Codex III-Chapter 3

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Khaska approached the Knights chapterhouse with some trepidation. He had moved with the others that morning to a new inn, one closer to Master Hiddel’s place so Amara’s morning journey would not be as long each day. The sorceress had immediately left upon their arrival, and he had spent a few hours alone in his room in meditation and prayer. He would need all the strength of the ancestors for the tasks that lay ahead of him.

He asked to see Dragonrider Reitman, and the young Knight he spoke to lead him to another courtyard in the complex of buildings, though with a warning that the Dragonrider was quite busy.

“I will be as brief as I can, but my message is one of great importance for a task DragonRider Reitman and I have charged ourselves with.”

Reitman was practicing swords with another Knight. The two of them were stripped down to their breeches in the afternoon heat, sweat running down their bodies. Khaska found the whole affair slightly distasteful, but there were no female Knights around at the time. He waited patiently as the two of them sparred, their wooden practice swords moving in practiced forms as they attacked, defended, pushed, and whacked each other. Even through the entire session, Reitman kept the Orb of Dragonkind around his neck, the clear crystal bauble bouncing at the end of its chain. It was the first time Khaska had really been able to get a good look at it, juxtaposed by the nakedness of Reitman’s skin. A leather cover kept the chain from chafing his neck, and the chain connected to the facsimile of a dragon’s claw in which was held the orb itself.

After some time, Reitman succeeded in cleanly disarming the man. A solid thwack sounded as he hit the man in the stomach, a killing blow, had the sword been metal. As it was the man winced a little, but Reitman was quick to reach out, pull the man up, and mutter a quick healing spell. The man returned the favor, and some of the bruises and cuts that Reitman had obtained vanished as the divine magic mended the minor wounds. After retrieving his sword, the two of them gave a formal salute, signaling the end of their sparring session. Reitman came over to where his shirt was lying on a nearby bench. Khaska was standing there in the shade of the building.

“Well met, Khaska of the Maha’i!” Reitman extended his hand. Khaska took it, still unsure of this foreign custom and feeling stilted in having to conform to it, even after this time among the other races.

“Greetings, Sir Dragonrider.”

Sir Ing tells me you did not appear yesterday. Have you given up your search?”

“No,” Khaska quickly replied, but then paused and measured his words. “But it is of that search that I would like to speak with you. Could we go to a place with fewer ears about?"

Reitman grew serious, his smile and the rush of training leaving him. "Yes. Come to my quarters. We may speak privately there." He beckoned the cleric on, and they entered the nearby building, apparently the quarters of the Knights from this chapter.

In his sparse private quarters, there was a washbasin and a towel set out for Reitman. He soaked one end of the towel and began to clean the sweat off of his body. “Have you found what you were looking for? Evidence of this Tawru?"

"Yes, I have." Khaska was solemn.

"So, the stories of your people are true, then. He was a Knight of this chapter?"

"Yes, he was, and more; in fact, he was second-in-command to an elf that went by the name of Likran Treewind, and during his time did suffer the prejudices we believed he did."

"I am sorry to hear that. Sometimes, we do not live up to the Code of the Good Dragons as we ought to."

"You are not alone in that."

"True. But we should be the beacons of goodwill and honor to the peoples of our moon. Markus would ask no less of us."

He had finished cleaning the sweat and grime off of himself and moved over to a dressing screen.

"Did you know that the Code was once changed?"

Reitman frowned. “I did not. What was the change?”

"A dwarf named Refrun Skaggi, upon his ascension to the office of Dragonrider, petitioned to change the virtue of the golden dragons to honor instead of loyalty; and thus it stands to this day, to my understanding."

"I know of Refrun. He served in this very chapter, the only grandmaster to come from our ranks here in Hammerdine."

"Indeed, and he brought about that change because he knew the truth of Tawru's end, which I did not myself know until the day before yesterday."

Reitman emerged from behind the screen, wearing better clothes, now fully dressed. “Please, sit my friend.” He sat down on his bed and began to pull his boots on.

Khaska looked at the chair for a moment, then sat down, uncomfortably self-conscious of himself. "This is a story I never imagined to tell, that I was never supposed to know; but I know it, and must tell it, and I feel you should hear it."

Reitman stopped lacing his boots up and gave the cleric his full attention. "Tell me this story, Khaska. The Gold dragons would council us to tell the truth always."

"I will not lie, even though the truth does not serve me in this case."

"That is good."

Khaska paused for a moment, then continued. "The story of Tawru that I told you before is true; it is true, that is, until he left Hammerdine against the will of the Order to free the slaves at Laishtek. And the truth from then forward is terrible.

"For Tawru truly did leave, and he did free the slaves, as all the Maha'i agree and know, but the Grandmaster of the Knights, upon discovering Tawru's heroic insolence, dared to expel him from the order and leave him powerless."

"Excommunication. That is a rare offense among the Knights.” Reitman’s tone had a slight edge to it.

"Rarer since the change in the Code."

"And Grandmaster Skaggi knew of this excommunication? That is why he had the code changed?"

"Yes, the earlier Grandmaster disdained Tawru's disloyalty to his commands, but Tawru would not give up his purpose despite excommunication."

