First thing was first: the party needed to recuperate. Nell was still badly injured from the strike by the halflings, as was Belor. Inori and Dara, though mostly healthy, were dressed in bloody, shredded rags. Several of them were wearing ancient armors they’d found in an abandoned museum. Regardless of the state of Oppara, or the status of Martella, they had to take care of themselves first.
As they emerged out into Senate Hill, the district surrounding the proper Senate hall itself, they got their first glimpse of the state of the city. They had no idea what to expect. There was no way to tell whether the city would be on the brink of a civil war, or if martial law had taken hold of the nation. Surprisingly, little seemed to have changed.
Taldor was an ancient and resilient nation, and it had seen much worse times than these. Emperors and kings had been overthrown or assassinated in the past, and the proud country had seen many wars in its past. This event was historic, surely, and would be remembered for years to come, but it was far from enough to halt the capital city of Oppara. Though an uncomfortable silence fell over the city, it still ran.
It was a stark contrast from Exaltation Day, to be sure. The streets had gone from endless throngs of revelling citizens to nearly empty lanes. Overnight, the city had been dampened.
Nell Stalwart belonged to a noble family. His father, and his father before him, were lesser senators in the local circuit. Though Nell had been the only one of his family present at the Gala, his family still had an estate not far from their current location. With everyone weary and worn, he extended the offer to his new companions to join him at his villa before they moved on.
The rest of the group accepted. Everyone had places to go, of course, but even here on the step of the Senate they were noticing the reactions of passers-by. The quiet few stragglers carousing the streets noticed their state. They averted their eyes, crossed to the other side of the road to give a wide berth. They needed to clean up before they headed back out into the town proper.
The blazing rays of Taldan summer burned down upon the city as the party headed out. Bright sunlight seemed to stand at odds with the somber air that hung over the city. The streets around the Senate hall were well within the more wealthy side of Oppara, and were usually far from packed. This, however, was a strange and unique aura of unnatural quiet.
Arriving at the Stalwart estate, things seemed to be running in their natural order. It was a decently sized manor, but far from excessive, built around a central living quarters with separate wings off to either side. The library and small observatory reached out to the east, and the guest and servant quarters came off the west. One of the family servants was in the front gardens, tending to hedges. He turned to the party as he heard their approach, and immediately recognized Nell among their number.
“Sir Stalwart! Your mother’s been bloody worried! You’re ok?” the servant was brash and demanding, far flung from the usual quiet and well-mannered attendant the rest of the party may have expected. Nell, however, was more than familiar with the man. He’d been with the Stalwart family for so long he was nearly family himself, and was as much a father figure to Nell as his actual father.
“Yes, I’m fine, I’m fine,” Nell replied, raising his hands in a laid back gesture. “It was a bit hairy for a moment, but we’re here now. How’s everything been on your end?”
Overcoming his initial shock at the bloody state of the party, the servant strode forward. He extended his arm quickly, striking Nell in the chest. The hit rang a dull clunk forth from his breastplate.
“You know damn well better than that! Run off to the Senate building, all that happens, and you don’t check in for a full day?” The servant was clearly incensed.
“Well I would have if I could’ve,” Nell replied in an almost embarrassed tone. The rest of the party began to shift a bit awkwardly, feeling their presence didn’t entirely belong. “We were underground, there’s a catacomb of sorts. We got stuck down there.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” the servant sighed, shaking his head. “Of course, all of this happens and you’re off exploring some undertomb. Well, come inside, your mother’s damn near stressed herself to death.”
“Very well,” the warrior chuckled. He motioned back towards the rest of the party to follow.
The servant looked past Nell, and seemed to truly notice his three traveling companions for the first time. He glanced over the group, assessing their state and noticing their ragged outfits. They all seemed to be standing, at least, but they appeared much worse off than Nell in his new enchanted breastplate (though he still carried his old one slung across his back).
