“Fine!” Empattin hissed, suddenly tired of this exchange. “Brilliant! Whatever. Strength in numbers. Four weirdos and a couple of birds.” He shook his head. “They don’t pay me enough for this.”
The group surveyed Empattin coolly, no one saying anything. Empattin looked at each of them in turn, and then sighed, a listless, defeated sound.
“Okay, look,” he said. “This guy… we knew where he was until about three days ago, at which point, he vanished. Him and about twenty of his men. We have no idea where they’ve gone. Frankly, we don’t have the money, or the time, or the men to deal with this, so please, just find out where this bastard is and bring him in so I can throw him in all the jails.”
“All the jails?” the female elf asked.
“Yes,” Empattin replied. “I’ve got a stack of books I’m going to throw at him. I’m going to put him through the courtrooms, all of them, and he’ll grow old and die in prison, hopefully.”
“So, we have to bring him in alive?” the redheaded elf queried.
“Yes, please,” Empattin said. “Please do. I wouldn’t cry if his head gets removed from his body and paraded through the streets on a stick, but I’d like to be the one who does the severing, if that’s alright with you?”
“Can we do half the severing?” the young male elf asked with a grin. Empattin felt hot rage flare inside him, but stifled it.
“Just as long as he’s dealt with,” Empattin said stiffly, “and he’s not being a complete bastard to everyone I know.”
“Do you have any information on who he’s riding with, and what capabilities they have?” the lady elf asked.
“To be honest, no,” Empattin admitted. “We did know, and then he moved. Then all of his people turned up dead and now he’s got a bunch of new people. I don’t know how he does it, and it’s driving me spare.”
“Where was the last place you saw this guy?” the male elf questioned.
“The last place we had him was just outside the city,” said Empattin. “North of Sharn. There were farmers who reported some bandits. We checked it out and found an old camp in the woods. It was abandoned when we got to it.”
“No booze?” the young elf asked. “Nothing?”
“They cleaned up well,” Empattin sighed. “The only other place I can think of is where he used to live in the city, but he left there months ago. There’s nothing there, it’s just empty. This guy cleans up after himself really well. Maybe a couple of people dealt with him down in Lower Dura. If you go down there, you’ll probably die, but it’s your call.”
The young elf turned to the rest of the assembled people, his face serious for perhaps the first time since he had entered the Watch Captain’s office.
“I say we head to his old house,” he said. “There’s gotta be someone there who knows him.”
“Okay,” the tall man agreed.
“Whatever,” Empattin grunted. “The small elf seems to know what he’s doing. I’ll give you the address. If you find anything, please let us know.”
“He probably doesn’t know what he’s doing,” the female elf said, looking down at the young man. “But it’s a good plan all the same.”
“Fine,” said Empattin, now thoroughly disinterested. “Whatever. Go. I’ve got paperwork that needs to be done.”
The four individuals exited the Watch House and stood for a moment, surveying the bustling streets of Sharn. Finally, the redheaded elf turned to the young brunette with a wan smile.
“So,” she said. “Any bright ideas about this, then?”
“I say we check out his old house,” the young man repeated.
“Right,” the woman said unsurely.
“Someone will know him,” the young elf said. “Someone will have seen him.”
“And you just want to walk in there?” the woman asked.
“Hells yeah!” the boy exclaimed cheerfully. The blonde man looked down at the elf cynically.
“Okay,” he said. “You go first.”
“Okay!” the elf grinned.
“Don’t be leading the young elf in first!” the tall man said, the ghost of a smile on his face.
“If he wants to do that,” the blonde man said. “He’s a cocksure young thing.”
As the group walked the streets of Upper Dura, one of Sharn’s most respectable districts, they introduced themselves. The brash young elf introduced himself as Zanros Dawntracker. The female elf was Fade Yanith, and the bird was her companion, Locke. The blonde man identified himself as Renauld Fairhaven, not a human, but a changeling. His bird, Martin, was a magically-enhanced crow. The tall man spoke last, and in a refined, pleasant voice, said that his name was Yannar Estaph, a Kalashtar, descended from spirits.
After some searching, the party came across Portos’ old haunt, an abandoned shop now boarded up and somewhat derelict. Surrounding the shop was a deep chasm, blocked off from the street by a wrought iron railing.
“I vote we bash in the door,” said Zanros eagerly.
“All things considered,” Renauld mused, “do we think there’ll be anything in there that will help us?”
“It’s boarded up for a reason,” Zanros replied, never taking his eyes from the squat, dark shop.
“He’s bound to have left something in there,” agreed Yannar.
“I’m thinking a trap door somewhere,” Zanros mused.
“Yes?” Renauld said, unimpressed. “I don’t particularly want to be the one to break in, so if you fancy it…”
Zanros grinned, lowered his shoulder, and went to charge at the door when an authoritative female voice yelled out; “Stop!” Everyone turned to look at Fade, standing with her arms crossed, looking disapprovingly at Zanros.
“Let’s not delve into brute force just yet,” she said, lifting a hand to her shoulder. Her raven obediently stepped into her hand. “Locke, go and look around the building. See if you can see any entrances.”
“Alright,” the bird replied in a buzzing, croaky voice, before taking flight.
“Holy shit!” Zanros cried. “That bird just talked!” Fade looked at Zanros with a small smile.
