Friday, 10 June 2016

II.8: The Keeper of the Flame

Eyre 27, 997 YK

We have some DungeonWorld stakes questions for this session:

  • Will Esthana join the Templars?
  • Will Anaya convince the Church to reconsider their approach in Thaliost?

Then there is the overarching goal for the party to pursue: figure out how to track down the Cult of the Dragon Below.

From the rail of the ship, Esthana looked out over the calm waters of Scion’s Sound. To the west, the coastline had just come into sight from the deck here, though she had been able to see the white towers of Flamekeep for the last quarter hour.

It was certainly a refreshing change from Thaliost; that city was generally considered in Thrane’s army to be the worst place to be assigned in peacetime, even before the recent riots. Esthana and Anaya had had no difficulty in leaving the city, though: while the army was struggling to maintain order, House Deneith’s merceneries were keeping the docks and lightning rail station secure, and the mob’s anger was not directed against them. Once they had made it to the dock, the danger was behind them.

The ship’s navigator is a half-elf, can Esthana get a conversation going?

Parley(Esthana): 2D6(1 2) -1 = 2 Failure!
Use up their resources: Esthana is sea-sick

Blur the lines between magic and technology

No sail powered this vessel; amidships, where the mast might have been, there were wooden beams attached to a great arc of water, which circled above and below the vessel. This water churned as the water elemental, bound within it, drove the ship forwards regardless of the weather. Esthana had never been on such a vessel before, and the way that the vessel ploughed forward through the water made her queasy. But it had carried them the 120 miles to Flamekeep in just one day.

Parley(Vaalyun): 2D6(4 3) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Worse outcome

As a member of a dragonmarked house, Vaalyun tried to use his influence to get a cheaper fare on this ship operated by another house. Instead he just gets normal rate. Looking up Eberron transport prices, that is 5sp/mile, so 150 miles for 5 people costs  380gp.

The ship had not been taking general passengers, but Vaalyun’s status in House Phiarlan—and some hundreds of gold pieces—had secured passage. The other passengers were mostly high-status merchants and other representatives of the Houses who, like Vaalyun, were leaving behind the troubled city.

Vaalyun joined her at the rail. “Still feeling sick?”

“This ship moves unlike any I have ever been on.” Esthana had only been on a ship twice before.

“I have travelled often by House Lyrandar’s galleons. A quicker journey is a safer one, in my experience.”

“Aren’t you going to be in trouble in Flamekeep? The Commander will surely send a dispatch to the army in the city here, informing them of our jailbreak.”

“Provided Lady Anaya can persuade the Templars of your story, then the local authorities will let it drop. If not, then the next few days could be interesting for both of us. But if they do hold me, my House will likely arrange for my release.”

“Like you arranged mine?”

Spout Lore(Vaalyun): 2D6(3 4) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Less sure, worse outcome

“It’s unlikely,” said Vaalyun. “The Five Nations are weak after years of war; they cannot afford to anger the Twelve over minor local matters. House Phiarlan would likely be able to plead my release; though it would greatly harm my standing within the House.”

Esthana looked away from him, towards the white towers slowly growing on the horizon. “Flamekeep is a source of hope—so I hope it holds something better in store for us.”

Flamekeep sat on an island in a large bay. Even from outside the main wall, they could see the Cathedral, its central tower and flying buttresses sitting atop the tower at the centre of the island and visible out across the Sound to the east and the dense farmland of Thrane to the west. Like the Cathedral, the outer wall was made from alabaster stone, gleaming in the noon sunlight. To Esthana, who had never seen Flamekeep before, it was an inspiring sight.

Anaya insisted on going to the Cathedral immediately, so Ievos and Imra departed to the House Phiarlan enclave, while Anaya, Esthana and Vaalyun walked up into the city. They made a strange party: Anaya wearing her templar’s armour and tabard, Vaalyun in fine elven robes, and Esthana still wearing her army gambeson under a cloak.

