Boll was still apologising for being busy when the party first rented the apartment when Renauld dashed to the window, threw it open, and began to frantically glance around. After a moment, he turned back to the party, and saw them all looking at him blankly.
“I saw something outside the window!” he hissed. Yannar walked over to the window and looked out.
“I don’t see anything,” he reported.
“There’s something outside, you say?” Boll asked, strolling into the apartment. “What did it look like?”
“I couldn’t really tell,” Renauld replied. “It moved so fast.”
“Oh,” the dwarf said with a nod. “I know what that is,”
“Do tell,” Yannar said, turning away from the open window.
“That’d probably just be old Fightman,” Boll answered.
“Fight… man?” asked Renauld quizzically.
“They don’t call it the Spiretop Dragon tower for nothing,” Boll said with a chuckle. “It’s got a nest of spiretop dragons living up there. They fly around.”
“So… there’s dragons living around here?” Renauld questioned, a cynical frown on his face.
“Don’t worry about them,” Boll said. “Don’t worry. I’ll show you.”
The dwarf walked over to the table in the centre of the room, and plucked an apple from the fruit bowl. He pulled a small knife from his belt and deftly cut the apple in two, before shuffling over to the window and placing half of the apple on the sill. He whistled sharply, then stepped back a few paces.
“Alright, everyone,” the landlord said. “Be quiet now. Don’t startle him, don’t startle him.”
There was a long moment of anticipatory silence. Then, a small, snakelike head peeked around the window, snatched the apple half in its mouth and was gone. Boll chuckled gleefully.
“Don’t worry about them,” the dwarf exclaimed. “They’re completely harmless. Just don’t agitate them, or they’ll spew clouds all inside your apartment.”
“Okay, then,” Yannar said with a slight smile.
“Anyway, if that’s it, I’ll leave you to it,” Boll said. “Let you settle into your new apartment. If you need anything, I’m a few floors down.”
“Thank you,” Yannar said.
Not long after the landlord left, the party save for Fade retired to their rooms. The elf sat in the communal room, reading a book, until she noticed that Yannar was standing in the doorway, a serious expression on his handsome face.
“Fade?” he said quietly. “May we talk, if you’re not too busy?” Fade marked her place in the book, closed it, and turned to the paladin.
“Of course,” she said, gesturing to the seat beside her. “If it’s about the brooch, I’m working on it. I have the materials; I just need to find the right time to talk to Renauld about it.”
“No, of course,” Yannar said, sitting down by the elf. “It’s not the brooch I’d like to speak to you about.” The paladin sighed. “There is… there is something I need to tell you, and something I need answering. I think it’s safe to say that we are good friends… and while I would never want anything to ruin that, part of me feels like there may be more between us than simply friendship. I find I’m drawn to you more and more, but… when I’m alone, I contemplate your actions and analyse your words, finding no answers to the question I am now led to. I need to know… if you feel the same way.” He looked down for a moment, then stood up. “While I don’t expect an answer immediately, please understand that I do need one. No matter what it may be.” He paused, and when Fade did not answer, he nodded understandingly. “I understand if you want me to leave.”
“I…” Fade muttered, before stopping, a look of extreme concentration on her face. “I need to think. I’m sorry, Yannar. I’m not able to make this choice on the spur of the moment. If you would give me a single hour… I will have an answer for you.”
“Of course,” Yannar said with a nod. “Take all the time you need.”
The paladin looked down at Fade for a moment longer, before turning and walking out of the room.
Sometime later, Yannar was lying in bed, one arm over his eyes, a look of solemn contemplation on his face. Suddenly, there was a gentle knock on the door, so quiet that for a moment, the paladin wasn’t sure if he had imagined it. Unsurely, he got to his feet, shuffled over to the door and pulled it open. Fade was standing outside, wringing her hands together, a look that was almost anguish on her face.
“Fade,” Yannar said, relieved. “Come-” Before he could say any more, Fade sprung forward, throwing her arms around Yannar’s neck and kissing him forcefully. Yannar returned the kiss desperately, reaching past Fade and shoving the door closed. Finally, the kiss broke, and both people stepped back, panting loudly. Yannar’s hand was still in Fade’s crimson hair, stroking gently.
“Fade,” he gasped. “I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. I’ll remain by your side, even if you don’t feel the same way. I just need to know where I stand.”
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” Fade panted. “I’ve never felt like this before. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel the same way as you, and not just to you. To myself as well.” The pair shared another kiss, more gentle, this time. Less hungry. When they parted again, Fade whispered; “I need you.”
Yannar stepped back, and the elf unhooked her tunic, letting it fall to the floor. Her body was supple, milky white. Her right side, where her metal arm met the flesh of her shoulder, was a network of scars. Yannar reached out and gingerly ran his fingers along them. Fade winced, but when Yannar went to move away, she whispered that it was alright. Yannar sat back on the bed, removing his clothes as he did. Fade slid into bed with him, pressing her body against his and kissing him passionately. Suddenly, Yannar hissed and pulled back, his skin caught in the metalwork of Fade’s replacement arm. Fade apologised and kissed the abrasion on Yannar’s arm, her arm shifting as she did, becoming smoother.
Slowly, they moved, Yannar moving on top of Fade. He entered her slowly, and both of them gasped as their respective virginities were forever lost. As Yannar began to move on top of her, Fade bit her lip, stifling the myriad sounds which welled up inside her. They climaxed simultaneously, and after a moment of stillness, collapsed onto the bed, holding each other closely and basking in the warmth of each others bodies.
When Yannar wakened, it was still dark. The paladin stirred and instantly noticed that Fade was no longer next to him. Alarm on his face, Yannar pulled the covers about him and called out; “Fade?”
Yannar suddenly saw that Fade was standing off to one side, adjusting her tunic. Relief flooded over Yannar, and he sat up.
“How are you?” he asked, clearing his throat.
“I’m fine,” Fade said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. You should go back to sleep. You’ve a while still until morning.”
“Where are you going?” Yannar inquired.
“I’ve got to get back to my room,” Fade replied quietly. “My books and equipment are there, and… I wish I could stay, I really do. But Zanros could be up already, and I can’t take that chance. This is still very new to me, and I want it to be our secret for the time being. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, Fade,” Yannar said, getting to his feet. “I understand. In fact, I would prefer the other two didn’t know. Not yet, anyway.” The paladin stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Fade. “Maybe you could stay for a bit longer another night.”
“I’ll be with you again,” Fade breather, closing her eyes and resting her head on Yannar’s firm chest. “I promise. I’ll come to you. It’s easier that way. Plus… I think Locke could be a problem right now. But then, isn’t he always?” Yannar chuckled, and the pair shared a quick kiss. “I’ll see you later.”
When the morning dawned, the party assembled in the communal room. A note had been pushed under the door, which Yannar read to the group.
“Lord Trelib d’Medani would like to see you at the earliest possible convenience,” he quoted.
“We should head to House Medani,” Fade suggested. The party agreed, and made their way to the Medani enclave, where a well-dressed half-elf greeted them. They were escorted to Lord Trelib’s office, where the moustached man greeted them enthusiastically.
“As luck would have it,” he announced, “I have a possible mission for you all, if you would like to accept it.”
“How much?” Zanros asked predictably.
“Payment?” Lord Trelib said. “Hmm. First off, all expenses will be paid for, and we are able to offer you a payment of 500 gold per person, upon successful completion.”
“What’s the job?” queried Renauld.
“Unfortunately…” Lord Trelib muttered, before trailing off. “That is the thing. We are not sure what the job is. We have an agent, Brina d’Medani, over in the settlement of New Cyre, the Cyran refugees’ settlement after The Mourning. We received this message early last night, and it is rather cryptic.”
Lord Trelib handed over a sheet of paper, adorned with a House Sivis heading, which simply read “BELP”.
“Right,” Yannar mused, looking at the sheet of paper with a furrowed brow.
“Did she have a spicy meal before she sent the message?” Renauld asked with a smirk.
“Not that we are aware of,” Lord Trelib said with absolute seriousness. “Brina is usually good with her correspondence. The fact that this one is so enigmatic is, in itself, enigmatic. It is somewhat of a conundrum. A mystery, in fact.”
“Perhaps she misspelled ‘help’,” Renauld suggested, the smile disappearing from his face.
“They could probably be initials,” Fade mused.
“They could stand for something,” Yannar agreed. “Either way, we’re going to New Cyre.”
“As I said,” Lord Trelib interjected, “Brina is usually very precise and very detailed with her messages, and the fact that this is so enigmatic makes me wonder if it is from Brina at all, or if it is someone masquerading as her. Which is why I want you to go incognito. I want you to go in disguise. Undercover, if you will. Possibly masquerading as someone else. Whatever you do, do not say you are with House Medani, if you can. Just head out to New Cyre, find Brina, find out if she is alright and find out what the message was all about.”
“Brina… wouldn’t be any relation to Zelina, would she?” Renauld asked with a small grin.
“No,” Lord Trelib replied.
“Oh,” Renauld sighed, looking a little disappointed. “Is she about, incidentally?”
“She is off dealing with another case,” Lord Trelib said. Renauld’s frown deepened.
“So, exactly how far away is New Cyre?” he queried.
“If you would look at the map,” Lord Trelib said, gesturing to the map of Khorvaire on the wall behind his desk. “Sharn, as you well know, is here. New Cyre is situated here.”
“That’s a lot further than we’ve been before,” Renauld noted.
“Do not worry,” Lord Trelib said. “We have secured tickets for the House Orien lightning rail. It will take you all the way along to Starilaskur, at which point you will be able to catch a House Orien trade caravan to New Cyre. All in all, it should take you two and a half to three days to arrive.” The half-elf produced four tickets from his pocket. “Here are the tickets for the lightning rail. Here are 50 golden galifars for your travel expenses and any accommodation you will need while in New Cyre. One more thing before you go. I am aware some of you served with Breland in the Last War. It might be a good idea to keep that slightly hushed. A lot of bad blood still around in New Cyre.”
“I’m sure Zanros would like to know if we get paid in advance,” Renauld said, casting a glance over at the young elf, “or if we get a down payment.”
“Consider those 50 gold coins the advanced payment,” Lord Trelib said. “The rest will be paid on completion of the task.”
“I think the money should cover the expenses, anyway,” Fade muttered.
“Anyway,” Lord Trelib announced, clapping his hands together. “Time is of the essence. I have arranged for a skycab to pick you all up and take you straight to the lightning rail station.”
“Before we go!” Renauld exclaimed. “We’re supposed to go in disguise, so do you guys want to pick up disguises?” Then, glancing at Fade; “And lady.”
“Do not worry too much about disguises,” Lord Trelib said. “I do not imagine anyone in New Cyre would recognise you. Unless any of you are particularly infamous. Which I do not believe you are.”
