Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 4

7/26

Since the secret room had already been ransacked of any items that might have provided clues as to Katos’ & Darios’ involvement in the plot to summon Al’Kiir, I decided to go back to the Bull and Bear and buy a keg of ale for the Crimson Wolves. They’ve been under a lot of stress and have been away from home a long time, so I wished to show them my appreciation while providing them a bit of a festive diversion. If they’re anything like me, the ale should be welcome and the keg drained quickly. The Stygian followed along.

While at the Bull and Bear, Tullweim, arriving with Xacksmith, told us of Katos’ murder and the current state of unease at the mansion. He saw that I was buying a keg for the Wolves, so he helped me to carry it through the streets back to Timeon’s estate. When we arrived, I handed the keg over to Fabio for safe keeping, telling him to keep an eye on it until the time was right for us to start handing it out to the troops. The mansion was on full alert, so drinking would have to wait.

When I looked into Katos’ room I could see that much had obviously been left as it had been found. Katos lay sprawled across his bed, drawers had been emptied onto the floor, there was a huge tear in the bed with stuffing pulled out, and a bare spot on the wall where something had been taken down. There was a slightly lighter color about the bare spot, suggesting that it had been there for some time. I recognized the shape of Al’Kiir in that bare spot – it had the outline of a misshapen head topped with four horns, just like the likeness of Katos’ ruby ring…...which we saw had also been stolen. An exotic dagger had been found sticking out of the bed where it had been cut open, and Tullweim told me of a scroll containing the means of either summoning or banishing Al’Kiir that he found in the matress. Apparently there had been a red bandana found out on the balcony as well, likely dropped by the murderer as it was obvious that whoever the killer was came in through the window. Timeon was drunk as usual, babbling away his usual threats and woes in his room. I don’t know how his concubine can stand putting up with that spoiled, drunken swine, and wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she just took the easy way out by leaping to her death from the window some night. With the Crimson Wolves all on guard with short sleep rotations, I spent a couple of extra hours walking the rounds and making sure they were all well and things in order. I returned to my room, pulled my bed up against the door, and slept.

I suggested to Tullweim that Timeon likely had information that would be valuable to our efforts to catch Katos’ murderer, and he agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to question the Baron. Unfortunately, Timeon had been even drunker than usual the previous night, and we were advised that he wouldn’t be awake until at least noon. We decided to kill a little time in the market, asking both weapons and fabric vendors if either the dagger or the bandana looked familiar, or if they might be able to refer us to someone who trades in similar items. The Stygian took the opportunity to start hitting on Tullweim’s slave girl, and Tullweim looked displeased and somewhat affronted, but said little of the insult.

After spending a few hours in the market we returned to Timeon’s home in hopes that he’d finally slept off last nights’ excesses and was able to speak with us. He’s too involved in the effort to raise Al’Kiir to not know more that could help us in our investigation; an investigation that he himself has charged us with at the cost of our own lives. Unfortunately we had other concerns upon our arrival at the mansion. Enaro informed us that there were three Wolves unaccounted for, and their search of the grounds showed nothing of the three or their gear. I spoke with a number of the soldiers and learned that even though they’re getting decent pay, many desire to return home now that their contract has ended. Although I can understand their desire to be away from this gaudy mansion inside this hostile city, to lose them would be devastating to our current position. Without the Crimson Wolves, we have no access to anything in the city because without our employment to Timeon we’re nothing more than unwelcome strangers. We wouldn’t even have a place to keep our armor outside the city walls, because we’d have nobody to guard it. We absolutely need to do all that we can to retain their service. This is another point – if their contract is fulfilled and they’re being payed by the week, then they’re not deserting but just going home. It’s not correct to call their honor into question by calling them quitters or deserters since they have always fought for money, not for honor or loyalty. We can however take advantage of their pride in the Crimson Wolves by bestowing genuine praise upon their prowess and reputation while passing along extra rewards when able to do so. It was with that in mind that I attempted to give the mercenaries a morale boost by improvising an inspiring speech after we had had them all assembled for a head count. My words were apparently less than stirring, but the Nordheimer stepped in and managed to rekindle their pride with a speech of his own. With the mercenaries settled down somewhat we could now turn our attention to confronting Timeon in hopes of getting a few answers.

