Questions in the Dead of Night
In past nights Brocas had grudgingly served soldiers of the watch heavily discounted ale and cleaned the mud they tracked in with a curse under his breath. But never in all the years the aging innkeeper had owned the Stag & Whistle was Brocas happier to see the city watch walk into the common room. “They’re upstairs! The brigands who have wrecked four of my rooms and threatened me in my very inn!” The soldiers grunted at the fat old man to clear the way as they tromped up the stairs where Cuana and Tullweim blocked their path. The highest ranked watchman ordered the Cimmerian and Aesir to stand back. The bloodied slayers did so and gave their names freely when asked.
Meanwhile, Dhak and Xacksmith had stolen into Cuana’s room to deal with the unconscious assassin within. The Stygian searched the body and found a talisman on a leather thong around the rogue’s neck. Xacksmith tied his rope to the nearby window and then to the assassin’s legs. The pair lowered the man down to the alley below before they made their way to the ground silent as shadows. Xacksmith found rubble in the alley to hide the prisoner behind, quickly shackled manacles around the man’s legs and bound his arms with rope as Dhak kept a lookout for the watch who stood outside the front of the Stag & Whistle.
Inside the inn Cuana and Tullweim told their tale of the attempted assassinations. The lead watchman was dubious of Cuana’s version of the story that there were only 3 attackers, for the Cimmerian’s wounds betrayed that he’d been in combat. The watch noted the 3 bodies in the Aesir’s, Hyrkanian’s and Stygian’s rooms. The soldier who questioned Cuana threw open the door to the barbarian’s chamber. Inside stood Dhak and Xacksmith. They too were questioned but Dhak bluffed that his and the Hyrkanian’s presence in the room was due to fear of another attack. The glib tongued Stygian convinced the watchman that the absence of a fourth body was due to there being only 3 assailants.
One of the guards questioned an occupant in the room opposite of Cuana’s. The frightened man whispered of what he heard and saw. His voice lowered further when he mentioned the talisman spied around the assassin’s throat. The watch took on a grim manner as they believed they were dealing with another incident caused by the vile cult of Asura. They gathered the 3 corpses for the meat wagon and were about to depart when Brocas insisted the watch arrest the adventurers. But the watchmen felt the party had done Tarantia a service by killing foul cultists and told the innkeeper if he wanted to eject them from the premises he was free to do so himself. Brocas looked up at the bloodied men and shook his head. He then promised silver if the watch left some men to keep guard and make sure no more damage came to his property. The captain agreed and ordered 3 of his men to stay behind to keep the peace.
As the corpse cart left, Dhak and Xacksmith once again slid to the shadows below their rooms. When Xacksmith uncovered the rubble from the body underneath he discovered the assassin was awake and had undone the bonds around his arms. The Hyrkanian seized the man as Dhak held a ghanata knife to the rogues throat. The Stygian hissed out a demand of who had ordered the slaying and the assassin croaked out the name, ‘Taspius.’ Satisfied and not wishing to attract the guards attention, Dhak slit the man’s throat and left his corpse amidst the offal.
Out of Hiding
The sun had risen high enough to clear the eastern buildings of the city, spreading adequate light for Tullweim to see the general outline of the buildings outside his rooms’ window. As the Aesir prepared to leave his lodgings for another day attempting to unravel the city’s mysteries, there was a soft, almost hesitant knock on his door. Tullweim opened the entryway slowly and saw a cloaked man on the other side.
The man stepped into the room as the door opened, moving with the kind of swiftness most often seen in a thief eluding his pursuers, closing the door behind him just as swiftly. He was tall and thin, dressed in a long, dark coloured cloak bearing more than a few stains of travel. The cloak’s cowl was drawn far forward, concealing his face.
With the door behind him closed again, he turned to the Aesir, pulled back the cowl of the cloak revealing a pale oval of a face, with calm, delicately chiseled features. His hair was dark, with several streaks of grey running through it, and he was clean-shaven.
‘My thanks for receiving me under such odd conditions,’ he said, his voice carrying the accent of one native to Tarantia. ‘After your…recent excitement, I can certainly understand if you feel cautious or uneasy, but allow me to assure you I mean you no harm whatsoever. Indeed, I fear we face a common foe.’