“You really are young, aren’t you?” she said, pleasantly enough.
Moments later, Locke flew back down and settled on Fade’s shoulder.
“There’s a couple of mean looking pigeons up there!” Locke squawked. “And an open window. But other than that, it’s boarded up tight.”
“Can either of you climb up there?” Yannar asked Zanros and Fade, looking up at the shop’s second floor.
“I’m not the best climber,” Fade admitted.
“Screw that shit,” Zanros gasped.
“Can’t you send your bird in?” Renauld asked, looking at the raven which was now preening itself on Fade’s shoulder.
“Could you not?” Yannar asked, glancing at Renauld. “You’ve got a bird.”
“No, it’s alright,” Fade said hurriedly. “Locke, go in and see if you can see anything inside. Any clues to where this man may have gone, or any way we can get in without breaking and entering.”
The raven looked at Fade for a moment, before spreading his wings and taking off. Martin watched the raven go with what was almost a look of scorn. Locke returned within minutes.
“There’s a room in there,” he reported. “It’s messy! It’s covered in shit! You can get in, but… oh wait, you can’t fly!” Locke let out a rippling caw that almost sounded like laughter. Renauld scowled.
“Your bird has a bad attitude,” he grunted.
“He’s always had a bad attitude,” Fade said quietly. “I’m sorry. But if you want the best, you want the bird.”
“It’s clearly not the bird,” Renauld said, glaring at the raven.
“At least mine talks!” Fade exclaimed defensively.
“Mine talks to me,” Renauld said plainly.
“Can we focus on getting into the house, please?” Yannar asked. “Or at least where else we might need to go if we can’t get in? We have a job to do.”
“I’m still up for bashing the shite out of this door!” Zanros said. Fade sighed.
“There doesn’t seem to be any other way in,” she muttered.
Zanros grinned maniacally, lowering his shoulder and charging full force at the door. He connected solidly with the door which did not move an inch. Zanros fell backwards, grimacing and clutching his shoulder.
“You could try removing the boards on the door first,” Yannar said, rolling his eyes. Zanros looked back at the door, which had several wooden boards nailed across it, then at Yannar with a sheepish grin.
“I can try to get them off with my grappling iron,” Zanros suggested, taking the grappling hook from his belt.
“Okay, sure,” Yannar said. Zanros stepped over to the door and wedged one of the barbs of the iron behind the central wooden slat. He tied the rope about his fists and yanked. There was a prolonged creak, and then, with a flat crack, the board broke. He repeated this process for each plank on the door, requiring assistance for some of them.
Finally, when the last board had been removed, Zanros grabbed the rusted iron door handle and pushed. The door still didn’t move. Frustrated, Zanros seized the handle with both hands, levelled his shoulder and the door and shoved hard. With a high-pitched squeak and the flat scraping of swollen wood moving against more swollen wood, the door swung open. Zanros staggered into the shop, his feet flailing as he fell to the floor. Stinking dust puffed up around him.
“Are you okay?” Yannar asked with genuine concern.
“Yeah,” Zanros muttered, getting to his feet and brushing dust from his tunic and cloak. “I’m alright.”
Yannar stepped into the shop, followed by Fade. As soon as the woman stepped through the door, Locke began to hop from one foot to the other, flapping his wings and cawing frantically. Fade’s piercing blue eyes glanced nervously back and forth.
“There’s someone here!” she hissed, her right arm suddenly shifting and changing, taking on the shape of a light crossbow. Yannar’s hand fell to the hilt of his longsword, and Zanros readied his glaive. Renauld strode into the shop, hand tight on his staff.
“Who’s there?” the changeling called. A reedy voice whimpered in the darkness. Zanros’ head snapped round, and he strode into the gloom. He reached the filthy counter of the shop, placed both hands flat on its surface and peered over the top. Renauld walked around the counter, and looked down to see two dirty, dishevelled figures, their emaciated frames wrapped in torn, grubby cloth.
“Oh Gods!” one of the figures, a male with wide, darting eyes, shrieked, pressing himself back against the counter. “Please don’t kill me!”
Renauld stepped back, his eyes never leaving the two gaunt people. Zanros dropped to one knee, reached into his backpack and pulled out a handful of torn bread. Cautiously, he held it out to the squatters. The one who had talked looked at the bread for a moment, before darting forward and snatching it away. He greedily swallowed it, then looked back at Zanros, his lips now glistening with saliva.
“Wh-wh-who are you?” the man stammered.
“My name is Renauld,” said Renauld. “This is Yannar, Fade and Zanros.”
“What’s wrong?” Yannar asked, stepping around the counter to look at the shop’s residents.
“What’s wrong?” the male squatter squeaked. “You just bust down our door!”
“Then why was it boarded up from the outside?” Yannar queried.
“We don’t use that door,” the squatter said. “We leave upstairs.”
“Okay,” Yannar murmured, frowning.
“You leave upstairs?” Renauld asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“A-are you with the city?” the squatter asked, fear evident in his voice. “Are you here to kick us out?”
“No,” Yannar said gently. “Of course not.”
“Are you sure?” asked the squatter. “We’ve heard that before and they kick us out anyway.”
“No,” Yannar repeated. “We’re looking for this guy.”
Yannar glanced over at Zanros. Nodding, Zanros reached into his backpack and pulled out a wanted poster he had taken from the Watch House. The squatter squinted at the poster for a moment, then nodded.