"And he did free the slaves. Such an act is in keeping with the Code. Though disloyalty is not. I cannot blame the Grandmaster for his decision." He paused, then continued, the edge in his voice now gone. "Though I cannot say I would have done the same, either."

It was a long while before Khaska could continue his tale. “Well … " He paused again. "Tawru kept with that portion of the Code, and never changed his devotion to it; however … what he did was terrible. He could not use good for his good ends …" Khaska was decidedly not looking at Reitman, staring at the floor, as if looking at the man would be too painful. Then, with a deep breath, he looked up, caught the Dragonrider’s eye, and finished. "… so he turned to evil." Reitman inhaled sharply through his teeth. "And by the power of evil did he free the slaves of Laishtek."

"Evil? What do you mean?" There was a genuine sense of alarm in Reitman's voice. He leaned forward, raptly paying attention.

“I know nothing more than that he turned to something evil to gain his powers anew. Likran Treewind knew no more than that, for within minutes of their meeting once more, Tawru was dead."

"So you discovered this story from Sir Treewind?"

"He wrote the story for the Knights to remember it, never to forget the wrongs he felt they committed against Tawru. It was never supposed to reach my people."

Reitman brought his hand to his face, rubbing his chin and mouth, looking slightly down. "A fallen paladin turning to evil. Excommunicated." He looked up. "He was a blackguard?"

“That is what the record said. Tawru admitted it to Treewind with regret."

Reitman stood, clearly in shock. He began to pace, limping slightly because only one boot was fully on, his feet not quite even on the ground.

“This is a tale of woe indeed." He looked at Khaska. "Where did you find it in the library?"

"It was in the annals of a monastery, founded by Treewind and dedicated to Tawru's memory; it has lain abandoned many years now."

"But it is here. The story, I mean. Treewind’s confession."

"The record is here. I left it behind a row of books, registries from the monastery. But I do not lie. I would not lie about things that tear at my heart."

"I do not doubt your account, but this troubles me greatly. I would like to read it myself." He began to put his second boot on and lace it up. "Or would you feel offended?"

"I would not. After all, I have told you the story already. But might we speak before you seek to read it?"

Reitman smiled. "We are already doing that, but yes, we can finish here."

Khaska nodded in gratitude. "This is very heavy for me, very heavy; I believe it. My people would not; I cannot tell them now. They would not listen, and I do not know what I would say to them."

"What would you have me do, Khaska of the Maha'i? You have told a tale of woe, but becoming a blackguard is a serious sin. It is not a pact entered into lightly. This Tawru … I know not what to think of him."

"It is no easier for me. There were too many wrongs on too many sides …" He sat silently. "I hope, however, that perhaps we can do something right, together."

Reitman pauses for a moment. "I hope this too. So where do we go from here?"

"No matter the truth of Tawru, it is from him that our people broke from yours, and healing needs to start from him. It is his horn that hangs above the throne of the High Queen, after all."

"You want to find some way to redeem a blackguard who has been dead for centuries? I feel that may be a fool's errand."

"I know not about his redemption. But we can attempt to heal the wounds in our living hearts." A pause. "If you demonstrate your goodwill and friendship toward my people in a way that to them would be indisputable, they would have a greater chance of respecting you." Another pause. "And if I demonstrated my loyalty and faithfulness, they would trust me enough to listen when the time came." Another pause. "I believe there is a way to do both."

"I will listen to your wisdom. How may we accomplish this fool's errand?" It was clear from the way he said it that, thought the way may be impossible, the quest was one he would support. Khaska new the Dragonrider wanted to help as he could.

"It is Tawru's horn that hangs above the throne of the High Queen, as I said; it reminds them evermore, it is said, of the treachery of the other races, for, it is said, they stole the other as a prize."

"However … Its finding would be a day of great joy for my people, and those who found it would be given great honor. If the Knights helped in this endeavor, my people would be forced to reconsider the old prejudices we have held for centuries. And if one of my people were to bring it back to Jevereshk, they would believe him in what he said. Would you help me find Tawru's Horn?"

Reitman was serious, his next words not spoken in sarcasm, yet still admitting the challenge of what Khaska had just asked. "So we need to find the horn of a Maha'i who has been dead for hundreds of years? I must admit, helping you in this would require little effort on my part, for I have no idea where we would even start."

"I used to believe that it was somewhere here, in this building, but the scroll I found made it clear that it had been lost before Tawru's final battle - it was lost in Laishtek. I also admit that I do not know, but I will seek it out."

“What, specifically, would you like from me then? We cannot spare manpower for such a quest at this time, especially such a vague one. The Dark Times are upon us, and we are diligently preparing for them.”

“There are ways of helping that do not require men, no?” Khaska asked, one eyebrow raised.

“There are many. What do you ask of me, Khaska of the Maha'i? I will do what I can."

“I am a foreigner, and I would be a stranger in these lands; but to the Knights no lands are strange. You could send me with your blessing, so they let me pass and leave me undisturbed. Perhaps you could notify the other Knights of my mission, so they are prepared when I come.”

“Perhaps a personal missive from me to carry with you would suffice. However, the Knights are all Paladins, and sometimes we have others that work with us because of their unique skills. Quilleh, for example, can do things that we with our magic cannot. Would you be willing to work as a subsidiary of the Knights in this manner?”

“It is difficult, but if I were working for the Knights my people would not accept me.”

