Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 5

8/09

It was nearing dusk when we left the merchant area of Old City and headed to the Bull and Bear, seeing less and less people on the streets as evening darkened to night. The locals are quite vocal in their beliefs that General Iskandrian will rid them of so-called scum like us, but they seem to have no faith at all in their General’s ability to keep their streets safe at night. They talk big during the day, but run and hide like frightened children at the first sign of nightfall. How this city could have so many residents is beyond me – you can’t reproduce if you have no balls, and there doesn’t seem to be one complete pair among all of Ianthe’s citizens combined.

We took a table in the Bull and Bear and were served our ales by the same wench that had attempted to snatch Tullweim’s coin-purse on our first visit. A few guards from the city watch and a few mercenaries sat nearby, a few of the watchmen being some of the same who had accused Xacksmith of cheating at dice several weeks ago. These kept shooting furtive glances in the Hyrkanian’s direction and muttering curses into their ales. Tullweim sent a round of drinks to their table and Dhak approached them, asking them if they had any knowledge they could share regading the rogue named Galbro. His enquiries were met with jeers and insults on the part of the watchmen. So rude were they that I began to consider backing the Stygian’s request with my sword. Dhak ignored the insults and made to return to our table when one of the watch seemed to soften, calling the Stygian back to their table. After patiently listening to what the watchman had to say, Dhak returned to our table, telling us that the watchman had lied to him and tried to send us off on a wild goose chase through the sewers of Ianthe in search of Galbro. I made to get up and confront them for both their rudness and their treachery, but was talked out of it by the others and we quietly left them giggling like drunken eunuchs as we left to return to Timeon’s house.

Upon our return to the mansion, Vanemoth descended on Tullweim like an angry hen, saying that the Baron was livid over last night’s episodes of torture and the frightening display of sorcery, that Timeon demanded to see us immediately upon our return. The grape-stained little Baron was angrier than I’ve yet seen, but well within his right to be for six of his slaves had fled overnight, and those that were still there were visibly terrified of remaining in the mansion. Tullweim was quick to apologize, saying that we may have indeed gone too far in our actions, but that we only did what was deemed necessary in order to carry out Timeon’s order to solve the murder of Katos. The Baron was somewhat mollified, but stated that the cost of buying new slaves to replace those that had fled was coming out of our pay.

Before retiring for the night, Tullweim and I gathered a group of the Crimson Wolves together to see what their mood was and learned that many were still shaken by the events of the previous night. I tried to rally them with some inspiring words, but as before, my words had little effect on them. Once again Tullweim took over and was able to instill a sense of pride and confidence in them where I had been unable to do so. It’s good that he was the one given command of the mercenaries, for I doubt any of the rest of us could have held the group together for this long. That being settled, I decided to make the rounds and visit with those of the Wolves that were on guard duty for a couple of hours before retiring for the night. All seemed to be of moderate spirit- not thrilled to be here, but no major or immediate morale issues or concerns.

As I was talking with Astraes, I heard a sudden commotion upstairs and ran to investigate. Ascending the stairs, I could tell the noise was coming from one of the upper floors- an attack on Timeon? An ambush set for the others? I was weilding my greatsword, taking the steps two or three at a time, pausing only briefly as I made it to each floor so that I wouldn’t run past whatever was happening. In a few more seconds I was at the scene of the trouble- someone had been caught in Enaro’s room, two of them lay dead, blood pooling from massive wounds, bits of gore spattered about the walls and floor. Tullweim was there, looking out the open window, alternately looking upward toward the roof and down toward the ground. Enaro arrived, understandably angry at the fact that his room had been burglarized, began sorting through his belongings, and exclaimed ‘hey….someone stole my urn!’. The Stygian, the Nordheimer, and I all locked eyes and we knew….the urn was the crucible, and it had been right under our noses the entire time. As Dhak moved out onto the balcony, Tullweim told me how he and Xacksmith had seen Enaro’s door ajar as they were heading to their rooms and had surprised the invaders. Apparently the Hyrkanian had performed an impressive tuck-and-roll onto, then launching himself from Enaro’s bed, landing between the surprised burglars and the window, cutting off their escape. Unfortunately for Xacksmith, two of the burglars bull-rushed him, the second managing to knock him right off of the balcony and down to the ground. The third had escaped upward by climbing up to the next balcony. Dhak was in the process of climbing up after him and trying to chase him down, and Xacksmith was making his way slowly back into the mansion, obviously in a lot of pain.

