4707 Lamashan 31, Starday, Evening
Aldern Foxglove’s Townhouse
Griz stood with an apple in his left hand, a glass of water in his right, and his mouth hanging open as “Aldern’s” face writhed and transformed before him. Although he was somewhat suspicious that the person before him, as well as his two companions, weren’t who they claimed to be, he wasn’t prepared for the horrible reality of what they really were – shape-changers. And, having spent the afternoon in conversation with the shape-changers had put him at ease – even if these were not bona fide, he didn’t expect to be attacked.
But, the truth was that his life, as well as that of Naeric and Faheem, were being threatened. The faces of “Aldern”, “Iesha”, and “Julith” writhed unsettlingly, the features melted to an amorphous crimson mass. Sharp nails grew from their hands. Before they could act to defend themselves, Naeric and Griz were grappled by Julith and Iesha. The flesh of the creatures holding them felt strange – tough, almost scaly, yet mutable and pliant. The attackers were strong, and the heroes were unable to slip from the tight grip. Worse still, where they were being gripped, something burrowed into their skin causing mists of blood to spray.
Aldern attempted to take hold of Faheem in a similar way, but the elf slipped past the imposter. Using his druidic magic to gather and freeze the moisture in the air, he directed a blast of ice shards at Aldern and Iesha. Distracted by her wounds, Iesha let loose her grip on Griz. He darted for the back door, but as he opened it, a crimson leathery hand slammed it back shut. Aldern smiled tauntingly as he reached for the halfling, “Not so fast, Angel.” As Griz struggled in Aldern’s grasp, he saw Naeric keel over from the loss of blood. “Faheem, flee!” he called.
“Ho!” said Faheem, as the other two closed in on him, “You can’t suck blood from a fart, can you?” Calling on primal forces of nature, he transformed into an air elemental, a being composed entirely of living wind. He flew past the shape-changers and out an open window, scanning the streets for Mordecai and Fuego.
Naeric and Griz, weakened by the loss of blood, succumbed to their wounds. As blackness descended, they saw three figures enter the room, their faces misshapen patchworks, each with a bulbous eye and a horrifying grimace.
The Streets of Naos
After hours of searching, Faheem finally found Fuego and Mordecai. He flew near them, as Mordecai said, “I’m not looking forward to telling Griz I let that guy get killed.”
“I feel you, my friend,” thought Faheem, still in the form of an air elemental. He looked at the food and drink they were carrying as they ate, walked, and talked. “I think I will have some fun with these two.” He flew between and around them, causing gusts of wind to blow.
Fuego wrapped his cloak around him. “The wind here is strong. This reminds me of home, on the Storval Plateau. Have you ever been there?”
“Yeah, I have," answered Mordecai, "but there wasn’t much for a band of entertainers.” The wind picked up more, splashing his coffee on his light tunic. “Damn this wind!”
Faheem transformed and approached his friends. Mordecai noticed the look of mischief on his face, and playfully punched him on the arm. “Faheem, it was you, I should have known!”
Fuego slapped the elf on the back. “How did it go with Foxglove? We were just heading back to meet up with you and the others. We learned some very interesting details,” Fuego puffed his chest proudly, “and it looks like I am going to be invited to become a Brother of the Seven.”
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot. It was a disaster! Naeric and Griz are dead. Or maybe taken prisoner. Foxglove ambushed us, with his wife and Julith!”
“OH NO HE DIDN’T!” Fuego roared. “When I get my hands on his aristocratic neck I’m going to break it. Let’s go!”
“Hold on!” Mordecai put his hand on Fuego’s arm. “We make haste, but stay calm. Faheem, what exactly happened?” As they briskly walked towards Foxglove’s townhouse, Faheem relayed the entire afternoon, and they described what they had encountered to Faheem.