“So just a personal missive from me. Stamped with my personal seal, it would grant you the same privileges as working for us, but would not burden your reputation with your people.”

"That would be best, and I would give you my sincerest gratitude."

“I would still like to read this document myself."

"I can show you where it is." A pause. "And once you do read it, I have something I must ask of you."

The Dragonrider was amused. "More?" Then he grew serious again. "Anything, my friend."

"Likran wanted the Knights to know the truth about Tawru, and I respect his wish. But I beg of you, do not speak of it with anyone in whom you do not have the utmost trust, for there are people who would speak of such terrible things not as secrets, or who could overhear and misuse them."

He nodded solemnly. "This I will do for you."

"I thank you, most deeply. It is your example that has shown me that I was wrong about your people and your Order, and it is a great relief to leave distrust behind for friendship."

Reitman was buckling his sword around his hip. "If this story is true, that distrust was not unearned. You would still be wise to be cautious of this, however."

“I do not think you express friendship the way we do, nor do we do it often; but it is a good thing. How do you do it?"

“How do we express friendship?" Reitman was slightly confused.

"Yes. What do you do to express friendship?"

The Knight thinks for a moment. "There is nothing specific, I think. We just … are friends. It is a level of trust and camaraderie that is earned over time." He straightened his belt, having finished buckling it on. "But there is an expression of devotion and solidarity. You have seen us shake hands. That is a traditional greeting for almost anybody. A hug is to express such devotion and solidarity, but it is also seen as an intimate gesture at times. I fear we may not have the expression you desire, but you have brought me terrible news that is costing you a great deal of pain. A paladin's blessing is the least I can do for you now. Unless you want a hug, I suppose." He smiled at that.

“That is, I think, what I mean … and the closest thing to our expressions that you have."

Reitman extended his arms outward. "Then I will hug you, to express my best wishes in your quest, my friend."

“Thank you." Khaska awkwardly accepted and reciprocated the gesture. The Knight’s embrace was tight, the man genuinely touched by this tale, this gesture of goodwill sincere.

“Now, I want to read this account myself, and write my personal letter for you,” the Dragonrider said. "You will, of course, help me write it. I want it to say the right things."

“Certainly."

"Please, show me in the library where I may find the account."

The two of them exited Sir Reitman’s private quarters. Everywhere they went Knights stopped and smartly saluted the Dragonrider.

They made their way to the library, and Khaska, leading Reitman to the dusty, cobwebbed corner where the manuscript was found, handed over the scroll with a shudder. "There is the record."

Khaska studied the man carefully as he read the scroll. At times Reitman’s eyes grew wide, at others he grimaced. Towards the end he cried a little. When he finished, he was quiet for a long while. Then he rolled the scroll up.

"I would like to make a copy of this. I will make it myself. Then you can have the original to take with you on your journeys." He held the scroll up. "This is a terrible tale. A tale that has many lessons. Not the least of which that evil can be found in the most unexpected of places."

Khaska was confused. Reitman was trying to convey something by that saying, that he could tell. But the Dragonrider was deliberately being obtuse.

"I do not understand your meaning by saying that."

Reitman was quick to answer. "Just that you should always be on your guard. Even among friends. Likran Treewind and Tawru were friends, and that friendship caused them both great heartache." He slapped the Maha’i on the back. "But come, let us get the copy made and the letter written!”

“Certainly."

Some while later, as Reitman finished scribing the new version of the story, he looked up from his desk at Khaska. "Will you tell your friends?"

"I will tell them that I seek Tawru's Horn—and his Sword—but I do not wish to tell the tale of Tawru again, so soon, unless it is unavoidably necessary. It is too painful, and I do not know how to heal it yet."

“That is your decision. But your friends are good people. I am grateful that you have taken me into your confidence. I am sure they would be equally as grateful."

“Will you seek the sword at this monastery?” Now the Knight was sprinkling sand on the last part of the scroll to capture the extra ink. “Sir Ing would be able to tell you where it was located better than I. But you are aware that we have not operated it for some time now. Chasing the sword may also be a difficult quest."

"I understand, but I will see what information there is about the fate of Likran Treewind; he was the last to have the sword, to my knowledge, and it is unlikely that other Knights would assign it so great of value."

"Sir Ing would be the man to talk go, but I'm sure you know that." The Dragonrider began to roll up the two scrolls. “I have offered you the original, but you may want the copy. The scroll is definitely less worn."

"Yes, it is better." Khaska accepts the newer scroll, but he hesitates before touching it. "Though even having the story near me seems to hurt; but they say the price of love is grief, and Tawru was well-loved."

"It is an interesting tale, too, of serving good ends by bad means. For what it's worth, I hope he is enjoying the rest of Markus in the afterlife. I'm sure if this story were widely known about the Knights there would be fierce debates among the more scholarly minded of our brethren." He tucked the old scroll in his desk. "But if the price of love is grief, it is a price we should all gladly pay."

"So it is. Thank you."

"May the gods speed you on your journey, my friend. I hope the bring you success in your quest, for the sake of you and your people, and of our moon."

Khaska gave a small smile and laughed. "I would show you how we show our friendship in farewell, but your noses are far too small."

"Oh? I am intrigued."

"You shall have to visit our lands again, when I return and can show you. And by that time, your visits will no longer be regarded with wariness, but with open arms."

