6 Illumination 509
After spending the previous ending discussing various issues regarding treasure distribution, shares, and the like, the Crimson Cord awake the next morning and begin gathering up their troupe to head toward Osandar, where they will separate with the clerics of Halor, as the Cord will head south toward Asdari while the clerics return north to Aldasar. Savaric will also break away at Osandar, intending to forego the trip to Asdari and head straight to Yrda with hopes of spending some “quality time” with Mirka and awaiting the return of Cord with the half-orc orphans.
Rilka notices that Savaric apparently didn’t sleep well—his eyes are red and he’s a bit irritable. But tempers are already high with the negotiations regarding shares—Surm is irritated at the amount of “debt” he has incurred by claiming valuable magical items for which he must contribute to the group’s funds. Another sticking point is whether or not the cost of spell components should come from group funds or not—or if spell components are found, should they be considered the property of the group. Suffice to say, many details are being ground out by the group.
The discussion regarding the treasure and the troupe’s bylaws continue as they make their way across the plains of Yulania toward the capital. It is a beautiful, spring day and perfect for traveling. By the time the sun sets, they have reached the road to Osandar. They pull their train of people off to the side and set up a camp.
7 Illumination 509
Once again, Savaric seems to have had a restless night. Rilka asks him about it. He admits that he’s been having a bad dream. He doesn’t remember much when he wakes up; only that he is underwater, and the area is diffused in a strange green light. He sees an enormous, alien eye—it’s deep, black pupil attempts to suck his very being into it, and he tries to resist—but cannot. He wakes up exhausted and with a feeling of deep dread.
The troupe packs up and starts heading down the road for another day of traveling.
In the afternoon, leaning against one of the sparse trees that dot the plains, Rilka and Surm spot a what appears to be a dead body propped up against the trunk. Rilka goes to check it out. She finds a body that is several days old with its hands cut off. Tacked to his jacket is a scrawled note. Rilka can’t read the note and takes it back to the group. The note is passed around and no one seems to know what language it is in. Surm and Mõrvar examine and come to the conclusion that it is Yulanian. They can make out the gist of the note, which is “No one steals from Ralthan’s Rocs.” Surm can even go so far as to tell that the phrasing indicates that the writer was probably from the east side of Osandar. No one seems to have heard of any group called “Ralthan’s Rocs.” The troupe moves on.
8 Illumination 509
Savaric wakes up tired again—not so much that he can’t function, but it is just something that is noticeable.
The troupe moves further down the road to Osandar. It’s an uneventful, warm spring day of traveling.
9 Illumination 509
Savaric is once again reporting a restless night. The troupe moves on.
That afternoon, the party comes across a small, makeshift shrine to Hathras. Shrugging, they move on toward the capital.
As the sun begins to set, they see the gates of Osandar looming in the distance. As they approach, they see the white-crescent-on blue flag of Yulania flying along with the blue-crescent-on-white banner of Osandar.
Approaching the gates, they are greeted by one of the Osandar city guards. “Welcome to Osandar! Will all of you be entering the city this evening?” she asks.
Surm seems irritated at everything and is put off by the friendly tone of the guard. She recites the various gate charges and then inquires about the wolf, Ghost. She asks if it is tame and she is told that Savaric can control it. The guard then states that they can bring the animal in, but it will be charged the tax as livestock and, if it gets into any trouble in the city, Savaric will be held directly responsible. “If it kills someone, you have killed someone,” she tells him. That’s just fine with the troupe and everyone files through the great wooden doors.
Rilka stops one of the merchants that is rolling up his business for the night and asks for a recommendation for an inn. She and Surm argue over whether they want a modest inn or a fancy inn (with Surm wanting the latter). Rilka asks the merchant for any recommendation he can give. He describes the various inns he knows of around the city, including some modest ones and a fancy one. He advises that they stay away from the Maiden and Staff near the lake—it caters to rough folk. Finally, they settle on the Cracked Cask, in the market district. Rilka thanks the man and they move on.