“We-we know he used to live here,” the man whispered. “We haven’t got anything to do with him. We came here after. There was no one living here.”
“Do you know where he went?” queried Zanros.
“W-we have nothing to do with him!” the squatter exclaimed, his voice growing shrill. “We just live here!”
“That’s okay,” Yannar said in his most reassuring voice. “We don’t mean you any harm. We know you’re not with him, we just want to know if you have any information about him.”
“Wh-why would w-w-we have any information?” the squatter asked, his eyes darting about compulsively. “We don’t know him.”
“Do you mind if we look around?” Renauld asked.
“S-s-sure!” the squatter said, grinning widely enough to reveal his badly rotted teeth. “Just don’t go downstairs. D-don’t go downstairs!”
“What’s downstairs?” asked Renauld, brow furrowed. The man looked up at Renauld, genuine fear in his eyes.
“It goes straight to hell!” he whispered.
The party stood in stunned silence for a moment. The squatter began to pick at the dirty cloth wrapped about him. Then, Zanros said; “I’m going downstairs!”
“Don’t be stupid,” Fade hissed. Renauld looked over at the trap door which presumably led to the lower level. A heavy-looking wooden crate was sitting atop it.
“Have either of you two been downstairs?” Renauld asked.
“Yeah, once,” the squatter murmured, still toying with the cloth at his chest. “But we weren’t sure what was in there. We moved the crate over th-th-the trap door. We’re not going down there again!”
“I knew there was a trap door,” Zanros said with undeniable satisfaction.
“I don’t advise going down there without some information as to what’s in there,” Fade muttered. Yannar nodded.
“What did you see down there?” he asked the squatter. “Can you describe it in any way?”
“It… j-j-j… w-we thought there’d be some food down there,” the man babbled, “or something I could sell, and then it was dark down there, and th-th-then something came and then it killed him, and then we ran, and then, and then I didn’t really see it. It had big claws.”
“Who’s him?” inquired Zanros.
“Just… one of the other guys who came here with us,” the squatter replied.
“Claws,” Renauld mused.
“Yeah!” the man exclaimed. “Like, as big as a man, and j-just… bits of him went everywhere and his head came off, and I just ran.”
“Are you okay?” Yannar asked the other squatter, a ragged female who stared vacantly up at the ceiling. The squatter did not reply.
“I don’t think we’re going to get any more out of these guys,” Renauld muttered. “What are we hoping to find? It’s hardly going to be a note saying ‘oh, by the way, I’ve upped sticks and moved to wherever.’”
“To be honest, I’m trying to determine what kind of gang he’s running with,” Fade said. “What kind of gang he has determines which spells I must prepare.”
“A message between him and someone else would be enough, probably,” Zanros said.
“Shall we check upstairs, first?” asked Yannar. “Or check this room out?”
“We might as well check down here first,” Renauld sighed.
The party searched the room, checking in dust-caked drawers and sifting through piles of yellowed papers. Zanros came up with a couple of mildewed receipts from when the shop was an active hiking goods store, and Fade noticed that behind a ripped out counter, there were blood stains on the walls which had turned almost black.
“From what I can tell, it looks like someone was shot by a crossbow here,” she said thoughtfully. “Perhaps that’s why they had to leave.”
“Not if it was them doing the shooting,” Renauld said.
Suddenly, there was a shriek. Yannar leaped back from the bundle of rags he had accidentally kicked as it sat up. The frayed cloth pulled apart to reveal another unkempt squatter, this one male.
“Are you okay?” Yannar gasped. The squatter looked up at the paladin blankly.
“Wha’?” he murmured.
“Do you want a drink?” Yannar asked, crouching down and offering the squatter his waterskin. “Are you okay?”
“Drink of wha’?” the squatter said blearily.
“Water,” Yannar said. The squatter shakily took the waterskin from Yannar and poured the contents into his mouth, most of which slopped onto the floor. Finally, the squatter looked back at Yannar, most of the dirt washed away from his chin.
“‘S’good!” he cried. Yannar smiled warmly.
“How many of you are actually in here?” Fade asked the more talkative of the squatters behind the counter.
“How many?” the squatter asked. “One… two… three… four… five… Five. No, four. Four. ‘Cause he went to hell and died. Four.”
“Where’s the other?” questioned Renauld.
“Um…” the squatter murmured, glancing around. “Dunno.”
“Is there a possibility he could have gone downstairs?” Yannar asked. The squatter glanced at the crate on the trap door, then back at Yannar.
“Nooo,” the squatter moaned, shaking his head.
“Alright, let’s leave them be,” Renauld said.
“I just wanted to be sure their friend is alright,” Yannar said, glaring at Renauld.
“He probably went out to get some… some stuff,” the squatter muttered, more to himself than to the party.
“They’ve been using the upstairs to get out,” Renauld mused.
“We should check there as well,” Fade agreed.
“Should someone remain here?” Yannar asked, looking back at the squatters. Renauld shook his head.
“I think we should leave them to it,” he said.
