By Deverian Valandil
Whispers and Lies
[ 3:00 ]
In the single second that it took for the bolt to fly toward them, Derrick felt a strong tingling coming from the dagger in his hand. Almost moving on its own accord, the weapon angled itself to the right, twisting Derrick's hand around as the bolt struck.
But instead of striking him in the face, the missile was deflected by the blade and crashed into the wall. Both Atamir and Derrick stared in amazement as the magical dagger, its power now spent, shattered into millions of tiny glass-like bits. Maybe it wasn't so useless after all.
Derrick was the first to recover from the surprise and managed to bring out Myrk's dagger before Atamir could prepare a second shot.
“For that, I ought to kill this one here and now,” Derrick tried to make the threat sound as genuine as possible, “Drop your crossbow, now!”
Left with no other alternative, the Captain reluctantly obeyed, “It was you, wasn't it? You were the one behind the tavern murder!”
Derrick didn't answer. He kept the weapon pointed at the hapless Lieutenant's throat as he moved them backward to the entrance of the alley. When they rounded the corner, Derrick suddenly kicked Ponn in the back of the knees, knocking the guard forward onto his face. The thief bolted out into the street, frantically looking around for an escape.
“Derrick!” Myrk came into sight, riding a horse that wore the insignia of the Church of Tyr .
“Go, ride!!” Derrick hollered as he practically jumped on the back of the large steed. Myrk kicked the horse up to speed and they rode off into the crowd as Atamir and Ponn emerged from the alley.
“Halt!” Atamir shouted ineffectually. He fired another bolt at the escaping pair, but it missed as Derrick shouted for Myrk to keep his head low. The Captain swore to himself, it was too crowded for a good hit. [ 3:05 ]
Vellin ran out of the jailhouse in time to see Atamir recklessly shooting a bolt into the crowd.
“Captain!!” he bellowed, not seeing the thieves as they vanished down the street, “I order you to put your weapon away! You should be court-martialed for such irresponsibility!”
Atamir lowered the crossbow, but kept it in his hands. “I think the finger of irresponsibility points squarely at you, Inquisitor. How could you let those murderers escape?”
“We have no evidence at this time to suggest that they were the murderers, I was simply gathering-”
The Captain turned to Ponn, “The second dagger that he held to your neck… it matched the description of the murder weapon, didn't it?”
“You… you shot at me.” Ponn managed to get out.
“Relax, I'm a crack-shot with a crossbow. I can put out an eye from a block away, as long as the way is clear. Now, about that dagger the thief was-”
“I'll handle all the leads for this investigation, Captain,” interrupted the Inquisitor, “ You were ordered to leave this matter to the Church. Which begs the question, why in Tyr's name are you here?”
“I'm here because as the Captain of the Guard, I have the authority to take part in any murder inquiry that occurs in my city. And there is no way that I'll allow some holy usurper to violate my precinct.”
Vellin's frustration was beginning to surface, “You're delusional. I'm here to ensure the diplomats' safety.”
“If they're in such danger, why don't you just have a messenger tell them to turn back before they get here?”
“Preposterous. You expect an entire convoy of foreign emissaries to pack up and turn around after weeks of laborious travel, mere hours from their destination? We're trying to forge better relations with other Sword Coast kingdoms, and that will never happen if we are scared off by a few sneak-thieves.”
Atamir noticed that Vellin was holding a scrap of parchment in his hand. It was the note that Myrk had scribbled for Derrick.
“Now,” the paladin regained his composure, “since the thieves have stolen my horse, I am going to have to borrow one of yours.” Before Atamir could protest, Vellin held up a hand, “I don't care if you're angry, you shouldn't have come here in the first place.”
Atamir stared at him as the paladin rode off, “Ponn, go find another horse. Our work today isn't finished.” [ 3:12 ]
* * *
Melik paced across the room, mumbling to himself incoherently while Flink fidgeted at the table. The gnome was seriously reconsidering Terrence's involvement in the job. The con artist was reckless, and likely to split from their plan at the drop of a hat. Still, it was too late to change anything, and losing a member of their team at this point would not create the best outcome. Melik had set out his plans… now all he could do was hope for competence.
