Chapter 5, Part I: Darkness Rises

Ricotti, an older, rougish halfling, made his grand introduction to the Platinum Talons. He needed not offer the same introduction to Bart, as he knew her from her time in Boymin as his pupil, who he had taught the basics of the art of stealth, sneakery, and sleight of hand. He explained to them that he had been trying to find a way to quell the Darkness along with his friend Tali. She was a master of illusion magic, responsible for the eerie darkness they had encountered in the forest and the mind-bending illusions within the enigmatic house. He apologized for the subterfuge, but explained that it was necessary in order to determine that they would be able to assist him with his and Tali's work to set this part of the world back to normal.

As the group chatted with Ricotti, he revealed that Tali had already bestowed upon them valuable gifts that would aid them on their journey: enhacements to their weapons and armor. Bart was bestowed with a Rapier +1, Nohki with Leather Armor +1, Xerxes with Bracers of Defense +1, Firebrook with Armor +1, Vance also with Armor +1, and Drez with a Hand Crossbow +1. Ricotti hoped that it would serve as a worth-while apology.

Ricotti's voice took on a more serious tone as he revealed unsettling truths about the world outside. The mysterious darkness that plagued their land was not just a mere phenomenon; it had taken over the minds of many people in the town of Boymin, connecting all of the infected into a single Hivemind. They pieced together that the people who the clerics of Lumi had tried to contain in the catacombs of the temple must have been part of that hivemind, but the Platinum Talons had inadvertently set them free.

Ricotti's tone grew grimmer as he described his mission, seeking to penetrate the Northreach Glades, where the heart of the Darkness lay. To enter this perilous place, Ricotti needed their help to repair the Purelight Lantern, a magical device powered by a crystal capable of dispelling the oppressive magical darkness. Unfortunately, the Temple of Lumi, the obvious choice for charging the lantern, seemed to have fallen to the hands of a nefarious organization known as the Order of Righteous Conflict, who appeared to be allies of the Darkness.

Bart, always resourceful, remembered the chapel in Watson Manor, her family's home. This might be their best chance at charging the lantern.

While visiting with this wise Halfling, the group decided to ask Ricotti to help them identify a particular ring they had received from Baron vonRatsworth. This ring, they learned, was no ordinary bauble; it was a "ring of risk and reward" with strange enchantments. To decide who should wear it, they employed the magical Stones of Decision, and Bart drew the black stone, putting on the ring. Wearing the ring gave Bart advantage when it came to Dexterity-based checks, but in payment, Firebrook would have disadvantage on Dexterity-based checks.

Ricotti told them to visit him tomorrow morning, where they would work together to try and plan a way into the Manor. They then headed to the Thistle House for their scheduled performance, one that the townsfolks had been looking forward to since that morning when they heard a sample of Vance's talents.

Nohki worked his culinary magic, grilling burgers and whipping up a delightful carrot cake, while Firebrook, the resident mixologist, concocted the night's signature Johnstown Sunrise cocktail.

Xerxes, on the other hand, decided to peddle some of their "finest" Platinum City wine to the wealthy patrons, charming them with its deep merlot color. The wine flew off the shelves as Firebrook and Xerxes delivered an introduction that could convince even the most abstinent cleric to indulge.

Bart, the master of disguise, spotted familiar faces in the crowd. She approached them under the guise of Trelawny Bych, engaging them in a dice game. Her secret weapon was a pair of bright red dice, a gift from her mentor, Ricotti. Luck was on her side as she bested her opponents, leaving them baffled and suspicious. Her fortune seemed to falter as Firebrook overheard them whispering about the strangely familiar dice.

Vance then took the stage, serenading the crowd with an original song about the Platinum Talons. His mandolin performance was nothing short of enchanting. As his fingers danced across the strings, a melody of inspiration cascaded through the Thistle House. Each note seemed to resonate within the deepest corners of the patrons' souls, drawing them into the music's embrace. The air hummed with the flawless tune and captivated the patrons, inspiring them to buy more of the Talons' exquisite wine.

But the night took a turn when one of the players from Bart's earlier game confronted her about the dice she had used, knowing who they belonged to. He ripped off Bart's mustache and shouted her real name, causing a commotion when nearly half of the patrons of the tavern turned in synchrony to look at Bart.

Vance responded by enveloping them in a magical shroud of darkness. But Bart's quick fingers struck again as she regained her stolen mustache and pinched a hefty sum from the accusing patron. Still, some of the pub's affected patrons attempted to grab Bart through the darkness.

