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A Tale of Good and Evil, Chapter 1
Posted on Thu, May 31, 2012 by Ullmaster
quae writes "In 584 C.Y., Greyhawk City has opened her arms to a new group of heroes who have saved the lands of Oerth from the wretched Demon Queen of Spiders. But not all within the city walls welcome our heroes with good intentions…

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great time to be alive in Greyhawk city!” Mayor Nerof Gasgal shouted from his grand box of the Free City Arena, and the crowd emphatically cheered into the cool morning air. The Mayor and eighteen thousand fellow residents of the free city had packed into the massive limestone structure by mid-morning on this fourth day of Richfest, and several hundred more floated around the Clerksberg streets to be a part of this historic day, either by listening to the festivities outside of the Arena walls, or by purchasing scalped tickets to try to get in, which did not work as they were all counterfeit. None of the real tickets were for sale. Instead of selling tickets for this special occasion, attendees from each region of the city were randomly selected from Glodreddi Bakkanin’s master tax list four weeks before this day. Glodreddi, the dwarven Inspector of Taxes, only entered residents into the drawing if their taxes were paid in full. And of course, if they were not paid in full, he used this as an opportunity to send notice to each of them and kindly ask (or rudely tell) them to pay up immediately. Failure to pay up immediately resulted in elimination from this lottery process, and also resulted in their names being added to a different list, which would not be a pleasant place to be when Glodreddi’s team made their next tax collection rounds. Once the names of eligible citizens were determined and the attendees were selected in the drawing (whether they were randomly selected or not, nobody but Glodreddi would ever know for sure), a small papyrus sheet was generated with the name of each attendee, including their family names if they were the money-maker of the house and chose to invite them, the date of the event, and their seat section and number. Then it was sealed with the official black and red Greyhawk City stamp. Each seat was supposed to be randomly chosen as well, so a wealthy ambassador of the High Quarter might be seated next to a newcomer of the Foreign Quarter and so on. Each ticket was then hand-delivered by dwarves from Glodreddi’s office, with an additional, albeit gruff, “thank you” uttered for meeting their civic duty and paying their taxes. For once, paying taxes actually had a reward.


“Thank you all for coming,” the Mayor continued, his voice augmented by a magical necklace he wore, created by the Wizard’s Guild for this very instance. He scanned the people around him. The grand box that sat above the western entrance was packed full with the Directing Oligarchy, nobles, and Nerof’s friends and assistants. It was a perfect day thus far, with warm temperatures supplemented by a cool, gentle breeze and near-cloudless blue sky permeating everyone and everything. Nerof truly looked noble (which he was not), with his graying black hair draping over his perfectly tailored clothing of fine silk with shirt and trousers patterned in black and red to match the city’s colors, complimented by black leather boots rising to the knees. He looked down over the edge of the grand box to look at the free city banner draping down several feet for all to see (but high enough as to not block anyone’s views sitting below the box). It rippled and danced in the light morning breeze. Nerof smiled at the sight and took his sights to the full seats of the Arena.


“We, the Oligarchy, the leaders of the Guilds, the Ambassadors and other fine nobles of this city are honored to be serving you,” Nerof continued.  “We have a full schedule for you lasting all through this day of Richfest, and well into the evening. As you can see below,” the Mayor said, casting his right arm in a sweeping motion over the Arena floor below where tents and booths were being rapidly assembled, “we’ve brought the Markets to you. Would anybody like to start with a drink?” This caused all eighteen thousand to erupt, which always happened when consuming spirits is strongly encouraged, especially by a high-ranking official. This suited Nerof well, as the flow of wine, mead and ale meant the flow of coins in all kinds through his city. Not to mention, Nerof secretly had a bet going at the Wheel of Gold Gambling House on the over/under as to how many free city residents would be tossed in the drunk tank by the end of the event. He bet a thousand gold orbs that it would be under a hundred. He knew the schedule of events and that nobody would want to miss what was to come. But, if they did, he had plenty of the City Watch stationed in each of the seating sections to be ready for action. “Then, by all means,” Gasgal said, “let’s get started. We appreciate you all having the patience to take your seats first and allow the Arena floor to be open so that we could finish getting ready.” Here the Mayor left out the fact that a few pranksters from the Bardschool once again snuck in and painted the walls pink, which needed to be washed off. “Now get down there, in an orderly fashion of course,” here he paused for laughter, praying for a lot and being happy with a little, “get down there and give those merchants what they’ve been waiting for! Long live Greyhawk City!” The crowd erupted and the festivities began.


