By Deverian Valandil
[ 3:00 ]
The back doors of the burning warehouse burst open, and Derrick stumbled out of the building, backed by a thick plume of grey smoke. The ex-thief staggered away, coughing terribly and collapsed beside the edge of a low pier. He leaned over to splash some water on his face and wash the light layer of soot from his skin.
Derrick sat up again and stared down at his wavering reflection. Greying hair, wrinkles forming… at over forty years he was getting much too old for this. Most thieves didn't even live beyond their twenties.
The rippling water finally calmed , and Derrick could see his image more clearly, as well as the wererat towering behind him. The ex-thief's eyes widened and he tried to dodge aside, but he was suffering from exhaustion, and the huge wererat easily seized Derrick by the neck. The beast hoisted him to his feet and sniffed at him.
“Yes… Ayva did well in leaving the scent on you for us to follow,” this particular wererat was the ‘Boss' of the infestation that Rassa had encountered in the sewers. “The Maiden had best come through in her promises. I lost my entire pack of underlings on this job.”
“Ggghhk!” Derrick gurgled. He tried kicking at the creature, but the beast was holding him beyond reach.
“Quiet, human,” the wererat reached into a pocket on his tattered clothing and pulled out a small wand. Derrick noticed that the rat was wearing a jeweled bracelet that looked strangely out of place on its hairy forearm.
With a brief shake of the wand, the rat summoned up a green, glowing door-sized rectangle that hovered in mid-air before them. The rodent grinned at Derrick, then threw the helpless man into the gate. [ 3:06 ]
* * *
Selena pulled herself out of the mud, holding her forehead. She didn't know how long she had been out, but it was obvious that now she wouldn't be able to trace the two cloaked rogues. The cleric reached up for her earring and activated the telepathy spell within.
“Inquisitor, I must warn you of a possible threat. There is a man in the city carrying an infernus crystal like the one that destroyed our temple.”
There was no response. Something had already happened at the summit, she thought. The elf made her way north toward the Ducal Palace , praying she wasn't too late to avert disaster. [ 3:08 ]
* * *
“Keep moving, both of you!” shouted Gold as he followed his masked comrades.
Despite the order, silver-mask instead slowed down, “Bah, we had a long enough head start. Even if the blackcloak managed to slay the gnome, he won't catch up to us. I'm more concerned with what we're going to tell the Maiden.”
“How are we going to tell her when we cannot even contact her?” asked gold-mask.
“How are you going to tell her after I have cut out your tongues?” asked a voice from the darkness. Dace stepped into the moonlight, “The problem with you wealthy types is that you do not always think practically. Those silk slippers may be comfortable,” he pointed at their feet, “but they are terrible for running. And they do leave a distinctive trail in the mud.”
“What do you want now? Finally going to kill us?” said silver-mask.
“Perhaps. That depends on what you–”
A second figure in black surged from the shadows, slamming Dace in the back and knocking him forward to the ground.
Cerdan planted a boot atop Dace's back and looked at the three masked men, “Now, which of you creepy-looking chaps knows where I might find this ‘Maiden' lady I keep hearing about? Sounds like a feisty girl.”
“Wonderful,” shouted silver-mask, “now there are two of them!”
“That's right, whatever it is you said,” said the elf, “now answer my question. No one else is going to save you now.”
Dace suddenly shoved back, making Cerdan shift his weight to the other foot. The assassin flipped over, grabbed the elf by the boot, and forcefully twisted Cerdan's leg to the side, causing the thief to fall in the mud.
The Shield Knights glanced at each other, then bolted away down the alley.
“I still don't know where we'll go now,” said gold-mask.
“Then I'll tell you,” said another new voice.
All three Shield Knights came to another stop as one of the Maiden's associates stepped out from around a corner. The man called Krevis, dressed in a bizarre, multi-coloured suit of patchwork armour, was blocking their way.
Cerdan punched Dace in the jaw, knocking the assassin back a few steps. Both men, covered in grime and mud, stared each other down and circled about.