“Of course, and you bring an entire load of bloody company- LITERALLY bloody company,” the servant muttered. “Yes, yes, yes, come in, welcome to the estate.” He bowed slightly before turning back towards to home itself, seeming to regard the newcomers with at least somewhat more tact than the young Stalwart.
Nell proceeded upstairs to meet with his parents, while Dara, Inori, and Belor were escorted over into the guest wing. Another servant brought them a simple but quick meal of breads and thinly sliced meats.
“It is quite nice here,” Dara mentioned, nodding. “Honestly, a little surprised.”
“Yeah, a little nicer than I’m used to, that’s for certain,” Inori replied as she buried herself in the food.
The trio took their turns using the attached washroom to clean up as best as they could. Though for now they were still stuck in their damaged clothes, they were finally afforded the ability to clean themselves up somewhat. It was difficult to believe that they spent only a single day trapped underground. With all the trials they’d faced, the group already felt as if they’d known each other for much longer than a single evening.
Nell, meanwhile, was left to face his parents alone. His father was first enraged as was the servant, but his wrath quickly turned to concern as he saw Nell’s injuries, then curiosity as he told his story. He inspected the Voritas badge that had transported them underground initially, and listened as his son briefly recounted the past day’s adventures.
His mother reacted much more expressively. In a very standard display of motherly concern, she flitted around the Stalwart heir, taking stock of every one of his scrapes and injuries. Nell had no chance to hide the piercing wound from Imistos’ rapier. It took nearly all of Nell and his father’s combined ability to calm her, and to even begin to explain a much less violent recounting of what had happened.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t tell her about the magic rat immediately,” Nell whispered to his father through a smirk. They had left the melted breastplate in his father’s study, to minimize the appearances of the dangers Nell had been through.
Finally able to explain his adventures to his parents properly, he was met with mixed reactions. Nell’s father was a businessman first and foremost, and was pleased to hear Nell’s plans to head out into town to collect the rewards they’d been promised from the noblemen belowground. Dame Trant, as well as the other trio of nobles, had promised Martella’s impromptu adventurers 300 gold pieces from each if they helped them escape the basement alive. At least somewhat his father’s son, Nell very much intended to collect.
Of course, he did not mention the Brotherhood of Silence, nor the situation surrounding Lady Lotheed.
His mother was staunchly opposed to the plan. Nell was still very much wounded from the fight with the Brotherhood’s assassins, and she demanded he stay put until they could hire a physician to look him over. Nothing would dissuade the young Stalwart, however, and with his father’s assistance he persuaded his mother to let him head out into the city while the day still lasted.
The four Lotheed agents reconvened in the main hall of the Stalwart villa to discuss their plans. They decided to head their separate ways for now, to prepare as they could for whatever lies ahead: Belor would retreat to his own home to collect his things and prepare his magic, Nell would head up into Westpark to collect their debts, and Dara and Inori would proceed together to Inori’s bounty hunting agency to gather what resources they could.
Their next goal seemed obvious: the note they’d found on Ziggy called out the Dignified Repository. Nell had heard of the building, but not much beyond that. The Repository was a simple warehouse in the Crownsgate district on the eastern side of Oppara, close to the banks of the city’s main canal. The site was, for better or worse, only a short jaunt from Inori’s bounty agency.
It was called The White Raven. Inori had inherited it from her father, and loathed the name. Nestled up only a few blocks from the Crownsgate itself, the simple wooden building bore only a very plain wooden sign etched with the shop’s namesake. The agency matched the area: the Crownsgate district was very much the poor side of Oppara. It stood as a cluttered and forgotten opposite to the shining, well-patrolled roads on the western half of the city near the Senate and the Imperial Palace.
“Well, we’re here,” Inori said unceremoniously.
She unlocked the door, and led Dara in through the small waiting room to the nearly as small living area behind. It was a simply furnished den with an attached kitchen, and a single door leading to the bedchambers further beyond. Inori proceeded immediately into her room for a change of clothes, leaving Dara and her black blade back at the table behind her.