Zanros made his way up the narrow, winding staircase, soon coming to the door which led to the upper floor. The young elf grabbed the handle of the door and tried to turn it, but there was no give. Frowning, Zanros stepped back, cast a glance down the stairs, and then gave it a hefty kick. The door barely rattled in its frame, and Zanros stumbled backwards. His foot skidded from the top stone step, and he tumbled back down the stairs with a distressed yelp. An alarmed Yannar rushed to Zanros’ aid, while Locke cackled in his harsh, grating voice.
“Here’s a thought,” Renauld sighed. “Is anyone able to open locks?” This query was met with a negative response. Yannar helped Zanros to his feet.
“I could… try again?” he suggested, rubbing his shoulder.
“If you want to,” Renauld said indifferently, massaging his temples.
“It worked last time,” Zanros said.
He stalked back up the stairs, a determined look on his face. When he neared the top, he lowered his shoulder and charged at the door. As he hit it, there was a flat, undramatic crack and the door swung open. Zanros tumbled into the room and the door slammed against the opposite wall.
“Wh-wh-what are you doing up there?” one of the squatters called. “How’d you get in without a key?”
“Uh… magic,” Zanros murmured.
“Oh,” the squatter said. “Cool. C-can you lock it when you leave? B-b-because w-we don’t want anyone getting in from the window.”
“I’ll lock it,” Zanros said unsurely. Fade, Yannar and Renauld followed Zanros and stepped into the room. It was practically empty, and covered in pigeon dung. The place reeked of damp, dung and disuse.
“Lovely,” Fade sighed.
“Well, I guess we have to go downstairs,” Yannar said.
“I’m not too keen on that idea,” Renauld interjected.
“He’s right,” Fade said. “It’s not our problem. We’d be running into the situation blind.”
“I’m not getting paid to kill it,” Zanros said. “So…”
“Well, do you have any other ideas?” Yannar asked, looking somewhat unimpressed with the rest of the party.
“I say we start asking around outside of this shop,” Renauld said.
“They did say he’d been spotted towards the north of Sharn,” Fade agreed. “Perhaps we should ask any incoming merchants who have been on the road if they’ve seen anything.”
The party made their way back downstairs and were about to leave when the female squatter called out.
“Wait, wait, wait!” she cried. “You said Daveth, didn’t you? Didn’t they? They did! What about that… that… that stuff we found in his upstairs? Do they want that? Do we want that? We want that. You can’t have it.”
The more vocal squatter desperately tried to shush his companion, flapping his hands at her futilely.
“Wha’?” the squatter among the rags said blankly. “Wha’?”
“Is there any chance you will give us the stuff?” Yannar asked.
“Wh-wh… no,” the male squatter by the counter stammered. “There wasn’t any stuff. Ever! It’s all upstairs, everything!”
“You don’t have to give it to us,” Renauld said cautiously. “But can we look at it? All we want to do is find him. We’re not trying to take anything from you. We just want to find him.”
The man paused for a moment, then looked up at Renauld with a weary smile.
“Y-yeah,” he said. “You can do that. Um… yeah. It’s… um… it’s… um… somewhere. It’s… um… it’s… um…”
“Oh!” exclaimed the man in the rags. “It’s ‘ere!” He pulled out a sheaf of dirty, crumpled papers and handed them to Yannar, who distributed them to the rest of the party. Renauld found an edition of the Sharn Inquisitive amongst his handful of papers, date the 15th of Therendor, a time when Daveth would have been at the shop.
Yannar, meanwhile, found a handwritten note.
“Dear sir,” he read. “Your recent exploits have gained my attention. I shall arrive at your front door at dusk tomorrow to offer my employment. As proof of my skill, please look out of your window to the tower ahead of you. The bolt this note is attached to was fired from the window with the blue sill. It’s signed ‘Q’. The letter Q.”
“That would explain the blood stain,” Zanros muttered, glancing over at the dried blood.
“No,” Fade said, looking at the sheet of paper in Yannar’s hands. “There’s no blood on the note.”
“Didn’t they say they found the stuff upstairs?” Renauld asked. “There was an open window upstairs!”
Yannar turned to the squatter who had handed him the papers and said; “Can we keep these?”
The squatter glanced at the note in Yannar’s hand, and the newspaper which Renauld held up.
“Yeah,” the squatter murmured. “‘S really boring.”
Fade made her way upstairs and approached the window gingerly, as if she expected a crossbow bolt to fly through at any moment. Almost instantly, she saw the window mentioned in the note, in a white tower far in the distance. She roughly calculated that the tower was some quarter of a mile away from the shop. That didn’t seem possible.
As she returned to the shop downstairs, Renauld closed the newspaper with a look of frustration.
“There’s nothing here,” he snapped.
“Our friend from the tower is an incredible shot,” Fade announced. “That window is a quarter of a mile away.”
“That’s impossible!” Yannar gasped.
“Not necessarily,” Fade said. “Whoever Q is, he may have some kind of magically enhanced crossbow, or some knowledge of magic, or both. It’s impossible to reach that range and accuracy through natural training, however.”
Fade described the tower to them, and, being local to Sharn, Zanros recognised it. The party decided to head there next. As they were leaving, the talkative male squatter called after them; “Byeee!”
“See you,” murmured Renauld.
“Thank you,” Yannar called back.
The party stepped out of the shop and began to walk up the street towards the tower.
“Did you lock the door upstairs?” Renauld asked Fade.
“I shut the door,” the elf offered. “I’m no locksmith.”
