We last recounted ourselves as we were questioning Malik. This continued, but little more could be gleaned from this discussion. He maintained his innocence and was unable to provide any actionable information as to who may be responsible for the predicament he found himself in. Lucian did his best to provide us with a lead towards the culprit by putting himself amongst the crowd, intending for his trained senses and skills to hone in on anything untoward. This, too, produced nothing of use.
As we ate our dinner with Katerina once again that evening, with the events of the day the hot topic and with her as the only other Khadoran aboard, I had hoped she could shed a little light on the situation. Unfortunately she claims not to follow political issues to do with her homeland, and the deceased noble did not have enough of a reputation for her to know any enemies he might have made. She appeared to reach the same conclusion as the other passengers, that which the real culprit had no doubt intended.
At least one thing was achieved before the sun rose the next morning. When Zakhar did not return to his room that evening, it was safe to assume that he had aided Katerina in moistening her sheets. Given the lady did not appear to hide such desires, there was little, if any, challenge—I’d liken it to holding a net over the water when a sizeable fish jumps in; it’s a nice catch, but it doesn’t make you a fisherman.
We pressed the Captain further on the following day in an attempt to determine whether the target of our investigation was one of the crew, considering the privileged access they had to information such as vacant rooms. His crew was said to be solid, though the Purser, Gerhart, was more closely tied to the wait staff. Pressing Gerhart provided nothing more than insolence and callous disregard for the lives of others, specifically the deceased. A sentiment sadly shared by the majority of passengers.
When the King Malfast docked at Mercir, Diego was awaiting our arrival where he was introduced to the Captain and briefly filled in on the events and chance meeting with the infernal, indirectly caused by him. It may have been the relief found in our feet touching land again, but we allowed the Captain to find his own way to the temple and present himself for atonement. Before departing, he did hand us a letter of introduction to Elizabeth Becker who he advised has the ear of the Duke.
Upon our arrival at the temple, Diego introduced us to Prelate Califfo Sylvie. Mathias immediately filled him in on the dark events which transpired on the boat, in intricate detail. Surely, had he known, the Prelate would’ve been thankful he was spared at least some imagery, such as the number of strokes it took Zakhar to satisfy Katerina.
After a brief repast of oats and water… Hang on, allow me to digress for a moment here. Seriously, I mention this because it’s worth noting that the church clearly spares no expense on those who risk their lives for the betterment of the world. Could there perhaps be a bit of treacle or maybe some milk from one of the numerous animals that would’ve turned their noses up at the very same meal? We recently caught a person who made a deal with an infernal. I’m sure he could be sent out to milk the appropriate animal/s to fuel the fire in our bellies to fight the infernals as part of his atonement. Just a thought.
Anyway, after eating our sumptuous, cold, oat soup, visiting the army barracks to investigate the owner of the sword found at Asc. Shevann’s Abbey was first on our agenda. Captain Lynch tells us the sword is one of only seven that were made and given to the dukes. He intends to narrow down the owners of these swords and advise us when he has something to report.
Diego reveals, as we depart the barracks, that whilst we were aboard infernalist vessel King Malfast, he had been investigating cultists who call themselves the Sons of the Damned. Rumour has it they are led by an individual named ‘Nightshade’—some fear even the name, while others give it no more thought than they would ‘boogeyman’. Whether or not this ‘Nightshade’ exists, it would seem the infernalist paraphernalia aboard the King Malfast was intended to find its way to the Sons. It is known that they reside in what the citizens of Mercir call “The Maze”, named after the labyrinth-like alleys running through this shantytown found in the centre of the city. As one would expect, The Maze harbours many of the city’s criminals.
It is most unfortunate that Diego wasn’t able to learn anything beyond the presence of cultists in the ghetto of Mercir, where we expected the chalice to reside. Either further information is truly difficult to come by or this is another patented ‘training exercise’.
That evening, what I expect will not be the last of our visits into The Maze, produces nothing other than its inhabitants clearly avoiding us and vacating the streets, with the exception of one man, identifying himself as “nobody”, poking his head out from his almost completely unhinged door to advise us to leave this part of town. Hardly unexpected, but there was nothing at all to be gained from this excursion.