"I look forward to that day."

"In the meantime, let us use your handshake." Khaska extended his hand.

Reitman took it and shook vigorously.

"Fare you well, and Markus watch your steps."

"Markus be with you as well.”


The group immediately noticed that Khaska was more back to his own self upon his return to their new inn. He and Rynn left quite quickly. “Let us move with all haste. The boy Zeke, his life may be in danger,” the cleric said upon coming down from his room.

Haalak was busy and could not receive them for a while, but the two of them stayed in a room in the Kleithera House’s, waiting for the guild leader. They were ushered in quickly a few hours later. Haalak stood when they entered, but did not offer them a chair, and did not sit himself.

“I apologize for the wait,” the elf said. “What can I do for the two of you?” He smiled. “Are you reconsidering my offer?”

“Partially,” Khaska said. “There have been disturbing events surrounding us of late.”

“And these events have made you reconsider working for us?” The elf frowned. “If you are looking to get quickly out of town for personal reasons, revisiting our arrangement might not hold the same draw for me that it once did.”

“Nothing like that,” Rynn said, full well taking the merchant’s meaning. He then launched into an explanation of the past few days.

Haalak’s face grew more serious as the tale went on, and when Rynn was finished, the merchant asked them to sit, and did so himself. He sat in silence, fingers clasped in front of his face, for several minutes.

“So,” Rynn finished, “the Sendylus guild is behind the abduction and the spying on us. We don’t know much about them, but they have explicitly said they are your enemies. We thought it best to come to you. We thought perhaps with your wealth we could scry for the boy.”

Haalak nodded. “The Sendylus guild,” he began by word of explanation, “is a rival merchant guild. We have a virtual monopoly on trade between Hammerdine and Tidewater City, where our main headquarters actually reside. We do occasional trading with Laishtek, as well. But the Sendylus guild has extensive contacts among the rest of Hammerdine’s holdings and in the Tlerian Empire. They are a much bigger merchant guild than we are.” He paused. “The fact that Jonathan of the Wastes was employed by them is an interesting fact.” Then he smiled. “They may have tipped their hand inadvertantly. They have been trying to expand their influence into trading with Tidewater City, but we are so entrenched it has been difficult for them. As time has gone on, they have resorted to more and more extreme measures, obviously.” He leaned slightly forward, bringing his hands down. “This might be the opportunity I have sought.” Now he leaned completely forward, placing his hands splayed out on the ornate desk in front of him. “You feel an obligation to this boy and his family. I am not immune to sympathy for their plight, but am not sure we can do anything overt at this point. Here is my proposal.

“I will have one of our wizards scry for the boy. But, as payment, you will escort a caravan of ours out of the city, headed south. We will send our best guards with you. In short, we will spring their trap. If we can capture one of the men, or even several of them, we have a good chance of getting one of them to turn on their employers. That would give us the leverage we need to finally get the Hammerdinian authorities to launch a full investigation. I would also like to employ you again to at least escort a single caravan on a genuine journey. We can still get your ‘hero status’ to work for our benefit, but it will not be as intense a commitment as my previous offer.”

“What do you think of this? Go, speak to your friends, and consider my offer. We will scry for the boy if you will help us spring the trap.”

Khaska and Rynn looked at each other. “And what would we do with the information we find on the boy?”

“I would leave that to you. Do keep in mind,” the elf warned, “that the Stondylus guild is not happy with your having ‘dealt’ with Jonathan of the Wastes. They may try to kill you in any event, just out of spite. Best to have allies when they attempt to do so.

“We could be those allies. But these are our terms.”

Eryx (DM)
After taking a look at this codex so far, I decided to split what had been chapter 1 up. I had wanted to wait for the moment you discovered that there was a major plot brewing against you (however that would have been revealed), but in looking at it, the whole thing just took too long. So now you’re in chapter 3. The conversation between Khaska and Dragonrider Reitman was created between Thev and myself using IM.

Haalak has offered to scry for the boy in exchange for your loyalty to the Kleithera Merchant House for at least one caravan journey, and also to spring the trap. (The two caravan journeys would not be the same one.) He would offer any information gained from the scrying to you, but would not act on it himself.

Will you take him up on his offer?

Thevarou
Khaska thinks Haalak's idea is reasonable, just so long as they would have ample protection. Perhaps the caravan could be mocked up as if the cargo is something of incredible value, justifying a large guard. Khaska also hopes that the true caravan journey they're expected to escort doesn't lead them halfway around the world! Of course, if the Kletheira Guild is only prominent in southern Gallidus, that's probably not a huge possibility, and even though it's the opposite direction from where Khaska wanted to go - Laishtek - and he is curious to go back to his people now that he has learned all he has, he would be fine with it. It's a very limited engagement, and could save many lives and expose the Sendylus guild's dangerous machinations to the general public.

Khaska will also give the others little explanation of his discoveries and epiphanies. What he can tell them at the moment, however, is that he has abandoned his previous blanketly negative opinion of the Knights and decided to work to try to end the enmity between the Knights and the his people. To that purpose he will go questing for Tawru's Sword and Horn with Reitman's dispensation, to Laishtek and probably even to Twilight, and wherever else it may lead him.

