Rastorn and Orjulun sit enjoying breakfast along with other patrons at a long table in the dining hall. No one speaks to them and conversations around them mostly concern mundane topics like new construction and the weather. One man mentions his fear of a return to The Undead Wars, but others attack him verbally so viciously he leaves without finishing his meal. They belittle him for his ignorance of the fact “Lord Darkoth secured The Cube of Power again.”
After eating, Rastorn pays to secure the room for another night. Orjulun asks the clerk if there is a section of town specifically for cloth goods. The clerk briefly explains the districts in Darkuth and suggests renting a cart for travel to the clothing district. Orjulun tells him they will return once they gather some things form their room.
In the three-person room, Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem are still getting dressed. “What do you think we should do after we leave here?” Melias asks. Obviously, revenge against the caravan guards for leaving their post wasn’t in the future. If SeLiem didn’t hold a grudge over it, what right did Melias have to do so? He folds his clothes and packs them in his backpack. Pulling out the blank book they recovered he holds it close to a candle. “Strange they’d have an empty book, don’t you think?” He holds it closer to the candle, allowing the light to bleed through the particles of paper, hoping it will reveal hidden writing. It doesn’t. Tossing the book aside, he gathers his disguise and starts applying make-up. “We might as well check in with Herwick and that broken wagon, then get something to eat.”
“I’ll go with you to see how our goods are selling. You should do the talking as you did before.”
“So long as you can keep your hands to yourself,” Melias says, as he shapes and adjusts his fake breasts.
Arturus laughs and says, “You know, we might want to see what’s outside these walls at night. I have to admit, I’m curious why these Humans go insane trying to gain entrance.”
Once they are ready, SeLiem follows them out into the hallway.
Hearing his companions from across the hall exiting their room, Rastorn ducks his head out of his room’s door and says, “Psst! A minute of your time gentlemen?” Then ducks back into the room.
Once they are all together, he pulls everyone closer and speaks in hushed tones. “Anyone up for a million gold coins split five ways?” At the sight of their widened eyes, he continues, “I’ve got a wanted poster concerning some thieves who got away with something priceless from Castle Darkoth. There’s a Halfling Thief, a Transmuter, an Elven archer, a Priestess of Raim, and a Druidess of Altma.” He pauses for a moment, allowing this to sink in. “They’re wanted ‘Dead or Alive,’ and the reward for them is a million gold pieces. Sound like a plan for when we leave this place?”
“It wouldn’t be easy,” Melias says. “Anyone brave enough to break into the castle of the rat bastard that runs this city has got to be pretty tough.”
“Besides our pretty little hides, what else do we have to lose?” Arturus says.
Orjulun looks at the wanted poster, hands it back to Rastorn, then crosses his arms. He can’t believe his ears. His party members are considering going after these people. “If you choose to go after this group, you go without me, and I will do all I can to hinder your efforts. If you don’t know, Raim is the god of generosity, so that follower is a good person. The same with Altma. Those traveling with them would also be honorable people. I will not turn these people into a vile and corrupt government for any amount of gold.”
Melias takes a step back. “Oh, I had no idea it was like that. I’m afraid we would all be rather two-faced if we went after someone that matches that description, Orjulun. I mean, after all, we were just talking yesterday about teaching the corrupt government and greedy merchants of Dumas a lesson.”
Orjulun’s words strike hard as steel and Arturus feels guilty he let greed get the better of him. “Orjulun, would you mind reading the wanted poster to me, and any of us who cannot read?”
SeLiem leans against the door and shakes his head. “I’ll have to side with Orjulun here. If what he says is true, they don’t seem to be the sort of people I’d be interested in hunting down.” He ponders for a moment longer then adds, “In fact, you might even say I’d be willing to join their efforts. Some things are simply more important than riches.”
“Dammit men,” Rastorn begins with a hiss and spittle flying from his mouth. “Let me read this damnable thing,” he says, fishing the poster from his pocket.
“WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
1,000,000 Gold Piece Reward
For crimes against Elfdom, Dwarfdom, and Humanity
Linus the Hobbit
Eva the Transmuter
Blitzarrow the Elven Archer and Tracker
Reputa, Priestess of Raim
Honeysuckle Goldenrod, Druidess of Altma
These five are wanted for the following crimes:
Breaking into Castle Darkoth and stealing Lord Darkoth’s Map of Darian Exploration, the murder of Memorex the Illusionist (of The Eight), breaking into and stealing from the sacred tombs within The Ruins of Goodman, causing a breakdown in the peace treaty between Druids and the people of Lumberton, infiltration into the official Thieves Guild of ASU, theft of a magical tome from a reputable Culturian citizen, and unearthing the most dangerous Artifact known to exist from its hiding place. The Cube of Power had been hidden by the rulers of all Human cities of The Realms 100 years ago after Lord Darkoth and others had taken it from Our Greatest Enemy during the Undead Wars.
Linus is a small, fat male Hobbit from Goodmanville, who is skilled in the art of thievery.
Blitzarrow is a 4′ 8″ male Elf with light red hair and green eyes.
Eva is a female Human, 5′ 6″ tall, with Black hair and gray eyes, she is about 20 winters old.
Raputa is an extremely tall woman who carries herself like a man. She wears the symbol of Raim.
Honeysuckle dresses in leather armor and carries an ornate wooden staff.
The reward can be collected in Darkuth or any major city in The Realms.
They were last seen in ASU.”
He looks at each of the party members in turn, then continues, “Let me focus each of your attention on this: ‘…crimes against Elfdom, Dwarfdom, and Humanity.'” He points to that passage. “And this: ‘murder,’ and this: ‘…breaking into and stealing from sacred tombs,’ and this: ‘…breaking the peace treaty between the Druids and the people of Lumberton,’ and this: ‘unearthing the most dangerous Artifact… The Cube of Power… from Our Greatest Enemy during the Undead Wars.'” He presses on. “These don’t sound like ‘honorable people,’ to me! They sound like petty thieves with a notion to make a load of treasure and to possibly cause another great war with their actions.”
“If you believe that, then you’re a fool,” Orjulun says. “this poster is obviously filled with propaganda designed to bring the populace against these people. This city is under the grip of leadership that creates only fear and distrust. It is worse than Dumas. I believe nothing they say. Do you really think they have one million gold coins just sitting in some guarded room ready to hand willingly over to you, Rastorn? Do any of you truly believe this?” He slams his fist down on the table, then cringes at his own display of emotion. “My apologies, friends,” he says in a lower voice, “we have to believe the facts. No follower of Raim would ever, ever commit murder, or crimes against the gentle races. Nor would a follower of Altma the nature god. But, if you wish to search this party out, to reveal their true intentions, then let us do so if only to set your hearts at ease. I will embrace that goal, but I will not serve as a bounty hunter for this pit of a city.”
SeLiem remains silent.
Melias steps between the two Wizards and says, “They may not be of Raim or Altma. Perhaps they are imposters. If we capture them alive, we can see if they are of Raim and Altma.” He scratches his chin. “But if they are of Raim or Altma, then they might have been framed for these crimes.” He steps away to listen at the door.
As Melias, his ear pressed against the door signals the ‘all clear,’ Arturus states his opinion. “I can’t and I doubt Melias could as well, turn an Elf over to Human hands. This party of misfits sounds like our sort of scum. I’d like to track them down, share a few stories, maybe go on a few jobs with them. Any girl named Honeydew Goldenrod has got to be a heartbreaker! Besides, a million coins would be nice, but I bet by the time they taxed you on them you’d come out with ten if you were lucky. Come on Rastorn, you’re the elder here, how can you be so naive about that?” Covering his head, he smiles and whispers, “Please don’t blow me up! I was just speaking my mind!”