“Maybe I’ll disguise myself anyway,” Renauld said quietly.
“That is the spirit!” cried Lord Trelib with a smile. “Well done, I like your thinking. Well done. Anyway, like I said, time is of the essence. Best not keep the skycab driver waiting.”
The party left the enclave to find a small vehicle waiting for them, hovering just off the ground. One by one, they climbed in, and when everyone was securely inside, the skycab took off, moving at speed through Sharn, until it reached the House Orien lightning rail station.
Fade got out of the skycab first, followed by Yannar, Zanros, and then a tall, thin elderly gentleman, with long grey hair and a thick beard. En route to the station, Renauld had introduced this new persona to the party as Vicaro Rudarin.
The party entered the bustling station, hastily showed their tickets to the attendant and were directed to their own private booth. Once they were seated, Zanros made a gesture to Vicaro, and with a grin, the changeling ushered over the attendant.
“Is there a trolley service on the train?” he asked.
“No, sir,” the attendant replied. “But there is a buffet car down that end.”
Moments later, a whistle was blown and the train set off on its journey. A few hours passed without event, until the party heard a loud crash and agitated shouting coming from further along the carriage. Yannar turned to his associates, a worried look on his face, but they had all returned to what they had previously been doing.
“Does anyone want to go and see what’s going on?” the paladin asked.
“What?” Zanros asked obliviously.
“There was some shouting and a noise a couple of bays down,” Yannar said.
“Okay,” Zanros murmured with a shrug, before eating another handful of peanuts. The rest of the party seemed equally uninterested.
“Am I the only person concerned about that?” Yannar asked irritably, looking at Fade in particular.
“Perhaps it’s just a couple venting anger,” Fade suggested bashfully. “Or someone moving their bags.”
“You can go and have a look if you want,” Vicaro said nonchalantly, taking a peanut from the bag Zanros was holding and feeding it to Martin.
“Fine,” Yannar sighed, getting to his feet. “I’ll go and have a look.”
Yannar edged his way down the carriage, until he reached the door of another booth. Two, or possibly three, people were still arguing inside. Yannar knocked politely on the door, and the sounds of conflict instantly quieted.
“Is everything okay in there?” he asked.
“Yeah!” a gruff voice exclaimed from within the bay. “Yeah, don’t worry. We’re all fine.”
Yannar waited a moment longer, but when there was no further reply, shrugged and returned to the party’s booth.
“Well,” Yannar sighed, sitting back down next to Vic. “They said everything was okay, so… I assume they’re alright.”
“Alright,” Fade said with a relieved smile. No sooner had this exchange occurred, however, when there was a deafening crash. Yannar turned to see a lanky young man fly out of the booth he had just visited, glass and broken wood showering him. Yannar turned back to the party, eyes wide.
“Still don’t care,” Zanros said. With a frustrated grunt, Yannar got to his feet, and Fade followed suit. Seeing them standing up, the man by the other booth picked himself up and charged down the aisle. As Yannar and Fade went to follow the man, two hulking men stepped through the shattered door, looked up and down the aisle, and then turned to Yannar and Fade.
“Which way did he go?” one of them asked in a voice Yannar recognised from earlier.
“Why do you want to know?” Yannar retorted.
“Why do I want to know?” the man asked, clearly taken aback. “Because… um… uh…”
“If there’s nothing wrong,” Yannar said patiently, “why are you after him? If you can’t tell me why you’re after him, then surely you have no problem with him, and you can leave him alone.”
The burly man, clearly a fellow of limited attention, gave this a lot of thought, then said; “Yeah, alright. If you see him, watch out. He’s scum.”
The two brawny men stepped back into their bay and sat down. Yannar looked at them for a moment longer, then hurried in the direction that the young man had run. Fade followed close behind.
The pair of them entered the next carriage, which, rather than consisting of separate compartments, was an open space lined with uncomfortable-looking benches. Scores of people filled these benches, but Yannar easily spotted the young man, sitting on the edge of a bench with his face in his hand, Yannar walked over and cautiously sat down next to him. Fade sat on the bench opposite. Without moving his hand, the man tried to shuffle away from Yannar.
“What was going on back there?” Yannar asked gently. The young man did not reply, or even move. Yannar looked at Fade with a frown, then turned back to the man, whispering to him, trying as best he could to comfort him.
Finally, the young man looked up at Yannar nervously, and whimpered; “You’re not with the rest of those men in the carriage, are you?”
“No,” Yannar replied quietly. “I don’t know who they are.”
“That’s fine then,” the young man said, once again turning away from the paladin. “Just… just leave me alone.” Yannar seemed conflicted, but after a moment’s contemplation, shrugged with a sigh.
“Okay,” he said. “Well, we’re in the booth two doors down. If you change your mind, you should come, and we’ll be able to help you.”
“Do you mean that?” the man asked hopefully, once again turning to Yannar. “Really?”
“Yes,” Yannar replied sincerely.
“Okay,” the young man said. “Well, thank you.”
“Okay,” Yannar said with a small smile.
The pair returned to their bay, where Zanros and Vic were both drinking from mugs of ale. Yannar sat down with a smirk.
“And you didn’t bother getting us any,” he said.
“Well, I don’t drink,” Fade said. Yannar turned to her with a cynical smile, and with a bashful grin, Fade added; “That is… not very often.”
Some time later, the party slept, finding the most comfortable positions they could in their booth. They awoke the next morning, stiff, but refreshed. They decided to take a walk down the aisle to stretch their legs. As they passed through the second class carriage, Yannar noticed the young man, still sitting on the same bench, now asleep. There was a nasty cut on his forehead. Yannar frowned, but decided against disturbing the man.
The party ate breakfast in the buffet carriage, then headed back towards their bay. As they entered the carriage, however, an enormous arc of crackling electrical energy – much bigger than those used to power the rail – flashed past the window. A flustered attendant hurried past the party, glanced out of the window, then rushed off down the train.
“That wasn’t an ordinary arc of lightning,” Fade whispered. Yannar hurried to the window and saw a sleek figure fly past at an insane speed. Suddenly, there was another flash of light, and the window exploded inwards, showering the paladin in jagged shards of glass.
“Shit!” hissed Vic, leaping away from the windows. Fade helped Yannar to his feet, as he brushed chunks of smoking glass from his armour.
“No one look out of the window,” Yannar grunted. Passengers were beginning to emerge from their booths, many with looks of fright on their faces. The attendant appeared at the end of the carriage and called down.
“Everyone,” he announced. “If you would just stay calm and make your way this way, towards the engine. Don’t worry, this happens occasionally. Just make your way, calmly and quietly-“
But it was too late. Panic had gripped the crowd, and as one, it charged towards the attendant. The party were knocked back as the mob hurried past.
When the stampede had died down, Vic walked over to the attendant, who was turning to exit the carriage, and grabbed a handful of his coat.
“What happens occasionally?” he asked.
“It’s a kind of magical creature,” the attendant explained. “An arrowhawk. It’s basically an electrical beast of some kind. They see the lightning rail come by and think it’s a territorial threat, or something. I don’t know. We thought House Vadalis had dealt with all of them, but apparently not. Don’t worry, if we move into the engine, we should be fine. We should safely arrive is Starilaskur. Unless, of course, you want to do something about it?”
Without replying, Yannar began to move down the carriage, away from the engine. Fade grabbed his shoulder, a look of distress on her face.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I’m going to make sure that man woke up,” Yannar replied. He hurried into the next carriage, and returned seconds later, looking calmer.
“I’ve never heard of an arrowhawk before,” Vic noted.
“They’re natives to the plane of air,” Fade explained. “Occasionally, they make nests on this plane. They’re small, bird-like creatures with two sets of wings. They shoot lightning.”
“Can we fight them?” Vic asked. “Are they corporeal beings?”
“Yes,” Fade replied. “They’re as real as you or I.”
“I don’t like the idea of leaning out of a window and trying to fire at it,” Yannar said, glancing at the broken window.
“We could try the roof,” suggested Vic.
“You should be alright on the roof,” added the House Orien attendant, “so long as you don’t go too near the engine.”
“Then I suppose we could try and solve your problem,” Vic said with a kindly smile.
“House Orien will definitely pay you a bounty if you can deal with it,” the attendant gushed.
“We’re on it!” Zanros exclaimed with a grin.
“Before you do,” the attendant said gravely, “just be aware that House Orien takes no responsibility for any injury or accident that occurs due to-”
“Yes, yes,” Vic interrupted. “That’s fine. We understand.”
The attendant ushered the party over to the service ladder, and one by one, they ascended it and climbed out of the maintenance hatch. The top of the train was a tumult of wind and noise and electricity, which arched overhead in blinding cyclopean bolts.
“I suggest we all stay near the hatch,” Yannar shouted over the cacophony of sound, “in case we need to get down quickly!”
Vic nodded, but was suddenly hit in the stomach by a bolt of energy. He flew backwards, his hide armour smoking, and landed in a heap near the edge of the train’s roof. The party looked up to see the arrowhawk flying overhead. Vic glared up at it, and gestured viciously. The arrowhawk seemed to lose momentum, and dropped a little towards the train. Vic whistled sharply, and Martin left his shoulder like a bullet, flying at the arrowhawk and tearing at it with his talons.
Zanros hurled an orb of acid at the creature, but the smouldering fluid simply sluiced off its feathers. Yannar loosed an arrow, but this went wide. Fade also fired her crossbow, but rather than firing a bolt, she fired a glowing beam of energy which struck the arrowhawk, making it squeal in pain.
The arrowhawk turned and swooped down towards the train. Martin clawed at it, but succeeded only in raking at the creature’s tail. The arrowhawk landed on the train, letting out a low, threatening hiss. Vic swung at the beast with his staff, but the bird easily dodged out of the way. As it did, however, Zanros darted around its side, and touched it with one hand, which seemed to glow briefly with pale, ethereal light. The moisture on the bird seemed to freeze at Zanros’ touch, and with a harsh caw, the arrowhawk seemed to slump slightly.
Yannar drew his sword and swung at the creature. The arrowhawk stepped deftly to one side, but Yannar still caught one of its wings, opening a nasty wound. Fade fired another magical bolt from her crossbow. The glowing bolt flew upwards, then flew straight down, striking the arrowhawk with a flash. The creature shrieked, flapping backwards even as it unleashed a bolt of electricity from its talons. The lightning swept out at Yannar, who managed to agilely leap out of the way.
Vic stepped forward, throwing his hands out. An undulating sphere of fire spilled from the old man’s open palms and rolled over the bird, but with little effect. The arrowhawk shook itself, and the flames around it dissipated. The creature avoided attacks from both Zanros and Yannar, before Fade struck it with yet another magical bolt. The arrowhawk turned on Fade, once again hissing low in its throat. As it spread its wings and lurched towards her, though, Martin sunk his talons into one of the arrowhawk’s wings. The creature screamed and tried to flap away, but Martin held on tight, bringing it around. Yannar lifted his sword and brought it down on the arrowhawk, severing its head from its body.