Dace drew his sword, “You are irrelevant to me, elf.”
The Shadow Thief went for his own weapon, but found the scabbard missing. During their struggle, the weapon had come loose and fallen in the mud.
Cerdan skittered back as Dace lunged in. A ‘cracking' noise suddenly split through the air, and a thick crossbow bolt pierced Dace in the side. The assassin screamed and fell past the elf into the mud. Cerdan wheeled and saw a lanky, pale-faced man nearby holding a crossbow.
“Well, thank you, my good man,” said the elf, “To whom do I owe my gratitude?”
“You look familiar…” Krevis said.
“Perhaps you've heard of Cerdan the dashing rogue?”
“Cerdan?!” grinning madly, Krevis dropped the crossbow and pulled out a black wand.
The elf's smug look evaporated and he slowly began to back away. Krevis fired a green spark from the wand, which shot toward the elf. Cerdan shielded his eyes and started to run backwards. However, the green spark instead sailed past the elf and expanded into a large, glowing portal behind him. Unable to stop himself, the elf's momentum carried him through into the green light.
Krevis let out a laugh, then pointed into the shadows at the Shield Knights, “You there, platinum-face, the Maiden wants to speak with you,” he jerked his head toward the portal as he retrieved his crossbow.
The gold and silver-masked Shield Knights relaxed considerably as their comrade uneasily stepped through the portal. Krevis snapped his fingers as if remembering something, and turned to the remaining two Shield Knights.
“Oh, and for you two crackers…” the pale man aimed his wand at them and made a twisting motion. Two more green sparks fired out and hit the masked men in the chests. A similar set of green portals sprang from the sparks. Unlike the original portal, however, these magic gates opened horizontally , cleanly cleaving through the Shield Knights' torsos.
Krevis waved his wand and the portals vanished. The top half of each Shield Knight toppled over, staining the mud as they leaked out massive amounts of blood. Krevis cackled gleefully at the macabre sight, then sprinted to the original portal and leaped through. [ 3:23 ]
As the green light vanished, Dace fell away from the shadows by wall, still clutching the crossbow bolt and breathing heavily in pain. Looking down at the bloody shaft, he could see that it was buried too deep to remove and treat the wound himself.
The assassin bit the side of his cloak, summoned up his will to survive, and snapped off part of the outer portion of the bolt. He then lurched toward the bisected Shield Knight corpses and checked them for healing supplies. Nothing. Dace grabbed the shiny gold mask from one of the bodies. If he was going to get a healer's services, he'd have to be able to pay well.
The assassin winced and clung to his wound, then staggered out of the alley and into the street to look for a temple, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. [ 3:25 ]
* * *
“Where is the Sigil, Derrick?” demanded the Maiden.
Derrick grabbed the bars of the cell, “Do you expect to scare me into talking?” he glanced back at the corpse of his friend, Rombis the dwarf, lying in the back of the cell.
“You'd be surprised just how much fear we are capable of instilling.”
“Ayva told me you're planning something for noon today. So all I have to do to stop you is to wait it out. You'll never find the Sigil in time.”
“Don't be so vain. Our plans will succeed regardless of whether you give us your Sigil or not,” she leaned closer, but Derrick still couldn't see through her green veil, “What makes you think your Sigil is one of a kind? In any case, your ally Cerdan has it, doesn't he?”
“You'll never find him.”
“Oh?” she snapped her fingers, prompting the huge wererat and Krevis to enter the room, dragging the elf behind them.
“Maiden,” said the wererat, “we searched him, but he does not have the artifact we need.”
Derrick frowned, wondering what Cerdan had done with the black amulet.
“I think I dropped it in the mud with my sword,” the elf mumbled.
They tossed Cerdan into a separate cell in the same room, then assumed positions on either side of the Maiden.
“Why are you doing this?” asked Derrick, “And how do you know so much about the Siron mission? No one but those involved could have–”
“You want to know why ?” hissed the green mage, “ This is why!”
