After a moment of shock and contemplation, Inori dropped her sword to the ground. It landed with a soft clatter on the ground, laying to rest among the dozens of rats it had slain, looking so deceptively plain. Inori didn’t know what to think. Her father had told her stories of his sword, but she thought they were simply that. She’d carried the blade herself for years, and had seen no hint it was anything but a well-forged piece of steel.
Confused, overwhelmed, and on death’s door, she sank to the ground beside her father’s sword.
Dara staggered back towards the rest of his team, still clutching the burned half of his face. The grim upside of the acid attack is that the injury had been mostly cauterized by his own melted flesh, so his condition was somewhat stable for now. He quickly sheathed Dignity’s Barb, digging through his satchel as he moved. His hand found only one healing potion, as he’d feared.
He saw Belor leaning against a wall, slumped and trying to remain awake. Dara looked him up and down, his soldier’s instincts kicking in. He analyzed the wounds from the hordes of rats as he approached. Drawing the lone potion from his bag, Dara offered it forward.
“I’d say I’ve had worse, but it’d be wrong,” Belor tried to joke toward Dara, grimacing in pain.
The wizard gratefully drank the potion, feeling some of his bleeding slow as his wounds closed a ways. The half elf was still desperately injured, but no longer in imminent danger of collapsing. Reinvigorated, he moved as quickly as he could down to the auditorium floor, where Inori and Nell still lay near motionless.
Belor knelt down, inspecting the fighter. Nell was breathing, but not much else. He was alive. Belor indicated this to the party.
“Well, ok, so that’s good then? We won?” Imistos asked again, slowly starting to inch down from the outskirts of the room.
“For the moment, at least,” Belor cautioned.
“Ok, hear me out, rather than dying or dragging bodies back or whatever, did that little librarian-clockwork-robot thing not say the exit was right past the auditorium? Should we not get someone? We’re here now! This is the escape!” Imistos pleaded, gesturing toward the exit on the eastern end of the room with his lamp.
“It is, and by all means go out. We have people to go collect,” Dara responded, without turning to face the halfling.
Imistos inched a little further toward the far door. “We’re in no shape to escort anyone!” he exclaimed, pointing to Dara’s face with his free hand. “We’ll be lucky if there’s nothing else between us and daylight!”
The group largely ignored Imistos, Inori still laying on the ground and Dara and Belor continuing to attempt to help their newfound friends. Belor reached down toward Nell’s body, incanting magic into a spell. Energy flowed from his hand, running across the warrior and slowly finding its way to his wounds. Subtly, and gently, his injuries began to stitch together under the wizard’s magic.
Nell began to awaken. Looking around the room, he assessed the situation. As his mind came back to him, he realized first he was still surrounded by rats, and he began to thrash and lash out. Belor reached down to steady him.
“Calm down,” he said gently, holding on to Nell’s shoulders.
Nell stopped, and looked around. “Well, I guess we… I’m not dead, so we won?”
His breastplate, as well as half of one of his pauldrons, was melted into a lump of slag. He could see the party’s injuries, but even through Dara’s still-shielding hand he could tell the archer was in grave pain. Nell reached down and drew a potion of his own, offering it to the Osirian.
Dara had made his way over to Dagio’s body, and found a ring around his wrist shining and unscathed from the battle. Knowing the telltale signs of magic, he took it from the rat’s arm before returning to the group. Rather than to Nell’s gift, however, he strode over to Inori and reached down to her.
“I never… I, I never believed him. I never believed him, ever. I thought he was crazy,” she stammered, visibly shaken.
“What are you talking about?” Dara asked as he kneeled beside her.
“All this time, I- the sword! I heard it!” Inori babbled. “I thought he was just telling me stories, but its real! It happened, I know I heard it!”
“Can you at least stand?”
The magus paused for a moment, stopping her rambling. She closed her eyes, forcing them shut as she focused. After a moment, she seemed to regain some amount of composure, and rose to her feet.
“Are you gravely hurt as well?” the soldier asked. He noticed her torn and bloodied dress drooping out from under the chain shirt she’d donned.
“I’m uh… not doing so hot, no,” Inori responded.
“I see. There is only one of these,” Dara said, motioning to Nell’s potion. “I will need more than a potion for this.”
