"Those fanatics!" cried Wolfsire. "Why in all the nine hells would we want to go there?"
"Fanatics?" asked Eileen.
"Yes!" Wolfsire declared. "I passed through their country on my journey south. They call it 'The Pale.' Trust me, they're all fanatics! They insist that Pholtus is the only 'true god' and that all others are just 'minor aspects' of Pholtus' 'blinding light'!"
"What?" cried Eileen. "Surely they know better?"
"Apparently not!" cried Wolfsire. "I even had to fight off one of their clerics – a fellow named Issak – and four men-at-arms in the town of Hawkburgh! I barely won free of them. They pursued me all the way to the city of Midmeadow, in Nyrond; all the while screaming 'pagan'! I lost them there. Hells, I wouldn't be surprised if that Issak fellow doesn't end up being 'Theocrat' one day!"
"The Lady teaches us; 'Dishonesty about your role in the world leads to ruin and disaster.'" Eileen declared. "Such an untruth must be expunged!"
"We don't have time to start a religious war today," I interjected, as we turned onto Horseshoe Road. "Nor any time for religious debates. I need some things that can only be obtained at a temple, and the Temple of Pholtus is the closest one along our route." I looked up. "I want to get this business done while we still have daylight, so the three of you will wait for me in front of the Nightwatchmen's Guildstation."
"What are you going to get?" asked Bubbagump.
"You'll see soon enough," I replied.
We turned onto 'The Strip' with Eileen and Wolfsire still deploring the teachings of Pholtus. The bedlam along the way slowed us just a bit – a particularly annoying group of mimes kept pressing upon us from the left, while a group of jugglers were pressing upon our right – we still managed to make good progress, but only after I tossed each group a lucky.
In addition, two young would be thieves – maybe ten, or eleven summers in age – tried to take advantage of the mayhem and snatch Eileen's belt purse. But Bubbagump was keeping an eye on things and managed to foil their amateur attempts without attracting too much unwanted attention to us.
My friends and I finally separated at the corner of Water Street; my companions continuing on to the Guildstation, while I went on to the Temple of Pholtus.
The Temple was not overly large, but it was very sturdily built and a wonder to look upon, constructed as it is of white marble and possessing a symmetrical contour. The very sight of it gave one an 'unsoiled' sort of feeling. Needless to say, it was quite out of place in that neighborhood.
I stepped in and politely waited just inside the door – knowing as I did that the Pholtan's were not overly fond of magic-users. A cleric, some years older than myself, wearing white and silver vestments, approached me.
"Good day to you. I am Brother Arkandy Benris. How may I help you?"
"Good day to you, Brother Benris," I replied, bowing. "I have need of potions which cure disease. Would you have any that I could purchase?"
"The healing power of Pholtus is not for sale!" Boomed out a powerful voice. I turned and saw a younger man approaching us. He stood about five feet, ten inches tall, was clean shaven, with blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He was dressed in chain mail, overlaid with a white tabard adorned with the symbol of Pholtus. His bearing and stride was that of a military man.
"My apologies if I have offended," I replied, placing my hand on my heart and bowing again.
"The offense is in your being in this Temple!" The younger cleric declared.
"Enough!" cried Arkandy Benris. "This is not The Pale, Brother Issak, exercise tolerance!"
"Tolerance?" the young man demanded. "Does not Pholtus say; 'The One True Way is a strict path,' and again, 'Show no tolerance for those who do not give all for the cause of law?' Is it not enough that we have the northern pagans traipsing through our homeland? Must we also allow the 'consorts of demons' into our holy places!?"
"You misapply sacred scripture, Brother Issak," Brother Benris retorted. "For the sacred writings also teach us 'to bring the word to the unbelievers and brook no argument against this practice!' Here in the Free City we have learned to work with all lawful faiths – even magicians who honor 'law' – to do what is necessary to increase 'the Blinding Light.' Your very mission to this city should have already enlightened you in regards to these matters!"