‘I could not be certain of your role in what is now happening throughout the city. That is until last night, so you must forgive me for not approaching you earlier. Indeed, it was not until you yourselves came under assault by that band of assassins that I knew you were not actively working as part of some larger plot. Ah, but you must forgive me again. In my haste to explain to you my reasons for not presenting myself sooner, I have forgotten to tell you why I am here now. I am Gaulan, priest of Asura, and neither I nor any of my followers have had a hand in the crimes being ascribed to us.’
Tullweim nodded and whispered that he would like to get one of his companions to hear Gaulan’s tale as well. The Asuran priest agreed and the Aesir left his room quietly so as not to rouse the watchman who slept near the stairs. Tullweim gently rapped on Dhak’s door. When the Stygian opened it he was told that the Aesir needed help moving furniture in his room. Dhak was confused at the request but agreed. When they returned to Tullweim’s room the Aesir moved the bed frame he had propped against his window back to its proper place. The guard in the hallway was in such a deep slumber he did not wake from the sound of wood shoved across the floor. The Asuran furrowed his brow at the barbarian and quickly continued his story.
‘Sadly, oaths I have sworn prevent me from discussing much of our customs and rituals with those who do not follow our path. Indeed, were the circumstances any less dire, I would never have come to you, revealing myself as I have. It may be that these oaths of ours are unwise, that our very secrecy, and the ignorance it breeds, has allowed these terrible rumours now infesting the streets of Tarantia to gain currency. Wise or unwise, however, what is done is done, and it is too late now to reconsider. ‘These terrible crimes – the murder of the Mitran priest, the abhorrent acts in the cemetery, the vile attempt on your own lives – have come as an utter surprise to us. I have attempted, through some eldritch means, to find out more of what is happening, but someone or something has successfully managed to block all such attempts. Logic indicates it must be the same person who is behind these crimes, or at least someone closely allied with them.
‘I regret I cannot tell you who it is that has orchestrated these terrible deeds. I can only tell you again that it was not I, nor was it any worshipper of Asura who follows our creeds of justice and scholarship. If you have any questions for me, I shall answer them as fully as my oaths allow, and if you have any need of me, I shall serve you as well as I can so long as your endeavour is truly to uncover the architect of these terrible deeds.
Dhak inquired of Gaulan about the talisman and the parchment he had found on the supposed cultists at Delvyn cemetery. The Asuran priest looked at the talisman and said the sigil was indeed important in the Asuran religion but it made no sense around the neck of an assassin as the sigil meant ‘balance.’ Gaulan also noted the symbols on the parchment were Asuran as well but were divorced from all meaning. The Stygian then asked if Gaulan knew the name Taspius. The Asuran shook his head but said he would look into the name. He told Dhak to seach for a symbol, which Gaulan sketched in the dirt on the floor, in the alley of the Wren later in the afternoon. Once found, the Stygian should dig and would find any information Gaulan uncovered. Dhak then asked if the Asuran knew where to find any poultices which could aid in the parties’ recovery as several of their number were deeply wounded from the assassination attempt the previous night. Gaulan nodded and stated he could find such items and would bury them with whatever information he found on Taspius.
‘I have one boon to ask of you as well. Tell no one of me, or of our conversation this morning. I freely admit that, given the mood of the city, I fear for my safety, and that of all my followers, should my identity become known. I place my trust in your honour.’ Dhak and Tullweim nodded in agreement and the Asuran went to the window and deftly climbed to the alley below.
Dogma & Bigotry
Shortly after Gaulan left, Dhak and Tullweim roused their two companions and informed them of what had just occurred. Afterwards they went down to the common room and ordered breakfast. There they saw the watchman who had been posted at the front of the inn receive a missive. Once read the soldier called out to his companions and ordered them back to the guardhouse. After the watch left the party discussed their plans for the day. The Stygian stated his interest in going to the Mitraeum to inquire about Constanus and to have Xacksmith’s wounds looked at. Dhak speculated that the Mitran priests might have a skilled surgeon who could mend the Hyrkanian’s wounds better than the Aesir had. With a course of action decided upon the adventurers left the Stag & Whistle inn for the last time as the innkeeper made it pointedly clear they were no longer welcome.