DeltaWolf

This whole thing leaves a bad taste in Jenika’s mouth. She feels that this caravan company is using others plight for their own gains and that is dishonorable. What’s more, it seems unlikely to her that this other company would ambush a force they didn’t think they could take, which means two outcomes; They abandon their ambush, what becomes of Zeke? Or the party finds itself in deep trouble as they become overrun!

Jenika wants to sneak in and rescue Zeke, but will go with whatever the group decides. If the group does decide to take up the offer of the carvan, there needs to be a strategy other then have a lot of guards.

BlackWolf
I think we should take this offer. Trying to sneak in and rescue Zeke will be dangerous for us and him; especially if we don't have any scrying information (I suppose we could pay for those services though…). Rynn's thinking is that Haalak's plan is suitable, and if successful, it will force the authorities to investigate the doings of the Sendylus guild. Hopefully this will hamper the guild and discourage future acts of this sort. In short, it may bring about much more good than just saving one boy.

If the plan is a failure, Zeke's life may be forfeit. But then again, any action or inaction on our part may have the same result. Rynn would much rather act — he knows that his actions might cause Zeke's death, but he also knows that he's not the one actually killing the boy.

Rynn will make the following suggestion to Haalak: "If the caravan looks too well guarded, that could be a problem. May I suggest a regular guard, but instead of transporting goods you can secretly place guards in the wagons instead?"

Crosis

Orensland is a bit torn. He knows that moving in to rescue Zeke would be dangerous for both parties. But, as Rynn says, if the plan with the caravan is a failure I think we can all say goodbye to Zeke. And Orensland has a tendency to watch out for children in danger or need. He would want to rescue Zeke.

Might I suggest halving the group? We would agree to transporting a caravan, but only Rynn, Amara and Khaska would actually be with them to help fight off the attackers and convince our followers that the party is with the caravan. Perhaps we can convince Haalak to disguise two guards as Jenika and Orensland as best they can, while the two of them actually hatch a plan to break Zeke out. As for that plan, Orensland would suggest, as always, arson to create a sufficient distraction. I know this keeps coming up and the idea keeps getting shot down, but I think it might be suitable when breaking into a high-security area. Not burning down the whole guild (initially…) but a stable or something close to the entrance or an entrance of our own. It would have to be big, though. If they do not put out the fire fast enough, maybe the guild will burn… but we'll be long gone by then. And Orensland would be very happy- two birds with one stone, you know.

And come on. Cut my character some slack. Let him burn something. Or at least let him suggest the idea, it fits the character.

Blackwolf
Actually, that's not a terrible idea. Rynn will initially frown at the suggestion, but can see merit in it. If you try to sneak in while they're ambushing us, chances are that their guard will be down / minimal. If Orensland and Jenika are set on sneaking, Rynn will support their decision.

But remember, you're splitting the party by doing this. At the caravan site, we'll have a bunch of Haalak's men to help us. At the guild's HQ you will only have the two of you. There's a lot of risk — both to you and Zeke. Rynn believes that anything we do (or don't do) may cause Zeke's death. Sneaking into their HQ carries the same risks. All it takes is one person to sound the alarm.

Thevarou
Khaska thinks that might be the best way of trying to save Zeke while exposing the guild; however, he would be against causing any significant damage to property or life in the process. We don't want to be caught up in legal issues with Hammerdine even if we're trying to foil villainous plots. If Orensland insists on arson - or does it anyway - Khaska will make it very clear he did not agree and did not support it, save in the direst of circumstances.

Also, Khaska still insists that pretending the next caravan had something of particular value would be better than hiding guards in the wagons. It makes sense for there to be extra security for something important; on the other hand, hiding soldiers only makes it obviously a counter-ambush, which could further put the party and Zeke in danger (it's obvious, for example, that we were spying on the Sendylus guild, and that we tipped off Haalak).

DeltaWolf

To Jenika there is a major difference between trespassing and arson! No, Rynn's idea of using guards as the cargo sounds like a good idea. Besides, "when you play with fire, you get burned!"

But I guess that means I will have to wait to be a ninja… :(

Crosis

Orensland would refrain from fire if that were generally looked down upon. But he would suggest it, and offer to not burn the whole place down. Just something big enough to sufficiently distract the guards. He still intends to sneak- we've split the party before, and while sneaking carries heavy risks, Orensland would consider it worth the risk. Unless it were an impossible task… but that's why fire was suggested. It makes what's impossible a bit less so.

BlackWolf
I disagree about the caravan. If there are too many visible guards, they might decide they cannot take us and abandon the attack. Then what? We gain nothing and Zeke is still in just as much danger. Or worse yet, they see all of our guards and increase the strength of their ambush team. Then we might not survive stepping into their trap.

On the other hand, if we hide guards, that significantly increases our chances of success — our force will be stronger than they expected. I understand that hidden guards are much more likely to tip them off that we knew about their ambush. And that info might even make them go after Amy. But if we don't figure out how to shut these villains down for good, they'll just continue to hurt more people.

As for arson, Rynn doesn't have any strong feelings either way. Is there something else which would prove to be as big of a distraction? I can't think of any.

