Leaving the Prison, the party discussed the possibility of rowing directly to the Hidden Grotto and rushing into another confrontation with the Ennin Slave Lords. Choosing discretion this time, however, the party agreed to secure some allies to help them. Back at the Docks, the party made way to St. Gustav’s Chapel, where they were able to round up Ronas Toyne and Brynnan Tallman, who were more than willing to join the party in this endeavor.
They then went to Kaira Swanwing’s house, to gain the support of the Knights of the Golden Cross, but she wasn’t home and they had no way to contact her.
Lastly, the party made way to Castle Shard to meet with Lord Zavere. Lord Zavere was very interested in hearing the details of the party’s recent forays against the Ennin, listening attentively. Gideon asked if Agent Gold had not reported all of this to Zavere, who explained that he had not yet had an opportunity to meet with Agent Gold to receive his report. When Lord Zavere was asked how he knew to send Agent Gold to seek them out, Zavere explained that he had made an attempt to contact the party through their thoughstones. After a few days of being unable to contact them, he suspected something was wrong. It was a stroke of fortune that he spoke with Moynath Autumnsong, a long-standing friend. Moynath had revealed to Zavere that he had aided the party in tracking down the secret hideout of the Ennin and that the party had left immediately to pursue them. Lord Zavere had sent one of his best agents, Agent Gold, to use the information Moynath had given them to track down the party and assist them, as quickly as possible.
The party remembered that they had first had contact with Agent Gold before they had been captured by the Ennin. Zavere’s story did not add up, at first. When pressed on this matter, Zavere casually explained that when the party first contacted him about their efforts against the Ennin, Zavere had little information to offer them. He soon realized after this, though, that if the Ennin and the Balacazars were working together, as the evidence was pointing, it could be of some use to learn more about the slaver organization. Some time ago, Zavere had sent Agent Gold to begin his own investigation of the Slavers and Agent Gold had just recently reported learning of the hidden Ennin city beneath Ptolus. Through Zavere, Agent Gold was familiar with the party and likely had attempted to verify their identities when they first arrived in the hidden city, in an effort to join with them to investigate the organization further. In short, Agent Gold was already conveniently located in the Ennin base when Zavere informed him that the party was in trouble.
Satisfied with this, the party explained their current goal of tracking down the escaped Ennin Slave Lords and that they had reason to believe they were located at a Balacazar Safehouse on the coast. The party needed assistance in the form of any allies he could secure for them. After some thought, Zavere sent word to an unknown party that he believed would be very beneficial for them to make aquaintance with.
Soon afterward, Ezekiel, a resident of the Pale Tower arrived at Castle Shard. The party was impressed with his demeanor – calm, cool and confident. He seemed to have a calming effect upon them all – filling them with renewed vigor and determination. When told the party had tracked the Ennin down, Ezekiel offered to go immediately and deal with them himself or to wait and accompany the party if they so chose. Clearly, there was more to this man than would seem.
The party left immediately.
Under the cover of night, the party borrowed a pair of rowboats from the Docks and rowed out to the Hidden Grotto. As expected, they found the Water Dragon, the Ennin Slaveship anchored there.
Ezekiel offered to search the ship, while the party secured the sandbar, which presently seemed to be unoccupied. The boat, as well for that matter, seemed unoccupied also. Save for a few lit torches on the shore, around the rickety wooden stairway leading up to the iron door in the cave wall, all was quiet. Ezekiel slid back his hood, causing a golden halo of light to sear into existence above his head. He subtly tossed back his robe to draw a silver longsword from his side, as he stood, all in one motion. As his white robes flare slightly, the glint of glass or crystalline armor revealed there was, indeed, much more to Ezekiel than first suspected. To drive that point home, he leaped into the air, as a pair of spectral winds suddenly emerged from his back. In almost a single leap, he soared from the party’s small rowboat to land on the deck of the Water Dragon. The party, bolstered by this newfound ally, hastily rowed to shore, beaching their small vessels in their haste and zeal.
Sporadic sounds of the clash of weapons could be heard beneath the deck of the Water Dragon as the party confidently climbed the rickety wooden stairway on the shore, making their way towards the iron door. As they approached, they caught site of Ezekial returning to the top deck, only now he was dragging some form behind him. In another great leap and beat of his wings, Ezekiel landed at the foot of the stairs.
He was holding a man, clearly a Balacazar thug from his dress, by the scruff of his neck. Ezekiel casually tossed him to the ground. In his still calm voice he said to the party, “He said he wishes to speak with you,” as he sheathed his sword and pulled his white hood over his head again. In an instant the spectral wings dissipated, the golden halo faded.
The party questioned the thug, who revealed that Malkeen Balacazar was waiting within to speak with them. He had been sent to await the party’s arrival and to escort them to him.
