Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 3
Chapter 3: It’s Not Nice to Gun Down Old Ladies
Aksel air walked a good ways behind and above the figure in the black cloak. He had followed this dark form over the bridge to the western side of town and into the market district of the city. It was getting later in the evening and there were not that many folks on the street anymore. The figure glided by a number of shops that had already closed and finally stopped in front of a store whose sign read Dry Goods. The little cleric chanced a quick spell to detect evil while the dark robed form was immobile. The figure had been looking around probably trying to make certain it was not followed. Satisfied it turned and opened the door to the store. As the figure made its way inside, Aksel caught a faint glow of an evil aura around the creature, then the being disappeared inside the shop.
The little cleric watched the shop for a few minutes from his airborne vantage point. However, the dark cloaked figure did not reemerge. After ten minutes went by, Aksel decided he needed to go inside the shop. He landed in an alley nearby and dispelled his invisibility. The gnome decided that he should disguise himself so he cast another spell and transformed his appearance into that of a rather fat halfling. He checked himself over carefully for good measure, and then crossed the street and entered the store.
The inside was rather small and dark, but it was packed with rows of shelves lined with any number of items. At the back of the store was a counter behind which stood an old woman. Next to that counter was a door. However, there was no sign of the figure in the black robes. “May I help you?” the old woman called from behind the counter. “No thank you,” the cleric replied warily, “I’m just looking.” And with that he began perusing the isles. He was quite surprised to find a lot of the ingredients he used for his own spells here on these shelves. He began to gather some things that he needed to restock on. But all the time he kept an eye on the back door, waiting to see if the dark robed figure would reappear through it.While Aksel continued his vigil, the rest of his companions were following the Wizard Glorfindel as he trailed after the strange spectral hand which only he could see. The hand had led the troop across the island with the Parade ground on it and now they had just crossed the bridge to the western most isle and were headed towards the market district of town according to Elvisda.
It was quite dark out now and this section had gone rather quiet. There was the occasional street lamp which had been magically lit when dark had fallen. But although they lit up the street well enough, there were alleys that were off to the side of the street that were pitch black. Of course, elves did have low light vision, and the wizard would have seen any movement in those alleys. But a stealthy rogue, or assassin for that matter, could easily be hiding in the shadows waiting to strike. Not that this group could not handle it, but Glo did not like surprises.
Lloyd must have sensed the Wizard’s tension. He was riding right behind the mage with his hand on the hilts of his two large blades, his head moving from side to side examining each dark alley as they past by it. Next came Princess, hidden behind the hulking form of the Warblade on his mount. Behind her was Elvisda and Martin. Both man and elf were also watching keenly both sides of the road. The halfling Seth brought up the rear. Seth, not a trusting soul by nature, had turned invisible once again and was trailing alittle distance behind the group. Thus if anyone decided to attack the group from the rear, the ninja would see them first and be able to warn the group before their attackers could reach them.
Back up front, Glorfindel remained in mental contact with his familiar, Raven. The bird was flying in circles a short distance up ahead and scouting for any quick movements off in the dark. But there was no movement to be seen. The group continued to move down the road until they saw bright lights up ahead and heard music and laughter. “Must be a tavern,” Elvisda said. Sure enough, the group passed a large tavern a few minutes later. The front door was open and the sounds of a bawdy music wafted its way to the outside street. “Not a bad job,” Elvisda noted. The party gazed in as they passed and saw the place was jam packed with all sorts of folks. “Town must be almost full with the fair coming and all,” Lloyd noted. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place,” Martin commented from behind. “Wait till you see the Fair,” Andrella told the archer with some amusement in her voice.
The passed the tavern and within a few blocks all was quiet and dark again. The companions were now in the market district and most of the shops were closed. However, there were one or two who were still lit up here and there. The group continued down the road until Glorfindel suddenly stopped and raised a hand. He was looking directly at a shop in front of them. Above the store was a sign which read Dry Goods. Glo whispered over his shoulder, “Looks like we have reached our destination.” Elvisda replied, “Is that where the hand went?” The wizard nodded. “Very well,” the bard replied, “Let’s go inside.”