Flink peeked inside one of the packages, “Ooh! What's this thing?” he started poking at the shiny green crystal inside.
“ Don't touch that!! ” Melik screamed, yanking the curious halfling away.
“Why? What's so important about these gems?” he asked, still fascinated by the crystal's glow.
The gnomish wizard grunted. Flink had only been hired as a general goon, a go-to guy for the menial tasks. Then again, it probably wouldn't hurt to let him in on the details… besides, Melik needed something to keep his mind off Terrence.
He pointed a bony finger at the table, “These crystals have been magically infused with infernus fluid, a particularly volatile alchemical substance. They will ensure that the diplomats suffer a fiery death.” He carefully wrapped the artifact again, “Ever heard of infernus fluid? Dangerous stuff. Makes a huge explosion if you just shake it up. Fortunately, with the right magic, it can be sealed on these Lantan crystals so Terrence can carry them undetected… and without killing himself at every step.”
“But they'll still blow up?”
“Yes. If you hit it sharply, it begins a reaction that will release the energy within. Enough force to destroy an entire room. The only problem is that it's hard to portion out the fluid with the size of each crystal, so it takes anywhere from one to five minutes before the shard goes off.”
“That doesn't leave Terrence much time to escape.” Flink remarked.
“That's why he needs to have the plan memorized perfectly.”
The halfling foolishly reached out for the crystal again. Melik smacked his hand away, “If you try touching those again, I will burn your arm off.” Flink withdrew. “Good. Now go fetch Terrence and Dace for me. After the mission is over, you can go ahead and blow yourself up as many times as you like.” [ 3:19 ]
* * *
“Mmm. You really should try their steak. Needs a little salt, but it's not that bad. By the way, find me a shaker.” Terrence said with a mouthful, smacking loudly.
Dace simply sat quietly, a lone glass of water untouched before him. He cast his gaze out across the tavern. It was a typical underworld dive; shady dealings going on at every table, gambling and debauchery everywhere. His kind of place.
“You seem awfully relaxed. I question whether you are focused on the gravity of this matter.”
“Eh, you all need to relax some.” Terrence put his fork down and leaned over to poke Dace on the chest. “Even a board isn't as stiff as you.”
Dace didn't answer, as he was watching a drunken half-orc barbarian arguing with a waitress nearby.
“What you mean you not take this money?!” the warrior threw a shiny bead at her. “Me kill half of tribe for this!” He shoved her roughly and roared. The tavern owner was nowhere in sight, which meant the waitress was left to deal with the unhappy customer on her own.
“Hmph. Can't even eat a meal in peace these days.” Terrence muttered, sipping some ale and ignoring the scene.
The half-orc felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see Dace standing before him. The warrior looked down, “Go away, little man. Me busy.” He faced the waitress again, but felt a slight sting in his lower back.
Whirling, he sent a chunky fist into the area where Dace's head was supposed to be, but the mercenary was already on the move, dodging under the arm and pricking the half-orc in the side a few more times with a plain short sword.
The savage chuckled, “What? Little man with little knife think he can beat me?”
Dace spoke evenly, “I was not trying to beat you. I was distracting you from this rope I was looping around your legs.” He held up an end of cord.
The half-orc looked down with a puzzled grunt and saw that the cord was entwined about his ankles. Dace yanked on the end of the rope with surprising force, toppling the half-orc backward onto the table.
The assassin hoisted the barbarian by the collar and half-led, half-dragged the stunned half-orc out the door, where he left the drunk reacquainted with the taste of pavement. The rest of the tavern watched for a moment as Dace returned to his table, then went back to their own conversations.
He sat back down and continued to stare at Terrence in silence as if nothing had happened.
“Eh, I could have done that myself if I didn't have an ale mug in my hand,” remarked Terrence, as his companion returned. “Now where's that salt shaker?”
Flink, who had been waiting patiently in the shadows, stepped out and tapped Terrence on the shoulder, “Melik wants to see you two downstairs.”
