A few days after I had departed Sallen I was approached by a middle-aged couple on the side of the road looking for a guide to take them to Aaren. They said they were farmers from the nearby area visiting family in the Aaren, and that their previous guide had robbed them in the night and abandoned them. They were worried about being attack by bandits and begged me to take them, noting my bow as more means of defense than the two had between them. I considered their tale for a bit and examined their expressions. While their story was a bit unlikely, they ultimately seemed innocent enough, and I was already on my way to Aaren, so I agreed. The couple was friendly and in the end I was glad to have the company. Some of their anecdotes proved to be quite entertaining, too…
We were only a day’s travel outside of Aaren when I had the vision.
I remember waking up in a cold sweat, struggling for breath as the vivid images of maggots and death still burning in my mind. I had no idea what they meant but they were clearly a warning of danger, and very likely great danger at that…I did my best to act as if nothing had happened though I suspected that the farmers noticed something was amiss. Thankfully they didn’t ask any questions about what had caused me to wake so violently.
When we arrived in Aaren the couple thanked me for my services however as they went to pay me I noticed a sudden shift in their expression. Their smiles were gone and they spoke in hushed voices. It turned out that my fare were not a friendly couple but actually agents of Alvyarin. Apparently the day the couple joined me they had received a raven telling them to be on the watch for my passing and that their master had requested my presence. They apologized for the deception stating that the message made clear that it was a matter of utmost secrecy and that I would likely refuse a direct request, hence the deception. I was slightly perturbed that Alvyarin felt I would refuse such a simple request, but further supported my decision to not work for Alvyarin directly as one of his “agents” the last thing I wanted to be was at the beck and call of some noble. However Alvyarin had done me a great service in helping me to begin to understand the arcane so the least I could do was meet the man. I told the couple that I would see their master though I would appreciate a little more forwardness next time; I reminded them that Mrissans are not terribly fond of being deceived.
After parting from the “couple” I headed toward the keep where I was certain to find Alvyarin. I was let in with little hassle; it appeared as though they were expecting me. As I entered the large stone keep I was directed by a servant to a waiting hall and told that I would be summoned shortly. Typical nobility, summoning guests and then making them wait. It wasn’t all bad however; as I noticed that I was not the only one who had been summoned. I was pleasantly surprised to see my two erstwhile companions, Gillam the Lugardian watchman, and Phaedra the mysterious Marian woman. We exchanged pleasantries though none of us were quite certain how to react around each other just yet. Regardless I was happy to see them. But this meeting was too great of a coincidence; it appeared as though the threads of fate were clearly pulling the three of us together. After my last dream I was certain of it.
Our reunion was cut short however as we were ushered into the main hall. Standing at the end of the hall was Dohnyl, Alvyarin, and the old man Perrol. Alvyarin looked uncharacteristically nervous. Dohnyl welcomed us and thanked us for coming. He informed us that he had a favor to ask, but it was one that was of potential danger to Aaren and as such that he hoped we could be discreet. He looked to Alyvarin to further explain the situation.
Apparently there had been a murder in Sallen just a few days ago and the details were quite grizzly. The victim had had several body parts cut off as well as his tongue cut out and nailed to his forehead. What was worse, his body was found covered with maggots. My ears perked upon hearing the circumstances, my dream… and now hearing this, what did it mean? Alvyarin also informed us of one more crucial detail. The man was one of his agents, a young man named Adim. That was one piece of the puzzle suddenly made clear, but the rest was troubling. Alvyarin was of the opinion that it was possible that someone was moving against House Sandemar. Dohnyl recalled our previous encounter and said that he felt that he could trust the three of us and asked if we would investigate the matter. He even offered us a handsome reward for any information we might uncover. He just asked that we be discreet.
