Stirges attacked us as soon as we were outside.
Eileen threw up her shield to ward off one of the attackers, while Bubbagump sought refuge behind her. The halfling was trying to take aim with his new hand crossbow, but the giant insects were too quick.
Wolfsire used the flat of his axe blade to swat one of the creatures, it was crushed by the blow and fell dead at his feet.
I had managed to catch the one attacking me by its proboscis and held onto it with all my strength while trying to bludgeon it with my staff. The insect was stronger than I would have imagined and thrashed about valiantly against my single-handed grip. Between its relentless struggling and its small, pincer-like claws scratching at my arm, I would soon have lost my grip, so dropping my staff I grabbed it with both hands.
The power of its wings knocked me against the wall of the building, while its hind claws scrapped at my chest; fortunately the wards of my robe protected me. Still, even using both hands to fend the creature off, I was on the verge of losing my grip when, at that very moment, a small bolt shot through the stirge's body. Its struggles eased and then ceased altogether; I dropped it. Looking down, I saw Bubbagump reloading his hand crossbow. I nodded my thanks to him.
One of the creatures was still trying to get at Eileen, who was doing her best to keep it at bay with her shield, all the while striking at it with her mace. Wolfsire faced a fourth creature, whirling his great axe before him in a crisscross fashion, but the creature was too nimble, darting about upon its wings.
Wolfsire's attacker momentarily backed off and so he made a backhand swing at the pest assailing Eileen, but missed. Even so, the stirge turned to face its new attacker and that's when Eileen's mace struck home, splattering the insect.
As the last stirge returned to the attack, Wolfsire spun to meet it, bashing it with his shield. The stunned creature fell to the earth, whereupon Wolfsire stomped on its head, a move he immediately regretted: "Damn!"
"Yuck!" Eileen chimed in, as she wiped her mace on some straw.
Wolfsire was doing the same with his boot, while Bubbagump cleaned the bolt he had retrieved from the insect he had killed.
"Ooo!" I looked down at the sound to see that Bubbagump had found a lucky. The coin was undoubtedly dropped by someone as they were attacked by the stirges. The halfling looked up at me.
"Keep it," I told him; he was delighted. "Alright, if everyone's ready, we'll go back to that dining room and check out the secret door."
Back into the building we went, straight to the mess hall. Strangely enough, there was still no indication that anyone had yet become aware of our presence, in spite of the sounds of our battle. So Bubbagump opened the hidden door. What lay beyond was a large room and the reason for the lack of resistance to our presence. The smell of sickness hung heavily in the air.
There was a row of double bunk beds set along the north wall and five bodies could be seen lying upon them; the room was their barracks. We cautiously entered and approached the bedridden thieves, ready for anything, but none rose to confront us.
I pointed to a door visible in the east wall and Wolfsire quickly posted himself to guard it. Bubbagump began to examine the room itself and Eileen went to check the condition of the thieves.
"This one is comatose," she said.
She poured her remaining dose of cure into his mouth while holding his nose, forcing him to swallow. I promptly joined her, handing her another vial of the cure. I opened one of my own and began pouring it into the mouth of a second thief. Eileen moved to a third thief and I to a fourth.
Bubbagump came to my side to report. "There's practice dummies and straw targets spread around," he said. "There's some pretty good locks and trap triggers for practicing on too."
The thief squirmed beneath me and murmured something about 'the boss killing us.' I ignored him and poured cure down his throat, he choked but swallowed the potion all the same.
"Anything else?" I asked Bubbagump.
"I found these in one of the chests," he replied.
He handed me two clay vials and one iron flask. Inspection showed that the vials were more alchemist fire and the flask was a potion of invisibility. I added them to my bag of holding. Eileen finished administering cure to the last thief.
"What do you think?" I asked her.
"Soon now," Eileen answered. "The potion works fairly quickly. They will still need time to recuperate and will remain weak for a few days, but they are no longer in immediate danger of dying. All except this one." She pointed to the comatose thief.
Wolfsire had begun walking towards us when the door he had been guarding burst open and two large mastiffs charged into the room! One of the beast leapt at Wolfsire, but the north-man was anything but slow. Spinning on the balls of his feet, he turned to meet the beast and swung his great-axe will all his considerable strength.
His axe met the animal just as its fore paws struck Wolfsire's chest. The dog was severed almost in half by the assault, but the momentum of the attack carried the mastiff forward so that it struck Wolfsire full on, causing the barbarian to stagger backwards.
The second beast leapt at me. With a prayer to Boccob on my lips, I raised my staff and held it in a horizontal position in the hopes of jamming it into the dog's mouth. But just before the animal reached me, there was a blur of movement from the side; it was Eileen. She slammed into the large dog with her shield, knocking it away from me.