When we went up to Timeon’s room to see if he was finally awake we encountered that snotty servant, Vanemoth, taking the Baron his breakfast on a tray. He had just knocked on Timeon’s door, and as the baron opened it we stepped up and told him that it was urgent that we speak with him. Timeon clearly didn’t want to be bothered by us, but he instructed Vanemoth to take his breakfast to the dining room where he could eat (and drink more wine) while speaking with us. I tried to get some kind of information on the red-hooded riders because I flat out disbelieve that he has no knowledge of them. I also tried to impress upon him that the riders were watching him to be sure that he didn’t try to raise Al’Kiir on his own, so that someone who’s associated with Timeon is watching his every move. I also told him that whoever that person is, is the one likely responsible for the death of both Katos and Darios, and that Timeon himself may well be the next target. I even told the baron of our discovery that Darios had been raised from the dead and was leading the red-hoods, and how we killed him a second time. To my amazement, Timeon denied any knowledge whatsoever of anything I questioned him about. He even went so far as to tell me that I’m too simple to comprehend any matter involving the gods, and simply ignored me at that point. He turned his attention to Tullweim, refusing any guards posted at his door, and berating him for letting time pass while the killer was still out there. What he knows may well have painted a map directly to the killer, but because of his unwillingness to speak we’re now forced to try to dredge up clues by casting a wide net and hoping we’re lucky in what we manage to snare.

We went back out into the city, but instead of returning to the merchant district we went into the slum and soon noticed that two men were following us at a distance. We halted as a group of beggars, seven very dirty and very smelly men dressed in little more than rags, bearing cups and pleading for alms approached. Tullweim and I each dropped a silver into each beggar’s cup, telling them that we were trying to solve a murder that happened in Baron Timeon’s mansion. One replied that he knew of three bandit leaders who could be capable of such an act – Urian the slaver, the Red Hawk, or Galbro. He went on to say that Galbro was a bit of a fop, and that the Red Hawk, being female, was hardly worth consideration (although he did name her specifically, so he must think her capable). The beggar felt that the most likely suspect would be Urian. One bit of information that I found particularly interesting was that Galbro is Zingaran and apparently likes to wear a red scarf around his wrist. The red bandana that was found on the balcony outside of Katos’ room was of Zingaran make. I gave each beggar another silver for their troubles and we went on our way.

We were still being followed by the two men Xacksmith had noticed, so Tullweim, Dhak, and I ducked into an alley while Xacksmith stayed by a nearby stall, pretending to look at the wares. Our hope was to lure the two men into the alley and confront them with Xacksmith coming in from behind to cut off their escape. We waited for several moments but didn’t see them come to the alley, and we began to assume that they were still waiting for us out in the open…that our ruse to lure them into the alley was too obvious. The two sneaky bastards had entered the alley from a different direction and were nearly upon us when they were spotted. One of them managed to stab me, leaving a nasty gash where he struck. Before I was able to retaliate, the Stygian dropped them with the same arcane trick that I had seen him use back in Nemedia, when he was fleeing the city watch. I had been snared by that spell when first I saw it used, and now I had been nailed by it again, rendered to little more than an incoherent heap rolling in the muck of the alley. Thankfully the effects lasted only a few moments, and by the time I was back on my feet the two would-be assassins had been sudued and were now our captives. At my suggestion, we poured some srong ale over them so that if were were accosted by the city watch while hauling them back to Timeon’s for questioning, they would appear to be drunken brawlers who we were dragging back home. Sure enough, we encountered watchmen on our way to the mansion and they fell for our ruse, so we were allowed to continue on our way without any further trouble.