Gillam was quick enough to agree, the man seemed to revel in following orders. Phaedra seemed to consider for a moment but when Dohnyl mentioned the reward of gold she also agreed. For me, I couldn’t have cared less about the gold but the way in which the man was killed haunted me and so I agreed to help though I kept my vision to myself. Dohnyl and Alvyarin were both quite pleased. Alvyarin informed us that he had one more agent working in Sallen and that we should try to contact them but to be discreet in doing so. He told us to look for a person with the mark of his house – a bunch of grapes. If we should find such a person we should tell them the code words of “sky” and “yellow” and exprect a reply of “chicken” and “cart.” Typical espionage, though given the circumstances I understood the caution. But deep down I was quite glad I had refused the man’s offer to work directly for him. After receiving our information we were given 60gold in fund to help in our investigation and then sent on our way. I lead the group out and we made the trek through the mountains to Sallen.
Upon arrival in Sallen I immediately sensed a difference in the tone and atmosphere of the quiet travelers’ hub. I could feel suspicion, doubt, and anger in the air as a loud commotion could be heard from the town center. We had barely entered the town when Gillam noticed the crowd gathered at one of the inns and rushed towards them, muttering under his breath about “possible suspects.” As he rushed off, I noticed a smaller group loitering around another inn on the south side of the village. There were several wagons loaded with goods, it must have been a merchant caravan. Based on the apparel of the people lingering there, they did not appear to be the farmers and fishermen of Sallen. I looked to Phaedra and suggested she go and speak to them and find out what she could. I was never any good at negotiations, especially not with merchants. She agreed and headed off to see them. I looked over and saw the Gillam was already causing quite the stir in the crowd. I decided that perhaps I should leave him to his investigation.
With Phaedra gone I turned my attention to the Temple of the Mother. The Temple was the heartbeat of the village, and yet it was strangely quiet and empty. It struck me as odd so I investigated there. As I entered the temple I was greeted by a young acolyte asking what they could do to help. I requested to speak to the high priest as I was curious about what was happening in the town. After being forced to wait around for a few minutes I was admitted to see the high priest. As I entered I saw a large man in opulent robes sat behind a desk discussing quietly with another man in fine robes. The large man introduced himself as Dovel, the high priest of the Mother and the other man as a Prefect priest of the temple named Harald. I asked them about the late unpleasantness and was given a series of non-answers. However it didn’t seem that the high priest was dodging my questions, he genuinely knew nothing about the murder other than the obvious details. I did my best to be vague about my personal details when they asked, though I have never been a great liar. However the head priest seemed to accept my story. I thanked him for his time and said farewell. The prefect Harald saw me out. As we were leaving the man pulled me to the side and started to ask more questions about my interest in the event. It appeared as though he didn’t buy my story. I did my best to shrug off his inquiries but I could tell he didn’t believe me. As I left I couldn’t help but feel cautious about the prefect. Reza also seemed to sense something off about the man. I feeling I couldn’t shake as I left the temple.
I regrouped with Gillam and Phaedra at one of the 6 inns in Sallen. It appears that neither Gillam nor Phaedra had had much luck in their investigation. Gillam in particular was quite perturbed at a local man named Eski who was heading up the investigation. Gillam said the man didn’t know the first thing about running a murder case. As we were talking I happened to notice that one of the bar maids working in the tavern wore a brooch in the shape of a bunch of grapes. Although we hadn’t gotten any new information, perhaps we had found our agent.
As she walked over to take our order I did my best to slip in the code words Alvyarin had given us. She looked a little stunned upon hearing the words and so I repeated what I had said. Realization slowly crossed her face as she understood who we were. She continued the conversation but cautiously did not include the return code words. Understable as one of her comrades had just been killed. However it was clear the Gillam did not understand as he demanded of the woman, “Did you buy that brooch from someone?” The man certainly war a good hammer, though not all problems were nails. Obviously startled by his questioning she excused herself to go get our drinks. When she returned, I took my drink and noticed she had taken extra care when placing my drink on a small piece of paper, something she hadn’t done to my companion’s drinks. I examined the paper and found an image of a chicken in a cart indicating a place and time. I showed it to Phaedra under the table and explained the situation to the guardsman. We agreed to meet the woman at the set time but to travel separately so as not to draw too much attention to ourselves. With the plan set we each went to our rooms to make preparations.