As the animal landed on its side, a bolt suddenly appeared in its flank; Bubbagump had scored a hit. But the mastiff regained its feet quickly, even more angry than before. Eileen managed to score a hit with her mace, striking the beast on its shoulder as it charged her, but it was the giant dog's turn to knock Eileen down.
She landed on her back, but with enough presence of mind to insure that her shield was between her and the dog. The mastiff's fore paws were on the shield, its weight baring down on the cleric, its slavering jaws snapping at her face.
Wolfsire had quickly regained his balance and charged the animal. His axe blade hung down from his hand and he swung it upwards from the floor as he charged. The great blade caught the mastiff in its midsection and sliced upwards. Entrails and blood erupted from the wound, splattering Eileen. The dog was flung from off her and landed against the southern wall; dead.
Daylin staggered into the doorway, rapier in hand. He had managed to get loose of his bonds somehow and was recovered just enough to set the guard dogs upon us. He leaned heavily on the door jamb.
"Who are you?" he demanded in a weak voice. "No one may violate the sanctity of our guild-house!"
I approached him with my free hand raised, palm outward. "We mean no harm. We have administered a cure to all of your sick – all that we have found still alive – yourself included."
"I can feel it," Daylin admitted. "But why would you do this?"
"We need to speak with Cyrathas," I replied. "We thought that the best way to accomplish that was to prove ourselves 'friends' to you."
Daylin began to sag forward. Wolfsire dropped his axe and lunged towards the half-elf, catching and easing him into a sitting position on the floor. I signaled to Bubbagump to search the next room and then knelt beside Daylin.
"Here, drink this," I told him, removing another vial from my pouch. "The first potion we gave you cured the disease you carried, but it did not heal the damage already done to your body. This potion will do that."
After Daylin drank, I stood and went to speak with Eileen. She was busily wiping gore from her armor, but looked up as I approached. "You alright?" I asked.
"Yes." she replied. "I'm fine, if a bit messy."
I smiled and handed her the half-empty vial of healing potion.
"Give the rest of this to the comatose fellow,"
I said. "Maybe it will improve his chances."
"It will greatly improve his chances," Eileen agreed.
Bubbagump returned with some sort of square object in his hand.
"I didn't find any traps," the halfling reported. "But I found this; a picture frame made of silver!"
It was finely wrought and obviously worth a considerable amount.
"Will it fit into your magic bag?" Bubbagump asked.
"It will," I answered, placing the frame into my bag of holding.
I then returned to Wolfsire and Daylin. The half-elf was standing now, still a little shaky, but obviously stronger. Wolfsire had taken a blanket and was following Eileen's example in attempting to clean himself off.
"How are you feeling?" I asked Daylin.
"Better," Daylin replied. "Much better. I still don't understand why you did this, or how you knew."
"Ricard informed us of your illness," I replied. "We went to him, seeking information and he directed us to you."
"That still doesn't tell me why you need to talk to Cyrathas," Daylin said, "But you have done us a great service, so I'll take you to him." He started out the door, moving slowly. I took his arm, to steady him.
"My thanks, Daylin," I said.
He stopped and turned his head to look at me. "You know my name, you did your home work."
"Knowledge is power, my friend."
Daylin guided us out into what was once a lavish reception hall. Light filtered in through a high, boarded up window and it was easy to see that the room was now a complete mess. Broken furniture littered the center of the room, piled atop a once fine carpet. We then passed through what used to be a sitting room and two large statues of a portly merchant stared down at us from alcoves to either side.
We exited through the now open rotted doors back out into the entry hall.
"Down that hallway," I pointed. "There's another one of your men in a room similar to the one in which we found you. He's dead."
Daylin merely nodded his head and lead us into the hallway where his hiding spot had been. Down this hall we went, to the double doors that hid the grand staircase we had seen earlier. Daylin opened the doors and motioned us to wait.
Entering the room, he ascended the stairs to the first landing and called for someone named 'Dalta.' He was soon joined by a human female about as tall as himself, with curly brown hair, leather armor and an assortment of weaponry. They spoke for a few moments and then Daylin waved us forward.
"This is Dalta Gwyn," Daylin introduced her. "She hasn't been feeling well for the last couple of days herself. Can you help her too?"
"Of course," I said, taking another vial of cure from my pouch. "Here, drink half of this." I handed her the vial and she drank.
"You will still need rest in order to recuperate," said Eileen. "But you will no longer be infected with the sickness."
"Are there any others?" I asked.
