The Fallen Lands: The Ruins of Numinis
Sharp wit and sharper blade. His dagger cuts fairly deep as well.
Rugged human looks with striking elven features. A smile worth a dragon’s horde and a pleasing voice. With a wink and a smile he steals hearts, coins and anything else he can get his hands on.
“Here comes trouble”, Rhio thought when he saw them walk in the door. A warrior, a dwarf, a scholar and who might that pretty lady be? The Shaded Pool saw many visitors but these folks did not have a look of those looking for fun or respite. They wanted information.
Of course, they walked right over to where he and Nico were sitting. Nico was on his tenth drink since Rhio had joined him. A horde of slavers could have walked into the Shaded Pool and captured everyone and until they grabbed Nico the man would not have noticed.
“Nico, my friend, how have you been”, asked the warrior. Nico turned and attempted to focus on the man, “Mal… Malidar?” The two had been members of the Duran city guard together it seemed. While they reminisced Rhio chatted up their female companion. Their scholar seemed uncomfortable with his advances toward the woman. Lina, she called herself. She seemed flirty enough but Rhio had learned to tell the difference between ladies who liked to flirt and ladies who liked it when that flirting ended up with the participants in a horizontal position. Sadly, Lina was in the former group. Ah well.
Malidar and Nico’s conversation had oddly turned to him. The group did indeed need information and Rhio’s contacts within Duran’s seedy underworld might be of help to them, Nico explained through heavily slurred speech. Very well, it was show time! The smile he had reserved for Lina was now in full display. The group was weary, it would seem they had been betrayed quite often lately. It was clear they needed his help but it was also clear that they needed to believe he wouldn’t stab them in the back. The scholar in particular seemed to take great issue with asking Rhio to aid them. He must have been frustrated he couldn’t find his answer in some dusty tome.
He was still weighing whether or not he would stab them in the back when some Fellowship in Shadow lads made their way into the bar. That was hardly uncommon. The Shaded Pool was run by that particular gang of Duran after all. It was the company they kept that immediately caught Rhio’s eye, man-like beings with horns on their heads. What in the Hel were those things? He had seen a few upstairs here once before, briefly. Rhio did not like the look of this. These men weren’t here to drink. They were here to fight.
When the leader of these men demanded to take the scholar, Mortimer was his name, with them, Rhio almost laughed. What would they want with that boring windbag? The looks on the faces of all concerned stifled his laughter. Oh Nine Hels, his plans to take it easy with Nico for the day were about to go up in flames. Malidar and the dwarf, Rangrim, challenged the Fellowship men and Nico stumbled forward to try to ease the tensions. Bad idea.
Before anyone could react, the leader had drawn his weapon and brutally slain Nico with cuts spilling his guts and nearly cutting off his head! Rhio was stunned. He had seen fights in the Shaded Pool before. He had even seen blood shed in a few but this level of violence was usually reserved for the other gangs in town and even then it was extremely rare. Something huge was happening. Surely there was some profit that could be extracted from such a situation.
The fight was on. Malidar was enraged over the slaughter of his friend and rose to avenge him. Lina leapt to her feet with her bow in hand to defend their scholar and Rangrim had taken up a defensive position before her. Mortimer was falling back as far as he could from their would be assailants. That left Rhio. His mind raced with possibilities. He had been in the employ of the Fellowship in Shadow on and off since he had returned to Duran. The Shaded Pool was his favorite haunt and he even had a friend or two in the Fellowship. On the other hand, Lina was awfully cute. Especially atop that table with her bow in hand and that serious look on her face.
“You have been looking for something ‘more’ to do with your life. This could be your chance”, he thought to himself. Before he knew it he had moved to a crouch behind a table and hurled his dagger into the chest of the leader of this particular gang. The fight was quickly over with he and these new strangers victorious. They could certainly fight. One of the horned beings had been knocked out rather than killed and Nico lay in a bloody pool, his head tilted at a horrible angle. There was no time to mourn. They needed to get the Hel out of there.
