Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Cuana Chapter 9 Entry 2
The girl was still screaming, out of her mind with fear after being abducted, dragged to the cemetery and nearly carved open as part of some obscene ritual involving a freshly exhumed corpse. I don’t know if she saw the arrows that seemed to sprout from the knife-wielder’s eyes or heard his gasp as the missiles lodged themselves deep into the man’s brain, but when she saw him stagger back onto his feet and begin awkwardly attacking his fellows, she lost any remaining shred of rationality she still possessed. I can hardly blame her for that – I felt the hair at the nape of my neck stiffen at the sight as well. Only people who make their living in that foul craft can look upon the reanimated dead without feeling a wave of dread wash over their soul. The sight was too much for her, and as we were cutting down the last of the robed killers, she fled screaming toward the exit of the cemetery. Tullweim had just caught up with her and was attempting to calm her down when a cry of ‘You! You there in the cemetery!’ warned us that we had been spotted by the city watch. Dhak was bent over one of the robed figures and Xacksmith was relieving them of their money, so I turned toward the approaching watchmen and hailed them in return. When asked what had happened and why we were in the cemetery my reply was for the most part truthful. I left out our encounter with the dying Daphnis, saying that we were simply passing by when we were alerted by a woman’s screams. Upon entering the cemetery we saw these robed thugs had desecrated a grave and were on the verge of plunging a dagger into this girl. Knowing nothing of us or that we had been alerted to trouble in the cemetery, the girl was able to verify the truthfulness of my words, easing the attitude of the watchmen slightly. We agreed to accompany them to the watch house for further questioning.
I repeated our story at the watch house to both the captain of the watch and a member of the Black Dragons, the king’s personal guard. This time though, I added that we had been alerted to the trouble by Daphnis, the Mitran priest who had been slain last night. That prompted another round of questioning, which we were able to answer truthfully, telling of our past association in Numalia and our meeting on the Road of Kings two days prior. Now that the death of a priest of Mitra had been tied to the events in the cemetery, the situation warranted more attention from authorities as the killing of a Mitran priest was considered to be a very serious crime. As such, we were told that we would need to repeat our story directly to the king’s chancellor, Publius, and that we’d be sent for at the inn tomorrow morning. It was getting very late by this time, so we went back to our rooms and slept.
We were awakened by a knock at our doors early the next morning. A young page named Arn had been dispatched to bring us to speak with Publius at the chancellory. We were quickly up and dressed, and soon were following the lad through the city streets to meet with the king’s chancellor. We were met at the gate by more members of the Black Dragons, who allowed us to pass after we agreed to leave our weapons with them. Then we were led inside into a well furnished room obviously reserved for conferences or meetings, more of the king’s Black Dragons posted as guards. We were soon joined by the chancellor Publius, a man of professional and authoritative demeanor. He was interested in all we had to tell, but his greatest concern was of our encounter with the dying Daphnis. Killing a priest of Mitra is considered to be an especially heinous crime, and one that they want to get to the bottom of quickly in order to prevent civil unrest. He explained that due to the sensitive nature of the case, he wished to hire us to conduct the investigation, offering us one thousand silver pieces, with half to be paid up front. We quickly accepted the offer, so he then gave us what little detail he said they had been able to glean from Daphnis’ murder. The fletching on the arrow pulled from the priest’s back is of the type used by a man named Essenic, who Publius described as a ‘notorious’ mercenary. He bid us bring this Essenic in for questioning, gave us the five hundred silver, and told us that our quarry is known to frequent bars and brothels on the Avenue of Roses. We also asked him where we might be able to find an herbalist or apothecary, someone who might deal in remedies and healing, and Publius referred us to a shop run by a man named Brocas. We were then escorted out, given our weapons back, and were on our way.
After a quick trip to buy some healing salve, we headed to the Avenue of Roses to check for word of Essenic in the brothels. There are so may brothels here that we split up to check as many as we could. I heard several rumors as I went from place to place, some dealing with Daphnis’ murder, some dealing with the trouble in the cemetery. Details changed here and there, some claims more outlandish than others, but embellishments aside most rang of the truth. I began to understand better why Publius wanted to solve this murder quickly because of the outrage apparent on the part of those exchanging rumors. I took a break from my search long enough to enjoy the company of a particularly fine looking lady at one of the brothels I checked, just to relieve a little stress and allow myself better focus on the task at hand. That’s what I told myself anyway.