“It is nice, it just looks a little tired,” Dara commented through a smile as he waited.
“It’s a piece of shit, I know,” he heard the magus call back from her room. “I’m tryin’.”
“No, I would never say such a thing.”
“‘The White Raven’, my dad was such an asshole,” she continued to lament from the other room.
After a couple minutes she emerged, having shed her expensive dress for something far more to her tastes. She wore a simple doublet striped with black and navy, and a similarly colored pair of basic leggings. A dark, quilted jacket covered her down to her knees, and her fine leather boots and gloves completed the outfit. This was much more to Inori’s comfort. It was difficult to run down fugitives in a frilly gown.
Inori took a bottle of whiskey from her cupboard with a pair of glasses, but at Dara’s decline returned one to the shelf.
“What do you think of the name, Dara? White Raven?” she asked directly as she took a seat opposite him at the table.
“It is uh, it is nice. I never put much thought into what I might name a bounty hunting group.”
“I didn’t name it, no. I gotta tell you, my dad- he was a great man. I loved him, greatest man I ever knew.”
She took a sip of her drink before continuing. “But, you know, he just- he couldn’t just make it about him. He always called me ‘his little raven’ all the time.” Inori sarcastically pulled on a curl of her bright white hair as she uttered the name. “I hated that name. I wanna change it, myself. I can’t think of a title, let alone get the money to get someone to- you know what it costs to change the name on the deed to a building? It’s ridiculous!”
Truthfully, she had tried to change the name once before. The Altar of Divine Innovation, up in Westpark at the other end of the city, was the heart of Oppara’s bureaucracy. She’d filled out what had to be a dozen forms, only to be directed to no less than three different offices in a row. The last of these didn’t even seem to exist, and she abandoned the cause.
Of the hirelings Martella had brought into the Exaltation Gala, Inori and Dara had seemed to bond the most. Whatever the day had thrown at them, they always seemed to end paired up. They worked together to steal the artifacts before their reveal in the entryway of the Senate building. They were the last two left to fight the Brotherhood’s halfling assassins. In their mortal struggle with Dagio, it came down to Dara’s bolt felling the dire rat himself, and Inori’s awakened blade scattering his hordes.
“Did you have any names in mind?” Dara asked.
“Nah, not really. I was thinking of changing it to the name of the sword, and now that the thing spoke to me- at least I think it did,” she quickly corrected herself. “I just can’t remember what he used to call it.”
The blade still lie on the table between them, resting in its sheath. It looked, again, as plain as any other.
As Inori spoke of her own sword, and whatever had happened down below, Dara looked down to the crossbow he held in his lap. Dignity’s Barb was clearly magical, Inori’s own spells had already told him that much, but fired just no better than any other weapon he’d wielded in his military service. It was well-made, surely, but he didn’t feel any real difference when wielding the crossbow. Dara did not come from a magical background, and he certainly didn’t understand the arcane arts. Perhaps, he thought, it was naive to have expected more.
Still, he could not shake the feeling that there was something more locked away inside the bow. He had no evidence for this claim, not even to persuade himself, but he was certain of it. The crossbow felt to him as if it were simply switched off. He had no idea how to turn it on.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, Belor considered something much similar. Now with his proper tools, and more importantly the safety and peace of his own study, he’d taken to looking over the artifacts they’d gathered in the sublevels. Most of them seemed to be fairly simple enchantments. Nothing stood out to him, save the ring Inori had found in Dagio’s nest. She had defined its enchantment aura for him, and he understood that function. Much like Dara, though, he felt there was something more. With his own magic to rely on, he could find nothing to indicate the ring had any higher power locked within, but again like Dara he was certain that there was.
There had been a brief moment of silence back at The White Raven, while both partners contemplated the secrets locked within their weapons. Dara rubbed his thumb across the head of the lion that adorned the handle of Dignity’s Barb, wondering if there truly was anything to either of their weapons. Suddenly, Inori froze in place. She turned around and nearly bolted back into her room without a word.
