Nightmares of the Last War

Chapter Eight: News of the Box

In which the party return to Sharn, find news of Renauld’s stolen item, and conduct espionage on a House Deneith guard.

“Intruders!” roared one of the half-orcs, turning back to the cave entrance it had been guarding.
Wasting no time, Vic sprinted to the edge of the fisheries. Martin sprung from his shoulder, claws outstretched, and launched himself at the orc on the left. The crow dug his claws into the half-orc’s chest, making it bellow in pain. Fade charged to the other side of the cavern, close to the edge of one of the tributaries, and loosed a magic missile at the other orc. The orc screamed and covered its eyes as the glowing crossbow bolt struck with a dazzling flash.
At this point, more orcs poured from the two entrances, faltering as they spied the party closing on their position. Zanros and Yannar charged after Fade, with Yannar drawing his sword. Martin went to claw the orc he was attacking again, but the half-orc managed to block the attack. Martin hit with his second attack, but when the orc swung at the crow with his stubby sword, the bird flew higher.
Fade held her hands out and made a series of complex gestures. A crackling ball of energy slowly formed between her hands, and with a harsh, draconic word, the elf threw the ball at the half-orc she had previously hit with a magic missile. The orb hit the orc, sending out a massive surge of electricity. The orc flew backwards, spasming as electricity arced across his armour. The orcs behind him stepped up, taking a defensive position. Seconds later, a towering ogre lumbered from the darkness and splashed into the closest stream.
As the ogre approached him, Yannar thrust out his sword. Though the ogre was not within reaching distance, a ghostly image of the blade continued on, digging into the ogre’s stomach. The beast cried out, clutching at the wound with one spade-like claw. Suddenly, Fade let out a yelp as an invisible bolt of force hit her in the chest. As she staggered backwards, she caught a glimpse of one particularly tall half-orc, clad in a dark robe, whose hands were outstretched.
Vic stepped up to where Martin was still clawing at the orc, swinging his staff at the guard. With a cry of frustration, the orc slashed out with his sword, catching Martin’s wing. Fade, who had regained her balance, muttered a few words, and suddenly two more Fades, identical in every way to the original, stepped up from behind her. The ogre, clearly dumbfounded, swung its huge hand at her, and she nimbly leaped back. Both duplicates copied the motion exactly.
The ogre, now angry as well as confused, let out a roar and swung down at Yannar, who easily dodged the blow. As it swung, the ogre slipped on the slimy rocks. In almost no time, Zanros appeared in front of the ogre. With a savage grin, he trust his glaive forward. It sank deep into the ogre’s chest, and as it did, tendrils of electricity surged from Zanros’ hand and down the glaive. There was a muted thump and the ogre’s chest burst, smouldering chunks of flesh landing in the stream before it. The hulking beast collapsed, sending water (and small fish) everywhere.

Yannar darted around the fallen ogre, narrowly avoiding an arrow which splashed into one of the rivers. However, before he could close the gap on the half-orcs, the robed figure held up his hands and Yannar suddenly found himself trapped in hundreds of sticky, slightly luminous green strands. Fade, and her duplicates, were likewise immobilised. Zanros managed to dodge most of the web, but still found himself slowed. Grimacing, the young elf raised his hands as flames began to form at his fingertips.
“No!” Fade screamed. “Don’t do that! The whole web would go up!”
Zanros nodded, the flames dissipating. Vic whistled sharply, and Martin returned to him. No sooner had the bird settled on his shoulder when Vic threw both hands forward. A sphere of flames spilled out, swelling rapidly as it rolled across the ground towards the cadre of half-orcs. Two turned to run, but had no chance to move before the burning orb engulfed them. Vic dragged his hands along, and the sphere rolled around, burning the magical web as it went.
Still struggling to free herself, Fade fired off another glowing bolt, which hit the orc mage. To her side, Yannar was desperately tugging at the glutinous ropes which held him. Another arrow flew past him, striking the web which covered the floor. With a snarl, the robed half-orc began to mutter an incantation. Horror dawned on Fade as she recognised the spell of blindness. Fade began to tug at her bonds, but to no avail. Yannar’s vision began to dim, but he closed his eyes and gathered his focus, and when he opened his eyes, his vision had returned to normal.
Seeing that Yannar was okay, Fade held out her hands, and her two mirror images did the same. Pulsing orbs of electricity formed in each of their hands, and then flew forth, merging into one as they neared the orcs. They hit one half-orc, and it collapsed, muscles twitching. The orc next to it looked down at its fallen kin and backed away. The mage turned and barked something in its own language, and the orc reluctantly held his ground.
Zanros managed to pick up momentum again, and hurried over to Yannar. He began to pull at the strands holding Yannar down, and between both mens’ efforts, the web finally tore. Yannar was off in an instant, cutting one orc down with a single sweep of his sword. Yannar turned to the mage and swung again, but the remaining half-orc blocked the blow.