Smiling wryly, Rastorn steps closer to Orjulun. “Well said,” he says, chuckling and patting Orjulun on the shoulder. “Your emotions are strong in this matter. You have passed the test.” He clears his throat. “You all are correct; this is not a matter to wade into brashly. We do not know the details of the situation, just what has been reported on a scandalous city leader’s wanted poster.” He smiles warmly at each of them. “I believe we should seek out these individuals, and if they are pure in their intentions, help them with this task. But, I pray none of you mention this to anyone lest we be numbered with their heads and a bounty placed on ours. My naivety is not under question here. For, with a mind like this,” he points to his head, “you can’t get away with too much of that. What is under inspection is who was quickest to say ‘Ho’ to the matter and join themselves on a hunt such as this. Orjulun passed with flying colors. Our healer remained silent which makes me wonder of his intentions. Well now, you Elves – you both surprised me. We are not bounty hunters; we are simply advanced among others of our race and choose to prove that to them and ourselves by the advancement of ourselves through adventure and striving for what is best. I agree with you Melias,” he says, as he turns to face him, “the downfall of some of the leaders of our society would benefit all man and Elf-kind. We should look into this more closely, my fine and fit friends.”
Melias’ eyes narrow at the wizard, but he says nothing, nor gestures his acceptance or refusal. “I’m hungry,” he says in his girlish voice, then walks out the door and down to the hall. Arturus and SeLiem follow behind.
“What in the Hells was that about?” Arturus asks Melias as they walk downstairs. “Since when did he become our father figure to guide us on moral issues? By the Nine Hells, we’re older than probably his grandfather.”
Melias mutters and mumbles in Elvish all the way to the hall.
Arturus pulls up his hood and speaking in Elvish says, “I say we watch each other’s backs and keep one another informed of anything suspicious.” Before they reach the dining hall, he tells Melias and SeLiem, “You know, that wanted poster is the same one plastered all over Dumas. The reason I know is that I was envious. Call it strange, but I wanted to be on a wanted poster. After seeing my old companions hang, I now see the stupidity in that line of thinking.”
Orjulun and Rastorn
Back in the room, it remains silent for a full minute, as Rastorn simply smiles at the frowning Orjulun. Finally, Orjulun says, “Alright, let’s go.”
The two Wizards return to the front desk and the clerk leads them outside where he whistles for transportation. The ‘cart’ turns out to be a small two-wheeled carriage with attached poles and a Far Eastern man pulling it behind him. Once they are seated, the clerk says something in an odd language to the Far Eastern man and he runs down the street pulling the cart with ease. Once in the correct district of the city, the man helps them out and asks for two copper for payment. They spend over two hours searching for the best craftsmanship at the lowest possible price and are happy with their purchases.
From conversations with many merchants, they discover what should be one of the better middle range places to eat lunch: the dining hall at The Stinging Serpent Inn, which has a very upscale clientele and very fancy and flavorful food. Orjulun asks about the location of a temple to Scorses, while paying for his lunch.
The man accepting the coin stiffens and glances around to make sure no one overheard him. “Talk like that will get you killed. Sure, there are those who are brazen or stupid enough to openly display their symbols of faith, but religion is still considered a private matter by Our Lord and our state church. You, especially, better keep private matters private.”
They discover a school teaching Necromancy, Invocation, Alteration, and Conjuration magic and purchase missing spell components. Magic items and spells cannot be purchased by anyone who does not or did not attend the school and the waiting list to sign up is five years long.
Just before dark, they return to The Sinister Gr-Inn, where Orjulun identifies the magical sword the party had recovered, and they have dinner.
After dinner, Rastorn smiles sincerely as he addresses Orjulun by his name for the first time. “Orjulun, my friend, what say we have a look at one another’s spell books this eve and trade off on some copying? I’m not usually one to do this or even mention it, but it seems as though we may be in this for the long haul together and cooperation in this matter could benefit both of us.” When Orjulun pauses, Rastorn vigorously shakes his head. “Of course, if you do not wish to share what you have that I may not, I will understand and do have ways of finding them elsewhere. But, unless the spells oppose, I see no reason why we couldn’t benefit from the other’s knowledge. Doesn’t this sound reasonable?”