The arrowhawk slumped onto the train, one wing spasming for a moment before it fell entirely still. Martin returned to Vic’s shoulder, who patted the bird on the head. Yannar looked down at the fallen arrowhawk for a moment, before surveying his associates.
“Let’s get back down into the train!” he cried.
The party climbed back down the service ladder and into the train, where the visibly impressed House Orien attendant awaited them.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Fade murmured as Yannar helped her off the ladder.
“Yes,” the paladin agreed with a smile. “We’re all okay.”
The attendant handed the promised money over to the party, but when he came to Yannar, the paladin held up his hands.
“You can keep mine,” he said.
“I’ll have it,” Zanros enthused.
“No,” Yannar said firmly, grabbing Zanros’ outstretched hand. “They can keep it.” The attendant looked at Yannar unsurely.
“I… I can’t accept it,” he mumbled. Yannar tried to persuade the attendant to keep the money, but in the end, the party decided to split Yannar’s share, and leave 5 gold in the tip jar located in the buffet car.
A few hours later, the lightning rail arrived in Starilaskur. The party got off the train, being thanked by those passengers who also disembarked. The lightning rail station the party found themselves in was ill-maintained and dirty, and from what they could see, the town itself did not seem much better. After checking the House Orien timetable, they discovered that a caravan was not due in Starilaskur for close to two weeks, and so decided to take a House Orien coach for one gold each.
The coach ride was long, and uncomfortable, and by the time the party reached New Cyre, it was dark. As they entered the town, it was plain to see that it was still under construction. Buildings were being constructed on top of ruins, using materials both new and old. Some buildings only had three walls, some fewer than that. Yannar surveyed this from the coach, and felt a deep sadness inside him.
When the coach stopped, the party stiffly exited it. Tired and aching from their journey, they decided to find accommodation and rest for the night. After some searching, the only remotely welcoming place they found was the Dog Pack Inn, which at least bore the House Ghallanda crest. The halfling at the front desk told the part that the cost to stay was one silver each. Vic handed over a gold piece, and told the halfling to keep the change, thinking that even this little gift might help the visibly struggling community.
The party slept the night in the somewhat dilapidated inn, and headed into town the next morning. As they wandered the crooked and dilapidated streets of New Cyre, they noticed that there were many warforged about the place, working on the buildings. Zanros was clearly perturbed, but managed to restrain himself, scrutinizing the golems rather than attacking them.
After an hour or so, Zanros spotted the House Medani crest on one of the more intact buildings. Upon closer inspection, however, the party found that the door was locked, and that the blinds were closed in every window. A sign in one of the windows read, simply, “closed”.
“Maybe we should ask around,” Yannar suggested, peering into one of the windows.
“Someone might know something,” Fade agreed.
“Don’t you remember what Trelib said?” Vic asked.
“Don’t mention… the war?” Zanros guessed.
“Don’t mention that you’re working for House Medani,” Vic replied.
“We can ask around without mentioning who we work for,” Fade stated.
“We’re just looking to find out why the building’s closed,” added Yannar.
“Alright,” Vic responded with a shrug.
“Excuse me,” Yannar said to a respectable-looking gentleman who was walking past. “Do you know what’s happened with House Medani?”
“I… don’t know,” the man replied. “I didn’t even know it was House Medani. I haven’t seen anyone go into there for a few days now.”
“Oh, okay,” said Yannar, politely trying to mask his disappointment. “Thanks for your time.”
“No problem,” said the man. “Goodbye.”
While Yannar was conversing with the well-spoken gent, Vic attempted knocking on the door. He listened intently for a response, but could hear absolutely nothing from within. After Fade again tried the door, the party decided to head around the back of the building.
They made their way into the narrow alleyway that led around the House Medani building, and tried the back door, finding it locked as well. Vic listened at this door, and was greeted with equal silence.
“I could break the door down,” Zanros offered.
“I don’t like the idea of breaking into our own House’s building,” Fade muttered.
“We’re breaking in for purely investigative reasons,” Zanros retorted with a smirk.
“Could we ask if anyone has seen Brina?” Fade asked, ignoring Zanros’ witticism.
“Could be difficult when we don’t know what she looks like,” mused Yannar.
“Plus, the town has about 5,000 people living in it,” Vic noted.
Reluctantly, Fade conceded, and stepped back as Zanros charged the door. Even though the elf struck with all his might, however, the door did little more than rattle in its frame. Rolling his eyes with an amused smile, Yannar stepped up next to Zanros, and with a nod, both men charged the door simultaneously.
Yannar and Zanros struck the door, and with a crunch, it swung inwards. Both men sprawled into the building, landing in a heap on the floor. Vic smirked and even Fade let out a little giggle as Zanros and Yannar helped each other to their feet.
The party entered a small, largely empty room, which had stairs leading up and a door on the opposite wall. Vic closed the door behind him, and propped a chair under the handle to prevent further entry.
For a second, the room was in pitch darkness. Then, a single, piercing beam of light shone out as Vic pulled the everbright lantern from his pack. Using it to guide his way, he trudged over to the far door and listened at it. Hearing nothing, he opened the door and shone the lantern inside, revealing an office of sorts. Fade walked into the room and began to search one of several bookshelves there. After a moment of searching, she pulled a set of papers from a file.
“At least we know what she looks like now,” she said, handing the papers over to the rest of the party, who saw that they were Brina’s identification papers, complete with a rough picture which showed a rather plain-looking half-elf woman with wild black hair. As the party studied these, Fade continued her search, but found nothing else of interest.
The next door the party came to was not locked. It led to the main room of the building, the customer-facing front of this House Medani branch. The Medani crest adorned the back wall, and in the centre of the room was a desk with a ledger on it. Vic leafed through the ledger, but found only a list of outstanding jobs.
“Upstairs, then?” Yannar suggested.
The party made their way to the back room, and then up the wooden staircase. They reached a landing with another set of stairs leading from it. Atop these, they found a locked door.
“There’s a noise coming from the room,” Fade whispered, hearing a strange scraping sound. Vic listened for a moment, then identified the sound as an open window opening. Fade quickly asked Zanros to open the door, but once again, the elf’s most enthusiastic attempt barely budged the door. He and Yannar tried together again, but even this was unsuccessful. Zanros tried once again, and this time, the door flew open.
The party hurried inside, but found the room devoid of life. The window was indeed open, and Fade rushed to look outside, but saw nothing suspicious. The rest of the party fanned out into the room. Vic searched a chest, finding it full of women’s clothes.
“I guess this is her room,” Vic sighed. “This has been incredibly inconclusive.”
“Yes,” Yannar agreed. “Darn.”
“Not so,” Fade said. “At the very least we know what she looks like.”
Suddenly, Vic heard a muffled whimpering from the wardrobe. As quickly and quietly as he could, he moved over to the wardrobe and gently opened the door. Brina was inside the wardrobe, pressed as far back as she could go, a crumpled blouse in her hands.
“Are you okay?” Vic asked kindly. At this, Brina squealed and flew from the wardrobe. “Wait! We’re not trying to hurt you!”
Brina charged past Vic and climbed onto the bed, surveying the room with the wide, startled eyes of some frightened animal.
“Get out!” Brina hissed in a weak, dry voice. “We’re closed! Can’t you see the sign on the door!? We’re closed! Get out! Get out! Get out!”
“We’re not trying to hurt you,” Yannar reiterated gently. “We’ve been sent by House Medani in Sharn. We want to help you.”
“I don’t believe you!” Brina whimpered, tears beginning to fill her eyes. “Get out!”
“What does BELP stand for?” Zanros queried.
“BELP?” Brina asked breathlessly. “I don’t know. It’s a trick, isn’t it? You’re trying to trick me! Just get out! Get out!”
“Brina, we’re here from House Medani,” Vic said patiently. “Trelib sent us.”
“I don’t believe you!” Brina shrieked, grabbing thick handfuls of her own hair. “Anyone could have heard that name! Get out!”
Yannar attempted to calm the half-elf down, but to no avail. If anything, she seemed to get more agitated with each moment the party did not heed her pleas for them to leave.
“Why are you so upset?” Vic asked.
“I’m not gonna…” Brina began, before leaping from the bed and trying to usher the party out of the door. “You’re trying to trick me! Get out! I’m not going to tell you anything! Get out! Get out! I don’t know anything!”
“We want to help you,” Yannar said again, resisting Brina’s frankly weak attempt to herd the party out.
“I don’t need any help!” hissed Brina. “Just get out!”
“Why are you hiding in the wardrobe, then?” the paladin asked.
“Just… just get out!” Brina screamed, tears streaming down her face. “Get out!”
Suddenly, the half-elf seemed to realise that her strength could not get the party out, and quickly ran past them and down the stairs. With a collective yell of frustration, the party followed her. Brina charged down the stairs and into the front of the building, slamming and locking the door behind her.
“Get out!” she cried from the other side of the door. “We’re closed! Just get out!”
“The door’s broken,” Zanros said. “We can’t leave.” There was no response to this. Vic ushered the party away from the door and spoke to them quietly.
“I could change into Zelina,” he whispered. “Maybe that will bring her out.”
“Us simply telling her we’re from House Medani doesn’t seem to be working,” Fade muttered. “She’ll know something’s wrong if Zelina is suddenly with our group.”
“Well…” Vic mused, “maybe it will distract her long enough to knock her out?”
“No,” Yannar said flatly.
“As far as I can determine, she isn’t under any spells,” Fade said. “We should try to talk her down as much as we can before we try anything harsher.”
“We really don’t want to hurt you,” Yannar said softly, turning back to the door. “We heard you were in trouble. You seem really distraught. We just want to help.”
There was a long pause, before Brina shakily said; “I… Fine. If… if you can tell me what I’m not supposed to know, then I’ll know you’re not trying to trick me. And… and then we’ll talk.”
The party looked at one another with puzzlement. A sheet of paper was suddenly pushed under the door. Vic crouched down and picked it up, showing the group that it was a missing persons flyer. On it was the picture of a young man, identified as Tolden Fond, a Cyran refugee who went missing some weeks ago.
“Is this why you’re so upset?” Vic asked of Brina.
“J… just look into it!” Brina yelled. “And then… I’m not gonna say anything! I’m not saying… You’re trying to trick me! I’m not saying anything!”
“We’re not trying to trick you,” Yannar said. “We honestly just want to help you.”
“I don’t believe you!” Brina cried obstinately.
“Trelib received a communiqué,” Vic said tersely, clearly losing patience, “supposedly from you. But he doubted its legitimacy, and was worried. That’s why we’re here.”
“I… I didn’t sent that message,” Brina said slowly.
