A Fire in the Sky
Breakfast at the Sleeping Ogre consisted of eggs, bacon, hard bread and bacon gravy. No one slept the night before, having destroyed the necromancer Ahriman just before dawn at the Sanctuary. No words were exchanged, no recounting of the battle, no discussion on the group being used as pawns in a dangerous game. They were just too tired.
The Professor, Wynne, Darius, and Ingrid agreed to meet back at the inn by noon, after everyone had a chance to get some much-needed sleep. None knew what had happened across town in the Priests Quarter.
Shortly after everyone arrived or came down to the bar area from their rooms, a group of people gathered out in front of the inn, pointing east. Darius stepped out the front door to see what everyone was looking at. Across town, somewhere in the Priests Quarter, a black column of smoke rose into the overcast sky. “Where’s the Professor?” Darius immediately thought, but the red-haired gnome was right beside him, astride his riding dog, Admiral.
“We should check it out,” chirped the Professor. “Might have been a concoction gone wrong! Or a new formula I could copy!”
Ingrid and Wynne stepped up beside them. “I don’t know if that’s the temple of Odin or what,” Ingrid said, furrowing her brow. “I at least need to go.”
“Might as well go together,” Darius said. So they set off towards the source of the smoke.
The sky was the color of lead, with roiling clouds and the sound of distant thunder foretelling of storms to come. “So,” Wynne began, “guess you’re no longer hiding, paladin of Odin?” She looked at Darius with an icy stare.
“I am not advertising it to the world, no,” Darius replied. “There are people who would very much like to know that I’m back in Warwik.”
“Maybe I should tell them,” Wynne said. “It would serve you right for getting me locked up.”
“Look, the reason you got locked up was because you were engaged in illegal activity, not because of me. You shouldn’t have been stealing.”
“I wasn’t stealing – I was picking locks. I wasn’t even a member of the Ravens. Besides, why were you sticking your nose in?” Wynne was beginning to get red in the face.
“You want to know WHY?” Darius raised his voice. “Because when my father wouldn’t supply the Ravens with weapons, they killed him. My mother had been killed the year before as a bystander in a turf war. I’d shut down all the gangs in this city if I had the chance. That’s why.”
Wynne thought for a minute. “Then why work with me at all?”
“I can work with you, as long as you don’t behave like a thief.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? You don’t want me looking for traps or picking locks?”
“No, I don’t want you stealing. Do you steal things?”
“Not very often, no.”
“Not very often is still a yes.”
“Ingrid,” Wynne said, “you knew this guy, right? Was he always an asshole, or is this a new trait he picked up?”
“I never knew him, I just knew he worked for my temple. And that the high priest didn’t like him very much,” Ingrid said, looking away.
“Why was that, pretty boy?” Wynne asked.
“He just didn’t understand why Odin continued to support me, given the things I had done to bring down criminals.”
“So you’re not lilly-white either? So it really just comes down to my morality being different from yours, and therefore it’s wrong?” Wynne clenched her fists at her sides.
“Isn’t that the way things work?” Darius looked straight ahead, and said no more.
Let the World Burn
The temple of Athena near the border of the Merchants Quarter was not always dedicated to the goddess of wisdom. The gothic stone structure, with it’s filigree and leering gargoyles was once a temple to a now forgotten god of storms and wrath. It lay abandoned for many years, until a willful young priest of Athena built up a congregation by standing on a street corner, in all types of weather, preaching to anyone who would listen. His sermons on the value of hard work and thriftiness earned him the backing of some wealthy donors, who purchased the old temple from the city, and had the interior refurnished in luxurious woods and finely crafted stained glass.
All that was left when the group arrived was as stone shell. The front wall had collapsed inward, revealing the ashes and charred timbers of the main worship hall. Only the three-story bell tower in the back of the temple had escaped total destruction.
As they approached, an officer of the city guard turned towards them. He immediately recognized Ingrid and the Professor. “You,” he said, pointing at the gnome.