Once back at Timeon’s mansion, the Stygian and the Nordheimer each took one of the captives inside and up to their respective rooms in order to extract information from them in a more private, intimate fashion. I sought out the field medic for the Wolves and had my wound stitched, then spoke with Enaro about the general state of morale among the men. We decided it was time to bust out the keg and give the Wolves a break. I spent a good amount of time drinking and talking with the men, trying to raise their spirits. One in particular, a man named Astraes, seemed to relax and begin to enjoy himself, so we spent a good deal of time bullshitting, telling jokes, and drinking rather heavily. He seemed to me to be a pretty decent sort, making me reflect on the quality of soldiers that make up the Crimson Wolves – we really need to do all that we can to retain their service, at least while in this city. I believe I was able to raise their spirits somewhat, succeeding with the ale where I failed earlier with words.

Tullweim and Dhak returned, dragging the would-be assassins with them. Each had learned that the thugs were in the employ of Galbro when they were stalking us. The Stygian did something to each of them, what exactly I’m not certain, but he seemed to be drawing something out of them. To my surprise, the Nordheimer set of one the assassins free. The other assassin wasn’t nearly so lucky. The Stygian dragged the man, cradling the stump that used to end in a hand, into the open entryway of the mansion and had a number of the Wolves who had been drinking with me brought in to witness. He then pulled that huge, ruby-like gem of his and muttered some type of arcane words that set the victim to screaming terribly, while he literally shrank to half his normal size before our disbelieving eyes. Everyone present was nearly sickened at the horror of it. Dhak then proclaimed that this would be the fate of any who cross the Crimson Wolves to all assembled – the servants and the ten mercenaries that had been called in to witness the frightening scene. I could almost understand if the display was made to those who are opposing us, but of the mercenaries that saw this, not a single one was unaffected. I fear they are much more likely to desert us now than ever before. I returned to the keg, taking the men with me, and we did our best to raise our spirits again while we killed off the last of the ale. Dhak took the now tiny and completely mad would-be assassin back into the city to a known drop-off point used by Galbro’s men. Once the Wolves and I had done for the keg, I returned to my room and slept.

The next morning Enaro informed us that two more of the Crimson Wolves were unaccounted for, their equipment gone. My frustration at their leaving was mixed with relief because it could have been a lot worse – after last night’s display of torture and sorcery I could well understand if every single one of them had left. We went into old city to try to learn anything we could about this rogue Galbro, and hopefully where he could be found. One especially outspoken local took it upon himself to tell us how foreign scum like us were the cause of all the ills in Ianthe, and that Iskandrian will soon skewer our bowels, tear out our nostrils, or some other such nonsense. Apparently the general isn’t the only one who we need to worry about because I soon noticed five men following a short distance behind us, occasionally shooting a furtive glance in our direction. I cautiously let the others know that we had more assassins on our tail, and we kept walking through old city asking after Galbro. Up ahead a long funeral procession was coming, so to get out of its way we ducked into an alley. Almost immediately the assassins attacked us from behind.

Both Xacksmith and Dhak were hit hard, the Hyrkanian especially. Luck was with me though, and I was able to kill my first attacker with one swing of my sword. Another of the assassins tried to tumble past me so he could get to Tullweim, but again I had a lucky stroke and killed the assassin on the spot. The Nordheimer killed a third, and the remaining two assassins bolted. I tried to run after them but soon lost sight of the two as they were less encumbered by armor that I was. By this time the funeral procession had passed, so we left the alley and continued questioning merchants in the area if they could tell us anything about Galbro. We eventually learned from one merchant that Galbro collects rare items, is rumored to be good with a sword, often wears a red scarf on his wrist, and in the merchant’s words is ‘a bit of a fop’. Could this so-called ‘fop’ have lost his wrist-scarf on Timeon’s balcony the other night, or did someone leave the scarf to be found in order to make us believe Galbro was responsible?

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