Advent of the Fallen

Chapter 1: Crypt of Shadows, Session 2

The Disquiet Night

On this fifteenth eve of Uktar, our heroes find their rest. Rescuing the dragonborn Asharan from his pursuers was no easy feat, for the weary band of travelers that has found itself thrown into one another’s arms by some game of fate are neither veterans of war nor mighty mages nor the chosen ones of some special destiny – at least not yet – and the enemies they fought were versed in many skills, though wearied by their travels in pursuit of their draconic quarry. And so, with the help of the dear innkeeper Ertha our heroes have found their reward – the solitude and safety of the little den that is the Blazon inn, with free board for the night.

Nearest the site of their battle, which has only been partially repaired from its disarray the dwarven cleric of coarse behavior and good intent and the selfish thief known as Lilith make their rest together, drawn towards one another as friends by the heat of battle. They share the room below, rested near the far end of the tavern’s first floor, with a descending staircase leading towards it. There, Ruthenn and Lilith discuss the previous battle quietly, as the elder Ruthenn attempts to find some sleep and Lilith counts, from the corner of her eye, how many coins can be found in the priestess’ purse, unaware that Ruthenn is keenly aware of her behavior.

Directly above the pair lies the room of the sun elf Velthyrian Cormyth, who came to the west with Ruthenn, drawn into a partnership with her due to reasons both prefer to keep to themselves. He does not sleep, for as one of the eladrin, his body does not require it. Rather, he rests comfortably on the floor, cross-legged, deep in what those not of the fair folk known as “trancing,” a restive state which preserves the mage’s basic awareness of his immediate surroundings while still providing him the same comfort and relief that sleeping would for other races. However, beyond the range of his door, he remains as unaware as those sleeping restfully and his stupor is made greater by the volume of ale he has consumed throughout the night.

Two doors over, the tiefling warlock sleeps, though not soundly. Disturbed by visions of flame and misery, Felix Mazarom is haunted on this night of many by nightmares he cannot dispel. Tossing and turning, this man who many would fear in the waking world finds himself trapped in a recurring horror he cannot escape from. What causes these visions only Felix, and perhaps not even he, knows, be they traumatic memories of a best forgotten past or a dark glimmer of that which is yet to come or perhaps no more than the result of a mind taxed by guilt, remorse, and overwork. Whatever their cause, they give the tiefling little relief.

Beside the warlock’s room lies that of our last hero, the wood elf Olmas Wingbringer. Though neither particularly worried nor sanguine, Olmas is on edge and finds himself unable to sleep. A man who has seen several brawls in his lifetime, Olmas nonetheless finds this most recent encounter disturbing for reasons he cannot quite explain. A ranger by trade and with a touch of the druid’s teachings upon him as well, Olmas’ instincts are unnaturally accurate. Whatever the cause of the dragonborn’s distress, he knows it is more significant than the call for help of a random stranger.

For some time, the ranger dwelt in the village of Deadsnows and he was here when the dragonborn and his entourage first passed through. Though unfamiliar with them personally, Olmas is aware of what occurred during their brief visit and how they soon departed for the mountains across the valley to the north. He knows also that there have been murmurings and strange incidents centered around those mountains for the past year, events Olmas presumes may have something to do with Asharan’s mistress. For this, and other reasons, Olmas, although he has enjoyed the brief decade – for in an elf’s eyes a decade is as a year for the younger races – that he has spent in Deadsnows’ embrace feels that it is time that he began to wander on elsewhere.

Laying out his maps and charts on to the desk in front of him, Olmas begins to plot the morrow’s journey.

So it is on this late night, as the day slips from the fifteenth of Uktar and into the sixteenth, that the Blazon seems at rest. But as so many things in the Realms are, this is but a facade and beneath this seeming calm, there is a deep disquiet, for the agents of Asharan’s pursuers were not without allies, friends who would, if required, spring to avenge their comrade’s demise.

