By Deverian Valandil
Foxes and Hounds
[ 10:00 ]
Derrick's attempts to warn the knights of the real assassins and the Zhentish spies were muffled by the gag across his mouth and the binds around his wrists. He watched helplessly as the arresting paladin spoke to a knight in officious armour.
“Here is the assassin who attempted to kill the Luskan ambassador,” said the paladin.
Treysen eyed the thief up and down, “Bring him down to the basement and secure him in one of the empty storage rooms. I'll order Vellin to have all the envoys and their bodyguards sequestered in their rooms.”
He pointed at the Luskan's bodyguard, “I want you to guard the prisoner and make sure no one but myself is allowed to see him.”
The ‘Luskan', actually a Zhentish thug, nodded and roughly shoved Derrick toward the stairs. [ 10:03 ]
* * *
Zzz-zop , zzz-zop , zzz-zop . Bryn madly zipped the file back and forth along the top of one of the cage bars. Although the metal-on-metal scraping was making a constant loud noise, there was no sign that either of the Night Parade monsters had taken notice. The silence spell apparently also affected the cage itself, not just the children inside it.
Judging by the distance of the bars, Bryn guessed he would need to remove at least two of the skinny iron shafts before he and the other kids could squeeze through. Unfortunately, it would probably take an hour or so before he could make even a single cut all the way through the bar. He hoped the file would last that long. [ 10:07 ]
* * *
“All the stuff we found in the back room has been laid out here on the table,” said the patrol officer who was guarding the Silver Spike.
Standing the middle of the mercenaries' former base, Selena looked over the various items which had been left behind during their hasty escape. Other than the floor plans of the Ducal Palace , there was very little to suggest what the true reasons for the attacks might be or who employed the mercenaries.
Her eyes fell on a collection of four empty vials lying among a few mages' robes. The elf picked one up for closer inspection and could just make out a drop or two of green residue that remained within the glass tube. Warily wafting the mouth of the vial, the elf's acute senses could detect the faint scent of brimstone, leading her to believe that the vials had contained infernus fluid.
So Myrk's involvement had been more serious than she thought; he had, perhaps unknowingly, supplied the mercenaries with enough destructive power to wipe out the summit building four times over.
The cleric quickly deduced that the crystal she found on Terrence had been coated with the explosive fluid… but that would have only taken a single vial of the stuff. Which meant there could be at least three other incendiary shards floating around in the city.
She pocketed one of the vials and made her way back outside to her steed. [ 10:11 ]
* * *
Orwin looked up from his desk as cries of battle and clanging steel echoed through the wooden walls of his guildhouse. He snatched a dueling rapier from the office mantlepiece and made for the door to see if the clamour was from guild invaders or if Derrick had returned again… or both.
The guild leader opened the door, but was pushed back inside by someone whose face he recognized as guild lieutenant Rassa.
She closed the door behind her and pointed toward Orwin's desk. The guild leader obediently sat down, “Blast it all, what in the hells is going on? Are we under attack? Did you find something in the sewers?”
The woman before him began moving her hands and chanting rhythmically.
Orwin stared in confusion. It looked as if she was trying to cast a spell, but he knew that was impossible since Rassa had absolutely no magical talent.
A ball of light shot from her hands, striking Orwin in the forehead. Before he could make the obligatory exclamation, the woman spoke in a frigid tone, “Be silent and remain still until I ask my questions.”
Orwin found that his tongue was frozen; he was being magically compelled to stay quiet.
The woman with Rassa's face placed her hands together and dispelled the illusion on her appearance. Her form blurred and changed to that of a veiled woman wearing all-green robes.
“Six years ago, you led a group of thieves to recover the treasure belonging to one Lord Siron. You will tell me exactly what happened when you found that treasure.”
The spell forced the words to pour from Orwin's lips, “I was not the one who found it,” he heard himself say, “Derrick and I discovered a female prisoner in the lower bandits' caves who was believed to be dead…”
“That is irrelevant to me. Speak of the treasure,” she ordered.