The gates on the eastern and western sides of the Arena grinded open and swung inward into the Arena, allowing everyone from their seats to file down the stairs, go through the side gates, and enter the Arena floor. The Mayor stood for close to an hour hanging over his rail, so that those who passed through the western entrance would get an obligatory wave and “hi, nice to see you here” even though he had no idea who most of them were. Booths, tables and tents were ready and waiting on the Arena floor with eager merchants selling everything the city had ever offered from both the High and Low Markets, and most offered discount prices as this was strongly “encouraged” by the Mayor when merchant permits were handed out a week prior. Wine and spirits of all kind were for sale, both from the Ostlers’ and Brewers’ Guild (which started preparing for this event six weeks in advance) and also from all over the Flanaess. Even better was the fact that for an extra silver piece, attendees could pay to have their beverages delivered to their seats, so that their drinks would be waiting as they finished shopping. Several merchants sold meat from the Butchers’ Guild, cutting and slicing tasty hunks of beef, buffalo and deer to allow the purchaser to have some heavy food to let all of the alcohol sit on in their stomachs. The rich smells of meat supplemented by vibrant spices wafted into the afternoon air, filling the entire Arena. Orders for the same animals, in whole, could be purchased at discount prices, with vouchers handed out for pick-up of the animals at a later date. Several merchants offered wares in vibrant colors, and some even had fairly valuable jewelry on hand, and those who did had hired security to ensure nobody had “frisky fingers” as they walked through the marketplace. After all, many knew that thieves were very active in Greyhawk City.


And thieves weren’t the only people frowned upon who were running around on the Arena floor. Even the legendary fortune teller Madame Serena paraded her wrinkly living carcass about the grounds, both inside and outside, offering to predict futures for a silver piece, and if anyone was paying attention or cared to compare fortunes with each other, they would realize more than one fortune predicted a “magical and heroic” future that seemed incredibly similar to the paths led by the evening’s main attraction, yet to be introduced.  The Mayor wanted to allow diversity at the day’s events; he got his wish. Some more respected performers were on hand, as a small theater troupe from the Guild of Performing Artistes enacted the tale of the night’s heroes that would be described later in full (and real) detail. Ballad-singing bards, dagger jugglers and nearly every other type of entertainer imaginable sprinkled in between the merchants, displaying Greyhawk City’s true diversity and cultural greatness.


By mid-day, the merchants, bards and other entertainers were all quickly shuffled out through the eastern and western gates to get out of the way for the next event of the day and the attendees were asked (or escorted by Arena staff, if they already started showing signs of intoxication) back to their seats. As everyone exited out of the Arena floor, several members of the Beggars’ Union were suddenly standing outside the gates, appearing, as if on schedule, as cockroaches and rats often do when a tasty and cheap meal is available. Some merchants, exhausted from the morning and having a ticket for a seat which they desperately wanted to take, gave away remaining scraps of food, although those that did either delivered a brief but stern lecture (such as, “get a job, losers”) or threw hunks of remaining meat on the ground, or worse, in the beggars’ face. Nerof was very good at having his finger on the pulse of all elements of Greyhawk City. This included occasionally hearing out Gaspar, the Beggarmaster. Beggars, like it or not, had a home in the free city. In addition to being obnoxious and asking for free handouts, they, at times, served a purpose, as they knew the city inside and out. This information could be useful at times, Nerof admitted to himself, so he maintained a relationship with Gaspar (who apparently was very successful at begging, as he was severely overweight). Gaspar went to the Mayor’s office a few weeks before this day to ask Nerof to have at least some beggars be allowed to attend, stating they were not on Glodreddi’s tax payment list because they couldn’t pay taxes when they couldn’t keep a job because they were too dirty and smelly to be accepted in any decent job the city had to offer, or because they couldn’t stay sober long enough to be effective, and on and on with the “woe are us” storyline Gaspar went. Nerof cut him off, having several other events to start coordinating that afternoon, and as a consolation prize told Gaspar when the merchants would be filing out, and also making it clear that they had better be gone by the start of the event that followed that. Gaspar, with no choice in the matter (as usual), complied and was on hand to make sure his beggars cleared out, and also so he got a part of whatever coin was netted through begging before it quickly vanished. Gaspar knew enough not to cross Nerof, knowing that nobody would know or care if his fat behind ended up face-down on Garbage Hill for mangy dogs to fight over.  Nerof was not known to have people killed. But Gaspar knew some people in the Mayor’s office were indeed of that nature.