The robed half-orc turned to Yannar with a growl and held out a hand which seemed to be wreathed in shadow.
“Watch out!” Fade screamed.
Yannar dodged to one side as the orc swung its hand at him. The shadows dissipated, and the mage cursed in its harsh tongue. Suddenly, Vic’s flaming sphere turned and trundled towards the hooded figure, but the half-orc managed to leap out of the way. Seeing this, Zanros stabbed out with his glaive, nicking the orc. The mage hissed and grabbed the shaft of Zanros’ glaive. Zanros tried to tug the weapon from the orc’s grasp, but without success. Then, the orc pressed its hand against Zanros’ chest, and electricity poured into the young elf’s body. Zanros cried in pain, staggering backwards as his armour began to smoulder. Glaring, Yannar swung his sword at the orc, cutting into the armour but little else.
Still trapped in the web, Fade muttered a word, and her hand erupted into low blue flames. She touched her metal arm, and it, too, burst into flames. With a smile, she batted at the web with her burning arm, severing the strands which trapped her. Vic directed his burning orb towards the mage, but it winked out of existence before it reached him. Zanros suddenly let out a furious roar and charged towards the mage, swinging his glaive in a wide arc. The blade sunk into the half-orc’s armour, tearing it open. Dark blood poured out, and with a hiss, the robed orc fell to the ground.
The final orc standing dodged a blow from Yannar, and with a roar, stabbed out with its own sword. The blow connected, and Yannar stumbled backwards, bleeding from the shoulder. Vic sent Martin forward, drawing the half-orc away from Yannar. Suddenly, Fade was there, leaping over the fallen mage, flanked by her doubles. Her arm was alive with blue flame as she swung it around, driving it into the orc’s temple. The orc did not have a chance to make a sound as his head exploded in a shower of burning skull and brain matter.

Fade landed on the ground, panting. Chunks of the orc’s head were beginning to sizzle on her arm, sending out a horrific stench. The elf shook her arm and the flames disappeared. At the same time, her mirror images first shimmered, then vanished entirely. Zanros collapsed back onto a flat rock behind him, clutching his chest which looked mangled and burned. Vic hurried to his aid, calling martin back to him as he did. Yannar looked over at Fade, silently offering aid. Fade shook her head, and Yannar walked over to Zanros. Vic had already healed most of the elf’s wounds, however, so Yannar laid his hands up on Martin instead.
Fade searched the body of the half-orc mage, taking his cloak, bracers and a ring which all appeared to be magical. She also found a purse which was heavy with platinum pieces. She shared the pieces out, finding a piece of parchment as she did.
“It’s in goblin,” she said, reading it. “‘Neh’faz, stop the Cloud Ant airship from reaching New Cyre at all costs.’ The rest is its itinerary.”
“Is there no name saying who its from?” asked Vic, stroking Martin’s head.
“No,” Fade answered. “It’s not signed.”
“We should compare handwriting,” said Vic, pulling out the letter from Iden. Yannar also produced the letter from Q, which he still had in his backpack, and held it next to the other two notes.
“This would be easier if it wasn’t in goblin,” Yannar sighed.
“It’s difficult to hide your natural writing style,” Fade mused, “even when writing in another language. These are definitely all different.”

When Zanros was able to continue, Yannar moved ahead and listened at the larger of the cave mouths, but was unable to hear anything over the din of the waterfall. The party headed in cautiously, but saw that the only occupants of the cave were a couple of dead half-orcs. One was wearing an elaborate breastplate of fine craftsmanship, which Vic prised from the corpse. He also found 134 gold pieces on the body, which he shared amongst the group. He then searched the other body, finding a scroll.
Fade read it, and said; “It’s a scroll of lesser restoration. It could come in handy if either you or Yannar could cast it.”
“Here you go,” said Vic, handing the scroll to Yannar.
“Thank you,” Yannar said, slipping the paper into his backpack.
As Vic straightened up, the bizarre eyeless creature who had sent them on this mission stepped into the cave. Everyone was taken aback by his sudden appearance, but relaxed when he bowed to them. Yannar returned the gesture.
“My thanks to you,” the creature said in its hollow voice, “for getting rid of our enemies and freeing our sacred fisheries.”
The creature stepped out of the cave, and after a moment, the party followed. Several gremlins were now standing in the large cavern, and a few were attempting to push the carcass of the ogre over the waterfall. Yannar walked over to help them, and together, they managed to push it over the edge.
As Yannar did this, the creature led the rest of the party to the cliff edge and pointed down to the mass of the airship below.
“Take your flying vessel and leave us,” it said.
“Thank you,” said Yannar, rejoining the party.

The party were led back to the enormous chamber, where Aerdane greeted them with an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“Yes,” Yannar said with a smile. “We can go.”
“Oh, yes!” Aerdane exclaimed, getting to his feet. “Let’s get out of here!”
Aerdane led the party over to the Cloud Ant, an enormous ship composed of three segments very much like its namesake. One section had a huge, slightly blackened hole blasted into it, and the rear cabin was also missing a large chunk.
“Oh no!” Aerdane groaned. “I’m gonna have to get this repaired before we can take off! It’ll probably take a few minutes, so just hang tight. We’ll be out of here before you know it.”
“If you need a hand, we’ll be willing to help,” Yannar said, glancing at the enormous hole in the ship.
“Yeah,” Vic agreed. “We could hold planks or something.”
“No, that’s fine,” Aerdane said. “If you want, head into the cabin. There’s a chest. It’s got some restorative potions and things in, but whatever you do, don’t touch the small box that’s in there. That’s precious cargo or something.”
At the mention of a small box, Vic’s face lit up, and before anyone could say anything, he was charging towards the ladder which led up to the airship. Zanros hurried close behind, and seconds later, Fade and Yannar followed.
Aboard the ship, Vic found the cabin and threw it open. It contained six coloured potions in a rack, and a small wooden box. Vic’s face fell when he saw it, and he looked even more disappointed when he touched it. Shaking his head, he took out the potions, which were labeled. Two were more powerful, which he handed to Zanros and Yannar.