“He thought that,” Vic replied. “He was worried about you. That’s why we’re here.”
“No!” Brina screamed suddenly. “Do… I didn’t say anything! You’re trying to trick me again! Get out! Go on, just get out!”
“This is clearly some sort of trust exercise,” Yannar said to his associates. “She won’t calm down until we know what she knows.” He turned to the door. “If we find this person, do you want us to bring him back here? Do you want us to bring him to you?”
“You won’t…” Brina said, before seeming to realise something. “No! I’m not saying anything to you! You’re trying to trick me! I’m not going to tell you anything! Just look into it, and then you’ll know what I’m talking about, and then we’ll talk!”
“Will you still be here?” asked Vic.
“Yes,” Brina replied. “I can’t leave. They’re watch… No! No! No! I’ll not tell you anything!”
“Okay,” Yannar said. “Just stay where you are. Make sure you’re safe. We’ll be back.”
“Just go!” Brina howled. “Go! Go!”
The party left the Medani building by the back door and took a few minutes to compose themselves. After a moment, Yannar sighed, rubbing at his forehead with his fingers.
“So,” he said. “What do we do? She’s in no state to help us.”
“This missing boy seems to be connected to whatever’s troubling her,” Fade noted. “We should perhaps look into it.”
“Maybe that guy on the train was this boy,” Zanros suggested.
“No,” Yannar said. “He’s different. We still shouldn’t say we’re from House Medani while looking for this man. We’ll probably attract attention.”
“We could always ask at the local inn,” Vic suggested. “That’s served us well in the past.”
“They are excellent centres for gossip,” Fade agreed, “and most barmen hear and see everything that happens in a town.”
“Let’s do that, then,” Yannar said.
The party soon discovered that the Dog Pack was the only functioning inn in New Cyre. The party made their way inside, and asked the halfling behind the bar about Tolden.
“Hmm…” the halfling mused. “No, don’t recognise the name.”
“He’s got dark hair and dark eyes,” Yannar tried. “A young human.”
“Sorry,” the halfling said thoughtfully. “That description would fit a lot of people. No one that I could s ay definitely.”
Yannar nodded, and said; “Who would we ask if we needed to find someone? Someone, perhaps, who knows everyone?”
“I suppose Brina in the House Medani enclave would be your best bet of finding someone,” the halfling said.
“Other than her?” Vic sighed.
“In that case, I don’t know,” the halfling said regretfully. “It’s a big town.”
“Okay,” Yannar said. “Well, thank you anyway.”
The party left the inn, and spent much of the afternoon looking for information regarding Tolden. For hours, they were unsuccessful, until finally, a man informed them that he had seen someone matching Tolden’s description in the slums of New Cyre.
The party followed the man’s directions until they reached the slums, which made the rest of the town look luxurious. None of the buildings were fully constructed, and some had simple sheets in place of walls. The citizenry of the slums seemed equally dilapidated. Many showed horrific deformities, from pulsating growths to hideous, skinless sores, clearly effects of the mysterious Mourning.
The party approached a pleasant-looking old woman, sitting on a splintered crate, washing clothes in a barrel full of grey water.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Vic offered.
“Huh?” the old lady gasped, looking at the party with milky eyes. “Uh… Yeah? Can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you knew a Tolden Fond,” Vic said politely.
“Tolden?” the woman asked in a raspy voice. “Yeah. That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. Um… yeah. Youngish lad, is he?”
“That’s right,” Vic said.
“Yeah,” the woman replied. “I haven’t seen him for a few weeks.”
“When was the last time you did see him?” inquired Vic.
“Um…” the old woman murmured, scratching her bony chin. “Ooohh, if you’re looking for a date, I’m afraid I can’t help you. It were… oh… it were weeks ago.”
“Is there anyone around here who particularly knows him?” Vic asked. “Any friends or family?”
“Yeah,” the woman said. “Yeah, his father’s still around here.” She pointed to one of the half-built hovels. “I think that’s where the Fonds used to be. You might want to have a look there.”
“Okay,” Vic said with a kindly smile. “Thanks very much for your time.”
“Thank you,” added Yannar.
“That’s fine,” the old woman said. “G’bye.”
The party walked across the way to the building that the woman had gestured to. The building could not really be called a house, as it consisted only of two poorly constructed walls connected by a rope, over which was draped a translucent sheet. The fourth wall was simply a stack of boxes.
“Do we maybe want to come up with a reason we’re looking for this man?” Yannar asked as they approached the building. “Other than working for House Medani?”
“We could say we’re friends,” Vic suggested, “and that we’re worried because we haven’t seen him for a while.”
The party agreed that this was perhaps the best course of action, and stopped outside the makeshift home.
“Is anyone in there?” Vic called. There was no reply, so the changeling peered inside. A grizzled-looking man was sitting in the centre of the roofless building, whittling at a long piece of wood. “Excuse me? Mr Fond?”
“Whattayawant?” the man, Tolden’s father Art, snapped without looking up.
“I was just wondering where your son is,” Vic said. Art abruptly stopped whittling and looked up at Vic with venom in his eyes.
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked coldly.
“No,” Vic said unsurely.
“I haven’t seen my son for nigh on four weeks,” Art hissed.
“How has this happened?” Vic asked. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, what!?” Art growled. “Why’re you coming here, asking all these questions all of a sudden?”
“I’m a friend of Tolden,” Vic said. At this, Art stood up, and the party saw for the first time that his left arm was missing just below the shoulder. Scowling, Art picked up the piece of wood he had been whittling at and brandished it as a cudgel.
“By Dalar you are!” Art roared. “Get out of my house!”
“Okay, okay, okay!” Vic said hastily. “We were sent here by Brina at House Medani. She’s very worried about your son.”
“Oh, aye?” Art spat. “The hell she is. I haven’t heard anything from her in two weeks.”
“Something’s happened,” Vic said, “and she’s terrified. She won’t leave the office. She’s absolutely petrified.”
“What’s this got to do with me?” Art asked.
“We don’t know,” Vic said frankly. “That’s what we’re trying to find out. She wants us to find your son. She gave us this.”
Yannar held out the missing person’s flyer that Brina had given them. Art glanced briefly at the poster before turning away, hurt and anger on his face.
“Put it away,” he said quietly. “I’ve seen it enough times already.” Vic took the flyer from Yannar and put it in his backpack.
“Did he… do something?” questioned the changeling. “What happened? Did he just disappear?”
“Look,” Art sighed. “All I know is… he said he was gonna go off. He was gonna join one of the Dragonmarked Houses and make a name for himself. That’s the last I heard of him.”
“Was it House Medani?” Vic asked.
“It… what?” Art asked. “No. No. I don’t know. He didn’t say anything.”
“Do you know what BELP means?” Fade asked.
“What?” Art asked. “BELP? What is it?”
“B-E-L-P,” Fade intoned.
“It’s nonsense,” snorted Art. “What is it, goblin speak or something?”
“Is there anything we can do?” Vic asked of Art. “You seem very distressed.”
“Distressed!?” Art barked. “You’re damn right I’m distressed! I lost three sons in The Mourning, and I’ve lost another one to Gods know where!”
“Well,” said Vic quietly, “we’re going to keep looking for your son, If we find him, we’ll make sure you know.”
“Yeah, fine,” grunted Art. “You do that. I’ve already given up hope.”
Art sat back down and began to whittle again, shoulders hunched. Yannar felt as though he had never before seen a more defeated man. Fade stepped forward, taking off her backpack and rummaging in it, pulling out a small tan satchel. She opened the satchel, revealing many fine tools, and held it out.
“I’ll leave these here,” she said softly. “You can use them if you wish, and I’ll come back for them when we’ve found your son. They’re good quality, so I will come back for them.”
“That… that’s very kind of you,” Art said, taken aback. “Thank you.”
The party left Art to inspect Fade’s tools. Once they were outside and walking away from Art’s half-built home, Vic sighed deeply.
“So,” he said. “We’re back to square one.”
“Not quite,” Zanros said. “Now we can go after the Dragonmarked Houses.”
“Twelve houses are better than 5,000 people,” Fade agreed, “and not all of them will have enclaves here.”
Walking around New Cyre, the party noticed buildings for six Dragonmarked Houses – Medani, Deneith, Orien, Sivis and Cannith. Their first port of call was the House Deneith office, which was one of the most complete and well-maintained buildings they had seen. A wooden board outside the door said that the House was looking for new members.
The man at the desk, a well-built fellow who was sharpening a sword, looked up as the party walked in.
“Welcome to House Deneith,” the man said. “How can we help you?”
“We were wondering,” Vic said, “would you be able to tell us if someone had entered your employ recently?”
“Uh… I can try,” the man behind the desk said. “I don’t know if I’ll be much help, though.”
“This man,” Vic said, pulling out the missing person’s flyer.
“Uh… wasn’t Brina asking about this person?” the House Deneith representative asked. “I’m sorry, I haven’t got much more information.”
“What information do you have?” questioned Vic.
“None,” the man said bluntly. “I’ve never seen this person before.”
“So, this wasn’t the house?” asked Vic.
“That… what?” muttered the man.
“We know that he joined a Dragonmarked House,” Yannar said, “and we’re just checking if it was yours.”
“Oh,” said the man. “No. No, no. I don’t think it was.”
“Okay,” Yannar said with a polite smile. “Well, thank you.”
“That’s alright,” the man said. “Say, none of you have any interest in signing up, do you? We could always use more people.”
“I’m afraid not,” Vic replied, shaking his head.
“We already work for someone else,” Yannar informed the House Deneith representative. “Sorry.”
“Okay,” the man said, suddenly seeming withdrawn and moody. “Fine. Well.”
“Thank you for the offer,” Yannar tried.
“That’s alright,” muttered the man. “‘Bye.”
The party next visited the House Orien building, surrounded by coaches and aimlessly milling horses. There was a sign outside this building, too, asking for couriers and messengers. Vic asked the squat man behind the desk if they knew anything about Tolden, but the man grumpily replied that he didn’t know anything.
“Would there be anyone here who would know?” asked Vic. “A messenger, perhaps?”
“I dunno,” the man sighed. “George!”
A lanky bald man stepped out of an open door and said; “Yeah? How can I help?”
“Have you seen this boy?” Vic asked, wielding the missing poster.
“Um… no,” George replied. “I can’t say I have. I’ve seen this before. Someone else was asking about this person.”
“Was it a young half-elf lady?” Vic asked.
“Yeah, it was,” George said, nodding. “Yeah.”
“Thank you,” Vic sighed. The party made their way out of the House Orien building. Once outside, Vic leaned against the wall and ran his hands through his hair in a frustrated manner. “I’m beginning to think this is a waste of time, and she’s done all this already. We’re not covering any new ground here.”
“But she wants us to go through this, anyway,” Zanros said. “That’s the point.”