Inori cracked a dry smile. “If it means anything to you, chicks dig scars.”
Imistos called out from across the room, where he’d wandered over to the eastern exit. “Um, who has the two keys? This door seems to use the same arrangement.”
“I have them,” Nell groaned from the ground.
Now conscious, and with the rest of the party nursing their varied wounds, Nell rose and slowly moved toward the far door with Imistos. He drew the pair of keys once again from his bag, inserting them in the two locks. The wooden door swung open, revealing a dusty antechamber with a pair of couches backed against the walls.
“That’s it, that’s what he said! Waiting room, auditorium, freedom,” Imistos chirped gleefully. “Now that you’re more, uh, conscious, surely you can talk some sense into your friends? There’s no point in you being dead again!”
“I wasn’t dead in the first place,” Nell corrected.
“Technically! Only technically!”
“A close call is a close call, but we still have a job to do. We have a straight route in and out now. Imistos, you’re free to go, the door is right there.” Nell said, gesturing toward the other door leading out from the small waiting room. He turned back toward the auditorium entrance. “But, there is safety in numbers. Until we know for sure what’s happened outside…”
“You’re worried about going up there because you don’t know about the situation” Imistos interrupted with a hiss. “And you want to bring a group of Senators? The last thing we saw was all them being murdered! We could be guaranteeing their deaths!”
“The Senators are paying me to get them out of here,” Nell replied, unsure of himself now.
“They’re not going to pay you if they’re corpses!”
The nobleman paused to think. Imistos had a point, they had concerns about the situation on the surface, but if it was going to be deadly for anyone it would surely be them. Nell called the concern out to the rest of the group, and Imistos repeated his worry.
Dara, having handed the magical ring and wand he found with Dagio over to Belor, was already making his way back from whence they’d come. At Imistos’ words, he simply raised a dismissive hand, not breaking step as he climbed back up towards the auditorium’s outer ring.
“I do believe we should find the complete exit before we bring them, but I also believe we should go back to them for the moment,” Belor made his vote.
“We can make one last trip,” Dara said without turning around.
Imistos groaned loudly. “I suppose. You’re not wrong.”
With Inori recovering, Belor handed the ring and wand over to Inori. His magical training had been much more theory and simple spellcasting, and while he understood the concepts of identifying magical auras and artifacts, in practice he knew he was far from the best. He’d never really seen the purpose of learning such things when his aspirations went no further than politics. He’d never foreseen himself ending up in circumstances like these.
Before leaving the room, the party turned their attention back to the small crevice in the ceiling. They concluded that was likely the rat’s nest, and being a rather erratic wizard, it was far from unlikely that the rat had several more useful items stashed up above. After some discussion, Inori removed her bulky chain shirt and attempted to scale the ancient stone walls. The crumbling bricks were both a blessing and a curse, as they offered dozens of plentiful handholds but crumbled at a whim.
After a few attempts, she made her way up to the hole in the ceiling. Inside she found Dagio’s meager belongings: a scuffed ring box, a small pile of gems, and his personal spellbook. She brought these back down to the party before moving on.
Though the spellbook was useful, and the gems valuable, what truly interested the pair of mages was the ring inside the box. The golden ring looked pristine on the outside, as most enchanted items should, but the inside of the band showed centuries of wear. It was adorned with a family crest, depicting olive branches encircling two crowns. Inori identified the ring’s strange aura: it emitted a mild enchanting effect onto anyone near the wearer, causing them to look more favorably upon the ring’s wielder. It also possessed a deeper magic, one that could be activated with a command. This spell would cloak the bearer in magic completely, disguising them as a member of the local ruling class and diminishing and physical features that would cause them to stand out among the populace.
This immediately gained Belor’s full attention. Though such an artifact would be seen as underhanded in a standard political arena, and many debates were shielded against such shenanigans, it was clearly far from useless. He donned the ring, eager to explore its powers, as Inori took the one from Dagio. Hers provided a simple aura of magical protection, making her slightly more resistant to harm. After another minute for her to re-equip her armor, the group made their way back one last time to the Voritas saferoom.
The group entered to a scream. The lady they’d rescued soon after they escaped these rooms cried out in horror at Dara’s melted face, and though she scampered away the halls leading to the main bedroom were quickly filled with the nobles they’d rescued. They all stayed clear, but jostled about trying to see the cause of the outcry for themselves. Dara immediately fell onto the bed without a word as he entered.