“Their faces were writhing? Where they dark crimson? Kind of scaly?” Faheem answered affirmatively. “Sounds like Ugothol. There’s a bunch living in the swamps to the east of here. They get hired as assassins and spies. This is not good. They can perfectly mimic anyone, and there’s no way to tell them from the real deal.”
“It looked like they were draining their blood. They grabbed Griz and Naeric, and their bodies were almost melding into them, and little sprays of blood were misting out.”
“Yeah, that’s how they feed.”
They stopped as they arrived at Foxglove’s street. A sizeable crowd had formed; apparently they were curious onlookers to the earlier scene of violence. The elf, tiefling, and Shoanti were attracting attention, so they backed away and discussed options.
“I can change into a fart again,” offered Faheem.
Mordecai cast invisibility. “That won’t be necessary, thanks anyway," he said. "I’ll go eavesdrop and stay in communication by whispering through my message spell. Stay here, and don’t draw attention to yourselves.”
Mordecai made his way through the crowd, occasionally jostling someone or making a slight sound, but never enough to raise any notice of his presence. He approached the townhouse through the hedge gate. In the small garden, the Ugothol pretending to be Aldern Foxglove, Iesha Foxglove, and Julith were speaking with officers from Arvensoar. They were each recounting a version of earlier events far different from that which Faheem had relayed. Mordecai stepped further into the garden to hear what was being said.
“I know the halfling from when I visited Sandpoint, back in Rova,” stated Foxglove, “and we developed something of a friendship. Really, it was more that I agreed to be a mentor to Finton. But, it seems he has allowed it to grow into something of a violent obsession. … Well, yes, I have referred to him as ‘my angel’, in playful affection. He has been like a younger brother or a nephew to me. Why, I even sent gifts for he and his friends to help them in their adventures. … Oh, you didn’t hear about the incident at the Swallowtail Festival? Well, the goblins scaled the town walls and attacked, and I rallied Finton and his friends to provide assistance to the defense of the town. The town guard is less than professional there. Finton and I fought back to back, he was very brave. I dare say that it was my tutelage which gave a start to his career as an adventurer. But, it’s a shame, because apparently I was mistaken. Yes, apparently he has turned instead to banditry. … Yes, well, today he was here with his friends, paying a visit to my lovely wife and our ward Julith. When I arrived they had already been here awhile. We spoke for a little bit … As we were preparing for dinner,” Aldern put his head down and put his hand to his face, “… well, I am only glad that I was able to protect Iesha and to Julith from harm.”
Julith and Iesha, for their parts, played perhaps the greatest role. Sobbing and hysterical, it was difficult to understand them. Yet, all three told the same basic story – a gang of bandits led by Griz charmed their way into the townhouse and were held off only by Aldern’s combat expertise.
“Please,” prayed Mordecai, to every god and goddess he could think of, “do not let Naeric and Griz have been killed.” His prayer seemed to have been heard and answered, but not in a manner that he would have hoped for. Loud footsteps from inside the townhouse announced a heavily armored presence which exited the townhouse and entered the garden to speak with Arvensoar officers and the “victims”. The imposing form was dressed in full plate armor, with a spiked helm and an imposing skull on the breast. “Crap, a hellknight,” Mordecai thought. “Macatus?” But it was impossible to tell with the armor on. And, when the figure spoke through the helm, the voice was distorted, by design, to make the figure more intimidating.
The hellknight addressed the others. “Officers, the suspects have been taken into custody and will be brought before a magistrate for arraignment tomorrow.”
“Good news,” Mordecai whispered to Fuego and Faheem. “They’re alive. But they’ve been arrested.”
“Foxglove has alleged,” the hellknight continued, "that another companion of the suspects, an elf druid, was also an assailant. He should be arrested. He is a druid of considerable skill and should be considered dangerous. I am also aware of two other companions, a tiefling bard and a Shoanti, who are persons of interest and who should be questioned.”