As they head toward city center, Prioress Drenham and her group of clerics of Halor break away. She and Surm have brief discussion and they make plans for the Cord to meet them at the temple of Halor with their share of the treasure. The Crimson Cord and their troupe of guards head to the Cracked Cask.
The Cracked Cask, marked by a well-painted sign depicting a barrel cracked in half like nut, is a modest affair with a lively common room. Rilka approaches the innkeep to make arrangements for the night. The innkeep, Taryon, is very happy to welcome them to his establishment and seems a bit overwhelmed at the sheer number of people the group is bringing with them. Nevertheless, arrangements are made—with the Cord (including Ghost) staying in two suites while the guards will bunk in the common room. The innkeep summons Argon, his 14-year-old son, to help carry bags and haul supplies. Mahgnus goes with the boy to direct him properly regarding the Cord’s gear.
After the group cycles through hot baths (there are only 3 tubs in the inn) and settling in, they reconvene in the common room to discuss their next step. They need to find a late-night market to sell some of their less savory goods that they acquired from the Tomb. Surm is dressed in his Ornish finest. The others, in typical adventuring gear. He, Rilka, Mõrvar, Kortash, and Burask will go to sell the goods, with the half-orcs acting as “muscle.” Savaric will stay behind and guard their gear stowed in the suites. Surm also makes a point of paying the guards, as well as paying bonuses to Tarben and Sorcha for risking themselves in the Tomb of Secrets.
The patrons of the common room are being entertained by a halfling, who has taken to the corner stage with a fiddle and is doing quite well with a tune known as “The Loquacious Halfling,” an instrumental originally performed by a well-known Bard by the name of Azuredee Silverthistle.
After taking in a dinner of lamb stew and fresh bread, the five head out with their wares to find the black market.
They make some inquiries and find a man who says, “Oh, aye, I can tell you about that. Indeed I can.” He speaks in a low, conspiratorial manner to Surm. "You’ll be wanting to go to the Maiden and Staff. Find a man named Fordham. Yes. When you speak to him, mention that “the moonlight has parted the clouds.” He’ll set you up." Surm asks if he wants him to mention who sent him. The man says, “Sure. Tell him Cordall sent you.”
Surm doesn’t really want to go to the inn where he was told traded in rough folk, but they all head toward the lakeside district to do just that.
The Maiden and Staff is a bit of ramshackle inn, not well cared for. But there is lively music pouring out of the window. There is a sign over the door reading “Maiden and Staff” in Tradespeak and has a picture depicting a lascivious woman with low-cut bodice and high skirts gripping a quarterstaff. The door is guarded by a tall Northron man holding a club.
As they all approach, the Northron simply nods as they enter. Surm gets the impression that he’s there more to throw miscreants out than to give people trouble coming in. The common room is pretty full of unsavory-looking humans, half-orcs, and a couple of dwarves. Surm is entirely grossed out by the dirt in the room. They approach the bar, which is being tended by a half-orc woman. Surm inquires about seeing the man called Fordham. At first she seems wary, but Surm warms her up—perhaps too much so. She smiles at the sorcerer/bard and tucks a curly hair behind her ear. “Sure, sweetie. I’ll go get him. You lot go grab one of those tables.” As they turn to go, she reaches out and pinches Surm’s cheek, flirtatiously. Surm, flabbergasted, heads to the indicated table with the rest.
After a few moments, the half-orc returns with an older man dressed in clean, common clothes. He approaches the table and says. “I’m Fordham. Drusila says you have business with me. What do you need?”
After being invited to take a seat, the man sits down at the table. Surm explains that they were told he would be able to get them into a black market and, “as the moonlight has parted the clouds,” they have found they have need of one.
Fordham nods and says, “I can indeed. Follow me.”
He rises and leads them through an office door deeper into the inn. After turning down a hall, he takes them down a staircase into a basement. Rilka starts to get wary and places her hand near her falchion. But Fordham goes to a pallet of barrels and pulls on a rope ring. The pallet swings away easily on hidden wheels and reveals a secret door with another staircase heading down.