They passed through one of the gates into the inner city. Here, the houses too were alabaster, built in long terraces running around the island. The city was a sharp contrast with Thaliost: there was more activity on the streets, and the people here did not avoid Anaya like passersby had in Thaliost. There were occasional patrols of city guards, but rarely more than three or four guards together and clearly moving through the crowds without hostility.

Cities in Eberron are sometimes tiered. I think that came about after Thrane became a theocracy, so let’s say the Cathedral tower is the only tier in the city.

As they walked up towards the centre of the city, the former royal palace sat on a hilltop to their right. But it was the tower ahead that dominated the city. Originally, the Cathedral had just been a church built at the high point of the island; but in the hundreds of years since, a vast tower had been constructed around the site. The tower was not as tall as the Tower of Judgement, but it was far larger—a quarter of a mile across, white stone walls rising hundreds of feet above the streets below, meaning that the Cathedral atop the tower could be seen for many miles in every direction. The Church wanted its light to be visible far and wide.

They came to one of the tower gates. Anaya took the lead, and they were quickly admitted. After passing through the outer wall, the passage opened out into the interior of the tower, which was almost as impressive as the outside: a vast chamber of white stone, the roof hundreds of feet above them containing large openings to let in natural light. At its centre stood a thick central stone column; and through windows in the stone could be seen the flickering divine fire of the eternal Flame, running up to the Cathedral above.

As they walked across the vast hall, Anaya said “The Tower is given over entirely to the Church and the administration of Thrane. The Templars have their offices on the north side.” Indeed, Esthana saw that more than half of the people that they passed were wearing tabards bearing the symbol of the Flame, though most were worn over civilian clothes.

They arrived at the north side of the tower, where a large silver arrowhead symbol high on the wall marked the gateway to the home of the Templars.

“I am glad to see you returned, Anaya. I was pleased by reports of your work in Aundair.” Commander Raptis was a stern woman in her fifties, and spoke with a tone of grave authority.

Her uniform, chainmail and Templar tabard, mirrored Anaya’s, and only a white sash embroidered with silver thread marked her rank as a Templar Commander. Her desk had a pile of scrolls, sealed with red wax impressed with the arrowhead of Templars, on one side. Behind the Commander was a bookcase, with windows looking out over the city to either side.

Spout Lore(Anaya): 2D6(1 1) +1 = 3 Partial success.
Reveal an unwelcome truth

“So I was disturbed to receive this report this morning from one of the army staff.” She picked up an opened scroll from the side of her desk. “Commander Stamos is apparently furious over an incident in Thaliost two days ago. Is this the woman in question?” she said, turning to Esthana. Esthana was concious under the gaze, aware that she was hardly in the best condition: she was still recovering from her wounds, and from her sickness on the ship.

“Yes, it is,” said Anaya. Esthana thought she detected a little disappointment in the cleric’s voice; it could not bode well that Stamos’ version of events had travelled here ahead of them.

“So you did have a hand in her escape?”

Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(1 5) +2 = 8 Partial success.
What here is useful to me?

Well, you didn’t kill anyone, or expose the garrison to danger; and you brought the prisoner straight to the Templars rather than releasing her. As always with Discern Realities, Anaya gets +1 forward acting on the answer.

“Yes, Commander. Of course, there was no harm to the garrison, and I have brought her directly here.”

“That is true. I hope it was with good reason.” Rentis’ questioning was civil and direct, but there was no mistaking where the power lay here: if she did not like the answers given, Anaya or Esthana, or both, were not going to like how the conversation ended.

“Esthana wishes to join the Templars. She was nearly killed fighting a vampire in Thaliost; while she was unconcious, she received a vision from the Flame.”

“Killing a vampire is no small thing. You had experience in the Last War?” she asked Esthana.

“I served for Cyre for ten years,” Esthana answered.