The Maiden threw back her veil. Derrick gasped and jumped away from the bars. The woman's face was a rotting image of decay. Her skin was scarred grey and peeling, her eyes were completely white, and a section of her scalp was completely torn away, exposing part of her skull underneath. In the corner of her forehead was the faint remnant of a tattoo of a tiny sun.
“My name is Lorelei Siron. You are the man who murdered me.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Cerdan interrupted from the other side of the room, “that was Orwin's fault, not Derrick's. Orwin stabbed Derrick, and he dropped you by accident.”
Derrick was in shocked silence.
Lorelei pulled her veil back down, “Is that what he claimed? Then there are many degrees of truth to what happened. Orwin did stab him, but Derrick didn't drop me. He pushed Orwin away, then looked down at me coldly and said, ‘You're supposed to be dead already'. Then he let go , and I fell to my death on the rocks below.”
She thrust a finger at Derrick, “I was later raised from death by the very people who had kidnapped me to begin with. They have given me a chance for revenge, and soon you'll pay for what you did.”
Derrick's head was lowered and his eyes were closed.
“What, that's it?” yelled Cerdan, “That was the most boring story I've ever heard! Let me tell you about the time I was beaten up by a dozen skeletons. It all started with a really angry monkey…”
The Maiden pointed a finger at the elf, and a cold beam struck him in the face. After it cleared, there was a thick layer of frost sealed over the elf's lips.
“The elf must have hidden the artifact somewhere,” she said to her henchmen, “I have already used up my Mental Domination spells, so watch them until I return. Make sure they remain alive for now.”
“What about the second Sigil?” asked Krevis.
“I will check our agent's acquisition progress later. First I must deal with another matter at the city graveyard.” She moved her hands and cast a teleportation spell.
“Second Sigil? There are two of them?” Derrick shouted as Lorelei disappeared from sight.
“You bet there are,” grinned Krevis as he approached the cage, “But don't worry, we really only need one of them to destroy the city. Our employer just likes to have a bit of insurance.”
“What is she planning to do with them?”
Krevis wagged a finger, “Now, now, you only get one free answer from me. The next one will cost you an arm or a leg. My associate here,” he gestured at the wererat, “is looking a little hungry.”
Derrick stared acid at the pale man.
Krevis suddenly lashed in and shook the bars, momentarily startling Derrick and making him flinch back. The wererat threw its head back and laughed. [ 3:37 ]
* * *
Sir Treysen patrolled the main hall of the Ducal Palace , half-heartedly watching the unsettled envoys being escorted out under guard.
A page tapped the paladin on the shoulder and Treysen turned to see an unshaven member of the City Guard standing behind the lad.
“Sir,” said the page, “this is Captain Atamir. Inquisitor Vellin requested that he assist in the investigation of the assassination attempt.
Atamir waved the page away, then leveled a stern red-eyed gaze at the knight, “I'm told you allowed an assassin carrying a bomb into the Athkatlan envoy's quarters. Lax security, if I do say so.”
Treysen frowned, “Vellin. He was instructed not to involve any outsider parties.”
“ Outside parties ?” snapped the Captain, “I am the Captain of the City Guard. I have every right to be involved in this breach. Perhaps you simply lack the experience to handle such a delicate matter, boy. I see you're moving all the envoys outside with minimal protection. Bad idea. I took the liberty of bringing several dozen guardsmen to assist in the escort.”
“What!” Treysen twitched, then regained his composure, “Do not lecture me on–”
“I already spoke with Chancellor Thinder and several diplomats outside. They are most displeased with your poor security measures. You will accept the aid that I have provided.”
Treysen was about the issue a retort when a red-haired elven cleric approached the pair, “Sir! I am Selena Shademoor from the Church of Tyr . What happened here? And where is Inquisitor Vellin?”
“He is dead,” Treysen said.
“Dead?!” Selena closed her eyes for a moment and said a short prayer.
Atamir was surprised at this news as well, but didn't show any outward concern.
“If you want to be taken off the summit assignment…” said Treysen, after a few moments of silence.
