How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth...

Preludes: An Unkindness in Wisdom

Who: Faida Parant 

What: A Flashback

Where: Glass House, a monastery on the Sword Coast

When: 1487 DR , late Autumn, morning

There are four dozen salmon-colored columns rising to support the high vaulted ceiling of Glass House and you find deep reassurance in the presence of each and every one. White sigils are scored into every surface and at some point in the past you have traced them each with probing fingertips committing various shapes of power to somatic memory. Students of the arcane, the divine, and the ways – neophytes all – gather about the columns in clusters comparing notes, thoughts, rumors, suppositions, and baseless theories about the nature and purpose for this great house and her scored columns. On this particular morning, you find yourself facing the Scintillating Column tracing sigils of radiance alongside a cluster of meditating monks hardly old enough to be out of swaddling clothes.

You close your eyes, smile, and sense the warm thready pulse of arcane power that flows through the towering column.

“Fills one with awe, doesn't it? It’s as though the thing were alive.”

The whisper in your ear and the blade at your throat are followed by the pressure of a fist in the small of your back and the press of your abdomen against the Scintillating Column.

"And while we're on the subject: you're dead."

[Your center of gravity is compromised, your footing is unsure, and your positioning is awkward. What do you do? Out of Character stuff like questions, die rolls, and chit-chat go in brackets.]

The touch and sudden shift catch me off guard. I bite back the yelp that attempts to slip from my lips, aware of those that surround us. I glare over my shoulder to take stock of the situation, adjusting as much as possible before I try to retaliate, spinning around to knock them backward and away from me.

[Do I roll for an attack?]

[Not just yet…let’s start with a PERCEPTION roll followed by an ATHLETICS roll and finally an INVESTIGATION roll.]

[Perception: 15, Athletics: 7, Investigation: 13]

The knife at your throat traces a thin red line as you turn your head to glare. Over your shoulder, wide-eyed child monks swiftly leap up from their meditations and back away, stumbling over themselves as they scramble behind the nearest columns. One monk child remains behind and leaps toward your assailant with a flying scissor-kick, a shrill KEE-YAAH, and then gives you a look of apologetic terror as the child fails to move your assailant an inch. In this brief moment of distraction, you kick up with your heel and try to push off the Scintillating Column with your hand but your awkward positioning renders the gesture feeble and ineffective.

“And this, dearest, is why you are dead.”

Your assailant removes the knife from your throat, the fist from your back, and you sense him take a step away from you, allowing you turn – collecting your balance and adrenaline - and spin to see Velkyn’s disapproving drow features and wickedly curved daggers.

"If you continue to insist I teach you to use these…"

He tosses one to you.

"…then you are going to have to listen when I speak, dearest. I need you to understand that danger is to be found everywhere – even in a room full of children."

He tosses the second dagger to you.

"Trust no one – even in a room full of children."

Velkyn rubs the bald head of the monk child. The child, unsure of the gesture, swats his hand away and goes to join his companions.

[What do you do?] 

I weigh the daggers in my hand for a moment, casting a look to the children.

"Here, Vel? Of all places?"

I know his logic is sound, but the chance to jab at him cannot be passed up. I lean back against the column and take a breath, watching him carefully for another trick. My throat stings and I think of the looks it will earn me later.

"Strange thing to do, handing a corpse some daggers," I jibe instead. "What is a dead body meant to do with these, hmm?"

And then I lunge forward with both daggers.

 

[Nice! Now give me 6 ATTACK ROLLS, a DEXTERITY SAVING THROW, an ATHLETICS check, and an INVESTIGATION check. This scene’s about to kick into high gear!]

[ATK: 21: 6 DAM, 22: 5 DAM, 15: 6 DAM, 14: 3 DAM, 18: 6 DAM. DEX: 6. ATH: 11. INV: 3.]

[Whoops! It is! This is what happens when I fail my reading check…]

Cut, stab, parry, thrust.

Cut, stab, parry, thrust.

Cut, stab, parry, thrust.