The younger man scowled at this rebuke from the older man, but bowed his head and turned on his heel, striding away into the inner rooms of the Temple.
"You must forgive Brother Issak," said Benris. "He is an idealistic young Templar of our church and only just arrived from our homeland. He is somewhat overzealous, as are most young people."
"I crave your pardon, Brother Benris," I said. "It is not my wish to offend your god."
"Pholtus takes no offense," Benris assured me. "Nor do I. However, young Issak is correct; our services and remedies are not for sale. Rather, they are freely given, but only to worshipers of 'the Blinding Light.' However, our cures may also be shared with other 'lawful' persons, whenever donatives are offered."
"I would be pleased to offer a donation for such kindly assistance," I replied. "As I, too, honor the law."
"You have someone in need of such cure, then?" Benris asked.
"Regrettably, there are several," I sighed. "First one took sick, then another . . ."
"Wait here." Brother Benris walked away and passed through a door near the back of the Temple. I quickly counted out twenty orbs into a spare coin purse. Benris returned within a few minutes. "Each of these vials contains two doses of cure." He handed me three vials.
"I thank Pholtus for his kind generosity," I replied, bowing my head as I accepted the vials. "Would you be so kind as to accept this donation to Pholtus on the behalves of myself and my sick associates?" I handed the cleric the coin purse.
"I am happy to do so," Benris replied, taking the pouch. "May Pholtus' blessings be upon you and your associates and may he of 'the Blinding Light' guide you onto 'the One True Way,' while speeding the recovery of your friends."
(Arkandy Benris is now High Priest of the Greyhawk Temple and still espousing 'the Law.' I've often wondered what he would say if he ever found out that those potions had been used to cure thieves?)
Thanking the cleric again, I departed and hurried to meet my friends.
"About time," said Wolfsire.
I looked at Wolfsire with a smirk on my face.
"Why do you look at Wolfsire like that, Magician?" asked Eileen. "Is something amiss?"
"Not really," I said. "But I met an 'old friend' of Wolfsire's just now."
"A friend of mine?" asked Wolfsire, puzzled.
"Yes," I answered. "A fellow by the name of 'Issak.' He's staying at the Pholtan Temple."
"By Vatun!" cried Wolfsire, spinning about, looking for the cleric. "You mean the fiend's followed me all the way to Greyhawk? After all this time!?"
I laughed and shook my head. "I doubt he's that good a tracker," I started walking. "I was given to understand that he's here on official church business. But it would be well if we avoided him during his visit to the city."
Wolfsire grumbled something and kept looking back over his shoulder. I slapped him on his arm. His head snapped around.
"Keep your mind focused on the business at hand," I said. He 'humphed,' but kept quiet after that.
The Green Dragon Inn is situated at the junction of Cargo and Blue Boar streets and was relatively tranquil when we entered, but then it was still a little before the end of the workday. We had entered a large public taproom which spanned the entire length of the building and most of its width. There were tables of all kinds – large and small, rectangular, round and square – scattered all about the place. There were stairs leading up to a second floor to our left and what could only be a stage off to our right. To the front of us was the bar, with stools ranged along it, taking up most of the back wall. There was a raised area to the right of the bar, with a long, rectangular, mahogany table and a fireplace. Two doors could be seen in the wall behind the bar.
I spotted Ricard seated upon a stool at the left end of the bar. He was exactly as Mortellan had described him. He noticed us as soon as we walked in and so I headed straight for him. I made arrangements for a room, with meals for four, for ten orbs per seven-day. I didn't want to start off by having him think I was looking for special treatment, so it was only after I paid for our rooms that I handed him Mortellan's note. He read it quickly, then looked at me.
"I see," said Ricard. "Well, let me show you to your rooms then."
The stairs stood in the northeast corner and up these we went. At the top landing, we found that the hallway ran left and right along the outer wall of the building. Candles were set in sconces along the walls, but were unlit. Most of the light was presently being provided by the unshuttered windows. We passed along the hallway running down the front of the building and Ricard ushered us into the last door.