“I think I’ll stay out here and keep watch,” Seth’s voice whispered just loud enough for them to hear. “Good idea,” Glorfindel agreed. “Martin…” Elvisda began. “I’ll stay out here and watch the horses,” the archer replied as if reading the bard’s mind. Elvisda smiled and responded, “Remind me when we get back to the inn to talk to you about a raise.” The archer just nodded and went about tying the horses to a nearby hitching post. Meanwhile, Glorfindel went to the door of the shop and opened it. Lloyd went second followed by Andrella with Elvisda entering last.
Glo looked around and saw the well stocked shelves in the dimly lighted store. He caught a glimpse of the old woman in the back behind the counter out of the corner of his eye, but his eyes were drawn to the spectral hand. It was floating over a small figure standing in one of the isles. The wizard looked closer and saw that the figure was a rather fat halfling. As he stared, the figure looked up from under a brimmed hat and winked at the elf wizard. Glo continued to look intently at the halfling till it dawned on him. It was Aksel! For some reason the halfling was in disguise.
Not wanting to blow his cover, the elf quickly drew his gaze away from his disguised friend. At the same moment, the old woman’s voice came from the back of the store. “Can I help you gentle sirs?” Glo turned to Elvisda and shot him a quick look. The bard immediately picked up the cue and began walking to the back of the room. “Why yes, I believe you can!” he said enthusiastically as he engaged the old woman in conversation.
Glo motioned to Lloyd and Andrella. They nodded and made their way to the side of the store away from the halfling. Then the wizard began making his way slowly over to the disguised Aksel, stopping to peruse the shelves along the way. When he finally reached his friend he whispered, “What’s going on?” The little cleric filled the wizard in on Fafnar’s arrival, the meeting with the dark robed figure and how he followed the suspicious character to this store. Glo in turn told Aksel how Seth had followed Fafnar and the rest of the Skynights back to Dunwynn manor.
Meanwhile, Lloyd and Andrella had made their way towards the back of the room. Elvisda was still having an animated conversation with the old woman who was the store’s proprietor. As the Warblade listened in, he realized they were talking about Penwick folks. That only made sense considering they were dressed in Penwick tabards. But there was something off. Lloyd could not place any of the names the old woman was mentioning. He made his way up to Elvisda and tapped him on the shoulder. The Bard stopped and looked over his shoulder. “We need to talk” Lloyd whispered. The elf bard turned back to the old woman and said, “Excuse me for one moment, young lady.” The old woman cackled at the bard’s obviously outrageous compliment.
Elvisda followed Lloyd a few yards away and then said softly, “What’s the problem?” The Warblade whispered back, “She is lying to you. None of the Penwick folks she mentioned exist. I don’t know any of them. And believe me, my family knows just about everyone in town.” Elvisda looked back over his shoulder at the old woman, waved and smiled. She smiled back revealing a missing tooth or two. “Now isn’t that interesting,” the bard said turning back to his human friend. He reached behind him and pulled out his lute. “I think we shall find out what is going on here.”
With that, Elvisda turned and made his way back to the old woman. He began strumming his instrument and said, “I cannot resist but to play a tune for such a fair maiden as yourself.” The woman looked at him cautiously and said, “Really, I don’t think that will be necess…ar…y…” At that last word she fell under the bard’s spell. He had fascinated the woman with his spell song. “Now my dear, what is it you are looking for from us?”
At the same time, the others all walked up to the back of the store and gathered around. The old woman did not seem to notice, however. She was looking dreamily at Elvisda who continued to strum his lute. “Why the password of course,” she replied lazily. “And what would that be?” the bard responded suggestively. “It is a clear night but there might be lighting,” she told him. “At least that is what it is this week,” she added.