Snow drifts gently to the ground of Deadsnows, covering it in a deep sheet. Hours pass, and the clouds overhead begin to pass on. In their place, a sea of stars twinkles overhead, while beneath, gentle footsteps approach the site of yesterday’s battle, with ill intent in mind, so quiet that not a soul in the town is aware of their presence.

And so this gentle eve becomes a night of violence.

A Knife in the Dark

Gently, the assassin step close to the door and, silently, pick its lock, unlatching it so that they may step inside. But quiet as they are, the intruders are neither invisible nor infallible, and their errors soon give away their nature.

In his room, the keen-hearing Olmas is roused from his work by a loud creak, brought on by the assassins’ use of the Blazon’s aging door. A small gust of wind sweeps inside, depositing gentle snowflakes on to the floor of the inn before the intruders slip inside and quickly shut the door. But it is too late for them to avoid notice. Already, they have alerted the ranger to the danger. Slowly, Olmas reaches for his longsword and bow, slinging the latter around his shoulder with a quiver and sheathing the latter. Gently, he pulls back the door to his room, creeping on to the walkway to get a better glimpse of who has intruded the sanctity of Ertha’s home.

Below, Lilith too hears something, even over her chatter. Cautiously, she alerts her companion Ruthenn to the disturbance. Immediately, both women reach for their arms, trying to dress themselves for battle as quietly as they can. As she reaches for her chainmail, Ruthenn stretches her legs and tries to slip inside. In the process, however, she knocks aside her warhammer, which falls to the floor with a loud clang.

Outside, the intruders are immediately alerted to Ruthenn, turning their attention away just in the nick of time from the balcony on to which Olmas is emerging. As the intruders turn their attention slowly towards the room where the dwarf and thief make their residence Olmas creeps out from his door and takes a gaze down on the assassins. Counting them out, he spots six: four humans, one halfling, and one dwarf. Three of the humans, large men wearing leather armor, appear little more than hired thugs – but the other three gather Olmas’ notice, marked by dark, purplish robes similar to those worn by the rogues who attacked Asharan earlier. In particular, Olmas’ eyes are drawn towards a thin human man, with olive skin and brown eyes. Beneath his hood Olmas can spot what appears to be a wide and complex pattern of tattoos, whose meaning the elf can only guess at.

“Hey, sir, I think I heard something from that away!” says the dwarf, a bit louder than might be considered wise for one attempting to remain undetected.

“You fool!” rasps the tattooed human, raising the wooden staff he holds in his left hand with angry intent, swinging it over the head of the dwarf who quickly ducks. “Be silent!”

From within their rooms Ruthenn and Lilith hear the disturbance and hurry to be prepared. Above them, Velthyrian yet remains undisturbed but nearby, in Felix’s room, the warlock is suddenly roused from his dreams by an echoing, deep voice only he can hear.

“Awaken, my child. Death’s come calling.”

Yanking himself from his sleep, the tiefling lunges out of his bed, still sweating. Panting, he wipes his brow and then gathers himself, burying his emotions deep within him as he has become accustomed to doing. Slowly, he presses his ear against the door, to hear what commotion has awoken him. Quietly, he can hear the murmurs of movement and of whispered conversation, but nothing more. Hearing this, he decides that it is better to be safe than sorry and reaches for his drawers, withdrawing his leathers and equipping them.

Watching from the balcony, Olmas can hear the intruder whisper among themselves as he creeps along and begins to draw an arrow to his bow.

“Get the door!” the tattooed man commands quietly. Nodding, one of the humans and the halfling dash for the door. They reach for its handle and turn the knob, pushing on the door. When it does not budge, the halfling reaches for the door and tries to pick it open. Listening, Ruthenn and Lilith move themselves into position against the door, holding it with their weight. There is a click, the sound of the lock becoming undone, but when the human pushes on the door it still does not move. Frustrated, he runs backwards and prepares to ram it. As he does so, the dwarven assassin turns his head towards Olmas, who has just begun to take aim at the tattooed man.