That night we traveled to the set meeting point, a small house on the far edge of town, thankfully we all made it there without incident or being noticed. The woman let us in swiftly and immediately looked angrily at Gillam. He seemed oblivious. She introduced herself as Kaala, an agent of Alvyarin and urged that we try to be more subtle next time. We apologized and then informed her that we had been sent to help investigate the death of Adim. She was thankful to have our help but I could tell she was also quite distraught at the death of her fellow agent. We discussed what we knew and confirmed the story we had been told. She said she was eager to help but wanted to do so cautiously. She said she could work on investigate one or two people a day, but urged us to avoid contact with the people she was seeking. We agreed that was a good idea. Our first targets for her were the man Eski and the Prefect Harald. With our plan set for the next day we left Kaalas home and returned to the inn.
The next morning we investigated the spot where Adims body had been found. After search the area fully Gillam and I were able to pick up on two things. First the faint sent of incense, very suspicious, and tracks leading away from the body. Unfortunately there was nothing pointing as to what would have caused all the maggots… We followed the tracks slowly out of town but were further confused when the tracks turned back towards Sallen and then ultimately disappeared. However I was quite pleased to have some actual evidence in the form of the incense but this just left more questions and doubts.
After returning to Sallen the incense was enough of a lead that Gillam stormed off directly for the temple, saying he was going to give the priests a “grilling.” I decided it might be better if we didn’t both head to the same location to avoid suspicion, so I headed to the inn that the merchant caravan was staying to see if I could get some more information. The leader of the caravan, a man named Paraashk was quite frustrated and clearly losing his patience. He explained that his caravan had arrived the night before the murder and have been prevented from leaving since, as they are suspects in the case. He was on the verge of using his bodyguard, a huge man named Dolk, to try and strong arm his way out of the situation but was willing to wait another day or two. Ultimately my discussion with Paraashk proved fruitless as I was unable to get any more real information. None of the men seemed particularly suspicious, and I could find no motive for them to want to kill Adim. His death had had a negative impact on his business.
I regrouped once more with my Gillam and Phaedra to exchange what we had learned. While my discussion had provided no new leads it appeared as though Gillam’s “grilling” in the temple had worked to some degree. He had learned from a young acolyte in the temple that he had seen black clad men heading towards the Snakewater River the night of the murder. Gillam said that the prefect did not think it was important but he did not know what the men were up to. We agreed it all seemed very suspicious and decided to investigate the area along the river that the acolyte had mentioned. Sure enough we found several boats pulled up along the riverbank, they looked as though they had been recently used. With this information we set a plan that Phaedra observe the area that night to see if anyone came while Gillam and I rendezvoused with Kaala. Once again we returned to the inn to make our preparations.
That night we all headed out of the inn, moving separately once again to reduce our chances of all being seen. Before Phaedra and I parted however, I cast a spell on her that would allow us to whisper messages to each other from great distance. She seemed a little unsure but after testing it out, she was rather impressed. As I moved cautiously through the town the still of the night was suddenly shattered as I heard a loud splash followed by a series of choice words. Unfortunately I recognized the voice, it was Gillam, he had apparently fallen into one of the farmsteads canals. The noise was soon followed by another. Gillam began arguing with the voice. I chose to continue onward to Kaala’s house, hoping that Gillam’s distraction would provide good enough cover.
When I reached Kaalas home I she was slightly surprised to see only myself but I explained our plan to her and she quickly understood. I asked her what information she had learned in her investigation that day. Unfortunately she had not been able to gather much of anything that would lead to a cause for suspicion. Neither men would have any motive for killing Adim, especially not in such a fashion. As we discussed the situation I heard Phaedra’s voice whispering in my head. She said that a few men were approaching the area, being rater quiet. I told her to hold back and not approach them. According to Phaedra the men were getting onto the boats and pushing off into the river. I quickly and quietly stepped out of Kaala’s home and went to the riverbank, a bit further down from where Phaedra was.
