Planning a Murder
“So, Landis, is it?” Serson, brother of the corrupt Duke of Warwik, looked the young man up and down. “You’ve done well for me so far. I have a new assignment for you. You are to go to the Frosty Troll and meet a group there. There is a paladin named Darius, beard and mustache, somewhat dark skinned, a female dwarf cleric of Odin, a female human wearing skin tight red leather armor, and… someone short, likely in disguise. You are to accompany them and help out any way you can. They are going to eliminate Garsen. Any questions?”
“No, my lord.”
“Good. Once they dismiss you, return to me for further instructions.”
Landis checked his gear before starting out. His prized possession was a magically enhanced crossbow. He was like a surgeon when he fired it. He once took out a bandit who was holding a woman in front of him with a knife to her throat. Right through the eye. Instant kill.
The interior of the Frosty Troll was dim. He paused a moment, letting his eyes adjust. He spotted the group fairly easily – they were huddled together, plotting a man’s doom.
Landis cleared his throat. Everyone looked his direction. “Mr. ‘S’ sent me. I am to help you.”
“Oh, who are you?” the Professor chirped.
“My name is Landis.”
“And that crossbow on your back, you know how to use that?”
Landis smiled, “Yes, yes I do.”
“Very well,” Darius said, motioning to an empty seat at the table, "please join us.
Now, how do we proceed? Wynne, what do you know about our target’s schedule?"
The rogue ordered another ale. “He works from about 9 bells to 6. He then goes to a swanky tavern called the Silver Chalice, every night, like clockwork. Gets home around 7 bells. Given the time of year, that’s a little before sunset.”
“You know, I have some ideas for modifying your crossbow!” The Professor took out a tape measure and ran around behind Landis, taking measurements. Wynne looked at Landis and shook her head ‘no’.
“Maybe later,” Landis said. But at least the measuring kept the gnome quiet for a few minutes.
“So, since Wynne just got back from her rather harrowing experience breaking into Garsen’s house, he’s still at work. He may hear about me reporting to the guards that someone broke into his house, but maybe not. Serson said those two guards probably resigned rather than try to confront Garsen with his ghastly crimes.
Which means, tonight would be the ideal, maybe the only time, to catch up to him. I’m not one to ambush someone in the street, but that may be our best choice."
“He’s going to go home,” the Professor offered. “I think that would be the best place. He lives alone, and we can catch him away from prying eyes.”
“Agreed.” Darius frowned. “I just heard 6 bells being called out by a crier. We need to head over there and take up positions. Landis, I hope you’re prepared for this. I assume Mr. S filled you in on this man’s crimes?”
Landis nodded slowly. He wasn’t sure what he was about to get into.
Send in the Pirates!
The door to the tavern burst open violently, and with a great crashing noise. A tall, broad man with a long, black beard, braided with finger bones, wearing an eye patch, wielding two long daggers, stomped in. Behind him were seven surly pirates, stinking of grog and sweat. “FIDDLYWICK! I know you’re in here! There! Those are his buccaneers! The shortest one who’s not the priestess will be him! No negotiating, men, we’ll take the scroll off his dead body!”
“Hey!” the Professor yelled, then realized he was in disguise. Too late, his voice gave him away. The captain of the Tempest’s Eye had finally caught up with him. And like everyone else, it seemed, he was after the mysterious scroll.
“Friends of yours?” asked Wynne, drawing her rapier.
Landis leaped into action, barricading himself in a corner behind a table, and took a crossbow shot at the pirate captain. The bolt embedded itself in the doorframe behind him. “Get ’em, men!” the captain screamed.
Darius ran at the captain, swinging his warhammer at the pirate’s skull. The big man swatted it aside and proceeded to attack the paladin with a whirlwind of steel from a dagger in each hand. Darius staggered back.
Pirates began flooding into the confines of the Frosty Troll. Darius dodged and parried and held them off while focusing his attacks on the captain.
