By Deverian Valandil
A Painfully Simple Task
[ 8:00 ]
As Derrick moved past Ayva to light a lamp, she reached into her tunic and slowly drew her dagger. If Derrick didn't even know what the Sigil was, then he was no longer needed…
Derrick suddenly halted in mid-step and turned, “Oh, wait.” Ayva quickly returned her dagger to its sheathe as he continued speaking, “Perhaps this Sigil is one of the things in my hidden stash.” He tossed his cloak on a hook and passed through the curtain to his quarters in the back.
Ayva felt a bolt of frustration pass through her. In the long weeks that she'd spent in his employ, Derrick continually claimed that he didn't own anything beyond the store's merchandise. If she'd known about this ‘stash', she might not have had to waste so much time over the past month poring through his inventory records.
“It's where I keep the things that shouldn't end up in the hands of every other person who walks in the door.” Derrick entered his room and kneeled beside the bed, lining his fingers in a barely visible crack in the floor. He lifted the floorboard with some difficulty, revealing a steel chest in a small pit. Ayva watched quietly as he opened the box and removed several small pouches, laying them off to the side. From the sound of their contents, Ayva guessed they held mostly gold and gemstones.
Ayva was confused for a moment when Derrick then pulled the empty metal chest out of the crawlspace and tossed it aside as well. He reached into the hole again and lifted out the wooden base of the floor-space, revealing another crawlspace hidden below the first. Inside was a simple blue bag, no larger than a man's head.
“That doesn't look large enough to hold the Sigil.” Ayva remarked.
Derrick snatched up the bag and reached inside, “It's a enchanted bag of holding… I could probably fit my entire inventory in this thing if I needed to.” Some of the treasure he'd picked up from the Siron job was sitting somewhere in the magical bag.
He stopped rummaging and stared at Ayva for a second. How would she know how large the Sigil would if she'd never seen it? Come to think of it, it was strange that she wasn't acting more agitated if she had been attacked earlier.
Ayva noticed Derrick's hesitation and for a brief moment, her left eye twitched.
Derrick suddenly closed the bag and kicked the box and pouches back into the crawlspace, “Whether or not I actually have this artifact is irrelevant. Right now, all I care about is making sure whoever is after me doesn't harm Bryn or Jena . I'd best make speed to the Friendly Arms, maybe I can catch up before they assume I'm dead.” He stepped around Ayva and moved to the front of the store.
“But if you did have it, it would be in that magic bag of yours?” said Ayva.
“Probably. It's the only stuff I never bothered to keep on record.”
“Good.” As Ayva followed him through the curtain, she drew her dagger and closed in.
Derrick glanced at the store counter, wondering if he should empty the till before closing the store for good. Then he noticed something glint in the reflection on the side of the hourglass. In the reflected image, he saw Ayva with her arm drawn back, blade in hand.
The thief lunged forward, diving across to the opposite side of the counter. As he rolled to his feet, he grasped the first metallic objects he found nearby… an antique garden spade and a silver salad fork. Damn, he needed to start stocking better inventory.
“Many people will die if you don't hand over the bag,” warned Ayva as she moved to block his path to the exit, holding her dagger in a ready pose.
“You mean the people at the summit?” asked Derrick, fishing for a connection.
“Yes, among others. If I'm not mistaken, they'll be dead within the hour. As will you.”
Derrick slipped the fork into a pocket and tried to look ominous as he waved the garden spade in a threatening manner. Bobbing in a brawler's stance, Ayva slashed at her opponent's midsection, forcing Derrick to step back toward the stacks of packed boxes at the side of the room.
“There are more cards in play than you know. We will have that artifact and no one will stand in our way. Least of all some disgraced, cowardly Shadow Thief retiree.” Ayva said as she continued to press. Derrick managed to deflect the blows with the spade, though just barely.
“Who are you working for? What does all this have to do with the summit? And the dead mage, Verskul?” he demanded as he continued to move back, bumping into the wall.
“Answers don't matter to the dead,” she replied, then after a pause, “In most cases, at least.”
She began an overhead strike and Derrick raised the spade to block. But instead on landing the blow, Ayva let the blade fall short of his gardening tool and, twisting her arm in an arc, instead made a quick low strike, jabbing him in the gut.