The party explored the ship (Zanros being scolded at one point for approaching a ballista) until Aerdane returned.
“Okay,” he said, wiping his brow. “I think that’s good, now. I’ll take her straight up and hopefully it won’t fall apart and die in a horribly big explosion.”
The party exchanged nervous glances as they followed Aerdane to the central segment of the ship, where the Elemental Ring was situated.
“Okay, Azflyr,” Aerdane said. “Take us up!”
The pilot next headed to the control cabin, followed by the party. Aerdane seized the large wooden wheel and held it level as the ship began to list from side to side. There were a series of loud creaks, and at one point, what sounded like a snap.
“Come on!” Aerdane cried. “Okay, I think we’ve got it! I think we’re going to be okay!”
The Ant slowly began to ascend, and within moments, sailed smoothly out of the gaping hole in the roof of the cavern. The sky outside was darkening into the purple shades of evening. Suddenly, there was a crack, and wind began to blow into the cabin. The entire party grabbed whatever was to hand, panicked expressions on their faces. Aerdane turned to them, his cheeks flushed.
“It’ll probably take us about ten minutes to get back to New Cyre,” he said, “so hold on tight!”
With each groan and crackle, the party felt that they would plummet to their deaths, but miraculously, the ship stayed in the air.
“You’re going to get this thing fixed before we leave New Cyre, right?” asked Fade.
“Don’t worry!” Aerdane cried cheerfully. “I’ll get some repairs in New Cyre, then I’ll get it patched up proper when we get back to Sharn. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine! She’ll hold together!” He leaned forward, and muttered to the wheel; “Come on, baby, hold together.”

After what seemed like hours, the Ant finally reached New Cyre. Aerdane brought the ship down until it was only a few feet above the ground, and then tossed down a rope ladder.
“Okay, we’re here,” he announced. “Everybody off.”
Before he had even finished his sentence, Fade had hurried past him and was scurrying down the ladder. The rest of the party rushed after her, and less than a minute after the rope ladder had been lowered, the party was on the ground. Zanros lay flat on his back with a shaky sigh, while Vic dropped to his knees, running his hands through the cool grass. A small crowd had gathered, looking in awe at the battered ship. Aerdane made his way down the ladder, and then set about recruiting people to help in the repair of the ship.
After a moment’s recovery, the party headed over to the House Medani building. There, they found Brina and Juffrey the Pale, sharing tal and deep in coversaton. However, as soon as the party entered, Juffrey leaped to his feet.
“Did you do it?” he asked. “Did you get the airship?”
“Yes,” Yannar replied.
“Brilliant,” he said, handing out black bags of coin. “Here’s your 4,000 gold pieces, as promised.”
Once the money was distributed, Juffrey left to see the Cloud Ant. Brina turned to the group, a nervous look on her quietly pretty face.
“Do you think it’s alright for us to embark now?” she asked. “Or is the airship not in a good state?”
There was a moment’s silence, before Yannar quietly said; “It’s not in a good state. I think it’s best that we wait until morning.”
“Aerdane’s patching her up,” Vic added.
“Alright,” Brina sighed. “I suppose I’ll book myself into the inn again.”

Yannar paid for Brina’s room, and the party, save for Vic, turned in. Deciding that he might be able to get a discount on the hat of disguise, Vic assumed the alluring form of Oren Azure and went over to the House Cannith enclave. Fred was sat behind the counter with at least eight hats piled on top of his head.
“Welcome!” he exclaimed with a smile as Oren entered. “Are you here to buy a hat from me, perhaps?”
“I was wondering if you had a hat of disguise,” Oren purred, leaning over the desk.
“Why, yes, madam,” Fred said, glancing at the woman’s impressive cleavage. “I certainly do.”
“How much would that be?” Oren asked.
“It would be…” Fred said. “Um… Shall we say… 1,500 gold pieces?”
“Could I possibly get a better deal on that?” Oren sighed, leaning further forward and pushing her breasts together.
“I’m afraid I’ve already taken the employee discount off, madam,” Fred said regretfully. “I couldn’t possibly go any lower.”
“I’m afraid that’s a bit out of my price range,” Oren said with a pout.
Fred removed the stack of hats he was wearing and replaced it with a tall”I’m sorry to hear that, madam.”
Oren nodded and left, with Fred keeping a keen eye on her until the door closed behind her. Sometime between the enclave and the inn, Oren became Vic once again, and as the moon rose high in the sky, the changeling retired to his room.
A few hours later, the entire party was awoken by the sound of a door slamming. In their separate rooms, everyone went for their weapons until they heard a booming voice cry; “Yes! The airship’s fixed! You! Get me a drink! Who wants a shag!?”
Vic, who knew it would be a while before he could get back to sleep, decided that Aerdane deserved some thanks for getting them back to New Cyre safely, and thought that he may appreciate a visit from Oren.

