The party rested and then made their way back to Ptolus. Arriving in the city near nightfall, they returned their horses and hastened to Tavern Row. According to Malkeen, the party’s next targets, Theg Narlot and Slippery Ketta, were holed up in a safehouse that could be accessed from an alleyway close to The Onyx Spider.
The party took reasonable precautions as they approached the alleyway, taking care to send Ian down to scout it out. Other than a drunk and a couple of rough looking men playing a game of knucklebones, the alleyway was unremarkable. At the end of the alley, however, was a door clearly leading to a small tavern. Atop the door, a wooden sign had the image of a scaled serpent with "x"s for eyes burnt into it. The words “Sleeping Serpent Tavern” were crudely burnt into the sign under the image.
Comfortable there was not an ambush awaiting them, but still wary, Gideon and Maur entered the tavern separately. Feruch and Ezekiel followed behind a few minutes later, accompanied by Ronas and Brynnan. Lastly, now certain they were not being followed, Ian entered.
The tavern was sparse, with several well-worn tables and a bar with only a few patrons. The room was poorly lit and smelled strongly of stale ale and beer. There was no music or merriment. The whole place seemed brooding as if it were the place where one came to plot murder, without fear of being interrupted.
The barkeep was an old and haggard woman in her mid-fifties her black hair was an unkempt mess with strings of silver gray. She wore a dress that appeared to have been once fine but had long since fallen out of fashion. It was stained and dirty, the hem torn.
Gideon took a seat at the bar and first had trouble deciding what to order. The barkeep introduced herself as “Seskaya” and tried to make small talk, offering him help with his order, but casually mentioning that she hadn’t seen him here before. Gideon held his cards close, unsure if he should trust her, or if she was just sizing him up. She gave him a beer in a worn wooden mug, stained with age and use. At last, she asked him, “Where is the rest of your group?” Gideon was perplexed and replied, “It’s just me.” She pressed, “I thought there were supposed to be more of you.” He didn’t answer and after a moment, she left the bar to take a few drink orders.
Maur eventually made his way to the bar, as well, sitting beside Gideon, but pretending not to know him. As the barkeep returned, he ordered a mug of beer. Maur then pressed the woman, mentioning that he was “there to see the two that she was keeping safe.” This time, she was the one holding her cards close, “I don’t know what you mean, sir,” she said. Maur then demanded to know who she works for, causing her to glance at him and Gideon. At last, she reached into her apron, drawing out a rolled up piece of paper. She said to both of them, “I was told to be expecting you one of these nights: a dwarf, a man, a boy and a foreigner. I was to give you this,” she shoved the piece of paper into Maur’s hand, “and show you downstairs.”
“Let’s go, then,” Maur said sternly.
She led them past a closed door at the end of the bar. Gideon motioned to Ian and the others, who had taken seats throughout the bar, to follow them.
Beyond the door, a stairway led down to the cellar. It was a cramped and tiny place to begin with, but with the whole party now assembled there, it felt even more so. Maur unrolled the slip of paper the barkeep had given him. It read:
The “guards” can be bypassed with the word “Delentum”. It’s best to avoid the catacombs below the cellars, though. I can’t guarantee your safety down there.
The barkeep then motioned to a nondescript stone wall at the bottom of the stairs. Ian glanced over, noticing almost immediately the faint indication of a secret door. He alerted the party to this, as quietly as possible. Gideon then sent the woman back upstairs.
Ian opened the secret door, with Maur rushing past him, charging into the room beyond, certain he would be rushing into the midst of Theg and Keeta. Instead, he emerged into a large square chamber with a door in the center of the far wall. Two life-like steel statutes, resembling women warriors armed with vicious serrated long swords, flanked this door. As Maur focused on them, they suddenly animated and leaped towards him. With surprising speed they closed the distance to him in an instant, one brought it’s sword up, preparing to slash downwards, cleaving the dwarf in two. At the final moment, Maur shook away his surprise, screaming out, “Delentum!” The statues instantly froze, one of their blades a hair’s breadth from the dwarf’s face.
The rest of the party entered the room, seeing the still shaken and surprised dwarf staring at the statue that only a moment before had leaped upon him. It now stood motionless, frozen in place by Maur’s command. It’s eyes stareing lifelessly back into his.
Taking a few moments to tend to Maur, the party learned they were in not a small safehouse, as expected, but in the first room of a much larger complex. “I imagine this is a repurposed section of the old labyrinth beneath teh city,” Ian surmised. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Gideon agreed, “seems like that’s pretty common in Ptolus.”
Ezekiel nodded his agreement, “Much of the city is built atop old ruins of the Dread Ones’ vast dungeons. It is not uncommon to find access to those places through cellars, the sewers, old wells, and so forth.”