Outside the inn a familiar carriage pulled up to the adventurers. The door to the carriage opened and Constanus beckoned the party over to speak with him. ‘I am quite relieved to see you all still hale and hearty,’ Constanus said, dropping his voice low enough to prevent it from being overheard. ‘Word reached me this morning of an attack against your good selves, but I was unable to discover whether you had all survived the attempt on your lives. I was led to believe that these assassins bore more sigils of the murderous cult of Asura? I trust you are now convinced of the culpability of these heathen foreigners in the spate of crimes gripping our city?’
Xacksmith responded with shouted accusations and insults at the Mitran priest, claiming the priest to be the culprit behind the attacks. Constanus was aghast at the Hyrkanian’s verbal assault and Tullweim held Xacksmith back as Dhak attempted to smooth the situation. The Stygian explained that the attempt on the Hyrkanian’s life had put him on edge and he was suffering from fever due to his wounds. Dhak then asked if the Mitraeum had any surgeons who could aid Xacksmith. Constanus nodded in the affirmative that there were those with skill in surgery and the Mitran priest could get them in with but a word. Dhak thanked Constanus for the information but denied the offer of a ride to the Mitreaum, stating the Hyrkanian’s fever and agitated state as the reason. The priest wished the Stygian luck, closed the door to his carriage and left as suddenly as he had appeared.
The party had traveled through the winding streets of Tarantia towards the Mitraeum for the better part of an hour. The sounds of rumor and gossip about the Asurans had escalated to outright threats against all foreign religions and their worshipers. Dhak spoke to Tullweim from horseback about his theories as to Constanus’ connection to the events of the past few nights when he was struck aside the head by a rotten egg. The Stygian immediately turned to see who accosted him and bore witness to a mob of commoners who all began throwing refuse at the foreign adventurers. As the putrid fruit and horse manure flew so did the insults. Tullweim wheeled upon a woman commoner and backhanded her which caused the enraged crowd to close around the party. Some of the men in the mob drew hatchets from their belts and feebly attempted to strike the Aesir and his companions. Cuana was still on edge about the past days events and had taken all the civilized insults he could. The Cimmerian pulled out his greatsword and swung it through the crowd smiting both men and women with wild abandon. Aware that the watch would be drawn to the screams and sounds of battle, Dhak threw flame powder at a nearby assailant and shouted for his comrades to flee.
The Hyrkanian and Stygian rode away while Tullweim growled at the shrinking crowd. Most of the commoners ran from the massacre as quickly as they could though some remained, wailing their sorrow beside the corpses of their loved ones. Dhak’s warning proved true as the watch arrived at the scene shortly after. Cuana fled while the Aesir was struck by a glancing blow but broke away from his assailant with pantherish mobility. An extensive chase throughout the streets resulted but after a few apple carts pushed over and near stampede the Aesir and Cimmerian were able to lose their pursuers amidst the throngs of Tarantia. Though they had also put considerable distance between one another. Cuana pilfered laundry from a clothesline and hunched over back into the streets while Tullweim remained out of sight moving from alley to alley.
Whispers in the Temple
Dhak and Xacksmith arrived at the Mitraeum while services were underway in the great chapel. The only priest which could be seen was speaking from behind his pulpit casting damnation and hellfire to those who would harm Mitra’s flock. The Stygian looked to a doorway to the side in search of anyone who could lead him to a surgeon for his Hyrkanian ally. The door opened in front of the Stygian as a gaunt man in the robes of a Mitran priest walked out and stopped in surprise to see the Stygian stand ahead of him. Before the priest could utter a word Dhak inquired about the surgeon. The baffled priest looked at Xacksmith and his obvious wounds then pointed to the opposite end of the building. Dhak thanked the priest who hurriedly walked away wiping sweat from his brow.