The next morning, the party regrouped, and Vic quietly told his friends about his rather disappointing encounter with Aerdane. At around the same time, the pilot staggered downstairs, his eyes bloodshot and his hair a mess.
“Are you going to be alright?” Yannar queried.
“I’ll be fine,” Aerdane insisted. “I haven’t fallen over yet.”
The party, all looking uncomfortable, took breakfast with Aerdane and Brina, and then gathered outside, where the Cloud Ant was waiting. The repairs had clearly been done in a hurry, but the ship at least looked like it would stay in the air.
“Okay,” Aerdane announced. “Last airship for Sharn is departing… whenever.”
Aerdane’s five passengers nervously boarded the Ant, with Vic and Yannar helping Brina with her bags. Once onboard, they waited anxiously as Aerdane stumbled up to the helm, rubbing blearily at his eyes, then half grabbed, half slumped across the wheel, and cried; ”Argh Let’s go home!”
“Are you okay to fly?” Yannar asked, touching Aerdane gently on the shoulder.
“I’m fine!” Aerdane exclaimed. “Practically flies itself. I’ll just point it in the right direction and we’ll be fine.”
The airship took off, and the resulting journey was surprisingly smooth. En route, Vic confided his true nature in Brina, and when she explained that she was comfortable with it, he once again resumed the appearance of Renauld. Aerdane also told a rather lewd story about the woman he had slept with last night.
Some time later, the spires and towers of Sharn came into view, and mintues later, the Ant touched down.
“Yes!” Aerdane shouted, throwing his arms in the air. “We’re back in Sharn! I’m going to drink myself into a coma! Yes!”
“Thank you for the lift,” Yannar said hastily as the party gathered their gear and exited the airship.

The party saw Brina into a carriage and waved her off, before discussing their next move.
“We should probably go to House Medani and get our payment,” Fade said.
“I think I’ll go straight to Hubert,” Yannar said, referring to the weaponsmith they often visited. “You can go on without me, and I’ll meet you at Hubert’s.”
“Do you want me to pick yours up for you?” Fade asked.
“I’m not getting paid,” Yannar admitted. “I decided the money would serve better finding Renauld’s box than my having it.”
Renauld looked stunned, but smiled appreciatively. The three took their leave of Yannar, and headed over to the House Medani enclave, where they were greeted by a male half-elf clerk.
“Brina has returned safely,” the clerk said, “and I have been instructed to pay you each your 500 gold pieces.”
The half-elf did this, and Fade hurried off, saying that she had an errand to run. Renauld asked of the clerk; “Has there been any news?”
“Baron Trelib d’Medani did want to see you,” the clerk replied. “He isn’t free at the moment, but will let you know when he is free.”
Renauld and Zanros thanked the clerk and headed to Hubert’s shop

While the rest of the party spoke with the clerk, Yannar was greeted in the usual friendly manner at the weapon’s shop.
“Welcome to my shop!” Hubert cried in his strange accent. “Ah, yes, I recognise you. You sell me sword. You’ve come to sell me more?
“I was hoping you could tell me more about this,” replied Yannar, holding out the great sword he had taken from Iden. Huber touched the flat of the blade, and then immediately drew back his hand with a hiss.
“Whoa, a tingly sword!” he yelped. “That’s strange. Put on counter, I have a look.”
Yannar did as he was asked, before saying; “Have you ever come across something like this before?”
“I think I have,” Hubert said. “I think I read something. Wait here, I have a look.”
Hubert disappeared into the back room of his shop, and Yannar heard the rustling of pages. It was at this time that Zanros and Renauld entered. Yannar turned, and on not seeing Fade, frowned.
“Where’s Fade?” the paladin asked.
“She left after getting paid,” Vic said. “I didn’t see where she went.
“Sorry,” said Hubert, reappearing from the back. “I don’t see anything what this could be. It’s strange! It vibrates when you touch it, but not when I do it. Are you magic?”
“I don’t know,” Yannar said bashfully. “Not really.”
“I don’t know,” Hubert sighed. “Is strange sword. Unusual design. Never seen before. I don’t know what this is. It may be cursed! Full of demons!”
“Alright,” said Yannar, taking the weapon back. “That’s fine. I just thought you might know.”
Renauld stepped up to the counter, setting down the breastplate. Hubert inspected it, then shook his head.
“Um… I don’t particularly care for armour,” the shopkeeper said. “It’s quite nice.”
Renauld sighed and stepped away from the counter. Yannar took his place, wearing a shy smile.
“Do you know where I could get this identified?” he asked, touching the hilt of the sword. As Hubert considered the question, Fade entered the shop.
“Magic identifying,” Hubert saod. “Maybe House Cannith or House Tharashk.”
Yannar thanked Hubert and moved away, smiling at Fade when he saw her. Zanros stepped up to Hubert and produced the spiked chain he had procured.
“Ohweewow!” Hubert exclaimed. “I tell you, I give you 250 gold right now for that, and I won’t ask who you killed to get it!”
“Say 300 and it’s a deal,” Zanros said.
“Eh,” Hubert groaned. ”It’s nice, but…270?”
“Sold!” Zanros cried.