“It wasn’t me! I was asleep at the Sleeping Ogre, I have witnesses!” The Professor looked worried, recognizing the man he had bribed yesterday after burning down the Rabid Raccoon tavern.
“Unfortunately, we already have a suspect,” the guard captain sighed.
“What do you mean, unfortunately?” asked Darius, puzzled.
The guard captain merely pointed at the little pyromaniac. Darius understood.
“His name is James Martin,” continued the captain. “He’s a tanner who has a shop two blocks west of here. He was seen coming out of the temple early this morning, just before the fire became visible. And, many believe it was him who had been dropping threatening notes down into the worship area from the bell tower in the days leading up to this. We need to find him.” The captain scratched his chin. “We haven’t posted this yet, but there is a 500 gold piece reward for his capture. Maybe you’d be interested?”
“We might just be,” Darius replied. “I’ll go start asking around his shop. I’ll be back shortly.”
The Professor started to enter the still smoking ruins of the temple. A guard stopped him. “I’m sorry, sir, this is a crime scene, I can’t let you in.”
“But, I want to look for clues!” The gnome looked quite distraught.
“No one is allowed in right now,” added the guard captain. He then went to speak with a man who was dressed in very rich robes, the symbol of Athena hanging from a chain around his neck.
“But, but!” exclaimed the gnome. The guards ignored his protests. He considered quaffing a disguise potion to look like one of the acolytes that were searching the rubble, but realized that none of them were four feet tall, which is all he could muster with the change the potion would bring.
“Let’s try to talk to the high priest,” Wynne suggested. “Ingrid, you can probably get him to talk to us, priest to priest?”
“I can try,” Ingrid replied. They approached the man in the rich robes. He was observing the search through the rubble, occasionally speaking to the guard captain beside him.
“Excuse me, your holiness?” Wynne began, “Do you know this James Martin, the suspect in this? Has there been any strange occurrences lately?”
“No, young lady, I do not know him. And the only occurrences lately have been dropped notes stating that, ‘The blasphemers will be damned.’ Rubbish. Whoever did this is either disturbed or has a grudge against my church. Now, if you will excuse me.” The high priest turned away, obviously annoyed.
“Well, that wasn’t very helpful,” Wynne said.
Meanwhile, Darius asked around at the homes and businesses around James Martin’s tannery shop. Most said he was a quiet man, very devout to Athena. He attended services regularly, and pursued his own studies – he was also quite literate.
But even more telling, James had, at one time, been a criminal. He sought sanctuary at the temple of Athena, and the priests helped him see the error of his ways. He took up the tanning trade, and settled down. If he were to hide, someone said, it would be doubtful he would return to the temptations of the Thieves Quarter – likely he would go to Bishop’s Ward, a few blocks from the temple. He liked to go there to contemplate.
Darius returned to the scene of the burnt temple. “I know where he is,” he said. The others followed.
Bishop’s Ward was a park-like area of the Priests Quarter of Warwik. At its center was a fountain, surrounded by statues of the twelve major gods of the city: Athena, Apollo, Odin, Mitra, Thor, Manannan, Shang-Ta, Grismal, Loki, Kazadarum, Bondorr, and Coriptis. Seated at the feet of the statue of Athena was a slender man in a leather apron, with short, blonde hair and a scruffy beard, head in his hands.
“That’s our guy, has to be,” Darius said.
The Professor dismounted Admiral and approached the man, the large dog by his side. “Hello there. Are you James Martin?”
“I am. Look, I know what I did, but I had good reasons. I was carrying out Athena’s will, and I will continue to do so. I don’t have to answer to anyone but my goddess.” James Martin looked up, defiant.
“What did you do?” the gnome asked. “Did you blow up the temple?”
“What does, blow up, mean?” James replied, looking confused.
“You caused it to burn,” the Professor said.
“Yes, yes! They had to be punished. I don’t have to answer to you.” He got up to walk away.