Terrence snorted. “What? Did he slip in the bathtub again? I'll be down when I finish my meal.”
Dace slowly came around to the other side of the table, leaned over Terrence's plate, and spat on the steak. He stood straight and gave the offended Terrence an uncaring look, “You are finished. Business takes priority.”
“Fine, but don't expect me to pick up the tab.” [ 3:27 ]
* * *
“Come on now, not too far from ‘ere,” said the thief as he led his friend through the dank sewer tunnels.
“You sure it's safe for us to be leavin' our posts for a drink?”
“Pshaw! ‘Course it is! The boss is too caught up right now with some former rival who paid ‘im a visit a little while ago. Real upset about it. No one will notice we're gone.”
“Why's he so upset?”
The thief came to a stop near an intersection and pried up one of the floor plates, revealing a stash of liquor beneath. “Don't rightly know, except for the rumors.” He passed his friend a bottle, “Some say that Derrick holds a grudge because Orwin once cheated him out of a cut on a rich job. Others say that he's bitter for Orwin being promoted to guildhouse leader instead of him.”
“Heh, well I'd-” The other thief peered into the shadows at the other end of the tunnel, “Wait, did you see something move over there?”
Drawing his weapon, he motioned for his friend to stay put, and creeped forward into the darkness. When he peeked around the corner, his body went still and dropped his sword in shock.
“What is it? What's the pr-” his friend also halted when he saw the gruesome scene. At least six fresh corpses were strewn about the corridor, throats bloody and bodies covered with large bite marks. Red entrails coated the walls of the tunnel in messy patterns.
They stared for a few moments until one thief regained his voice, “Uh, maybe I should put my drink back into the floor.”
“I think I already did,” said the other as a pool of liquid formed around his feet. [ 3:37 ]
* * *
Derrick smacked the horse with the prison guard's sword, sending the animal on an aimless trot through the crowded streets. Two low-class commoners riding a knight of Tyr's steed would probably attract attention. The thieves were close enough to the guild to continue on foot now that they were safe from the city guard, for the moment at least.
He led Myrk down an alleyway, constantly glancing about for anyone who might be following, “Now that we have the time to chat, perhaps you'd care to tell me how your dagger ended up at a murder scene several hours ago.” Derrick held out Myrk's dagger.
The younger thief gingerly took the weapon, “My blade! I thought I'd lost it to Flink the other day! Well, thanks, guvnah!”
“Stop calling me that. And Flink? Who's that?”
Myrk tucked the dagger into his tunic, “He was this halfling lad who wanted me to acquire a few vials of black market goods for him. Chipper fellow, smelled a bit like fish.”
“Wait, is that why you were arrested? For dealing in contraband?”
“Yep! I just happened to know a guy who knew another guy who had a few vials of some stuff called ‘infernus fluid' for sale.” Myrk suddenly paused, a look of worry crossing his face, “Uh, please don't tell Orwin or any of the guild lieutenants. They won't be very happy if they found out I was making illegal deals on the side.” He leaned in conspiratorially, “I'm only supposed to trade information, but I was looking to make a little extra clink on the side, know what I mean?”
From his experience as a pawnshop owner, Derrick knew precisely what infernus fluid was… and it didn't spell anything pleasant on his ever-growing list of problems. “Alright fine, so what exactly happened when you tried to sell the vials to this halfling?”
“He snitched me! I brought five vials to our meeting place, and there must have been four- no, EIGHT huge, muscle-bound guys waiting there with him! I bravely tried to fight them off,” Derrick snorted at this, “but one of them got a lucky hit and cracked me upside the head. When I came to, I was in an alley somewhere, but I found I still had one of those vials… and a few paladins hovering over me. I guess you know the rest, guvnah.”
Derrick frowned, “As much as I'd prefer not to, we're going to have to tell Orwin about this. This ‘Flink' must be trying to pin the guild for a crime… and I don't just mean the murder or the infernus fluid.”
“What's your problem with the boss, anyway? Did he cheat you on a deal, or what?”