The party’s next stop was House Cannith. The clerk informed them that it would cost 110 gold pieces for each item identified. Happy with the price, Yannar had his sword inspected. The clerk said that it was reactive to those with psionic abilities. It was also made with Riedran cristeel, a very rare compound of crystal and steel. Renauld also had his breastplate identified, and when he was informed that it was a well-crafted but mundane piece of armour, traded it to Zanros for the divine wand the elf had picked up, which the House Cannith clerk said was a wand of light curing.
Fade handed over the items she had taken from the half-orc mage in the mountains. The cloak was identified as a weak cloak of resistance, while the ring was a ring of feather falling. The bracers, she was told, had significant magic strength. Zanros had the boots he had taken from the South Facility identified, and was informed that they had the power to shake the very earth.
After this, Zanros split off from the party, while the remaining trio headed to the dwarf in the bazaar who specialised in gems. The one-eyed jeweller appraised the gems in the bag Renauld had, and said; “There’s some very nice gems here. I’ll say… 2,000 gold for the lot of them.”
Renauld accepted this price gladly. Fade handed over the spellshard and bag of gems she was holding. The gems sold for 30 gold, and then the dwarf inspected the spellshard.
“You know you’ve got some spells in this already?” the dwarf asked.
“I do?” Fade gasped. She peered into the crystal, and discerned that it contained spells of silent image and ventriloquism.
“Fade?” Renauld interrupted.
“Yes?” she asked, distracted.
“Are you buying the scroll for the hat of disguise,” Renauld queried, “or am I?”
“No, I’ll buy it,” Fade muttered. “They aren’t very expensive. I said I would if you helped me create Yannar’s brooch, but, given Yannar’s newfound spell ability, he could help me do it anyway. But a promise is a promise. I said I would buy it, and though the circumstances have changed, I’ll still buy it.”
Renauld nodded gratefully. Fade turned back to the dwarf, who said; “I’ll give you 175 for the shards. But if you’re a crafter, I’d hang onto them, if I were you. They’d be worth double if you traded them for materials.”
“I am,” Fade said with a smile. “And I will. Thank you.”
The trio then returned to the apartment, which had not been touched since they left. The party stored their gear in their rooms and opened the windows to alleviate some of the musty smell of disuse. Yannar cut an apple in half and placed it on the windowsill for Fightman, before retiring to his room to meditate. After a few moments, Fade left the apartment and headed to the religious quarter. There, she found a church of Dol Arrah, and offered the symbol she had found to the first priest she saw.
“Thank you very much,” the priest said. “May blessings be upon you.”
Fade nodded to the priest and left, walking slowly back to the apartment.

When she got back to the apartment, it was getting late, and it seemed that everyone had retired to their rooms. Taking advantage of the quiet, Fade removed her armour and then walked quietly over to Yannar’s bedroom door. She tapped gently on the door, and when Yannar opened it, she slipped inside without a word.
As soon as the door snicked silently closed, Yannar took her in his arms and kised her forehead, stroking her hair as he did.
“I’ve missed being near you,” he whispered. “It’s strange, but I feel as though we’ve been separated for weeks.”
Fade suddenly pulled back, a nervous look on her face, and asked; “What’s my mother’s name?”
“Nyaewyn,” Yannar said, his brow furrowed.
“I’m sorry,” Fade sighed. “I expected you would touch my arm to be sure it was me, but when you didn’t, my concern was that you didn’t know you had to. I’m sorry. Something I forget you don’t think like me.”
“It’s alright,” Yannar said quietly.”I didn’t think about what we’d discussed. I’m sorry. Are you alright?”
“Yes,” Fade replied, sitting down on the bed. “I’m sorry. I spoiled this a little. I always make things much more complicated than they should be by thinking too hard about it all. That’s also what I wanted to say to you. There’s no more solutions, ideas, plans or thoughts I have left to consider. I’m ready for us to be seen. This week has been so painful for me, wanting to be close to you, as well. But I want us to be seen. Whenever you are ready.”
After a thoughtful pause, Yannar said; “I don’t want to have to explain unless we’re confronted. But should they find out for themselves, I won’t deny it.” Fade nodded, a thoughtful smile on her face. There was a pause, and then the paladin said; “Will you stay until the morning?”
“I’ll stay until you want me to leave,” Fade replied, loosening her hair.
“You could always bring your things in here when you wake up,” Yannar suggested, once again stroking the elf’s soft red hair. ”But I don’t expect you to stay if you have things you need to do, of course.”
“I’ll bring them tomorrow night,” Fade said with a smile. ”Tonight I’ll simply devote to you. After so long a time apart, it’s what I need.”
She turned to him then, and they kissed, and then made love. Afterwards, they drifted off together, both of them wearing smiles of true satisfaction.