Darius followed, pulling a set of iron manacles from his pack.
“You have manacles?” Wynne asked.
“I was a bounty hunter, what do you think?” Darius said, intent on capturing James Martin. He grabbed for the man’s wrist. James twisted away. Darius leaped at the man, easily grabbing him and restraining him. James struggled, but could not break free.
“Admiral, hold him!” the Professor shouted. The large dog leaped to action at his master’s command, biting into the tanner’s leg. Blood flowed from the wound, and James began to panic, thrashing about.
Wynne stepped up, hitting the man with the flat side of her short sword. He collapsed in Darius’ arms, unconscious.
“Whew. OK, I’ll bind him up and head back to the guards.” Darius pulled out a second set of manacles and bound James’ feet.
“How many of those things do you have?” Wynne asked, surprised. “Do you have some magical bag of never-ending manacles?”
The Professor whipped out a small notebook and began to write. “Splendid idea! I’ll have to research it. How do you spell ‘manacle’?”
Wynne ignored the gnome. “You take Mr. happy back, the Professor and I will go to his shop to look for clues.”
“Don’t you steal anything!” Darius warned. “Ingrid, you go with them, keep them honest.”
“I will.” the dwarf replied.
He Always Gets His Man
Darius carried the tanner across his back, all the way back to the burnt temple. The priests and acolytes were through picking through the rubble. The guard captain was surprised to see him.
“You got him? Excellent work, sir.”
“I did,” Darius said, laying the unconscious James at the captain’s feet.
“We’ll take him to the guard house two blocks north of here. Come there in about an hour, and we’ll have your money. Thanks again.”
Darius nodded, then sat on a nearby bench to wait for the others. He felt sorry for James Martin. The tanner seemed to acting strangely. Was he insane? Possessed? Or just a vandal, trying to explain away his crime? If he was guilty, then he should be punished. And he had confessed. Darius hoped the others might find some answers.
A Little B&E Action
James Martin’s tanning shop was on the unofficial border between the utilitarian Merchant’s Quarter and the mostly stone and marble buildings of the Priests Quarter. You could even see the top of the bell tower of the temple of Athena from his door, two leering gargoyles from the previous god looking down from the top of the structure. The smoke was gone, but you could still smell it in the air, even this far away.
Wynne examined the simple door. “Well, it’s locked.” She deftly retrieved her lockpicks and began working.
“Should we?” Ingrid asked, almost a whisper.
“We’re here for clues, priestess. There’s no other way.” An audible click, and Wynne stood up, tucking her picks back into their pouch. She opened the door.
The first floor consisted of the tanning shop itself. It was in disarray, but not to where anyone thought it had been ransacked – more like things were just not put away. It was obvious, due to the lack of a strong smell, that James had not been tanning any hides for many days. Nothing of interest was there.
“Let’s go upstairs, to the living quarters.” Wynne started up the stairs.
There were two rooms on the second floor – a study, with a small bookshelf containing a half-dozen books, and a writing desk, and a small bedroom. Both were disorganized, messy affairs. “Look,” Ingrid said, “there’s a journal on the nightstand.” She picked it up and began to read.
“Looks like he was having nightmares lately. Dreams about the temple, a black cloud hanging over it. He thought the cloud was smoke from a massive fire. Voices were telling him in the dream that it was his destiny to burn the temple down, to punish the clergy for hoarding contributions instead of helping the poor. They told him it was Athena’s will. It also mentions that he had started sneaking into the bell tower durning services, and dropping threatening notes down into the worship area. It’s all here.”
“Good, that may help,” Wynne said. “Let’s take it back.”
By Reason of Insanity
Darius was waiting for the others. He stood up as they approached. “Well?”
“We found a journal. He was having dreams that were telling him to do it.” Wynne handed the paladin the small book.
“We’ll take this to the guard station, they said we could come there to pick up our reward. Let’s go.” Darius began walking. The others followed.