“Go down and follow the corridor. Take no turns and you will arrive at the market.”
The troupe head downstairs, with Mõrvar giving the innkeep a warning if there is some kind of trap down there. Fordham assures him that all he knows of is the market.
They follow Fordham’s directions and traverse the corridor. The air smells close and rank and there is an unknown dampness lining the stone floor. Surm is unhappy about the situation on all counts. However, they do eventually arrive at a large underground chamber filled with stalls and merchants hawking various wares. There are also numerous unsavory customers and several enforcers armed with clubs patrolling the area. There appears to be a tunnel on the other side of the chamber.
Looking about for someone selling or buying magical accouterments, they find a dwarf. His greasy hair is slick and parted in the middle. He’s got a gap-toothed grin and his long beard appears to be shaped by some sort of grease or pomade. Surm is appalled by his very presence.
“Aye, I’m can take some of these goods off yer hands, indeed. What are you offering?” he says when they ask if he’s buying.
Mõrvar makes the negotiations for the goods and the dwarf examines them with an obviously arcane eyepiece. He offers them the traditional one-half market price. As they are concluding the transaction, Mõrvar notices that the dwarf has made some sort of signal to one of the enforcers. Mõrvar threatens the dwarf, indicating that if they run into any trouble, he’ll come looking for him. The dwarf attempts to reassure him. “No trouble—your money spends just fine!”
They make their way to an armorer to sell off some darkly enchanted plate armor. As they make their way, Mõrvar warns them about the signal the dwarf made to the enforcer. The armor merchant is a mysterious figure—dressed in bulky hooded cloak which covers his shape and features. His hands are also gloved. His voice is clearly inhuman, but no one can place what this mysterious figure could be (though Surm proposes that he is a ghoul, like Cyrus that they had encountered in the underground kingdoms). Mõrvar once again performs the negotiations, Surm being too grossed-out by the place to want to bother. At first, Mõrvar attempts to slightly up-sell the armor—an attempt to which the armorer responds in his inhuman rasp, “Aren’t you adorable?” they finally settle on a fair price and the party starts to head out of the market the way they came.
As they move, one of the enforcers, the one that the dwarf signaled to, approaches them with a purpose. While the others hang back a bit, Surm surges forward to meet him.
“That exit is closed. You need to go that way,” he growls, indicating the opposite tunnel.
“But we came in through there,” Surm says.
Mõrvar attempts to intimidate the man with a long diatribe about how they meet any trouble that comes their way. But as he drones on, the enforcer raises his spiked club and attempts to strike him. The man’s hits clang off of Mõrvar’s armor and the two half-orc guards come forward to surround Surm and come to Mõrvar’s aid. Rilka and Surm three more enforcers coming out of the crowd toward them.
A general melee breaks out with Rilka, Mõrvar, Kortash, and Burask all fighting around Surm. At one point, Kortash accidentally stabs Mõrvar with his new magical trident. Then Surm can see seven more enforcers emerging from the other end of the room and coming toward them. He reaches out his hand and says, “The dead consume you!” Grasping undead hands rip up from the earth below and clutch most of the men in place. Only one manages to escape and continue toward the melee in progress. The grasped men scream in pain and fear.
The melee continues, and the half-orc twins continue to make a poor showing with Burask sticking the blade of his greataxe into the stone floor—he is unable to pull it out.
Surm continues to handle the incoming enforcers by casting another spell. Black tentacles suddenly spring up out of the ground and grasp the men again, crushing them in their grip. They cry out once again in pain.
There is now a general panic in the room as vendors gather what they can carry and start heading toward the exits—which are apparently illusionary walls to either side of the market room. Rilka is not fooled by them and calls them out to the rest of the group.
Two of the incoming enforcers escape from the black tentacles, but they both run toward the illusionary exits. The room is quickly emptying.