We entered the room and found a table and chairs in the middle of the room, with a lantern hanging above; a box of tindertwigs was on the table itself. A single bed stood along the wall to our right and a bunk bed to the left, with a trunk for storage for each. Just inside the door stood a small wood stove, with a scuttle of coal beside it.
Ricard indicated the table and Wolfsire, Eileen and myself took seats there, with Bubbagump perching himself upon a bunk. Ricard closed the outer door and joined us at the table, first using a tindertwig to light the lantern above.
"So, a friend of Mortellan," he said. "Friends of Mortellan are welcome here. How can I help?"
I explained to him the events of the day, without going into as great a detail, as I had with Mortellan.
"Mortellan named this elf 'Cyrathas,' and thought you might be able to supply us with some additional information," I concluded.
Ricard had listened attentively to my narrative and now scratched his chin, rubbing the scar there.
"Yes, I know this 'Cyrathas' fellow," Ricard began. "Given you've already located the hideout, you don't need that information. There are numerous traps and such guarding the place, but I can't tell you the exact nature of them."
"Cyrathas and his men do their drinking here," Ricard continued. "Don't spend much; mostly, they're just looking for 'marks.' Cyrathas thinks he's setting his gang up to rival the Thieves' Guild, but I don't think that's going to happen. They've only been here a few months, according to my sources. An arson, couple of beatings and some minor robberies have been credited to them."
"And the sickness?" I asked.
"Cyrathas has been asking me for some healing potions these last couple of weeks," Ricard said. "Haven't been able to help there. Getting too close to him and his boys would put me in bad with the Guild; Tomas Retak hasn't learned about their operations yet, or he would have already had them eliminated. He's a brute of a man and folks call him 'the Thug.' Looks the part too. If you folks stay here any length of time, one of Tomas' boys will sidle up to you one night and explain 'the rules' to you. So be prepared for that."
"Anyway," Ricard went on. "Cyrathas' lieutenant – a half-elf named Daylin, fancies a rapier – came in a couple days ago, not looking so good. I told him to leave and to keep his boys away from here, so long as they're sick. Cyrathas was in again only this morning, offering good gold for medicine. I think things are getting worse for them."
"Thanks Ricard," I said. "You've been a big help. Now I think its time my friends and I visited Cyrathas and his people."
"Just be careful," Ricard cautioned. "I don't want Mortellan blaming me for your deaths." He stood. "And if you do help Cyrathus' boys, put in a word for me, huh? It don't hurt to have such people owing you a favor." With that, he left us alone.
We did a quick check of our room; no window, three beds and three trunks, a small table with wash basin and pitcher for water against the back wall. A bucket for fetching water was under the table.
Everyone stowed their gear and made sure the trunks were locked – each trunk had a its own key. As we left our room, Bubbagump set a quick trap upon the door and I cast a warding spell. It wasn't much; the spell would cause anyone getting too close to the door to hear voices within. It would only last a couple of hours, but our adventure had caught me ill prepared for such a necessity; it was the best I could do.
We left the Green Dragon and proceeded east along Cargo Street. Just before reaching the City Watch guild-station, we turned onto the deadend street. It was little more than an alley and went up a small incline, ending at an "L" shaped building. To the right of this building and across a grassy area, stood the Green Dagger hideout. Bubbagump assured the rest of us that he had some skill at skulking and so Eileen, Wolfsire and I waited at the base of the incline while he went to reconnoiter the guild-house
From our position, we could see much of the place. It was a rambling, two story residence in desperate need of repair – but that was true of several of the buildings situated here. The walls were of wood and plaster and they sagged badly. The windows appeared heavily boarded. From our location we could even perceive some large holes in the roof. Towards the back of the house there was a large overhang and it appeared as though some type of stables had been kept there, as Bubbagump had suggested. A large, second story balcony was situated above this area. The building stood beneath the Noble's Wall and not far from the Garden Gate.
Bubbagump soon returned. "The whole place is boarded up tight," he reported. "I don't think we can force our way in through any window, not quietly anyway."