"Just three," Daylin said. "But only two who need help. The halfling twins, Tisa and Risa Tyran."
"Of course," I said. "Cyrathas is an elf and has no need of our assistance in that regard."
"You know a great deal about us," Dalta said.
I smiled, as I repeated myself. "Knowledge is power."
(I was beginning to mimic my Master, Maldin. I've long since come to realize that I like the sound of my own voice, too!)
We proceeded up the stairs and entered into a short hallway with a blue, threadbare rug lining the floor. Except for two grimy chairs sitting in front of the doors directly across from us, there was nothing note worthy in the hall, save another door to our left; oddly enough that door had cotton wadding stuffed all around its edges. We went to none of these doors however, turning right instead and passing through a set of double doors leading out onto a walkway straddling the rooftop. We crossed this path to yet another set of doors.
"Wait here," said Daylin.
He rapped out some sort of code on the door and passed through into the room beyond, while Dalta remained with us. Daylin reemerged a few minutes later. "Come in," he said.
We entered a room overflowing with curtains, each hanging about a foot off of the floor. Evenly spaced wooden pillars could just be discerned throughout the room, with pieces of green cloth hung between them. The curtains were billowing in the breeze coming through the doorway.
Two halflings stood before us; the twins. Both appeared relatively pale, with perspiration upon their brows. I did not ask which was which, Eileen and I simply administered potions of cure to each of them. Eileen admonished them to rest, as she had Dalta, and we continued on our way.
Daylin lead us to the north wall and another cleverly concealed door. We entered into a hidden hallway and proceeded along this route to the west, then southward and on into a small room. Daylin had us wait while he approached a door and pulled on a cord hanging to the left of it. He spoke into a brass horn on the wall, then passed through the door. Dalta and the twins remained with us, keeping their eyes on us no doubt. No one spoke.
It was some few minutes before the door finally opened again and Daylin waved us forward. We entered a spacious, luxuriously appointed room with new, richly colored tapestries hung upon the walls and finely woven rugs covered the floor. What could only be a throne, made of fine wood and gilded with gold and silver filigree, adorned the southeast corner.
(I remember that the room looked quite opulent indeed, but when it came to thieves you could never be too sure just what is real and what is fake.)
Of course, the throne was not empty; Cyrathas sat upon it. He was of a size with Mortellan and, as I suspected, another High Elf. He had closely cropped blonde hair and blue eyes – his short hair was unusual for an elf. His clothes were superbly made and of the finest materials; a mixture of blues and greens inlaid with gemstones.
"Daylin tells me that you have been of considerable assistance to us," Cyrathas began. He sounded relieved. "Though you aided us in an admittedly peculiar fashion. I can only express my gratitude to you for your help and to Ricard for sending you to us."
"We were glad to help," I replied. "But in truth, master Cyrathas, we came for our own purposes."
"Yes, so I have been told," Cyrathas acknowledged. "But why aid us? Why not simply come in demanding answers? We were in no real position to resist a group such as yours. In addition, one of your ilk recently betrayed me, very recently. I find it all very strange. You stand before me only because I, too, require information. You are an enigma, Magician."
I smiled. "To quote my Master, 'You catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar.' To aid you, was to aid myself."
"And who is your master?" Cyrathas asked.
"The Arch-mage Maldin," I replied.
"I see," said Cyrathas. "Him, I've heard of. A wise man, this Maldin. So, what is it that you seek?"
My smile broadened, "A key!"
Cyrathas burst out with mirthless laughter. "I should have known! That key has become my bane! It all revolves around that damnable key, or rather, with the arrival of that damn cleric of Boccob who wanted the key! Now there is a mystery for you Magician and one which I would know the solution to." He looked at me pensively. "Are you here, then, seeking reprisals?"
Cyrathas still sat upon his throne, with Daylin standing beside him, but Dalta and the twins were arrayed behind us. I understood this precaution and was not unduly alarmed by it.
"No, we have no interest in any meaningless retaliation," I replied. "We only seek the key's return."
Cyrathas regarded me thoughtfully, then finally nodded. "For some reason, I believe you."
"It began with a 'cleric of Boccob,'" I repeated. "And so it is that you say 'one of my ilk,' betrayed you."
"That is so," agreed Cyrathas. "Still, you have supplied us with much needed aid, Magician, when none other could be found and so I will tell you all."
And he did.
It was about two weeks ago that his gang members began falling ill. No one knew the cause of the illness, or how the disease was spread among them. No one they had come into contact with outside of their own group had taken ill, or was known to have been ill previously. So the origin of the sickness remained a mystery.