At the guard station, the group was greeted by a man in dark robes, carrying a small stack of books. “Are you the ones who brought in Mr. Martin?”
“Yeah, that was us,” Darius replied. “And you are?”
“Zathius. I am his lawyer. Did he say anything when you apprehended him?”
“He admitted he did it. Was quite proud of it, actually. Sounds like he had other things he was going to do. Sounded a little crazy. Oh, we found this at his residence.” Darius handed the lawyer the journal. Zathius began to leaf through it.
“This will help. He’s confessed to me, as well. I’m not sure what to do. The only way I can help him is to plead insanity or demon possession. But I could use some kind of proof.” Zathius frowned.
“Why was he going into the bell tower?” Wynne wondered aloud. “Maybe we could look there; it’s still mostly intact.”
“That’s a good idea,” the Professor chimed in. “Except the guards won’t let us look around.”
“I think they’re done now,” Zathius said. “It will be dark soon. If you care about what happens to Mr. Martin, and you are willing to do this, I would be most grateful. There’s something strange about this case. Things just don’t add up.”
“We’ll check it out,” Darius said. “We’ll get back to you.”
Rogues in the Gallery
The heavy clouds hurried across the sky, fading into the coming darkness. The last rays of the sun turned everything a burnished gold, while the buildings of the city threw deep onyx shadows into the streets and alleys of Warwik. Night was coming.
The temple was deserted. The group picked its way through the rubble towards the double doors that lead to the bell tower. Once there, Darius threw open the doors, allowing the fading light to spill into the room beyond. Several rough looking men in leather armor were searching the fallen timbers and stones for any valuables that may have been missed. Their leader, a muscular blonde Skandik man with braided hair and a beard, looked towards the doorway. “Who’s there?” he asked, drawing his bow.
“I might ask the same question,” Darius said, drawing his war hammer. “What are you doing here?”
“We’re looking for things to steal, asshole,” the blonde thief replied. “Now leave, if you don’t want to die.” He knocked an arrow and drew.
“I was afraid you’d say that. Let’s go!” Darius moved to enter the room. However, the Professor had other ideas.
“Try this on for size,” the gnome yelled, slinging a glass bottle of green liquid at the Skandik rogue. The vial broke on the man’s head, dousing him with green flame. Acrid smoke roiled from the alchemical flames, billowing out into the room. The other thieves began to cough and choke on the toxic fumes. One staggered back to the far wall, trying to escape the green cloud. The others stood their ground, but most were unable to do anything than attempt to catch their breath.
Wynne brought up her crossbow. “Target practice! Love it!” She shot at one of the choking men.
The rest was a chaotic scene of arrows, crossbow bolts, weapon swings, and alchemical flames. Soon, all the thieves were down for the count save the leader and one other. The leader had backed himself to a wall next to a gargoyle statue, fighting for his life. The other man suddenly thew down his weapon, falling to his knees in front of Ingrid, pleading for the cleric of Odin to spare his life.
Wynne and Darius had the leader cornered. He was running out of options. Finally, he threw down his weapons in disgust. “Fine,” he spit. “You can have it all. Just don’t kill me.”
Darius manacled the man to the gargoyle statue while Ingrid tied the other up. They bound the wounds of the surviving, unconscious rogues.
At the back of the worship area were two doors. Each led to a small antechamber where the priests would prepare for services. Both also had a narrow, spiral stone staircase leading up to the second floor. Wynne led the way up.
The Burning Bed
The layout of the second floor was similar to the first, save for an opening that looked down on the first floor, and a large hole burnt into the floor from the fire. Two gargoyle statues looked towards the center of the room, just like below.
The timbers of the wooden floor were charred from the flames. Wynne opened the door from the antechamber and stepped out. There was a sickening cracking sound, and the floor beneath her gave way. She landed hard on the floor below, spraining her ankle.
