Leo picked his way through the crowd, letter in hand, until he reached the gates. Informing the Holy Hand posted there of the situation, they took custody of the letter, instructing him to camp with his party outside the city for the night, and to return to the gates the following morning, when they would hear the high commander’s answer.
Rather than chance a night in the slums, the wearied travelers set up camp on the moor beyond the city. Night fell, and upon the third watch, while the sun was still down, the group was awakened by the watch — five men were approaching. On their feet almost immediately, the party prepared for what might have been a hostile encounter; Uni Silia-Laurum covered their presence with an illusion of a fire, masking the seven standing beside it. The men’s voices carried all too well. At the sound of one, gloating about a recent rape he had committed, the mage lay another illusion, a trap: the image of a sleeping woman alone by the fire.
The bait was taken; the trap, sprung. As the talking man reached for the woman he believed to be there, his hand slipped through the form. His confusion was helped not at all by the dwarf appearing mid-air, mid-leap, mid-swing: with a thunderous swing of his warhammer, Raku turned the man’s head to mush. The party let loose their full wrath upon the defenseless men. Abdul plunged his sabers into one man’s chest, then kicked him free of the blades; he fell, choking on his own blood.
As Ethrean and Vir fired spell after spell into the men in the rear, Raku swung at another, crushing his ribcage with a single blow, killing him instantly. The fight lasted little longer; the mages dropped their targets, and with one more swing by Raku, the last man was incapacitated. With great reluctance, Father Greg spared him. The man needed very little convincing to give up his ways; agreeing to the demands of Greg to become a monk, he vanished into the breaking dawn.
Arriving at the gates early, the party was ushered inside, with instructions to visit the head office of the Holy Hand. There, the high commander gave consideration to their letter. After some internal deliberation, the man declared that they would remain in the Holy City for the time being; they could shop or get an inn as they liked, but were not to leave. After the travelling that had brought them to the city, the group had no intention of leaving; they rented two rooms from the inn for a week, with a generous donation by Abdul.
As the sun rose higher, the party went into the market, looking for some much-needed supplies. The first stop was the armorer — a dwarven smith, with a strong arm for hammering and a keen eye for profit. Again, by Abdul’s mysterious generosity — for surely a southerner had little reason to share so freely — the group was outfitted with new defenses: studded leather for the elves, which would protect without hindering their magic, and limited plate and chain armor for the rest. With a final piece of extremely expensive dragon leather, the smith’s pockets were as finely lined as the party’s armor. But in one area, the party came out rather ahead: information. It was there they learned of a monster or ghost of some sort, haunting the keep of the cathedral — Metatron’s Keep.
On a whim, the group set out into the market area, with Uni and Ethrean searching for sources of magical power. Their first hit was a shop of odds and ends: a powerful, bright beacon was found in the form of a small glass bottle of water, labeled “Magical Water”.
Inspecting it closely, Uni asked, “How are we to know for certain this is, in fact, magical?” Though the shopkeeper offered little in the way of evidence, she quoted a price of nine gold. Scoffing, the elf set it down, with another none-too-subtle implication of fraud which the shopkeeper took in turn. Ethrean, his side of chaos showing quite plainly, began bouncing from shelf to shelf, excitedly investigating everything he could find. Abdul, considerably more genial in attitude, brought the woman’s attention to a fine necklace, which he examined with great apparent interest. As her back was turned, Uni casually pocketed the vial; when Ethrean was asked to leave the shop, Uni declared that she would go as well, demanding Abdul follow. He refused, though, and instead purchased the necklace. Outside, with a chuckle, he draped it over Uni’s neck and whispered to her, “Nicely done.”
The bottle, however, had not been their goal in their search for magic. Rather, Abdul’s persistent red aura under magical detection had so far avoided any proper analysis. Thankfully, their next stop was a shop glowing gently with a wide variety of plainly-magical objects, and more importantly, a batty old woman possessed of considerable magical knowledge and books, and a multitude of cats. The woman, recalling a book of old, informed Abdul of his new power: when striking an enemy, he could allow his life force to drain away in order to make more lethal attacks.
The group returned to their inn for the night, with empty pockets, full bags, fine armor, and a small vial of water which needed to be addressed.
The group stared at it for some time. There were enough doses for all but one of them; Leo elected to sit it out. Vir went first, swallowing his allotment easily. Though he felt rather indifferent, he did glow briefly as he drank. Ethrean followed, but his dose didn’t do anything apparent, even to magical detection. Then Abdul drank, and though his thinking felt somewhat clouded, he too seemed unchanged. Greg’s turn came, and instantly the room chilled significantly; he began to glow with a soft blue aura. It was Raku who drank next; he declared that, although it had made him feel perhaps woozy, there was nothing obvious. Less hesitant than when the rest had began drinking, Uni took her dose; her breasts immediately grew significantly.
With little other alternative, the group trekked back to the shop of magical objects and once more asked the woman for her knowledge. Though at first she didn’t recognize Uni, she did recall the others, and informed them of their new circumstances: Vir had been afflicted with an alcohol curse; he would find no nourishment in the usual food or drink, but must drink alcohol to survive. Fortunately, as an elf, the alcohol had a greatly diminished effect. Abdul and Raku did not seem to have much magic about them, though the woman suggested that the one had become less intelligent while the other had become physically more frail. The priest, Father Greg, however, had a much more straightforward curse: a region of air around him would always be rather cooler than beyond it. Finally forced to ask, Uni inquired, “You’re quite mad, aren’t you?”
To which the crazy cat lady responded, “Why yes!”