The movements are automatic at this point, a system of precise somatic movements that no longer require thought to perform them. Kata is the name the sword coast monks give this structure of knife-play. For this kata, Velkyn leads you through nearly twelve perfect recitations before he cheats. You should have seen it coming; he always cheats – especially when he is trying to drive home a point hidden somewhere in his lessons. Midway through his twelfth pattern of block, block, punch, dodge a magical darkness envelopes you both. Your celestial eyes take the briefest of moments to adjust and it is in this moment that the hot flare of sizzling electric multi-colored lights flash blindingly and you bite off a scream while scrunching your eyes. Reaching out with your ears, you hear nothing but you sense a faint brushing of air across your left arm. Cut. Your blade slices across flesh but Velkyn does not cry out. Another faint brushing of air across your neck. Stab. The twin blades rip through fabric and the hooks on the edge of the blades catch. 

[I'll finish this entry on Monday]

[Okay, so it's Monday…just not the one I'd anticipated…]

You pull your blades, swiftly, in time to intercept the four-fingered thrust intended for your throat with the hilt of your dagger. Sensing that he has committed his weight in full, you lean back, spin around his body while maintaining contact, then thrust your elbow deep into his kidney. Velkyn drops like a felled ox and so too does the magical darkness.

"Lolth's tits, how I hate that part…" He groans from the ground. A cheer erupts from around you as you notice the wide circle of young monks and apprentices that had gathered during your brief training exercise. Velkyn joins in, weakly, and gives you a pained grin. "Not bad, dearest. Not bad at all. Though next time, I think I'll be needing a blade of my own."

You take the briefest of moments to exult in this rarest of victories all the while watching Velkyn for sign of further tricks…none seem to come.

A singular detail from the fight tickles at your mind, however, and you scan the memory, quickly, movement for movement, until it hits you like one of Velkyn's clever ruses: 

I shouldn't have been able to see through his darkness…

The cheerful clapping and hooting and hollering ceases altogether and you look to the children to see them standing erect, faces calm, passive…bored, even. You spin a slow circle to see each child return your gaze with an empty one of their own. A quick glance at Velkyn reveals the same gaze, devoid of interest. When he opens his mouth to speak, a gagging sound emerges and he quietly retches, repeatedly, until a small beak emerges followed by the head of a black-plumed bird. Velkyn continues to lay on the ground where he fell, his disinterested eyes never leaving yours.

"A devil in every house."

The bird squawks the words from Velkyn's mouth in a raucous voice that surrounds you, emerging from a hundred places at once. You look past him to the acolytes and see that several of them, too, have birds pressing out of their tiny mouths. A dozen more each have a black-plumed bird, pecking out through eye sockets, eyeballs pushed out and dangling by fleshy ropes, rolling about their chins as the birds squawk their carefully enunciated phrase.

"A devil in every house."

Another dozen children bleed from their ears while squawking beaks thrust out. A few child sorcerers lift their robes to reveal beaks pecking through navels while the brave young monk who interceded on your behalf pulls down his clothes, bends over, and reveals yet another bird squawking from his sphincter.

"A devil in every house."

Children emerge from behind columns while more still begin to pour down from the skylight, crawling down pillars and across the ceiling, each child with a single malignant protuberance squawking the same five words in the black speech of Hell. The young bodies crowd in, hundreds, a thousand, two thousand deep until they press into you on all sides. You can feel the tiny beaks opening and closing against your body as they repeat their phrase. Velkyn never rose from the floor and must still be under the swarm of maimed acolytes, monks, and arcane-touched children…

"A DEVIL IN EVERY HOUSE."

Then a silence falls over the room; as profound as when the leviathan swallowed Jonas.

You are left with this silence and the tired gaze of a many-thousand pair of disinterested eyes.

[Claustrophobic. Difficulty breathing. Near deafened. Velkyn is nowhere to be found. Every inch of floor, wall, and ceiling is packed with children. They hang from pillars like bored monkeys. What do you do?] 

It's all too much, too close, too like the last time darkness swallowed me. In vain, I call for Velkyn, search for him under the mass of children, and come up empty. I cry out in the tongue of the gods "My Lady lead me and look after me!" The words are forced, my heart leaps to my throat and I feel as though I will choke—a thought occurs to me, and I start to check my own ears, eyes, and throat for beaks as black as night. I cry out the same words again and again, closing my eyes and begging for deliverance.

[Do I need to roll a Wisdom save for this? Or Con?]

 

[Both plus persuasion]

 

[WIS: 16, Con: 13, Persuasion: 17]

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