The chronicles of the Cursed Eight
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Welcome to a new Chapter in the Chronicles of the Cursed Eight!
We find our party where we left them after Episode 2.6: The shadow …
The merchant city slept under a pale moon, its bustling market silenced, its streets empty save for a few happy drunks wandering home. A little life remained in the quarters that housed the various taverns, brothels and gambling dens, but even here the patrons were growing sleepy. Elsewhere, clever hands twirled lock picks expertly, as the members of Astralia’s Thieves’ Guild went to work.
A lone figure ducked into an alley, their hood obscuring any distinguishing features. They paused, letting their gloved hand pass over a seemingly unremarkable portion of stained wall, searching. This continued for a few minutes, as they moved further into the alley. From time to time, they would hear footsteps and freeze, flattening against the wall, no more than a shadow. Only when silence retuned did they continue their search.
Finally, their hand brushed against something. Quickly, the figure removed one of their gauntlets, revealing silvery dragonborn scales. With practiced ease, Nala ran her nail along the invisible rune carved in the wall. It glowed briefly and then vanished. Beneath it a small portal opened, one of many such caches hidden in cities across the Empire; the secret means of communication of the Draconic Resistance.
She fished inside it for a moment, finally extracting a rolled-up scroll and a small pouch of gold. She then placed her own report within the space and slid one claw through the rune, sealing it.
“ ‘ello there, luv. You lost?”
Reflexively, she turned away from the small group approaching her, muttering a quick spell under her breath. Her features shifted, and when she turned to face them she looked like a rather pale half-orc.
“Nah. Just tryin’ to find a place to lay down for the night. Haven’t been feeling myself lately,” she wheezed and then made a big show of coughing, letting her spell turn her features paler and wax-like.
“Ugh!” spat the human who had addressed her. Like his followers, he was clothed in blue linen, in the manner of the Thieves’ Guild, save for a silver crest, which identified him as an acolyte of Zinthid, the Lady of Shadows, goddess of crime.
“This one isn’t worth the time lads. We might get sick just by going through her pockets. Get lost beggar!” he snarled, and stalked past Nala, the three others following in his wake, but giving her a very wide berth. She waited for their voices to die away before heaving a deep sigh and cautiously making her way back to the “Happy Dragon Inn”.
She entered her room to find Zal’tat already asleep, his hand clutching something hanging around his neck. Being careful not to wake him, she lay down and coaxed a gentle mage-light to illuminate the scroll she had recovered.
To whom it may concern,
The Empire is on the move. Their recent victory at St.Vornias came as a surprise and the loss of the ford is a grave blow to the defence of our territories. Even though their main forces are still far from Za’Sher’nakeel, we believe that at this pace they will be at the Ivory Gates within the year. This progress must be impeded. Furthermore, the Empire must not be allowed to rally any more allies to its cause.
It is for this reason that the current crisis in the free city of Astralia must be resolved quickly and to our satisfaction.
Recently, the Draconic Ambassador, Shinn Orthel, was murdered. Not much was recovered at the scene, save for some pro-imperial paraphernalia. This has resulted in increased tensions between the local population and all dragonborn citizens.
We believe that this murder was staged to look like the work of an Imperial sympathizer. Unfortunately, unless this matter is cleared up, the Lords of Coin have made it clear that they will impose heavy sanctions on both the Empire and the Draconic Council. While our enemies can easily withstand such a measure, due to Astralia’s geographical position, we would be considerably weakened. It is imperative that Shinn’s murderer be brought to justice.
There is still no news concerning the imprisonment of clan Myastan.
This scroll will be destroyed upon conclusion.
As the flames licked up the parchment, she stared at the second-to-the-last phrase, the blue fire reflecting in her eyes. She flicked the remaining scrap away and it turned to ash, leaving the room dark once more.
For a moment, she stared at the ceiling. Then she sighed, wrapped herself in the light wool blanket and went to sleep.
* * *
“How was everyone’s night?”
“Quite good, thank you,” Kathra answered amiably, as she poured herself another glass of milk. “And yourself?”
“Best sleep that I’ve had in months,” Thorin answered, beaming. “A soldier’s cot is no comfortable bedding, and as much as I appreciate the care I received at St. Vornias, they really have awful cushions.”
Shainarra rolled her eyes and then peered at her oatmeal suspiciously. “I think it moved,” she muttered softly. She looked up at Siloqui.
“What about you? Sleeping indoors is a bit different for you, right?”
The wood elf picked up a slice of sausage, sniffed it, and then dropped it back on its platter. “Actually, where I’m from we sleep in tents, or yurts. And I’ve been to cities before. Don’t like them though.”