Later, upon our return to the temple, the Prelate informed us that the son of an advisor to the Duke has gone missing. With little else to go on at this point, we visited the city’s watch command to offer our assistance the next morning. Though the watch commander refused our help, he did mention he had been told of our self-guided tour of The Maze and that perhaps we continue our search into what we know best: fanciful and imagined enemies (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the jist of it). As I was asking him who it was that reported the details of our visit into The Maze, as no member of the watch dares set foot in there, we were promptly removed by the guards so they could resume “real work”.
It would’ve been nice to perhaps have someone in The Maze to at least give us somewhere to start, but surely Diego’s groan of disapproval to the question didn’t help the situation. I hope to one day live up to the standard set by his discovery that there is a criminal underbelly in the poverty-stricken part of town where those charged with policing the city dare not tread. No doubt it will be spoken about for years to come.
Shunned by another watch commander so ignorant of the crime going under his very nose and unable to police even the well-guarded homes of the nobles, where one of them is now missing, we head to an inn just outside The Maze. Numerous patrons abandon the place soon after our arrival. With only the barkeep and a couple of others at the back of the room remaining, we order some ale, or so it was called, and see what the barkeep is willing to share to start. All questions regarding Nightshade and the Sons of the Damned were expressed as off-limits. No number of gold crowns could change his mind, such was the fear for his life.
One of the remaining patrons at the back piped up, saying he’d take a gold crown for some info on the Sons. Refusing to talk before one gold rested in his greasy palm was not a good indicator. Diego gave the man what he asked for, but certainly didn’t get his money’s worth. The grifter’s hand held three gold crowns after telling us little more than that which we already knew before I grew fed up, voiced my opinion on the matter and left. I don’t know what happened after and I didn’t care to ask. No new information has since been acted upon, so I assume little else came of it.
What followed was by far the most fruitful event of the day. Mask shopping. At least we were prepared for the upcoming Masquerade, if nothing else. No judging—the day’s efforts were fueled by oats and cold water. You don’t run a labour jack on peaty soil.
The Prelate presented a message from Captain Lynch upon our return to the temple in the afternoon. Returning to the barracks, the Captain gave us three names:
Gaston Borne – disgraced as a deserter
Rowe Villias – sole survivor of Khadoran assault
Samuel Talbot – resigned his commission and joined the Church of Morrow
Further discussion reveals that Rowe Villias is the son of a noble. His father was the chief engineer of the new cannon to be unveiled, but he was sacked around the same time of the events at Asc. Shevann’s Abbey. Ashamed, he abandoned his home and had not been seen since. Rowe is now living the life of a dilettante.
Early that evening saw us investigating the residence of Rowe’s father, as we were in the area. It appeared vacant and the long grass and leaf litter showed that not even groundskeepers were retained in his absence. The front gates were chained and locked shut, and although this is a minor obstacle in itself, the area is well-lit and frequently patrolled. A more dimly-lit area to the side of the property seemed to be the best point of access, although that would only be true if some didn’t find climbing a fence so difficult.
Only Zakhar made it over before Diego was spotted spinning and sliding on the bars as if they were coated in grease. Diego told a ridiculous tale that he was merely performing a lesser-known ritual of Morrow. One mustn’t expect too much from a person who pays handsomely for information they already have, may Morrow bless him. Along with the others who tried in vain to help him explain, he was escorted back to watch command.
Somehow my presence went unnoticed, so I soon joined Zakhar on the other side of the fence to enter and explore the building. There were no signs of occupancy, just cloth-covered furniture and a fine layer of dust over everything.
Disappointed, we left and checked at the watch command, looking for the others. Not knowing where they went, we returned to the temple where Zakhar arranged a missive to be sent the following morning, arranging to meet Elizabeth Becker. The acolyte whose sleep he disturbed wasn’t too impressed, but surely some cold oat-soup the next morning would’ve made up for it. Perhaps the acolyte would be comforted later, knowing that the best was yet to come the next day. If only we’d seen Ms Becker earlier, things might’ve turned out differently.
We went to the house of Rowe Villius, after finding out where he lived. Despite the urgency of the matter expressed to the Major Domo, we were told it would be some time before we would be able to see Master Villius. The expected five day wait to see Rowe must’ve been what sent two of us over the edge. Mathias clocked the Major Domo over the head, Diego followed this up by knocking him down by barging him with his shoulder and then entering the house. Lucian shook his head as he walked in after them.