An unseen assailant seized Bart, but Vance, wanting her safe, turned her invisible. Nohki, showing his expertise in burger-based self-defense, fled the Thistle House, carrying his culinary creations to safety. Unfortunately, he was toppled at the doorway by a mysterious assailant.

Xerxes, his voice like thunder, urged Vance to dispel the darkness, then implored Bart to accept his aid. In a flash, Xerxes grabbed what he believed to be Bart and employed his Thunder Step spell to escape the Thistle House.

Drez emerged from the pub and slipped into the shadows to cast a spell of disguise upon himself, blending seamlessly into the crowd.

Outside of the Tavern, the five remaining villagers who had been released from Lumi's Catacombs stood around the perimeter, sinister in their stillness.

Meanwhile, Firebrook cut a quick line of distance with his Starlight Step, then summoned the power of lightning to smite one of the released villagers who had fallen under the sway of the Darkness.

But the situation took a sinister turn when one of the villagers struck at Firebrook, who in turn, killed another one of the escaped villagers. Bart, Xerxes, and Nohki continued to make a run for it, telling the group to head to Ricotti's.

Vance attacked one of the villagers and received a blow from a darkness-infused blade in return. Vance answered that injury with a swift killing strike. Another villager was on him, and without another spell-slot to assist his egress, Vance summoned energy deep inside himself and unleashed a blinding Color Spray spell. This exhausting effort temporarily incapacitated the villager so Vance could make his escape. Drez rushed forward, dispatching the assailant with deadly precision, but not before receiving a darkness-laced injury himself.

They group rushed back to Ricotti's home on Kittyway, and in a jumble, tried to explain to him what had just happened. Before they could completely detail their predicament, a frantic knocking began on the door. Hearing it was Deputy Officer Junior Officer, the group opened up the door to let him in and read him into the plan.

Ricotti noticed the wounds on Vance and Drez and said that he believed those wounds would lead to them being overtaken by the Darkness, but that they likely had about 24 hours before that happened.

The group was invited, sleepover style, to make camp in Ricotti's living room, and as they wound down for the evening, they all discussed the events of the evening, and the choices they made to kill the villagers there. Vance and Drez agreed to not harm any more civilians unless it was absolutely necessary, but Firebrook was less willing, feeling he was in the right to murder who he wished, which didn't sit right with everyone in the room.

The next morning, Ricotti and Bart combined their skills to recreate a serviceable map of Watson Manor. Ricotti warned them that it was likely that the Order of Righteous Conflict's occupation may have changed things in the manor, either severely or minorly, but he was unable to say which. He simply asked them to keep that in mind and use the map as a basic guide rather than the rule for this impending heist. The group got to work at hatching multiple plans. Ricotti cautioned the group that the guards patrolling the manor were formidable members of the Order, making them much tougher adversaries than their previous foes.

Ricotti let them know about the small amount of intel he did have: there were four keys held by these guards, keys that would somehow grant them access to the chapel. The mission required both planning and flexibility, with multiple contingencies in mind.

After strategizing, they departed for Watson Manor, Ricotti's parting gift being three sending stones, allowing them to communicate with him and Tali and to signal for help if needed.

Navigating a treacherous path, Ricotti showed them a way to breach the manor's gates without confronting the guards. The once-vibrant garden, which Bart remembered, lay in ruin, a stark contrast to her fond memories.

The group tried plan A, which was to get in through the chapel's windows, but found that the windows were completely missing, a bizarre and frustrating turn of events. They then moved to the manor's entrance, seeing the layout from their planning was the same, but that the place had been treated poorly, resulting in broken statues and peeling wallpaper. A sudden burst of power from his Darkness-acquired injury allowed Drez to see into the Servants' quarters and note that an Order guard was on his way out to where the Talons were standing. Wanting to stop him from casting spells, they cast a circle of Silence to try and hobble his abilities while they readied an action in the hallway. As the guard rushed out of the hallway, the Talons unleashed their barrage of attacks.

What ensued was a desperate, unexpected clash with a highly trained adversary.

Their foe was far more formidable than expected, and after their round of combat, the barely perturbed guard summoned a swirling vortex of darkness, which consumed them and hurling them into the depths of the manor's dungeon, into an unlit cell. Their mission to reclaim Watson Manor and confront the Darkness had taken an unexpected turn, but the Platinum Talons were not to be deterred; they knew they would have many more opportunities for triumph yet.

Completed: September 2023