Dara raised an eyebrow, puzzled. He could hear her opening and digging through various trunks. From the sounds of things, she was nearly tearing her room apart. She didn’t re-emerge for nearly 5 minutes.
Finally, she strode back out, and slammed an old, weathered journal on the table.
“Ciaran,” she exclaimed. “Ciaran, the Shadow Blade. Hell of a name. Yeah, that’s what he called the sword. He claimed his entire career that the sword was his ‘partner’. Everybody thought he was nuts.”
She looked back towards the sword itself. “I mean, he came home every night and he was good to me, I had no reason to question him. Until… this thing just spoke to me, out of nowhere. If I would’ve just believed him.”
“Finally proved you were worth something,” the dry voice of the sword sounded in Inori’s mind once more, in response.
“You’re gonna talk to me again?” Inori asked, aloud. “What now!?”
She felt a sense of amusement radiate from the sword, as if it was impressing her with its own emotions.
“Felt like a waste before,” Ciaran continued. “He believes you, look at him. He doesn’t understand magic.”
Inori lifted her gaze for only a moment, reminded that Dara was still there. The Osirian simply sat, curious but waiting.
The two words rang in Inori’s head alone.
“What- what is that?” Inori replied over the telepathic connection the sword had opened.
“Milon Jeroth. It’s the name you wanted, isn’t it?”
“That’s-” Inori was stunned. She’d lost her father years back, murdered but with no leads. With her mother having been out of the picture for longer than she could remember, her father’s death had left her alone with only two things: The White Raven and Ciaran itself. She bore the blade in his memory as she continued his work. Spare time had become a scarcity for her as she kept the business running, but she’d spent what little she had repeatedly poring over the few details of Dante Dentho’s killing. Now, suddenly, his own sword was simply placing forth a name.
“Is that the man that killed my dad?”
“It’s a long story, but I believe ‘yes’ will suffice.”
“Its gotta be more than just yes, I mean, you were there! I mean, if that’s the man that did it then that’s the man that did it, right?”
“Hm,” Ciaran’s mental voice sounded disappointed. “Nothing’s simple, girl. You’ll learn this.”
“Where can I find him?”
“It’s not hard. He’s the Commander-in-Chief’s right hand.”
“Like Maxillar Pythareus, yes. But by all means, if you want to die and leave me to someone more competent, by all means. Jeroth’d kill you with both his hands tied.”
“Is that a fact?” Inori asked, bewildered and belligerent.
“An easy one.”
“Then help me,” she pleaded.
“I would if I could, but look at me. I’m just a sword, no better than its wielder. And right now, not only are you not physically ready, you couldn’t nearly understand enough to make that call for yourself. Nothing’s simple, girl. You prove to me you can handle the responsibility, and like you said, I was there. I can tell you what happened.”
“I have to prove myself to you for your health, essentially,” Inori asked again, growing more angered and even more confused.
“Not my health, for yours,” the sword continued to reply nearly emotionless. “Don’t think I don’t care about Dante’s only daughter. I tell you where Jeroth is right now, you rush Imperial Square swinging this blade and you don’t make it past one guard before you get in. I’m not gonna tell you any more until I know that you can handle it. I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally. I tell you what happened, you’re gonna make a snap decision and run into down screaming ‘Oh, vengeance for my father!’ like some kind of storybook hero. You’re not ready.”
Inori paused for a moment. Ciaran wasn’t wrong.
“Is everything ok?” Dara asked out loud. From what he can see, Inori had simply been glaring at her blade for minutes, as if she were trying to force her thoughts into it. Little did he know just how right he was.
Frustrated, but elated at finally finding a link to her father’s killer, Inori fought back tears. She looked up at Dara with an almost blank expression, before wiping her eyes.
“We’re wasting our time here, let’s get going,” she said simply, returning Ciaran’s sheath to the belt at her waist.
