1 Growth 508 (cont’d)
After the incident with the baby dragon, the three companions decide to take in the sphinx’s show. The sphinx, Jherizhana, holds court in a large tent outside of the big top labeled “The Lair of the Sphinx”. A line of folks gather outside the tent and are managed by a couple of circus “toughs”. Inside is a large, bottomless, cage with various cushions and pillows lying strewn about the interior. Jherizhana lounges on the cushions, politely answering questions of the audience, who are then herded out by the circus crew. As Rilka, Savaric, and Mõrvar Ulrich come by, Rilka asks the impressive creature about the possibility of sabotage at the circus. The idea seems to surprise and disturb her, throwing her out of her usual aloof manner. The others ask questions as well, but Jherizhana seems to be thrown so much by Rilka’s question that they get unsatisfactory answers.
Afterwards, Mõrvar decides to hook up with Lanii and persuade her to come back to the inn with him. Meanwhile, Rilka and Savaric explore the circus a little bit more and then head back to the Nine Sisters. Mõrvar is successful in his persuasion of the dancing girl and heads back to the inn a little bit later.
2 Growth 508
That morning, the rest of the party explain to Surm the events of the previous night. He reiterates his extreme dislike of “lying carnies” and is altogether unimpressed with the tales of monsters and fun. Mõrvar decides to escort Lanii back to the circus for her morning rehearsals. He is met on the way by Trask, one of the half-orc crewman for the carnival. The half-orc confirms that Mõrvar was one of the ones that stopped the baby dragon and traveled with them from Stavan. Trask tells him that Almara Delisen wants to see them at her wagon as soon as possible. Mõrvar excuses himself from Lanii and heads back to the Nine Sisters Inn to fetch the others.
The four gather at Almara Delisen’s box wagon and knock on the door. “Enter,” she calls from within. The wagon is cluttered with mementos of various shows and attractions. With the five of them in there—and several members of the group being on the large-side, it is quite crowded. After introductions are made, she chides them again for not visiting her with the Beast of Stavan story. “But, no matter. I appreciate your efforts yesterday in the regrettable incident with our dragon. I fear I could also use your help with another matter. You may have heard there was a murder in town last night…” The others asserted that they did not and Surm asserted that in a city of Skeene’s size, murders probably happen there all the time. Almara accepts this but continues “However, in this case, the circumstances, I am told, implicate people from my circus—something I find very hard to accept. I’d like to contract you to represent the Umbra Carnival to determine who is really responsible and preserve our reputation.”
Almara offers them the sum of 600 gp to accomplish this task. She also offers to draft a letter to Captain Kyra Feldane, Captain of the Watch in Skeene, indicating that the group is her designated third-party investigator in this matter. Surm, who hasn’t bothered to disguise his contempt for the carnival and its folk up to this point, wonders if Captain Feldane will accept their interference in this case. Almara counters that the letter should help in that and that, hopefully, by being fully cooperative, she can be persuaded. She encourages them to go to her before starting the investigation so as not to step on any toes. Surm makes a point of asking if she wants the truth or only information that exonerates the circus. Almara attempts to reassure him that she is confident of the innocence of the person implicated—Jherizhana the sphinx and that the truth of the matter would put things to right—so, yes, she wants the truth. She also says that she will give them access to most of the circus for their investigations. Surm asks about this, wanting to know why they don’t have access to all the circus and if she is going to tie their hands in the investigation. Almara responds that no, she not going to allow a tent-to-wagon search of people’s homes for no good reason but if their request is reasonable, she would allow searches of private spaces. Surm responds that “then our hands will be tied, then.”
The four have a vote and decide to take the case, mostly for the money involved. They are not subtle about this fact. They also decide to have Almara draw up a written contract for the arrangement.
Almara doesn’t have too many more details. The murder took place last night after the circus let out and that Captain Feldane came by her wagon this morning to let her know that the sphinx has been implicated and to not leave until the matter is settled. Almara isn’t afraid that Feldane is incompetent, but that her priority is order in the city, not necessarily the truth of the matter.
The four leave Almara’s tent and, after a bit of discussion, decide to question the sphinx. When they arrive at the sphinx’s tent (“The Lair of the Sphinx”), they see a line of people waiting and some circus “toughs” moving the spectators along. Surm approaches one of the toughs and asks how long until the show is done. He approximates about half an hour. Surm lets him know that when the show is done, that they want to see her. The tough says that he can’t do that, but if they want to see the sphinx, they can get in line. Frustrated, Surm goes back to Almara for something indicating to the circus staff that they are working on the circus’ behalf and to allow them full access. Almara concedes that word-of-mouth may not have reached everyone yet and gives him a writ. Surm then goes back to the tough and presents the writ. The tough takes it stride, letting one of his fellows see the writ as well, who goes into the tent and reemerges a few minutes later. “Jherizhana will see you briefly after the show,” the tough informs them.
