By Deverian Valandil
Seeds of Discontent
[ 1:00 ]
Derrick folded his arms and stood his ground, unperturbed by the impending attack. “Very well. You've chosen this recourse.” His hand lashed the dagger out from within his jerkin, parrying the first thief's attack.
Ducking low, he slammed his shoulder into the ruffian's jaw, sending the thief crashing into his partner toward the ground. Kicking the short sword away from one of the attackers, Derrick jabbed his dagger into the sleeve of the other, pinning his arm down. Amateurs.
Grabbing one of the thieves by the collar, Derrick yanked the young man to his feet and glared into his eyes, “I don't have time for this; I stopped playing these foolhardy games years ago.” Derrick smacked the thief twice, then pointed at the building, “Go inside and deliver a message to your guild leader. Tell him that ‘Derrick the Blade' has returned and demands to see him.” [ 1:01 ]
* * *
Capt. Atamir smiled to himself, holding up an unguarded bottle of ale hidden beneath the bar. Pouring his prize into a glass, he waved over the guard who was the first on the scene after the killer escaped. The guard, a lieutenant named Ponn, stood quietly before him.
“Has the woman been sent on her way?”
“Yes sir,” Ponn replied as the Captain raised the glass, “one of our men is escorting her home. I've sent word to the rest of the city guard to do a store-by-store check of all pawn shops and general stores in the area-”
Atamir abruptly banged the glass down, “No, that won't work. We don't even have a clear description; average height, average build, brown hair, grey clothing. That probably describes about half the people in town. You're sure our own men on the scene didn't have anything to add?”
“They don't, sir. They claim the light from the back window made it difficult to see the killer when they arrived. Strangely enough, they all gave surprisingly accurate descriptions of the dagger he was holding… Something odd, though, they all started complaining of dizziness when I got here.”
The Captain frowned, “It will take hours to do a check of every store owner in the district. See what you can find about the murder victim, he-” Atamir's voice caught in his throat as he saw a heavily-armoured knight march into the tavern, followed by a slender red-haired elven woman in a yellow robe. The guard captain muttered, “What the hell is this?”
The elven woman whispered something into her companion's ear. The knight stiffly tramped up to Atamir and his lieutenant, giving each a short nod before speaking, “My name is Vellin Tenmarke, paladin of Tyr, and this is cleric Selena Shademoor, also from the Church of Tyr . I am hereby taking control of this murder investigation. I would ask that you provide my companion here with any information you-”
“What in the hells are you talking about?!” barked Capt. Atamir, slamming his drink down again. “This barroom death is a matter for the city guard, not some high-minded altar boy!”
Vellin glared, “The Church of Tyr has been tasked with the protection of the diplomatic envoys who will be arriving in the city later today…”
Atamir nodded impatiently, “Yes, yes, I know that. But what does it have to do with this?”
“…and this tavern was the first establishment that the envoys would visit on their evening tour of the city. This murder is obviously a message to us, and I intend to find the person or people responsible. As an inquisitor paladin, I am better suited to find the killer than you or your guards.” He held out a rolled parchment, “These are orders from the city council to give the bearers complete cooperation.”
Captain Atamir clenched his teeth and grudgingly snatched the scroll, handing it to Ponn without looking at it. “Fine. There was a murder here about an hour ago; a local pawnshop owner stabbed a currently unidentified foreign wizard. It doesn't sound like anything more than a common killing, if you ask me. And I'm afraid the only witness has already gone home.”
The elven woman narrowed her gaze at him, “Where does this witness live, Captain?”
“Er, I'm not sure. One of my guards was escorting her. When he comes back he'll tell you- oh, there he is now.” He stepped away and briefly spoke with the guard. After a few moments Atamir returned with an even deeper frown on his face, “Ah, it seems the woman told her escort that she could make it on her own, so he let her go and came back here.”
Now it was Inquisitor Tenmarke's turn to frown, “So in other words you have no witnesses, no accurate description, and no idea exactly why this murder occurred?”
Atamir held his head high, “I'll have you know that my guards are currently conducting a store-by-store search of all shops in the district, and they're sure to track down the killer.”