“Rombis and Cerdan recovered the noble's fortune and secured most of it on our airship by the time we returned. But the bandits and traps we encountered in the caverns weren't the only threats. A great wyvern came swooping down upon us from one of the higher mountain peaks.
“We were forced to cut away the anchors and take off prematurely. Rombis piloted while Cerdan worked the astern ballast. Still we were too slow; the beast tore across one of the ship's middle balloons, which slowed down our plans considerably.”
“Your words are slowing down my plans considerably as well. What of the treasure?”
“Derrick wanted to throw the treasure overboard, but I wouldn't allow that. Instead, I found a better way to lighten our load.”
“Enough of this, tell me what you did with the wealth after you escaped.”
“Most of the gold went to the guild masters in Athkatla. What coin and gems they didn't take were split between Cerdan and myself. Rombis claimed all the artifacts of value, leaving the cheap curios and tokens for Derrick. Of course, Derrick wasn't in a position to object at the time…”
“Which of you took the Sigil of the Fallen?” she demanded. Orwin stared at her blankly, and the woman clarified her question, “A pendant with a small angel carving that appears to be made of black wood. It would look like an unremarkable trinket to you.”
“Derrick would probably have taken it.”
The mage nodded, “Indeed.” She reached into her robe, “I have no further questions for you, and I imagine you won't have any further answers for me. Or anyone else for that matter.” The veiled woman placed a glowing green crystal down in front of the guild leader. She drew an ornate dagger, reversed it, and slammed it down onto the centre of the shard. A crack formed, and the crystal began to flare up, pulsing with an emerald glare.
“You will remain where you sit,” ordered the veiled mage as she left the room, leaving Orwin to stare helplessly at the angry artifact.
The leader of the wererats sniffed the air as the green-veiled woman came forward from down the hall. He bowed in her general direction, “Has it been done?”
She gave a short nod, even though she knew the beast couldn't see it, “Yes, the pawn merchant carries the Sigil. Order your followers to return to the sewers immediately, or they will be caught in the purging flame with the rest of the scum thieves.”
As the wererat left, the woman closed her eyes and, amid the screams throughout the building, focused on the syllables for a Fireshield spell. At long last, she was close to claiming the Sigils' power… and even closer to reaching her painfully sought goal… [ 10:18 ]
* * *
“I shall tell you once more, knight; I require no escort,” said Chancellor Thinder, “More to the point, what is the meaning of this bedlam?” He waved his hand at the many paladins who were desperately trying to herd all the envoys upstairs to their rooms.
Vellin tugged on the Chancellor's arm, nudging him along, “A pair of assassins made an attempt on the life of the Luskan ambassador. One has been apprehended, but as a precaution, a knight has been assigned to protect each individual envoy, and you are to be cloistered in your quarters until we have found his accomplice.”
The Inquisitor led Thinder to the third floor living quarters and down the hall toward his room.
“Hold,” said the Chancellor, “Allow me to speak with the Tethyrian envoy, ambassador Korrien. His room is only a few doors down. Wait outside, ” He pulled away from the Inquisitor and knocked on the envoy's door.
The Tethyrian diplomat looked up from his uneasy pacing as Thinder entered, “Chancellor. What do you require?”
Thinder looked around, “Were you not assigned a knight protector?”
“He is in the bathing chamber in the back. I cannot imagine why he is spending so much time there.” Korrien eyed the Chancellor carefully, “Might I inquire as to the reason for your being here?”
“I wish to discuss the proposal I made earlier, concerning the commission of an elite naval fleet.”
“Ha! We all know the real reason for this navy; you want your own private fleet of warships. I would never endorse such an act. And I expect there is little you can do to change my opinion of it.”
The Chancellor slowly circled around the diplomat, “My reasons are my own for now. As for your opinion, I think you may wish to hold judgment until you see what I have for you here,” he handed the diplomat a small envelope.
Inside was a small blue-white gemstone. Korrien held it up to the light, “A star sapphire. A nice gesture, but it would take many more of these before I would even consider changing my position.”