The sphinx lounges in her cage on her cushions and pillows. Surm actually seems impressed that it is an actual sphinx. She is beautiful and aloof, asking the four what they want of her. They ask her what she knows of the murder that she is implicated in and she replies that she doesn’t know much—only that she is implicated in a murder she did not commit. She was in her cage, bound by Berthold’s powers last night after the show. She knows of no one who would want to frame her or bring harm to the circus. During the questioning, Mõrvar moves forward to examine the cage in which Jherizhana is imprisoned. Both the circus tough and the sphinx herself are quick to warn him back away from the cage. This piques his curiosity further, making him believe that not all was as it seemed. Nevertheless, he could see no change in scene before him. If this was an illusion, he could not part the veil of it.
Meanwhile, the sphinx seemed to grow more exasperated at the numerous questions from the party about her captivity. Surm knew from his arcane experience that such creatures were civilized, wise, and not known man-eaters. Savaric and the others doubted Berthold’s powers as a sorcerer and as a ranger. Something did not sit right with them in this situation. Finally, Jherizhana told them to tell Almara to let them speak with Ika. Then, all their questions would be answered.
The group then heads back to Almara’s wagon where they tell her that Jherizhana told them to tell her to let them speak to Ika. Almara seems irritated, but then resigned, and has a carny fetch her from the Midway. Soon they are all joined by a beautiful woman—a woman wearing the sphinx’s face! Ika explains that there is no Jherizhana, that she creates her with illusions. The entire carnival is in on the trick, ensuring that their main attraction is not found out. Ika apologizes for the confusion, but Almara takes responsibility for the deception. This is why she is positive that the sphinx has committed no crimes—there is no sphinx. Surm, taking this as proof of the untrustworthy nature of carnival folk, is exasperated and wants to know why she didn’t admit this in the first place. Almara asserts that it still doesn’t solve the problem. Someone was murdered and if the carnival loses its main attraction, then they can’t reprovision in town. All admitting the truth will do is further implicate the carnival in lying and threaten its ability to do business. Further, whoever is trying to implicate the carnival gets away with it—and with murder. After asserting that there are no other “secrets” that the investigators may need to know, Almara suggests that they go speak with Captain Feldane about the murder.
After the group leaves Almara’s wagon, they have a discussion about their next steps. Surm insists that they need to present a more professional front when speaking to Captain Feldane. He thinks that they need to have a militaristic cover story, placing “Captain Rilka” in charge of their troupe and speaking for them in public. They also need to have uniforms. After a long discussion of who would portray what role and how the uniforms would look, the four go off into town in search of new outfits and weapons. When finished, Captain Rilka is bedecked in a full helm, black shirt, black gloves, black pants, and black boots with a red cape and a red sash with a red belt. The others in her command (Herald Surm, Second Mõrvar, and Tracker Savaric) are dressed; in white shirts, red gloves and belts, black pants, red boots, and red hooded cloaks. They are under Captain Rilka’s command, a former militia soldier from Jossia, and have been commissioned by the carnival to investigate this matter. Finally, long after midday, the group approaches the Watchhall, home of the City Watch.
They are met at the Watchhall by guardsmen wearing tabards with the colors of the city—a boar’s head on diagonal bands of orange and white—and ushered into the Captain’s office. Captain Kyra Feldane is a woman in her late twenties with fiery red hair in a short soldier’s crop. Rilka presents Almara’s sealed letter and introduces her group. Feldane asks her what she is captain of, and Rilka reiterates that she formed her own group, the Redcloaks, after leaving the militia in Jossia. Feldane says that she will accept their part in the investigation so long as their behavior is exemplary. Their behavior will reflect directly upon the carnival they represent and will be directly proportional to the amount of aid they will receive from the Watch. If they behave badly, they will find the Watch to, in fact, be an impediment. So long as they are clear in this, they can work together. Rilka indicates that they are in full understanding of her meaning. With that, Captain Feldane provides more information on the murder.