Haalak swept into the room where the party was waiting, followed by a slightly older human woman and a dwarf wearing plate. The woman was dressed in a simple robe tied at the waist. She walked with a slight limp, and her hair was graying around her temples. “This is Nadine Greystoke, a wizard sometimes employed by the merchant guild. We’ve done her favors in the past and basically called them in. Plus, as a decent kind of person, she’s appalled at what has happened to Zeke and wants to help. Hardal Stromgarde is the head of security for our operations here in Hammerdine, and wanted to be present. They are the only ones that I have shared the information with, so here we are.”

He pointed at a large mirror on one of the walls, and Nadine walked over, began to concentrate, and then move her hands and speak in the arcane language of magic. Orensland was flipping a coin through his fingers. Since he had begun his performances, he had picked it up as a kind of nervous tick, and now that he was nervous, he was beginning to show it. The party had quickly agreed to take Haalak up on his deal, though Jenika was a bit unhappy about it, and had come over early the next morning. Haalak wanted to try to scry on the boy just before the sun came up, and everybody was present now. Amara had made it clear that she would have to leave to get to Master Hiddel’s in about an hour, but everybody else could stay to discuss things with the guild master.

The spell only took a few seconds to complete, and the image on the mirror changed. Instead of looking at a reflection of themselves, they were looking at pure blackness. “He must not have any light where he is,” Nadine said. Haalak frowned, then ordered the torches out of the room. Servants scurried in and took them away, plunging the room into darkness save for a sliver of light from under the door.

Without the light from the torches, nobody could see anything, but then Hardal spoke up. “I can see a sliver of light in the mirror. He’s there. I can see the boy. He’s lying on a bunch of straw. I’m sure when your eyes adjust …”

“I can see him,” said Orensland. “Just wait, you’ll all be able to see him in a moment.”

Nadine stepped forward, and then smiled. “I can see him. Now I can cast my other spell?”

“Other spell?” Amara said. She was surprised. How on earth was another spell going to work now … that’s when she realized that this wasn’t just a regular Scrying spell. Nadine had cast a Greater Scrying spell.

Haalak was serious about this.

Nadine began to cast her next spell, pointing one of her long fingers at the figure of the small boy lying on a dirty bed, rapidly becoming visible to all of them as their eyes adjusted. It looked like his room also had just the barest amount of light in it. She finished. Message had been cast.

“Zeke?” she whispered. The boy sat up quickly. “Don’t be afraid, I’m a friend. We’ve cast a magic spell so that we can see you. I’m here with Orensland and some of his friends. He used to do coin tricks for you at the inn where your mother works.”

“Where are you? I can’t see you!”

“In a building far away from where you are in the city, at least we think. We’re not sure exactly where you are.”

“Is my mother okay?”

“She’s fine. But Zeke, we need you to whisper so that the men guarding you don’t hear you or us.”

“Okay.” A whisper, from the boy. "But they don't really guard me. They just leave me here and bring me food."

“Still, let's keep as quiet as we can. We’re trying to find where you are. Can you tell us anything about where the men took you?”

“We walked for a while. It was further than I’ve ever really been in the city.”

“What kind of building are you in?”

“It’s a storage building, I think. Maybe a stable. There were lots of crates and different carts and animals. But yesterday night they moved everything else out.”

“The Sendylus’ guild did send out a caravan yesterday,” said Hardal. Haalak nodded.

“Zeke, can you move around the room, staying by the walls. We can use the magic to see a little bit around the outside of where you are if you do.”

Zeke complied, and though it wasn’t very light yet as the sun was barely rising, they could tell that he was, indeed, in a clay building. The limitations of the magic didn’t allow them to see much more beyond the walls. He was in a cell with three clay walls and a locked gate at one end. It looked like there were other rooms or cells similar to the one Zeke was in, but they appeared to be empty. The side of the room opposite the gate, however, was to the outside of the building he was in. The group were all able to get a good look at it. The outside of the building was by a large brick wall. There was about 5 feet of space between the wall and the clay building Zeke was in.

“Yup,” said Hardal. “That’s the Sendylus’ area, alright. I’ve even been in there.”

“You do business with your enemies?” asked Rynn.

“Sometimes people have a multi-contract route to get their goods from Tidewater City to the Tlerian empire. And the Sendylus guild wasn’t always so cutthroat about their policies.”

“Yes,” said Haalak, “this is a newer development for them. Just the past few years. But I think we should concentrate on the matter at hand.”

“Zeke, do they move you around anywhere else?” asked Nadine.

“No. I just stay here. I’ve been here since they took me.”

“Alright, well, help is on the way,” Nadine looked at Orensland, who nodded, but was grinning wolfishly. “Now we have a good idea of where you are.”

“You’re going to rescue me?”

“We’re not sure yet.”

“Shh. Someone’s coming.”

The boy sat down on the straw as if he had just woken up. The group could hear the gate open, and the man Orensland had followed from Amy's house came into view of the spell. “We’ll be returning you to your mother soon,” he said. “Probably just a few more days.” Then he placed a bowl of steaming porridge on the ground. “Eat up!” The gate could be heard closing and locking after he moved away from Zeke.

Orensland had stopped flipping the coin. Now he was gripping his sword, his knuckles turning white.

“Anything else you want to tell him?” Nadine asked.

“Tell him that we’re going to get him out of there. I swear it,” the rogue said.

Nadine conveyed the message, and Zeke seemed excited as he began to eat the food provided. She said goodbye, and then ended the spell.