With the beggars cleared out and the more upscale citizens back in their seat by early afternoon, the next event was ready to get underway. Sental Nurev, the Captain-General of the Watch, led an elite squad of fifty through the western gate, all marching in unison with more ferocious determination than most members of the City Watch ever displayed (except of course, when accepting a hefty bribe to look the other way). The squad marched in through the gate, Sental in front, and ten rows of five soldiers behind him, each twirling their weapon overhead, by manner and direction seemingly ordered by Sental through a series of grunts and yells. This was an impressive sight, and even more impressive was the fact that Sental performed the same maneuvers in unison with his squad with a much larger weapon.  While the soldiers performed twirling, acrobatic moves with long swords while wearing simple chain mail, Sental executed the maneuvers by swinging his massive mancatcher around while donning his cumbersome splint mail. Truly it was an impressive sight, seeing him swing this massive weapon with a ten-foot reach within inches of his squad behind him, causing his long strands of blonde hair to “swoosh” at each of the mancatcher’s pass. Up close, Sental looked like an aging warrior, not having a lot of height or size, and it appeared that any of the warriors of his squad behind him would crush him in combat. After watching him maneuver his mancatcher, however, he clearly appeared to have the necessary skills to lead the City Watch.


Sental marched his team from the western gate all the way to the eastern gate, and then back towards the way they came in. The squad was flanked on each side by a flag-bearer thrusting a ten-foot pole into the blue sky, bearing a cloth with the Greyhawk City flag: a black shield with an image of Castle Greyhawk centered on it, a knight’s helmet resting on top of the shield crowned with a golden hawk and draped in royal strands of red and white. When Sental and his squad got close to the gate they stopped moving forward and marched in place. Sental shouted a commanding growl to his team and they all looked up to Nerof, who was again standing. The warrior Captain shouted “HAIL” at the top of his lungs, twirling the mancatcher above his head in a full three-hundred sixty degree rotation, which was quickly followed by the elite squad behind him shouting “GREYHAWK CITY” as they twirled their long swords overhead in a full rotation and then brought them down, driving the hilt into their shoulder plates to make a metallic, precise “thump.” They sheathed their swords simultaneously as Sental slammed the base of his mancatcher into the floor of the Arena. Nerof smiled and applauded and several others in the grand box rose to offer a warm applause. Several in the crowd rose to clap their hands together while wondering aloud to each other how long this team had to stay sober to work on this routine. It was commonly known that the City Watch would patrol the streets drunk, and several unpleasant altercations could easily be avoided if the perpetrators paid off their fines by way of drink. Nerof was certainly impressed, as he watched the squad work on this drill six days a week for six weeks, in the Citadel yard, practicing with wooden swords until the maneuvers were smooth (or at least, not lethal).  A priestess of Pelor waited off to the side of the Arena, just in case a sword accidentally nicked an ear or finger and a healing spell was needed. Surprisingly to all (even to Sental), this was not needed.