Aksel walked up, still dressed up as a fat halfling. “Where did the black robed man go?” he asked the woman. They all looked at the halfling quizzically, but then Elvisda recognized the voice. “Aksel?” the bard said quietly. “None other,” the disguised gnome replied. Elvisda nodded and then turned back to the woman repeating the question, “Yes, dear, where did the black robed man go?” She continued staring at him as if in a fog and replied, “Oh. Do you want to go into the tunnels?” The bard turned and looked around at the others. Glo nodded as did Aksel. Then he turned back to the old woman and said, “Yes, we want to go into the tunnels.”
“Very well,” she replied, slowly getting up from her chair. “Just a moment dear,” Elvisda said holding up his hand. She stopped and waited, slowly swaying to the music. The bard turned to Lloyd and said, “Go and tell Martin to take the horses back to Penwick manor. And if you can get Seth’s attention let him know what is going on in here.” Lloyd nodded and went outside. He returned a minute later and said, “Martin left, but I couldn’t find Seth.”
“Damn!” Elvisda replied. “Where did he go off to?” He looked at Glorfindel and Aksel. “I don’t think we have much choice,” the cleric replied. “If we wait too long, we might not catch up with our friend in black.” Glorfindel did not look happy, but he nodded his agreement. “Very well,” Elvisda replied. “Take us to the tunnels dear,” he told the old woman. She opened the door in the back of the shop. They entered a hallway which continued about thirty feet in front of them. There were also a flight of stairs going up to their right. The old woman walked to a candelabra on the wall and pulled it. As she did so, the rug in front of them lifted up and a staircase appeared leading downward. They peered down and saw a dimly lit cave below.
“I think we can be left alone now,” Aksel said nodding at the old woman. “Right!” Elvisda responded. “You look tired dear,” he said to her. “How about we take you back out front and you sit down.” She still looked at him dreamily and responded, “That would be nice.” The bard led the woman back out front, Glorfindel following them. She sat down on her chair behind the counter and then the wizard cast a spell. The woman lay her head down on the counter and fell asleep. Elvisda gave the wizard a thumbs up and then they both headed back into the hallway. They rejoined the others at the top of the staircase going downward into the dimly lit cave below.
As they stood there reluctant to go down without Seth, a young boy came down the stairs from above. He didn’t say anything but just stared at the strangers suspiciously. Elvisda looked at the boy and said, “It is a clear night but there might be lighting.” The young boy visibly relaxed. “Oh, guild business,” he said. Then he turned and ran back up the stairs. “Quick thinking,” Glorfindel said to the bard approvingly. “I try,” Elvisda replied with a smile.
“Well, do we go down?” Lloyd asked impatiently. “Just a moment,” Glorfindel replied. He got a faraway look in his eyes which clued the others in that he was in contact with his familiar. After a minute his eyes focused again. “I sent Raven around the area looking for Seth. He has to be somewhere close by,” the wizard explained. “But that doesn’t help us right now,” Aksel observed. “True,” Glo admitted grudgingly. “Just remember that I was against this.” Then he cast a spell. “To see what is invisible,” he replied to Lloyd’s quizzical gaze. Then the wizard led them down the stairs.
They did not go more than five steps down when a gong started to clang. “Trip wire!” Glo said untangling his foot quickly. The backed their way up to the hallway. As they reached it, four kids came running down the stairs from above. Elvisda, lute in hand began to play a tune to fascinate the youngsters, but they were too quick. They all turned and bolted up the stairs. Aksel took off after them.
Two seconds later, Seth came running in from the door to the store. “What did you do? You can hear that gong all the way into the street outside.” Elvisda glared at the halfling. “Well, we couldn’t find you, and we found this secret passage. Where were you anyway?” The ninja was staring down the stairs into the tunnel below. As he began to inspect the steps he told them, “I saw some suspicious characters in dark robes entering a store a block or so over. I was trying to see what they were up to. I was almost inside when Glo’s Raven found me. I just got back when I heard the gong go off.”