"This tells me that you probably ingested it," interrupted Eileen. "It was no doubt something your people ate, or drank. Throw out all the food you have remaining and buy new food stuffs. And replace your water as well; throw out your old water cask and buy new ones."
"Thank you, cleric," said Cyrathas. "I will have my people do that."
Cyrathas continued his narrative. He had tried getting help for his men, with the assistance of Ricard, but nothing had come of it. His little group was becoming known in the area and help of the kind they needed was hard to find. Two days ago, a Boccobian cleric named Veltargo came to the Green Daggers offering them a cure for the disease afflicting them in exchange for the stealing of Theldrat Meldorp's key.
How the Boccobian had known of their illness, or even how to find them, Cyrathas did not know. The illness had finally reached critical levels among his men, keeping him too busy and too befuddled to ask such obvious questions of the cleric at the time. He simply grasped at the offer of help as a drowning man grasps at a floating piece of drift wood.
But the group, being decimated by the illness, was unable to carry out the theft themselves and so Cyrathas had hired a half-orc named Irontusk – a person he had used before – to do the job. The key had been delivered to Cyrathas this very morning and within the hour, he had in turn delivered it to Veltargo, in exchange for what the cleric claimed was a cure. But the cure hadn't worked.
Cyrathas had cursed Veltargo and sworn vengeance against him in the name of Kurell – 'The Vengeful Knave.' In his desperation Cyrathus had approached Ricard again – just a few hours ago – but, according to Ricard, there was still no help to be found. And that's when we arrived.
"Can you describe this cleric?" I asked.
"He is a thin, balding human, beardless, with brown, almost 'muddy' eyes," said Cyrathas. "The most noteworthy thing about him was his grubbiness. His vestments were extremely sullied for a cleric. His finger nails too, were jet black and crusted with dirt. His teeth were yellowed and unusually crooked. All in all, a very filthy cleric is this 'Veltargo.'"
I spread my arms and turned upon my heels displaying my own fine robes and obvious personal hygiene, for all to see. "You describe a rather unusual costume, for a cleric of Boccob." I observed. "Anything else you can tell me?"
"Yes, there is one other thing," Cyrathas continued. "This morning, he had in his possession a rather large book."
"A book?" I asked.
"Yes," Cyrathas answered. "A large, leather bound book with a locked clasp folded over the cover."
"I thank you, Cyrathas," I said. "You've given me much needed information and set me upon another path for investigation."
"Than you know more than I've told you," Cyrathas said.
I shrugged. "I simply have a piece of this puzzle that you do not, because of information I already hold."
Cyrathas nodded again. "I would very much like to know the answer to this riddle, Magician. Perhaps you can tell me what this was all about, when its over."
"I don't see any reason why I shouldn't," I replied.
"Before you go, I have something for you." Cyrathas stood and moved to the back of his throne.
I saw Wolfsire tense and gave him a small shake of my head. I heard a latch click and hinges squeak as a chest was opened. Cyrathas bent down and rummaged through the unseen chest. He stood and came back around to the front of his throne. He held out a large sapphire to me.
"Only this morning I offered Ricard one hundred orbs for his help," said Cyrathas. "This sapphire is worth that. Take it, in payment for what you have done for us."
"Thank you, Cyrathas." I said. "The gem is appreciated, but I would much prefer the right to seek out the Green Daggers at some future time, should I have need of more information."
Cyrathas nodded. "Granted, for I also wish a favor." He then held out a second sapphire. "Somehow, I doubt I shall act out my own, personal revenge upon Veltargo," said Cyrathas. "You have handled your first meeting with the Green Daggers with considerable skill and well thought out finesse. You have both power and cunning. I do not think Veltargo's going to survive his meeting with you. So I give you this gem and all I ask in return is that you tell Veltargo that 'I' sent you."
I put the gems into our communal purse. "I shall most gladly do so."
"Good," said Cyrathas. "Dalta will show you out. Take care, Magician. I hope to see you again, if only to hear the end of this tale."
I bowed and we departed, Dalta leading us back out into the street. It was nearly sundown when we emerged from the building.
"What now?" asked Wolfsire.
"To the Green Dragon," I said. "You and Eileen undoubtedly want to wash the gore from yourselves and your armor. And I've already paid Ricard for our room and meals. Let's eat!"
"Yes!" cried Bubbagump. "It's about time too! I'm starving! This morning we missed 'second breakfast' and 'brunch' and then we missed 'afternoon tea!' We're only just now going to eat dinner and soon it'll be time for supper! I don't know how you 'too talls' get so big missing so many meals!"
We three 'too talls' laughed at that statement as we
made our way to the Inn.
Next... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 7
To the beginning... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 1
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