The next morning, Yannar went through to the communal area while Fade gathered the materials for Renauld’s hat of disguise. Moments later, Zanros walked through the door, a mug of ale in his hand and a small bat sitting on his shoulder.
“Good morning,” Yannar said, trailing off when he spotted the bat. “Uh… why do you have a bat?”
“Oh, you mean Bruce?” Zanros asked nonchalantly, sitting in a chair across the room. “My grandpa once told me that our family had the innate magical ability to control familiars. Honestly not something I really cared about until I met the other two, and their pets. Seemed like as good a time as any to get one for me. Drink?”
Before Yannar could reply, Fade walked into the room with a stack of books atop which were folds of colourful material. As she set the books on the central table, Locke let out a rather loud expletive. Fade looked up and saw Bruce.
“A bat?” she exclaimed.
“Yes, a bat!” Zanros replied. “So what?” The young elf took a swig of beer, and then handed it to the bat, who took it in his claws and clumsily deposited it on the table.
“Is he friendly?” Yannar inquired.
“He’s as friendly as I am,” Zanros replied, tickling the bat under the chin. “Aren’t you, Bruce?”
At that moment, Renauld walked into the room. He saw the bat, frowned, and looked at Zanros.
“Want a drink?” he asked.

There came a knocking at the door at around mid morning. Renauld answered the door to see a well-dressed male half-elf.
“Mr Fairhaven?” the visitor asked politely.
“That’s me,” Renauld replied.
“Baron Trelib d’Medani wants to see you as soon as possible,” the half-elf said.
“Would now be good?” Renauld asked.
“Yes sir,” answered the half-elf. “The invitation is extended to your friends as well.”
“Did you want to do this on your own?” Yannar asked from the communal area.
“Why don’t you come along,” Renauld replied, “and we’ll see what’s to be said first.”
“Well,” Yannar said. “We’ll leave you to it if you want.”
“Okay,” said Renauld with a smile. “I’ll go, and I’ll bring back any news that’s relevant to you.”
“Alright,” Yannar replied. “I hope it’s good for you.”
“Thank you,” Renauld said, before following the half-elf out of the door. They reached the House Medani building in a short time, and Renauld was asked to wait outside Baron Trelib’s office. Renauld did so, occasionally looking out for Zelina, until he was ushered inside.

“Ah, Mr Fairhaven!” Baron Trelib said with a smile. “I have got some good news for you and some bad news, That is to say, half the news that I have is of a positive nature, and half of it is more negative news.”
“I suppose I’d better have the bad news first,” Renauld sighed.
“Actually, that would not really work,” Baron Trelib muttered. “I will tell you the good news and then the bad news. That is probably the most logical way of proceeding. Otherwise, if I tell you the bad news, you will probably wonder what I am talking about, whereas if I tell you the good news-”
“Good news first, then,” Renauld interrupted, eyes flashing with impatience.
“The good news is,” Baron Trelib said, “we’re 99.9% certain we have determined the location of where your box is, and presumably the contents within. The bad news is, your box is currently residing in a House Kundarak strongbox here in Sharn.”
“Why is that bad news?” Renauld asked.
“Well, it is bad news because we don’t have keys to get into the strongbox,” explained Baron Trelib. “I am sure they would not likely hand it over if you just asked.”
“Which one is it?” Renauld queried.
“The House Kundarak in the banking portion of Northedge,” Baron Trelib said. “It is a fairly large bank. Howeverm it is not as big as the main bank in Dragon Towers. Nonetheless, it is a fairly substantial size. However, I would like to discuss this matter further with you. If you would care to join me at a later date with your colleagues, I have some business matters to discuss with you. Possibly more potential jobs.
“Okay,” Renauld said, a little glumly. “Thank you.”
“You are quite welcome,” Baron Trelib said. “Have a good day.”

With very little planning or thought, Renauld walked over to Northedge, where he easily found the enormous House Kundarak bank. It sat, huge and alone, atop a tower near the edge of a cliff. A wall that had to be at least ten feet tall surrounded the bank. Though the area was bustling with people, mainly dwarves, Renauld found a quiet place, where he hurriedly assumed the form of Iden.
Outside the bank, a cheerful looking gnome called out; “Good day, sir! Don’t forget to say ’Kundarak’ before you enter the bank, to bypass the ward. Good day.”
“Why, of course, my dear boy,” Renauld said in his best Iden voice.
The changeling said Kundarak as he walked into the large bank, which was full of people, moving hither and thither. Renauld instantly noticed a huge statue of a dwarf, and disconcertingly, found that its eyes seemed to follow him as he moved into the bank. After a moment, a ginger dwarf walked over to him.
“How can we help you today, sir?” he asked.
“Uh… yes,” Renauld stumbled. “I’ve come to collect something from the security lockbox.”
“Certainly,” the dwarf said. “I’ll just get a clerk to deal with you.”
The dwarf hurried off, and moments later, returned with a more well-dressed dwarf.

“I understand you’d like to make a withdrawal from our bank today,” the dward said.
“That’s correct,” replied Renauld.
“And what name is it, please?” the dwarf asked.
“Iden ir’Kerrith,” Renauld ventured.
“Excellent, sir,” the dwarf said. “I trust your brought your magical security key charm?”
”No,” Renauld said hastily. “It was stolen from me. By goblins.”
“Oh,” the dwarf muttered. “That’s terrible, terrible news, sir. Don’t worry, though. If you’ll just provide us with your security password, we’ll look it up in our books, and be able to offer you a replacement.”
Renauld hesitated for a long moment, and then spat out; “Deneith.” The dwarf nodded and walked away. While he was alone, Renauld cast a nervous glance over at the bulky dwarf statue. He was now convinced that it was looking at him in some way. As he pondered this, the dwarf returned, a regretful look on his face.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,” the dwarf said, “but we don’t seem to have any record of you in our books. I don’t know what to say. Is Iden ir’Kerrith the given name you opened the account with?”
“Yes,” Renauld replied instantly. “Maybe I’m mistakn. Maybe it was another Kundarak bank.”
“If it was,” the dwarf said, “if you could tell us the name of the bank, we’ll be able to magically transport it over.”
“No,” Renauld said, now growing very, very nervous. “I’m afraid I don’t remember. Goodbye.”
“Very well,” the dwarf said politely. “Good day, sir.”
Renauld rushed out of the bank, and as soon as he found a quiet area, resumed his usual form.