A bath, a few warm meals, a night on a soft, warm bed, and new clothes all did wonders for Orjulun’s disposition. So, the prospect of trading spells is something he does not hesitate to consider. His former master always drilled into his head under no circumstances should he share magic with others and a spellbook is a personal thing that held secrets not to be disclosed. To hell with him and his rules. It will be helpful to know what Rastorn has, so I’ll know what to expect from him, Orjulun decides. “I think that’s a practical idea, friend Rastorn,” he says. “After dinner, I say we retire to the room and study in earnest.”
Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem
On the way back from the repair shop, where they learned the wagon was purchased by the shop from “a group of men from Dumas,” SeLiem recognizes six men leaving the Sinister Gr-Inn as former crossbowmen from the caravan. He knows their faces, but he never learned their names. He points them out to Melias and Arturus.
Melias slaps SeLiem on the shoulder and says cheerfully, “You are truly inspirational, friend Cleric. Never before have I met someone with your disposition against those who have done you so ill.” He shakes his head. “I mean, had some hireling left me there to die, I’d at least have a few words with them, but you completely forgive them as if they’ve done you no wrong. Truly, you are a very special man of the cloth. Your church should be proud.” As he talks, he looks about at the walls and other structures, looking for public access to look out over the walls, or perhaps a tall building. He is still somewhat curious about what goes on outside at night.
“There to die,” SeLiem repeats, then walks directly to the six men. He speaks slow and clear. “So, you left me there to die. I hope you remember me. Do you not?” There is a pause, while he stares angrily at them. “What the hell do you have to say for yourselves? You didn’t even care I was left there alone? Did you have no guilt in what you did? Do you think your god wouldn’t look down at you in shame right now?”
The six men step back and each looks nervously to the other to answer. “We didn’t know!” they shout in near unison. Their heads lower and their shoulders droop. One of them steps forward and says, “At first we moved back to avoid all the logs that were being thrown at the camp, but once we realized we were all outmatched – we just kept running.”
“We really didn’t see how anyone could have survived. We just hid until the wolves left,” says another, with tears welling in his eyes.
Still, another adds, “We couldn’t see what was going on at the camp – because we were so far away, and it was so dark out. As soon as everything went quiet, the wolves came, so we stayed hidden. We ended up walking back in the middle of the night, loaded the only good wagon with lanterns, and rode all night and day to get here. If we had seen you, we would have taken you with us – honest.”
Melias scoffs from behind SeLiem.
SeLiem continues to stare at them through his furrowed brow. “So, you didn’t want to see if there were any survivors? You just ‘assumed’ everyone was dead?”
Arturus rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. After all, they are only hired guards with probably not a backbone among them. He feels like starting trouble but decides inside city limits it is best to leave well enough alone. Should SeLiem need back-up, he’ll be there. He looks at Melias and says in Elvish, “More than likely they did nothing but huddle together wetting themselves. I can see the yellow stripe on their backs from here.” Then he recalls what Herwick the merchant said: “There are many laws in Darkuth, too many to list for you, so just stay away from the docks and talk as little as possible. Oh, and do not discuss religion, complain about the city, or fight with anyone. It is much better to pay for better lodging than to risk your neck in this city, too. Be sure to pay the merchant tax right away. Please, please, please don’t get into any trouble – I vouched for you.” Then he thought, “Stupid merchants!” and continued to stare down the six men.
In his best feminine voice, Melias repeats SeLiem’s question. “Well? Did you look for survivors or did you just assume everyone who did not run off like a coward died?” He knows SeLiem wasn’t there to be found when they came back to the site but wants to hear what their response is, nevertheless. “If you ask me, I think you should report these scoundrels. There must be some punishment for abandoning your post.”
One of the men who had not yet spoken shouts, “We ain’t cowards, lady! We’re jus’ smart enough ta know when we’re outmatched an’ close ta twenny Ogres is too many for any six fellas! Who’s gonna punish us? The guy that hired us is dead!”