“Aiy,” Maur said, having recovered from his initial surprise and caught his breath. He was now clearly back to normal, sword readied and eyeing the one hallway that led out of this entry chamber. “We’ve found that to be the case more often than not. Let’s get on with this.” At this, the dwarf slowly, cautiously entered the darkened hall, his dark vision enabling him to see much better than his companions. He could see the hallway extended only a short distance before turning to the right. Feint hints of flickering light, candles or distant torches illuminated the way beyond.
The party pressed onward, wary of an ambush, knowing they were now wandering into the lair of a pair of thieves and cutthroats. The hallway eventually led them to a section of hallway illuminated by a pair of oil lamps. The walls were punctuated with a series of doors. four to the right, and a pair of double doors to the left. Another single door beckoned them at the far end of the hallway. With a shrug, Maur nodded to Ian who scampered up and confirmed the first door, one to the right, was unlocked. Maur burst the door open, rushing in with his sword at the ready. A small dank, dark room, simply furnished as a sleeping chamber greeted him. It didn’t appear to have been used for some time. Quickly scanning about, “Bah! Empty!”, he bellowed as he rushed back into the hall. Ian had already checked the lock on the second door (also unlocked) and was crossing the hall to inspect the pair of double doors.
Gideon ran past him, shoving open the second door. The door gave little resistance, slamming open to reveal another empty bedchamber. He spun about, shaking his head towards Maur. Ezekiel and the two Dawn Knights moved to flank the double doors, which Ian confirmed were also unlocked. Opening them carefully, Ezekial glanced in only to see a large room lined with cells – a prison of some sort, or perhaps a place where the Balacazar’s could house “prisoners”. Like the two previous rooms, this space was empty.
The next two doors were locked, but as Ian knelt down to try to pick the first lock, Gideon shoved him out of the way, “No time for that, they certainly know were here!”, he said as he kicked the door open with a well-placed boot below the door’s handle. The door burst open, lantern light streaming from the room into the hallway. Theg Narlot, the half-orcish assassin, rose from a table where he had been seated with a pair of hulking Ennin guards. The guards spun about, grabbing swords and knives. “You! Here?” Narlot shouted. “We’ve been had!” He grabbed one end of the flimsy table, tossing it to the side with a crash, sending coins and playing cards crashing to the floor. The two guards rushed forwards, in a vain effort to try to force Gideon and the rest of the party back out of the doorway. “Only two ways out, Narlot,” Gideon said, using his staff to quickly parry the attacks of the guards, “Surrender, or die here!”
Theg drew a wickedly serrated sword from his side, it’s blade dripping with greenish ichor, “Then you’ll die here…and NOW!” He swung his poisoned blade, sending Gideon reeling back, dodging and parrying the many attacks from the highly trained and experienced assassin.
Maur forced open the next door, certain that the noise of battle had alerted everyone nearby that the safehouse was being raided. As expected, he was immediately rushed by another pair of Ennin guards. Slippery Keeta, true to her moniker, was seen disappearing through a trap door in the far corner of the room at that same instant. Her sly laugh echoed up. Maur tried to force his way past the guards to her, but the room was too small, offering little room to navigate. There was no way to get to her without going through her two Ennin thugs first.
Battle was joined and the party made quick work of the varied guards. Gideon successfully avoided Narlot’s poisoned blades, and quickly succumbed to Gideon’s many blows. Clearly Theg was well versed in the sneak attack, but against an awaiting enemy, alert and aware, his ability was sorely lacking.
After a few minutes, Theg lay in a pool of his own blood. His guards, broken and dying about him. Keeta’s guards, likewise, fared no better, having fallen to Maur’s attacks. The last dying from a well-placed and unexpected jab from Ian’s short sword.
Keeta had a few minutes head start, but the party quickly prepared to give chase. As Ian was poised to drop down through the trap door, Ezekiel gave pause, “I sense a great and pervasive evil beyond,” he said ominously, “Something that is beyond even my abilities to overcome. We must proceed with the utmost caution.”
Not being one to give much creedence to the speakings of the divine or mundane, Ian cast the Malkuth angel a fleeting glance and then dropped down into the darkness.
The room below the trap door was dark, cold and damp – the floor covered in wet packed earth. There was no sign of Keeta. Maur dropped down a moment later, sliding his bastard sword from his back, “Where’s the bitch?” he grumbled. Ian had already spotted her footprints in the packed earth, “She went that way,” he said, pointing towards a tunnel leading from the room – it’s only exit.
Ezekiel came next, with Gideon taking a moment to have Ronas and AS the party Brynnan stay above and guard the trap door. “Make sure she doesn’t somehow circle back and try to escape,” he said. The two Dawn Knights offered no argument.