“Actually, I thought it would make a fitting sign. After all, I believe you once knew the company of a Calimshite courtesan who went by the stage name ‘Star Sapphire'.” The ambassador's face went frozen and pale, “And I also believe that you left her with an illegitimate child some years ago… Now I'm sure neither your wife nor your fellow nobles would look very kindly upon this kind of action. Especially considering the mystery surrounding the deaths of both Sapphire and the young one.”
Ambassador Korrien struggled to keep his jaw from quivering, “How in the hells could you have learned this?”
“Let's just say that you aren't the only one with connections to the underworld. Mine just happen to be more practical than your own. Oh, and if anything tragic were to happen to me, every town crier from here to Shadowdale will learn of your indiscretions. So right now, you should be more concerned with what you can do to become my friend… and my proposal might be a good place to start.” [ 10:24 ]
* * *
The Zhentish thug's fist cracked across Derrick's head again, this time prompting a thin rivulet of blood to drip from his nose. The bruises on Derrick's face were much darker and lumpish than they'd been a few hours ago. The goon wasn't even asking any questions or demands of the thief; this was just mindless revenge and punishment.
“Hear the nightfall?” asked Derrick, fishing around with the key-phrase Orwin gave him.
The thug cocked his head and for a moment, Derrick thought he might have found one of Orwin's agents. Then the Zhent raised his fists again and continued with his pummeling of Derrick's face.
After a few more moments, the door of the dimly lit basement room squeaked open, and the ‘Luskan' ambassador entered. “What have you done with the jewelry box?” he demanded at the first step.
“Mrrgh…” replied the thief through the large welt on his lip.
“‘Mrrgh' indeed. You won't believe the dung I've had to endure to keep my cover. And then you come along and nearly ruin it all.” The spy stepped forward and got in Derrick's face, “That jewelry box is extremely valuable to me, and you would do well to return it right now.”
“Why? What's in it?” Derrick managed to mumble.
“I already searched him,” said the thug, “all he had was a sword and this little bag that I can't open.” He held up the bag of holding, “But it's not large enough to hold the box, so that halfling must have taken it.”
“I see. Check his bonds every few minutes… I don't want him getting out and blabbing our secret to the knights.”
“Hear the nightfall?” Derrick tried, partly out of desperation.
The confused look on the Zhentish spy's face was answer enough. He gestured at the thief as he made for the door, “Gag him in case someone else comes down. I'll be back later.” [ 10:28 ]
* * *
Bryn's filing had nearly made an uneven cut through one of the metal bars. Unfortunately, the tool had become rather warped and worn from the work.
“Hey! What are you doing there?!” Bryn's head snapped up to see the wolf-beast's hideous gaze upon him, “Why you little wretch…” The monster unlocked the cage and hoisted Bryn out by the arm, causing him to drop the file on the ground outside.
“Think you can escape the Night Parade, brat?” the wolf-beast hissed in the boy's face. It held Bryn's wrist in a harsh grip and bent down to retrieve the file.
Linde suddenly burst out through the open cage door and jumped on the creature's slimy back, knocking it back a few steps. Bryn began kicking the wolf-beast in the shins, hoping to loosen its iron grip on his arm.
The spider-beast, noticing the commotion, reared its head back and sprayed several clumps of sticky black webbing out through its mandibles. The first clump hit the side of the cage door, sealing it shut before the other children could escape. The other web clumps struck Linde and Bryn's faces with surprising accuracy. Both children fell off the wolf-beast and hit the ground, clawing at the webs that now covered their eyes and noses.
The wolf-beast roared with fury and grabbed each of them by the neck, “That was your final mistake, fools!” He slowly began to tighten his grip on their throats.
“Hold!” hissed the spider-beast, “We can't bring only two children. If we fall short of our required number again…”
A growl and a puff of smoke came from the wolf-beast's nostrils. It slowly relaxed its hold on the children and, yanking the web from the door, threw Bryn and Linde back inside the cage. The creature pointed a threatening finger at them and snarled, “If either of you try something like that again, you won't be saved by the spider. I have a taste for human blood.” It turned away from them and led the spider onward through the streets, throwing a suspicious glance toward the children every few moments.