A moment later, the cleric Zubari pushed his way into the room. He looked around the party. Though still far from pictures of health, most of the group looked to be at least stable. Bloodied, injured, but in no danger at the moment. His eyes fell upon Dara, strewn across the bed.
“What happened,” he asked quickly as he began his inspection.
“It seems that we cleared out everything. The last was just very tough,” Dara replied. He was almost difficult to understand, his voice muffled by the absence of half his mouth. Air whistled through his bare teeth as he spoke.
Zubari nodded, gently turning Dara’s head over and revealing the full extent of his injuries. The whole side of his bare skull was visible, his jaw and cheek left exposed to the air. The sinews and muscles left behind his cheekbone were severely burnt, but left intact. The acid had bleached the visible bone clean, and left it nearly a perfect jarring white against what remained of his seared flesh.
“This is a serious injury.,” Zubari observed gravely. “I do not know how much my magic can help.”
“I understand. Whatever you can do for me and my friends,” Dara replied.
The cleric grabbed his holy symbol, the golden key of Abadar dangling from a silver chain around his neck, and kneeled next to the bed. He held his other hand outstretched, palm open near Dara’s face. Zubari began to chant, and waves of positive energy began to emanate from his body as he prayed. Repeated pulses of his magic washed over everyone in the saferoom, as the party’s wounds began to fully heal. They felt their skin knit together and their muscles and deeper injuries repair. The cleric prayed for a full minute, releasing nova after nova of Abadar’s healing energy.
This overflowing mass of positive energy was enough to restore most of the party completely. Simply the absence of the pains from their wounds was enough to make Nell, Belor and Inori feel totally refreshed. They stood by, waiting to see how Dara fared.
While he had been healed, his body was far from the pristine state of his allies. His skin had been pulled back over the exposed bone of his skull, but he was terribly marred. The skin on one side of his face was largely pocked and blackened, looking as if the magic had simply stretched it from outside the wounded area to cover the damage. It was an odd mix of leathery white patches and charred gray flesh, but all was covered with dramatic, textured scarring. The simple magic Zubari had could heal him enough to be in fine physical form, and fully capable, but it was not nearly enough to make him look the part. He appeared as if he’d been dragged out of a great flame.
His face was truly grotesque.
Zubari shook his head, still holding his holy symbol. “There is nothing more I can do. This is all of the power I can pull forth.”
He looked around the room to the rest of the adventurers. Though his magic had healed them fully, their outfits from the gala were still shredded and matted with blood and gore. It was difficult to tell at a glance how fit they truly were. Even Nell’s once-glorious breastplate was marred with melted slag around the collar and one pauldron, where his armor had protected him from sharing Dara’s fate.
Dara sat up, touching his face. He ran his fingers against the ragged flesh, noticing that there was no pain. He could clearly feel how disfigured he was. He had at least regained the use of both his eyes.
Belor shifted a bit, clearly uncomfortable. He glanced toward the attached bathroom, with the mirror over the sink. Dara noticed and shook his head.
“That is not important now. We have things to do,” Dara said bluntly. He had no desire to see his new face. “I can check vanity once we are safe.”
Nell, now healed from the brink of death, lavished thanks upon the cleric. Without his magic the party surely would have been lost.
“We should go,” Imistos interjected.
“The next time we return, we should be bringing the rest of you with us,” Nell explained to the rest of the group.
The group made their way once more out into the sublevels. With the doors before them open, they took a moment to stop by the library with Factor 12 and return the key they’d rented from the archives. Looking through the rest of the storage, they withdrew an enchanted breastplate instead. Nell carefully removed his old armor, replacing it with the new magically-infused set. He looked down at the breastplate on the ground, seeing the melted remnants of his own family crest. He slung his old armor across his back, unwilling to leave it behind.
They headed back into the auditorium, and beyond into the attached antechamber. As Nell moved to open the far door, the door itself flung wide open with a sound like a whip crack. A sheet of knives shot down from the ceiling beyond, carpeting the area in front of the door. Nell stood in the doorway itself, taking the brunt of the blow, as a dozen knives struck and glanced off his new armor. Several found their way into the cracks, his protection was far from a knight’s full plate. A few knives showered past him and struck Belor, most deflecting from his magical shielding, but one burying into his thigh.