The afternoon attraction was impressive indeed, and the next act was not to be outdone. When the military parade was over, four groups of four surly men from the Laborers’ Union (who were extremely excited about the overtime being earned) scrambled into the Arena, each group hoisting a small watercraft vessel on their shoulders and placing them in the center of the earthen floor of the Arena.  Next was a demonstration of an engineering masterpiece created by the harmony of three of Greyhawk City’s Guilds and Unions. Years ago, a team of Sewer Rats (which was comprised of a group of dwarves who dared to go where others did not in the murky, smelly depths) from the Sewermens' and Streetcleaners’ Union discovered an unused sewer tunnel that ran near the Arena, all the way to the Selintan River. Upon hearing this, a professor at the Grey College, wanting to add a new dimension of events at the Arena, requested that the city dig a new tunnel underneath the Arena connecting directly to this tunnel. A team of Sewer Rats led members of the Cartographers’ Guild through the tunnel to completely map it out, as well as map out where to connect the new Arena tunnel directly to it, and then the Guild of Architects and Stonemasons jumped in to complete the tunnel. Once complete, several more teams of various Guilds and Unions got together, and with some dwarven and gnomish engineering sprinkled with a bit of magic, clean water straight from the river was channeled to the floor of the Arena, ready for use in such ways like what was coming next on the day’s schedule.


After the boats were set down, four of the laborers walked over to each corner of the Arena floor, and once in position, opened small trap doors on the floor. Each trap door was a small tunnel leading to the main tunnel that in turn connected to the river tunnel. Water was usually kept in reserve in the Arena tunnel, similar to a well, and a simple cantrip spell known to engineers that worked the Arena floor for events such as these could be performed which in turn caused the water to rise. One such engineer walked to each corner to accompany the laborer there to turn on the water flow. The crowd watched in excitement to see the water trickle in. Some of the intoxicated guests, who at this point were a bit more intoxicated, looked on at the running water in confusion and wondered if the Arena was becoming a giant outhouse to relieve themselves in. A few tried to get down to do so, or at least wash some of the drool and spilled ale off themselves, but were greeted by City Watchmen who guided them towards the proper facilities. The laborers and engineers climbed up rope ladders tossed over the northern and southern walls as water slowly built up over twenty minutes as it eventually reached an inch deep. That is when several resident priests of various deities (albeit none that were evil) accompanied by a small band of druids from Welkwood got to work.


As dusk started to embrace the city, and with Celene and Luna eagerly showing their full forms as they always did at this time of the year, three powerful priests stood on the edge of the northern and southern walls of the Arena floor. They gestured wildly while flicking droplets of water into the inch-deep water below, all the while speaking strange words that only made sense to their kind. The crowd could barely contain themselves as they “oohed” and “awwwed” as the water levels rose up from one inch all the way to four feet deep. The Welkwood druids got to work next (truly demonstrating how important this day of celebration was, coming all the way from their woodland homes into Greyhawk City), doing their imitation of what the priests did, but in this case conjuring up steady winds. Tonight, Greyhawk City was going to show its diversity. The city would welcome in those known as the Rhennee to show off their boating skills. Several of these gypsy-folk camped out on the Selintan River just outside the city’s walls on their barges. Many city residents were not crazy about the gypsy culture and thus the Rhennee did not have a lot of presence inside the city walls. But the progressive Mayor, utilizing the day’s events to continue to move the city culturally (at least in his eyes) forward, gave them a chance to demonstrate their talents: four of their nobles, teaming with their bargerwright sailors, were set to compete in a boat race around the Arena. For the Rhennee, the winner would receive honor amongst their people (and hopefully a bit of embracing within the city walls by her residents); for the viewers, they would see a show of the likes the Arena had never had before.


Once the water was raised to four feet high, mages from the Wizard’s Guild crafted up some floating discs, and as the Mayor bellowed out the names of the Rhennee nobles and sailors from his magically magnified voice in his grand box (which the general public did not even care to listen to and make note of; in fact, many saw this as an excellent opportunity to chase down more wine or ale from passing vendors), the mages floated the gypsies down, one pair at a time, from the Arena walls to the four vessels that awaited in the water. The men were wiry and short, wearing colorful clothing that clashed against itself, probably meaning something in relation to fashion and status in their culture, but did not seem to make much sense to anyone else. Those who did watch from the stands mumbled inquisitively and were glad they were far away from them, concerned their coin purses would disappear if they were too close to the shifty-eyed people. Some in the stands joked about how they would have rather seen beggars compete against each other to see who could pick up the most rib bones, empty ale cups and at this point in the long day, vomit rags for a few scraps of copper.