As they began moving once more, Linde nudged Bryn in the arm and looked down toward her hand. Bryn followed her gaze and saw a tiny metal object in her hand… a key. A smile played across his face as he took it from her, wondering where she learned her pickpocket skills.
Bryn looked up and saw that the wolf-beast hadn't noticed his key was missing. All he needed now was a distraction so all four of the children could escape… [ 10:34 ]
* * *
The Tethyrian ambassador's protector lay on the floor of the bathing chamber, out cold. Dace and Flink stood nearby with their ears pressed against the door to the ambassador's room.
“The paladins have learned of our presence quicker than I anticipated,” whispered Dace.
Flink reached for his amulet of teleportation, “Time to escape!”
“No, time to make our move,” the assassin grabbed the halfling's arm, “after his visitor leaves, we'll grab the foreigner and use him as a hostage.”
“You mean we're actually going to kill him?”
“No. Dead people make very poor hostages,” he paused, “but don't take that as a sign of reluctance. I will do whatever it takes to walk out alive.” [ 10:36 ]
* * *
Standing vigilantly outside the ambassador's room, Inquisitor Vellin strained his ears trying to catch the conversation that Thinder was so eager to have.
The door opened and the Chancellor stepped out, “Just remember what we have discussed, ambassador. We can both benefit, or we can both suffer. I bid you good eve.” He closed the door behind him and faced the paladin, “I should like to parley with some of the other envoys as well.”
“Out of the question. We've only apprehended one of the assassins; the building will remain locked down until the accomplice has been located.”
“You expect his accomplice will attempt to carry out his job rather than escape?”
“I cannot say. Sir Treysen tells me our prisoner is a Shadow Thief, so he may be willing to die so long as he finishes his task,” said Vellin.
“A Shadow Thief? Interesting. Where did you say he is being held?” asked Thinder.
“In one of the basement rooms under guard. I assure you, Treysen will have the matter under-” Vellin stopped as a cry sounded from within the envoy's quarters. The knight instinctively threw the door open and charged through.
The now unattended Chancellor, hearing the sounds of battle from the Inquisitor and some unseen combatant, decided to creep off and made his way to the nearest stairwell. [ 10:39 ]
* * *
Dace cursed inwardly at himself for being too slow to incapacitate the ambassador. Now he found himself facing off against a fully armoured paladin of Tyr. As the knight advanced on them, Dace drew his dagger and short sword, and started to circle around him.
“Flink, watch the foreigner and block the door,” the assassin pointed to the halfling while scanning his opponent's armour for weak points.
“You can't hide in here forever,” said Vellin, “you will be apprehended by my comrades, if not by myself.”
Dace merely held up his blades and bent his knees slightly. The paladin pulled the sword from his scabbard and swung with both hands down toward the assassin's side. Dace easily sidestepped the attack and responded with his own blade, blocking the knight's sword so he couldn't snap back so quickly.
The mercenary took the opportunity to lunge in, and stabbed his dagger into the narrow, unarmoured joint section just under Vellin's shoulder. The Inquisitor screamed and pulled away as the steel pierced through layers of chain, skin, and flesh, leaking blood down his side.
Releasing the dagger, Dace seized the opportunity to remove a small red flask from his inner pocket. Flipping it over in his grip, he hurled it at paladin's face like a throwing knife. The container struck just below the paladin's helm and smashed open against his brow, splashing a crimson acid across his eyes. The knight dropped his sword and instinctively clutched at his face. Dace kicked the weapon out of reach and shoulder-slammed his enemy, knocking him to the ground.
Leaving the Inquisitor screaming on the floor, Dace turned and advanced on the Tethyrian ambassador, who was standing meekly in the corner. “You will be coming with us,” he said, shouting a little over Vellin's screams.
“You'll never make it out the palace gates, scoundrel,” said the ambassador, attempting to sound haughty.
The assassin ignored his comment, “Flink, do you still have the amulet?”
“Yes, but if we're going to teleport away, we'll have to leave the diplomat.”
Dace nodded, “You are correct. Check the door, make sure the lock is secure.”
As soon as the halfling turned, Dace whipped a dagger out from his tunic and threw it into Flink's back. The halfling staggered forward and fell against the wall, but managed to twist himself around to stare incredulously at Dace, “Wh-why?”