The changeling returned to the apartment in the Spiretop Dragon tower, where he found Yannar meditating int he communal room. Though Renauld tried to be quiet, Yannar’s eyes fluttered peacefully open, and he asked of Renauld; “Any news?”
“Trelib wants to see all of us,” the changeling replied.
“Right now?” Yannar asked. “Fade’s still working on your hat.”
“Well, he didn’t say immediately,” Renauld said.
“I can put it off for a few hours, if need be,” Fade said, stepping out of her room, an empty mug in hand.
“Are you sure?” asked Renauld.
“Yes,” Fade replied. ”It hurts my eyes working too long, anyway.”
“Alright,” Renauld said. “Go and get Zanros and we’ll be on our way.” Fade nodded, and walked away.
“How did it go with what you were asking?” Yannar asked Renauld once they were alone.
“Not very well,” Renauld said honestly. “But we’ll see how it goes when we go and see him again.”
he valued, and when he died, my mother continued teaching me everything he would have wanted me to know. When I was old enough, I left Sarlona, out of fear that my being there was endangering my mother and the rest of her family. Although I’ve been safe from them since that day, I couldn’t take the chance. I hear the influence the Inspired have does not stretch to this continent.” He cleared his throat. “As for Breland and why I fought for you… I honestly couldn’t say. It felt like it was what I should do. I understand that sounds strange.”
“Is she still alive?” Fade queried. “Do you know?”
“I don’t know,” Yannar replied plainly. “I think I’m happier telling myself that she is.”
There was a long moment of silence, as Fade held Yannar tightly, feeling his heartbeat beneath her, hearing his breathing. Then, she simply said; “Thank you.”

The next morning, the party traveled to the House Medani enclave. While waiting to be seen by Baron Trelib, where both Renauld and Yannar looked out for Zelina. However, the party were called into Baron Trelib’s office before they spotted her.
“It is brilliant to see you all,” Baron Trelib said with a smile. “Marvelous. Thank you so much for investigating Brina. It is good to know that she is safe and sound. Terrible business what was happening in New Cyre. Anyway, what I wanted to see you for. Renauld, I am not entirely sure how much you have told your companions about the state of the item you were looking for.” Renauld was silent. “I would not want to say anything untoward.”
“I’ve just said that I haven’t yet found it,” Renauld muttered.
“Well,” Baron Trelib said. “Why you are all here today is about the location of it. Have you informed them of the current state of affairs as to where it is located?”
“It’s in the Kundarak bank in the Northedge district here in Sharn,” Renauld said. “Holdfast.”
“That’s good!” Yannar exclaimed with a smile. “Can you get to it?”
“No,” Renauld sighed. “Not unless anyone has any ideas of how I can get it without knowing who put it there in the first place.”
No one said anything, until Baron Trelib leaned in conspiratorially and whispered; “Actually, I might have some ideas. If you will excuse me a second.”
The half-elf stepped over to the window behind his desk and drew the blinds. He then sat back down and produced a small bell and a white orb from a drawer in his desk. He set them in front of him, and then looked intently at the party.

“This is all entirely off the record, you understand,” Baron Trelib said. “This conversation is not technically taking place. So, you came and visited, and we had a nice chat, and then you left. I did not say anything I am about to say. I will be quite interested in seeing the other contents of a House Kundarak strongbox. The report given of New Cyre worried me, and if possible, I would like you to take a look at any documents you find. Make sure nothing is going on here in Sharn, you understand. Anyway, the House Kundarak vault… it has a reputation for being impossible to break into. And that is exactly why I think you can do it?”
“Well, how would you suggest we get into this impregnable vault?” Renauld asked.
“We have managed to locate the particular key charm for this strongbox,” Baron Trelib explained. “If you have that, you are halfway there. It is currently being held by a marshall known as Talia d’Deneith. We know she keeps the key charm on her more or less at all times. If you manage to get that off her, then it should be well within the realms of possibility to get down into the vaults and unlock the box.”
“And we’ll just walk into the vaults?” Renauld sneered.
“Well, not walk in,” Baron Trelib admitted. “More… shuffle in. Disable some alarms and eliminate some guards.”
“While there, I did notice a statue that seemed to be watching me,” Renauld said, “which made me somewhat nervous.”
“Really?” Baron Trelib exclaimed. “That is interesting. Any information you can find out will be invaluable. Like gold. You will need to find out as much as you can about this bank. The more preparation the better. First things first, you need to get this key charm.”
“She’s not going to be keen to part with it, I’m guessing?” Renauld said. “Is she a marshall for an enclave here in Sharn?”
“Yes,” replied Baron Trelib. “Though she is more of a freelancer. She tends to travel arouns a lot. She is in Sharn at the moment, but she does not spend much time at the enclave. I think that would give you an opportunity to part her from this key charm.”
“Are we to use violence?” Renauld inquired.
“Probably best that you do not,” Baron Trelib muttered.
“We are still within the law of Sharn, after all,” Fade murmured.