After patching the Hyrkanian up somewhat, Tullweim and I took him along as we attempted to track the thief that had taken the crucible. It took the three of us a while to do so, but we tracked him down several floors of balcony, over to the street, and managed to keep to the trail for several blocks before losing it. As we were deciding what to do next, we were joined by the Stygian and Enaro! Tullweim lost his temper at seeing Enaro away from the mansion, contrary to his direct order to keep an eye on the mansion in our absence. Enaro replied that Dhak had given him new orders, and that he was to accompany Dhak to his meeting with us. The Norheimer fairly bellowed that the Stygian has no rank within the Crimson Wolves and is therefore unable to give any of them orders of any kind. Chastised and apologetic, Enaro spun on his heel and headed straight back to the mansion. After a few choice words for Dhak’s attempt at giving commands to the men, Tullweim asked why he had sought the rest of us out. Dhak said that he had learned where the fugitive thief was hiding – doubtless by more of that dark mummery of his. However he was able to divine the thug’s location, he led us straight to a run down little hovel, into the front door, and indicated a closed door behind which our quarry was quartered. I was able to bash the door in after the Nordheimer’s attempt to do so failed, but was caught off guard by the defiant glare with which the trapped thief met my advance. The others were able to push past me, quickly subdue him, and put him to the question. He claimed that he didn’t have the urn, that he had come straight to his room in fear for his life, and that he and his associates hadn’t been able to locate the urn, nor did he know where it might be. This raises some disturbing questions, such as: who else could have taken the urn? – have all of our rooms been searched? – and if not, how did they know to go straight to Enaro’s room? This last question disturbs me most of all, because one possible answer is that Lady Julia is involved. She knew of the urn already – we first saw it in the hands of her Khitian companion as he attempted to clobber Dhak with the thing. They promised us all of their goods if we helped defend them from the Red Hawk, but that’s not such a big deal if they know who has it – even less of a problem if they know where it’s being kept, because they can just come back when the room is empty and retrieve it at their convenience. That there is a connection between Julia and the now-deceased Katos and Darios other than their simply travelling together seems likely – she may be directly involved in the attempt to bring back the evil god Al’Kiir, but is she with Timeon or another faction? To my surprise, the thief was allowed to live after he had been questioned, and he fled, blubbering like a frightened child, into the night.

We returned to Timeon’s house without incident and learned that more of the Crimson Wolves had deserted – three of them this time. We barely had time to learn of the desertions before Timeon accosted us, more livid than I had yet seen him. He tore into Tullweim in a manner that made wonder at the Nordheimer’s control over his temper. According to Timeon, all of his remaining servants except for Vanemoth were out cold, apparently in some type of coma that had been induced by our troublesome Stygian ally. The Baron very nearly fired us on the spot, but Tullweim managed to calm him enough to prevent that from happening. After Timeon returned to his chambers, the Norheimer rounded on the Stygian so angrily that I thought for a moment that blood might be shed over the incident. Dhak was uncharacteristically contrite though, and Tullweim soon calmed down enough to let the matter drop. It was getting very late, so we all went to our rooms in hopes of getting at least a little sleep before dawn.

On our way down to breakfast we were intercepted by Vanemoth with word that we were invited to join the Baron and share his morning meal. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of my companions accepted the invitation for the same reasons that I did: It might be nice to sample the fancier fare that the Baron enjoys, it would be good to talk with Timeon further regarding our progress, and it would irritate that crabby bastard Vanemoth to have to lug extra victuals into the dining room. We discussed our progress with the Baron, with Lady Julia and Torali in attendance. We recounted our tracking and questioning of the thief, and of the supposed drop-off house used by Galbro over on Wolve’s Row, where we were planning to go and wait in hiding for whoever was supposed to pick up the urn for Galbro. Lady Julia advised us caution, saying that Galbro is supposed to be some kind of sorcerer or necromancer of frightening ability. I’m beginning to look forward to seeing if he’s powerful enough of a necromancer to raise himself after he’s had three feet of my sword planted in his guts a few times, and I imagine the others feel much the same as I do. We also discussed the issue of replacement slaves for Timeon, agreeing to replace the ones that had fled.

We still had a few hours to kill before we had to be at Galbro’s drop-off house, so we went into the merchant district again to seek any information we could about Urian. He may well be a rival of Galbro’s and therefore may have information that could prove useful to us. We could also acquire the replacement slaves for Timeon from him, so seeking him seemed like a good use of a few hours’ time. We looked around to see if he might be set up for business, but could find him nowhere. We then asked around to see if anyone could tell us where we might find Urian and soon learned that the slaver had been murdered yesterday, and was found not far from his home, hanging by his heels and with slash marks across his forehead and cheeks. Nice – another dead end and once again somebody is a step ahead of us. I’m starting to believe that we’re being played for a pack of fools, either for someone’s amusement or as a diversion of some sort, and it causing me to lose my patience.

