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[IC] Monster Squad (homebrew)

Serket

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It's a fine Spring morning in Starspire and the tide is coming in, bringing with it a host of merchant ships. The “city at the centre of the world” (as some of the more pretentious historians refer to it), is enjoying clear skies and glorious sunshine, the predominantly human population finding reasons to be out and about, the weather still a novelty after a long drab winter.

Viewed from above, the city is a patchwork: the silver streak of the river running through the long green rectangle of mansions and parks these days called Queensgate, the tiled roofs of the lesser townhouses in the east ward a distinct terracotta, the temple district with gleaming golden domes and spires, the slums in the west a murky beige, the plethora of multicoloured pavilions of the Great Market. Those who know the city well could pick out more details - the shipyards a dark brown smudge in the east, the blue-grey stone of the Palace and Keep in amongst the temples, the incongruous sandstone of the Garrison nestled against the outer wall, the sudden glints of light from telescopes on the Explorer's Guild Observatory, in the western docks, the fish market, the small garden and purple stone of the Elven Embassy in a row of prestigious head offices...

… and here, in the eastern docks, the Brick Lane market. Not the biggest, not the most prestigious, but just inside the East Gate, at the confluence of the docks with the Great Eastern Road, certainly a lively place. Its northern boundary is clearly defined by a row of shops and cafes, but to the south market and dockside merge into each other, with some of the smaller ships even acting as stalls in their own right. The mood is a cheerful busyness, the overall impression one of chaos and colour. Here's a cluster of food stalls with notes explaining what is not palatable to what species, here's a seller of pets whose three-headed puppy belches flame and looks confused, here a bear dances while its attendant human plays a bagpipe, here a dwarf and a gnome sell clockwork toys and sturdy ironware, colourful silks can be bought from that ship, and slightly off to the side large cages housing exotic animals are being unloaded but have nowhere to go, as a watch officer tries to clear some of the smaller handcart stalls out of the road. Starspire is notionally human, but in practice cosmopolitan: half-orcs, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits are so common in the crowd as to be unremarkable. Meanwhile an elf tells tales to a small crowd, words backed up by illusions, an orc runs a popular sausage stand, a lithe dragonborn dancer has a box for a stage, a confused dryad negotiates with a patient elf for herbs a centaur helps a ships's crew unload (and is paid in cheap grog), and there are rumours that the Beholder and Bucket has an actual beholder... though of course, nobody claims to have seen it themselves.

Frances: you have 2d10 bits, and rent is due next week. You probably need a job, or a new lifestyle.
Thorn: You have d6 of these strange metal circles, and the nice elf doesn't seem to think that's enough for some reason.
Strange and as-yet-unnamed goat-horse-guy: you have five and a half bottles of grog, your basic weapons and armour, a weird amulet, d8 bits, and a bit of a strange feeling in your legs from being back on land.

What would you all like to do?
 

Liturgy

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"...not meaning to insult, just trying to be helpful. The arnica comes from a ways away, but mandrake, there's places in the forest not too far from here where that grows." The elf shrugged. "Most of my customers, I wouldn't trust to go out and harvest their own, but I, uh, would be surprised to hear that you'd have much trouble. In a forest."

Leaves whispered against each other as the dryad nodded. "Yes, sure." Their words coalesced out of the sound of the leaves. "But I'd like the screamers dried. They're more full of resentment than when they're fresh."

"Full of - sure." The elf shut her eyes briefly. "Okay. Anything else?"

"Do you have anything with power over the dead?"

"Power over - actually, yes. Hawthorn and rowan can have necromantic properties if you prepare them right - it's not the main virtue, but it's there."

"Neither of those. Something stronger."

"Stronger power over the dead... uh. Maybe." The elf turned, cast an eye over the array of jars on the shelf behind her, knelt to open a heavy case. "Have you heard of myrrh?"

"No."

The herbalist stood up again, carefully brandishing a heavy green glass jar. Inside, irregular grains tumbled over each other as she held it up to the light. "It's a tree sap from the edge of the desert. Really effective. But, um..." she looked again at the neat stack of coins that the dryad had placed on her stall; neat, shiny, but undeniably small. "It's expensive. And, to be honest, three bits? That would get you the arnica. Not the rest of it."