“We mourn with you.” Rentis kept her eyes fixed on Esthana. “And now you have had a vision of the Flame? I could go out into the streets here, or up to the Cathedral, and half the pilgrims I spoke to would say that they saw the Flame in their dreams and it brought them here.”

Aid(Anaya): 2D6(4 1) +1+1 = 7 Partial success.
Put yourself in danger

That is +1 for bonds, +1 from her Discern Realities.

Defy Danger(CHA)(Aided)(Esthana): 2D6(4 6) -1+1 = 10 Success!

That was a tough roll to make. I was expecting this to be a tough argument, but Esthana got a good roll there.

“Tira Miron spoke to me. I was called to serve the Flame, to pursue the cults of Khyber.” Esthana did not flinch under the Commander’s gaze.

“And I saw a vision the same night,” said Anaya. “The Flame showed me an image of Khyber stirring. I have no doubt that Esthana was called.”

“Then tell me what you both saw.” The air of authority was gone from the Commander’s tone; she was now intrigued by their story.

And so the tale was told, again. Rentis gave only passing interest to Anaya’s brief account of her vision, but she wanted every detail of Esthana’s brush with death.

When Esthana finished, Rentis spoke again. “What you experienced is very rare. In the history of our order, only a few dozen Templars have been given so clear a purpose by the Flame. Most, like Anaya and myself, are touched by the Flame, but we serve merely to spread the Flame’s Light.” She sighed, then looked at Esthana. “But you are truly called by the Flame.

“As for you, Anaya, I find you actions supported in the circumstances. But let there be no more such incidents. Templars are granted broad discretion in how they bring the Light to the world, but be careful how you use it. We are fortunate to have the cooperation of the army in Thrane; openly defying senior army commanders jeopardises that cooperation for all Templars.”

“Of course, Commander.” Anaya bowed her head.

She turned back to Esthana. “I will speak to the registrar immediately; you will be admitted to the Templars tomorrow morning. In light of your military experience and existing history of service for Thrane, we will waive the normal months of training by our sergeant-at-arms. And, respecting the Flame’s choice, I assign Anaya to assist you on your quest.”

Defy Danger(CHA)(Anaya): 2D6(1 6) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Worse outcome

Let’s just resolve this off-screen, as I think there’s enough talking already this episode. Anaya tries to convince the (Templar) Commander of Thrane to intervene in Thaliost, and he merely agrees to raise it with the Council. No harm done but probably no benefit either. It was important to Anaya to try.

Make Camp(party): Heal

The nave of the Cathedral of the Silver Flame was lined with pillars, stretching upwards to the vaulted ceiling above. The style was asthetic, with undecorated alabaster stone throughout, and high windows giving it a bright and airy appearance. The same windows let in fresh sea air, and silken banners in white and silver and blue hanging from above waved gently in the breeze from outside. And at the centre, surrounded by a low stone wall, the Eternal Flame emerged from below and rose thirty feet into the air under the great dome, its blue and silver light vying with the sunlight from above.

As Esthana walked up the nave, her eyes were on the Flame, and it seemed to draw her forwards for what was about to happen. Esthana was dressed in steel plate mail, polished to a fine shine, with a longbow and a quiver of Flametouched arrows on her back: the garb of a Templar. Pilgrims praying in the aisles turned to stare as she passed.

She walked around the Flame. Beyond it was a shorter nave, and a smaller crowd of Church officials was gathered before the throne. Esthana saw Anaya and Vaalyun amongst them, and Commander Rentis. Anaya smiled encouragingly as Esthana came into sight.

Sat upon a dais of white marble, the throne itself was a polished steel chair with the back shaped like a candle flame. At the foot of the dais stood two Templar knights, in proud uniform. Upon the throne, looking small against the tall throne and towering stone pillars behind her, sat a girl with auburn hair, wearing a white dress richly embroidered with a pattern of blue and silver flames. She looked around ten years old.

