy clothing.

Dirkwood receives instruction from Nerof concerning the importance of the Count and his country to the well being of the City of Greyhawk. Urnst was one of the few countries untouched by the recent Greyhawk wars and thus are fortunate in having a full treasury. The Mayor of Greyhawk would very much like this gold to be spent within this city and as such will provide all of the city's resources to aid in the recovery of the Ptreides's heir. As Dirkwood's compatriot Caerendil seems to be on such good terms with the Count, those resources includes the halfling and his friends also.

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