The dryad turned their bright green eyes from the jar of myrrh to the little stack of coins. "But there's three of them," they said. "And the- the arnica, and the mandrake, and this myrrh, that's three." They pronounced the names carefully, trying to fix them in their memory. The names the plants used among themselves didn't seem to be widely known here.

The elf hesitated, uncertain how to explain monetary value to a deep-forest spirit. "Yes," she said slowly, thinking fast. "But- but the value of the coins is the same and the value of the herbs is not. Each herb is worth more than one coin."

"Oh." A pause. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." The herbalist sighed. "Listen, we can make a deal... I don't, well, it feels a bit gross to mention, but some folks pay really well for dryad sap..."

"Oh." The dryad considered this, idly spreading their leaves out to catch more of the spring sunshine. "Lots of coins?"

"Yes. Lots of coins." The elf slowly counted out grains of myrrh. Honesty and opportunity warred; eventually, honesty almost won. "Twice this many drops?"

A slow moment. Then, "okay. I can spare that. The coins as well?"

The elf cursed inwardly. Temptation was coming thick and fast today. "No," she said, reluctantly. She'd already have a decidedly handsome profit, and she wanted to be able to look at herself in the mirror tomorrow. Ripping this creature off - bleeding them dry - was just too easy to square with her conscience.

"Okay," the dryad said again, and carefully scooped the coins back into the little pouch they'd made from their bark. They watched approvingly as the elf sterilised a small herb knife, and extended their left hand over the small tray that she placed on the counter. They counted the drops of sap as they fell, slow and sticky, onto the silver surface, adding more mental notes to their growing list of Facts To Remember: this elf is nice; coins are less useful and more complicated than you've been given to understand; people will pay for sap.
 

Polly Jayne

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Frances opened her eyes a little as the morning sun slanted in through the blinds of what she grandly referred to as her apartment. She shuddered slightly and shut them again. Hangovers and bright spring mornings don't exactly mix. To make it worse, she'd been asleep on the couch. She might be a big city PI now, but somewhere under there was still the well-brought up smalltown girl who knew you should always give up your bed for guests, so that's what she'd done. She wondered if they were still asleep. Or dormant. Or whatever the hell was appropriate.
Frances'd certainly been the only one drinking last night, that's for sure. Maybe she should get some breakfast on. She'd need to get moving - there was some new silk due in at the docks today and Alyssa would be disappointed in her if she missed it; her business partner was never annoyed, but the 'disappointed' hurt like hell.
She yawned, put her legs down to the still-cold floor and went to rouse up the stove to make coffee. It had gone out. She swore, and suddenly there was a little spark in there that she'd somehow missed. She stirred the stove, closed the cast-iron door and put her last bit of coffee into the pot.
Outside the streets were already busy. She wondered if she should have just gone out. But the guest was new to town, and she was afraid everything might be a bit too much for them if they got up and found the place empty.
She got a bag of slightly stale doughnuts out of a cupboard and bit into one of them as she stood looking out of the window. A drift of sugar powdered down to the floor. She idly thought about cleaning it up, but decided it probably wouldn't matter.
5 coins worth of cash wasn't going to get anywhere near covering this month's rent. Sure, Alyssa would sub her - every time - but Frances had her pride. She needed to get a paying case, and quickly.
She wondered where the cat was. Hopefully it had been out hunting - the doughnuts were the only food in the house.
 

Serket

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He dances on the dockside, serving food as he does. Skin never touches ceramic, but some unseen force moves the bowls and cups in concord with his steps and flourishes. A hand here and a bowl flies to this customer, a step there and a cup to another. His dancing scarves twitch and swirl with every movement, a flurry of violet and yellow, matching his gnomish skin. He's enjoying every moment, so caught up in the dance and the food that he's almost forgotten his real purpose.

---

They watched the city from above, two minds through one pair of eyes. The portents pointed to something significant today, and as they soared on the thermals they watched, not the activities of individuals, but the patterns of crowds. If they could see it at all, that is where they would see it first.