"Then that's not an option," I said. "Is there a back door?"
"Yes, by the stable area, but it appears to be blocked from the inside," the halfling said. "Not locked, mind you, but blocked somehow. But the front door is like new," he added meaningfully.
"Like new?" asked Eileen.
The halfling nodded. "The fittings and handle don't even show the slightest sign of rust or tarnish."
"Well cared for," I said. "Trapped?"
"Undoubtedly," the halfling nodded. "I need a closer look to see if I can get past it. It's awful quiet in there. It's like nobody's around."
"They've spotted us!" Wolfsire spoke in a harsh whisper. "It's an ambush!"
I shook my head. "I doubt it. Mortellan suggested to me that if one member of the gang were sick, likely more of them were. Ricard confirmed that. Cyrathas is likely the only one we need worry about."
"Why only him?" asked Wolfsire.
"He's an elf," Eileen answered him. "Elves are immune to many of the diseases that affect humans."
"Well, you're the cleric," said Wolfsire, acknowledging Eileen's expertise in all such matters.
"So in all likelihood, no one's watching the front very closely," I said. "Let's go take a look at that door."
It was as Bubbagump had described it. He checked out the porch meticulously and found nothing, so we approached the door. Bubbagump gave the door a good looking over, then he smiled.
"It's not a trap, not really," he informed us. "But if we knock on the door, or try to open it, an alarm will sound somewhere in the building."
"Can it be disarmed?" I asked.
"Yes," said Bubbagump. "Just give me a minute."
So Bubbagump went to work, using his own brand of 'magic' on the door. After a minute or so, he turned to us and smiled, flipped the latch and the door swung open. I gave the halfling a big smile and patted him on the shoulder.
"Not bad, Bubbagump," I whispered. "You're quite the little rogue, aren't you?"
He beamed with pride.
"Why don't you go first," I suggested. "And make sure we three don't accidentally trip any other alarms."
Bubbagump nodded and entered the door. Following behind we saw what had once been an imposing entry hall. It was lit by two sputtering torches located in sconces to our left and right. In the dim light we could see that the walls had once been painted with bright frescoes of the city, but these were now covered with thick dust and grime. In the opposite wall we could see a pair of rotting double doors and above them, a crudely painted green dagger. We had found the right place.
Bubbagump was carefully moving about the trash filled room while the three of us waited just inside the door. Two doors in the side walls, one half open, were the only other things to be seen here.
Bubbagump rejoined us and whispered, "There are two peepholes each in the east and west walls. I couldn't see anything – they're too high – but I could hear somebody snoring through the east wall, the west wall was quiet."
"Well, let's go through that door first," I suggested. "And make sure that whoever's sleeping in there, doesn't cause us any trouble."
We moved in that direction and Bubbagump gave the door a close examination. Nodding, he opened the door and revealed a hallway illuminated by a single, spitting torch. We proceeded to the first door, located on the right, and again Bubbagump checked it thoroughly. He opened the door slightly and peeked in. He then lifted one finger, indicating that there was only one person in the room, then indicated to us that this person was sleeping.
Wolfsire tapped Bubbagump on the shoulder, motioning him to move to the side. The big barbarian then advanced into the room; surprisingly quiet for his size. He was on the thief in a moment and, as the thief opened his eyes, Wolfsire landed a tremendous right hand on the thief's jaw. The thief slumped down.
Close examination revealed a half-elf with a rapier; this was undoubtedly Daylin. Bubbagump searched him and found a vial containing some sort of liquid on Daylin's person then, producing some leather bindings, he tied the half-elf tightly to his chair. A quick examination showed me that the liquid was a potion which would remove fear from the imbiber.
Eileen bent over and examined the thief. "It appears this is something to which his human blood is susceptible, he's sick, just as Ricard suspected."
"I'm prepared for that," I said. "Mortellan gave me some potions to cure disease and I procured others at the Temple of Pholtus." I handed her a vial.
"This is a double portion," she said.
"They all are," I replied.