“It’s the elf!” he bellows, his eyes bulging as he pulls out his crossbow and takes aim at Olmas. The shout draws the attention of the other assassins, who too turn towards Olmas. Before the dwarf can loose his bolt, however, Olmas fires, changing aim and firing at the dwarf, hitting him squarely in the shoulder. With a grunt the dwarf yanks out the arrow and screaming, rushes up the stairs. He is preceded immediately by one of the humans, who rushes up the stairwell, raising her club to strike Olmas. Another thug rushes up as well, crowding the staircase.

Below, the increasingly frustrated human man trying to reach Ruthenn and Lilith smashes himself into the two’s door, which yet holds thanks to their preparation. Frustrated, he calls on the halfling for assistance. As he does so, Ruthenn takes a chair in the room and presses it against the door for extra weight, bolstering their position further as the combined weights of the halfling and man thud into the wooden frames of the door. From within his room, Felix can hear the disruption. Urgently, he reaches for his rod and prepares to join the battle, ready to take down his foes before they are yet aware of him.

As Olmas watches the approaching warriors he readies another arrow to fire. As he does so, the thin, tattooed man smiles, throws back his hood and yells in a language neither Olmas nor Ruthenn, Lilith, or Felix can understand a single word. Sniffing the air, Olmas can smell the briefest wisp of ozone before sparks conduct around the man’s staff, from which a scorching bolt of lightning surges throw the air, striking the ceiling above Olmas, missing him barely. With Olmas distracted, the dwarf rushes forward, dropping his crossbow and pulling out his hammer, followed shortly by the female thug. But before either can strike, Felix swings his door open, jumping out between the dwarf and human woman and the thug behind them, turning his rod towards the woman. A purplish glow focuses around the end of the rod, before a shower of violent energy surges from it, blasting into the back of the thug and throwing her to the ground as Felix watches triumphantly.

Below, the human thug smashes into Ruthenn and Lilith’s door again, followed shortly by the halfling thief.

Taking advantage of Felix’s distraction, Olmas looses an arrow from his bow again, striking into the dwarf’s side. Enraged, the dwarf screams like a wounded animal. Behind him, the female thug knocked down by Felix’s blast rises to her feet, swinging her club at the tiefling with all her might. She clobbers the tiefling by his side, sending him sprawling into the thug behind him, knocking both over. The bearded man Felix hit then throws the warlock off of him, raises his club, and tries to clobber the man over the head. He misses his mark, but crashes the heavy wooden weapon down on the hapless mage’s shoulder, causing Felix to howl with pain.

Below, Ruthenn and Lilith can see that the wooden door’s boards are beginning to creak and fracture, splinters flying out every time the thugs try to force their way in. Whispering, Ruthenn tells Lilith she plans to catch their attackers and trap them by timing the door’s opening with the thudding. Nodding, Lilith agrees and as the thugs come crashing towards the two again, both Ruthenn and Lilith move aside, as Ruthenn opens the door and prepares to charge out. Her timing, however, is unprecise, and as she opens the door she finds herself face to face with a charging halfling who dives beneath her and lashes out with a small, short sword, which Ruthenn just manages to leap over as the halfling somersaults past before coming up to her feet behind both, with the human thug still on the other side.

Lilith, recognizing the danger and eager for some excitement, leaps to action, leaping forward and hitting the floor on one of her hands, using the rebound to send her flying towards the halfling with her own short sword extended in a deadly thrust. The blade sinks in to the halfling’s side, causing the assassin to cry out while Lilith grins wickedly, licking the splattered sprinkles of blood from her lips.

Above Felix rises to his feet, staggering, and points his rod in the direction of the female thug who just attacked him. His eyes burning with rage he calls on the power of his infernal patrons, conjuring an invisible, spectral hand of arcane force, which jerks the thug right off of the balcony and into the air. With a violent swing of his arm, Felix throws the thug across the room, smashing her into the opposite wall. Her head is the first to hit, twisting unnaturally when the rest of her body comes to meet it. There is a cold snap of bone and flesh and when the spell’s effect comes to an end a second later, the thug falls limply to the floor, unmoving.