As I observed the boat I could see several men aboard, but the boat was getting further away. Fearing that our only lead might slip away I enchanted an arrow with a light spell and fired it over the water and jumped prone to avoid being seen. I quickly realized my mistake however when I saw the men aboard the boat. They were locals, dressed in black yes, but all carrying fishing gear – not weapons. It was but a moment after my arrow arced across the water that their angry voices called out demanding who had done that. Knowing they were just fishermen I slowly stood up and revealed myself. Apparently they were out fishing for eels, and my disturbance had likely ruined their entire outing for the evening. They were, understandably, quite furious with me. When I explained why I had shot the “flare,” leaving out a few key details, they called me a fool and came to shore and stormed off saying they were going to complain to Eski. Just perfect.
I told Phaedra to stay hidden for the moment, and then went with the men to the Blue Circle Inn where we found Eski speaking to Gillam. At the inn the men aired their grievances to Eski as I explained the situation. In the end I was absolved of any wrong-doing thanks to Phaedra. She had followed and stepped in as an outsider and offered to buy all the fishermen a round of drinks. Thankfully this calmed them down, but it was clear they still all thought I was a complete fool. Soon after Eski ordered all the men to return home for the night, and they complied. Eski clearly had quite a bit of influence over the men of the town. The fishermen left soon after, though one of the younger members seemed to linger behind and gestured towards Gillam.
The three of us stepped outside and followed the young man. He nervously introduced himself as Vollick. He said that he might have some potentially important information regarding Adim’s death. However, before he would tell us he wanted us to convince the priests at the temple to forgive him. Apparently he had stolen some candlesticks from the temple a few weeks ago in a moment of weakness. As a result the church was refusing him blessings until he provided them with proper compensation. Something the poor fisherman could not afford. Gillam seemed quite conflicted about helping a criminal, but I realized the value of the potential information. As best I could tell the boy was being quite honest with us, and he seemed very nervous as though the information he had could be dangerous. In the end Gillam agreed. We told the boy we would speak with the clergy in the morning, besides we already had business with them.
The next morning Gillam and I headed to the temple to confront Harald. The fact that he had failed to mention the nightly eel hunts was shocking. I could tell Gillam was furious, he had been grinding his teeth the entire way to the temple. As soon as we stepped in the temple Gillam charged the Prefect’s office and began berating the man for failing to give us the crucial information about the fisherman. He said that he was unaware and offered us apologies, though his words all smelt of lies to me. As he spoke Reva seemed to tighten around my arm. I didn’t trust him but we needed more time to observe him. In the end we could only complain to him, and he simply deflected our comments.
Defeated for the time being we headed to the high priests offices to deal with Vollicks troubles. We spoke to the man and he was hesitant about forgiving Vollick so easily. We offered to give the church a “donation” and Dhovels attitude shifted quite quickly. Looking at the man’s luxurious robes I could only shake my head. The power of gold to corrupt men’s hearts is truly great. But thankfully we used Dhovels weakness to our advantage and were able to clear Vollicks name. I could see Gillam’s face contort in pain as we handed the priest the bag of gold, but he did what needed to be done and I was grateful of that.
We then went to Vollick’s house to tell him the good news. The boy was relieved to have his name cleared. True to his word the boy told us about what he had seen. Men in armor, bearing a sign of a black dog, crossing the river not far from the village. At his mention of the dog my eyes widened. I did not know what it meant but I knew that it signaled danger. Gillam and Phaedra also looked concerned but for a different reason. They had much more knowledge about the various houses and sigils of the Lugardian nobility, and the black dog was the symbol of House Marton. One of the smaller houses in service to House Sandemar. It seems as though Dohnyl might not have the complete loyalty of all his men. Though power corrupts just as well as gold, both typical vices that have caused much pain throughout history. We thanked Vollick for the information, knowing that telling us put him at great risk.
With this new clue we traveled to the area he the boy had described for us. We did not find much, but what we found was revealing. There were was evidence that boats had been there, verifying Vollick’s story, and more importantly we found large footprints strikingly similar to those found at the murder site. With all of these clues, armored men, the incense, Harald evasiveness I felt that Vollick was in great danger.