As the group walked the streets, making their way closer and closer to the white tower, Zanros stopped numerous people and asked for information. Most of them ignored him entirely, but one, a lofty and gruff half orc, stopped when Zanros spoke to him.
“Do you know anyone named Q?” the young elf asked.
“Q?” the half orc grunted. “No! Why? Should I?”
“No,” Zanros sighed. “We’re just looking for someone named Q.”
“Sorry?” the half orc snorted with a disdainful sneer. “You’re looking for this person by asking people on the street?”
“Uh… yeah,” Zanros mumbled, his cheeks growing red. The half orc shook his head, the sneer still on his lips.
“Okay,” he said. “You could try one of the Dragonmarked Houses. Maybe you could try the House Tharashk. They’re kinda good at finding things and people. Are you not from around here or something?”
Zanros looked at the ground, his expression mortified. The rest of the party regarded him curiously, seeming to consider the half orc’s last question.
Soon afterwards, the party reached a small orrery of the House Tharashk. Inside were several half orcs and humans, all seemingly busy. One well dressed man sat behind a neatly organised desk, writing in a ledger. Zanros approached the desk, unsubtly clearing his throat as he did. The man finished what he was writing, closed the book, and looked up with a polite smile.
“Hello,” he said pleasantly. “How can I help you?”
“We are seeking two people,” Zanros said. “Can you help us?”
“We certainly can,” the man replied with a smile. “First off, standard questions. Do you have an item from the person or persons you’re seeking?”
“We do indeed,” Zanros said cheerfully. “We have a note from them.” Yannar handed the note from Q to Zanros.
“Yes, that’s fine,” the man said. “Do you have a name, race and/or age of the person you’re seeking?”
“I do indeed,” Zanros said, taking the wanted poster from his backpack. The man glanced at the poster and shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “We can’t help you. Don’t you think if we could find this man, we would have?”
“What about Q?” asked Renauld.
“Well, what is this Q?” the man asked flatly. “Does it sound like a name?”
Zanros sighed and turned away from the man, a defeated look on his face. Yannar looked down at the young elf with a frown, then turned to the man behind the desk.
“That’s all we know, I’m afraid,” the paladin said. “Do you recognise the handwriting by any chance?”
The man looked over the note again, before shaking his head.
“I can’t help you,” he said. “I can try and refer you to someone that is able to. There will be a fee and I’m afraid we can’t guarantee we’ll actually find anything.”
“How much would it const?” Zanros inquired.
“Standard fee is 50 gold pieces for an initial consultation”, the man said. “Up to 700 or 800 gold if you require any magical scrying.”
“What about this?” Renauld cried suddenly, pulling the newspaper from his backpack. “Will this work?”
“No,” the man said, casting only a cursory glance at the item. “Sorry, we can’t do anything with this, it’s too impersonal. We need something created by the person. A fingernail, a lock of their hair, day-old skin. Something like that.”
“We’ll pass on that,” Yannar sighed, putting the note from Q back into his pack. “But thank you for your time.”
The group left the orrery, and soon afterwards, found themselves looking up at the tower. A sign above the door identified the building as The Blue Plain Hotel, of the House Ghallanda. Renauld rubbed his chin, before turning to Fade.
“Do you know which window it was?” he asked. Fade stared up at the building’s many windows for a few seconds, before nodding and pointing to a sill on the fourth floor.
“That one,” Fade said. “It’s likely that this Q was a guest staying in that room.”
“Alright,” Yannar said. “Let’s go inside.”
The lobby of the hotel was richly decorated with paintings and pillars, a colourful carpet and many flowers in vases, displayed proudly on treated wooden tables. Behind a huge oak counter sat a clean, well-dressed halfling, identified by a small brass sign on the counter as Gillan Weatherway.
“Hello!” cried Gillan as the party entered the lobby. “How can I help you?” Zanros winced at the halfling’s loud, cheery voice.
“This guy’s too happy for me to talk to,” he hissed. “Someone else do it.”
Renauld walked over to the counter and leaned against it, a wide but obviously false smile on his face.
“Hello,” the halfling said again. “Are you looking to stay?”
“No,” stated Renauld. “We’re looking for information.”
“I see,” Gillan said thoughtfully. “I’ll do my best to help you! What kind of information? Are you after room pricings, bookings, availabilities-”
“No,” Renauld interrupted. “We’re looking for information on someone who may or may not have stayed here.”
“Oh,” Gillan said, his smile faltering. “I’m sorry, I can’t really give out that information. Our guest list is strictly confidential.”
An impatient scowl on his face, Zanros strode over to the counter and slammed five gold onto the counter. Gillan looked down at the gold with a frown, then turned to Zanros.
“Are you trying to book a room, sir?” the halfling asked. “Because the House does not look favourably on bribes. I could lose my job taking a bribe!”
“No, he wasn’t,” Yannar said, taking the gold with a forced smile. “We were only asking. Perhaps you can remember who booked the room on the fourth floor, far east side?”
“Yeah,” Renauld said, glancing at Yannar, who nodded and took out the note. “He has handwriting like this, perhaps.”
“Hmmm,” Gillan muttered, taking the note. “I don’t know. Was it in the past few days?”
“No,” Renauld said. “No. It was the 15th of Therendor.”
“I’m sorry,” Gillan said, shaking his head, “but I definitely can’t remember that far back.”