“Unacceptable,” frowned the paladin, “Other knights from my order will be around shortly. For the rest of this day, this investigation will be carried out as I see fit. Now if you'll excuse me, I would like to examine the corpse before it is taken to the graveyard.”
Lieutenant Ponn waited until the paladin and his elven companion were out of earshot, “Captain, if I might ask, why were you acting so hostile toward the inquisitor?”
Atamir grit his teeth, “It's a long story. Let's just say that there was an ‘incident' a while back that gave me a different perspective on paladins and their ilk.” He downed his drink and slammed the glass back on the bar. [ 1:14 ]
* * *
The four bodyguards standing in the corners of the guild leader's office were trying to avoid direct eye contact. Derrick didn't particularly care whether it was out of fear or contempt, but at least the guild members hadn't forgotten who he was.
Sitting on the desk in the middle of the room was a half-empty bottle of cheap ale. Evidently, the guild leader's tastes hadn't improved in the years since Derrick was last there. Behind him, he heard a latch click. He didn't stir as the door opened and an elf entered.
“Derrick. I wasn't expecting to see you here again. It's been, what, six years?” said the elf, a guild lieutenant called Cerdan. His dirt-smeared face and wrinkled clothing revealed that he hadn't received much rest the previous night. “The boss will be along shortly, but I felt that I should come down here and get wind of what was happening.”
Derrick shrugged, “Well, I thought I'd just drop by and reminisce about happy times with my good friends. Maybe sing a few campfire songs and roast a marshmallow or two…”
“Right. More likely you're planning to smash that ale bottle over Orwin's head the moment he steps through the door.”
“Nonsense. That would be a waste of ale,” replied Derrick.
The elf leaned against the wall as guildhouse leader Orwin entered. The guild leader slowly paced around Derrick's chair, eyeing the ex-thief as he spoke with sarcasm, “Ah, look at this; all three of us are here now. Brings back old memories, doesn't it?” He moved behind the desk and sat down, “I understand you made a stir with two of our guards outside.”
Derrick snorted bitterly, “Perhaps you should teach them the difference between thievery and thuggery. And they could stand a few days of combat training. Look, I didn't come here to discuss the incompetence of your agents.”
Derrick reached into his tunic and pulled out the stiletto he took from the murder scene in Rombis' bar. Reversing the weapon, he slammed it blade-first into the edge of Orwin's desk. The bodyguards came to attention and lurched forward before Cerdan whistled sharply and motioned them to stay put.
“I hope you didn't just come down here to criticize my thieves and assault my furniture. That's genuine Tethyrian wood, you know.”
“That is a Shadow Thief dagger.” Derrick pointed out, “I found it lying beside a body over at Rombis' place a short while ago, and somehow the town guard believe that I'm responsible.”
“I care not. I ordered no such murder today.” Orwin was indifferently staring at his fingernails.
Cerdan examined the markings on the base of the dagger, “That's interesting. This belongs to Myrk, one of our local whisper-men. But, as I understand it, the guards arrested him yesterday for trading black market artifacts or some such.”
“So he's been in jail since then?” Derrick scratched his chin, “I thought whisper-men only dealt in the information trade?”
Cerdan nodded, “Yes, and that's why I'm a little curious about the charges against him. Unfortunately, he's been placed under close guard by the Church of Tyr for some reason, so we can't break him out through the regular channels.”
The guild leader looked up at the pair, “Well, then, I have an idea!”
Derrick shot him a glare, “Normally whenever you say that I would tune you out and start daydreaming about beer, but since my neck is being hunted by the law right now…”
“I want you to go and spring Myrk from prison. Then you can ask him about the dagger and this murder of yours if you like.”
“Good.” Derrick stood and began counting items on his hand, “I'll need two sets of lockpicks, four coils of rope, two of your acrobats, one of your best con artists—”
“No.” Orwin interrupted, “You are no longer a member of our guild. Make due with your own resources.”
