By Deverian Valandil
Note: The following occurs between 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM .
[ 12:00 ]
The bells atop the city clock tower began chiming in the distance, heralding a new hour over Baldur's Gate. To most people throughout the town, those chimes were meaningless; just another routine effect of their daily lives. In a dimly lit tavern at the southeastern corner of the city, the chimes were the signal for the murder that was about to occur.
“Time is an illusion,” said the old man, “Days, years, decades… it makes little difference how much time slips away. All past actions eventually return to you, full circle.”
“You knew it would come to this, Verskul,” said a cold female voice behind him.
“In the end, what can a person do but look back on all their yesterdays, all their ‘accomplishments', and laugh at the futility of it all?” Verskul grasped the amulet over his chest, “When your time has run its course, what is left of you but shadows and memories?”
“It is time now, old man. Prepare yourself to die.”
Over the next twenty-four hours, everything would change. The fate of over a million lives was now hanging in the balance on borrowed time.
[ 12:01 ]
* * *
Brushing aside the curtain that separated the rest of the store from his living quarters, Derrick stepped out onto the rickety hardwood floor, garbed in his old grey adventurer's tunic and pants for the first time in six years. He was surprised they still fit. As he moved toward the door, his store assistant Ayva called out to him from somewhere behind the stacks of crates lining the walls.
The former adventurer sighed and looked about the shop for his assistant. The walls were lined with all sorts of obscure antiques, colourful trinkets, and magical miscellany that he and several contacts had acquired over the years. He recently hired Ayva to help him run the place… though he wished she wouldn't insist on him being within sight at all times. Made him feel old.
He was still young enough to go questing, or so he believed, but the daily struggle of owning a modest pawnshop at the edge of one of the Sword Coast 's largest cities was quickly adding the grey strands to his hair. Still, he was content with the way business had been going for the past five years.
“Derrick,” she said, stepping into view, “I thought we were going to go over the monthly income figures before the tax collectors show up tomorrow?”
Always down to business without even a hello. Derrick shook his head, “I received an urgent message from an old friend. I'll just be heading out to see what the problem is.” He held up a hand as she opened her mouth to protest, “Don't worry, I'm sure it's nothing. I'll be back within the hour.”
“Somehow, I doubt you'll show your face around here until tomorrow morning, just as the tax-men arrive. And having a hangover might not help the situation.”
“I assure you, I've no intention of downing any drinks until tonight's celebrations are over. A drunk hanging around the shop wouldn't have the best effect on business. Here, if you're so uncertain…” He walked over to the counter and flipped an antique hourglass. The grains of sand began to run down and fill the lower half. “If I'm not back before the sands run out, I'll double your pay for a month.”
Ayva frowned at him, “Fine, you have one hour. Say hello to Rombis for me, and keep safe out there.”
“I always do,” said Derrick as he slipped out onto the street. [ 12:04 ]
* * *
The gnomish enchanter gingerly dripped a green glowing fluid onto the crystalline object in front of him, waiting patiently as the liquid slowly spread out over the crystal shard. After the dropper had emptied, he closed his eyes and concentrated, sensing the magical force now contained in the crystal before him. The gnome waited for the fluid to harden over the crystal, then carefully wrapped the delicate device in opaque cloth and pushed it forward with three other identical packages.
“There, that's the last one,” he muttered to the man standing idly at the opposite side of the room.
“I take it the others are securing the transportation, Melik?” replied the well-dressed con artist. He didn't have a good feeling about this mission, especially with such a short amount of time left to prepare, but he wasn't about to let that slip with his employer.
“They'll be ready,” snapped the gnome, “You on the other hand had better handle the crystals gracefully. I'd rather not see all my hard work literally go up in flames before the sun even sets. Four crystals, four chances to get it right. And Terrence, make sure you're out of the way when they go off. If you do foul up, we'll need someone to set the other crystals.”
Terrence snorted and sat down, propping his feet on the table, “Nice to feel so important. Don't worry, Melik, I've been conning nobility for years. It'll go without flaw.”