Dragging their captives and carrying Nico’s disembodied head, they fled through the streets. Rhio knew this part of town well, having glided through it’s dark alleys with their twisted turns. As he was about to swing a right down yet another alley, Malidar spoke out, “We must find Willow. He is my cousin. With what our doubles have done, I must know that he is safe.” Doubles? What was he talking about?
Malidar insisted on leading the way so Rhio insisted on getting more information. After talking to some of the street folk, Rhio learned that a great number of Fellowship in Shadow clashed with the city watch at the Shaded Pool. When all of the dust cleared, Rhio and his current company had been implicated in the murder of Nico Valain! That was what he got for impulsive decisions, he supposed. Upon hearing the news, Malidar was obviously enraged. He finally composed himself enough for them to be able to seek out Willow.
The small house where Willow lived was dark and the door was partly ajar. They cautiously entered and were immediately set upon by a man possessed. It was Willow but he clearly was not happy about the family reunion. They wrestled with him and tried to talk some sense into him but he had been attacked by the group’s doubles that very night and no longer trusted his cousin. Malidar was eventually able to convince Willow that he was not the same person who had attacked him earlier. There were impersonators, doubles, about trying to sully the reputation of the group, and doing a damned fine job of it. Willow looked skeptical and Rhio found the story a bit incredulous himself.
Willow had originally asked Malidar to check out rumors of nefarious events occurring in the wilderness on behalf of the Sentinels of Order. Now it seemed that the Sentinels were under attack. Willow mentioned Jovan Redfur who was his superior in the Sentinels and that he thought the man was probably next on their doubles’ list of targets. Redfur lived in the Hillcrest area of town. They left the shaken man, who seemed relieved to see them depart.
They needed a safe place to lay low and he thought he knew the perfect person to put them up. Oddly, Rangrim mentioned the exact place he was thinking of going, the Halfling’s Hump. This dwarf had just gotten a lot more interesting.
The Halfling’s Hump was a whorehouse in this part of town. Madame Smoothbottom, the halfling proprietor, had hired Rhio to help her out before. Sometimes johns decided not to pay. Rhio helped them come up with a payment schedule. Smoothbottom had access to a tunnel system that could be used to get from one part of town to another discretely. Discretion was the name of the game after the bloodletting at the Shaded Pool. The Madame could also find them a safe place to lay low and information about what was going on. Maybe Rhoswyn would be there. It had been a while since they had gone for a roll.
His luck was getting no better. Rhoswyn was ‘indisposed’. Lucky bastard. Rhio was determined to enjoy himself anyway. Malidar was visibly shaken. The death of his friend had wounded him deeply. Nico, you should have just gotten out of the damned way and you’d still be alive! Alive to do what, though? Drink himself into oblivion? No, the man had died attempting to defend his friend. That was who Nico was. A drunk, but a drunk because he had seen the nature of the world and dispaired.
Rhio had enjoyed listening to the older man’s stories, when he was coherent enough to tell stories. He had been a member of Duran’s city watch and a Road Warden. He had fought for principles he believed in and angry because he had been dismissed from his post. He hated that after all he had risked, he returned to see little if any difference made in the lives of men. His principles had made the young half-elf think about the life he had led and the life he would lead. If not for Nico, Rhio never would have acted to aid the group. Well, maybe Lina.
Smoothbottom finally made her way into the parlor, visibly taken aback at the presence of Rangrim. As he moved to embrace her, she ushered he and the rest of the blood stained travelers into a private room. Once in the privacy of this room the two clung to each other like lovers. Rhio was alarmed by this development. A dwarf and a halfling? He shuddered. Just who was this Rangrim fellow? He seemed to have much hidden up his vambraces.
After their brief tenderness, Madame Smoothbottom reprimanded them all. They were going to bring down the wrath of the Fellowship in Shadow on the Halfling’s Hump, if not worse. Rhio grinned. The halfling really had an air of command and it was amusing to watch her scold folks twice her size. Despite that, she was right. They needed a safe place to lay low and she could provide it. They also needed ears and eyes to help them know who was after them and why. Smoothbottom’s girls were good at extracting that kind of information from their clients.