Nell reeled back instantly, staggering backwards until he collided with the wall behind him and slumped down onto one of the antechamber’s couches. Blood run down his suit once more, with three of the knives still deeply buried in his body. In great pain, he slowly began to draw the blades from his body.
“We have other things to worry about from here, I suppose,” he grunted.
“Someone was… trying to keep something IN?” Imistos asked. “Wait a moment…”
The halfling moved carefully up toward the door, keeping himself from the direct path in front of it. He raised his lamp, trying to peer up to the ceiling beyond.
“You see something?” Inori asked.
“I recognize that,” the halfling replied. “Kind of unique sort of setup. I think someone’s come looking for us!”
“Looking for us?” Belor asked, unsure. He slowly began to work the dagger out of his leg.
“Well, looking for me. Perhaps it’s my turn to help!” Imistos exclaimed excitedly.
“Who would come looking for you?” Nell asked in great pain, still drawing knives from his body.
“I have friends!” Imistos said incredulously.
“And your friends do this?” Belor asked again, increasingly uncertain.
“You pick up a weird sort working as jesters and circus entertainment. What kind of people do you think join these groups?” Imistos responded, turning back toward the party.
“Not the homicidal kind,” Nell observed.
“They’re not homicidal, that wasn’t meant to hit us,” the halfling stressed. “What was in the next room, that rat wizard? It was probably meant for him. I bet they came in looking for us, ran into the rat, and set this trap up. I’d know Ziggy’s work anywhere.”
“Ziggy? What makes you think it’s his handiwork,” Inori asked.
“You ever see anyone else waste two dozen knives on this fairly ineffective door trap? Though I must say it’s been more deadly than I thought it’d be.”
Imistos very cautiously edged his way around into the doorframe. It led to a tiny connecting chamber, no more than five feet wide, leading to yet another door. He took time to cautiously inspect the second door, looking around the knob and its frame for any hint of a tripwire or trap mechanism. Seeming satisfied, he slowly and cautiously opened the door. Still wounded and unready, Belor scrambled away from the pair of doors.
With no immediate sign of danger, Imistos slowly crept into the room. He peered into the shadows as he raised his lamp. Then, very abruptly, he stood upright and beamed.
“It is! By gods, we’re saved!” He exclaimed with excitement.
Imistos moved aside, as the rest of the party slowly and curiously moved into the room. The area was largely barren save for a set of lockers across the northern and southern walls, and crouched behind each was a halfling dressed much like Imistos. Clad in leather armor and with their own small rapiers at their sides, they peeked equally curiously out from behind their shelters.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Sal, Ziggy, how’d you find this place?” Imistos asked as he stepped further into the room.
“Uh, by chance, really. Saw you disappear, started rootin’ about, stumbled on this staircase. Seemed as good a place as any, seemed the kinda hole you’d bolt into,” the northern halfling replied. He began to step out from his hiding place, seemingly confused by what he was seeing.
Imistos placed his lamp on the ground and walked up to the other halfling, patting him on the shoulder. “Ziggy, I can’t say how happy I am to see you. Could have done without the knives, though,” he said, gesturing back toward Nell limping forward.
Nell cursed the newcomer out in his own tongue.
Imistos raised an eyebrow surprised, before turning back to Ziggy. “I didn’t know he spoke Halfling,” he muttered. “Let me introduce you!”
Imistos stepped back toward the party, now all arranged in the room in front of the door. He walked over toward the southeastern corner where Belor leaned against the wall behind the rest of the group, trying to take pressure off his leg. Imistos pointed past the rest at him first.
“This is Belor,” he said, making sure to indicate the injured elf properly. He then introduced Inori, and Dara. With each name he moved himself and made sure to properly gesture to each member of the group, highlighting them to his halfling comrades. Finally, he moved to point to Nell. The man was slumped a bit in pain, barely with enough blood to remain conscious at this point.
“Well, I suppose we can deal with names once we get somewhere safe,” he muttered, moving back to his lamp behind the group. “It’s rather fortunate, I don’t think I’d have been here without this group. Martella’s lot, I believe.”