The voices that bellowed out immediately following their entry revealed that both Rowe and his father were standing right there the whole time. Heated words were exchanged, as one would imagine, but after a brief time the sword we sought to examine was verified as genuine. Rowe said his party was besieged by Khadorans, but they were overwhelmed by the unexpected arrival of a Destroyer. He was the only one to escape with his life and he apparently knew nothing of the dark events that followed.
Gaston Borne was next on the list to see. A known drunkard, he was easy to find at his usual watering hole, The Blind Pig. There is no mistaking him with half his face ravaged by acid or flame, destroying half his vision. Visible only slightly above his collar are long scars, evidently caused by that of a whip. Swaying slightly under the effects of many drinks, he sits at a table, hunched over.
Speaking with the man, he claims dark magic was responsible for what befell his party. He recalls seeing a woman in smoking armour. Soon after seeing her, he describes feeling overcome with the urge to flee, lasting only a few moments, but long enough for his legs to carry him away without even a thought. After succumbing to the surge and abandoning his fellow soldiers, he was charged with desertion and flogged.
Gaston is unable to present his sword, having sold it days ago for booze money. Nor is he able to recall who he sold it to or what they looked like. Given the state he is in, it is not at all surprising. We leave him with some booze and some money to do with as he pleases. The poor man has little else.
As the sun begins to set, we return to the temple. A missive from Elizabeth Becker awaits our arrival, arranging for us to meet at her place tomorrow morning.
The Prelate is asked about the one man left on our list of three, Samuel Talbot. We are told he is in the midst of a three-day ritual and is not to be interrupted. Samuel has seemingly dedicated himself to the church after bearing witness to and the cause of many atrocities on the battlefield. With two out of three names crossed off the list, it seems the man we seek is under our very noses and, despite all manner of protest (to put it nicely), Prelate Califfo has declared him off-limits. Managing to negotiate the inspection of Samuels belongings, his quarters are essentially empty. We are told he gave the majority of his worldly possessions away, including his armour and the sword we seek, which were given to his parents. Arrangements are made for the sword to be inspected.
Another anti-climactic day’s end led straight into a lecture from Prelate, who was unimpressed by what was amongst his mail today. No doubt exacerbated by the insistence on disturbing a ritual in-progress, the Prelate spat from his ferocious, red face how he felt about our recent behaviour. It should go without saying that making a scene with and lying to the city watch, beating up a butler and breaking into the home of and threatening a noble family, is decidedly poor form. We were a beaver-hair away from being forbidden to attend the meeting with Elizabeth Becker, for fear of further embarrassment.
This was as good a night as any to turn-in early.
Back into the area of Mercir where the spin-and-slide-secret-ceremony started our slipshod stopgap, we met Elizabeth Becker in the morning. Presented with much delightful food, drink and cakes as refreshments, Diego was the only one who did not partake. This did not prevent him from relentlessly flirting with the woman after insulting her by refusing her hospitality. He wasn’t to know she was another middle aged woman that looks pretty good for her age—or he knew and didn’t want to eat within thirty minutes of diving in for a swim in Lake Becker.
After exchanging pleasantries and discussing recent events (including the mischief we had gotten up to), the topics moved on to things more specific and serious. To start, Elizabeth advises the Dukes cousin, Wulfric, had been made new chief of the cannon project. She voices disapproval of such nepotism.
Unapologetically fond of gossip, Elizabeth also tells us that on the prior evening Madeleine Eastwick, daughter of a prominent merchant, had been kidnapped. The fuller extent of the circumstances were that Madeleine appeared to have been taken from her room where, amongst a pool of blood, her paramour was found murdered. It was said that Madeleine was known to have flexible morals. She was also engaged to be married to the son of someone of importance. The Duke is most upset with this being the second recent disappearance. There is also a reward on offer.
At the conclusion of our meeting, we return to the temple where the Prelate tells us that after his examination of Samuel Talbot’s sword, it appears to be legit.
To summarise: we took the scenic route on our way back to square one and have now reached our destination.