“She wants us to find out what she found out,” Yannar agreed.
“Alright then,” Vic mumbled. “Who’s next?”
The party walked over to House Cannith’s office, where they were greeted by an extravagant gentleman in a marvellous hat, who identified himself as Fred Hatsworth.
“How can I help you?” he asked flamboyantly. “Are you here to buy a magical hat?”
“Uh… can you tell us if someone was employed by you recently?” Vic asked.
“Hmm, let me see,” Fred said thoughtfully. “There’s my assistant, Bob. Apart from that, no. It’s just the two of us.”
“Have you seen this fellow?” Vic asked, pulling out the flyer.
“Hmmm,” Fred mused. “I don’t think he’s purchased any hats from me in the past few days.”
“He’s been missing for some weeks,” Yannar said. “We were wondering if he was perhaps employed by your House.”
“Oh,” Fred said. “Hm… he certainly wasn’t employed by this House. He’s been missing for a few weeks? Hmmm… let me see.” Fred removed the wide-brimmed hat, complete with feather, that he was wearing, and replaced it with a very tall stovepipe top hat. “Hmmm. Yes. I recall there was a half-elf asking around here. Yes, I believe she was saying… she wasn’t having much luck in her endeavours, and the only House she had left to ask was the House Deneith enclave. I’m not sure if that helps you out at all.”
Fred removed the top hat, put the dashing, plumed hat back on, and positioned it at a jaunty angle.
“Do you, by any chance, sell a hat of disguise?” Vic asked.
“Hats of disguise?” Fred asked with a grin. “Why, yes. In fact, I’m wearing one right now.” Fred passed his hands in front of his face, and when they moved, his visage had become that of Vicaro. Vicaro smiled, impressed.
“Do you have anything in a hood?” Vic asked.
“Do I have anything in a hood?” Fred said, mocking deep thought, before pulling the brim of his hat down over his ears. The hat quickly morphed into a hood as he did so.
“How much for one of those bad boys?” Vic inquired eagerly.
“This hat can be yours for a mere 1,800 gold,” Fred said theatrically, pulling the hood back into a hat.
“Uh… I’ll have to pass on that,” Vic sighed. “Thank you.”
“If you want that hat,” Fade ventured, “I could perhaps make it for you.”
“Could you, now?” Vic asked.
“It’s an extension of the disguise self spell,” Fade explained. “I don’t know the spell, but I can certainly cast it from a scroll.”
“I’ll buy you the scroll if you make me the hat,” Vic said.
“Well, we’ll see,” Fade said. “Now’s not the time. I still need my tools back before I do anything.”
The party went to leave, with Fred calling cheerfully after them; “If I can do anything else, please don’t hesitate to call.”
The party left one by one, with Vic leaving last. Just before he stepped out of the door, he turned back to Fred with a wry smile.
“Thanks,” he said. “Nice hat.”
“Thank you!” Fred exclaimed, caressing the brim of his hat. “I’m glad you noticed!”
As the party walked away from the House Cannith building, Vic said to the others; “I suppose there’s not much point asking at House Sivis, then.”
“Exactly,” Fade agreed.
“She’s already been there and had no luck,” Vic mused.
“And Deneith was the last one she checked,” Fade said.
“Shall we go back and tell her what we’ve done?” Vic asked. The party decided to grab lunch while they thought about their next course of action. After their meal at the Dog Pack Inn, they decided to follow Vic’s idea and go back to House Medani. When they reached the office, they discovered that Brina had blocked the broken back door.
Vic knocked on the door, and called; “It’s us. We’re back.”
There was a moment of silence, and then timid footsteps, followed by more silence. After a while, Vic relayed what they had done that morning, explaining that they had discovered that Brina had been asking similar questions.
“What would you have done,” Brina said agitatedly, “if they hadn’t said I’d asked around?”
“Probably the same,” Vic muttered pensively. “It’s the only thing we could think of doing.”
“Well… if you go and investigate where I investigated last…” Brina said. “It’s always in the last place you look.”
“Where was the last place you looked?” Vic asked.
“House Deneith!” exclaimed Fade, seeming to realise something. “House Cannith’s representative told us the last House she had to ask was House Deneith.”
Vic turned to the door, brow furrowed, and asked; “Are you saying we’ll find something at House Deneith?”
“No!” Brina shrieked. “I’m not saying anything! I haven’t said anything! Absolutely nothing!”
The party returned to the House Deneith enclave, where they found the same man was behind the desk, now checking the flights of arrows.
“Good to see you again,” he said as the party approached the desk. “Have you changed your mind? Are you looking to sign up for employment?”
“We wondered if there was anyone in a higher position we could talk to?” Vic asked.
“Um… yes,” the man said unsurely. “Yes, I suppose I could go and get him. What is it you want to talk to him about?”
“We’re just asking about Tolden,” said Vic.
The man behind the desk suddenly began to look a little uncomfortable, and glanced around, as if looking for someone to take over the conversation for him.
“We…” he stammered. “W… I’ve already told you, he’s definitely not been here.”
“I don’t believe you,” Vic said bluntly.
“I’m sorry,” the man said hesitantly. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Please,” said Yannar, stepping forward. “It’s important we find this guy, so if you are holding out on something, he may be in danger.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said again. “I haven’t seen him. I don’t see what this has to do with us. If you really insist, then I’ll get the marshal.”
The man headed upstairs, and after a few moments, returned with the marshal, a tall man with slick hair and a defined jaw and cheekbones. He was dressed in armour, and a cape of fine burgundy velvet.
He surveyed the party for a moment, a lopsided grin on his face. Then, he addressed them in a rich, well-spoken voice.
“How can I help you?” he asked.
“We’re looking for information on Tolden Fond,” Vic said, regarding the marshal cautiously.
“And who is this… Tolden Fond?” the marshal asked, still wearing a confident smirk.
“We have reason to believe he was employed here recently,” Vic said, handing the marshal the missing persons flyer. The marshal barely glanced at the poster before handing it back to Vic.
“Sorry,” the marshal said. “I haven’t seen him before. I can certainly tell you that this person isn’t in our employ.”
“I don’t believe you,” Yannar said, studying the tall man closely.
“Believe what you may,” the marshal said. “I’m telling you the truth.”
“We really need to find him,” Yannar pleaded. “It’s important. A man’s life could be in danger, and you don’t want that on your hands.”
“I certainly don’t!” the marshal said with an exaggerated look of shock. “It’s our job to protect lives. But I’m telling you, this person isn’t in our employ.”
Vic stepped up to the marshal, who raised himself to his full height, some inches taller than Vic, and smiled confidently down at the changeling. Scowling, Vic began to grow, soon looming a foot above the marshal. The marshal, however, seemed unimpressed.
“Cute trick,” he smirked. Vic stepped back, surprised at this reaction.
“He may not have been employed,” Fade said, “but was he here asking for a job?”
“He may have done,” the marshal said. “I don’t particularly deal with the day-to-day business of who we employ.”
“What about you?” Fade asked of the other House Deneith member, who simply shrugged.
“Why don’t you want to tell us?” Vic asked, frowning at the marshal. “What are you hiding?”
“I’m not hiding anything,” the marshal replied. “Why do you believe I am? Why do you believe otherwise?”
“My friend here is a Kalashtar,” Vic said, gesturing to Yannar. “He has a good sense about these things.”
“A Kalashtar, eh?” the marshal scoffed, looking at Yannar with disdain. “I’m not sure that bothers me.”
There was a long pause. The marshal had thrown the party, and none of them seemed sure how to proceed. The well-dressed man looked at each party member in turn, then said; “Is our business concluded here? Is there anything else to add? Are you going to doggedly ask me the same questions over and over again?”
“How much am I going to have to pay you to tell us?” Vic grunted, reaching for his purse.
“Hah!” the marshal barked. “I get paid far more than you do. Why would I want to accept money from you?”
“Because all we are asking for is information,” said Vic, “which is free to you.”
“Since when were you under the impression that I have the information you want?” the marshal asked incredulously.
“This train of thought isn’t getting us anywhere,” Fade whispered to Yannar. “I have an idea. Let’s leave, before we attract any more hostility.”
Yannar nodded, and put a hand on Vic’s shoulder. The changeling turned to Yannar, who nodded towards the door. Vic seemed frustrated, but his eyes said he was defeated. However, he turned back to the marshal, and in a voice bubbling with rage, said; “You are a very unhelpful man. You’re giving House Deneith a bad name.”
The marshal looked at Vic for a moment, then shook his head in an almost pitying manner, and turned away, walking back up the stairs.
The party stormed out of the House Deneith building, Vic shrinking down to his usual height as they did. Yannar explained that Fade had an idea, so the party stopped in a narrow alley a couple of buildings down from the Deneith enclave.
“Alright, Fade,” Vic sighed when they had stopped. “What’s your plan?”
“Just because they won’t tell us anything,” Fade said, “doesn’t mean they don’t know. And just because they won’t tell us doesn’t mean we have to ask them, either. I’m talking about the less subtle information gathering art. The one we tend not to explore because of our lack of success with it.”
“Breaking in?” Yannar asked.
“Now!?” Zanros exclaimed excitedly.
“No,” Fade said, shaking her head. “Not now. Later. I don’t see any other solutions. However, if any of you do, I’ll happily consider them.”
“We could perhaps do it now,” Vic mused, “if we had a distraction. I could summon an interesting creature to distract the guards while we sneak in.”
“Well, that would depend entirely on who’s doing the sneaking,” Fade said, looking over at Zanros.
“If they’re going to be distracted, you should all go in and get what you can,” Vic suggested.
“The more of us that attempt this, the more likely we are to draw attention,” Fade said.
“If we’re coming back at night,” said Yannar, “there might not be anyone there anyway.”
“Well,” Vic said, “if there is, it’s best to have another plan, right?”
Yannar nodded, then looked up at the sun and said; “Alright. It’s about two hours until sundown. What shall we do while we wait?”
“We should look around town,” offered Vic. “See if there’s anyone else around town that went missing.”
The party spent the next few hours searching the streets of New Cyre, discovering several missing persons flyers displaying different faces, all young people with the dishevelled look of Cyran refugees. When the sun sank below the uneven roofs of New Cyre’s buildings, the party returned to the House Deneith building, at first observing it from a distance, then moving around to the back of the building.
At the back of the building was a high wall, with no door or gate in it. After considering their options, the party discovered a ladder in a nearby construction site, and propped it against the wall. Zanros ascended it first, attached his grappling iron to the top of the wall, and shimmied down the rope.
“Is there a back door?” Vic asked.
“Yes,” Zanros said, seeing a door in the back of the office.
“Let’s go,” Yannar said, gently ushering Fade up the ladder.