---

She waited, eyes closed. Captivity was anathema to her, the knowledge of her imprisonment as intensely painful as any physical sensation could be. She yearned to move, and since she could not her heart raged. Yet her body was still, intense passion held back by age and discipline. This was not the moment. That would come soon, but not quite yet.
 

Hobbit

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He shouldered his duffle bag, the five bottles inside clinking softly as it settled into place. The sailors grunted noncommittally as the monstrous centaur paced away from the ship. The gentle rise and fall of the jetty, responding to the swell was absorbed easily by his rolling gait.

Surveying the thronging multitude from the space afforde by the jetty Durak cursed under his breath. The bottle dangling from his hand rose and he gulped a mouthful of liquid courage. This was more people than he'd ever seen before, if you added the population of all the settlements he'd ever seen they probably wouldn't pack this marketplace.

He staggered slightly as he crossed into the stone of the quay, anticipating a roll that never came. As the surging crowd hit his shoulder he staggered again. Then staggered a third time as a burly dwarf carrying a keg crashed into him from the other side. Roaring with frustration Durak reared, his front claws raking the air.
A small space in the crowd opened around him. And with a dull thump, the dwarf dropped their keg, which rolled toward the edge of the quay. Durak didn't look back, as the dwarf diced for the barrel he dropped back onto all fours and stepped into the opening.

Durak pressed through the jostling mass, his height and mass aiding his progress, though the occasional passage of a halfling or urchin between his feet was disconcerting.
 

Serket

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The first sign of trouble is hard to observe from the ground. Crowds are noisy. In the southwest, between the warehouse and the docks, the sound of shattering timbers is loud enough to draw attention only from those nearby. The dockhands unloading the animals look around for the source of the problem. The officer trying to clear the road curses under her breath as she turns too. The sound clearly indicates a problem, but in the first instance nobody is sure where it is and what has happened.

From above, neither the sound nor its source can be discerned. But the pattern in the crowd as people turn towards it is. One pair of eyes spots it, and two minds consider.

Spoiler: Show
Durak: an observation check of at least 3 lets you hear the sound, and a 4 gets you a good idea of its direction.
Thorn, Frances, you're too far away. Carry on about your business. :)
 

Serket

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Near the herb stall, a human child* with an innocent demeanor approaches the dryad.
"Excuse me, esteemed visitor! But it seems like you're new to the city and in need of a guide. For just a few bits I can take you anywhere you need to go!"

*Intuition check 3 spoiler for Thorn:
Spoiler: Show
oh wait, not a human child! An adult but smaller human-like creature. A halfling? You've heard of those.
 

Hobbit

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Durak's head snapped up from his reverie. He'd been pressing through the crowd, thoughts on dinner and trying to process the stench of civilisation's sewage which trickled down channels in the roadway into the sea.

Something in the mood of the crowd had changed. What he wasn't sure immediately, but the predator within him sensed the herd's reaction.

That was it, the tearing of timber had come from that direction. Sighting the epicenter of the disturbance Durak altered course and began pushing towards it.
 

Liturgy

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(roll of Int: d4, result 2. Clearly this is a helpful human child)

Thorn takes a moment to ponder the child's kind offer, winding twigs over the three little bundles that the nice elf herbalist wrapped up for them. Somehow, by the time their purchases are secure, the child has steered them away from the nice elf's stall. They're a bit disappointed by this; they'd hoped to thank her again for her help, but somehow they've lost their bearing in the crowd of the market. Still, this is the big city, and things are different here. Perhaps thanks would have been inappropriate.

Luckily, Thorn has a guide to this strange new world.

"I would like to go to the Arboretum," they tell the child.

"Visiting friends, huh?" The child steers them adroitly through the crowd. "You, uh, do know that's private property, right?"

"You specifically said 'anywhere'," Thorn points out. The press of the market is starting to thin as they approach its edge. Thorn takes a moment to appreciate the child's skill at manoeuvring through the throng. Maybe this is how other people feel about forests.

"Well, yes," the child laughs shortly. "Just wanted to be sure that, well, you know what you're getting into."

Thorn nods, understanding. Very good of this child, to take them under their wing like this. Soon even the sounds of the market will be behind them, and the dryad is beginning to appreciate just how easy it would be to lose your way in these endless winding streets.
 
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