The thief screamed loudly and with a slight rush of adrenaline, roughly shoved her away, knocking Ayva off her feet and sending her dagger sliding away across the floor. She tried to sit up, but Derrick slammed his spade against a nearby stack of boxes, causing a crate of heavy Thayvian pottery to land on her head and knock her out.
After checking to ensure she was really out, Derrick tossed his spade down, clutched his wound, and stepped past her fallen form, “Needless to say, you're very much fired.” [ 8:14 ]
* * *
“Stop kicking me, kid!” growled the grey beast as he carried the small boy under his arm through the alley.
“Got a live one there, I see,” hissed a second voice from the shadows. A huge furry spider-like creature emerged from the darkness. This new creature had a harness tied around its body and, as it clambered forth, Bryn saw that the spider-thing was pulling a large wheeled cage behind it.
The wolf-beast yanked the cage door open and with much difficulty, shoved Bryn (kicking and screaming the whole while) into the mobile prison. As soon as Bryn hit the floor of the cage, his ears were suddenly struck by the screeching, high-pitched screams of the other small children imprisoned in the cage.
“You can shout and scream all you want, pikers,” snarled the wolf-beast, “the cage has a silence spell on it; nobody's going to hear you.”
Bryn made an offensive hand gesture at the creature, which simply cackled and led his spider-like companion deeper into the city, “Come on now, we have a quota to fill! If we can't capture enough of these brats' heads, we'll lose our own.”
The boy shook the bars in vain, then pushed away from the cage door in frustration and looked at his fellow captives. The cage's height was low enough to force all of the small children to crouch. Two of them couldn't have been older than five or six; both had wet themselves and were bawling their eyes out. The third child, sulking in the corner with her head in her hands, looked closer to Bryn's age. Judging by her ragged clothes and mussed hair, she had the look of a street urchin.
“Hey, can you speak?” he asked, poking the street kid. The urchin didn't raise her head, but made an incoherent moaning noise and roughly shoved Bryn away. Well, this was going to be difficult. [ 8:18 ]
* * *
The bandage wasn't going to help for very long… the stab wound wouldn't leave permanent damage, but it did make Derrick's movements a little stiff and it felt like there was a burning spike in his gut. Maybe he really was getting old; an injury like this wouldn't have slowed him down back in his younger days. He made a mental note to find a healer when he was in a less apprehensive situation.
Derrick looked over to his captive and tugged on the rope to make sure the knot was secure. He had tied Ayva's wrists and ankles to a heavy section of piping in the back of the shop. Hopefully it would hold her after she regained consciousness. Either Ayva wasn't a very resilient person, or he had struck her with more force than he intended. The size of the bruise around her temple indicated that she would likely be out for at least an hour or so. An hour…
He recalled what she had said about the envoys. It would take him almost half an hour on horseback to reach the Ducal Palace and warn them of the assassination. On the other hand, if he left the store then Ayva might take the opportunity to escape, and he would lose any chance of finding out what happened to Bryn.
No. He couldn't risk losing his son just to save a few snobbish, foreign strangers. If Ayva was right then they were probably dead already.
Let go, she's dead already . Those desolate words, spoken to him six years ago, floated up to the surface of his mind. The Siron job… and the terrible crime that followed. A frown appeared on Derrick's lips as his memories reminded him of what had happened at the mission's end. A woman died because of him… a foreign stranger whom he'd failed.
He sent one last sneer at Ayva, then went to look for a sword. Bryn was a smart, streetwise kid; he had his old man's knack for getting out of hairy spots.
Derrick took some gold from the till and fastened a steel long sword to his belt. He had a few snobs to save. [8:22]
* * *
Chancellor. Somehow, he always found that the title sounded better than ‘Duke'. It would be a shame to have to give it up when the time came. Then again, he'd invested too much time and planning to simply settle for an intermediate position in bureaucratic limbo.
“Ah, Chancellor Thinder!” The buoyant voice shook him from his reverie. Two paladins crossed the foyer to greet the official, “Good evening, sir! Sir Treysen and Inquisitor Tenmarke at your service; we're the senior knights in charge of your protection.”