Having come up with nothing in the way of information on Essenic, I returned to meet the others and learned that Dhak and Xacksmith had been told that Essenic is often at a brothel called the House of Nine Jewels. From there we learned that the one we sought had his home in the Kharotas river district, just outside the city gate. I quickly downed the rest of my ale and we were on our way to find Essenic’s house.
The Kharotas district had all the dinginess and stench normally associated with a low-income, hard-working community. Laborers, low-grade merchants, carters, and the like all scurried about attending their business. Rumors of the preceding night’s occurrences were on everyone’s lips here too, some more outlandish than others but all spoken in hushed tones. When asking around after Essenic I heard one lady anxiously telling another that the priests of Asura had caused the king and count Trocero to flee the city. That sounded unlikely to me, but it would explain why we were hired for such a sensitive undertaking by the chancellor and not the king. After learning that I sought him, one man told me that he had heard that Essenic had once killed a man by slinging him from his ankles headlong into a wall. We were eventually pointed in the direction of a modest, grubby house and told that it belonged to Essenic, and that his wife, Lyness, was a washer-woman and worked from her home. Wasting no more time, we went there directly.
Lyness turned out to be a sour, surly wench who was up to her elbows in other people’s laundry. She had little good to say regarding her husband, but she probably doesn’t have much good to say about anybody judging by her general demeanor. After asking her several questions and getting little response, Tullweim decided to have his clothes washed while Xacksmith and I went on to a tavern called the House of Lions, a tavern where she said her husband usually could be found. The place was just a short distance away, so we were there in a matter of minutes. Upon entering the House of Lions we were instantly assailed by the reek of stale ale, unwashed bodies, and dried sweat. There were a number of people about, their faces buried deep into their mugs or laughing it up with their pals. A small group of men were playing mumblypeg on a table near the center of the room, taking turns at throwing a dagger towards their feet. One of them, a large man with blondish hair turned out to be Essenic. Xacksmith approached him, expressing interest in joining in the game. In an effort to try to gain the man’s confidence as well get him at least partially drunk, I bought the man a mug of strong local liquor and offered it to him as he was engaged with the Hyrkanian. He immediately became suspicious though, scowling at me and telling me to leave him alone. I tried to act like I was just a harmless stranger who only wanted to buy a drink for the person gambling with his friend, but his scowl grew darker and he took a tone that I found to be too insulting to ignore. Enraged, I threw the liquor into his eyes and backhanded him with the mug right across his face. He shook off the blow and took several steps backward, blood trickling down his face, and drawing the greatsword at his back and came after me.
People scrambled to get out of our way as he swung his sword and connected with a fierce blow that nearly dropped me on the spot, cleaving a terrible wound down my side despite my armor holding together. Blackness creeping into my field of vision from the periphery, I swung back at him and missed my target completely. He followed up with yet another crushing blow from his greatsword and I staggered, barely able to continue standing erect. Before I could react he said ‘hold! Put away your weapon and leave, and I’ll let you live’. It was galling to do so, but I had no real choice. I had defended my honor in the face of his insult and felt it had been satisfied, and I knew that the rest of my fellows would soon arrive, so I sheathed my sword and backed out of the tavern, telling myself that this was a lesson in acting out of impatience and not waiting for the others to arrive. Xacksmith followed me out the door and we returned to Lyness’ house to await Tullweim and his laundry. While there the Hyrkanian used my own healing kit on me and I took the opportunity to use the last of the healing salve from my pack. Both helped, but I was still far from being in fit shape to fight any time soon. Before leaving, Dhak took hold of a battered helmet that belonged to Essenic and used his arcane skills to send a curse, apparently through the helmet and upon its owner. That would be helpful if it worked, because Essenic enjoys a measure of luck to accompany his skill.