“Do you have records?” Renauld asked.
“We do,” Gillan replied. “But they’re our property.”
“What about a guest book?” Zanros queried.
Gillan pulled back from the counter, a look close to distress on his face. He shook his head vehemently.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” he mumbled, clearly flustered. “I’m not entirely comfortable talking to you. I’m afraid if you want any information like this, you’ll have to go through the Watch. Or be a member of the Watch.”
“We’re working for the Watch,” Yannar said. “It might be in connection with this guy.”
Zanros pulled out the wanted poster. The halfling glanced at it and once again began to shake his head.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think bounties count.”
Fade suddenly stepped to the front of the group with a sigh and placed both of her hands on the counter.
“We would like to book a room,” she said. “Is the one on the fourth floor on the far east side available?”
Gillan’s smile immediately returned, and he leaned forward again.
“I’ll just check my books,” he said, opening a small jotter in front of him. “Yes, it’s vacant at the moment! If you’d like to book a room, that’ll be five silver pieces for a night.”
“Is that five per person?” Renauld asked.
“I’m afraid it’s only a single room,” Gillan said, glancing warily at Renauld.
“Okay,” Renauld muttered. “Can the person staying in the room have guests?”
“We won’t be staying permanently,” Fade said. “We just wish to visit the room for a brief time.”
Gillan looked nervously at Fade, then at Renauld. A bright blush was beginning to creep into the halfling’s cheeks. He cleared his throat, and then leaned in conspiratorially to Fade.
“I’m not sure this is the kind of establishment you’re looking for,” he whispered, glancing at Renauld. “If that’s what either of you want to be carrying on with, sir.”
Renauld’s eyes widened with offence, and Fade stepped away from the counter, her cheeks redder than Gillan’s. Zanros looked at the halfling, confused.
“We’re getting nowhere with this line of thought,” Fade murmured to the others. “Only one of us needs to search that room. I have a good idea what to look for, but my purse is a little light.”
“Alright,” Zanros sighed. “I’ll lend you the money. But you pay me double back when you have it.”
Fade frowned, but conceded. Zanros gave her the coin, and she handed it over to Gillan. She searched the room, which was numbered 401, but found nothing of use. The room had clearly been cleaned a hundred times since Q stayed there. Feeling irritated and out of sorts, Fade snatched the mint from the crisp white pillow on the bed and stormed downstairs.
As Fade approached the rest of the party, who were standing outside the hotel, she tossed the mint to Zanros. The young elf caught the mint, looked at it curiously for a second, then swallowed it.
“I couldn’t find anything,” Fade muttered.
“Well, that was a bust,” Renauld said irritably. “Does anyone else want to check it out?”
“I’ll have a look,” Zanros offered.
Zanros returned even quicker than Fade, a half-smile on his face. As he approached the party, he shrugged his shoulders.
“Nope,” he said. “Nothing. But I could probably sneak into the office and have a look through the records, if we could distract the halfling.”
“Leave that to me,” Renauld said with a mischievous smile. He hurried around the corner of the hotel, leaving the group bemused yet intrigued. Moments later, a beautiful woman with curly blonde hair walked around from the alley. She was wearing Renauld’s hide armour, adjusted to show off her ample cleavage, and Martin was sitting on her shoulder.
“Meet Oren Azure,” the woman said in a husky voice.
“Amazing!” Zanros exclaimed dreamily. “She still looks… scruffy, though.”
“I know what you mean,” Yannar mused. “It’s a fairly upmarket establishment.”
“She could use my cloak,” Fade offered. Oren nodded, removing the tattered brown cloak she was wearing. As she did, Martin took flight, perching on one of the windowsills of the hotel. Fade pulled a neat, dark, velvety cloak from her backpack and handed it to Oren, who tied it around herself.
When she was suitably adjusted, Oren glanced at Zanros and arched her eyebrows. Zanros nodded, and Oren walked into the hotel.
“Hello, madam!” Gillan exclaimed, his eyes growing wide as Oren stepped into the lobby. “Can I help you?”
“Why, yes,” Oren purred, slinking over to the counter and leaning forward to give the halfling a good view of her cleavage. “I believe very much that you can.”
While Gillan’s attention was distracted, Zanros moved soundlessly into the lobby and, crouched low, snuck past the counter. He crept behind Gillan and grabbed the handle of the door before him. He turned it, slowly and silently, and pushed it open.
The surprised faces of about five or six halflings stared out at him from a small office. Zanros stopped in his tracks, eyes wide.
“Excuse me, sir,” one of the halflings said politely. “I think you want the door on the other side of the lobby.”
“I’m… the hotel inspector,” Zanros said stiltedly, still crouched in the doorway of the office.
“That’s very good, sir!” chuckled the halfling. “But the last time I was aware, all hotel inspectors were halflings from House Ghallanda.”
“I’m a very tall halfling?” Zanros mumbled.
“Very good, sir,” the halfling said. “Have a nice day!”
His cheeks bright red, his eyes still wide, Zanros closed the door and walked stiffly away. Oren glanced at Zanros, then turned to Gillan with a flirtatious smile.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I may come back later.”
“Oh,” Gillan said with a look of disappointment. “Okay then. Mmm.”