“Nice of you to drop in,” said the Skandik rogue, still manacled to the statue. He and the other man began to laugh.
“Very funny, asshole.” Wynne hobbled back up the stairs. Once back with the others, Ingrid examined her wounds and said a soft spell over them. They healed up enough for the rogue to continue.
“Ok, this time, I’m going to examine the floor carefully before we step out.” She knelt down and tapped on the floor with her dagger. “Looks OK in this direction.” She tapped another part of the floor. “Here, too. Let’s go.”
Darius stepped out and to the right, beginning to make his way around the opening in the floor.
Wynne stepped out to the left of the hole she had fallen through. There was an awful cracking sound. She had just enough time to think, “Damn. It looked solid.” Again she plummeted to the floor below.
“Back so soon?” The Skandik smirked. “Forget something, did you?” He couldn’t hold back any longer, and began to laugh so hard he was crying. “It… It was almost worth getting captured. There’s no place I could pay for this level of entertainment.”
Wynne kicked the man in the shin, then mounted the stairs again. Ingrid met her at the top. “You can’t keep doing this, I’m going to run out of spells.” Ingrid shook her head.
Across from the doorway was a ratty, straw-stuffed mattress. “Maybe the crazy man was sleeping up here,” the Professor exclaimed. “I’m going to check it out.” The gnome made his way over to the mattress.
Suddenly, the mattress jumped up on one end and leaped at the gnome, trying to wrap itself around him. The Professor jumped back in horror. “Agh! A Mimic!” he screamed. He backpedaled, pulling out a red flask. “This should fire him up!”
“Don’t throw fire up here, you fool!” screamed Darius. “The floor is still wood!”
Ingrid dashed over and swung her morningstar at the moving bed. It seemed to have very little effect.
Wynne sliced it several times with the mithral short sword she had taken off of Ahriman’s body, opening several gashes in the mattress. The Professor lobbed flask after flask at the thing, finally causing it to explode in a shower of straw and cloth fragments.
Wynne examined the remains. “Well,” she said, “it certainly was not a mimic. I’d say, from the looks of it, it was either being manipulated by a ghost, or animated through magic.”
Ingrid made a sign to ward off evil, looking around nervously. Finding nothing else, the group continued up the stairs to the top floor of the tower.
The Abyss Stares Back
The timbers of the floor on the top level of the bell tower were undamaged, much to Wynne’s relief. In the center of the main room was the great bell, suspended over a hole in the floor. Four gargoyle statues looked inwards towards the bell.
Darius stepped out and began to go around the large iron bell. Without warning, the heavy bell began to swing violently, almost striking the paladin, causing him to leap out of the way, drawing his war hammer. The others piled into the room, looking for an enemy.
The got their wish. With a horrible grinding sound, the four gargoyle status began to move, attacking whomever was close, raining down blows with granite fists.
From time to time, pieces of debris would lift from the floor and fly at someone, striking them when they couldn’t dodge out of the way.
As the battle progressed, Wynne noticed something odd. She shouted above the fray. “They aren’t gargoyles! They aren’t creatures at all! No eyes, no dripping fangs – they’re just animated stone!” She barely dodged a blow from one of the statues.
The professor pelted them with fire, while Darius smashed them with his hammer. Darius never sensed the invisible hand that swiped at him from behind.
Then Ingrid felt a cold chill. She had read an ancient text in the temple library when she was young, a book she had to sneak to read because of her age. A text on demons and possession. It spoke of a strange type of demonic spirit called a Gadarene. Trapped between the Abyss and the world of the living, these invisible demons delighted in corrupting mortals and causing them to perform evil acts. Everything fell into place.
She considered calling out her suspicion, but didn’t wish to alert the demon. Instead, she raised her holy symbol before her and called out, “Odin, All-Father! In your holy name, I call out this demon! Evil spirit, show yourself!” She felt Odin’s power flow through her, but the demon failed to appear. Now the others knew her suspicion, but so did the demon.