The party pressed forward, Maur leading the way. The turned to and fro, but the tracks of Keeta were easy to follow. Maur could sense the passage was uneven in elevation, weaving up and down at slight intervals. This was likely barely noticeable to the rest of the party, but his keen dwarven senses could tell the passage was gently sloping downwards. The air was thick with the earthy smells of mold and earthen rot. Eventually, they arrived at a section of the tunnel submerged beneath several feet of cold, brackish water. “Did she go this way?” Gideon asked, unfamiliar with such an environment. “She must have,” Maur mumbled, “the trail leads us this way.” “Look!” said Ian, excitedly, “The water is murky, like the dirt at the bottom has been kicked up, disturbed.”
“She must have just passed then,” Maur said, quickly wading out into the water. It was chill and almost took his breath away. The party followed close behind and, thankfully, after about thirty feet of travel, the passage rose again out of the chill waters. The passage continued, with Keeta’s wet footprints leaving an even more noticeable impression in the earthen floor.
“Surrounded by a baleful presence now,” Ezekiel murmured, but few took notice, eagerly on the trail of the Slave Lord who had once tortured and tormented them in her dungeons. The passage split, but Maur could see Keeta’s trail clearly now and rounded the corner, only to find the passage ahead flooded with dank waters. Remembering Ian’s observation, he quickly noted it was swirling with freshly turned sediments. Without hesitation he pressed onward, until the passage ended at a wooden door, half submerged, swollen and ajar. The opening was just large enough for someone thin and agile to have barely passed through, but not enough for a burly dwarf in heavy armor. Gideon was fast behind him and together they shoved, straining the door open.
The flooded passage split. The water was nearly to Maur’s waist, came about halfway up Ian’s chest, but only up to mid-thigh on Gideon and Ezekiel. “AHHH!” Maur grunted, “Which way?” He glanced left and right, seeing that the passageway to the left ran only a short distance before stopping at another half submerged door. Ian, waded past him to go check the door, while Gideon and Maur sloshed their way to the right, where the passage turned. Ezekiel stood in the middle of the hallway, his silvery sword lifted above the waters, emitting a faint light. As the party briefly split, he could see both groups from this vantage point.
Ian was making slow progress towards the door, slipping and falling in the water. Finally, cold and filthy, he got close enough to see the door was closed fast. No signs that anyone had passed. He turned to find Ezekiel had made his way towards him, extending his hand to aid the halfling back to the rest of the group.
“Must be careful, Ian. There are things here which despise life,” he whispered.
Gideon and Maur rounded the corner to see a long passage, all flooded.About halfway down it’s length, another side passage led off, but opposite this, there was another door, this one ajar like the one earlier.
Again the two companions shoved against the door, forcing it open with an echoing grating noise, sending violent ripples across the water’s surface. Ian and Ezekiel came up behind them as they stared into the room, seeing the body of Keeta bobbing in the water, face down. A black handled dagger adorned with a small golden skull on its pommel was buried to the hilt in her back.
“We have stayed here too long, they have taken notice,” Ezekiel whispered, looking about cautiously. “We got what we came for,” Gideon said suddenly, “She’s dead and we need to get out of here.”
“It could be a trick. I have to know for sure,” Ian said, pushing his way past Gideon into the room. He waded over to her. Her body was still warm, but the blood pouring from the wound was very real. It was then he realized that he had heard of an assassin that carried such blades. “I think I may know this blade,” Ian said, quickly searching Keeta’s body for valuables, “I’ve heard of a master assassin. One of the Lords of the Vai, I think,” Ian was highly skilled at spotting valuables in a hurry. His gaze rested on Keeta’s bracers, armor and blade. “His name is Derresh,” Ian continued as he quickly removed Keeta’s gauntlets. “He uses such a blade…leaves it as a calling card. He’s terribly expensive, but if anyone wants to be certain someone dies, he’s the one to hire.” Ian had removed the gauntlets by this time, and was moving about Keeta’s lifeless floating corpse looking to untie her sword belt.
“We need to go, Ian!” Gideon pressed, still standing guard with the others at the door. Ezekial was growing tenser by the moment.
Ian was so intent upon his loot, he failed to take notice of Gideon’s concern. He continued, “He tracks his target by magic, somehow. Scrying perhaps. Then when the moment to strike is perfect, he appears behind you and it’s done. Over. A knife in the back!” Ian removed Keeta’s blades, and began undressing her from her armor. “If you have guards, he summons a darkness to close in about you and then appears. It’s over before they have a chance to strike. And then he’s gone…like a ghost.”