Finally, Mõrvar finishes off the last of the enforcers, cutting off both of the man’s legs with Deathblow and letting the body fall and bleed out. he calls out, “This is the dwarf’s fault!”
As the enforcers writhe and scream in the grip of Surm’s magic, and block the Cord’s preferred exit, Rilka calls on Surm to drop his spell. He lets it go a little longer—and the tentacles squeeze the rest of the life out of the enforcers. Somewhat surprised, but not displeased, Surm finally calls off the spell. He moves forward and places a visible arcane mark on the heads of each of the four dead enforcers—the Ulrich skull symbol. Then he finds some charcoal and paper and writes a note in Tradespeak—“I want the dwarf’s name and location—I’ll be back.” He stuffs this in one of the corpses’ shirt.
Kortash apologizes to Mõrvar for stabbing him while his brother retrieves his ask. Mõrvar is actually somewhat gracious, telling the half-orc that if he didn’t already trust him, he’d be dead. “We’re good.” he assures him.
Mõrvar attempts to decapitate the four enforcers Surm killed but Surm won’t let him. “I’ve already marked these my way. If you need to cut the head of something, do it to the others.” So Mõrvar decapitates the enforcers that died in the melee.
At this point, the market is empty save for them. Mõrvar detects magic and only detects the illusionary walls the magic on their persons. The hitch up their gear and make their way out of the remains of the market.
As they emerge from the secret passage into the basement of the Maiden and Staff. Fordham is waiting there, with a short sword in his hand—but he’s not brandishing it, only holding it. “What in blazes is going on? I’ve had seven people come running out of here!”
Mõrvar briefly explains the situation and asks if he knows anything about the dwarf. The older man furrows his brow. “Yeah, that sounds Binarek. He from the south side of the city. I don’t know where.”
“But you guys, you better get out of here. Out of town, even. This event isn’t going to sit well with the Hand of Talvor.”
“What is the Hand of Talvor?” Surm asks.
“They run a lot of the, well, underground activity in the city. Theft, extortion—the black market. They are not going to be pleased at the disruption of their business.”
The group decides to leave and head back to Cracked Cask. They only have another day in the city anyway.
At the Cracked Cask, the common room has closed for the night and the guards are sleeping in their bedrolls. Taryon is still happy help—even when the group asks for late-night baths. He sends Argon to help. They all have a hot, soothing bath (Rilka sharing hers with Kortash) and rest for the night.
10 Illumination 509
That morning, Surm informs Alasir of the danger involving the Hand of Talvor and cautions him to tell the guards to be alert as they go out on leave today. Alasir assures him it will be done.
The remainder of the party head out into the market district to make their sales and trades with the treasure looted from the Tomb of Secrets. They also take their promised shares to the clerics of Halor—for which Prioress Drenham offers her thanks.
While finishing up their business at the scriptorium, a well-dressed man flanked by soldiers wearing the livery of the country of Yulania waits patiently for their business to conclude. The shop keeper looks nervous, but completes his business with Surm and then greets the well-dressed man. The others, though somewhat curious (except for Mõrvar), leave the shopkeep to his new guest.
By sundown, all of their business is completed. The Crimson Cord heads back to the Cracked Cask, where the only guards unaccounted for are Halvor and Garth—though they were given leave, so no one is particularly concerned at this point.
As people settle in for the evening, Halvor comes stumbling into the common room. He looks a bit dazed and has a garish, purple puncture wound on his neck. “They took him. I don’t know what happened,” he gasps as he makes a beeline for Surm, Rilka, and Mõrvar. “We were heading to an apothecary to buy some tobacco when suddenly all of my muscles seized up and I fell flat on my face.” I saw dark boots come and drag Garth away. Then someone tucked this in my tunic."
He produces a scrawled note written in Tradespeak: “The bearer of the skull should come alone to the Maiden and Staff.”
Surm examines Halvor’s wound and determines that he had, indeed, been poisoned, but he was probably coming off of the last vestiges of its effect.