“Yes,” Glo admitted chagrined. “That was me.” Seth looked at him admonishingly. “You should know better.” The wizard obviously felt foolish, but Elvisda shot back, “Well Aksel wanted us to find a dark robed figure he had followed to this shop.” Seth looked at the bard. “Aksel? Where is he?” They told him about the boys and how the cleric had gone after them. “And you let him go alone?” the ninja said incredulously. With that he took off up the stairs and after his friend.
A half a minute earlier, Aksel had made it upstairs. There was another hallway with a few doors leading off it. He saw the window at the end of the hall was open. As he walked to it, he cast the air walk spell upon himself. When he reached the window, he glided outside and up to the roof. When he reached the roofline, Aksel saw two kids on top of the Dry Goods shop. The little cleric floated up to them and said, “Get back to bed. Now!” The kids jumped out of their skins. They had no way of hearing Aksel as he floated up to them and he scared the life out of them. Both boys screamed and then ran to the edge of the roof. As they got there, Seth suddenly appeared in front of them. Both boys screamed again and turned sideways heading to another edge of the roof. Both Aksel and Seth gave chase but the boys were quick, launching themselves over the edge and scaling down the side of the building like monkeys. Aksel and Seth exchanged glances and then gave chase. The boys hit the ground running and dashed down the street, the two companions in hot pursuit. The followed the boys two blocks down till they ducked into a Cutlery shop.
Seth put a hand in front of Aksel. “I followed a couple of guys in black robes to this shop just a few minutes ago,” the ninja told his friend. As they watched the shop, the lights went out and the shades were pulled down. “I’ll stay here and watch this place,” Aksel said to Seth. “The others are going to need you to explore those tunnels.” The little ninja stared at his friend. “Are you sure?” he asked the little gnome. Aksel looked at Seth recognizing his concern. “I’ll be fine,” he finally answered. “Go ahead.” Seth nodded, “Okay, but don’t do anything heroic.” Aksel smiled. “Who? Me?” Seth smirked back and turned to head back to the Dry Goods shop.
When he arrived back at the shop he told the others what happened. “Well, we better get moving then,” Elvisda said. They gathered at the top of the stairs going into the tunnels. Elvisda took out his lute and began playing a tune to make the party more heroic. At the same time Glorfindel cast a spell on Lloyd and the Warblade became covered with a layer of thin stone. Then the wizard cast another spell making everyone in the party move faster. Then Seth began to head down the steps when they heard the front door open. Elvisda, behind everyone, turned and saw the old woman sneaking out the front of the shop. “Dragon dung!” the bard swore as he turned and ran. “What’s the matter?” Glo yelled after the retreating bard. “The old lady woke up! She just went out the door!” he yelled back over his shoulder.
Elvisda, hasted, reached the front door and was out on the street in under ten seconds. He saw the old woman about 20 paces in front of him. The bard reached into his pocket and whipped out a wand. He pointed it at the old woman and shouted, “Hold…” In mid sentence, two purple projectiles exploded from the tip of his wand and careened after the retreating woman. “…person?” the bard finished, not quite sure what had just happened. He looked on in horror as time seemed to slow. The two missiles twirled around each other as they approached their retreating target. Elvisda tried to shout a warning, but the words stuck in his throat. He watched, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, as the two purple projectiles caught up with the old woman, exploding on impact. The twin concussions reverberated in his head as the woman fell to the ground. The bard watched as the old woman lay still on the ground, his entire body feeling numb.
Then Aksel was there, kneeling next to the old lady. He placed his hands above her and white light emanated from them, setting her body aglow. As she was being healed, the rest of the party gathered around the stunned bard. “Elvisda! What happened?” Glorfindel asked sounding shocked. “Wrong…wand…” the bard replied so softly they could barely hear it. “What did you say?” Lloyd asked him. “Wrong wand,” Elvisda repeated still rather soft. “What do you mean wrong wand?” Seth said. “WRONG WAND!” the bard yelled. “I pulled out the wrong dung wand, that’s what I did!” he added. “It was supposed to hold her…not gun her down,” the last he said almost in a whisper.