The elf glanced between Derrick and Orwin, “Wait, you can't expect him to go empty-handed! If someone is trying to pin the guild for this murder, then we should at least give Derrick as—”
Orwin waved at Cerdan to be silent, “Very well, since I want you away as soon as possible, I'll give you these.” He rummaged through a drawer and placed two skinny daggers on the desk. “Here, these will serve you well, I'm sure.”
Derrick picked one up, held it for a moment, and then slammed its blade into the desk. The weapon didn't leave a mark. It didn't even scratch the finish.
The guild leader went on, “These daggers have a powerful enchantment woven into their blades…”
“Really, and what might that be? ‘Power Word: Useless?'”
“…they have the ability to magically intercept any weapon strike against the one who wields them. Once you have used it to parry the blow, both the dagger and your opponent's weapon will shatter like glass.”
“That's still pretty useless if it leaves me empty-handed.” Derrick murmured.
Orwin yanked out Myrk's dagger that Derrick had brought in, “Then take Myrk's dagger as well. That's all you get. Cerdan can give you directions to the jail where Myrk is held. Now get out of here. I've wasted enough time already, so don't come back for at least another six years.”
Derrick grabbed all three daggers from the desk, and brought out the parchment he had written on earlier, “I also have a message that must be delivered to my pawn shop.”
Cerdan plucked the sheet away, “I'll take care of it. I'm heading home to rest, and I can pass your shop on the way.”
“Thanks,” Derrick said as he and the elf stepped out of the office, “I take it Orwin still hasn't told anyone about the ‘job' six years ago?”
The elf shook his head, “No. And you should stop thinking about that. That was years ago, and we've all moved on.”
“That doesn't mean he should get away with it.”
“Let it go already. We each have obligations to fulfill,” Cerdan pulled out a blank scroll and sketched a map showing the route to the jail, “Here is the quickest way to the prison. Try to avoid bloodshed; the guild has enough trouble with the city guard these days, and we don't need them to start hunting us down on false charges of murder.”
“Yes, I should know that better than anyone.” [ 1:30 ]
* * *
Dace looked up from their card game as the halfling Flink bumbled down the stairs into their cold, grey-walled planning room. He returned his attention to the game with Terrence, “As I was saying, Melik is good on his word. If you do your part competently, he will ensure you receive your share of the gold. If you do not, well, you will be far too dead to collect on it.”
On the opposite side of the room, Melik snorted but didn't turn from the maps he was reading. Flink clomped up and peered over his shoulder, “What'cha doing there, boss?”
Rather than address the halfling directly, Melik called to Terrence, “I don't think you could have possibly memorized all these building layouts in so short a time. You must re-”
Terrence threw his cards down and stood, “Oh, be quiet, Melik. There is only so much bellyaching I can stand before I feel like a round of gnome tossing.” The assassin made his way up the stairs, “All this discontent is making me thirsty for a drink.”
“Bah,” Melik mumbled to himself as he vanished into his quarters at the back, leaving only Dace and Flink in the planning room.
Dace peeked at Terrence's cards and smirked, “He should not have folded.” The assassin scraped the wooden betting chips toward him.
Flink was having a more difficult time finding a reason to smile, “Why are you so calm when our allies are ready to tear each other's eyes out?!”
The older assassin waved a dismissing hand, “Nonsense. The gnome is not tall enough to reach Terrence's eyes.” He gathered the cards and shuffled them casually, “Do not worry about anything. Although I know from experience that Melik is not above betrayal or the occasional backstab, I assure you,” He drew his short sword and began carving slivers from the table's edge, “I will be ready to remove him, or even Terrence, if either becomes a liability.”
Satisfied with his answer, Flink took a seat at Melik's table, waiting restlessly as he flicked at the corners of the building maps. [ 1:44 ]
* * *
Inquisitor Vellin furrowed his brow as he inspected the victim. Beneath the robe, on the wizard's chest was a red tattoo that looked like an angel with wings made of fire. The paladin stood and moved away from the corpse, for he sensed an unusually strong evil aura emanating from the victim, forcing him to wonder if there was more behind this ‘simple murder' than Atamir believed.