There were no other slaves being sold that day – at least none that we could find, so we set aside the issue of obtaining Timeon’s new slaves for the time being and headed to the house that we had learned was a drop-off site for Galbro. We were just entering the residential area of the merchants district when we attracted the attention of a runny-nosed little quill-dipping parchment-fondler in the company of four city watchmen, who went straight up to Tullweim and started demanding we pay taxes. I had been keeping to the back of the group to guard against anyone sneaking up or attacking us from behind, so I was a good distance from where Tullweim had stopped to talk to this guy. It was very nearly mid-day, past time for us to be getting into position in and around the house that was supposedly Galbro’s safehouse, and my patience had come to an end. I glanced over at Xacksmith, saying ‘oh, you have got to be kidding me’ when tax-boy began shrilling threats to Tullweim and the rest of us. I called out to him, suggesting he make an attempt at copulating with himself. That pissed him off even more, but he turned his attention back to Tullweim and sputtered something to the effect of ‘this is the King’s money – you have to pay your taxes or you will be arrested’ and he half turned to indicate the watchmen behind him, as if that was going to make any kind of a difference. So I yelled back at him ‘and you must suck my fat, hairy balls!’ while slowly unsheathing my blade. Tax-boy nearly turned purple with rage and told Tullweim to ‘call off his barbarian fool’ followed by a few more insulting words which I didn’t hear, because at that point I was charging straight at him, my sword free of its scabbard. I hit him so hard that he fairly exploded. My Nordheimer pal, as well as the watchmen, were all looking at me as if I was insane. The watchmen moved to draw their weapons against me, but I told them to hold – that I had no quarrel with them, but that if they chose to die I would gladly accommodate them. They looked about to attack me anyway but Tullweim prevented a bloodbath by kicking tax-boy’s bag of gold toward the watchmen and suggesting that they divide it amongst themselves and report that the tax collector had run afoul of thieves. They wisely decided that the Nordheimer’s idea was a good one. We all put our weapons away and continued on about our business.

We hadn’t gone but a few yards further down the street when Tullweim suddenly fell to the ground, clutching at his head and screaming as badly as he had when he was hit by that incendiary globe back in the ‘tower of nighted gulfs’. It was appalling to see – there were no marks, nothing of any kind to show what was assailing him. After a moment he was able to rise, but his face bore the look of an immense struggle, as if he was actually trying to will the pain away. He began to run in the direction of the safehouse, but again fell screaming after only naking it a few more yards down the street. This drew the attention of four more watchmen who were already making their way in our direction. I thought that there would be trouble, because they believed the Nordheimer to be drunk and were threatening to haul him away to jail. To the Stygian’s credit, he stepped right up to the watch and told them that he is a physician and that Tullweim was a patient under his care, that he was gravely ill, and undergoing treatment. The watchmen bought it completely but couldn’t resist an obligatory ‘keep him off the streets’ comment as they let us continue on our way.

By the time we reached our destination Tullweim was no longer showing any symptoms of whatever had been causing his agony. We saw no sign of anyone at the house, and after checking around the property the Hyrkanian picked the lock on the door and entered. As soon as he was fully inside, a load of bricks fell from the ceiling onto his head. The man has had some seriously bad luck with doors and windows lately, but he’s so far proven to be tougher than either falling bricks or plunges from balconies. We all entered the house and had a look around. All we found were several doors – among which were one secret door and another trapped door, and a table in one room which also had two stuffed eagles sitting upon a mantle. The place had been thoroughly swept and cleaned of anything that may have been there just a short time ago. Whether we spent too long among the merchants, were held up by tax-boy or the watch’s curiousity over Tullweim’s prior ailment, we had missed whoever had come to see about the crucible. It could be possible that our activities are being monitored somehow, making it possible for Galbro or whoever we’re after to stay at least a step ahead of us. Certainly someone must have known our position when Tullweim was assaulted by whatever sorcery caused him those unspeakable spasms of pain. My growing impatience was in no way abated by my killing of the tax collector, and I mean to bring red ruin down upon whoever we find is working against us.

With nothing more to gain by staying at Galbro’s drop-off house, we decided to go to the home of the late-slaver Urian. Perhaps an assistant or underling was handling Urian’s business and there were still slaves available. The place was rather run-down looking and there were guards posted about – for all the good they did the slaver. Tullweim spoke with a young girl that answered his knock at the door regarding the status of the slaves Urian had kept. She had no answer, so I asked if they’d like to load up Urian’s wagon and drive it over to Timeon’s mansion. The girl assented and they were soon on their way to the Baron’s home. Before they left, the girl answered a few questions for Tullweim regarding Galbro. She had never heard of him specifically, but she told us of strange occurrances at a place called the Tovali mansion where you can sometimes hear Zingaran music playing from within. That sounded like enough of a lead for us to follow next in our search for that bastard Galbro.

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