The group realized the bard had made an awful mistake and was mortified by what had just happened. Glo spoke softly, “Well there’s no hope for it now. We should get her inside once Aksel stabilizes her.” They walked over to the cleric. Aksel, not looking up said angrily, “How could you? She’s just an old lady. She may not be innocent, but that’s no reason to gun her down in cold blood.” Everyone was silent. Aksel looked up then and saw Elvisda’s face. The bard was white as a sheet. “It was an accident,” Glorfindel said softly. “He thought it was the wand of hold person.”
Aksel looked at Glo, then back at Elvisda. The cleric realized the bard truly regretted what had just happened. “I’m…sorry Elvsida,” the little gnome finally spoke. “I was coming back to join you guys when I saw you pull out the wand and fire on the old woman. I…thought it was on purpose. I should have know better.” Elvisda said nothing for a few moments. When he finally spoke, the bard asked, “Is she going to be ok?” Aksel smiled and said, “Yeah, I think so. But we should really get her inside now that I have her stabilized.” Lloyd kneeled down and gently lifted the old woman off the ground. Then he carefully carried her back towards the shop.
As they all followed, some folks had begun to gather in the street. The commotion and the sounds of the missile impact must have drawn them out. One large fellow began to follow them to the shop. By the time they got back inside, the fellow had caught up with them. Lloyd gently put the old woman down. “What happened?” the big man said gruffly. He looked accusingly at the party. “An unfortunate accident,” Aksel replied stepping forward. Lloyd came up to stand behind him. “But it is alright. I am a cleric of Garglittergold and I have been able to heal this woman. Now she needs to rest. Do you know her?” The man, still looking distrustful, replied “Yeah, I know old Gema here.”
Aksel nodded and said, “Good. She will need someone to look after her till she wakes up. Is there somewhere she can rest?” The man glared at the group, but then said, “Yeah. I can take her back to my place. We have a spare cot over there.” Aksel nodded and said, “Good. You take her then. We’ll close up the shop for her.” Aksel motioned the others to step back. They made way and the burly man slowly walked in till he stood over the sleeping old woman’s body. He looked over her, satisfied that she was alive and then knelt down, lifted her up. As he carried her to the door, he said, “I don’t know what you folks are up to here, but you best not mess with anything in here if you know what’s good for you.”
“We have no quarrel with anyone up here,” Aksel replied. “But there are assassin’s undergroud that we need to deal with.” The man stopped short and turned to look at the little cleric. “There are assassin’s in the Thieves Guild?” They were all taken aback for a moment. But the little gnome recovered quickly and said, “Umm…yeah.” The man just shook his head and said, “Can’t trust nobody these days.” The he relented and said, “Look, the town guard has been called out and will be here any moment. Best you not be here when they arrive.” And with that he walked out the door with the old woman still sleeping in his arms.
“Well that could have gone better,” Seth noted as he walked over to the front door and closed it. “Okay then,” Aksel added, “Looks like we have no choice but to head into the tunnels.” They all headed to the back hallway, and pulled the door to the shop closed behind them. “Well Seth, care to lead the way?” the little cleric asked. “Sure,” the ninja replied. “Why not. Now that you set off the alarm and whoever is down there knows we are coming.”
“Well, you could always stay up here and explain things to the town guard,” Glorfindel answered the halfling. “No, that’s okay,” Seth replied sarcastically. “I rather take my chances down below in the dark damp tunnel which is probably riddled with traps, thieves and assassins,” he replied emphasizing the last word. “Fine,” Aksel responded, “so we jumped the gun thinking it was the Assassin’s guild. But that dark robed figure I saw come in here was definitely evil.”
“Alright,” Seth replied, “I’ll lead the way.” He began his decent down the stairs into the tunnels below. Lloyd followed right behind him, then Glorfindel. Andrella was behind Glo and Elvisda and Aksel brought up the rear. As they went through, Elvisda pulled the trap door closed behind them. “Well there’s no turning back now,” the bard said ominously. They continued down the stairs towards whatever waited for them in the tunnels below.