Messages II


I actually wrote this post before I wrote part I. The scene at Lancet House suggested itself, and it seemed a shame to not write it down.

The old man (no name yet) is James’ maternal grandfather. His paternal grandfather is deceased. The marriage between Ducalis and Frances is a fairly typical one: his name, her money. Both the Mallards and the Lancets get a fair bit of advantage. The Lancets get access to some of the more usually inaccessible halls of government; and the Mallards get – well – nobody really respects a coat of arms not backed by at least a little money. The more money, the better.

This is what the scene where grandfather pledges his aid to Ducalis’ faction is about: grandfather understands the nature of the deal that he has made with the Mallards. And in any case, his sympathies rather align with theirs. They are all good people, because this is a happy and positive campaign. As to what the big picture is, the war: heck, I don’t know. All I know is something big is going down and our characters will be in the center of it all. 🙂

I see Frances as being quite a bit younger than Ducalis – ten years or so. Again, quite usual for this sort of arrangement. Nevertheless they are – maybe ‘devoted’ is a little strong, but certainly very happy. I had intended for Frances to be a bit more quiet and shrewd, sort of counterbalancing Andy’s idea of what Ducalis is like. Maybe she is, usually. We saw her in an unusual state last post.

A lancet is a medical tool for drawing blood – if you’ve ever had a finger prick to get a blood sample, that’s what the tool that does it is called. The name sounded suitably posh and very appropriate for a family of moneylenders.

The three golden balls I believe originally came from the arms of House Medici. In the real world, it signifies a pawnbrokers.

James wrote for hours. He attended a banquet held in honour of the merry heroes of Griffinsheart, then he returned to his room and resumed writing. It had been only a few months, but he wrote it all. When he ran out of ink and parchment, he called a palace flunky and got some more. His transfer to Griffinsheart. Salty Bob, the Devil of the Sea. Smedley’s taxes and probable land scams. Mal Sheildglider’s ancient mace, that glows underground. Edmund the Marked, the necromancer Aeg Ilsa, the white dragon. The detonation of the Griffinsheart estate, and the uncovering of the ruins beneath it, and their settlement by the dwarves.

He wrote about their strange journey through the Wildwood, which had seemed like days but was probably weeks. The underground cavern in the woods, the phoenix. The grandmother’s cabin. He described Aeg’s gift at his camp in the woods, and his strange words: “The Archmage will be most … displeased”. The re-igniting of the Ebony Watch node and the sad fate of its captain, along with the problematic news that at least one node had been in the process of being claimed by a hostile magic user. He write about the stirring of the Eld, the baby giant, the closing of the southern hellmouth and the strange bleeding stone. (Did we see a Behemoth? He’ll put that down as well.)

He described their return to Chancer’s hope, and the orcish and giantish assault. His re-ignition of the dwarf node, the fight between Aeg and Edmund. Then the second attack, and his inadvertent turning of the node and the political fallout of that, including his own suspension from duty.

He wrote about the complete criminality of Newport, the obliviousness of the duke, the monk festival, the cage of people held to be food of the Chuul, strange portal to the plane of Darakuul – who waited for the end. The plane of ash, remnant of one of The Crusader’s wars. Finally, he described yesterday’s events: the great chuul and the portal.

He concluded:

In the end, I am not really sure what to make of all this. I see I have rambled more than I intended, but it’s probably best to tell you all I could.

Most of all, I am worried that matters between the empire and the dwarves may be turning sour. The empire cannot afford to lose an ally when giants and orcs are attacking cities, nor can we afford to acquire an enemy that can tunnel under our feet from one end of the continent to the other.

We continue west overland, as the ports are blockaded (I have no idea by whom, or why, or even how for that matter). From Santa Cora we should make quicker time. I will be able to head home, and Mal and the rest of my companions will head north to Forge, to whatever awaits them there.

The thick sheaf of parchment was dispatched by skymail next day – the skies over Newport not being blockaded quite yet.

I think we’ll have to agree that Ducalis’ appearance at Newport was some kind of quasi-real sending, or else it makes no sense why he would have left James there.

The duke held a grand ceremony for their departure, throwing open his vault of useful magics. James chose nothing, feeling it would be inappropriate. However, he did refresh his usual complement of three healing potions in case they should run into Edmund again.

Then the party hit the road to Santa Cora with provisions, horses, even a carriage. They made a formidable party and for the first part of their trip, at least, were unmolested. A week into their journey they came to an unnamed roadhouse – an imperial outpost along the trail. There was a package waiting for James.

From his father, two books and a letter. One book was the standard third-circle text with a few useful additions; and the other was a short history of Sir Draper’s disastrous Bitterwood campaign, with commentary. The letter mentioned that aside from anything else, it was clear that James’s studies had progressed to the point where it was safe for him to begin working with these new magics. His father also wrote that Mal Shieldglider’s safety was of great concern, as he held a hereditary position of considerable importance, and that above all James should make every effort to come home to the family estate as quickly as he may.

From his mother, another letter and a small pouch. The pouch’s long drawstring bore a small seal with the Lancet family mark of three golden balls and had a heavy scoreline across the center.