Noticing Felix’s threat to his men, the tattooed mage turns his attention towards the warlock. Calling on powerful magic, he sends a spiraling bolt of silvery energy, a magic missile, careening into the tiefling’s chest, knocking him back down. From the floor, Felix wipes blood from his lip and nose, and struggles to his feet, though his body burns with pain as he does so, stumbling upwards.

As this occurs, the dwarf charges Olmas, swinging his hammer down on the ranger. Olmas dodges just barely, the hammer swinging past his shoulder and into the floor, sending splinters of wood flying like dust from a crater. The elf drops his bow, realizing this is no time for archery, and draws instead his longsword. Taking a quick glance to his left, where the mage stands, staff still extended towards Felix, Olmas turns back towards the dwarf and hits him across the face with the hilt of his sword. As the dwarf hits the ground, kneeling, Olmas jumps, landing on the dwarf’s back before somersaulting over the balcony’s edge and towards the floor below, hitting it squarely, crouching with blade crossed in a defensive stance.

Below, the halfling parries another thrust by the eager Lilith, before sweeping her leg beneath the thief and kicking her in the face. She then somersaults backwards and pulls out a dagger, throwing it towards Lilith and missing the thief by a small margin. Lilith growls with feral pleasure and leaps into an attack, bounding towards the halfling.

As Felix stumbles to a stand, the thug from behind him hits him over the head with another blow, sending the tiefling down again. Before the warlock can stumble up, the dwarf, angry and bloodied after Olmas’ stunt, hits him in the stomach with his hammer. The warlock coughs up blood, unable to defend himself in his weakened state as he feels the life drain out of him. Slowly, he begins to lose awareness of what is occurring around him.

Ruthenn, below, can hear the tiefling’s staggered cries and knowing him to be a friend of Lilith’s and an ally of hers, she realizes she must come to his aid. Raising her hammer, she calls out to the warlock, dashing past the human but four feet from her and dodging a swing of his club and pushing the bearded man out of her way with a sudden swing of her hammer. Crouching beside the dying warlock, she takes a hold of the pendant around her neck, the mace and boot of her patron Marthammor. Closing her eyes, she calls upon the god, asking him to aid her friend.

The tattooed mage, previously distracted by Felix, turns his attention swiftly to the man who landed but seven feet from him. He turns to see the ranger charging in his direction, sword extended. Quickly, the mage pivots to his right, letting the ranger swing past him before sending his staff beneath the ranger’s feet, tripping him. The ranger tumbles into a nearby table, sending it tumbling over and breaking one of its legs. As Olmas struggles back up the mage hits the floor with his staff extended upwards, smiling as he does so as the smell of ozone fills the room. Suddenly, bolts of lightning strike from every direction within ten feet of the mage, shattering furniture and booming with thunder. One hits Olmas, sending a deadly current of electricity through the elf, frying his hair and stunning him. Laughing, the mage prepares for another assault.

Olmas, however, is not so easily beat. As the mage begins to chant another set of magic words, the ranger leaps to his feet, running past the mage from behind and extending his sword as he does so. The blade slips into the robes of the tattooed man, cutting through his flesh and into his back before pulling out again. Screaming, the mage falls to his knees, cursing the elf and swinging his staff towards Olmas, missing this time.

Above, a gentle, white light forms around the tips of Ruthenn’s fingers. With deep care, the dwarf drops her hands to tiefling’s heaving, blood splattered chest, letting the warmth flow from her and into him. In a second, Felix’s eyes are open and alight with energy and the tiefling, not so much as caring to look at the one who saved him, leaps to his feet. Looking at the scene he growls with a dark rage, squinting in the direction of the mage Olmas has just wounded. Pulling out his rod he thrusts the implement forward and says but one word:

“_Burn_.”