“… and there’s bad news. The guard is looking for us. You especially Faheem. Make your way to the Shadow. I’ll meet you at shrine of Sarenrae after I check the inside of the house.” Mordecai quickly made his way inside. The house was illuminated by various magical devices of good quality. The kitchen was trashed. Furniture was damaged, shattered glass was scattered throughout, and large pools of water stood on the floor. Mordecai examined the blood sprays on the wall, and noted that these were consistent with blood spraying as a light mist, not with combat as Foxglove had described. “Hopefully a magistrate will consider this evidence,” he thought. In the upstairs bedroom, he spotted a mantle over the fireplace with the motif of two lion’s heads. It itched a memory but he was unable to recall the significance in the short time he had before his invisibility spell wore out. He made a mental note to return later, and made his way down to the Shadow.
Faheem led Mordecai and Fuego through the Shadow to the shrine of Sarenrae that he and Naeric had visited the day.
“How do you know your way around here so well, Faheem?”, asked Fuego.
“I just follow my nose,” replied Faheem, somewhat cryptically. “Here we are." He approached the shrine, and called out in a loud voice, "Ho, Zadendi!”
Mordecai nudged Fuego and pointed to a light that was shining above the shrine – a miniature sun burning lightly (it was night after all). “There’s Faheem’s nose, I think.”
Zadendi, the young red haired priestess of Sarenrae stepped out of the small shrine. Her raiment was somewhat disheveled, as if she had been sleeping. After a moment, she recognized Faheem, and said quickly, “Come in! I’m sorry, I’m terrible with names, can you remind me? Right, Faheem. You can’t be wandering down here! A Sczarni of some influence was murdered tonight. He was found with something carved on his chest. Word on the street is that an elf druid had a medallion with that same symbol. One of the bosses has offered a sizeable sum for anyone who can find you, he wants to have a ‘meeting’ with you."
“Nobody’s seen that symbol," stated Mordecai, uncertainly. He turned to Faheem, "Why are they looking for you. You didn’t show it to anybody?”
“Oh, I may have flashed it once or twice yesterday at the Friendly Merchant. I was trying to be a cool kid in town.”
Mordecai looked aghast, “Really?”
“My bad,” Faheem shrugged as he walked in. “Zadendi, can we stay here tonight?” He explained about the incident in Naos, emphasizing the danger that Naeric was facing. Zadendi didn’t have any knowledge or influence to assist them with their troubles in Naos, but agreed that they could stay at the shrine. She laid out mats and a simple meal.
As they ate, she shared with them a story of how Sarenrae befriended the lizards by warming the rocks for them. She then asked for the others to share stories with her. Faheem told of how he lost faith after seeing so many of his people killed in the City of Emerald Rains. Mordecai told an endearing story of how his adopted father, the leader of a troop of performers, gave his father’s lute to Mordecai because he had no children, but the lute was lost, and now Mordecai was looking for it. Fuego shared stories from his travels as a fur trader throughout Varisia, and although he was always on the hunt for profits, he never stooped to the unfair tactics of the bigger consortium.
4707 Neth 1, Sunday morning
Night passed, and the miniature sun brightened as the real sun rose. Through the fog rolling in from the ocean it was still possible to see the giant pillars of the Irespan reaching above as well as the old, leaning clock-tower. Morning preparations finished, the trio bid farewell to Zadendi and headed back to Naos. They had determined to try to meet with Lord Deverin, as they could think of no other ally with influence who might be able to help them.
At Lord Deverin’s manor, a servant opened the door. Recognizing them from their previous visit, he said, “Welcome gentlemen. Lord Deverin is in a meeting now. Please enter.”
Mordecai thanked the servant and implored, “Please let Lord Deverin know that we need to speak with him, but please be discreet. Please, this is urgent.”
The servant returned shortly, “Lord Deverin will meet with you now. Please follow me.” He guided them through the halls to a set of double doors. He placed his hands on the handles, and took a deep breath. “As I mentioned, Lord Deverin is in a meeting with a hellknight. Dreadful fellow. He certainly gives me the chills.”