The pair began the trek back across Oppara to the wealthier side of town. They traveled past Senate Hill to the Worldbreaker district, named for the famed siege weapon that used to reside there. Many high-ranking military veterans and soldiers of note were given homes here, and for his role in the city’s recruitment programs Dara had earned his place.
He was far from a legendary hero, though, and his abode was fairly plain. Dara himself was also a very simple man, seeing no need to display nor even to pursue extravagant wealth. His home was exceedingly basic, save for one large cabinet near the back engraved with ornate golden detail. After they entered, and Dara simply waved a hand for Inori to make herself at home, the soldier made straight for this locked cabinet.
Inside was what resembled a simple shrine. His few scattered mementos lined its shelves: a picture of his mother and father, the few insignias and accolades he’d earned for his service, and a curved stand for the khopesh he still bore upon his back. The weapon was purely ceremonial, he had nothing beyond basic training in its use. The winding blade was one of the few proper connections to his Osirian origins he’d maintained through his military career.
The khopesh had been previously wielded by his father, much like Inori’s black blade. The elder Rostam had borne the blade throughout his career in the Osirian military before he relocated to Taldor to give Dara a more comfortable life. On the one hand, his father had certainly aimed to give his son a much simpler life here in Oppara. On the other, the Rostam line was a military family through and through, and Dara was sure that his Taldan service had done his father proud.
The archer also took the opportunity to find a change of clothes. Before he simply disappeared, however, he walked over to the small kitchen in the corner of his home. Seeing Inori’s preference in her own shop, he reached up into a cabinet for one of his few, rarely used liquors. He brought the drink to his simple table and left it with Inori while he went to find a new outfit in his bedroom.
The whole group had planned to reconvene back at the Stalwart estate around sundown. They needed the time to recoup, but they also knew that Martella’s fate hung in the balance. Belor had taken the time to simply restock his spell component pouch and tidy himself up, while Nell had either collected or arranged with the various nobles they’d met below the Senate. They all arrived outside the manor at nearly the same time, and headed inside. To their surprise, they found another familiar face awaiting them in the entryway.
Marquess Deschamps, who Inori had met at the Gala, had been waiting for them to return. The Marquess curtsied briefly, looking over the party before settling her gaze upon Inori.
“Good. I wasn’t sure if you would all stick together after everything that happened,” she began simply.
“Yeah, it’s been a hard going of things,” Inori stumbled through her reply, surprised at Deschamps’ appearance. “How did you get out?”
“Pathfinders,” Deschamps answered with a single word. “We had several of the agents around the area and they were able to extricate myself and most of the Senators. I don’t know if you’ve seen the area recently, but it wasn’t as bad as it may have been. Most of us got out ok.”
“You’re the first person to say so,” Nell spoke up. He’d never met Deschamps at the Gala, and was confused by the pale woman’s sudden appearance in his own home.
“And the first you’ve talked to that was there, I’d imagine,” she replied to him.
“Yes,” Nell muttered.
“The rest of you, I don’t believe we’ve met.” The Marquess once again turned her eyes across the rest of the party as she spoke. She briefly introduced herself, explaining how she’d met with Inori the day before. Further yet, she explained that she knew of their connections to Lady Lotheed.
“Do you know where she is?” Deschamps finished, seeking information on the missing Martella.
“That… might be tricky,” Nell mused. He dug into the pack he’d carried into town, and retrieved the note they’d found on the Brotherhood assassins. Whoever this woman was, she seemed to be an ally, and the group was in desperate need of friends.
Deschamps took the note and read it over, while the party gave her a brief overview of what they knew. They couldn’t provide much more information than what was in the note. As she finished looking over the piece of paper, she handed it back to Nell, explaining briefly that some Pathfinder agents throughout the city had seen them emerge from the Senate earlier. After tracking the group back to this estate, they’d returned to the Marquess and informed her of their location and bloodied state. She further explained that she had little power in the Pathfinder Society left to her now, and that they truly had Lady Morilla, another of the Senators at the Gala, to thank for this meeting.