Then the Professor did what he did best. He tossed a flask of evil-smelling green liquid at the pirate captain, burning him with green flame and creating a huge, dense cloud of sickening green smoke. Several pirates, as well as the captain were overcome with fits of gagging and choking, scrambling to get out of the noxious cloud.
Ingrid said a short prayer to Odin, filling her comrades with holy might, and her enemies with debilitating doubts.
Landis found himself facing an angry pirate swinging a scimitar at his face. He dropped the crossbow and pulled out his own short sword, bringing it up in a desperate parry. Following through, he sliced across the pirate’s chest, drawing blood.
One of the pirates, a woman, ran towards the gnome, grinning evilly. “Dalia, you’re looking good!” the gnome said. Dalia swung her scimitar at the Professor, who simply ducked out of the way. The gnome grabbed a flask of acid off his pack and hurled it at her head. It broke, burning her face half off. She screamed. The gnome then stabbed her with a rusty dagger. Dalia went to one knee. “I’ll see you in hell,” she said. Ingrid stepped up behind her. “Then you best get going,” the dwarf said, bringing her mace down. Dalia moved no more.
Ingrid waded in to battle with the rest of them, using her mace to great effect, bashing pirate brains left and right. One pirate was staggered so badly from her blow that she was able to follow it up with a second swing. The scurvy dog fell in a shower of blood and brains.
Pirates died. Furniture was smashed. Blood fell in copious amounts. The surviving crew members fled. Captain Furwald of the Tempest’s Eye staggered, blood running down his chest and arms, and his face half burned away with acid.
“I think you should give yourself up, captain,” the gnome said. “You’ll live that way.”
The captain fixed the Professor with a defiant stare. “Never,” he gasped, raising his daggers to attack.
Ingrid stepped up. The Professor had told the group stories of this man, his slaughtering of entire crews and his burning of ships. He was no longer just a pirate, he was a psychotic murdering dog. He needed to be put down. “Odin have mercy on your black soul,” she said. The dwarf drove her mace hard into the man’s chest. He fell to his knees, then face first into a pool made of blood and acid. He no longer moved, but he did breathe. Ingrid cast a minor spell, ensuring that he did not die.
The pirate captain was quickly stripped of his armor, weapons, even his boots. After all, they were magical…
Wynne and Landis took the Professor back to the drow tunnels they were using as a base, leaving Darius and Ingrid to explain what happened.
Soon, a group of city guards arrived. Darius told them what happened, and sure enough, they knew of the murdering captain of the Tempest’s Eye, and the fact that he had a significant bounty on him in Tarantis.
“We lay no claim to the bounty. I’m sure someone in your organization can claim it. He’s all yours.”
The guard looked down at the unconscious pirate. “Why is he half-naked?”
Darius shrugged. “To the victor go the spoils.” He and the dwarf strode out into the lengthening shadows of the evening.
Justice in Blood
Plans were made. They would wait inside Garsen’s manor house and ambush the vile man when he returned home. They divided themselves up and waited in the shadows of the darkened rooms on the first floor.
The nearby temples rang their bells seven times, and on the seventh strike, like clockwork, Garsen crept into his house. He knew, since the front door had been forced, that someone broke in. Maybe they were still there. He went straight for the cellar door in the kitchen. It was unlocked. He drew his sword and proceeded down the stairs.
Darius was first to follow. Garsen lifted a lantern off the wall and lit it. He slowly made his way down the stairs. Darius was a few steps behind him. The paladin couldn’t help but be relieved that the man wore regular clothes instead of armor. He wanted a quick kill, to remove the monstrous man from society. Darius was too late to save the dozens of children the man had killed and eaten. But once this was done, no more need die.
Garsen moved through the narrow space in the cellar leading to the inner door to his… sanctum. It was ajar. He rushed forward, pushing the door in violently. He stepped inside, shining his lantern around the room. Everything was as he had left it, and no one was there. When he turned around to leave, the light of the lantern fell on Darius.