We left Lyness to her laundry work and returned to the House of Lions, the others going inside while I remained outside in order to avoid starting another fight. I would wait outside and see what transpired, being ready to jump into any fight should it come out into the street. I eventually heard voices coming toward the door, so I moved around the corner of the tavern so as to remain out of sight. Apparently Tullweim was no better at avoiding Essenic’s suspicion than I, because they came out into the street and drew weapons, preparing to fight just as I had just a short time ago. The mercenary was followed out by a handful of his goons, Dhak and Xacksmith alert and ready but removed to a safe distance. I whispered to the Stygian to give a call or signal if I needed to come out in the open and join the fray, then ducked further behind the corner of the building. From what little area to the front of the building was within my field of vision, I saw the Hyrkanian dart out from hiding and stab past the armor of one of Essenic’s goons, dropping him to the street like a sack full of rocks. To my horror though, I saw the body jerk slowly to it’s feet, and before I even realized that Dhak had raised it with his newly acquired arts, I was fleeing the scene, bolting toward the back of the tavern toward the river. By the time the fear had passed the fighting was over. Essenic was dead and worse – one of the Stygian’s more recognizable magics had been used on him – the mercenary’s body was a mere foot and a half tall. Not only that, but Tullweim had cloven the poor bastard into two halves, straight from the top of his skull, through the breastbone, and right between his balls. So – we’re to bring Essenic in to Publius for questioning, right? And we’ve already spent the five hundred silver that had been advanced to us for bringing him in? Wonderful. People from the tavern that hadn’t fled at the sight of the body rising up from death were now hollering alarms to draw the watch, so the Nordheimer grabbed up both halves (sigh) of Essenic’s corpse and we bolted. Finding a place under the pier, the Stygian attempted to commune with the mercenary’s spirit while Tullweim tried holding the pieces together in a manner that made the corpse appear as some kind of perverted version of puppet. It’s eyes sprang open and immediately began shrieking a hideous form of gibberish, blood, brains, and various other bodily liquids seeping out from between where the Nordheimer held together the two halves of it’s body. After several minutes of trying to get some kind of intelligible verbiage out of the thing, we gave up and tossed what was left of the poor bastard into the river.
Leaving the scene, we saw the remaining bodies being loaded onto a wagon to be carted off to the cemetery, so Dhak bribed the driver into allowing him to take the body of one of the goons. He quickly hauled it off into an alley and, seeing a woman approaching up the street, hypnotized and mentally drained her in order to bolster his arcane power.
It was nearing sunset, and we were heading back to our rooms at the Stag and Whistle when a coach pulled up alongside of us and came to a stop. A Mitran priest looked out of the coach window and beckoned us to ride with him, offering us a lift to wherever we were staying. We all got in and seated ourselves and the coach rolled on down the street. The priest introduced himself as Constanus, told us that he had heard that we were the last to speak with the priest Dahpnis, and wanted to ask us a few questions regarding his murder. Tullweim told of the incident in the cemetery to which Daphnis had alerted us, but Constanus seemed much more intent on learning what the dying priest’s final words to us had been, even to the point of having me repeat what I remembered several times and insisting that I be sure that I was leaving nothing out. I then asked him if, since he was so adamant on learning the details of Daphnis’ murder, we would be allowed access to Daphnis’ room and belongings to search for clues. His reply was quick and rather curt, saying that was affairs of the priests and would be handled by them and them only. By this time we had arrived at our inn, so he wished us a good night and was gone. Once inside, I sprang for rooms and meals for both Dhak and Tullweim, who had spent the last of their silver on ales and whores earlier in the day. After nearly inhaling my dinner, I went up to my room to sleep off some of the stress and pain I had earned myself that day.
I awoke to the now familiar sound of Tullweim’s falsetto battle-cry coming from the other room and saw a dark figure crawling into my room through the window, dagger in hand. He was able to sink his blade into me once, but I was up and after him immediately. Bearing the fiasco with Essenic in mind, I took up my greatsword and attacked the assassin with the full force of the flat side of my blade and rendered him unconscious within just a few seconds. Hearing the sounds of fighting coming from out in the hallway, I decided that I will use my rope to quickly bind the assassin in my room and stuff him under the bed so that he can’t get away or be seen and killed by any accomplice that may wish to keep his fellow silent. I’m determined to get some answers for myself while keeping these people alive to be questioned by Publius.