A stream of hot, flaming liquid suddenly sprouts from the rod, shooting across the room and into the mage. The man’s robes ignite instantaneously, erupting into crimson flames. The mage howls, screaming as the fires engulf him, consuming first his clothes and then his flesh. He rolls across the floor, gasping for air, trying in vain to put the flames out. Olmas steps beside, him, holding his blade ready to end the mage’s life when suddenly, from behind him, comes the blow of another thug, hitting him beside the back and knocking the ranger over.

In Ruthenn and Lilith’s room, the battle of rogues continues, as both Lilith and the halfling engage in increasingly daring maneuvers, as if each one is trying to provoke the other into doing something stupid. They swing past one another, dodging each other’s blows, before careening off the opposite wall and clashing once again. Neither wholly seems to have the advantage, but in one single past, the halfling stumbles slightly, sending her into Lilith’s blade, which punctures her gut and emerges on the opposite side.

Coughing blood, the assassin growls, pulling herself out before weakly swinging her arm in Lilith’s direction, who dodges the blow easily. The halfling then leaps past Lilith and behind her, still agile even in her wounded condition, swinging her own blade towards her foe and cutting into Lilith’s side. Growling, Lilith pulls out her dagger and tosses it, hitting the halfling square in the face. The thief falls to the ground, dead as Lilith, heaving with anger and pain, beats her lifeless body furiously.

The Cavalry Arrives

Smoldering on the floor, the tattooed mage screams, throwing his tattered robes off of his body as one of the thugs stands nearby, having just hit Olmas over the head with his club. Realizing that victory is likely impossible at this point, the man looks from one side of the room to the other and then, with little hesitation, decides it’s time to make a break for it. Immediately, the man runs for the door, reaching to open it and escape into the chilly night. As he reaches for the knob, however, the door swings open towards him and two armored men stand on the other side. A moon elf dressed in chain mail marked by the image of weathered tree embroidered into a cloth draped over his chest, steps forward, causing the thug to stagger back.

“Deadsnows Militia! What the hells is going around—”

The eladrin is interrupted when Ruthenn, spotting the group calls out to the militia. Realizing that the group is in need and recognizing the assassins as intruders, the eladrin raises his halberd before jabbing it in the direction of the nearest of the intruders.

“Trespasser! You will surrender now lest your life is forfeit.”

Crumbling before a hopeless situation, the bearded man falls to his feet, bowing his head in a petulant, position, pressing his hands together in search of mercy.

The moon elf turns to the human man behind him.

“Chevar! Secure this room!”

The human, evidently Chevar, nods, pulling out his long sword and running into the room. As he heads into the tattooed mage, badly burnt, picks himself up off of the floor and yells out in an ancient tongue, sending crackles of lightning from his fingertips and towards the man, who he hits, sending him flying back across the room. As the mage growls with anger and pain, a kick hits from behind, spending him sprawling forward. He turns his head to see Olmas pick himself up, off the floor and reach for his sword.

On the balcony, Ruthenn looks towards the two opponents facing her and the warlock Felix, a dwarf and the female mercenary. She draws her hammer and lets out a bellow as she charges forward, clobbering the weapon into the abdomen of her nearest enemy, the human woman. The thug falls backwards, hitting the wood hard, with a smoking brand on her armor left as the sign of Ruthenn and Marthammor’s wrath.

Lilith, meanwhile, panting, takes a breather, pausing her assault on the lifeless body of the halfling. She takes her two fingertips and lowers them to the halfling’s neck, checking the assassin’s vitals. To her pleasure, Lilith finds there is no heartbeat from the bloodied body. Satisfied, she takes a brief check of the body’s inventory: a short sword, a few coins, and a mysterious black mark on the skin – that of a serpent engulfing a blade wrapped in its coils. Shrugging, Lilith ignores the tattoo and quickly loots the body’s pockets of their change before running out into the open to do battle with the survivors.