“Who in the hells are you?” the guard captain growled.
“Doesn’t matter,” Darius replied, hefting his warhammer. “I’m just someone who knows what you did.”
With a flurry of blows, Darius drove Garsen back into this little chamber of horrors. Garsen grinned. His clothes suddenly transformed into a suit of gleaming plate armor.
Wynne crowded her way into the small room, flanking the captain. Garsen cut into Wynne with a deadly series of cuts. She staggered back, almost dead. Garsen’s sword glowed fiercely as it cut into her. It was enchanted to damage those of a chaotic nature. She staggered back, bumping into the shelf full of children’s shoes. They rained down on her, causing primal fear to race through her like a biting wind.
Garsen turned his attention back to Darius. It would be his final mistake.
Wynne drove the point of her rapier into a seam on the man’s armor. The point protruded out of his neck. She jerked the fine sword back out. Garsen fell to the floor.
Darius looked down at his inert body. The man was still breathing. Darius considered the man no more human than a rabid dog. He brought his warhammer down hard, shattering the man’s skull. Darius stood apart as the rest of his companions removed the dead man’s magical armor and weapons. No words were exchanged as they left the body behind and stepped out into the darkened streets.
The next day, as they relaxed at a tavern, they were approached by a courier. “The captain of the city guard requests your presence at the city jail.” With that, he left.
“This should be interesting,” Darius said. The five of them left the tavern and walked to the massive marble and stone structure that was the guard headquarters and the Warwik city jail.
Inside, they were led into an opulent office, with dark stained mahogany furniture. A high backed chair faced away from them behind a massive desk. The chair faced a large bank of windows that looked over the guard training area. The chair swiveled around.
The new captain was a familiar face. Juran, the guard captain that seemed to show up wherever the group caused trouble, nodded at them. “Mr. S sends his thanks.”
The Professor couldn’t contain himself. “I knew you were going places!”
“Yes. Thanks. Now, if you all could manage to get out of town for a few days, I might be able to get that bounty taken off the gnome.”
“We were planning a trip, actually,” Wynne said.
Down to the Sea in Ships
A cargo ship called the Morning Mist was scheduled to make for the City State. It was there that the group hoped they could find a sage that could read what was on the mysterious scroll, since there was going to be a gathering of sages from around the Winedark Sea called Sage Moot. They approached the captain. He agreed to take them on as passengers, provided they pay. But if they could fight, he said, he would waive part of the fee should they get jumped by pirates. The group would have to bunk down in the cargo hold. The next day, they set out.
Warwik was a fairly busy port. A dozen ships could be seen arriving and departing in the early morning light. The group got its first glimpse of the city as a whole from the sea. For most, this was their first trip away from Warwik. They wondered when they would return.
The Morning Mist made its way south and east along the coastline all that day, arriving at dusk at the Mouth of the Roglaroon, the great river that wound its way inland to the City State of the Invincible Overlord. The captain did not want to brave the sandbars at night, so they dropped anchor to wait until dawn.
The Professor didn’t want to sleep among the crates in the cargo hold. Too much temptation for a curious gnome. So he strung up a hammock in the rigging on the port side. He laid awake, wondering what the scroll he carried contained, why so many people were after it.
He must have dozed off. He awoke suddenly, and found himself staring up at a three-quarters waning moon. Twenty feet above the crow’s nest, hanging gracefully in the air, silhouetted against the bright moon was a figure. The gnome’s acute vision let him see details in the shadow: a curvy female body, cat-like ears, and the pommels of two swords at her back. The Professor’s blood ran cold. Almost as though she could tell he was awake, the figure silently lifted higher into the star-filled sky, vanishing from sight. The gnome decided he could resist the crates, and crept below to finish sleeping.