Zanros told Yannar and Fade about the incident in the office. Locke cackled at the story, while Fade and Yannar only smiled. Moments later, Renauld emerged from the side of the hotel, adjusting his cloak. Martin flapped down from the window he had perched on and settled on Renauld’s shoulder.
“We should try our secondary plan,” Fade said, putting her cloak back into her backpack. “Pray this works, we’ve no other leads.”
The party travelled to the north gate of Sharn, asking questions of every farmer, trader and merchant they came across. No one had any useful information, until finally, they met a big man with an equally big beard, a merchant who identified himself as Jerich Cord in an immense, booming voice.
“AH, YES!” Jerich bellowed. “WE’VE BEEN WARNED ABOUT THAT FELLOW TRAVELLING THROUGH HERE! HMM… DO I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HIM!? WE CERTAINLY HAVEN’T BEEN ATTACKED, BUT WE HAVEN’T BEEN AROUND HERE FOR… OH, SEVERAL MONTHS, NOW! HMM… I’LL TELL YOU WHAT! I SHOULDN’T REALLY BE SAYING THIS, BUT, YOU SEE THOSE GOBLINS OVER THERE!? THEY’VE BEEN ASKING EXACTLY THE SAME QUESTIONS YOU HAVE!”
The party turned to see a group of three goblins, crowded around another merchant, staring in shock at Jerich. When they saw the party turn to face them, they all ran in the opposite direction. Renauld and Fade immediately charged after them, with Zanros and Yannar a little slower off the mark.
“LOOK!” Jerich roared after them. “THERE’S THE LITTLE BASTARDS! GO NOW! GET THEM! AH HAHAH!”
The gang of goblins charged through the north gate and down the cracked dirt path which wound into the forest surrounding Sharn. As she charged after the goblins, Fade made a series of hand gestures and whispered a couple of archaic words. She suddenly flew forward with the speed of an air ship. Within seconds, she had reached the goblins, who stopped in their tracks, staring at the speeding elf dumbfounded.
“You’re asking around for Daveth, aren’t you?” Fade gasped. “Perhaps you and I share similar goals.”
“We weren’t askin’ about nothin’!” hissed the largest of the goblins.
“In which case,” Fade said with a wicked smile, “you must have been asking about something.”
The goblin strode up to Fade, chin stuck out in front of him, hands clenched into tight fists.
“Yeah, well,” he said. “I was askin’ about whatever I want! I was wantin’ to buy some things, you know, from the merchants. Is that a crime? Huh? Huh!?”
Fade frowned, unsure how to proceed. The two smaller goblins were walking behind the largest of the trio, clearly the leader.
“Look,” she said. “If you know something about Daveth, it’s in your best interest to tell us.”
“Huh!?” the goblin snapped, wearing a toothy grin. “Got a problem with us!? Huh!?”
Suddenly, two hands reached down and grabbed the frayed collar of the goblin’s jerkin. Fade looked up to see Renauld yank the goblin up, off the ground, pulling it level with his face.
“Tell us what we want to know!” Renauld roared.
“Wh-whoa!” the goblin shrieked, his bluster suddenly gone. “There’s no need to get violent, here, okay? Okay? Um… So yeah, we was askin’ about Daveth. It’s not like we wanna know! No, we was askin’ for a friend. He’s interested! He used to do business and… So can we go? I mean… come on, you don’t want us takin’ up any more of your time, here!”
“What friend?” Renauld growled.
“Oh, well, you know,” the goblin stumbled. “I got lotsa friends!”
“Which… friend?” Renauld hissed, shaking the goblin violently.
“O-okay!” the goblin cried. “Maybe if you went to see Gata Gum! He used to run things around the bazaar somewhere. He may be able to help you.”
“Alright,” Renauld said, glancing over at Fade. “Now apologise to my friend.”
“I’m sorry!” the goblin said immediately. “What was I supposed to think, you come running after me, an’ I was just doin’ business! I mean, aren’t we all businessmen here?”
Renauld looked as if he would harass the goblin further, but Fade said; “Alright. Let him go.” With a sigh, Renauld carelessly set the goblin back on the ground.
“Okay!” the goblin exclaimed, brushing down the front of its jerkin. “So, we’ll go that way, and… and you’ll be goin’ over there, so we’re good. We’re good?” Then, a look of defiance came over the goblin’s face. “Fuck you!”
The goblins all took off into the forest. Renauld went to follow them, but Fade put a restraining hand on his shoulder. Yannar and Zanros finally caught up to the other two, panting, their faces shiny with sweat. Zanros doubled over, sucking in huge, whooping gasps of air.
“Did you learn anything?” Yannar wheezed.
“We’re looking for a goblin named Gata Gum,” Renauld said, “somewhere in the bazaar.”
“I might be able to help,” Zanros gasped, looking up at the others with flushed cheeks. “I know Old Gabe in the bazaar. He may be able to help us.”
As they headed off, they heard Jerich yelling in the distance; “THERE YOU ARE! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN MONTHS!”
The party travelled into the bazaar, where Zanros’ aged acquaintance, an immensely wrinkled man with long, white hair, directed them to the small pawn shop owned by Gata. The shelves were full of cheap-looking trinkets and useless knick knacks. Sitting behind the counter was a pudgy goblin with patches of fine blonde hair on his head.
“Yeah?” the goblin said irritably. “You here to buy something?”