Above, the warlock stands, burning with rage. Furious at the pain dealt him and the fact that his enemies have not yet been vanquished, Felix narrows his eyes and chants beneath his voice powerful words. His eyes flare up, glowing for a brief moment. Suddenly, the subject of his sight, the dwarf, about to charge Ruthenn, bursts into flame, flailing as he tries to put the flames out. Felix has little time to enjoy his victory, however, before the female thug sweeps him out from under his feet.

Below, the eladrin watches as the mage pulls himself to his feet.

Realizing the threat the mage produces, as well as the assassins’ apparent refusal to surrender, the guardsman pulls back his halberd and rushing forward. As he does so, the mage, gritting his teeth draws back his hands and a glow begins to form as the moon elf’s polearm skewers the mage, entering through his belly and exiting between his shoulders. The mage, seemingly shocked, looks below, coughs blood, and then falls limp.

The eladrin swings his polearm in a wide sweep around the room.

“Get the rest! Let no one escape!”

Chevar again acknowledges his superior with a slight nod and then rushes towards the staircase, to join the others in their fight, with Olmas following quickly behind. They run, storming towards the fight as Ruthenn takes her hammer and smashes it into the female thug’s face, crushing her nose and jamming it back into her head. Below, Lilith, takes a quick look around and sees that there stands but one more enemy. Squinting she pulls out her hand crossbow from her pack slung alongside her back, loads it, and takes aim, firing in the direction of the dwarf. Missing, she curses in her native Chondathan, whilst the battle continues.

The flames around the dwarf begin to die off and the lone remaining assassin, realizing the battle is hopeless, charges blindly into his enemies, swinging his hammer in every which direction, with no care for his own safety. He hits Ruthenn along her ribs, breaking one and sending her sprawling into the next row, and barely misses Felix, who stumbles out of the way. Howling he takes aim to hit again.

However, before he lands his next blow, Olmas dives beneath the swing, sliding along the blood-soaked floor and jabbing his sword upwards. It slices through the dwarf’s robes, cutting through his skin and muscle tissue like a butchered animal. The dwarf’s eyes bulge with pain as he looks down at his gruesome wound. His head light with adrenaline he ignores the pain, fighting through it as he changes aim and swings in the elf’s direction. As he does so he is hit behind with Chevar’s blade, cutting open his back. He staggers, stumbling towards his enemy as Ruthenn pulls herself back up and throws her entire weight into a single blow, snapping the assassin’s spine with one last swing of her hammer. Utterly destroyed, the dwarf collapses, bleeding on to the floor.

Panting heavily, the survivors turn to look at the site of their battle, the remaining furniture not destroyed in the last battle now completely obliterated by this second round. Groaning, Ruthenn falls to her knees, laying her head into her arms.

And in his room, the sun elf Velthyrian continues to trance quietly, unaware that a slaughter has occurred just outside of his door.

No Turning Back

Having just bound the surrendering mercenary, the eladrin militiaman steps over the bloody, crisp body of the tattooed mage and then turns to look at our heroes. He raise his halberd upwards, towards the ceiling.

“My name is Eltharen Silverheart, lieutenant of the Deadsnows Militia. Would you mind explaining to me what occurred here?”

Olmas pulls out a cloth from his shirt pocket and begins to clean the blade of his sword with it. Turning a glance towards Lieutenant Silverheart he nods. Together, he and Ruthenn, with a few comments by Felix and Lilith, put together what happened for the lieutenant.

“All this trouble’s about Asharan?” Silverheart wonders aloud. “The dragonborn? He seemed ordinary enough to me… if a bit reserved.”

He turns to his companion.

“Chevar! Find Asharan and bring him to me for questioning. I want to know who these people are and what they’re up to!”

“Yes, sir!”

With that, Chevar salutes, nods, and leaves. The lieutenant turns back to our heroes.

“You have any idea who these people are? Any clues whatsoever?”

Raising an eyebrow and looking at Ruthenn, Lilith posits a possible clue and explains the bit about the tattoo she found on the halfling – a tattoo identical to one that had been found on Asharan’s pursuers. Stepping into the lower room, Silverheart takes a look at the body, examining it.