The letter read:

James,

Your father is more worried than he will admit about your letter. We are both greatly concerned about your safety on the road; but the political situation and the state of the empire is more dire than you or your companions know. Your father tells me little of his work, of course, but it is plain that magic is roiling from one end of the empire to the other and beyond. As dearly as we wish you to be here at home, in many ways a road out in the middle of nowhere might be the safest place for you at present, especially considering your current company.

One thing, however, I must deal with. A Lancet does not borrow money – we lend it, and a Lancet most certainly does not haggle with regional nobility for travel expenses! I have had a chat with your grandfather, and he has agreed that one of us should not wander about the wilds on some nag, starving, in rags, and incommunicado. And so I have sent you this pouch. It is a small one, but more easily concealed for that and more than large enough for the purpose. It will manage a few coins, small letters. As you are on the road, grandfather might ask you to act as something of an agent for the family concerns. Discrete, of course. There are not many that will connect you with the Lancet name, and that’s all to the good.

Do be responsible with it dear. Avoid using it regularly or at predictable intervals. Hide it well, and be sure to snap the seal should it look like it might be taken. As to how to operate it, I must leave that as a puzzle for you.

Though you travel as far as Julian, stay safe. Return to us as soon as you may.

Love,

“Dire”. Like the rest of her family, James’ mother was inclined to be shrewd and cautious. It wasn’t a word that she would use lightly. But there was nothing for it for now but to continue on to Santa Cora.

Which first? The books or the pouch? Well, the books would take hours just to get started with them. He was going to be spending the next few weeks on the road reading and practising, drawing circles, cajoling sprites, and doing new tongue-twisters. So: the pouch.

Examining it with his magical senses, he could clearly see how the interior was not quite present in this reality, or not entirely, and how the seal was some sort of keystone for the whole. It was activated by some sort of very elaborate ritual, probably, but there was no clue as to what it might be.

So he scanned the letter for clues. And it was obvious: Julian Lancet – his ancestor on the distaff side. Not nearly so ancient as Baron Geofrrey, but still a fair way back. It’s said he went out onto the endless sea to find spices, and then within 8 years parlayed the profits into a fleet and a counting house.

And then he recalled the childhood guessing-game. His mother played it with his brothers, and with him in his turn. You had to say a rhyme and them guess what was in a treasure-box. The game was mainly about getting the rhyme exactly right: it’s rhythm and patterns of emphasis, the secret knock on the box. On getting it exactly, exactly right, his mother would open the box, revealing a sweet, or a toy.

James looked about to confirm that he was in private, and recited the child’s rhyme:

“Julian Lancet sailed on the ocean
Julian Lancet crossed the sea
Julian Lancet rapped on the lock
And lifted the lid to see:

“Ten silver pieces!”, finished James. After a moment the pouch … did something, and inside were ten silver pieces. James left them there. The pouch’s magic was depleted, of course. He put the long drawstring over his head and patted the pouch into place under his shirt. He then broke out his new textbooks and started reading.

That evening, at about the end of first watch, the pouch – well – “ping!”ed in James’ mind. James lit his magelight and wandered off away from camp for a private moment. In the pouch, the ten silver coins had been replaced by several coins of various denomination – even a couple of platinum – and an unsigned note in a neat masculine hand on onionskin paper. It read:

Well done James. You needn’t be quite so cautious in future when drawing minor expenses against the vault. Significant drafts are another matter. It’s best to clear the pouch after use. Now that you are bonded you can send items to other pouches by nominating the recipient, but for now you should communicate only with me or your mother and not mention your bond with the item to the rest of the family. Or indeed, to anyone.

Stay in touch, but do not over-use the item. Inform me when reaching Santa Cora.

Without needing to be told, James burned both letters with a Spark.

As for James’ hopefully cheesy new item, subject to DM approval of course, I’m thinking that the Lancets have several of these connected portals. Thing is, the way they actually work is that sprites carry whatever it is via the Low Way. This means that if you use them too much or too regularly, especially if you are using them to convey valuables, then something will eventually notice and you will find that the transport becomes a little unreliable. Your sprites will get eaten and your stuff stolen, basically. It’s better to send a cheque than coin, but not a lot of inns take cheques.

As for in-game effect, as well as being a handy plot hook and general Deus Ex Sacculum, I’ll ask for an in-game effect of the pouch giving in effect two background points in “Being from a banking family”. It’s the equivalent of a feat. Haggling, appraisal, that sort of thing but large-scale. Tarry might be better at telling you how much, say, a silver cup might be worth (ie: can be fenced for); but with the pouch around his neck James is the person to ask how much a ship might be worth, or a business. And either of them can probably make a decent stab at the gp equivalent of a gem. And of course, he can always ask granddad. Up to a point. Not that we’ll be actually working out the money in detail, because that’s dull. We’ll hand-wave it.

Quirk might be “keeps careful track of money”. James won’t tip out his money and count it obsessively. Well, at least not every day. But he will start tracking purchases and expenses.

I have no idea what work granddad might want James to do in Santa Cora, or elsewhere. If any.

Dammit, I nearly forgot – thanks to John for his notes on dropbox. I had forgotten some cool stuff.
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