Another holds up and waves his hands slowly and says, “We did search the area when we went back. No one was there. You must have run, too, Priest. There’s no reason to go starting anything with us when we did the same as you.”
Two others cheer his last comment.
One of them walks away saying, “You said your piece, people. We are done here. No one is going to start any brawls in this city, so let’s just end it here.”
“I dunno who yer new friends are SeLiem, but they betta watch how they act in Darkuth.” the one who was shouting moments ago says as he turns on his heels.
SeLiem continues to stare at the crossbowmen, his eyes squinting with anger, as they walk away, but he lets it go. “Bastards.” When they are out of sight, he turns to speak to Melias and Arturus. “They are somewhat correct. Sadly, if we get in any type of brawl in this city, we can tell our lives goodbye. We can’t report them to the authorities because,” he looks around, then says in a quiet voice, “of the incident with the Dumas city guards the other day.”
Placing his hand on SeLiem’s shoulder, Melias says, “Yeah, you’re probably right. The fates will keep it all even. They’ll get theirs.” His stomach growls, so he says, “Well, let’s get a bite to eat, then maybe we can try to discover what they keep out of the city at night. I’d like to know the answer to that question before we leave for new adventures beyond Darkuth . . . together.” Walking beside SeLiem, Melias nods his head while keeping the Cleric in his peripheral sight and stops nodding when SeLiem begins nodding along with him.
During their activities in the city, the party (primarily the disguised Melias) hear the following:
1. The citizenry is hung for saying anything negative about Lord Darkoth, taxes (which are extremely high), or any of the laws in Darkuth.
2. There is no known Thieves Guild within the city.
3. Religious affiliation is kept secret by almost everyone because some religions are generally unaccepted, and others are secretive by nature. No churches or temples have been spotted.
4. The walls of the city are surrounded by Undead every night. The citizens of Darkuth call it “The Curse of Our Greatest Enemy.”
5. The party on the wanted poster was officially last seen in ASU, although there is one rumor of them killing a few people in Dumas.
6. The Eight (the city-sponsored adventuring company of Darkuth) are rumored to be seeking the criminals. The Eight is made up of eight of the most dangerous adventurers in The Realms and is led by a warrior with four arms who has never been defeated in single combat. He refers to the two extra arms as “The Gift” and they are believed to have been a gift from Lord Darkoth.
7. The Lava Trail is inhabited by Fire Giants, lots of Fire Giants. Somehow, very few southbound caravans are attacked, although many are when northbound.
8. Lord Darkoth’s second in command is Advisor Stetic, a female Transmuter of nearly unmatched ability and a master of teleportation magic. She is like a daughter to Lord Darkoth.
9. The wanted party is believed to have associated with High Priest Ifon of Goodmanville (former leader of that town), Onif the Diviner (former councilman in Cultury), the Thieves Guild of ASU, and the Sages of the ASO (in ASU).
10. The wanted party is rumored to have murdered everyone on a caravan from Dumas a day or two ago, leaving only bits and pieces of body parts, some of which were carried off miles from the site of the attack.
11. They are rumored to have kicked two torture victims out of their homes somewhere south of ASU, about a month ago.
12. They are believed to have a taste for the flesh of babies and many babies in Darkuth, Dumas, and Metava have recently disappeared.
While they were out, Melias, Arturus, and SeLiem also met with Herwick. His Darkuthian representative presented them with an itemized list of what Herwick received for their items. After Herwick’s share was removed, they received 368 gold, eight silver, and nine copper pieces each. The list is so detailed, it includes coin conversion rates (a copper is one-tenth of silver and silver is one-tenth of a gold). The party is satisfied with their take.
The next morning, they are presented with an itemized list of charges for both rooms at checkout. Some of the charges: four copper for porters, one silver per meal, one copper for use of a sponge, one copper for receiving travel directions from a clerk, twelve coppers for a clerk calling a cart for them, and a total of twenty gold for Arturus’ special bath.
As he pays, Arturus tells the clerk, “Worth it. So, so, so worth it.”
To be continued in Chapter Six next week!
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