“Hmm… ordinary enough halfling. Strongheart maybe… Hmmm… so there’s just this tattoo, eh? A suicidal snake?”

He stands up, shaking his head.

“I’ve never seen this symbol before. Perhaps some new gang… a Cyricist cult? The Zhentarim? Agents of Netheril?”

Olmas mentions that Asharan had called his enemies “easterners.” Silverheart sighs.

“That doesn’t really narrow down our choices, does it?” he says, almost asking himself more than them. “Easterner could apply to virtually any one. All of the factions I listed a moment ago are from east of here.”

He turns to look at the prisoner he’s bound.

“Well, maybe we can get some answers out of—”

Suddenly, the door to the Blazon opens again, with Chevar trotting inside with Ertha Innkeeper, covered in blood – seemingly not her own – by his side.

“Sir! I was unable to find the dragonborn. I checked the stables and found her. She says she knows where he is but will not report.”

Silverheart cocks an eyebrow.

“Ertha? What’s going on here?”

Ertha clears her throat.

“Lieutenant, sir, Asharan’s recovering from his earlier wounds. ‘E’s in no condition to see visitors a’ the moment and I wouldn’ have you disturb him for nothin’ less than an emergency.”

Silverheart’s eyes flash with anger.

“Lathander’s heart, woman, this is an emergency! Our security has been breached by an unknown force and I want to find out as much as I can about them.”

“Then question yer prisoner. But you ain’t getting nothin’ out of me or Ash. If ‘e feels up to it ‘e can see you in the mornin’. But not til then.”

Silverheart sighs, removing his helmet for a minute to scratch his head. Then, slowly, he nods.

“Very well, you stubborn old woman. But I’ll need a statement from your guests.”

At this, Felix loudly protests, as does Lilith. Olmas and Ruthenn seems inclined to go along with it but are pressured into not agreeing by Felix and Lilith. The lieutenant, irritated, shakes his head.

“Fine. I’ll leave you and your guests. But I will require a full statement from you, Ertha, tomorrow.”

Ertha nods.

“Alright, then,” the lieutenant says, fitting his helmet back on. “Chevar, let’s take our prisoner and be gone. We’ve already missed enough sleep.”

Together the three walk out of the inn, closing the door behind them. Ertha turns to our heroes, shaking her head.

“What a mess.”

Ruthenn asks what that was about and why Ertha’s being so protective of Asharan.

“He’s a patron of my inn,” the middle-aged woman replies simply, as if it was a matter of fact. “I look out for all my patrons. Good business sense you see. ‘Sides, I know ‘im well enough to know he’s a good sort. A bit quiet, yeah, for sure. But nothin’ harmful. Whatever ‘is trouble is, he should have our sympathy, not our suspicion. Why I remember, ‘e helped me rid me daughter of a young punk who was harassing her a while back.”

She smiles.

“He doesn’ take much but he gives a lot, you know what I mean?”

There is a brief moment of quiet, as Ertha sighs. Then she drops the bomb.

“I need you an’ Ash to leave in the morning.”

The others look at one another, surprised. Olmas seems surprised and points out the contradiction between this and her previous statement.

“It’s not a contradiction, lad,” Ertha says sternly. It’s practical is what it is. You’ve been here but just since last evenin’ and already the Blazon’s half destroyed. Whatever I might think o’ you or Ash doesn’ mean I can just let my home and workplace become a hiding place for you. I need you out.”

She shakes her head.

“’An so does Elyryl. I don’ know what kind o’ trouble she’s in but if these assassins are any indication it’s the big sort. Ash’ll want to leave on the morrow anyhow. It’s best for all if you be goin’ soon.”

She smiles slightly, almost as a sign of assurance.

“Now get back to yer rooms. I’ll have my girl in here to clean the mess by the time you wake up.”

Looking at one another briefly, our heroes return to their room. How they can sleep, however, knowing that danger lurks outside, hunting them, is another matter entirely.

And deep within his room, Velthyrian continues to trance soundly.

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