The assassin's eyes reflected his calm indifference, “I warned you before. I told you I would remove any of my allies if they became a liability. You should have known better than to place your trust with a betrayer.”
Flink couldn't reach the dagger wedged in between his ribs, and quickly fell still amidst a pool of blood. Dace removed the amulet from around Flink's neck and put it on the fearful ambassador.
Before the envoy could say or do anything, Dace gripped the gemstone in the amulet and concentrated on his memory of the Shield Knights' harbour warehouse. A flash of light filled the room and the ambassador vanished.
From beyond the door, Dace could hear shouts of alarm as paladins checked the nearby rooms, investigating the cries from the screaming Inquisitor. Smirking to himself, the assassin grasped the amulet around his own neck and focused on the warehouse in his mind's eye. As the room filled with light and dissolved from his sight, Dace wondered how the Knights of the Shield would react when they found themselves embroiled in a much larger mess than they would ever know how to deal with.
Now it was all just a matter of playing the game… [ 10:48 ]
* * *
They could all hear the frenzied shouting coming from nearby. The wolf-beast halted his movements, listening carefully to the clamor. Someone was barking orders, accompanied by the pattering from many pairs of feet.
Glancing back at the cage every few seconds, the wolf-creature warily crept forward to the end of the alley. It peeked around the corner toward the commotion on the other side of the street. There was a long chain of people passing water buckets from a well toward a burning building in the north. Squinting at the blaze in the distance, the creature could see that a large section of the wall had been blown out, as if by an explosion. This was not a good situation; soon the region would be swarming with the town watch.
As the beast spied on the locals, Bryn took the opportunity to quickly slip the prison key into his hand and work it into the latch on the door. The boy shoved the door open and the four children immediately jumped out into the alley.
Hearing the noise, the spider-beast began to turn itself around, but Bryn managed to land a good kick to its underside. The blow rolled the creature over onto its back, where it began flailing its long legs uselessly in the air.
The wolf-creature whirled around as the two younger children scooted past into the open road. Bryn was not quite as swift, and the beast managed to snag the boy as he ran by.
“Hrrr!” it spat, “You piking little-”
Linde jumped onto the creature's arm, biting hard on its wrist. Howling with pain, the beast threw both children backward into the alley, making them crash into the spider-beast that had just managed to regain its footing.
The surprise of the sudden impact cause the arachnid to spew a large ball of black web from its mouth, which landed on the ground in front of the approaching wolf-beast. The wolf-thing's roar of anger became a roar of frustration as it tripped on the sticky clump and toppled over, hitting the ground hard.
Bryn grabbed Linde by the arm and they ran deeper into the maze of dark alleys. Unfortunately, they made a wrong turn and found themselves facing a dead end. Bryn was about to double back, but he heard the growl of the wolf-beast coming closer from somewhere nearby. Linde suddenly shook Bryn's arm and pointed down, directing his gaze to a square metallic sewer trap in the stone ground.
With much effort, the children managed to raise the door high enough for both of them to slip down. As they lowered the trapdoor behind them, Bryn realized that they were stuck in a pitch-dark tunnel. Linde's breathing became faster, and her grip on his hand suddenly tightened.
Up above, they could hear the unpleasant scuttling sound of the spider-beast on the other side of the sewer door. Bryn pulled Linde along with one hand, feeling the wall with the other, further into the malodorous gutter tunnels. Further into the ever-darkening night. [ 10:51 ]
* * *
The basement door opened and the Zhentish thug stirred to attention as he saw the man enter, “Who in the hells are you?”
The man's eyes bulged at him, “How dare you address me so uncouthly! I am the Chancellor of Baldur's Gate, commoner, and I will not stand for such harsh questioning,” Thinder eyed the insignia on the thug's attire, “Luskan, hm? You had best run along to your master before I decide to have your nation ejected from the summit. I must speak with this prisoner.”
The Zhentish thug swallowed, obviously torn between maintaining his cover and leaving Derrick unattended. His cheek twitched, but he grudgingly bowed his head and left the room.