“Yes, we’re Martella’s group,” Nell answered in pain. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about her or her whereabouts, would you?” The party thought back to her last message, abruptly cut off. It seemed so long ago they’d first escaped the saferoom.
The second halfling came out into the light proper. “No, no idea what happened. Just came looking for Imistos,” she said, shaking her head. “Coincidence we’d find Martella’s friends.” She stepped further out toward the center of the room, tilting her head. She turned to Imistos, pointing to Nell. “He looks fairly injured.”
Imistos nodded, raising his hands. “He is, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s taken worse.”
Ziggy still stood near the northern lockers, looking over the party as if confused.
Nell spoke again. “I assume that’s what you set the trap for, that magic rat.” Nell motioned back towards the auditorium behind them, speaking of Dagio and his fallen followers.
“Aye, did you deal with him?” Ziggy questioned.
“That we did,” Dara said flatly.
Ziggy turned to look toward Imistos as well, now bewildered.
Imistos put the lamp back down and shook his head a bit. “Its fine, I promise you. That’s been dealt with. We’re all here, where we need to be.”
Sal just looked at him oddly, and shrugged. “I suppose.”
The whole exchange was very odd. Inori, a bounty hunter by trade, looked around the room. Her gaze turned from the new pair of halflings to Imistos, and then back again. There was more to this conversation than what was on the surface. She felt it. Her instincts were rarely wrong.
“Right,” Imistos said simply. He took one step, turning himself toward the group he’d made in the sublevels. He placed himself near the doorway they’d entered from, nearer to Belor.
Inori once more heard the voice inside her head, the voice she’d heard before as Dagio was slain. “I thought you would have known better. Never trust the halflings,” the sword spoke directly into her mind, as if it were her own thoughts.
“Then go.” Imistos reached for his rapier.
In a flash Inori reacted. It seemed as if she had her sword in hand even before the halfling did. Magic raced down her blade as not only her spells, but the sword’s own power rushed forth. With a quick step forward and a slash, the nameless halfling fell before she could even get her rapier in hand.
Ziggy rushed forward towards Belor, diving past the rest of the group as they drew their weapons. He pulled his own rapier as he ducked past Dara, flanking Belor on either side with Imistos. He buried his blade in Belor’s stomach before he could react, and the wizard fell to the floor without a fight.
Inori spun in place, her blade flashing around toward Ziggy. In an instant, the second of the halflings was struck down. She was a trained fighter, sure, but this felt like no fight she’d ever been in. She felt the sword’s presence in her mind, guiding her. Her body and her weapon moved and fought as one.
Imistos stepped out away from the wall, taking advantage of his small size and speed to strike out toward Nell before he could draw his axe. Already gravely injured from the dagger trap, Imistos’ trained strike brought him down before he could react as well. Only Dara and Inori remained to oppose these halfling assassins, but their enemy’s numbers were dwindling just as quickly.
Dara moved quickly as he drew his crossbow, trying to distance himself from Imistos as he loaded a bolt. Inori once again flashed across the room, moving with truly impressive speed and grace. She swung her black blade once more, striking out across Nell’s body as he fell and catching the halfling before he could mount a proper defense. Imistos staggered backwards, clutching the gushing wound on his chest.
Their once-companion dropped his rapier and it clattered to the floor. “Ok, hold on, wait a second,” he spluttered through the blood filling his mouth.
Inori slowed. Two of her allies lay on the ground from this betrayal, and hate surged through her. The sword wanted to swing. She felt it. She paused, knowing that there was no honor in killing a surrendering enemy.
With a click, and a quick rush of air, a crossbow bolt fired and lodged itself in the side of Imistos’ head. He froze in place briefly, with an incredulous look on his face. His body collapsed to the floor.
“Coward,” Dara muttered simply.
Inori turned her face to Dara, rage flashing across her expression. “The fight was over. What the hell did you kill him for?” she demanded.
“This was just pathetic to see, truly,” Dara said, kneeling down and checking the halfling’s body.
“I don’t give a shit what you think. We’re not those savages upstairs just murdering people,” she replied, further incensed that the soldier was nearly ignoring her.
“You may not be, but this is how I do things,” Dara answered dryly. “I have seen much worse than him, and I have dealt with much worse than him. This is hardly the worst he could have had.”