“Information,” Zanros said producing the wanted poster of Daveth. “This guy. Where is he?” The goblin glanced at the poster and then looked at Zanros with a look of disgust.
“Oh, sure,” he said. “I’ll tell you where he is, and you pick up the 4, 000 gold reward.”
“I’ll pay you for it,” Zanros snapped.
“Don’t you think if I knew where he was, I’d have picked up the reward already?” the goblin asked. “Look at me! I’m a shop keeper. I’m running a shop.”
“Then maybe you’d better find out,” Zanros said threateningly.
“Resorting to threats, are we?” the goblin asked, clearly amused. “How about I just go and call the Watch, because I don’t think the Watch takes kindly to people being murdered in the street.”
“Well, we work for the Watch!” Zanros yelled petulantly. “So-”
“How much for these feathers?” Fade interrupted, slapping two ragged feathers onto the counter.
“Ten silver pieces,” the goblin said. “Or a gold, if you will.”
“We’ll take them,” Yannar said, reaching past Fade and placing a gold piece on the counter. The goblin snatched up the gold and handed the feathers over to Fade.
“Now,” Fade said. “Where is Gata Gum?”
“Wait,” the goblin said, regarding Fade incredulously. “Are you actually buying these off me?”
“Yes,” Fade said hesitantly. The goblin stared at her for a moment longer, then let out a horrible, throaty chuckle.
“Sorry!” he exclaimed. “I thought you knew how this worked. You buy something from me and I let you upstairs to see Gata Gum. I can’t believe someone actually brought something from my shop!” The goblin collapsed into gales of grating, nasal laughter, gesturing to a crimson curtain. “Please, please! Go upstairs before I die of laughter!”
Fade scowled at the goblin, her cheeks rosy, and stormed past, with the rest of the party behind her. She pulled open the curtain to reveal a steep, narrow staircase which led up into darkness.
Shortly thereafter, the party reached a sizeable office filled with piles of mildewed papers, some taller than Yannar. Sitting behind a huge, crowded desk was a spindly goblin with a pair of glasses sitting on his crooked blade of a nose. It could only be Gata Gum. The goblin was jotting something in a thick, musty book. As the party filed in, Gata finished writing and looked up.
“Okay,” he said coolly. “What is it you’re wanting?”
“What do you know about Daveth?” Renauld asked. Gata looked at each party member in turn, then gazed at Renauld with a grin.
“He’s a very cruel man,” Gata said. “He’s got a rap sheet so large he could paper a mansion with it. He smuggles things in, smuggles everything you can think of! He’s guilty of kidnap, extortion… You name it, he’s been charged with it.”
“Do you know where he is now?” queried Renauld.
“I wouldn’t know,” Gata said, glancing at the book in front of him. “I’ve been unable to find much. However, I may be able to find some more information if you could take care of a couple of things I need doing. I mean, I’m sure we’re all businesspeople here.”
“What are they?” Renauld asked impatiently.
“Daveth used to smuggle things into the city,” Gata said with a smile. “I mean everything. And sometimes, things get lost in transit. On an entirely different topic, I have a package that was sent to me by my uncle, but the guy hasn’t come to deliver it. I’d like you to go find this package, just a thing wrapped in brown paper. Don’t look in it, just bring it back to me, and then I should be able to give you some more information. So, do we have a deal?”
Nightmares of the Last War
Chapter One: Four Weirdos and a Couple of Birds
Nate Empattin as he shuffled into his office, surveying the small group of four disparate people who stood around the desk. “I was expecting more people, but I suppose you’ll have to do. You’ve seen the wanted poster?” He gestured to the poster tacked to the wall by the door, displaying a grizzled looking man identified as Daveth Portos. “You’ve seen this guy? So, have you got any information for me, or are you intending to bring him in?” One of the individuals stepped forward. He was a short male elf, fresh-faced and lithe, with long brown hair and a nasty scar across his cheek and the bridge of his nose. “I’ll bring him in right now,” he said arrogantly. “5K, right now.” “I’ll give you 5K when you bring him in,” grunted Empattin, unimpressed by the elf’s bluster. “Half now, half later?” the elf ventured. “I’ve got to be paid now, or I’ll not bring him in.” “No,” Empattin said emphatically. “Look, I’ve had seven people already come in and ask for advances. It’s not going to work. Please don’t waste my time.” “Besides,” said another one of the party, an attractive, redheaded female elf with a raven on her shoulder. “Someone of your age couldn’t bring him in on your own.” “So, are you all together?” Empattin asked. “One of those adventuring groups, or what?” The four individuals glanced at each other unsurely, as if this was an idea that had not occurred to them until now. No one spoke for a moment. Then, a blonde man in a brown hood shrugged, his expression unreadable. He had a hulking black bird on his shoulder, which looked to Empattin like a crow, but was far too large to be so. “I suppose,” the blonde sighed. “Yes,” said the fourth member of the group, a tall, handsome man in heavy armour. “If it’s going to be easier for us to get him, we may as well work together and split the money when we get back.” “I don’t care about the money,” the blonde man snapped. Empattin recognised him, then. He had been raising hell earlier about something that had been stolen from him. “I’ll take his share!” the young elf cried with a grin. The female elf shook her head in disdain. “You can split it between you,” the blonde sighed. “I just want back what’s mine.” “Fair enough,” the tall man said diplomatically. “We’ll do that, then.”