“No,” she stated, raising her head and taking a breath, “No, if he were here, Vellin would want me to continue with our investigation of the assassination attempts,” the cleric swallowed, and went on, “How… how did Inquisitor Tenmarke die?”
“He was killed by an explosion from a bomb. Vellin saved the lives of several envoys and myself when he knocked the bomb-carrier over the balcony. The geyser of flame would have incinerated him quickly.”
“Like an infernus crystal…” she mused, “Sir, there may be at least one additional explosive artifact somewhere in the city. I found evidence that the assassins produced four infernus crystals in total; one destroyed the temple of Tyr, one was detonated here, I've received reports that one may have been used on a building on the east side of the city, and I encountered an assassin carrying a fourth crystal.”
“You encountered the assassin?” Atamir cut in, “Why did you let him escape?”
“Sir, I am a diviner and a healer, not a fighter. He and one of his accomplices overpowered me.”
The Captain shook his head, “This assassin must be the man who escaped after your Inquisitor captured him at the Silver Spike. Apparently he is a pawnshop merchant in the eastern section of town.”
“If you have no further leads,” said Treysen, “then all we can do is watch the envoys carefully and make sure no danger comes to them as they are moved to our secondary site at Greyhelm Tower .”
“Actually,” said Atamir, “a few of my officers were conducting a store-to-store search yesterday to find the perpetrator of a tavern murder last morning…”
“Inquisitor Vellin ordered you to call off that search,” said Selena.
“My officers know well enough what he said. But they still answer to me. They finished their search this past evening, and I've been given a short list of stores and pawnshops whose owners are unaccounted for at the time of the murder. Perhaps this pawnshop owner has retreated to his store for supplies, or left some clues we can follow.”
“The murder of that Athkatlan wizard, Verskul, is still a matter for the Church to investigate,” the cleric said.
“I've said this before: I don't answer to you faith-mongers.”
She raised her head slightly, but didn't lose face, “Very well, but perhaps you would be willing to work alongside me in investigating the locations on that list.”
Atamir frowned, but knew that most of his men were assigned to escort duty. He would be shorthanded. “Fine,” he tore the list in half and handed one piece to Selena, “you check those places on the southeast portion of the city, I'll handle the northeast.”
Treysen nodded along as the two left on their respective tasks, and excused himself outside, glancing up at the clock tower in the distance. Time was running short. [3:50]
* * *
Lorelei stood at the edge of the city graveyard on the outskirts of Baldur's Gate. Near the entrance there was a large morgue building that was used to house the corpses that had been brought in throughout the day, pending burial. The Maiden cast a Knock spell on the front door, then let herself inside.
She made her way through the halls, reading the labels attached to each table upon which a body rested.
Flink (no last name found), male halfling, death by stabbing.
Jena Curaten, female human, death by multiple stab wounds.
Scrap (no last name found), male human, death by stabbing.
Verskul (no last name found), male human, death by stabbing.
(No name found), female lycanthrope, death by stabbing.
Lorelei smiled as she found the corpse she sought among the tables. With some effort, she wrapped the body in a white cloth, then picked it up and invoked her Word of Recall spell. There was a brief flash, and she teleported back to her hideout. [3:56]
* * *
In the Temple of Il-Mater in the city's southwest region, two priests were busy tending to the wounds from a long line of peasant-folk and homeless. Most, unfortunately, suffered from chronic illness and were beyond the divine magic offered by the healers.
A cry sounded from the doorway, and the priests glanced up as a man dressed entirely in black staggered three steps into the room, before collapsing in a heap. As he went still, a black amulet fell loose from a pocket and landed on the ground. Upon it was engraved the image of a burning angel.
The priests quickly rushed to the man's side, and saw that his face was deathly pale by the massive blood loss from the bolt wound in the side of his chest. One of the Il-Mater priests yelped slightly as Dace's hand suddenly shot up and gripped the healer by the wrist.
Wheezing heavily, Dace fixed his blurry gaze on the priest and said, emphasizing each word slowly, “ I shall not die here .”
His head then fell back and Dace's world went black.
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