By Deverian Valandil
Blind Mans Run
[ 1:00 ]
Cerdan chimed the bell on the counter and Ayva emerged from the backroom, whisking the curtain closed behind her, “How did you get inside? We're closed!” she snapped.
“The door was unlocked, and I'm sure Derrick would make an exception for me,” he replied with a smile as he leaned an arm on the counter. Unfortunately for the elf, Bryn hadn't mentioned that Ayva was the threat.
In the backroom, meanwhile, Derrick was dragging himself toward the healing potion Ayva had left on the table.
“Are you a thief?” she asked, suddenly suspicious. The elf nodded and gave a smug grin. A look of tension flicked across Ayva's face, “You're Cerdan?”
“Why yes, I am ‘certain' that I'm a thief. Quite certain, in fact. I'd have to be, or why else would I spend every other Friday night breaking into nobles' mansions?” He reached over and began toying with the hourglass atop the counter.
Ayva kept her expression neutral and pointed to the backroom, “Derrick's in there, go ahead.”
Still holding the hourglass in his hands, Cerdan stepped past her, strode through the curtain, and saw Derrick bleeding on the floor, struggling to reach a healing potion on the table.
The elven thief had more years of combat experience than Derrick and Ayva combined, and had reactions that had been painstakingly honed throughout his life. Upon hearing Ayva step close, Cerdan instinctively angled his body toward the left wall and out of the way as Ayva thrust out with her dagger. The blade missed him, but took a thick sliver out of his grey leather armour. The elf kicked out to his side, landing the sole of his boot in her mid-section. She stumbled back, giving Cerdan time to charge forth and crack her upside the jaw with the hourglass.
He followed up by smashing the timekeeping device down over her crown. Ayva saw stars again and fell to the floor amid a downpour of broken glass and falling sands. Cerdan kicked her weapon away and, keeping his eyes on her, called out to Derrick.
“Gllgh…” Derrick replied. He lifted his tunic and poured the healing potion over his wound. It sealed the gash, but he was still terribly weak from the blood loss. He tossed the bottle aside and, holding the wall for support, staggered out into the front of the shop, “They're after you as well, Cerdan.”
“Oh, don't worry. If this is the best they have to offer,” he nudged Ayva with his foot and she didn't stir, “then I'm sure I can handle them. Which leads to my next question: what, praytell, is the reason for this rampant chaos? Today feels a tad more murderous than usual. By the way, you look terrible. And you smell like something that crawled out from a sewer.”
Derrick snatched another potion from one of his shelves and quaffed it down thirstily. “A crazy mage is trying to kill everyone connected to the Siron job. They've already killed Orwin, Rombis, some wizard named Verskul, and gods know who else.”
“Oh, petty revenge is it? Eh, nothing new.”
“Actually, they seem obsessed with finding some magic artifact. Wish I knew what it was, exactly.” Derrick yawned from exhaustion, then spotted Ayva's dagger on the ground and bent down to inspect it more closely.
“Well then, what shall we do now? I should probably check on the guildhouse, but if my informants are correct, there would be little for me to do but stand around and watch the rest of it burn down…”
“The graveyard,” Derrick suddenly said, “We need to go to the city graveyard.”
“And what, praytell, inspired this convenient revelation?”
“A piece of my past,” Derrick held up the dagger, staring intently at the engraved symbol of an angel with burning wings on the hilt, “I think I know what it is they're looking for…” [ 1:10 ]
* * *
“Sir, I must protest! You should be resting now,” wailed the cleric attending to the Chancellor. Even after the healing spell, the Chancellor was still weak from the earlier fight.
Thinder waved a dismissive hand, “You said I'll be able to move with assistance. Now either bring me a walking stick or help me find the Waterdeep ambassador's chamber. With all this cacophony tonight, I doubt anyone in the building will be able to get any sleep, anyway.”
“Um, very well, sir. But can this not wait until the morn?”
“No. They are already uneasy about the kidnapping and attempted assassination. If I do not speak to them now, they may leave before first light.” Leaning on the cleric, Thinder began to make his way through the Ducal Palace . [ 1:14 ]
* * *
Treysen nodded with false confidence, “I assure you, sir, we can make do with that many men and-”
“Sixteen,” said Vellin.
“I know that may seem like a small number, but they are all fully capable paladins. From your own Order, I might add.”
“How could you possibly expect to fulfill your duty with a skeleton crew? That's less than four protectors per floor. And no Inquisitors, either!”
“If we are to provide adequate protection, then we should have all the envoys moved to our secondary site until the conclusion of the summit.” The backup site Vellin referred to was a former wizard's tower at the northern peak of the city, “I still cannot comprehend why you would send away all but sixteen of our security force.”
“Please, sit calm, sir. You should be resting, leave the work to me.”
The Inquisitor was quiet for a moment, “If you are not investigating the assassin conspiracy, then perhaps we will require some assistance from outside the Church.”
“Assassin conspiracy? The one you learned about at the Silver Spike? But you were the only field person investigating that case, and you're in no condition to continue doing so.”