The Professor sensed an opportunity. He quickly retrieved the packet of stale flour he had picked up from the abandoned warehouse and flung it towards where he figured the demon must be. But the flour fell to the floor, some of it turning Darius’ head white in the process. Darius coughed.
The demon tried several times to touch Ingrid, hoping to sicken her and make her fail to call him out. But Odin was with her, and she evaded the invisible hand. Once more she called upon her god to expose the evil spirit. This time, it worked.
The demon was six feet tall, winged, and covered with scales. It hissed, “You shall not defeat Baphet. I shall have your souls!”
The Professor flung a green flask at the now-exposed demon. It broke, surrounding the fiend with green fog. The demon began to choke. Then he vanished again. Ingrid called out that he was always “invisible”, more like ignored by normal sight, and that only her exorcisms could continue to make him visible.
The stone gargoyle statues suddenly froze into place, and no more debris flew though the air. The demon was effectively incapacitated. Except now, the demon faded halfway out of existence. It had effectively become like a ghost.
Ingrid tried again and again to call the demon into showing itself. Every time she succeeded, the scaly creature would come into view, and the others rained attacks down on it. Most passed through the incorporeal creature, but some connected.
Baphet appeared one final time. The demon was obviously no longer sickened, and the remaining gargoyle statues began to grind back to life. Darius charged at the creature. “No, you don’t!” he screamed, bring his hammer around in a violent swing, calling on the might of Odin to smite his enemy.
The demon crumbled under the weight of the divine blow. As the body fell to the floor, it became insubstantial, finally dissipating completely in a cloud of smoke. The statues froze in place, never to move again.
The group caught its breath. They had the proof they needed.
To Protect the Innocent
The next morning they again walked across town to the guard station where James Martin was being held. Zathius, James’ lawyer, was glad to see them.
“What did you find?” the lawyer asked.
“There was a demon. A nasty one,” Darius said. “We’ll testify to that. It won’t trouble anyone anymore.”
“That explains it,” Zathius said. “Last night, James began sobbing, asking Athena to forgive him. He seems a changed man.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Ingrid said. “Thank Odin I was able to expose the fiend so the others could kill it.”
“But it was me who made it sick, don’t forget!” The Professor beamed.
“You have my gratitude,” Zathius said. “This way; the trial is about to begin.”
A New Beginning
Several days later, the group received a message via courier at the Sleeping Ogre. It was from James Martin, asking that they come to the temple of Apollo, a block over from the ruins of the temple of Athena.
Workers were beginning to put up scaffolds around Athena’s holy place. The rebuilding had begun.
They walked over to the temple of Apollo, where the priests and acolytes of Athena were being housed during the rebuilding. James Martin waited for them out front. He was dressed in flowing tan robes, his beard and hair neatly trimmed. He smiled as they approached.
“Greetings, friends. I want to thank you for what you did for me. I owe you my life.” James bowed his head.
“It was nothing,” said Wynne. “What’s with the robes?”
“Well,” James replied, “it seemed fitting. The priest suggested I leave the tanning business behind, and take up Athena’s cause as my own. I’m just an acolyte right now, but I intend to study hard, and one day lead others as a priest. Maybe move out of this dirty city and start up my own temple in a nice, quiet village somewhere. Athena will guide me when it is time.”
Darius shook James’ hand. “Good luck to you, James. If you need anything, let us know.”
Wynne looked at the ground. Then smiled. “Hey,” she said, “we don’t need that gold right now. How about we give the 500 to the temple, to help it rebuild?”
Darius laughed. “How very uncharacteristic of you, thief.”
“What in the Nine Hells does that mean, pretty boy?” Wynne fumed.
Ingrid and the Professor joined Darius in his laughter. Perhaps they would be sticking together. Perhaps there were lessons to be learned, people to help, and victories to be won. At the very least, life would not be boring.
I’d like to thank Harliquinn for taking great notes. It’s a big help.