He turned to the elven cleric, “Selena, I wonder if this murder might be related to that Shadow Thief we arrested yesterday.”
“The one carrying the vials of infernus fluid? What makes you say that?”
“I spoke with guards here who pursued the killer, and the dagger they described sounds like a type commonly used by Shadow Thieves. It can't be a coincidence that these crimes have occurred just before the foreign envoys' arrival. I'm heading to the jail to question that thief about the infernus fluid and whatever else his guild may be up to.” He carefully cut a few strands of the corpse's dusty grey hair and passed them to the elf, “In the meantime, take this to the temple of Tyr and perform a divination. We need to know who this man was and what connection he had to the envoys or the Shadow Thieves.”
Selena put the sample in a pouch, then removed one of her crystal earrings and handed it to the paladin, “I might not be able to find you if I learn anything, so attach this to the holy symbol around your neck. My earrings have a minor telepathy spell, so wearers can communicate once every few hours.”
“Understood. And have someone keep an eye on the Captain's progress. I doubt we've seen the last of him.” The paladin and cleric made their way outside, all the while watched under Atamir's cold gaze. [ 1:51 ]
* * *
Terrence smiled lewdly at the waitress, admiring her shapely figure. Tipping back another glass of ale, the assassin gestured for her to leave the bottle and flipped a coin toward her.
A black gloved hand lashed out, seemingly from nowhere, and snatched the gold before it landed in her palm. Dace pushed the disappointed woman aside and grabbed the bottle, “Unwise. You will need to be sober for the mission.”
“Pff. How hard can it possibly be?” Terrence had a smug look, “Stick one of those glowing crystals on a wall, smack ‘em with a hammer, slip outside, and the room explodes in a fiery blaze. A painfully simple task.”
“You will understand the ‘painful' part a little too well if you stumble and accidentally crack one of them on the floor.”
“Relax. I have the grace of a fox, and twice the cunning. What could possibly go wrong?” [ 1:53 ]
* * *
Lt. Ponn approached Atamir, worry etched on his face, “Captain, an officer overheard that Inquisitor Vellin is on his way to the jail. Apparently they have a prisoner who is somehow connected with this murder.”
“So the paladin was holding out on me. Hardly a surprise.” Atamir paused, “The murderer knew this was the first place the diplomats would be visiting. So either the dwarf who owns this bar has a loose tongue… or someone in the church of Tyr has been consorting with people they shouldn't be.”
Ponn hesitated, “What are you orders, sir?”
“Wrap up the body, send it to the morgue, and meet me at the guard barracks. Despite what those glory-hound paladins say, I've no intention of backing down from this investigation.” [ 1:55 ]
* * *
Ayva carefully placed the last antidote potion on an upper shelf in the pawnshop, then climbed back down the ladder. She stepped back and gazed at her organizational efforts with some small measure of pride. None of it would really matter at day's end, but she was a person who always finished the job, no matter how crucial or insignificant.
A noise from the entrance caught her attention, and she turned to see a parchment pushed underneath the door. The message was short, but she could recognize the handscript: ‘Ayva, I'm in danger. Take my son to my sister's house on the east end of the city. He knows the way. Tell her ‘the rivers are red'. She'll understand. –Derrick'.
She shouted into the back room, “Bryn!” A young sandy-haired boy poked his head through the curtain, “Something's happened to your father. Grab whatever belongings you'll need, I've a feeling we're going to be away from the shop for a while.” [ 1:57 ]
Confident that Ayva and Derrick's son took the message seriously, Cerdan moved away from the store window to continue on his way home. As he turned, he accidentally bumped into a woman who was also standing at the window, presumably looking at some displayed item.
“Pardon me, miss.” He flashed his charming elven smile, then glided off into the crowd.
The woman adjusted the green veil over her face and returned her gaze to the window, staring coldly at Bryn as he raced about the shop, grabbing travelling provisions and some of the more valuable items in the store. The veiled woman reached into her robe and fingered an amulet around her neck, marked with the image of an angel with burning wings…
[ 2:00 ]
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