“Chancellor,” Vellin's tone was less friendly, rather typical for an Inquisitor, “I don't think we have enough knights to adequately protect the entire summit meeting. It may be wise to consider sequestering the diplomats to their quarters upstairs until we can arrange for reinforcements.”
Thinder scoffed, “I think our guests deserve better than to be locked up like animals. They're already upset about the cancellation of the city tour. Any angrier, and we'll have a riot on our hands. And it's unlikely that we'll gain any trade opportunities that way.”
“Sir, I think their safe well-being should take priority.”
“Perhaps we can reach a compromise,” suggested Treysen before the Chancellor could reply, “Currently, most of our knights are patrolling the upper palace floors. We could bring some of them down to the main festhall and prohibit the guests from going upstairs until around midnight. We'll have enough time for reinforcements to arrive, and the envoys will be able to mingle.” His smile seemed to calm the Chancellor.
Vellin frowned, “I still don't like the sound of that.”
Chancellor Thinder made a dismissive gesture, “Come now, nobody is going to fly in through a window. Make the necessary arrangements. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find the Waterdeep ambassador.”
“So how many diplomats are in attendance, anyway?” asked Vellin after Thinder had left.
“At least a dozen kingdoms right now. I understand a number of representatives have withdrawn; rumors of an attack are beginning to spread like a Calimshite rash. It is of little consequence, however. The most lucrative opportunities lie with the wealthier states; Waterdeep, Athkatla, maybe even Tethyr.”
“Chancellor Thinder seems more concerned with rubbing elbows,” remarked the Inquisitor, “If he isn't more mindful of these rumors, he might be rubbing stab wounds before the night is through. Tell me, Treysen, has anyone been keeping track of his movements for the past few days?”
“None but his own personal bodyguards.”
“And he knew that Rombis' Tavern was one of the first locations for the tour, correct?”
“Uh, you aren't suggesting that he had something to do with the murder this morning, are you?”
“Corruption reaches all classes of men, no matter how noble or virtuous they may seem.” A pensive look crossed Treysen's face as the Inquisitor continued to watch the Chancellor. [8:32]
* * *
“I still don't think this is such a good idea,” complained Flink.
“Just act confident,” said Dace as he led the halfling to one of the gatehouses around the side of the Palace.
“But I'm not confident!”
Dace shoved the council pass into Flink's hand and nudged him forward, “That's why I said ‘act'.”
Besides the main gate, there were two other service entrances on the east and west sides of the palace. The front entrance was restricted for the foreign diplomats and city officials. The lesser entrances, however, were being swarmed by many down-on-their-luck merchants, desperately trying to gain entry in the hopes of finding business with the wealthy nobles at the trade summit.
An exasperated group of guards stood at the guardhouse just in front of a locked fence gate, trying to keep their patience over a throng of would-be entrants who were shouting and waving colourful garment samples in the air like a rainbow rabble. Dace pushed his way through the crowd, coldly glaring down anyone who tried to block his way.
“Guard!” Flink feebly shouted, “I have a pass from the city council. My associate and I must be allowed inside the summit.”
One of the gate guards took the proffered scroll and glanced it over before eyeing Flink with equal suspicion, “Sir, you don't look like someone who could be a city official, I'm afraid I'll need to see-”
“What?!” exclaimed Flink, “You're not letting me in just because I'm a halfling?” his voice rose a few octaves, “And here I thought we lived in an equal opportunity society! I suppose you'd only let in tall, chiseled humans like you, eh? Oh no, can't have any filthy demi-humans running around, they're no better than animals! One word of this to my superiors, and you'll be knocked down to outhouse duty so fast…”
Dace suppressed a snicker… Flink was playing the race card rather well.
The guard became visibly flustered, “Uh, please calm down, sir, I was only-”
One of the other guards, frantically trying to hold back a particularly angry rug trader, called out, “Hey, hurry up with them! I need some help here!”
The first guard uncertainly looked between the scroll in his hand and the halfling before him, then quickly let Dace and Flink pass through the gate before locking it behind them, and rushed to help his comrades.
“Well done, Flink,” whispered Dace, “You are not such a wimp after all. With a tongue like that, you should consider going into politics.” [8:40]
* * *
Selena Shademoor, cleric of Tyr, watched patiently as the two guards unceremoniously dumped the two bodies across the platforms in the prayer room.