“Well,” said Haalak. “I have provided you with a chance to see the boy through scrying. You now owe me a trip as caravan guards.”

“You are profiting from this boy’s misfortune,” Jenika growled at him. The elf looked slightly shocked.

“I am a businessman, it’s true,” he said. “But in this case I believe I am both looking out for my business and doing the right thing. If the Sendylus guild is moving into kidnapping and extortion as means of expanding their trade influence, then not only does it benefit me financially to bring them down, it will, in the long run, be better for the city at well.” He looked around at the group. “You now have this information. I believe that Hardal can help you know exactly where this boy is being held in the Sendylus guild’s complex. You may do what you wish with what you have learned.” He grew more serious. “But I do expect you to live up to your end of the bargain.”

“That was a very expensive spell,” Amara said.

“If we can prevent further loss of goods, life, and show the city officials that our rivals have begun to use less than legal means of expanding their trade influence, it will have been worth it," Haalak said. “We have a caravan that is set to leave in two days headed south to Tidewater City. Hardal and I have agreed that we will use it as a decoy as we previously discussed.”

“So it is not to be a full caravan?”

“No need to risk more goods than necessary,” Hardal said.

“If the caravan looks too well guarded, that could be a problem,” the ranger interjected. “May I suggest a regular guard, but instead of transporting goods you can secretly place guards in the wagons instead?”

“Yes,” said Jenika. “Especially if we think they will attack soon after we leave the city.”

Hardal put a hand to his chin. “That is a good idea,” he said. He looked at Haalak.

“I defer to you in such matters,” the elf said. “I just keep the books nice and tidy. You keep the merchandise safe.”

“Aye,” the dwarf said. “I will consider your suggestion, Mister Fowler.”

“We should speak of the boy now,” Khaska said. “He is our priority for the moment.”

“Well, I leave that to you,” Haalak said. “But the caravan will be leaving in the morning, two days from today. So act quickly. I am going to have the rumors started that the group responsible for bringing in the head of Jonathan of the Wastes will be escorting our caravan leaving on Wednesday.” With that, the elf left, followed by his wizard friend who wished them luck. Hardal stayed.

Based on what he had seen, Hardal was able to pinpoint that the building the boy was in was on the northeast corner of the complex. “It’s one of their storage buildings, but one of the older ones. I bet it’s rarely used these days.”

“Is anything nearby flammable?”

Hardal looked queerly at Orensland. Jenika was looking at him with the same expression.

“What? We’re going to need a distraction.”

“There’s a difference between trespassing and arson,” Jenika said. “I want to rescue the boy too.”

“Also,” Orensland said, “though I am loathe to bring it up, I think we might succeed better if we decide to split up?”

“What do you mean?” asked Rynn.

“If you, Khaska, and Amara go with the caravan, they will definitely not be expecting Jenika and myself to sneak into their guild at night and rescue the boy.”

Rynn frowned, and then opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it again. He pursed his lips. “The idea has merit,” he said. “If they’re committing a group to an ambush, they might not have as many guards left at their headquarters.” He looked at Hardal.

“Their guards and their caravan guards all come from a small privately funded group. They rarely contract out that I’m aware of. Your assessment is likely right. If they are going to ambush us, there will be less guards at their headquarters here in town.”

“There’s also the problem of what to do with the boy when he’s been rescued. If he just mysteriously shows up with his mother, they will have no protection.”

“The monks of the Hawkfeather Monastery, near where the boy and his family live, have offered to take them in for a time,” Jenika said. “They knew no information that could help, but can help in other ways.”

Eryx (DM)
Okay, so here’s the deal.

The caravan leaves Wednesday morning. It is currently Monday morning.

Hardal, and a bit of easy spying not even worth rolling checks for, can tell you that there are buildings next to the Sendylus guild’s complex, but a decent ways away from the walls. The guild’s complex has stone walls 15 feet tall around, but there are no guard towers, and no walkway atop the walls themselves. Hardal is quite sure that Zeke is in a building on the northeast corner of the complex. There are patrols, however, so that would need to be taken into consideration. However, if you finally decide to split the group, those attempting the rescue would have less guards to deal with.

Hardal is likely to take your suggestion to have guards hidden in the caravan itself. They will try to disguise a few of the guards as Orensland and Jenika, though Haalak will be a bit remiss that not all of you are going with the caravan. Hardal will talk him into it, though. Really, whatever you as a party decide is what will happen. You are all to accompany the real caravan as escorts later, though, whenever that is. You have not yet discussed those terms yet.

So, questions to answer.

1. Will you split the group? If so, who will stay behind? You have 2 nights to affect a rescue before you leave, so you don’t have to split up. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

2. What’s the plan for rescuing Zeke? Yes, DeltaWolf, Jenika can be a ninja if she wants to. Be specific in what you want to do.

BlackWolf
If we try to rescue Zeke before the caravan leaves, there may be more guards still at their complex. But there are some advantages, especially since we'll have the full group. If we mount the rescue the night before the caravan leaves, their guards might already be gone (since they need to be ahead of the caravan for an ambush). This might allow us all to participate both in the rescue and the caravan.

On the other hand, if we split the group and wait for the caravan to leave, that increases the chances of the guards being light. Plus by then they'll be committed to their ambush; no last-minute changes because something happened back at HQ. They don't seem to be likely to kill the boy in the next couple days, so I don't think we need to rush.