The Chancellor listened as the thug's footsteps moved away, then approached the badly bruised thief tied up in the centre of the room, “I have been told that you are from the Shadow Thieves. Is there any truth to this claim?”
Derrick stared up at the Chancellor through a bruised eye, wondering why this dignitary was even speaking to him. Perhaps out of delirium, the thief managed to part his lips and mumble, “Hear the nightfall?”
Thinder quietly stared at Derrick for a long moment before speaking, “So you are one of Orwin's men. Have you any idea how much chaos you have sown? Orwin agreed to help me blackmail some of the major diplomats in exchange for a few special favours. I intend to elevate my position by any means, but I can't very well scheme now with the knights scrutinizing my every move.”
Hope filled Derrick's eyes, and he twitched his head toward the ropes holding his wrists. The Chancellor looked back toward the door, then moved forward to untie him, “I will help you escape, but you must be away from here as quickly as possible. If anyone learns of my connection to the guild, my career is over.” When the ropes fell from Derrick's arms, the thief rubbed his chafed wrists and hobbled to his feet.
Suddenly, the door swung open. The Zhentish spy and his thug were standing in the doorway, glaring at the pair, “Chancellor! Why have you released this assassin?!”
Derrick could feel the hope flooding out of him. He glanced to the table at the side of the room, and made a dive for his sword. [ 10:53 ]
* * *
Somewhere deep in the city sewer system, Rassa glanced up as the party of wererats and the mage in green returned. The lieutenant leaned against the bars of her cell, again squinting to read their lips through the dim lights of the camp.
“…tainted?” asked the woman in green.
For the briefest of moments, the wererat leader seemed to twitch his head toward Rassa, “Yes, it will happen under moonlight's touch.” he turned his head away, obscuring the rest of his lip movements.
“Good. I must investigate the progress of Ayva, and also those fool Shield Knights. You know what to do with her, I'll be watching.” The green mage then began to move her hands and chant. A glowing blue light enveloped the mysterious woman, and she vanished into thin air.
Rassa glanced over at the wererats guarding her cell. None of the wererats sported any injuries from their invasion. If she did escape, Rassa wondered if there would even be a guildhouse to return to. [ 10:55 ]
* * *
“Forget about them, we should be moving now,” hissed the spider-beast, still rubbing the spot where Bryn had kicked him.
The wolf-creature stomped his feet and snarled, “Piking brats! No, forget about the rest of the round-up. I just want a piece of that soddin' little sneak.” It rounded a corner to find itself facing a blocked-off alley passage.
The arachnid hissed again, “We'll never find them now. I'm taking the cage back to the lair.”
The other beast was about to resignedly follow his comrade when he caught the faintest scent on the air… the stench of the escaped brat. The child had passed through here…
It glanced down at the sewer grate in the street and bent down, licking its forked tongue against the edge of the metal door to confirm his suspicions. Lifting the sewer door, the beast called out for his comrade to follow. The two children had descended into the sewers… and ideal hunting ground for a beast with keen senses as his. [ 10:58 ]
* * *
In one of the upper rooms at the Ducal Palace , a cleric removed hands from Vellin's eyes. The entire upper half of the paladin's face had been badly scarred and burned to a red-black disfigurement from the Dace's acid. It looked as if a war had been waged atop his brow, and he had lost.
“I'm sorry, Inquisitor, but there is little else that can be done. My magic will stave off most of the pain. And if we bring you to a temple, our magic can repair some of the scarring, but I'm afraid your eyes have been burned beyond repair. While there is much that divine magic can heal, it cannot restore lost organs or restore such a permanent degree of blindness.”
The Inquisitor's shoulders slumped forward slightly in defeat, and he wondered what this would mean for his service to Tyr. Was this the end of his career? Surely not, for even Tyr himself was known as the ‘Blind God'. But still…
He reached up and lightly touched the rough, leathery patch of skin that used to be his forehead. If his eye ducts had not been burned, he would have shed a tear. “Bring me something to cover my wounds.”
As he heard the cleric scamper off, Vellin let out a sob and began to weep in his own personal darkness.
[ 11:00 ]
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