“See that it does. I want those people dead long before the next sunrise.” [ 12:16 ]
* * *
Although they lived on the same street, years had passed since Derrick spoke with his dwarven friend, Rombis. The old ex-battlerager had given up his axe and shield in favour of a beer mug and… another beer mug. It surprised Derrick that the dwarf managed to stay in business, since it defied all logic that Rombis would allow alcohol to remain in the taps rather than in his belly. He arrived at the tavern and found himself in an empty, dimly lit barroom. Squinting in the shadows, Derrick tentatively stepped forth, and nearly keeled over. [ 12:18 ]
His mind was reeling. He was staring down at a human corpse outlined by a large pool of blood. Sunlight suddenly poured in from an open window, illuminating the unusual floor centrepiece. He kneeled down for a moment, and picked up a shiny stiletto dagger lying beside the body.
The corpse was that of an old man with very stiff facial features. His post-death expression didn't display any fear or anger, but a calm serenity that led Derrick to believe that the fellow might have been caught unaware.
The doors burst open and a trio of guards rushed in, led by a young woman in a green veil. “There, Lieutenant, that man is a murderer!” she shouted, pointing directly at Derrick as if the guards needed further help spotting him.
Derrick himself was about to protest, but he realized that he was holding the murder weapon in his hand and any words would be considered dubious at best. Wonderful. He'd walked the straight line for six years, then suddenly he gets framed! Seeing no other option, he bolted away from the guards and leaped through the window, fleeing out into the streets of a suddenly unforgiving city. [ 12:21 ]
The guards collectively cursed, and two moved off to pursue the escaped killer, each making a bumbling attempt to jump through the window in heavy plate mail. The remaining Lieutenant bent down to check the dead man and looked to the woman who had flagged them down, “Madam, I'm afraid you'll need to wait until my superiors get here. I've a feeling they'll want to question you personally about what happened.”
With tears welling up in her eyes, the woman nodded silently.
Sighing and with a slight shake of his head, the guard grabbed a nearby table cloth and carefully draped it over the body. Someone was going to pay for this.
Derrick swore and skidded to a stop as a guard stepped into view at the end of the alley. He snatched a dirty blanket hanging out of a garbage can and tossed it over his shoulders as a makeshift disguise. Realizing he couldn't return to the pawnshop with a squad of guardsmen in tow, the framed adventurer instead ran north to an open bazaar. The market was thankfully full of activity and customers browsing the various stalls.
Knocking a crate of oranges out of the way, he merged into the crowd, and glanced furtively over his shoulder. The guards had spotted him! They were shoving aside peasants who had stopped to grab the fallen oranges, still hollering at him to stop as if they expected him to suddenly change his mind and surrender. From his pocket, Derrick pulled a scrap of parchment and a piece of charcoal, and began to frantically scrawl a message as he moved across the square. [ 12:27 ]
A guard barked at the meddlesome peasants, prompting many to move quickly. Peering across the square, he could see the killer wearing a pathetic muddy sheet over his head. He was about to close in when a horse-drawn wagon veered by, swerving to avoid the fruit-grabbing peasants.
“Move aside!” shouted the wagon driver as the guards narrowly jumped away.
Making a rude gesture at the driver, they turned their attention back to the man wearing the dirty blanket, who was now crouched behind one of the stalls. A guard stormed forward and yanked the sheet away…
“Ah! Spare some alms for an ol' man, sir?” wailed the beggar squatting underneath. The guard blinked, and stared at the blanket in his hand. The beggar noticed the guard's interest, “Ah, a kind gentleman threw that over me shoulders just now. I'm never one to refuse charity, so-”
He hurled the blanket back at the old beggar and shook his head at the other guard. Where was the murderer? [ 12:30 ]
Derrick peeked out over the edge of the moving wagon, making sure that the guards were gone. He stayed on for a few more minutes, travelling north a while before jumping off some distance away from the market. Now that he was out of danger for the moment, he could stop and consider his next move. The ex-adventurer darted into a side street, wondering just what in the hells he was going to do now. [ 12:36 ]
* * *
A sneering elf, clad entirely in black, stepped into the stables at the edge of town and approached the nearest stable-hand, a small dirty halfling. “You there, half-size. I am a… contact from the city guard. I need to know where are the horses that will be used by the diplomats arriving today, and exactly what time they'll be needed.”