“I don’t know,” Grell interjected, “this place looks amazing! All the people, the stuff, the buildings, the colours! Bane doesn’t’ like it though,” he added, looking at the dire wolf pup, who was cowering under the table. “Too many smells, I think.”
“Ah, he’ll get used to it, lad!” Thorin said, thumping him on the back. “If you want, later I’ll take you both to see Astralia’s fabled Arena!”
Grell’s eyes grew very large.
“An arena? Where you can fight?”
“Of course! The famous Astralia Arena, home to the legendary Threll Bladewight, overseen by Tarok himself!”
The god of war’s name had an effect on Grell: the young half orc, who was want to fidget constantly, grew still.
“Tarok?” he breathed. “Tarok…looks at the fighters? Why?”
“Well, he is always interested in fighting. It is also said, that the very best, the fighters that win the Decennial Championship, they are taken to the Plain of Battles. Honoured by Tarok himself!”
“Some honour,” muttered Shainarra, sipping the last of her wine. She wiped her mouth with her napkin and then stood up.
“We haven’t really decided what to do yet, but we have plenty of time,” she pointed at the glowing mark on her arm. “I suggest we take a few days and hang out here. Might make some coin, get some provisions…figure out the best and safest way to get to Dereillon.”
“I second that idea,” said Nala quietly. Today she had taken the appearance of rather large human, but a careful observer would certainly have seen the small discrepancies of her illusory form. “I would like to find a better way to disguise myself…my magic won’t hold up under close inspection.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Zal’tat. “We should go see what the local Mages’ Guild has to offer.”
“I want to see the Arena!” Grell said, pounding his fists on the tables and upsetting a platter of cheese.
“Well, it’s decided,” Shainarra said with a smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be taking a walk.” And without waiting for an answer, she left the table.
After a moment, Kathra stood up.
“I think I’ll join her. It’s better not to be alone in a strange city.”
The druid said goodbye to her friends and exited the tavern. She peered around for a moment and almost immediately spied Shainarra moving hurriedly off towards the market. It seemed to the druid that thief was trying to go unnoticed.
“But that’s how she always behaves,” she said to herself, waving all suspicions aside. Beaming, she followed her companion.
As they neared the market, Kathra couldn’t help but wonder at the elf’s odd behaviour: every now and again, she would look back, catch sight of Kathra, quickly hurry forward, skulk behind a stall or wall, then dodge behind someone or something and dash forward again. This odd pattern repeated itself all the way through the marketplace and well into one of the seedier quarters of the city.
Finally, Shainarra stumbled into a barrel outside of a tavern and tripped. Kathra quickly closed the distance between them to help the elf back to her feet.
“By the Twelve, you are persistent !” snapped the thief.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the druid answered. “You didn’t want me to come along?”
“Ehm, no. I…always appreciate your company, it’s just…” the elf stammered, clutching at straws.
“Were you trying to be discreet?”
“Well, as matter of a fact, yes.”
“Hmm. Why did you knock over that vendor’s stall then? The one selling pots?”
“Ah…eh…as a distraction!”
“And when you bumped into that noble that started yelling at you?”
“I was…trying to pickpocket him!”
“Oh. That’s not very honest. Did you steal anything from him? You should probably return it.”
“I…yes. Not very much though. 3 gold.”
Shainarra groaned, as Kathra extended an open palm.
“I’ll take the gold and return it. That way you won’t get into any trouble,” she said sternly.
With pained expression, the elf handed her three gold coins.
“There! You see? Don’t you feel better?”
“Oh yes, loads. You might want to hurry though: he may be difficult to find in the marketplace.”
The dwarf nodded and set off, leaving Shainarra staring.
“Great job. Three gold to get her to stop tailing you. Best thief in all of Dereillon,” she growled sullenly. Then she took off, following the subtle marks left on walls, fountains and crates, by the members of her Guild.
The trail finally lead her to a run-down old tavern by the name of “The Filled Cup”. She passed the bartender – a surly old green dragonborn – while flashing him a series of quick hand gestures. He didn’t even blink but just gestured towards a set of stairs leading down. At the foot of the stairs, she found a large iron-bound door. She knocked three times.
“Password?” screeched someone within.
“Ruby in the dark,” she hissed.
“I guess,” came the disappointed answer, and the door swung open. Before her, clad in a dashing overcoat and a rather large hat with and impressive feather, stood a kobold.
“Welcome to Thieves’ Guild! Me Jack-Jack! Come! I take to boss!”-
The story continues in episode 2.8…