“Just for your information,” Renauld said to Baron Trelib, “we haven’t had a lot of luck with stealing things in a stealthy manner.”
“Okay, then,” Baron Trelib said after a moment. “I am not sure your group is best suited to stealth. But I know you have a strong spell casting presence. And your ability to change your face will be invaluable. I think, possibly, some manner of deception would be able to part her from this key charm.”
“Would it be easier to part her from it if she were physically satisfied?” Renauld asked with a smirk.
“Hm,” Baron Trelib replied, suddenly seeming quite uncomfortable. “You could seduce her. Hm. That might actually work. I was thinking follow her, see if she ever leaves her key charm unattended, and take it then.”
“Well, if one plan fails, we could always try another,” Renauld said. “Good thing about me is, the same person will never approach her twice.”
“That’s very forward thinking of you,” Baron Trelib said kindly.
“It would also be a good idea to try and follow her around,” Fade said, “and see if there is anybody she speaks with, or knows well.”
“Someone she trusts,” Yannar added.
“Do you have a picture of her?” Renauld asked Baron Trelib. “Or a description of who we’re looking for? Anywhere we might find her at this present time?”
Baron Trelib went on to describe Talia as tall and well-built, with long dark hair. She often wielded a large sword, he said. He also suggested following her, looking for an ideal moment to take the key charm, as well as finding floor plans for the bank.
“In that case,” Renauld said, getting to his feet, “the hat of disguise is going to be incredibly useful in this endeavour.”
Fade also stood up, and said; “I’ll get back to working on it.”
“While you’re doing that, I’ll head over and try to find this woman,” Renauld said.
“I’ll leave that to you, if that’s alright,” Yannar said. “Because one person following her is probably going to be less noticeable than the four of us.”

Renauld spent much of the rest of the day gathering information about Talia, until finally, he found someone who knew her. The man mentioned that she usually stayed in her apartment during the day, and went out to various taverns during the night.
Renauld followed the man’s directions, finding the apartment building that Talia lived in. He waited there for almost five hours, untilt he sky grew dark and the everbright lanterns in the street burst into life. An hour later, Talia finally exited the building. Renauld waited for her to slip into the crowd, and then followed.
Some way down the street, Talia glanced back. Renauld ducked into an alley, his heart thundering in his chest. After a moment, he brushed his hand across his forehead, and, eyes closed in concentration, took the form of a guise he had used before – Nyls Tourne, a very muscular, bearded man. Nyls left the alleyway just in time to see Talia step into a tavern, apparently called The King of Fire.
Nyls walked over to the door, where he was stopped by a gruff half-orc.
“Weapons,” the half-orc snarled. Nyls unloaded his staff and sling, and headed inside.

At the apartment, Fade was adding some final touches to Renauld’s hat of disguise, a large purple number with a striped band. Yannar had Fade’s spell book in his hands, and was squinting at one of the pages.
“How do you even understand this?” Yannar murmured.
“It’s easy when you know how,” Fade said matter-of-factly.
“It doesn’t look easy,” Yannar said.
“Vi Kalashtar shilta ti yenta sia lexri,” Fade said with a smile.
“I’m sorry?” Yannar said, looking up.
“A Kalashtar cannot say my words,” Fade translated. “It’s draconic. Which is what that’s in.”
“Oh,” Yannar murmured, glancing back down at the page. Fade touched Yannar’s chin, and gently brought his gaze back up to her.
“O cali tadi ti mai cadia,” she said softly.
“And what does that mean?” Yannar asked.
“It’s elven,” Fade said. “It means I’ve finished the hat. Zanros has gone out, Renauld probably won’t be back until later, and Locke is asleep. What shall we do, do you think?”

Nyls stepped into The King of Fire and stopped in his tracks, his mouth falling open. The whole tavern seemed to be ablaze. The bar, the light fittings, even the stools were englufed in flames. However, people were sitting around, drinking as if nothing were amiss. Nyls gingerly touched a nearby stool, and found that the flames gave off no heat. Nyls shook his head, and as he did, he caught sight of Talia, sitting at the bar. Nyls walked up next to her, glancing at her drink as he did.
“I’ll have a cup of blackroot,” the changeling said. He was handed his drink, and glanced over at Talia, who didn’t seem to even notice him. She finished her drink, and Nyls ordered her another. She thanked him brusquely, without even looking at him.
As the night wore on, Talia drank more and more, but did not seem to get drunk. Nyls tried to strike up conversation again and again, but got little out of her, save for a short exchange about weapons. Eventually, he bid her goodnight and left.
It was Renauld who stepped into the apartment, where Yannar was making some tal.
“How did it go?” the paladin asked.
“Plan A didn’t work,” Renauld sighed.
“No?” Yannar asked. “What was plan A? Were you just going to follow her?”
“Plan A was seduce and destroy,” Renauld said. “Anyway, time to come up with a plan B. Goodnight.”



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