“No… there is another who may be of help. If you are so lax in your duties, then outside aid may be-”
“There is no need for that, Inquisitor, and that is final,” said Treysen, “I sympathize with your condition, but you should leave this matter to those who are more capable.” Vellin's jaw fell open as Treysen moved to the door, “If you'll excuse me, I have other things that must be attended.”
Vellin waited a few seconds after Treysen had left, then called for one of the pages that had been assigned to assist him in his blinded state, “I want you to take a message and have it delivered to a civilian living on the east side of town.” The page found a parchment and quill, and prepared to transcribe the Inquisitor's words. [ 1:21 ]
* * *
“And how fortunate it is that I, the lowly Lady Elsina, should be graced with the Chancellor's divine presence,” Ambassador Elsina was the oft-irritated representative of Waterdeep, “Shall I bow and curtsy for your pleasure?”
The Chancellor turned to his cleric, “Please wait outside until I call for you,” he turned to Lady Elsina, “I apologize for disturbing you at this late hour, but I come to request your approval on the proposal I made earlier this eve.”
“Mmm, I see. Your desire to send a war fleet parading through Waterdeep's oceanic territory. Apologies, Chancellor, but the last time we signed a formal agreement with you, Baldur's Gate gained a year's supply of fine liquors, while Waterdeep ended up with a year's supply of poisoned iron ore.”
“That was the Iron Throne's fault, not mine,” Thinder sat down in a nearby chair, “In any case, you would do well to consider my new offer. It would be a tragedy if something unfortunate were to slip.”
“Is that a threat?”
“My word, no! It is a warning . After all, I'm sure you wouldn't want the Athkatlans or Calimshites to learn about… the Behemoth project.”
The ambassador's eyes widened slightly, but otherwise she did an admirable job of securing her surprise, “I don't know what you're talk-”
“Allow me to refresh your memory, a few of the Lords of Waterdeep have commissioned the creation of a magical beast that could be instantly dispatched to any foreign city along the Sword Coast . An entity that could slay any of Waterdeep's enemies without leaving any connection to your city Lords. A creature that is clearly a violation of the Caden's Hill Treaty of 1323.”
Elsina's face, much like Korrien's, had become paler and paler with every syllable that left Thinder's lips. She spoke slowly through grit teeth, “How could you possibly know of this? Our greatest illusionists have ensured that nobody would ever-”
Thinder smiled, “Any spell that can be done, can be undone. Now, unless you wish Waterdeep to become the Zhentil Keep of the Sword Coast , I would suggest that you heed my words…” [ 1:32 ]
* * *
“Ouch, blasted stones,” swore Korrien as he and Ponn approached the Ducal Palace , “damn this city for having such rocky, ill-kept roads!”
Ponn said nothing and strode forward to the gatehouse outside the palace. Strangely, there was only a single knight guarding the entrance there. As Ponn moved to pass through, the gatekeeper stepped into his path, “Hold, there. Who are you and wh-”
“Paladin!” shouted the Tethyrian envoy, “I am ambassador Korrien. I was kidnapped earlier this evening – no thanks to your own compatriots, I might add – and this city guard helped me escape. We must speak to whoever is in charge of security.”
The knight of Tyr stirred to attention and nodded, “Please wait here, sir. We must first confirm you are who you claim, and notify Sir Treysen.”
Lieutenant Ponn stood patiently and casually adjusted the front of his tunic. [ 1:39 ]
* * *
The blind paladin raised his head as he heard the door open, “Has the message been sent?”
“Message?” asked Treysen, “What message?”
Vellin wondered why he didn't detect Treysen's aura through his paladin-sense. The Inquisitor adjusted his white blindfold and shook his head, “My mistake, never mind. What do you require?”
“I was looking for Chancellor Thinder. He was not in his chambers, and one of the pages told me he was seen on the upper floors. I assumed he would have come to see you.”
Inquisitor Tenmarke's lip twisted into a frown and he stood, “You did not have someone watching him? I still suspect he has some connection with the threat we uncovered at the taverns this past afternoon.”
“Yes, but even if he does, that is a matter that I can look into myself, sir.” Treysen was about to push Vellin back into his chair when there was a knock at the door.
One of the pages put his head through the door, “Sir Treysen! The Chancellor went into the Athkatlan ambassador's quarters just now. He refused to return to his own room or wait for you to arrive.”
Treysen nodded and dismissed him, “I think I should have a word or three with our esteemed city representative.”
“And I am coming with you,” said the Inquisitor, holding his walking stick.
“This is not a matter for debate. I do not plan to sit idle while there is so much potential danger afoot.”
Treysen sighed in resignation, “Very well, sir. Take my arm and I will lead you on…” [ 1:44 ]
* * *
Thinder, meanwhile, was just then outlining his arguments as to why the Athkatlan ambassador should endorse the Chancellor's navy proposal, “You see, my lord, it is illegal – quite illegal in fact – to poison the Waterdhavian aqueducts in hopes of wiping out their armed forces.”
The elderly ambassador raised his head slightly and leaned forward on the balcony of the fourth-floor room, looking out across the quiet Baldur's Gate skyline. Not quite the reaction Thinder was aiming for.