A commotion from the parlor caused Smoothbottom to call an end to the meeting. She told Rhio to take the group to a small group of safehouses she used to hide girls, entertain men and, well, have handy when former lovers came to town it would seem. As they left out of the back exit and traversed down the alley, they were met by a large woman and some shady looking figures who had the look of Twin Reapers. What the Hel did they want?
The woman, wielding a large sword spoke of a deal Rangrim had broken for coming back to Duran. This dwarf was getting more interesting all the time. He attempted to talk his way out of the situation but it was clear they were out for blood. The whole town seemed to be snapping like a rope that had been pulled tight for too long. The Twin Reapers were tough. Both Malidar and Rangrim were knocked senseless by their continued assault. Quick thinking allowed Rhio to administer a dram of curative elixir to Rangrim who in turn awoke Malidar in a similar way. Finally, Malidar rose and took the frustrations of the evening out on one of the two remaining foes. Struck dead immediately, the gang member fell and the woman was quickly surrounded and finished.
The way cleared, the group wearily made it’s way to the safehouse to rest. Rhoswyn made a brief appearance with food and little enough information about the fall out from the Halfling’s Hump. Things were bad all over it seemed. Her services for the evening were also unavailable. So much for relieving the stress of the evening. He threw himself into the hard bed and was quickly asleep.
When he awoke the scholar had caught up with them. Mortimer had some information regarding the horned ones and their long history. They had disappeared for a time but were now back, in the shadows. There was hardly enough room in the shadows as it was without critters from ancient times lurking there.
Before departing the safe house, it was decided that the remains of Nico Valain they had taken with them as they fled the Shaded Pool, notably his head, should be buried. Malidar had been carrying the bag holding the head like a bizarre trophy and it was clear that he needed to rid himself of it. Rhio had only known the man a few weeks but he felt something should be said, something poignant. He looked at Malidar and said, “My sister would have written something better” and began:
Loyal sergeant of the Watch,
Warden of the darkened road,
Possessing of a courage,
That so evidently showed.
A friend and faithful brother,
With principles strong and true,
Ever there to stand opposed,
To the evil that men do.
A stalwart leader of men,
Defender of those in need,
His life lost to men most foul,
Their violence he did misread.
So here we gather saddened,
To honor Nico Valain,
A hero all should agree,
They then met up with Madame Smoothbottom who had gathered more information about their situation. Mortimer and Rhio were wanted by the Fellowship in Shadow. Rhio was hardly surprised since their leader was one to hold a grudge. Another price on his head but what did a hardened bunch of criminals want with a scholar? He must have had gambling debts. Rangrim had pissed off the other heavy hitter in the underworld of Duran, the Twin Reapers. Hardly surprising since a few of them had come to finish him off only to end up dead in the gutter. Duran was a hard place after all.
Malidar was insistent that they find Jovan Redfur since it appeared that he was in danger, at least according to the crazed account of Malidar’s cousin Willow. Since Duran was as safe for them to travel within as a din of vipers, they donned disguises and headed up to the Hillcrest area of town. Unfortunately, someone had gotten to Jovan’s place before them and trashed it. There was no sign of Jovan but there was an ancient coin of the empire that had been marked up. Maybe they could sell it and get something out of the trip.
Unclear what to do next, Lina and Rhio reached out to contacts they had within the town but there was little enough those folks could tell them other than what they had already surmised. They needed time to come up with a new plan, preferably somewhere where folks weren’t coming at them from every angle. Rhio was game; being stabbed in his sleep was something he had a deep aversion to. Oddly, the group suggested they camp not far out of town rather than beating cheeks to another town. They had found a handy item that created a campsite that those not within couldn’t see or hear. Nice trick.
Rhio took his turn at watch and sat studying the coin that he had filched from Mortimer’s pack. There was a lot going on, under the surface, that he had never known of or even suspected. None of it seemed good. These folks were trying to do something about it. It seemed that he was too. He smiled reluctantly. He put the coin back in Mortimer’s pack, he had no intentions of listening to the scholar ramble about how bards couldn’t be trusted, and fell into a fitful sleep.