Xacksmith refused to go into surgery without Tullweim guarding against malfeasance. The Stygian argued that he would ensure the Hyrkanian’s safety when he noticed a lone priest, standing in a barely-open doorway, gesture to them to come to him. The priest took sidelong looks up and down the hallway as Dhak and Xacksmith approached and shut the door behind them when they entered. The priest introduced himself as Caudius and asked if they were the men who had seen Daphnis fall. When they nodded in the affirmative the priest said, ‘Please, good lords, I understand you do not know me, but I feel I must speak to you. First, though, I must know – did the most pious Daphnis say anything about a group called the Brotherhood before going to Mitra’s halls?’
The Stygian told Caudius of Daphnis’ cryptic last words. ‘Very well,’ the priest said, nodding. ‘Then there is something I fear I must tell you. I overheard two priests speaking this morning, though I could see only one of them. They appeared to be arguing, though in hushed tones, but at one point the priest I could not see let his anger best him, and his voice rose high enough that I could pick out his words. He told Barthias, the priest I could see, that, though it was regrettable, Daphnis could not be allowed to betray the Brotherhood. Barthias paused for a moment, and then nodded his assent before they quickly went their separate ways. I saw Barthias again perhaps an hour later, and his face still had a haunted look about it. I have never heard of this Brotherhood before, and I know nothing more of it, but if they are behind Daphnis’ murder, they must be brought to justice.’
Dhak was curious about the other priest but Caudius could not name him. The Stygian then asked if a meeting could be arranged with Barthias. The Mitran priest said he could arrange a meeting as soon as a half hour but though he sought justice Caudius was squeamish about any violence towards a fellow priest. The Stygian assured the cleric that he would not harm Barthias without provocation. Caudius thanked the Stygian then agreed to set up the meeting at a grain warehouse a few blocks from the Mitraeum. Dhak then asked about a surgeon to which Caudius led the pair to a chamber of healing. The priest vouched for the surgeon, claiming the man to be skilled and trustworthy. Xacksmith entered the chamber and began preparations as Dhak made his way out of the temple.
Deep in the shadows behind stacked barrels the Stygian waited impatiently for any approach. He was distrustful of Caudius and he had his blade in one hand and the Elephant’s Heart in the other. Caudius arrived at the warehouse next and called out for the Stygian. Dhak revealed himself and Caudius assured him that Barthias was on his way to meet them. Shortly thereafter another Mitran priest arrived and the Stygian smiled at the realization that this was the same priest he’d run into at the Mitraeum. Barthias angrily chided Caudius for calling him out to this warehouse, away from his duties, and demanded an explanation. Dhak stepped out of the shadows and informed Barthias he was the reason for the meeting. The Mitran priest wheeled upon Caudius and would have attacked the younger priest for luring him into a trap had Dhak not stepped in and held his arming sword to Barthias’ throat.
Barthias held his hands up in surrender and the Stygian threatened to open his neck if the priest did not answer his questions true. Dhak asked about the Brotherhood and Barthias told of his suspicions of a Lord Nadanidus. The priest spoke of reading the nobles soul and managed to see the corruption so carefully hidden within. He now believes that Nadanidus attempted to use the Brotherhood in some way he did not yet understand. Barthias shakingly told of his belief of something very unnatural going on in the catacombs beneath the noble’s manor in Tamar. The Stygian was about to strike the priest in anger at his obvious attempt at avoiding his question when Barthias rambled on about a discovery which gave some credence to his suspicion. Ten days past the priest had found a scale about twice the size of his thumbnail in the catacombs. The priest believed the scale to belong to some enormous snake.
The Stygian was surprised at Barthias tale, being all to familiar with the giant snakes let loose at night in black-walled Khemi. Dhak demanded evidence and Barthias produced the scale from his robes. There could be no doubt in the sorcerer’s mind that it indeed belonged to a creature from his homeland. Perplexed at this new turn, the Stygian asked when the Brotherhood was to next meet. Barthias became tight-lipped but gave in to Caudius’ pleadings for the priest to do the right thing and atone for Daphnis’ murder. Barthias’ face grew ashen at the younger priest’s words and he betrayed that the brotherhood were to meet that very night beneath Lord Nadanidus’ manor. The priest told of a secret entrance beneath Tarantia’s streets and how to find egress to the catacombs. Satisfied with the information and eager to take what he had learned to his companions Dhak lowered his weapon and was about to leave when Caudius called out for him to stop. The priest ran up and asked was nothing to be done about Barthias culpability in the slaying of Daphnis? The Stygian simply walked away stating his business was done with Barthias and if Caudius sought retribution he should be man enough to take it himself.