Once the whole party had climbed over the wall, they saw that they were in some sort of training ground, with wooden dummies and archery targets scattered in the small, walled off area. The party carefully made their way to the back door. Yannar tried the door, fully expecting it to be locked. The handle, however, clicked down without resistance, and the door swung inwards.
Cautiously the paladin crept inside and looked around quickly. The room was similar in size and shape to the back room of the House Medani enclave, but seemed to be a store room rather than an office, with crates of weapons lining its wall. Thankfully, the room was empty of people.
“It’s clear,” Yannar whispered, turning to his associates who waited outside.
“Where would the files be?” Vic asked in a hushed voice. “In the front?”
“Probably,” Fade said, peering into the room. “It’s similar to House Medani, but they’re keeping weapons here.”
The party made their way into the room, closing the door behind them. Vic got out his bullseye lantern for illumination, and the party walked into the next room, which was the main room of the enclave, the same room they had visited earlier.
“We should try upstairs,” Vic suggested.
“We’d better be careful,” Fade replied. “There was a bedroom upstairs in House Medani. It could be the same here.”
The party quietly made their way up the stairs. At the top was a closed door. Vic pressed his ear against it and listened intently, but could hear nothing. Carefully, he opened the door, and the party entered the room, which appeared to be an office.
The party searched the room, with Zanros finding a ledger full of names, including Tolden Fond and others from the various missing posters the party had seen.
“Is this what she wants us to find?” Vic mused.
“Does it say anything about where they were working?” Fade asked. “Where they were sent?” Zanros flicked to the front page of the ledger, which read “New Cyre South Facility.”
“Do we think we’ve seen enough?” whispered Vic.
“We at least know where they are,” Zanros said, closing the ledger and putting it back where he had found it.
“We should tell Brina,” suggested Yannar.
Zanros nodded, and whispered; “This could be what she sent us to find.”
“She may even be a bit more receptive now,” Vic said.
The party cautiously left the building, trying to leave everything as they had found it. Once they had scaled the wall, Zanros retrieved his grappling hook. Yannar returned the ladder to the construction site, and the party set off for the House Medani building.
Once they reached the enclave, Vic knocked gently on the door, but there was no reply. Deciding that they should wait until morning, the party returned to the Dog Pack Inn, where they rested for another night.
The party rose early, and when they knocked on the back door of the House Medani building, they heard hurried footsteps inside.
“Who is it?” Brina asked fretfully.
“Brina, it’s us again,” Yannar said softly. “We went back to House Deneith, and we found in their ledger a list of names, among them Tolden Fond, for the New Cyre South Facility. Is that what you wanted us to find out?”
“Yes!” Brina said, then immediately; “No! No! No! Uh… What’s at this facility?”
“We don’t know yet,” Yannar replied. “We thought you might be able to tell us.”
“I’ll tell you…” Brina began, before trailing off. “No! No! Ah! I see! You’re trying to trick me! Just leave me… leave me alone! Now!”
“We’re not,” Yannar insisted. “We’re not trying to trick you.”
“Then tell me!” Brina cried. “What’s at the South Facility!”
“We haven’t been there yet,” Yannar explained.
“Well… neither have I!” Brina shouted. “I don’t know anything about… No! There’s no… You tricked me!”
The party heard the thump of weight being pressed against the door, and Yannar said, in his most reassuring voice; “We’re not coming in. Don’t worry. We’re not going to come in. We’ll go to the South Facility.”
“Go away,” Brina said miserably. “Just see that you do. Stay there for all I care. I… I don’t know anything about it!”
Fade sent Locke south to scope out the area, and after a while, the raven returned, reporting nothing but a mountain range south of the town.
“Should we mention any of this to House Deneith?” Vic queried. Fade shook her head vehemently.
“They haven’t even mentioned it,” she said.
“Someone else might have,” Vic suggested. “We don’t have to mention that we found it in their ledger.”
“I think we’re risking provocation,” Yannar said thoughtfully, “going back and telling them.”
“Should we scout the south?” asked Vic. “See if we can’t find it?”
“If it’s in the mountains, I wouldn’t want to risk getting caught flat footed,” Fade murmured. “We could get lost, too.”
“Alright,” Vic sighed. “Is there anything anyone wants to do today?” The rest of the party shook their heads. “In which case, let’s simply ask who we can if they’ve seen any strange goings on, or have seen anything in the south.”
The party spent much of the day gathering information in the south of the town. Eventually, a portly House Orien member revealed that from time to time, House Deneith members would take a cart south out of town.
“When do they leave?” Vic asked. “Is it the same every time, or is it different?”
“Um… I suppose it’s mid-week,” the House Orien representative mused, “so today, I reckon. Normally around dusk.”
“Where from?” Vic inquired.
“The enclave,” replied the chubby man.
The party thanked the House Orien member for his time, and headed over to the House Deneith enclave, staying out of sight further down the street.
“Can we track them?” Yannar asked, watching people go in and out of the building.
“Maybe we could find a tracker to join us,” Vic sighed, “but who knows how long that will take?”
“Locke could serve us well here,” Fade said, and at the mention of his name, the raven perked up. “If we get Locke to follow them, and we follow with him just in our sight, we could stay a fair distance behind but still follow them.”
“We’ll need horses then,” Vic said.
The party searched unsuccessfully for an ostler, but did find many farms. On one such farm, they found a tall, white-haired man willing to sell some livestock.
“Could we rent them from you?” Yannar asked. “Or would you rather we brought them?”
“What do I look like, House Cannith?” the man grunted. “You buy my horses or you don’t get any.”
“How much for a horse?” asked Vic.
“50 gold,” the man said.
“Each?” asked Vic.
“Yes!” the man snapped.
Yannar and Vic both decided to buy a horse, and double up on the ride out. Fade climbed onto the horse behind Yannar, while Zanros shared with Vic. They returned to the vicinity of the House Deneith building, where Locke perched on a rooftop. After almost an hour’s wait, the raven suddenly alighted the roof and began to flap southwards. Yannar and Vic gently spurred their horses and followed the bird.
As they reached the outskirts of town, they saw the cart for the first time, trundling down a narrow dirt path towards the mountains. They cantered along at a discreet distance, keeping Locke in sight when the cart disappeared from view. After a while, the sun began to set, and Locke helpfully flew lower to compensate for the failing light. Some time later, Locke flapped back to the party and perched on Fade’s shoulder.
“They’ve stopped,” he said.
The party dismounted and cautiously led their horses along the winding, narrow mountain path. Yannar suggested that Locke scout ahead, and reluctantly, the bird flew off. While Locke was gone, the party secured their horses. The raven returned moments later.
”There’s a couple of people,” Locke reported, “and a stone door that leads into the mountains. The cart’s still there, but it’s empty.”
“Were the people well armed?” asked Yannar.
“Probably,” Fade interjected. “It’s House Deneith, after all. But two people is better than five or six.”
“We should try to get behind them,” Vic suggested, “and kill them silently.”
“If you can merge with stone or climb up the cliff face, maybe,” Locke cawed. “Their backs are to the wall.”
“We should try to take them out quietly,” Yannar said. “In case they alert anyone inside.”
“We’re perhaps better off assessing the situation ourselves,” Fade muttered.
The party gathered their gear, and then, hunched and silent, made their way up the road. As the ground flattened out, everyone saw the large entrance in the mountain side, and the well armoured guards either side of it. One by one, the party crouched behind a jagged outcrop of rocks a few meters away from the entrance. As Zanros hurried behind the rock, however, his foot caught on a protruding stone and he stumbled into plain view.
One of the guards exclaimed and drew his sword, with the second guard following suit. Seeing this, Yannar raised himself to full height and unsheathed his sword. Fade moved behind him, and whispering, touched the hilt of his sword. The blade suddenly erupted into low, blue flame, which cast an ethereal glow across the darkened plateau. Grinning savagely, Yannar leaped over the rock and charged towards the guards. One of the House Deneith members ran at Yannar, and they met in the middle of the valley. Yannar swung his sword down at the guard, but the azure flames made the motion obvious, and the guard parried, before slashing at Yannar’s side, drawing blood.
Vic charged out after Yannar, his hands morphing into sizeable bear claws. Martin flew from his shoulder, slashing at the other guard with his talons. The guard growled and swung his sword at Martin and grazing the crow’s wing. Martin cawed in pain and flapped out of the way. Zanros, who had regained his balance quickly, jabbed his glaive at the guard, but it was knocked away. Suddenly, a crossbow bolt flew out from behind the outcrop, hitting the guard in the stomach.
Yannar swung his burning sword at the guard opposite him. The guard dodged to one side, only to be clubbed in the head by one of Vic’s huge paws. The man stumbled backwards, his expression vacant, blood trickling from his temple. Not giving the guard time to recover, Yannar plunged forward, driving his sword through the guard’s torso. The man fell to the ground, his armour smouldering.
Martin went for the surviving guard again, but the guard hit the massive bird with his sword, opening a wound in Martin’s chest. Another glowing crossbow bolt hit the man, and he lurched to one side. Vic swung at the guard, missing, but the distraction allowed Martin to descend fully on the guard, clawing and pecking until he collapsed.
Vic and Yannar stepped up to the prone guard as Martin returned to Vic’s shoulder. Yannar dropped to one knee and checked the guard’s pulse.
“He’s still alive?” Vic asked.
“Barely,” sighed Yannar. “We should question him.”
The two men stabilized the guard and tied him up, while Zanros dragged the other guard’s corpse to the cliff edge and threw it off. As the surviving guard regained consciousness, Vic drew himself to his full house and growled; “What is this place?”
“I don’t know anything,” the guard said, closing his eyes. “You won’t get anything from me.”
Vic struck the guard with his staff, but he barely flinched. Yannar sighed and studied the guard.
“I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere with this guy,” Zanros grunted.
“He isn’t evil,” Yannar mused, still intently regarding the man.
“So what should we do with him?” Vic queried.
“We should try and be more friendly if he’s not evil,” Yannar said firmly.
“I don’t think being friendly to someone who attacked us will get us very far,” Fade murmured.
“Well, if you want to try, be my guest,” Vic sighed.
Yannar kneeled next to the fallen guard, and softly said; “We don’t want to hurt you. We just want to know what’s going on. We’re looking for someone.”
“You’ve defeated the sentries,” the man spat. “Why don’t you take a look inside, if you want, and find out?”
“How many of you are in there?” Yannar asked, a little more impatiently.
“I’m not going to tell you anything,” the man said stubbornly.
The party stood in frustrated silence for a moment, until Zanros said’ “So. The door?”
“What about this guy?” asked Vic.
“Off him,” Zanros stated.
“Well, he’s still tied up,” Yannar insisted.
“True,” admitted Zanros, perhaps a little disappointed. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Vic nodded, then spun on the guard, knocking him across the head with his staff. The guard slumped, unconscious. Yannar tore a strip of dirty cloth from one of the sacks piled in the back of the cart and stuffed it into the unconscious guard’s mouth, before he and Vic dragged the man behind the cart.