The halfling squinted and grinned, “Well, now! That's no way to introduce yourself!” He dropped his shovel, extending a filthy hand, “My name's Flink, what's yours?”
The elf wrinkled his nose in disgust, not returning the smile or the gesture, “I am not interested in pleasantries, halfling, I demand you tell me what I want to know this instant.”
“Well, now, I can't really tell you that sir! Never know when there might be spies or assassins lurking about. It would really be bad if someone were to die just because someone said the wrong thing to the wrong person, you know?”
“Can you read?” demanded the elf as he pulled out a scroll. The halfling shook his head. The elf didn't seem to care, and briefly waved the scroll at halfling, then put it away without letting the stable worker really get a good look at it. “It's an official notice stating that all civilians and guards are to give me leave to pass on official business from the Baldur's Gate city council. Show me the horses.” He leveled a dark gaze at the halfling.
The halfling looked flustered, but didn't contradict the elf. “Uh, yes sir. This way.”
He led the man into a room near the back of the stables, where several well-bred black horses stood idly in their pens. A middle-aged, narrow-faced human stable worker was there, grooming one of the horses. As the pair approached, the groomer stepped forward, “Now, what is the meaning of this? Nobody is supposed to come back here except the paladins! These horses are for-”
“Dace, he has a pass from the council.” Flink whispered.
“Does he now?” replied the narrow-faced man, “Good.” In an instant, the groomer pulled a short sword from behind his back and slashed at the surprised elf, who collapsed as blood spurted from his throat. The horses nearby brayed in agitation.
“Flink, throw him in the back with the stable workers' corpses,” Dace ordered. “I cannot wait to get out of these serf's clothes. Get the pass off his corpse, we will meet with Melik within the hour.”
Dace wiped his sword off on the hay, leaving as the halfling hid the evidence of their bloody deed. Such is the work of assassins. [ 12:49 ]
* * *
Captain Atamir cursed. Only a dwarf would keep every bottle in his tavern magically locked in cages. He stood from behind the bar after checking the locks, then figured he should get back to the murder case. “One more time, miss,” he said to the green-veiled woman at the bar, “you heard one of the local merchants get in an argument with this wizard,” he waved unconcernedly at the corpse that was being checked by the clerics, “and this merchant drew a dagger and stabbed him in the chest.”
The woman in green nodded silently.
“Hm. Typical barroom death. I see this all the time, you know? Nothing surprises me out here any more. Know where this merchant works?”
“Yes, he owns a pawn shop somewhere in town.” [ 12:53 ]
* * *
Fearing he might be lost, Derrick lurked down the narrow alleyway, searching the walls for the door into the building. There were two men in rags sitting at either side of the alley, each appearing to be asleep. To Derrick it was obvious they were thieves. He wished they'd be a little more discreet about it.
As he passed, the pair shot up from the ground and blocked his path. Derrick expected this. What he didn't expect were the two jagged-edged swords they seemed to pull from out of nowhere. “Well, what have we ‘ere? A cheeky traveler wandering round this part of town?”
“Ha, what could he possibly be thinking?” cackled the other thief.
“Maybe we ought to lighten ‘is purse a little, aye? Make it little easier for him to travel, hm?”
Derrick spoke with a sharp tone, “Actually, I was thinking you'd best back down. I'm one ‘cheeky traveler' you may soon regret crossing.” The thieves merely snickered and advanced, waving their blades back and forth. [ 12:59 ]
* * *
Within a certain pawnshop in the corner of the city, Ayva peeked out at the crowd brewing down the street… something suspect was going on out there. Behind her, the last few grains of sand in the hourglass fell through to the bottom.
[ 1:00 ]
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