Nell slowly pulled himself to his feet, looking around the room. He only caught some of the conversation.
“Whatever Dara did while I was out, Imistos deserved it,” Nell matched Inori’s fury with his own. He seemed to have pulled himself to his feet through sheer rage alone.
“I’m not debating that,” she replied. “He did deserve it, but there’s a way to do things.” She stopped herself, noticing Belor on the ground behind Nell. “I need to check on Belor.”
The group found that fortunately, the assassins had brought with them a few healing potions of their own. They used those, combined with what magic they had left, to stabilize themselves. Each of the halflings, including Imistos, had a small silver holy symbol tucked into their shirts. Only Belor recognized the icon from his studies.
“Halfling god of assholes,” Belor grumbled, turning the symbol over in his hand. It appeared to be a small, simple dagger, with a single round hole drilled through the blade.
In addition to these findings, Dara uncovered a small note tucked into Ziggy’s coin pouch. It was simple, handwritten on a small scrap of parchment.
Keep watch over Martella’s stooges while we dispatch her Ladyship. They seem useless, but our contract specifies eliminating Lotheed AND anyone she is working with. If they’re particularly noteworthy—say a senator or noble—keep them alive and we’ll interrogate them along with Lotheed. Have Imistos bring any such targets to the Dignified Repository.
-The Fantabulous Killer of the Brotherhood of Silence”
The implication was obvious. Nell thought back to the halfling he’d met back at the Exaltation Gala. They’d all met Wyssilka the Fantabulous briefly, but only he had spent any real amount of time talking to her. He’d even briefly met with her on his way back down after the primogeniture vote, and he’d been the only one to speak with her out of her jester character.
“No. No, I don’t believe it,” Inori exclaimed as Dara read out the note.
“Why? Still trusting halflings?” she heard the sword speak to her again. Inori tried to reach out with her own mind, trying to force her thoughts into the sword, to reply in some way. If she was successful, the blade gave no indication.
The party had a new threat. This lined up with what they’d heard when Martella’s communication had been cut off. They made their way through the antechamber, and to the stairs beyond.
Searching further, they found that they let out into the Senate basement proper, behind what looked like a layer of chipped away plaster. The cellar doors leading down to these saferooms had been sealed under a simple thin sheet of plaster all these centuries.
With no further threats they could discern, the party made their final journey through the underhalls back to the saferoom. They gathered the nobles and senators trapped within, and led them back to the surface.They emerged from the basement into a charnel house.
The Senate chamber was covered in corpses. Dozens, if not hundreds, had fallen in Stavian’s slaughter. The bodies of assassins, Senators, and even several of the Ulfen Guard still lay assumedly where they fell, while a half dozen guards with clipboards slowly moved about cataloguing the dead. Shortly after they arose, the lieutenant overseeing the operation noticed the party and approached.
The guard was at first confused and dismissive, stating plainly that the area was off limits and moving them off the premises. After he noticed the group’s mixed states, with a handful of nobles and the adventuring group’s torn and bloodied bodies, he stopped to listen. He took their reports, only briefly explaining the current situation in Oppara.
Nobody knew what had happened. There were dozens of conflicting official reports, from a coup attempt by the Pathfinder Society to a terrorist attack from a Qadiran insurgent cell. Only a few from the floor were still alive to claim Stavian’s responsibility, and even then they were viewed with skepticism. Confusing matters further, both the Grand Prince himself and his daughter, Princess Eutropia, had disappeared in the aftermath.
Taldor was left without a leader. With no Grand Prince, and his only daughter missing, a vortex of power was left in the heart of Oppara’s government. With no signs of their return, dozens of other officials had begun to argue on how to proceed. The bodies in the Senate itself still lay strewn about, but already the political machinations had begun.
There was no precedent for such a situation. There were no legal means by which anyone could determine what path Taldor should now follow, or who would lead it.
Even worse, Martella was missing, surely in the hands of the Brotherhood of Silence, and with the soldiers and town guard so occupied and their loyalties unknown, there was nobody left to save her but this new group of adventurers. Hardly even worthy of the title, their only tie to each other was the initial mission they’d been hired for, and their subsequent imprisonment beneath the Senate.
Oppara, and in fact all of Taldor, seemed on the brink of a war for the crown…
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