The party was beside themselves. How could Malkeen have known they were coming? What would he be waiting for? Why would he want to speak with them? They all sensed another trap, fearing that Malkeen, his vampiric bodyguard Na’haras and all the Ennin were likely waiting for them now. Reasoning that Stallman Klim, being a mind flayer had likely maintained some sort of link with the party, it was likely he was able to track their movements, and know their intentions. They were happy, but they felt they had no choice. It would accomplish nothing to turn back at this point. “If we must face the Balacazars, I must inform you that I do not have permission to harm them,” Ezekiel broke the silence, “Their fate is not mine to choose.”
The Balacazar thug was shoved forward and ordered to open the door (Ian had tried to pick it just before, but was unsuccessful). Thug used a rather cryptic series of knocks, raps and kicks, signaling the pair of Balacazar thugs on the other side to unlock the door and allow them entry. There were now three Balacazar thugs to contend with.
The party was escorted through the damp, murky dungeons of the safehouse. They passed many side passages sealed with rusty iron portcullises. Maur noted on more than one occasion that the floors were cleverly disguised ramps slowly leading the party up. At last, they arrived at a long stairway leading up to street level.
The thugs escorted the party to a richly appointed room with wooden walls. A plush red rug covered the floor. On each wall was an ornately carved wooden door, bound in polished brass. The thugs opened one of the doors, revealing a small office like room. Fine books lined the walls. In the center of the room, seated at a fine mahogany desk topped with aged leather, was Malkeen Balacazar. As expected Na’haras stood ominously at his side.
“Friends! So nice to see you again!,” Malkeen greeted them, leaning back casually in his chair. “Come, let us converse.” He motioned to a group of chairs near his desk.
“If it’s all the same to you, we’d prefer to meet out here, instead of being in a cramped room,” Gideon said, scanning about, realizing that if there was a battle to come, it would be best to be in this room with multiple exits, than to be confined in Malkeen’s study.
“As you wish,” Malkeen replied, rising from his chair. “I don’t mind.” Malkeen moved into the anteroom with the party. Ne’haras uncrossed his arms from his chest, following his master silently.
“Where are the Ennin?” Gideon questioned MAlkeen as he walked up to them.
“Oh, that. Always down to business, I see,” Malkeen grinned slightly. “Never any time for pleasantries.”The party shifted about, unsure where the expected attack would come from, but certain one was imminent.
“They aren’t here, I’m afraid,” Malkeen said, glancing to each of them in turn. “And from what they have done to all of you, I’m rather surprised that you would be so eager to lay eyes on them again.” His words seemed designed to put the party off balance, give them a false sense of ease. While Malkeen may not be a skilled warrior, he was very adept at disarming his foes, all the same.
“We have unfinished business with them. Are you protecting them?” Gideon refused to be dissuaded.
“Well, in a manner of speaking, but not in the manner you suggest.” Malkeen, ever unwilling to answer a question in a straightforward manner, said cryptically.
At this, Malkeen moved to one side of the room, clearly making certain not to have his back against a wall. “So standoffish!” he sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know what it will take to convince you that I’m a friend. Let me see…”Malkeen made a mocking display of crossing his arms and raising a finger to his cheek, tapping it slightly, as if he was thinking earnestly, “I helped you with Linech Cran; I then rescued you from a life of slavery, and still you do not trust me. Such a pity.”
“So these Ennin friends of you…about them…” Gideon started.
Malkeen shot Gideon a cold glance, interrupting, "A funny thing…the word ‘friend’.
Gideon was unsure what to make of it. Malkeen’s temperament had gone from friendly, almost playful, to suddenly a dark, cold, even cruel personage in the blink of an eye. Talking with the man was like holding a snake. One never knew when it would bite. “Friendship should be something that is of mutual benefit, would you not say?” Malkeen asked no one in particular.
“I mean, should one call themselves your friend, you would expect them to be friendly, would you not?” Malkeen strutted about the room, glancing to the three guards that escorted the here, as well as to Maur, Feruch, Ian, Gideon and the allies they had brought with them. Barely noticeable, Malkeen never passed so much as a glance to Ezekiel. “And then in return, they expect your friendship. It is like…a good business relationship.” He stopped directly in front of Gideon, looking at him. “Do…you…not…agree?” he said slowly.
“Yes, I would,” answered Gideon. He was slightly unnerved with Malkeen’s approach, unsure where this was leading.
“As would I,” Malkeen said triumphantly, then suddenly dropping his voice to a near whisper, “and so would my father.”
It was the first time any of them had heard Malkeen reference his father, Menon Balacazar. Menon was the actual head of the family, but remained a very private, very mysterious head. He had not made a public appearance in many years, instead allowing Malkeen to be the public face of the family. It was generally believed that Malkeen executed the will of his father, but if Malkeen ever took his own initiative without his father’s knowledge, no one would ever dare to question it. It had been this way for so long that few even remembered what Menon looked like. Despite this, he remained the dominate, shadowy overlord of the Ptolus underworld and Malkeen was his mouthpiece.