The victim was Archinvin Walder, a moneylender and sometime pawnbroker who owns a local business called the Locked Box. Walder was found mauled while walking to his home after the circus last night. Walder’s wife (Agnes) went looking for her husband when he never came home and discovered the body. Agnes begged her husband’s four full-time guards, who lived at the Locked Box, for help. Three left their post to help while one stayed behind to secure the office. Thieves, presumably in league with the creature that killed Walder, burst into the Locked Box, killed the remaining guard, and stole many easily carried valuables (gems/jewelry). The robbery was interrupted by the arrival of the guards bringing Walder’s body back to the office instead of his home. They glimpsed two humanoid figures fleeing into the night. Upon finding the guard dead and the building burglarized, the three remaining guards secured the building until the Watch could be notified.
Feldane confides that she isn’t entirely convinced that a creature from the circus is responsible for the murders. Nevertheless, she explains that the people of Skeene can be fiercely independent and reactive: “The mood in town is sour. There are stories all over the place about a great four-legged beast flying over town last night after the circus closed down, silhouetted across the moon. Of course, I’ll be damned if I can find a single eyewitness who actually saw the sphinx. Now poor Walder is left dead in some bushes. It’d be one thing if these deaths were accidental, but the robbery angle stirs a lot of unworthy opinions of outsiders.” Feldane offers her cooperation but reminds the group that she has to do what she feels is in the best interest of the city. She also cautions them to watch out for people nursing a grudge against outsiders.
She offers to have her guardsmen take them to where Walder was found. Surm asks to see the body and Feldane says she isn’t sure that it will be possible. The priests of Sadum have the body and have probably interred it in the necropolis by now. When asked, she reiterates that he appeared to be mauled by some large animal. In hindsight, there were no bite marks—only claws.
Guardsmen escort the troupe outside the city to where the body was found. Savaric searches the area for tracks and finds the tracks of a big creature, but also with swept away portions of humanoid tracks leaving only the paw prints. The tracks are not leonine and are not deep enough for a creature as large as Jherizhana—or the manticore in the traveling zoo, for that matter. Clearly someone tried to make it look as if the creature had flown into this spot.
The watchmen then escort the band back into the city to the home of Agnes Walder, widow of the victim. They are met at the door by an armed guard, who, upon noting the city watch, lets them in. Another guard is in the room and Agnes sits on the couch, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. The group, led by Rilka, asks the woman questions about the previous night. Archivin decided, after seeing the processional, to take in the circus. She did not, not being interested in watching Archie ogle that topless “she-lion whats-it”. In fact, she’s convinced that if she had gone with him, this wouldn’t have happened. After it got late, she decided to go looking for him and came across his body. She went back, notified the watch at the gates, and got Archivin’s guards from the Locked Box to help her retrieve his body. When the guards returned to the Locked Box, they came upon humanoids running from the premises and later found their comrade with his throat cut. They notified the watch of this new crime as well.
When asked why the guards took the body to the Locked Box instead of the home, Agnes replied that she wasn’t ready to have her husband’s mauled body in the house just yet. She was in such a state that she asked two of the remaining guards to stay with her, so she wouldn’t be alone, and the third to take Archie’s body to the Temple of Sadum, as was proper. Rilka asks for permission to search the Locked Box and Agnes, as the group is being vetted by the Watch, grants it, having one of the guards, Kaldis, take her key with them to the place of business, just a couple of doors down the street.
Savaric checks all of the alleyways around the building for signs of suspicious activity while the others of the Redcloaks wait. Finally satisfied, Savaric rejoins the others. The guard opens the door and lights lamps in the interior.
Here in the showroom, glass display cases, broken in a few places, line the walls, while two additional cases sit like islands in the center of the room. The cases contain an eclectic mix of valuables such as unusual tools, masterwork weapons, jewelry, fine china, antiques, and artwork. A set of merchant’s scales rests on top of one of the display cases. Doors to the north lead to the Office, the Guard’s Quarters, and the Vault areas. Surm asks about what items were taken and the guards indicate that the inventory is probably in Archivin’s office.
Surm asks to see the Guard’s Quarters, as that where the dead guard was found. Inside, two cots and a bunk bed sit in the room. Footlockers are tucked underneath the cots to store personal belongings. A table and chairs are in the room’s center, a well-used deck of harrow cards on the tabletop. A large rusty red blotch remains on the floor where the guard’s body was discovered. The guard tells them that his throat had been slit.
Next the group heads to the Vault. The double-doors lead to a wide staircase heading down into a corridor. The corridor widens into a chamber with another set of double doors at its end. The guard cautions them that there is a trap in this room but that the key will disarm it. Sure enough, when he turns the key in the lock, the group feels vibrations beneath their feet. The guard indicates that it is a pit trap designed to catch thieves after they leave the vault.