“That plan didn't work, of course,” continued the Chancellor, “but I'd wager the Lords of Waterdeep would be very interested in meeting the man responsible for causing so much heartache for their clerics and priests.”
The Athkatlan noble simply fingered the black amulet around his neck.
“I require an answer, ambassador.”
The man finally replied, “What is your gain from this matter, Chancellor? What stake is so great that it pushes you to such lengths of deception?”
Thinder smiled. There was no real harm in telling the envoy the truth; he and the others would find out later, anyway. “I have certain contacts that wield considerable power over the mechanics of many Sword Coast cities. They desire freedom of movement, freedom of trade through our territories. Our navy will be specially instructed to accommodate certain passengers and cargo that might otherwise be denied travel. In exchange, they have agreed to help me rise to office as a Duke of Baldur's Gate… in addition to a margin of their profit.”
“Ah,” said the Athkatlan, “Money and power, gold and grandeur. Aren't those the reasons for all schemes in this world?” He adjusted the collar of his green robe and turned to face the Chancellor with dignified poise, “So be it. I accept your proposal, so long as I am compensated accordingly.”
“Excellent, a most profitable decision. I am certain we-”
The door on the far end of the room suddenly swung open, and Sir Treysen barged in, leading the Inquisitor behind. Thinder stared in surprise at the blindfold that Vellin wore. He heard that Vellin had been hurt, but he didn't know the knight had been blinded. Much of the Inquisitor's armour had been removed, allowing him to walk around without the additional burden. [ 1:49 ]
“Chancellor!” called Treysen after showing Vellin to a chair that faced the open balcony, “You were ordered to remain in your quarters until sunrise!”
“I have stated this before,” snapped the Chancellor, deeply upset by their intrusion, “I do not answer to you or your Order.” Thinder stepped away from the balcony and crossed the room, meeting Treysen near the door. As the two began to argue, the Athkatlan ambassador made a disgusted face and turned back to the view of the city outside.
At that point, a page opened the door again, leading ambassador Korrien and Lieutenant Ponn into the room.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Thinder, “This is not open house! Leave now!” Of all the newcomers, only the young page scurried out, closing the door behind him.
Korrien approached Treysen, “Sir, I must complain that the security of this building is abominable. Earlier tonight, I was kidnapped due to the incompetence of one of your knights – yes, that one!” he shouted, pointing at Vellin.
Vellin felt a slight tingling sensation in his fingertips and along the back of his neck.
Treysen turned to both Thinder and Korrien, “Both of you, please calm down, I can't-”
“I demand that you all leave!”
“I demand an explanation!”
“Gaah,” said Treysen, “I demand that you all be quiet! This is too much…”
The envoy from Athkatla, still standing on the balcony, closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. Why couldn't these fools bicker elsewhere? The Athkatlan turned to look at them, but was surprised to see the guard, Lieutenant Ponn, standing less than two steps away beside him on the balcony. The others were too busy arguing to notice.
“What do you want?” asked the Athkatlan.
The pounding in the lieutenant's head intensified. Ponn simply stared at the man for a moment, then extended his fists out to the side like a pair of wings. He then swung his fists inward , and there was a brittle ‘crack' as the Ponn punched himself in the chest.
The Athkatlan envoy stared in confusion, “Why are you just standing there hitting yourself? What's that glowing underneath your shirt?”
Vellin's tingling sensation suddenly became much stronger. [ 1:57 ]
* * *
The Shield Knights stood in a half-circle around Melik's crystal ball. In the ball, they could see through the eyes of the mage's vessel.
“The Chancellor, two paladins, as well as the ambassadors of Athkatla and Tethyr… yes, this will do nicely,” Melik mused.
“I still do not understand,” said Gold, “What was the point of letting our prisoners escape?”
The gnome smirked, “A few drops of iron blight on their cell door hinges, an infernus crystal strapped under the guard's tunic, an extended ‘mind domination' spell… and we have the makings of an assassination plot,” the gnome opened his eyes and looked down at the image, “Now all that's left is to wait.” [ 1:58 ]
* * *
The envoys and Treysen were still engaged in their shouting match, but their noise was a mere whisper compared to the danger that Vellin felt screaming at him through his paladin-sense. Something catastrophic was about to happen on the balcony.
The aura of danger surrounding Ponn's form stood out like an inferno against the darkness in the Inquisitor's mind. The burning feeling from the knight's sixth sense was now greater than it had ever been in Vellin's life. There was no time.
The Inquisitor lurched from his seat, dropping his walking stick, and charged forward at the balcony, guided solely by his paladin-sense.
Treysen glanced past the two ambassadors, “What's happening over there?” The three stood dumbfounded as Vellin crossed the room.
The infernus crystal's glow abruptly ceased, and transformed into a veil of black shadow around Ponn's upper body. The lack of light made no difference to the blind paladin. Vellin Tenmarke tackled Ponn around the chest. The force of impact caused both men to topple over the side of the balcony, and they began falling toward the ground far below.
And then the crystal exploded.
[ 2:00 ]
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