“Thank you for your service, gentlemen,” she said as they finished their task, “Fortune of Tyr be with you.”
“Heh, well you got the ‘fortune' part right,” chuckled the guard, earning himself an elbow jab in the ribs from his partner as they left the elven woman alone in the room. She took no notice of the guards' exchange as she began to search the corpses.
After a quick inspection, she discovered one of the crystal shards that Dace had planted on Terrence. There was a slight, unnatural tingling sensation on her fingers as she held it, feeling the magical energy within the object. But time was crucial right now, and her orders were to perform a divination on the bodies, not marvel at their pretty inventory items.
Selena summoned a page and handed him the shard, “Take this to the High Priest in the next room. Ask him to identify this artifact and determine what it does, if he has the time.”
After the page left, the cleric raised her hands above Myrk's body and began to chant the first syllables of a spell that would let her speak with the dead man's spirit. She focused inwardly, and eased herself into a trance as she reached out beyond the mortal realm.
In her mind's eye, Selena saw herself as a small spark of light blazing past hundreds of smoky-looking, recently deceased souls. The divination spell would help push her toward the spirit of the dead Shadow Thief, but she could only traverse the realms of the dead for a short period of time before her own spirit began to fade back to the material plane. [8:47]
* * *
Derrick winced at the pain in his gut as he jumped down from the fence and lay low among the bushes in the Ducal Palace garden. The other entrances were far too crowded for him to sneak in undetected, but there seemed to be a surprisingly small number of guards patrolling the outer walls of the keep. Gazing across the field, he could just make out the vines of ivy on the wooden crisscrossing trellis that covered much of the wall's first and second floors.
Ducking low, he began to creep forward toward the building, weaving between the trees for several minutes until he reached the back palace wall. There was a small, wooden door with a heavy lock here, presumably the gardener's entryway. He suddenly heard a latch click on the other side of the door.
The door creaked open, and two paladins came outside, assuming positions that would block anyone's path into the building.
“Did you see something move just now?” asked one of the patrollers.
“I don't sense any evil nearby… probably just a cat or something.”
“No, it was larger than that,” insisted the other, still glancing around but seeing no one.
Derrick struggled to keep himself from shaking as he tightly clung to the thin ivy trellis over the door, his feet no more than a few inches above the paladins' heads. He hoped they weren't stargazers. [8:55]
* * *
The High Priest of Tyr picked up the crystal delivered by Selena's page. As it glowed with a bright green light, he found himself mesmerized by the swirling, almost liquid surface of the shard. He broke his gaze from the obviously magical artifact and tossed it down onto the table, rubbing his eyes from the gleaming light.
As the shard lightly hit the table, it briefly flared up even brighter, then returned to its normal state. The priest paused and examined at the crystal for a moment, catching the barest scent of brimstone.
With curiosity sufficiently piqued, he reached down for his war hammer, adjusted the crystal so it lay flat on the table, and raised his weapon high. [8:57]
* * *
In the next room, Selena had just found her target; a ragged-looking phantom of Myrk's former self.
“Spirit!” she called, “You are one of the faithless, and are doomed to wander the wastes of oblivion for eternity. If you give me the answers I seek, I will say a blessing over your body to save you from this fate.”
Myrk's shade nodded sluggishly.
“Why did you go to the Silver Spike earlier today?”
“Was brought there… Derrick's idea,” he spoke slowly, struggling to recall the details of his former life.
Derrick… that was a name Selena had heard before somewhere, “And who is that?”
“Pawn shop owner… fence… guild traitor.”
“How is he involved in this matter? Is he part of the assassination attempt?”
Before Myrk could reply, Selena felt a strong crawling sensation in the back of her mind… there was terrible danger near her mortal form. The elf abruptly ended her connection to the land of the dead and returned to her physical body. The cleric's eyes snapped open and she whirled about, expecting an intruder to be standing nearby.
She was alone.
At that moment, the wall she was facing exploded and a roaring blast of flame swept through the room. The concussive force threw Selena off her feet and slammed her back into the opposite wall like a rag doll. The last thing she saw before blacking out was a steady sheet of flame rising over Myrk and Terrence's bodies.
[ 9:00 ]
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