Vic regarded the door as Yannar healed his own wounds, then turned to Zanros with a slight smirk.
“Alright, Zanros,” he said. “It’s your move, son.”
“You think you can pull it open?” Yannar asked.
“No problem,” said Zanros confidently. The young elf spat into his palms and then seized the huge brass in the centre of the large stone door. He heaved backwards, his muscles tensing, and slowly, the door opened, revealing what appeared to be a dark hallway, off of which was a room illuminated by sporadic torches.
The party carefully made their way down the corridor, and were about to enter the room when a gruff voice called our; “I thought your shift wasn’t over for another hour?”
A stocky, moustached man stepped out of the room, only to have Zanros instantly pierce his chest with his glaive. The House Deneith member let out a yelp of pain and surprise, lashing out wildly with his sword. Zanros deftly parried the sword away with the hilt of his glaive. Fade stepped to one side, shimmering armour forming about her, as Yannar charged forward. He slashed his sword at the guard, but the Deneith member managed to push Zanros back. The young elf collided with the paladin, and both staggered to one side.
Vic quickly loaded his sling and flung a bullet at the guard. It hit the moustached man in the forehead, and he stumbled backwards with a yell, blood suddenly pouring into his eyes. Seeing this, Zanros jabbed out with his glaive. It sunk into the guard’s stomach, and with a thick, choking groan, he slumped to the floor.
The party entered the room, seeing it filled with sacks, crates and chests. On the other side of the room was a door, next to which was a desk and ledger. The House Deneith crest was carved into the far wall. Fade briefly searched the ledger on the desk, finding a similar list to the one she had seen earlier.
“It looks like the people we’re looking for are here,” she said gravely.
Yannar searched through one of the chests, finding a bag of coins. Yannar showed it to Vic, uncomfortable with taking money that was likely stolen. Vic took the bag, and said that the money could always be given to the needy residents of New Cyre. This seemed to put Yannar at ease.
The party cautiously approached the far door. Yananr pressed his ear against it, but heard nothing. Everyone readied their weapons nonetheless, and Yannar dragged open the door. It led into the mess hall, lined with long tables and chairs. At the back of the room was a small, cluttered kitchen area. On one table was a half-finished meal.
“Looks like this place could seat ten people at once,” Yannar mused. “Probably more, if they ate in shifts.”
Vic searched the kitchen, but found nothing of use. Within the kitchen area was a small wooden door. Vic opened it to discover a larder full of root vegetables, salted meats and sacks of herbs and spices. The party took what food they thought they might need, and then moved back into the mess hall. There was another door, which both Vic and Yannar listened at. Beyond the door, they could hear gentle snoring. Quietly, the party stepped inside. The room was dark, but several bunks and footlockers could be made out. In one of the closest bunks, a man was sprawled, asleep.
“Who’s going to kill him?” whispered Vic.
“Don’t kill him!” Yannar hissed. “We don’t have to kill him. What could we do to stop him? We could tie him up!”
“I used my rope to tie up the guard outside,” Vic mumbled.
”Have you got your rope?” Yannar asked of Zanros.
“My rope’s for my grappling hook,” Zanros sighed.
“I don’t have anything that will knock him out,” Fade whispered.
“He’s already asleep!” Vic said.
“Magical sleep is different,” noted Fade. “He wouldn’t be woken by any noise.”
“Well, I have no problem with killing him,” Vic said matter-of-factly.
“We should be sure we should kill him, first,” Fade muttered. “He could be someone we’re looking for.
“He looks like he’s sleeping comfortably,” Zanros observed. “I doubt anyone who could sleep comfortably here would be a good person.”
Vic nodded, and Fade reluctantly agreed, while Yannar remained silent. Zanros stepped quietly up to the bed, and swiftly drew his glaive across the sleeping man’s throat. He flinched minutely, and then fell still as blood gushed from his neck.
Vic began to search the footlockers while Yannar quietly drew the guard’s sheet up over his face. As he was doing so, he noticed a small bag in the chest that Vic was searching. Vic opened it and found 5 platinum pieces. Each footlocker contained a similar bag. Vic rushed around, collecting them up before Zanros could, and distributed the wealth equally, giving each party member 10 platinum pieces. Zanros took a pair of botos from one locker, noting that they seemed to be somehow magical, and Fade took a dagger that she deemed to be well crafted.
“I may have enough here for that hat, if you’re going to make it,” Vic said to Fade, searching through his purse. “Although I don’t know the scroll’s price.”
“Well, I’ll make a deal with you,” Fade said. “If you can give me one day and one of your spells of curing to help make a brooch for Yannar, I’ll pay for the scroll myself. You’ll only need to pay for the cost of the materials to make the hat.”
“We have a deal,” Vic said.
The party headed through the bunk and out of the door across the room. They found themselves in a corridor, which led to another door, and also branched off into an increasingly dark tunnel. The party agreed to head through the door first, and approached it cauriously. Vic reported that he could hear a strange, guttural sound beyond the door. He thought it was the snuffling of an animal, but after listening closer, said that it sounded more like a strange language.” Fade stepped up to the door and listened.
“It’s too faint for me to understand,” she muttered.
“Perhaps you should try hitting the door with your staff,” Yannar suggested to Vic. “Maybe it will draw whoever’s there out.”
“There’s only one voice on the other side, as far as I can tell,” Vic explained. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Vic pushed open the door, and the party gingerly made their way inside. The room beyond was spacious, but also very dark, illuminated by a single flickering torch. Below the torch was a winding stairway leading down. Along one wall were several small cages, with a larger cage ont he wall to the left. There were also a few stalls, possibly for keeping horses. In one of the cramped cages was a small creature which looked like a goblin, but its skin was a pale blue. The creature was snarling in a strange, guttural language, and straining at the bars of his cage. When he saw that the party had noticed him, he began to frantically gesture to the lock on the cage door.
“Should we let him out?” Vic asked.
“I don’t know,” Yannar muttered. “He could be a threat. I can’t understand him.”
Suddenly, Zanros let out a cry of surprise. The party followed his gaze to see what appeared to be two hulking hobgoblins standing in the stalls, facing the wall without moving. Fade called out in goblin, but there was no response. Zanros turned back to the cage, and noted that he was not strong enough to break the lock. With a small smile, Fade reached into her spell component pouch and pulled out a few fine hairs. She held them against Zanros’ arm and muttered a draconic word.
“Try it now,” she said. Zanros stepped up to the cage unsurely, wrapped a hand around the padlock and pulled. The metal twisted in his hand, and he easily pulled it off. The young elf grinned widely, glancing back at Fade, and then opened the door of the cage. As soon as he did, the goblin-like creature flew from the cage, still ranting in his strange language, and took off down the corridor.
The party then turned their attention to the unmoving hobgoblins. Zanros studied them, determining that they were not magic. He did, however, detect something magical in the corner of the room. He searched through the pile of rags and scrap metal there, finally pulling out a length of spiked chain, a common hobgoblin weapon, and a wand.
“That’s a divine wand,” Fade noticed with some reverence. “I don’t know much more than that.
“I’ll take it,” Vic said eagerly.
“50 gold,” Zanros said, snatching the wand away from Vic’s outstretched hand.
“Alright then,” Vic said, giving the boy a dark look. “Forget it.”
The party made their way to the door past the stalls and after listening at it, Vic pushed it open. Wind blew into the room, bringing with it the fresh smell of outdoors and a fainter, more unpleasant smell – damp and earthy. Vic peered outside to see what appeared to be some sort of arena, surrounded by tiered seats with four crumbling stone pillars at its centre. Vic glanced back at the cages and felt his stomach lurch.
“Let’s try another way,” Vic grunted, closing the door.
The party walke back down the corridor, and as they turned into the much darker way, Vic took the lead, pulling out his lantern. At the end of the corridor was a metal portcullis. Vic tried to open the portcullis by hand, but it did not even shake. Through it, he could see a store room full of weapons and armour. The party next tried to go down the stairs, but found that they led to a door that would not open.
“So,” Fade sighed. “Into the arena, then?”
The party headed back through the room where the hobgoblins had not moved, and into the arena. There was a closed door across the arena, and a portcullis which presumably led into the store room. The walls leading up to the seats were at least ten feet high, with no visible way of getting to them.
“Well, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea,” Fade muttered sarcastically.
As if on cue, a portcullis came crashing down over the door they had just exited. Everyone turned in alarm, only to hear gentle clapping from above. Weapons at the ready, everyone looked up to see the marshal from the House Deneith enclave, sitting on a lavish throne and looking down at them with a scornful smile.
“Very well done,” he exclaimed. “I was hoping you’d arrive a bit sooner, but here you are. You’ve discovered the secret of the South Facility. What do you think of it? Nice little place, isn’t it?”
“You are a sick, sick individual,” growled Vic.
“Me?” the marshal said theatrically. “What have I done?”
“It’s obvious what happens here,” Vic said.
“Really?” the marshal asked. “Well please, fill me in.”
“Gladiatorial combat,” Vic said gravely.
“Look around you,” the marshal said. “Do you see signs of combat around here?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Vic hissed. “But there’s a room full of weapons and armour over there.”
“This is a House Deneith facility,” the marshal said dryly. “How are we supposed to train, if not with weapons and armour? Why don’t you tell me that?”
“Why don’t you tell us why we’re here?” Vic retorted. “Stuck in this… coliseum.”
“Well, surely you should be telling me why you’re here,” the marshal said, “after you disabled my guards and slaughtered your way through my facility.”
“Not slaughter,” Zanros said. “Mild, casual killing spree.
Yannar squinted at the marshal, trying to determine if there was evil in the man. Suddenly, he recoiled, black images filling his mind, an almost painful shudder running through him. With a scowl, he pulled out his shortbow and aimed it at the marshal.
“Come on,” the marshal sneered. “There’s no need for that. I haven’t engaged in hostilities with you, have I?”
“Are we going to stand here talking all night?” Vic asked. “Or are you going to sic something on us.”
“Since you’ve asked so pleasantly,” the marshal said, “and you do seem to be here under the impression that this is some kind of horrendous gladiatorial arena, who am I not to indulge you?”
At the marshal’s word, two armoured hobgoblins marched from the darkness towards the group. Their movements were sluggish and stiff, their expressions vacant. One swng its curved sword at Vic, but the movement was slow and obvious, and the changeling easily dodged. Yannar turned from the marshal and fired an arrow, which sunk into one of the hobgoblins’ shoulder. Vic launched Martin at the other hobgoblin, and while the huge crow scratched at the hobgoblin’s face, Zanros lashed out with his glaive. The blade cut deep, but the hobgoblin did not flinch, and its expression didn’t change.