“Do you know of this Dignified Repository?” she then asked, referring to the note.
Nell explained what little he knew of the building, and its location. He also knew through his father that the warehouse was owned by the Deristov family, but nothing more than that. He’d only briefly overhead the name from one of his father’s many business contacts. Finally, he explained that their current plan was to rest the night, tend to their wounds and prepare, and head to the warehouse together in the morning.
Deschamps nodded, seemingly pleased. “You’re well-learned. Your father’s a businessman, I’m not terribly surprised, but impressive nonetheless. Unfortunately incorrect, but it means the cover’s done its place.”
She continued to explain that there was no Deristov family, it was simply one of a line of pseudonyms and proxies that Martella used to hide the Repository’s real function: her personal safehouse. The party had briefly heard mention of this in her last communication, and Deschamps confirmed that somewhere in the Repository itself was the spymaster’s bunker. She did not know where.
The Dignified Repository was a proper warehouse. In order to keep its cover and avoid raising suspicion, it was actually a functional business. The warehouse had employees, and it held and traded freight. Within its walls was a fully operational distribution center. This, of course, also had its own uses for Martella. Deschamps also mentioned that she “played the game well”, referring to her role in intelligence. The two women had much in common there, but their skills and secrecy meant that Deschamps had little information about the building or situation beyond its physical location.
“How much do you know of the Brotherhood?” her questioning turned to the would-be assassins themselves.
Inori stepped in here, with a fair wealth of knowledge from her line of work. Many of her hunts and investigations had ended in mysterious leads connected to the thieves’ guild. They were powerful, and unflawed in their secrecy. She knew only of their existence, their proliferance, and that they were led by a figure (or figures) known as the Masked Marquis.
Deschamps nodded once more. “I can see why Martella hired the group of you. The four of you seem to work well together, and beyond that, you’re skilled and knowledgeable. This is fortunate. I don’t have access to a lot of resources to stake out a rescue mission for someone with no actual tie to the Pathfinder Society itself. Like I said, Lady Morilla has helped out how she can. Martella, her ends notwithstanding, is a personal friend of mine. I would see her safe for my own reasons.”
The meeting then turned to planning. Deschamps had advice and tactics, but very little in the way of actual aid. She was able to directly offer two agents: members of the Pathfinder Society she had brought enough under her personal sway to deploy them to assist Martella’s own operators. She named them as Valeros and Merisiel, a pair of adventurers she’d had called to Oppara in anticipation of dangers that might have occurred around the primogeniture vote. She’d never expected the true severity of what actually took place.
It seemed that the party was once more brought together under a common goal. First they had been hired to work for Lady Lotheed, and now they were kept together on a mission to rescue her. They had worked well together underground in the sublevels, but they now faced a much more dangerous foe in the Brotherhood of Silence. This time, at least, they could prepare. They’d be meeting the Brotherhood on their own grounds, but on the party’s terms.
They were to meet Valeros and Merisiel at an inn called A Hearty Mug at sunrise, to determine how they would orchestrate the warehouse infiltration. As their meeting concluded, each member of the group retreated back to their own homes to rest and prepare for another adventure. Each continued on this perilous journey for their own reasons.
As they awoke in the morning, however, they were faced with yet another setback. Every one of them, save for Dara, awoke stricken with a terribly debilitating illness. It seemed that wading through an ancient underground base filled with diseased rats had lasting effects beyond their teeth and claws. Nell and Belor simply felt ill, fatigued and weary. Inori wondered if the cold grip of death had nearly claimed her in the night. She was nearly unable to leave her bed, much less to ready herself and head back into town for an assault on one of Oppara’s most dangerous criminal syndicates.
Nevertheless, the party met outside A Hearty Mug, determined to face whatever the day held for them…
Check out the Discord server for a text write-up of #TheStorySoFar (that’s the channel) to get a real quick catch-up to the current episode! Or, look into #WarForTheCrown for fully detailed text versions of the adventures! Also, just come hang out!