Dhak returned to the Mitraeum early in the afternoon and found Cuana and Tullweim standing watch outside the room Xacksmith was undergoing surgery in. The gagged screams from the Hyrkanian obviously unsettled the two barbarians but the Stygian acted as if all was well. Dhak whispered that he had received information he daren’t speak of around the many ears in the great church. Tullweim nodded and the party waited uncomfortably for several hours amidst the tortured wails of their companion. When the surgery was finally concluded Xacksmith stepped into the hallway looking fatigued but otherwise healthy. The surgeon was paid a hefty sum of silver and the adventurers left the Mitraeum.
They made their way through the city, avoiding main streets and arrived at the alley of the Wren late in the afternoon. Once they found the Asuran’s symbol Dhak related Barthias’ tale of Lord Nadanidus involvement with the Brotherhood and spoke of the large serpent the priest mentioned. The Stygian warned his companions to stay clear of any such creature and allow the sorcerer to handle it. Cuana finished digging up the letter and wrapped package beneath the sigil. Dhak opened the letter which read, ‘Taspius is a mercenary retainer in the service of Lord Nadanidus. He has served Nadanidus for three years, and is a veteran of several mercenary companies.’ The Cimmerian unwrapped the horse blanket and found 8 small clay jars inside with another note instructing the adventurers to coat their wounds with the paste inside. Cuana and Xacksmith immediately doffed their armor and did so.
With their wounds treated and a decision made to enter Lord Nadanidus’ manor in Tamar the party left the alley of the Wren. They did not travel far before they were hailed by a scout dressed in the colors of a King’s servant. The young man was out of breath but stammered out a claim that he and several other scouts had been scouring the city looking for the party. It seemed the chancellor Publius had demanded the adventurers be brought before him to report. Tullweim agreed and the party followed the scout to the Chancellery.
When they arrived the party was relieved of their weapons again and the pageboy Arn escorted them to Publius’ study. Publius looked far more tired than he did when the adventurers saw him last, as though he had not slept in days. The table in his study, so neat before, was now littered with sheets of parchment, gathered into loose piles. The fire in the hearth was long dead, and a smell of cold ashes gave an acrid tinge to the air in this room. Publius looked up as the party entered, his face a grey and impassive mask.
‘For all the trouble your actions have caused me this day I hope you have something to report,’ he said gravely. ‘I fear this situation is becoming more dire by the hour.’
Dhak related all he had learned earlier in the day regarding Lord Nadanidus, below whose manor the so-called ‘Brotherhood’ held their meetings, the sellsword Taspius, and of his suspicion of involvement on the part of the priest, Constanus. Publius indicated these were serious charges to bring against ones such as Nadanidus and Constanus and he could sense Dhak held something back. The Chancellor pressured Dhak to divulge all of his information of the large scale he had been shown by Barthias belonging to what the Stygian believed was a ‘Son of Set.’
‘This is disturbing news,’ Publius said as Dhak finished his tale. ‘Very well. I’ve a favour to ask of you, one for which you will be compensated, of course. You have brought me speculation about Lord Nadanidus, but not proof, and without that proof, I cannot move against him. He is a wealthy and exceedingly influential individual, and if I were to send the guard after him and later be proven wrong, the results would be unfortunate for all concerned. I would, therefore, like you to find the proof I need to justify such a move. If you agree, you will be operating without my official sanction. Should you find no evidence of an alliance to Set, I can likely get you out of Tarantia, but you can never return. If you do find it, however – I will pardon you of the violence in the streets and see you safely out of the city. Do you feel you are capable of such a challenge?’ The adventurers agreed and Publius offered the sum of 2,000 silver to be given when they returned with the evidence needed.