The group gathers to form a plan to get Garth back and make this rendezvous. They eventually decide to have Surm go alone to the inn, but with Mahgnus and Alfhild following behind to come running if the time comes. Meanwhile, Mõrvar will scry on Surm (who will lower his magical defenses to allow it) and will have a teleport scroll ready to take him, Sorcha, and Alasir with him directly to the inn.
Surm makes his way to the Maiden and Staff while Mahgnus and Alfhild follow, keeping their employer in sight. When Surm approaches the door, which is again guarded by the big Northron, he asks him in Jossian, “What can I expect in there?”
The big man says, also in Jossian, “Keep your hands visible and watch your step.”
“Can I expect any trouble from you?” Surm asks.
“Only if you give me any trouble,” the man says.
Nodding, and taking a deep breath, Surm walks inside.
There are about 15 patrons in all in the room—it is not near as lively as the previous night, though folks are playing cards and having mugs of ale. Surm spots Fordham and Drusila behind the bar and Fordham gives him a very covert apologetic shrug. At the far end of the room sits a well-dressed, but not ostentatious man with Garth sitting beside him. The man waves amiably at Surm, who approaches their table.
The man invites Surm to sit, and, after examining the chair for any unseemly stains, he does so. The man scrutinizes Surm for a moment. “I have heard of you. You are with the Crimson Cord, are you not?”
Surm affirms that he is.
“Yes, you did some work in Kalimsport, yes?”
Surm affirms that this is true.
“Yes, your reputation precedes you. It explains much.” Surm doesn’t know what he means by this.
“Let us get down to business. You are here about the dwarf,” the man says.
“I’m here for my man,” Surm corrects him.
“Ah, yes. Of course, a means to an end. So ugly, but I was afraid you would not accept my invitation any other way.”
“You could have just given me the information about the dwarf.”
“But that is what we will be negotiating, is it not?”
“What about Garth?” Surm looks him over and he appears not to have been beaten or harmed in any way. He does look scared—but probably because he realizes that it would be a bad idea to move right now.
“Oh, well. His part is done. He’s free to go,” the man says and waves Garth away. Garth looks to the man, to Surm, rises, and heads out of the inn. The big Northron stands aside and then retakes his position at the door. Surm thinks he’s there both to keep Surm in and to keep all others out.
“Now that that ugliness is done, let us deal,” the man says. “You want the dwarf. We need recompense for a ruined market. I think we can deal.”
“The market was the dwarf’s fault. He made a side deal with one of your enforcers to take our money after his dealing was done.”
“Ah, but surely all of our enforcers could not have been part of this dwarf’s conspiracy?”
“They were coming to attack us,” Surm says.
“As enforcers are want to do when there is a fight in the market,” the man counters. “Yet your Cord killed them all. This disrupts a very lucrative business for my…associates.”
Surm just shrugs.
The man ponders for a moment. “Still, we do not like the way this dwarf conducts business. And we have no need of trouble with your troupe. As I said, your reputation precedes you. So, I am prepared to give you the dwarf. In return, your Cord, your guards, your group, never returns to our markets.”
Surm nods. “I think that would be acceptable.”
The man smiles. “Good. Now, with whom am I dealing? I am Arnal Degarian.”
“Very good. Now, where do want the dwarf delivered?”
Surm blinks for a moment and ponders. Finally, he says. “You take care of the dwarf. We’ll keep our end of the bargain.”
Arnal raises an eyebrow. “Very well. We will handle Binarek. And you and yours will not enter our markets. We have an accord.” He reaches out his hand to shake with Surm.
Surm eyes the dangling hand distastefully, but finally shakes it. It’s dry and Arnal gives a firm handshake.
Surm rises and then cautiously makes his way out of the common room. The Northron nods at him as he lets him pass.
As he makes his way down the street, Surm is met by Mahgnus, Alfhild, and Garth. The four head back to the market district soon arrive back at the Cracked Cask, where they are met with smiles and cheers by the others.
With their business completed, the party heads to bed to rest up for their departure from Osandar tomorrow.