Rynn isn't sure which way will be better and is open to suggestions. But he definitely thinks we should wait; don't try to make a rescue this first night lest we ruin the whole plan. He likes the idea of getting Amy and her family into protection with the monks for the short-term. We may need to convince her to leave the city for the long-term; I imagine the Sendylus guild will hold a grudge.

As for the actual rescue plan, I believe that Orensland has a grappling hook which would be very useful, not to mention his thieves' tools. I'd suggest going over the wall at the northeast corner. Try to sneak in and rescue the boy without being seen. Stun or knock out any guards if necessary. Investing in a smokestick or two (20 gp each) might be worthwhile for the escape.

Crosis

Orensland wants to split the group up. Unknown to Jenika, he would buy two alchemist's fire for his arsonic intentions. He would intend to throw one into the main building and one into the building in which Zeke was being kept. This is for multiple reasons- he wants to cover Zeke's trail a bit (they would assume him dead until the realize no remains are in the burned building), but he also feels begrudged against the Sendylus guild. They are the epitome of his enemy- rich, pompous, and in complete arrogance towards the poor and needy. He's feeling pretty good about doing property damage.

DeltaWolf

Orensland can use a grappling hook and rope then Jenika can follow him up, yes? We should be able get over the wall (Dang, slow fall is level 4) and slip in to get Zeke. The problem will be how to get him out…Let me think about that. Jenika would like to quietly get back out, but that may not be possible. Sigh, at this rate maybe Jenika will just have to let Orensland do his thing.

BlackWolf
Just use the same grappling hook you came in with to get back out. When you climb up the wall, you can then reposition the hook and slide down the rope. Multiple people can climb up and wait on the wall before repositioning. Then the only hard part is dislodging the hook when you want to take it with you. But since the wall is 'only' 15 feet high, that shoudn't be too hard either with a few hard whips of the rope.

Also, grappling hooks and rope aren't that expensive; you could purchase a second one if desired.

Thevarou
Khaska agrees with Rynn: we should wait to affect the rescue and send out the booby-trapped caravan so that we can get it right. After the discussion, it seems like we may as well hide guards in the wagons; if we are planning on rescuing Zeke just before or right after the ambush, there would be nothing to lose by making it known we were expecting an ambush. Khaska also thinks it would be a good idea to have Orensland and Jenika attempt the rescue, and though he's reluctant, he also agrees that setting the stables where Zeke is being held on fire would be a good distraction, leading them to believe Zeke is dead before they ascertain the truth. We should definitely send Amy and her daughter to stay with the monks in the meantime to keep them safe from any possible harm.

Sayyadina
Amara agrees about splitting the party up, and would prefer to be hidden in the wagon than one of the obvious guards. She also agrees to wait rather than attempt the rescue the first night. If it seems useful, she'd be more than happy to use Ghost Sound with the fake caravan to make it sound more like a real one, but I can't think of any concrete way that would help—for pretending we have more people, sure, but that's the opposite of what we want here. Amara is fully in support of Orensland's arson-related plans; more than anything else, though, at this point she wants a) as much information even vaguely related to the situation as possible; and b) not to risk detection by senior members of the guild in the event of effective counter-spying or if our current plan fails. Rescuing Zeke is secondary to her.

BlackWolf
So it appears that we will split up the group then. Orensland and Jenika will go to rescue Zeke while the others go with the caravan. The rescue should probably happen at night around 2-5 AM just before the caravan is due to depart (and we should get Haalak to have the caravan depart right at dawn). That will probably be the ideal time — all the Sendylus ambushers should be gone already to get ahead of the caravan, and none will have had time to return after the ambush.

Does that sound right to everyone?

“That is a most gracious offer,” Khaska said. “Will they be safe there?”

“In the monastery? Yes,” Jenika replied.

“I doubt the Sendylus guild will be very forgiving. It may be that Amy and her children would be better off leaving the city,” said Rynn. “I would suggest that we rescue Zeke the night before our caravan is to leave. That way there will be less guards, if they have left to ambush us.”

“How about splitting up?” asked Orensland.

Amara frowned. “How do you mean?”

“We don’t all need to tromp around the Sendylus guild’s headquarters. Fewer people means fewer chances of being spotted.”

They all paused to contemplate that. Khaska turned to Hardal. “Would that violate the terms of our agreement?”

“No,” the dwarf stated succinctly. “If you all choose to split up in such a way to save the boy, you invite the risks. There will be less of you at the ambush.”

“I’m staying with Orensland,” Jenika said flatly. Her tone brokered no argument. Khaska raised an eyebrow, but did not comment.

“So, the three of us heading to help out, then,” said Rynn. He grinned. “Springing traps is getting to be a habit with this group.”

“Let us hope we are as successful with this trap as we were with Nathan’s,” said Amara.

“For Zeke’s sake, as well,” said Orensland.

The group continued to talk, but it was clear in a few minutes that they were going to take Orensland’s suggestion. He and Jenika would remain and sneak in to rescue Zeke in the early morning two days hence. The rest of the group would be leaving with a caravan that same morning, guards stationed in the wagons to bolster their forces.

Eryx (DM)
That will end this chapter.

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