The City State
The Morning Mist, using oars and sails, made her way up the deep and wide river. Much of the day was spent watching the dense trees of the Dearthwood forest roll by. “Orcs live in there,” one of the crewmen told the group. “Orcs of the Purple Claw. Enemies of the Overlord. They laid siege to the city once, but were driven back. No one has ever found their secret city.”
Near sunset, the ship pulled into dock at the massive walls of the city. The defining feature of the skyline was a massive, round tower built from black stone. It was easily a hundred feet tall, and featureless. “What is that?” asked the Professor.
“That would be the Cryptic Citadel,” the captain replied. “No one knows for sure what it contains. Some say the Overlord keeps his treasures there, others say its a place to summon foul creatures. It is said that anything attempting to fly over the city is shot with a huge gout of flame from the top of the tower, killing it instantly.” The Professor nodded, for once speechless. He ached with curiosity.
“Don’t even think about it,” Wynne scolded.
They spent the night at an inn near a raucous tavern called the Balor’s Eye. Good food, music, gambling, and almost two score dancing girls made it quite a party. For the first time in a while, they were able to relax and enjoy themselves without being set upon by pirates, undead, or cat warriors from the moon. They appreciated the respite.
The Price of Knowledge
The next morning they made their way to the streets surrounding the Sage’s Guild. Dozens of tents and other temporary structures were thronged by curious onlookers and seekers of knowledge. An attendant gave them each an ivory chit, which could be turned in for an hour of a sage’s time. Though the Moot lasted several days, many would go home never being able to use their chits. Lines formed in front of the more popular sages.
Asking around, they located a sage who could read the ancient language the scroll was written in, Logii.
There was no one in line at that tent. No surprise, since the War of the Pious and the Philosophers (mistaken by the most widely used calendar as the Uttermost War), ended almost 7,000 years earlier. There were but a handful of writings in that ancient language, and few people who knew how to read them. Not much call for such knowledge among even other sages.
The group filed inside. Books and scrolls were piled haphazardly on a couple of makeshift tables. And slumped in a chair, snoring, was a bearded old man with spectacles perched at the end of his nose. A placard on the table in front of him said his name was Imlor.
“Not really busy, are you?” the Professor asked, loudly. The old man jerked awake.
“Good heavens, what are you people doing here?” he said.
“We have it on good authority that you speak Logii,” the Professor said.
The sage chuckled. “Speak it? My young fellow, no one can speak Logii, it isn’t a proper language!”
“Really?” the gnome took a seat.
“Of course not. Why do you think divination spells won’t work on it? It’s not because it is magical, it is because it is mostly advanced mathematics and technical jargon we have no words for.”
“Can you tell me what is on a scroll I have if it is in this non-language?”
“You… you actually have something written in it? Is it a copy or an original?” Imlor was wide awake now.
“I do,” the gnome replied. “I’m pretty sure it’s an original.” He retrieved the stainless steel scroll tube from his belongings and gingerly handed it to the sage.
Imlor unscrewed the top of the tube and pulled out the scroll. Without hesitation, he tried to tear it. He couldn’t. He then unrolled it and began to read. Minutes passed. Imlor began to nod off, snoring.
“Well?” the gnome said. His voice had a way of piercing the skull. Imlor shook himself awake.
“Yes, well, it would seem that these are plans to build a machine called a Creation Forge. Quite a list of materials here. Platinum, stainless steel, gold, iron, gemstones, magicum, and many others. And at 50 feet tall by 40 feet wide and deep, it would cost a fortune.” The sage counted on his fingers. “Approximately three to four million gold pieces.”
“I see,” the Professor said. “What does a Creation Forge do?”
“It uses something called a Pattern Matrix. If you have the pattern matrix for, for example, a sword, you need only add the raw materials and the Creation Forge will crank out perfect copies of the object, very quickly.”
“Does the scroll tell how to make a pattern matrix?”
“No, it does not. However, and this is what I find particularly fascinating, is that there are references here to arcane magic. Is there a second scroll?”
The Professor hesitated. “Yes. Yes, there is.”