"Hold his nose," she instructed Wolfsire, who complied. Then she poured the potion into the half-elf's mouth. With his nose held, he was compelled to swallow. After administering the potion, Daylin was gagged.
"I'm surprised we were able to sneak up on an elf," said Wolfsire. "Even a half-elf."
"His illness no doubt impaired his abilities," said Eileen. "Otherwise, I don't think we would have."
"Probably not," I agreed, thinking of Mortellan. "Let's see who else we can find and what kind of condition they're in."
I suggested that we continue down the hall, ensuring that our 'rear' was clear of any threat. There were a set of double doors on the left, a single door on the right and another at the end of the hall. Bubbagump looked to me and I pointed to the door on the right. After a close examination, he discovered the trap.
It took the halfling a couple of minutes – which seemed like hours – to disarm the device. He wiped his forehead when he finished and looking at me, he pointed up. We each looked up and could just discern a small tap door – something would have fallen on top of anyone opening that door.
We quickly stepped into the room and closed the door behind us. It was an armory, of sorts. There were various weapons – swords, daggers, crossbows and caltrops – some armor, two smokesticks, a rope with grappling hook and four vials filled with liquid. After close scrutiny, I determined what the vials were; two filled with acid and two filled with alchemist fire. I pocketed these.
Bubbagump was delighted over finding two complete sets of thieves tools and took a set for himself. Then, even more excitedly, he grabbed a hand crossbow. There was a small belt quiver for the bolts and he attached it to his own belt. Certainly a better weapon than his sling, especially inside the hideout.
"Take the rope and hook," I told Wolfsire. "And the smokesticks, they may come in handy."
He put them in his pack and we exited the room.
The door at the end of the hallway wasn't trapped, but a horrendous odor issued forth as soon as the door was opened. A very recently used and stopped-up privy was revealed and the door was instantly closed to prevent further gagging.
The double doors were likewise not trapped and opened onto a large room with a magnificent staircase on the north wall. A great crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room and was covered in dust and cobwebs. I reached past Bubbagump and quietly closed the door.
"The only way out of that room is up the stairs," I whispered. "And we're not ready to go 'up' just yet. Let's examine the rest of this floor."
My companions nodded agreement and we proceeded back down the hallway. Wolfsire peeked in at our prisoner and indicated that he was still 'out.' We re-entered the entry hall and proceeded to the door in the west wall. After a careful inspection, Bubbagump opened the door and we entered another hallway.
The first door, on the left, was examined and Bubbagump opened it. A human body lay within, its eyes swollen shut. The man wore leather armor and a small crossbow lay on his lap. Eileen moved to examine the corpse.
"This poor man died of dehydration," she said, after a moment. "His illness left him too weak to even call out for help."
Bubbagump removed a pouch from the corpse's belt; it contained eighteen orbs. We continued down the hall.
The next door, on the right, proved to be a mess hall and it stank. A long table dominated the room, surrounded by patch-work chairs and covered with broken and crack plates and bowls, still covered with half-eaten, rotting food. A green dagger was painted in the center of the table. Upon closer investigation of the room itself, Bubbagump found a secret door in the north wall.
I indicated that we would save that for later and we went back out into the hallway. There were two doors remaining, after which the hallway turned left. I pointed to the door on our left. Another check and it was opened . . . sort of. The door would not open all the way. Bubbagump peeked through.
"Its chock full of garbage and broken furniture," he reported.
He closed the door and turned his attention to the door across the hall. As soon as he opened it, we were awash in a fetid stench. It was the kitchen; a work table covered with rotting food and swarming with flies lay along the far wall. A cold fire pit stood in the corner amidst broken pots and clay crockery. We decided not to enter this room and turned the corner of the hall. Piled up furniture blocked a door at the end.
"Let's clear that doorway," I said. "In case we need another way out."
The blockage was soon cleared and the door opened. Everyone
stepped outside for a breath of fresh air . . . and that's when we were attacked!
Next... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 6
To the beginning... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 1
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