We returned to the village and set to meet Kaala in the evening to discuss our discoveries and hopefully form a plan. However, fearing for our informants safety we requested that Phaedra stay and watch over the young man. Gillam would stay at the Blue Circle Inn observing Eski’s movements, and I would watch over Paraashk and his men. The group split up we all waited. Little did we know that it would be well before midnight that we would be forced into action…
The hum of conversation in the tavern was cut as the piercing sound of an alarm whistle blared through the air. I recognized the whistle as the one Gillam had given Phaedra when we left her with Vollick. I rushed to the door of the inn to see smoke billowing from the direction of Kaalas home. I sprinted out of the inn and across the fields.
There were men dressed in black outside of Kaalas home with daggers drawn, with a few more charging towards the Blue Circle Inn. Apparently these fools were attempting a raid upon Sallen, albeit a very surgical one… I fired off a few arrows as I approached killing a few of them. Gillam and Phaedra approached from the north engaging a few others. After I dispatched the other two outside of Kaalas home with a flurry of arrows and rushed inside the burning building.
I saw Kalla lying unconscious in the doorway, a pool of blood beneath her. I pulled her out of her home, but I was too late. The bastards had killed this unarmed woman. I felt rage build inside me as Reva coiled tighter and hissed. I grabbed Kalla brooch and clenched it firmly in my fist. I would show these scum what an angry Mrissan could do.
The battle raged across the whole of Sallen, I fired arrows as fast as my fingers would allow me. I slew three in the tavern Praashk and his men were in, barely arriving in time to save the Dolk. At the Blue Circle Inn we were too slow and Eski was murdered defending himself from one of the bandits. Eventually we fought the invaders into the temple of the Mother. As we entered we saw the high priest Dhovel running out of his offices screaming. However the scream was cut short as a long sword blossomed from his chest. As he fell we saw a large man in armor standing in the door to Dhovels office. He laughed as the priest drew his last breath.
Gillam and Phaedra engaged the man while fired arrows at him. The man fought with the intensity of a demon. He took blow and after blow and refused to fall. However steadily we were able to tire the man and gain the advantage. As we battled his I began to notice something strange. The more injuries he sustained his skin started to change in color subtlety. Not the bright red of blood, but a faint orange glow. It seemed as if his body were building rapidly in temperature…
Just when his defeat seemed inevitable he cursed us loudly and turned to run. He jumped out of the window into the town square. However his wounds proved to be too grievous as the exertion of the jump and fall caused the man to collapse. We rushed to the body to examine our foe. For one thing he was certainly dead. However, I immediately noticed something was wrong, his body was radiating a lot of heat and I could sense huge amounts of arcane energy emanating from his corpse. As Phaedra and Gillam were examining his rather high quality gear I quickly yelled at them to step back immediately. I had barely stepped away when our foes body burst into flames. I could only stare in awe. The amount of magical energy needed to cause something like that to happen was simply immense. I had never witnessed anything like it. I couldn’t help but feel completely overwhelmed by what had just transpired…
The attack left us with more questions than answers, and a community that would take years to fully heal from the events that had transpired. Never the less we knew we had to report back to Dohnyl and Alvyarin what we had learned. I had little interest in the games that the nobles played against each other so as to gain more power and influence but these bastards had attacked innocents and murdered them in their beds. I was furious.
My vision this time had been a premonition, yet there were still questions unanswered and I felt they were a warning. We also had the exploding man, and a mysteriously missing Prefect Harald. So many questions and so few answers. I was determined to do everything within my power to answer some of these questions, and hopefully to bring some justice to the cowards that committed these villainous acts.
We returned to Aaren to give our report to Dhonyl and Alvyarin. The news of the sigil and the exploding man were both disturbing to say the least. I warned Alvyarin that he needed to warn his other agents, as his current system was clearly compromised, and hopefully he could prevent at least some deaths. Of all the events though I was most disturbed by the exploding man. As was Perrol. He had never heard of any one exploding suddenly save for one other time in an old story book. A very interesting coincidence.
We discussed our options on how to proceed. Alvyarin wanted us to go to Kohlen to investigate house Marton. However I had burning questions about the exploding man. We decided to help Perrol with his investigation, but the old man said he would need a few days. Dhonyl thanked us for our assistance and the information. He gave us a small reward and wished us luck in aiding Perrol. I just hoped the old man’s story book had information we could use…