“Do you have it?”
“I see. However, I will pay you one thousand gold to borrow this for a day to copy it.”
Darius cleared his throat. “I’m afraid that would be a bad idea. It would put you in danger. There are bad people after this scroll. In fact, I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to anyone.”
The sage looked downtrodden. “Very well. I understand. Should you change your mind, come back.”
“We will,” the Professor said, standing. “Thank you for your time.”
“You’re welcome.” Imlor once again dropped his chin to his chest, fast asleep.
The group quietly filed out of the tent.
As their eyes adjusted to the brightness of the day, they realized they were facing about twenty armed guards arrayed in a semi-circle in front of them. A wizard in blue robes stood ready behind them. A man in ornate plate mail, the crest of the Overlord on his chest, strode up to them.
“His majesty, the Invincible Overlord, wishes you to appear before him. Follow me, please.”
They looked at each other, and wondered if life were simpler when no one knew who they were.
Guests of the Overlord
The Silverlight Palace, home to the Invincible Overlord, made the citadel in Warwik look like a hovel. The mid-morning sun made the marble walls gleam and sparkle. Men and women in clothing that cost a year’s salary of an average merchant walked up and down the many hallways, attending to unknown business within the court.
The group was led to an opulent waiting area. They sat on cushions and were served tea and sweetmeats while they waited. Soon they were approached by a chamberlain and several guards. The guards held out canvas sacks. “Please place any weapons, wands, alchemical flasks, and such, in these sacks.”
“Will we get them back?” asked the gnome.
The chamberlain sneered. “We are not thieves. No one appears before the Overlord armed.”
“Is he scared of being attacked?” Darius said. “Doesn’t sound too ‘invincible’.”
The chamberlain smiled. “No, we just don’t want to get your blood on the furnishings.”
The throne room was massive. Mounted on the walls were heads from all the major dragon varieties: green, black, blue, red, white, gold, silver, copper, bronze, and brass. Not young dragons. These were elder wyrms, the most powerful of dragonkind.
Guards in gleaming plate lined the walls, easily a score of them. Several ladies lounged on divans. Ambassadors of the dwarves and the elves conversed quietly around tables of food. To the Overlord’s left was an Illithid, a mind flayer, a terrible creature of great psionic power. To his right was a rugged man, dressed somewhat like a woodsman, but with regal bearing and a huge gold medallion around his neck. The Overlord himself was a tall, muscular man. This was not a pampered royal. It was obvious, despite the graying of his hair at the temples, that the Overlord was quite capable as a warrior himself.
A page stepped forward. “His Most Terrible Majesty, the Invincible Overlord, Hygelak XI, the Dread Klipmaran Noble, and ruler of the City State, welcomes you.” The young man retreated to the rear of the room.
The Overlord looked up at the group. “Approach.” They did.
“Professor Crasis Coggley Walty Ambergris Fiddleywick greets you back!” the gnome bowed with a flourish.
The Overlord looked to the others, expecting introductions.
Darius spoke. “You obviously know who we are, or you would not have summoned us here.”
“Of course,” the Overlord replied, “but life is full of niceties and formalities. They make things more pleasant, greasing the wheels of society. So, humor me.”
“Very well. I am Darius.”
“I am Ingrid, priestess of Odin.”
“I am Wynne.”
“I am Landis.”
“Very well.” The Overlord motioned to a retainer. “Send them in.”
From an arched doorway to the left of the throne strode two figures. One was a man in strange, red clothes and red hair, a perpetual smirk on his youthful face, and a slender, obviously female figure wearing form-fitting purple leather-like armor, a full hood and mask hiding her face, but her eyes were obviously cat-like.
The Overlord leaned back in his throne. “I believe you have a piece of stolen property that belongs to these people. A scroll, I believe?”
Serin looked down from the riser and chuckled softly, a smug look of satisfaction on his face.
“Well, shit.” Wynne folded her arms.