Mordecai moved quickly forward and reached out to stop the servant from opening the door. “Hold on!” he whispered. “Does the hellknight know we’re here?”
“I discretely advised Lord Deverin you were here, per your request, and he instructed me that you were to join the meeting. I am not privy to what he may have advised the hellknight of after I was dismissed.”
“Crap.” Fuego bit his lip, and looked at the others, then back to the servant. “We can’t go in there. Can you ask Lord Deverin to come out?”
The servant thought a moment. “This is very unorthodox, Lord Deverin told me specifically… please wait here.” The servant entered the room once more. Mordecai heard him whisper something, then heard Lord Deverin speak with a weak voice. “A moment please, Malilictor. I believe you will be interested in speaking with the guests that have arrived. They seem perhaps, unnerved with the thought of meeting you.”
“I understand perfectly,” said the familiar voice of Malilictor Macatus, the hellknight that they had met the previous day.
Lord Deverin came into the hallway. He looked a shadow of himself from when they first met him just two day previously. He leaned on his servant and was wheezing for breath.
“Lord Deverin, I am sorry that your illness seems to be taking a turn for the worse,” Mordecai recalled that Lord Deverin had been dealing for some time with illness that no cleric of the many deities in Magnimar had been able to cure. “We need your counsel.”
“I imagine so. Gentlemen, I am pleased to see you. I have been meeting with Malilictor Macatus, who has given me disturbing news. I hope you can shed some light on this. Won’t you please join us?”
“Lord Deverin,” beseeched Mordecai, “please, we can’t meet with him. We’ve come here for your counsel, but we can’t meet with him.”
“I understand your hesitation. A meeting with a hellknight, especially in these circumstances, is not a pleasant proposition. However, the Malilictor is only seeking to investigate and uncover the truth of matters. I have known you only shortly, but I consider myself a reasonable judge of character. My niece’s reports that Griz is an individual of the highest integrity rings true to me, from my interactions with him. I give little credence to the accusations that are levied against Griz. I counsel you to explain your position, and to do so here and now.”
“I would prefer to deal without him, I believe he has ill judgments towards the tiefling race. I imagine towards Shoanti as well. And, as for Faheem, he is a wanted man.”
“I see. Well, Faheem has been accused of a serious crime. However, I believe Macatus is a fair man. Speak truthfully to him. He will listen and consider what you say.”
“We don’t want to meet with him, we would rather just present our case directly to the magistrate.”
“Again, I counsel you to meet with Macatus and present whatever evidence you have to him. It will be Macatus and the officers of the Arvensoar presenting evidence at the arraignment of your friends. As civilians you will not be involved in those proceedings.”
Mordecai, Faheem, and Fuego had a brief debate on whether or not to put their trust in the law “We have alibis,” said Fuego.
“Alibis are not the issue. Faheem will likely be arrested.”
“We’ll see about that. I can always turn into a fart and fly away.”
“What other choice do we have?” asked Fuego, making some tactical considerations. “This isn’t Sandpoint. The Arvensoar is a fortress!”
Lord Deverin spoke up, “Again, I counsel you to meet with Macatus.” Wheels within wheels were spinning in Magnimar, and who knew them better than Lord Deverin? Reluctantly, they agreed.
Lord Deverin followed them into a conference room. Malilictor Macatus sat on one side of a long table. His spiked helmet rested on a pad on the table, next to a pot of tea and a tray of fruit. Through the window lower Magnimar was visible. Macatus stood when they entered, and one of his eyebrows raised as he looked at the three heroes.
“I said we would speak again, tiefling. I hope you and the Shoanti are not involved in this crime. You, elf, are now in my custody. If you resist, I will strike you down. You will be brought before a magistrate to be arraigned along with the co-accused. If it is determined that there is sufficient evidence for you to face trial, you will spend time in the Hells, the prison below Magnimar. But first, please sit. I have some questions.”