By this point Ian was nearing the end of his tale and had almost removed all of Keeta’s valuables. Maur, disgusted, huffed and puffed. Gideon then noticed the flooded hallway had dropped considerably in temperature. They could see their breath upon the air. “Come on, Ian!” Gideon cried.
“To late. They’re here!” Ezekiel wheeled about as a pair of gruesome creatures violently rose up to either side of the party in the hallway. They stood nearly nine feet in height, tall humanoid creatures shaped like husks with dried skin stretched across bony frames. They each had a fearsome skull-like head and skeletal, segmented tails which tapered to a gruesome point like a scorpions. Skeletal wings with a leathery membrane hung at their backs. They completely filled the passage as they emerged from the depths, blocking any chance for the party to escape.
“Bone devils,” Ezekial said with a hiss.
As the party spurred into action, one of the bone devils traced a bony finger across the surface of the water. Instantly a spiderlike shaft of ice veered and cut through the water towards the party, slicing a jagged path between Maur and Gideon into the room holding Keeta’s corpse and Ian. A wall of ice shot up along this line, dividing the party.
The party traded blows with the devils, seeing their weapons have little effect upon them. It is not that their weapons were useless, it was as if the creatures had some time of otherworldly resistance to such physical attacks. MAur was most perturbed by this, having long grown accustomed to being the brute of the group. Now, without his magical bracers and extraordinary strength, he found himself fighting for his very life. Ezekiel’s angelic blade, however, knew no such limitations against these creatures and he rent vicious gashes into the bone devils with each landed blow. Ian, realizing that doom and death were near, rushed to Maur’s aid.
At last, after suffering many wounds, Ezekiel landed a telling strike on one of the creatures. AS he stabbed deeply into the chest of the creature, glowing yellow cracks suddenly radiated out from the wound. Blinding yellow light exploded out from the creature’s mouth and eyes. It screeched out, “The days of Lothian are over! The night of our Lords come!” The light spread out from the cracks, consuming the bone devil in a spectacular burst of energy.
At this, Gideon turned his attention of the wall of ice that separated him from Maur and Ian. Maur, at that same moment, abandoned any hope of defeating his bone devil and slammed repeatedly into the wall of ice, trying to smash his way through it. With Gideon and Maur battering the ice wall from both sides, it quickly came crashing down. At that instant, the surviving bone devil disappeared from sight.
The party was quickly reunited in the flooded corridor, surrounded by floating chunks of ice. All were wounded and bleeding from their battle with the hellish fiends. “It is over,” Ian pronounced, “the other one has fled.” Before anyone could respond, a storm of hail the size of a man’s fist began battering down all around them, churning the water into foam. All the party members could do was brace themselves from the onslaught, which was accompanied by a numbing cold they felt in their bones. Above the din of noise form the smashing and splintering hailstorm, the sound of the bone devils cackling echoed down the hall. Now battered, bruised and clearly outmatched, the party chose that moment to flee for their lives. Maur summoned a cloud of dense fog to hide their escape, filling the passageway, as all turned tail and retreated as fast as possible, back the way they had come.
The fog helpped give the party a substantial lead against the bone devil, but it still gave pursuit. Cackling and screaching as it rounded each corner, jsut moments behind the fleeing party. Each moment the creature gained upon them, until finally Feruch summoned a spiritual hammer, sending it down the passage to distract and delay the demon.
At last, with the sounds of the screeching beast still echoing towards them, the party emerged from the trapdoor into the safehouse. Each struggled to catch their breath. “In the name of the gods, what was all that noise?” Ronas said, quickly slamming the trapdoor closed.
“Nothing to do with gods, boy.” Maur said between breaths.
“Quite the opposite, I’d say,” Ian said.
Ezekiel raised his hands, which were now emitting a soft, soothing glow. As he brought them back down to his side, a wave of light flashed across the room, instantly healing all present. “I must go and speak with my order of this. It would seem the truce is being tested.” He raised the hood of his cloak, disguising his features.
“Truce?” asked Giden, who now staggered back to his feet. He was near exhaustion from the battle, “What truce?”
I’ll return to you in time," Ezekiel promised, “perhaps then I can say more.”
Well, what of the other assassin?" Brynnan asked. “Did she escape?”
“She is dead,” Gideon said, sparing the details.
The party then left the safehouse, soon emerging back in the tap room of the Sleeping Serpent. The hard demeanors on their face were such that no one dared so much as speak to them. One patron, a haggard and burly looking bearded warrior dressed in chainmail and furs, caught the eye of Maur, but quickly looked down at his mug, uncomfortably.
Emerging back in the alleyway, Ezekiel made a hasty departure. “So, where to now?” Ronas asked, as the party emerged onto the crowded streets of Tavern Row.
“I think it’s time to pay a visit to St. Valien’s,” Gideon said, leading the party towards the Temple District.