Esthana stopped before the throne and dropped to one knee, looking down at the foot of the dais.

“Keeper,” said Commander Rentis. “I bring before you one who is Purified. Esthana Ilitumal, do you leave your former life behind you, and submit to the service of the Flame?”

“I do.” Esthana could have said did; she had been spared only to serve.

There was an expectant pause. No-one spoke, but she heard the guard Templars shift stance; as a warrior herself, she sensed their sudden readiness. She had not been nervous before, but now something was wrong. But she kept her gaze downwards, as she had been instructed.

Discern Realities(Esthana): 2D6(1 2) +1 = 4 Failure!
Introduce a new faction or type of creature

There’s a front in Flamekeep that opposes their mission. Perhaps envy by other Church officials of Esthana’s apparent divine mission will hinder her progress here? I’ll figure it out later.

Then the girl stepped before her. Surprised, Esthana looked up, and met her gaze. Jaela Daran, Keeper of the Flame, had left her throne and descended the dais, and was now looking at Esthana calmly. Behind, one Templar knight stepped closer, a hand on his sword.

“You have been through much to get here,” said the Keeper.

“Yes.” Esthana had no idea how one was meant to address the Keeper; she had been told the rote answers to give, but the Keeper was not following the script.

“Where is your sword?”

Esthana was confused, but reached for her weapon. The armoury had given her a new bow, and offered her a longsword, but Anaya had recovered Esthana’s shortsword from the crypt, so she had chosen to keep that instead. Is the Keeper chastising me for keeping it? As she put a hand to her sword, the Templar guard behind the Keeper stepped closer, sword now half drawn.

Oh wait, this is even better. Past Conflict, Present Intrigue. Anaya has been through this ceremony, a few years ago; she knows something strange is going on.

Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(4 3) +2 = 9 Partial success.
What is about to happen?

I was not sure which question to have Anaya choose from the list for Discern Realities, so I rolled for it: 1 for “What is about to happen? / What should I be on the lookout for?”, 2 for “Who’s really in control here? / What here is not what it appears to be?”. I got a 1.

Answer: the Keeper is about to be killed; while everyone’s watching Esthana in case she is about to attack, someone else it about to seize the moment. If Anaya had asked the other question, she would know who...

“Look out!” shouted Anaya.

Anaya has +1 forward acting on that information, but Esthana is the one in place to do something here. Anaya’s warning had better help her.

Aid(Anaya): 2D6(4 3) +1+1 = 9 Partial success.
Expose yourself to danger, retribution, or cost
Defy Danger(DEX)(Aided)(Esthana): 2D6(1 6) +2+1 = 10 Success!

Esthana succeeds, so she gets to intercept here. Who is the attacker? Let’s roll for it: 1 for the Templar guard, 2 for an assassin at the windows, 3 for someone in the crowd with a magical gizmo. I get a 1.

Note that Esthana has the Armoured trait, so she can wear that plate mail without incurring the Clumsy penalty. Esthana is unusual in being a fighter with decent Dex, but it comes in handy here.

Esthana drew her sword, pushing herself up and past Jaela. The Templar’s sword was drawn now, and swinging towards the Keeper. The clash of blades rang out like a clear chime in the vaulted chamber, and for a moment all was still, the Templar’s stroke halted only two feet from the girl’s head by Esthana’s blade. From under his helmet, the would-be assassin angrily met Esthana’s gaze.

Defy Danger(DEX)(Esthana): 2D6(6 4) +2 = 12 Success!
Dragonmark(Vaalyun): 2D6(6 2) +2 = 10 Success!

The party are really hitting those important rolls right now. Esthana is disarming the assassin. And Vaalyun is thinking politically, as he always does: the Templars don’t want an assassination attempt to be public.

Then everyone was in motion. The assassin reversed his stroke, cutting at Esthana’s exposed head, but she kept her blade against his, ducking the blow and pushing his blade down. Commander Rentis and the other Templar guard rushed in from either side, swords drawn. The assassin had no space to run, and had to release his blade.