Malkeen turned and walked back to his desk in the far room, leaning against it’s edge. Na’Haras stood beside the door, his pale lifeless eyes darting about, scanning each of them, noticing the slightest muscle flex, the tiniest hint of movement. He looked to Ezekiel, his eyes narrowing slightly with each pass. Ezekiel stood motionless, stoic and calm, his head bowed slightly.
“It is a rare thing, but in this father and I disagree. The Ennin have served us well for some time. But…” Malkeen paused as if he was deciding how much he wished to tell the party. “My nephew is a spoiled little mongrel and I care little for him. Despite this, he is my father’s only grandson, perhaps the only one he will ever have, and well…Menon is ever the doting grandfather.” These last words seemed to ooze from Malkeen with a taint of disgust.
“The Ennin aren’t here. They have been moved to a number of safehouses for the next few days, before they are reunited at some location outside of the city to try to reestablish their organization. Father has insisted that I show you the precise locations of each of these safehouses”. With this, Malkeen reached towards Na’Haras who instantly produced a folded piece of parchment from his tunic.
“This map will show you where to find each of them. Keeta and Theg are in the basement of a tavern behind The Onyx Spider off Tavern Row. Edralve and Lamonstein are at Droskar’s Cruicible, an old ruined imperial guardhouse a half days ride north of the city. Millerjoi is at St. Valien’s Cathedral posing as a deacon…Brother Adfaren, he is called. They will not be expecting you.”
The party was in total shock. Never had they expected this encounter to turn out this way, “You are just handing them over to us?” Gideon finally found the words.
“Oh no, of course not,” Malkeen grinned. “You have my father to thank for this. He was none too pleased to learn that those responsible for saving his precious grandson from not only being murdered, but kidnapped as well, were treated so horribly by our so-called Ennin friends.”
“My father understands that friendship must go two ways, just as you do.” Malkeen’s eyes seemed to flicker, “You proved your worth, and for that he feels indebted. And he is one to pay his debts quickly. He owes you for your success and he owes the Ennin for their failures.”
At last it all became clear. When dealing with the Balacazars, the party had learned that they never gave anything without expecting something in return, and not always obviously so. In this case, they were giving the party exactly what they wanted…the Ennin’s heads served on the proverbial platter. But in return, the party was again finding themselves in the service of the most powerful crime family in the city, doing their dirty work and tying off a loose end – of course the Balacazars would take immediate steps to silence the Ennin leadership for their terrible failure of losing control of the Hidden City and the many valuable slaves held there. They had outlived their usefulness.
“WIth that, I have one question for you,” Malkeen said quickly. Here it comes the twist… “Did you happen to find anything on those Killraven assassins that came to kill my nephew?” At this, he looked directly at Maur, as if he knew full well what they had found and who would have probably taken the most interest in it.
“Yeah, I found something,” Maur said gruffly, the first time he had spoken during the entire meeting with Malkeen.
“Excellent! I had hoped so.” Malkeen said, seemingly ecstatic. “That had been meant as your reward for your services, but alas, it was stolen earlier that evening. We can discuss it more once the present business has been taken care of.”
It seemed odd to Maur that Malkeen would mention this. How could one take the logical leap to conclude that the Killraven assassins may have been responsible for also stealing something of some value from the Balacazars on the same day, and what made him think that the assassins might have it on their persons? It seemed something more was at play here. Maur chose to take the bait and see how it played out.
“It was a dwarven key, yes. What does it go to?” Maur asked.
“Oh, it leads you to a certain tower, one deep underground. An old tower, I’d say, very, very old…ancient, perhaps.” Malkeen said slyly.
“A tower you say?” Maur grunted, “I had hoped it went to something else.” In the back of his mind he wondered, no, hoped, it was one of the keys to Dwarvenhearth, or at least would somehow lead him there.
“Some keys unlock many things,” Malkeen said shrewdly.
“You are right, we should talk more of this later,” Maur said.
“Look for me at the Onyx Spider, when you have time,” Malkeen replied. “Now, with all that out of the way, you are welcome to leave as you came, or, as friends, you are welcome to leave through the front door.”
“We would like to leave through the front door, please,” Gideon said, “Friends that we are.” Gideon was able to read between the lines of this entire conversation. To the Balacazars, a friend was someone they could use, who had value to further their own goals. A commodity, if you will. The Ennin had once been friends and once they had outlived their usefulness, they were being sold out and set up. Gideon knew full well that he had no desire to be counted among the ‘friends’ of the Balacazars. He had been in many dangerous places in his short career as a delver, but never one as dangerous as he found himself now – a friend by the Balacazars.
The party was escorted through the safehouse, which appeared to be rich townhouse. At last, the Balacazar guards led them through the front door and to the street outside. It was late in the night, but they found themselves on Cloud Way on the edge of Midtown. ‘Now we know where this place is,’ thought Gideon as they silently made their way to Tavern Row.