“He didn't just cheat me. It was much worse.” Derrick saw Myrk's expectant look, “In a nutshell, Orwin had been hired to do a job for some noble by the name of Siron. I don't know all the details except that he was from some place down south. Anyway, Orwin pulled in a few of us to help him search for a large treasure hoard that had been stolen from the noble by a group of bandits. They were hiding out in a mountain range nearby, so we had to hire out this gnomish airship to get the jump on them.” Derrick absently tapped the hilt of his sword, “Fighting them wasn't hard at all. They were amateurs… probably working for someone else.
“Anyway, Orwin and I had broken off from the rest of the group to explore the deeper caverns, but one of us must have tripped a magical ward… which activated a flesh golem to stop us. We tried running from it, but it kept gaining… and that's when Orwin stabbed me in the leg with his dagger.” He traced a finger across his thigh, “Left a deep gash right here.”
“Did the golem kill you?” Myrk asked stupidly.
“I'm here, aren't I? Orwin had stabbed me while we were crossing a rope bridge across a pit. He figured the golem would stop to crush me, but I managed to limp to the other side. I had to yank Orwin's dagger out of my leg and used it to slash the ropes, dropping the golem into the pit.”
“And that's why you hate him?”
“No, that wasn't even the worst part of the story. But enough of that, we're here.” He stepped around a corner and saw that the two thieves that he'd given a thrashing were still at their posts. Derrick called out to them, “No need to get up this time, we'll be letting ourselves in.” [ 3:50 ]
* * *
“We don't know exactly which rooms the targets will be staying in, so make a few inquiries inside. Now, do you know what this is for?” Melik asked, holding the hammer up.
“Pounding bossy, fat gnomes into tiny, flat ones?” Terrence responded.
Melik was just about ready to bash the con artist in the groin when someone came down the stairs. It was Scrap, the heavyset owner of the seedy tavern.
“You!” he thrust a hairy finger at Dace, who was lounging calmly at a card table, “I don't appreciate you throwing my customers onto the street!” He prodded Dace in the chest.
The mercenary slowly stood and met scrap's eyes, “And I do not appreciate tavern-keepers who are too stupid to know the difference between ‘customers' and ‘drunken riffraff'. We are paying you well enough. Do not expect us to bend over backward to improve your business service.”
Scrap snarled slightly at the smaller man, but backed off and headed for the stairs.
“And Scrap,” Dace called, “if you ever touch me again, I will chop off your hand.” Scrap pretended not to hear as he vanished into the tavern.
Terrence looked at Melik, “Now why can't you and I have that kind of loving relationship?”
The gnome made a disgusted face. He couldn't wait for this to be over. [3:54]
* * *
The constant sound of his heels clacking on the wooden floor was becoming irritating. Orwin stopped his noisy pacing and looked at Rassa, the guild agent seated in his office. She was one of the three lieutenants in Orwin's guildhouse; her specialty was murder and assassination.
“Are you certain this report is accurate?”
“Yes, sir, it came from two of our best scouts,” said the guild assassin, “And shouldn't the other lieutenants be here for this?”
“Cerdan has already left for the day, and I've sent Tomar out of the city on assignment.” Orwin slumped in his chair. He'd just learned that a team of his best thieves was found slain in the sewers, in a position dangerously close to the guildhouse. “So what was it? Mercenaries? Sewer trolls?”
“Judging by the teeth marks,” Orwin winced as she mentioned this, “it looked like they were attacked by some kind of feral creatures. Could have been werewolves, gnolls, or even rakshasa. Difficult to say without a ranger or druid at hand.”
“Well, this is just what I need. Between the sewer killings, Derrick's return, the tavern murder, and today's summit gathering, it's a wonder that my head doesn't just explode right now.”
“I wish to bring a squad of assassins into the sewers to hunt down whatever is responsible for this massacre.”
“Do so. But get back here before midnight. I may require your aid to take care of a certain problem called ‘Derrick'.” The guild leader toyed with a knife in his hand before planting it in the same groove that Derrick had made in his desk.
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