A veil of shadow had appeared between them and the Eternal Flame, screening them from the rest of the Cathedral. Another Templar, a man in his sixties wearing a Commanders’ sash, stepped up to Vaalyun and pointed a sword at his throat.

“What is the meaning of this?” the older Templar asked.

“Easy, Cardinal,” said Vaalyun, in a hushed voice. “I assume the Church would rather not let those pilgrims see a Templar in uniform being arrested for attacking the Keeper? I will drop the shadow in a moment, once you have him out of sight.” After a moment, the Cardinal nodded stiffly.

“Take off your helmet,” said Rentis to the assassin. He removed it; underneath he looked like a human man in his fourties, with brown hair and a beard; he met Rentis’ stare defiantly. Rentis said, quietly, “It is a changeling. I know Fedor; it is a good likeness, but this is not him. I will take it to the prison immediately.”

Rentis left with the assassin, now prisoner, and two other Templars as escort. As they departed, Vaalyun dispersed the veil of shadow between them and the Flame, revealing a number of gawking pilgrims come to see what was going on. The Cardinal turned in their direction and said loudly, “Return to your prayers. The initiation of a Templar is a ceremony for Church officials only.”

Esthana turned back to the Keeper. The girl seemed unruffled by the assassination attempt, and was still watching Esthana closely.

“Perhaps this one should join your personal guard, Keeper,” said the Cardinal.

“No, the Flame wants her for something else,” said Jaela. “May I see your sword?”

We established that the Flame told the Keeper that it had made Esthana its servant. In the setting, the Flame only directly talks to and through the Keeper, which is why she is head of the Church. But it understands people poorly, so it didn’t identify Esthana the way a person would, by description; I imagined that it identified Esthana in some other way.

Esthana has the Signature Weapon and Weapon of the Exorcist moves, and I’m establishing those fully in the fiction now.

Esthana knelt once more before the Keeper, meeting her gaze. She had not had an occasion to draw her sword since Anaya returned it to her. As she held it before her, she noticed that the blade seemed different. There was no mistaking that it was her own weapon: Flametouched short swords were rare, and one with the crown and bell sigil of Cyre embossed on the pommel might now be unique in Khorvaire. But Esthana had used this weapon for years, yet the blade showed no signs of age—seemed better than new, flawlessly forged, its smooth surface reflecting the light of the Flame flickering in the centre of the Cathedral.

She put the blade into the Keeper’s hands. Jaela held the blade for a moment, then said, “Yes, I thought so. Take your sword, our servant Esthana.”

As Esthana took the hilt, the light on the blade—which had seemed just reflected from the Eternal Flame—flared into life, and the blade was suddently wreathed in silver flame. Several of the onlookers gasped, but Jaela did not flinch; she released her grip on the blade, her hands unburned.

“Remember, Templar, that the Flame burns only that which it cannot cleanse.”

End of Session(party): Esthana met her alignment goal, +1 XP

Time to update Esthana and Anaya’s bonds.

Anaya’s bonds:
Lady Esthana is a fellow Templar of the Flame.
Lady Esthana works for the Flame against a great evil; I aid her holy purpose.
Though not Purified, Vaalyun is a resourceful ally.

Esthana’s bonds:
Lady Anaya is a fellow Templar of the Flame.
Vaalyun rescued me when I was unjustly imprisoned.

Esthana’s bond with Anaya is resolved and replaced by a stronger one—their relationship is now differently defined—so she gains 1 XP. Although Anaya gained a new bond to Esthana, and so I reworded her existing bond to be more distinct, that is not really a change of the existing bond so no XP for that.

Anaya: 0 failures; at 2XP.
Esthana: 2 failures, alignment goal, one bond resolved; now at 9XP.
Vaalyun: 0 failures; at 8XP.

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