Inside the vault, the guard stands aside and lets the group enter to investigate. The chamber is lined with shelves, including freestanding shelving in the center. There is ample room in the vault, but labeled boxes, bags, weapons, and armor are spread throughout. The Redcloaks begin to investigate the state of the vault, trying to determine what, if anything, was taken from here by the robbers. They do find several of the boxes in states of disarray—just as Rilka dodges a blade that springs from the darkness. The short sword is being wielded by a strange-looking humanoid with charcoal-colored skin that seems to blend into its background. Rilka returns the attack and misses. Suddenly, everyone is attacking the Skulk (as Surm has identified it)—including the guard. It drops its weapon and surrenders, crying “I give!”
Under stern questioning, the Skulk reveals that it was locked in here after his comrades fled. The guard confirms that that could happen by unlocking the vault door not disabling the trap. The Skulks work for humans that pay them in Shiver, an alchemical drug. They never see the humans—there are two of their number that work for the humans and act as go-betweens. The Skulks live in a tribe of 15 outside of the city.
The Skulks are taken away by the City Watch, who had, in the meantime, fetched Captain Feldane. She assures the group that she will follow-up on the Skulk lead. Shiver, while highly addictive and responsible for the incitement of many crimes, is not illegal in Skeene in and of itself. There is no telling where they got the Shiver from without checking out these two Skulks. Feldane asks what their next course of action is, as they still haven’t solved the murder. The group will return to the circus to see what can be found there.
As the Redcloaks enter the circus at the parade grounds, they see many people making their way out, clearly disgruntled, and hear cries of “these thieving Southrons are bleeding the town dry!” A group of four townsfolk and two of the circus toughs are facing off in the parade grounds. Rilka and Mõrvar face off between the two groups, attempting to intimidate them into submission. Surm interposes himself and persuades the townsfolk to disperse, assuring them that he is one of them and distrusts the carnival folk as well. He learns that “Ed Jones” has gone to the Watch about it and he assures them that between he and his friends and the Watch that the situation will be handled. The townsfolk leave.
As the others handle the disturbance on the parade grounds, Savaric is approached by one of the dancing girls. “There’s a body in the sphinx’s tent!” she whispers urgently. Savaric lets the others know and they rush to the Lair of the Sphinx tent near the Big Top.
The body lies near the rear of the tent. It is a woman in the black-trimmed, red robes of a priestess of Barthal. Her wounds look like the claw marks of a large animal. Circus toughs keep the crowds away while the group looks for more clues.
The party finds a slender rope burn about the woman’s neck. Very little is found in the way of tracks, much less feline or heavy animal tracks. Toward the back of the tent some of the stakes have been pulled to form an exit. There lie three sets of pull-apart clown costumes. They also find three small vials near the body. Surm determines that they contained alchemical materials, not true magic potions.
About that time, Almara arrives with the circus’ chief enforcer, Master Venlok. Almara sends one of the toughs for Captain Feldane. Surm sends Master Venlok to account for all the clowns in the circus. In the meantime, Captain Feldane arrives and identifies the body as that of Sister Esrelda Woodmere, a priestess of Barthal who is half-Yulanian, half-Leilioran and wanted to confront the sphinx about the crimes in the hopes of bringing justice to those that are perpetrating them. Venlok returns with news that all clowns are accounted for, though three clowns were seen loitering near the sphinx’s tent earlier in the day.
With the new body and the rash of pick-pocketing, the Captain seems to be at her wit’s end. She demands that Almara let her see the sphinx. Almara hedges, saying that the sphinx isn’t really a captive and that she resides in a private wagon… Captain Feldane snaps. “You’ve brought a dangerous creature into this community—-a creature you clearly cannot keep track of, let alone control. I can’t say I know for certain there’s wrongdoing here on the part of your people, but after a point it ceases to matter. For the saftey of my city, I’m putting this circus under quarantine. I don’t want any of your people leaving these grounds unless it’s to leave town completely. I’m giving you two days to get packed up and go.” She turns to the Redcloaks and tells them that if they want to continue investigating, so be it. But they should know that any evidence they find had better be more than reasonably convincing if the circus is to be exonerated. Captain Feldane and her troop of guards collect the body and take it out of the carnival grounds.
The group lingers in the tent, discussing their various options and theories as to what is going on with the carnival. There seem to be far more questions than answers…