But it was the Rhennees’ time to shine, and quickly, the sailors got to work, lowering the sails on the small vessels and getting a handle on the rudders. People in the crowd wondered how this would work, as it was noted that neither the sailor nor noble Rhennee were sitting, but rather the noblemen standing in the front of the craft, and the sailor standing while reaching both for the sail and the rudder simultaneously in the back. Once they were comfortably on the vessels, the druids picked up the breeze, allowing the vessels to drift towards the western gate (which along with the eastern gate was somehow perfectly sealed to keep the water in). Here the boats lined up in two rows of two. Nerof leaned over his rail and counted down, starting at “three” and ending on “go.” And when he did get to “go,” the vessels went. Attendees who were busy talking, drinking or fooling around in some other manner quickly got back into their seats and had their eyes glued to the attraction. Wind howled through the Arena, and the small vessels began racing around the outskirts of the Arena floor at a pace that baffled everyone. At least, everyone but the Rhennee, as this was their skill. The gypsy sailors, never sitting down, adjusted the sails and directed the rudder in near-blinding speed. Residents in the first few rows were splashed as water sailed over the fifteen-foot high walls as the boats whizzed around each corner, one cutting the next off to gain the lead, and so on. Mages heightened the excitement by casting random lightening bolts into the sky in the direction of the moons, followed by crackling thunder that shook everyone’s seats to the point of spilling a few unsecured ales. Not once did any of the Rhennee, noblemen or sailors, lose their balance. All stood with near-perfect posture as the vessels moved at unthinkable speeds, missing the other vessels and walls of the Arena by mere inches at each passing. This continued on for fifty passes around the Arena over the course of about twenty minutes, when a Rhennee gypsy standing over the rail near the east gate thrust a small banner up into the air, stopping the race and declaring the winner. All of the boats were in it to the end, and the gypsy in the stands pointed the winner out which was then relayed across the Arena to Nerof, who announced the name of the winner as Randon. This time, the amazed audience roared out in applause, many of the free city residents standing and cheering. Nerof smiled, thinking that the next time he needed to run a campaign to keep his position, he would point to this day in Greyhawk City history, and he would point to it often. But this was only the beginning. The main attraction was about to begin.


At this point, night had conquered dusk and the clear sky was a dark blue shade supplemented by the brightness of Celene and Luna. At least it was at the moment. Suddenly everyone gasped as the night sky in and around the Arena went pitch black. Nerof chuckled as even some of his companions in the grand box were starting to panic. He didn’t tell anyone what was going to happen here outside of those who needed to know. Unknown to everyone else, the Rhennee were helped over the walls and into the stands, off their vessels in the darkness. Suddenly, a low vibratory sound started to shake the entire Arena. People started to scream. Some cursed the Rhennee, saying this was the work of their nasty gypsy women, who were supposed to be wise and all knowing. Meanwhile, mages teleported the Rhennee and their vessels out of the Arena, and the water was magically drained from the floor, much quicker than it had been filled (as there were some more powerful spells at work at this time). And just before people in the stands had time to run and trip over each other in sheer madness, the darkness turned to bright light. A hundred feet above the Arena, a giant of an elderly man, donning black robes with silver streaks, complimenting his black hair and long flowing beard with similar silver streaks, floated in the sky. After amusing himself for a few seconds, staring at eighteen thousand open jaws (including Nerof, as he was impressed even though he knew what was happening), the man spoke.