Fade loosed a glimmering energy bolt at one of the hobgoblins as it lumbered past her, but this did not slow it. The hobgoblin took a swing at Vic, but it was another slow movement, and Vic dodged. Yannar jabbed opportunistically at the hobgoblin, which did not not lift its shield. The other hobgoblin took a creaky swing at Martin, who easily avoided the blow. Zanros took the opportunity to stab the hobgoblin in the gut, and it collapsed backwards.
With a scowl, Fade turned to the marshal and fired a missile at him. A foot or so in front of the man, however, it shattered as if it had connected firmly with a hard service. The marshal grinned smugly and made a disapproving tutting sound.
“And here I thought I was a non combatant,” the marshal said. The remaining hobgoblin attacked Yannar, who easily dodged. The paladin’s own blow was half hearted. With a grimace, he turned to the marshal.
“Get down here and fight us yourself, you coward!” he roared. The marshal made no reply.
Vic, meanwhile, had hurried over to the fallen hobgoblin. He looked over the corpse, and as he did, a look of surprise and horror fell over his weathered face.
“He’s been dead for a while now,” Vic cried. “Before he was even attacking us.”
“They’re just dolls!” Zanros exclaimed. “They’re already dead, they’re just being used!” He jabbed at the hobgoblin, but the blow was listless, and bounced off the hobgoblin’s armour. Determined to end this, Fade loosed a glowing bolt which sent the hobgoblin flying back, where it lay, unmoving.
The party turned back to the marshal, looks of determination and disgust on their faces. Still wearing a conceited smile.
“Well done!” he announced. “You dispatched them all. Not much of a challenge, was it? How would you like something a bit more… entertaining?”
“Yes!” Fade shouted. “Why don’t you come down here!?”
“Me?” the marshal said, feigning shock. “Fight you person to person?”
“Yes!” Fade barked.
“Very well,” said the marshal, leaping down and landing nimbly on the floor. He drew an enormous great sword from his back and held it forward in both hands. “Shall we?”
As soon as the marshal spoke, Yannar whipped his sword around. It glew with intense light and, when it hit the marshall, exploded in blinding radiance. Sparks flew from the marshal’s armour, but he did not fall, or even flinch.
“Impressive first strike,” the marshal observed with a smirk.
Vic whistled sharply and Martin flapped over to the pillars, as Zanros lunged at the marshal. The blade of his glaive began to crackle with energy, and when it struck the marshal, there was a rumble of thunder, but still, the man barely moved. Fade threw her metal hand forward, and an orb of lightning flew out, but the marshal casually moved to one side, and the ball exploded against the wall, lightning arcing in every direction.
The marshal stepped back from the group and said; “But my friends, you haven’t suffered a single injury. Shall we see about that?”
There was a deep, sonorous boom, and suddenly, Zanros fell backwards, clutching his chest and letting out a choked cry of pain. Fade also staggered backwards, whimpering. Seeing Fade in distress, Yannar let out a cry and swung his sword at the marshal, connecting, but doing little damage.
“I thought you’d already used that trick,” the marshal noted. “It won’t work against me twice.”
Vic, meanwhile, had rushed over to where Zanros had fallen. He placed his hands on the young elf, and after a moment, Zanros got to his feet, breathing heavily. Scowling, he swung his glaive at the marshal, but again, the attack was ineffective.
“It didn’t work the first time,” he said, taking another couple of steps back. “Why did you think it would work now?” He turned, seeing a wall close behind him. “How stupid of me. I seem to have backed myself into a corner.”
Suddenly, a savage grin broke out across his face. He turned, and sprinted vertically up the wall, coming to rest on the terrace above.
“How terribly rude,” he announced, looking down at the party. “Allow me to introduce myself.” Resting the point of his great sword on the ground, the marshal bowed. ”My name is Iden ir’Kerrith.”
“Thanks,” Vic snarled. “That’s great.”
Suddenly, Yannar bolted for the wall, ascending it almost as quickly and easily as Iden. Yannar landed beside the marshal, sword at the ready.
“Nice trick,” Yannar hissed.
“Impressive,” Iden retorted, gripping his great sword tightly.
Suddenly, dark shadows seemed to form next to Iden. Yannar glanced down to see Vic glaring up at them, hands outstretched. Slowly, the shadows seemed to take form, and then, with a terrible screech, seemed to give birth to a humongous hippogriff. As the hippogriff emerged, Zanros tossed his grappling iron up to the terrace. Before he could grab it, however, Fade charged past him, drawing her sword. The blade began to burn with low, blue flames as she scrabbled up the dangling rope.
Iden parried a blow from Yannar, looking first at Fade, then at the hippogriff, which glared at him, growling.
“It seems I’m outnumbered here,” he said, dodging a swing of Fade’s burning sword. “But my friends down there! What kind of host would I be if I left you without entertainment?”
Iden clicked his fingers, and the portcullis near Zanros and Vic trundled open. A well-armoured House Deneith guard ducked under the raising gate and charged at Vic and Zanros. Vic swung his staff at the guard, but it bounced off of the man’s leather armour. Zanros followed suit, swinging with his glaive and cutting into the man’s side.
On the terrace, Iden struck out at Yannar, who barely managed to parry the blow. The paladin swung his sword around at Iden, who knocked the blade away with his own huge sword. While Iden’s body was turned, the hippogriff hit out with a huge claw, striking Iden solidly. It hit him again, then snapped its jaws at him, but the marshal managed to dodge this final attack. Fade swung her sword at Iden’s back, but it missed as Iden dodged the hippogriff’s bite.
The guard below staggered away from Vic and Zanros, closing his eyes and concentrating. As he did, his stature increased, his shoulders growing broader, his legs growing longer, until he was at least twice his original size. He glanced around, disorientated, then advanced on the pair. Vic swung his staff at the enlarged guard, but did little more than hit the guard’s shin. Zanros had more success, thrusting his glaive into the guard’s thigh. Vic swung again, connecting solidly with the guard’s huge ankle. With a yell, the man fell backwards, shrinking down to his original size as he did.
Iden took a swing at the hippogriff, cutting into the majestic beast’s chest. The hippogriff screamed, a deafening sound. Iden staggered back, wincing at the shriek, and seeing an opportunity, Yananr stabbed out with his sword, cutting into Iden’s abdomen. The hippogriff also attacked, viciously striking Iden with a claw. The marshal staggered backwards, grunting with pain and effort, and looked up at Fade and Yannar, face shining with sweat, still grinning somehow.
“It seems I am bested,” he panted. “I’ll yield if you will let me.”
Yannar seemed to consider this, but an enraged Fade screamed; “Hit him!” At this, Yannar swung his sword at Iden, who easily blocked the blow.
“How unsporting,” Iden sighed. “I’m yileding to you.”
The hippogriff, ignorant of the concept of yielding, swiped a claw at Iden. The blow hit full force, sending the marshal toppling back into the arena below. The hippogriff bellowed in triumph as the shadows swallowed it, and it disappeared.
Yannar descended the wall as Vic and Zanros approached Iden, who was lying on the floor, blood dribbling from between his lips.
“You’ve definitely bested me now,” he croaked. “I’m yielding.”
“Where’s Tolden Fond?” asked Vic.
“Yes, Tolden Fond,” Iden mused. “I suppose there aren’t any more secrets now. We used him as a sparring dummy, much as the ones you defeated earlier.
“And he died,” Vic said solemnly.
“He was already dead by the time we used him,” Iden stated.
“Did you kill him?” questioned Vic.
“Me?” said Iden. “No.”
“Were you controlling the puppets?” Yannar asked.
“Controlling them?” Iden scoffed. “What makes you think they were being controlled?”
“They were dead,” Yannar said.
“Can the dead not act for themselves?” queried Iden.
“Not generally, no,” Vic snapped.
“What makes you think it was they that were acting?” Iden said.
“What the hells does that mean?” Vic growled.
“What does it mean?” Iden asked. “It means, putting it quite simply, in terms that you may understand, their wills were not their own. Because, obviously, they’re dead.”
“Was it your will?” Vic asked.
“Mine?” said Iden. “Oh, no.”
“Whose will was it, then?” Vic inquired.
“To be honest,” Iden said, “I’m not entirely sure who’s controlling those ones.”
“Should we kill him now?” Vic said impatiently.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Zanros said, aiming his glaive at Iden’s head.
“Are you finished asking me questions?” Iden asked. “Can I leave? Are you going to execute me? I’ll just remain here, on the floor, bleeding to death. Oh, woe is me.
“Shut up,” said Zanros. Iden attempted to sit up, but Yannar prodded him back down with his sword.
“Very well,” Iden sighed. “I’ll remain spread-eagled on the floor.”
The party exchanged glances, and Vic nodded to Zanros. Watching this, Iden said; “Going to execute me, then?”
“Yep,” Zanros said cheerfully.
“Make it clean,” Iden instructed.
“Nope,” Zanros replied, jabbing the glaive into Iden’s chest. The marshal cried in pain.
“I asked you to make it quick and painless!” he yelled. “Could you not even do such a simple task?” Zanros jabbed the glaive into Iden’s side, and the man cried out again. “Oh, please! You’re making such a mess of this! Shall I use my sword? Do you want me to do it?”
Scowling, Zanros lifted his glaive and drove it into Iden’s throat. The marshall let out a rasping, blood-choked death rattle, and fell still. Fade shimmied gently down the grappling iron’s rope, and Yannar helped her down to the floor. Zanros was already searching Iden’s corpse, where he discovered a set of keys.
“We can get into the basement now,” Fade said.
“Do we need to?” Vic asked.
“There may still be people down there,” noted Yannar.
“Plus, this man was tough,” Fade mused, “but I doubt he’s the one creating these dummies. He may still be here. We should make sure this doesn’t continue.”
Vic joined Zanros in searching Iden’s body. The changeling discovered a pouch of platinum pieces and sparkling gems. With a huge grin, Zanros held out a hand for his share of the spoils.
“No,” Vic said plainly. “I’m not giving you any.”
“What!?” Zanros exclaimed, offended.
“You were going to charge me for a wand you can’t even use,” Vic said. “One good turn deserves another.”
Vic handed Fade and Yannar some of the platinum, and kept the rest for himself. Zanros turned away sulkily. Fade picked up Iden’s sword and examined it, finding it well crafted and made of a strange, rare metal. Yannar held out his hand, and she handed it to him. As soon as he wrapped his hand around the hilt, the sword began to resonate in his grasp, causing him to almost drop it.
“There’s something strange about this sword,” he said, examining the blade.”
“It’s unusal,” Fade said, “but I didn’t notice anything. Perhaps it only works for people who wield divine magic, rather than arcane.
“Let me try,” Vic offered. Yannar handed Vic the sword, but it remained still. Vic handed the sword back to Yannar and looked at him suspiciously.
“It’s just you,” he said.