“RESIDENTS OF THIS GREAT FREE CITY, IT IS I, MORDENKAINEN!” The old man’s voice was so powerful, it was actually heard across the entire city, startling those who weren’t in the Arena half to death. The audience gasped; most had never seen the unofficial ruler of the Circle of Eight before, and some had no idea who he was (or at this point, were far too drunk to understand what was happening). Those who did were in awe. Mordenkainen, along with the Circle, were some of the most powerful wizards on all of Oerth. While some lived within the city, most did not and were rarely seen. Mordenkainen in particular fit this category, as he spent most of his time in his massive palace in the Yatil Mountains, studying the events of the Flanaess in the hopes of keeping balance amongst opposing powers. The wizard continued to speak as he gently lowered himself down fifty feet, shrinking down to his more human-sized frame.


“Greyhawk City and its surrounding lands is a great realm of peace and balance,” he continued, his voice gradually getting softer to a level more like what Nerof had been speaking from. “But this balance had been threatened, and this city, in fact, all of Oerth, was in terrible danger.” Mordenkainen paused to let murmurs in the crowd rise up. “Indeed,” he continued. “Within the Hellfurnaces, a power was rising. By now you have all heard the legend, and the legend is true: She was rising. And She was accumulating power, with devious plans for Her and Her minions to spread up from Her vile realm in the Abyss and rule over our great land, enslaving and killing us all in the process.”


“BUT OUR HEROES SAVED US!” the wizard shouted in the loud voice again, and as he did, the western gate of the Arena burst open. The crowd gasped as a massive metal wagon, nearly twenty feet long and over ten feet wide, was pulled in by some of the largest horses ever seen. These steeds, sweat glistening and gleaming off their smooth brown hairs, looked like they could jump the Arena walls and start eating people, even with the massive cart attached. The horses stopped pulling the cart, once it was in the middle of the now dry Arena floor. “OUR HEROES SAVED US, MARCHING INTO THE HELLFURNACES, CONTINUING INTO THE ABYSS, AND FOREVER DESTROYING LOLTH, DEMON QUEEN OF SPIDERS!” This caused some to shriek in fear, as it was a superstition (and a true one at that) that speaking a demon’s name would sometimes summon them to the location of the speaker. “Don’t worry,” Mordenkainen bellowed out through a chuckle, “the scribes, and I personally, have verified Her termination. She is dead forever. Thanks to our heroes!” The crowd’s shrieks turned to cheers again, trusting that whatever this crazy old man in the sky said was true.


Suddenly side doors on the massive war wagon burst open. Out popped one of the most muscular men ever known to man, wearing only a loin cloth, wild brown hair blowing in the night, hoisting up a massive bastard sword that looked as though it could cut an Arena wall in half. “I bring you Karn, mighty Frost Barbarian!” Karn raised his sword triumphantly in the air, and several other men popped out of the wagon, which Mordenkainen introduced: “from Almor, Malcolm, High Priest of Istus! Shawmus, also Priest of Istus! Bruin, mighty warrior! Malekar and Mordravic, wizards! And Thornn, warrior!” Nerof laughed at this. Thornn was fine with a sword, but he knew he was better at picking locks and stealing purses. Nerof smiled more as they paraded around the Arena, receiving cheers and flowers hurled at them in admiration from the stands.


Across town, deep in an abandoned sewer tunnel, a fat man talked to a sickly woman. Both were wearing thick robes with hoods pulled over most of their faces. Not that most could tell; they were speaking without a light source in complete darkness.


“The introductions are happening as we speak,” the fat man said. “Will you be able to do this?”


“Yes,” the sickly woman replied. “I’ll get you their heads.”

"
 
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Re: A Tale of Good and Evil, Chapter 1 (Score: 1)
by SirXaris on Tue, June 05, 2012
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Nice job, Quae!  Mordenkainen's inclusion seems a bit over-the-top, but you have obviously done your research on the City of Greyhawk and its citizens.  Kudos for your accuracy.

I hope to see more of your work here on Canonfire! in the near future.

SirXaris



Re: A Tale of Good and Evil, Chapter 1 (Score: 1)
by mortellan on Tue, June 05, 2012
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I can't wait to see who the mysterious antagonists of this tale are. He's hooked me by showing the 'end' of a quest and the heroes don't even know they're set up for the next!




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