Part the fifth: Wherein the party realises that sometimes discretion is the better part of a lack of valourAs the party left the estate of Lunder Callonar they discussed what their next move was going to be. The discussion was quick - Jean was going to pay a visit to Aghal Morlike, the man whose file she had found and read. They were all at least partially aware of Jean's history. From her early teens she had been a slave, traded amoung men lower than the lowliest dogs, sold for her beauty and abused because of it. Aghal Morlike was her first owner, a harsh man whose cruelty was on display frequently and unleashed with relish. The file gave an address for the man's residence right here in Berdusk and she wasn't going to let an opportunity like this go to waste. The party was in agreement, this was something that Jean had to do and they were going to support her as much as they could.. While they were not really that familiar with the neighbourhoods of Berdusk, they did know enough to realise that the address that was given was one that was at the border of the wealthy homesteads of Castle Hill. Apparently Aghal's life of crime had not netted him the profits necessary to settle in style. Once they had worked out where they needed to go they began to head off.
"One second," said Shadow Flame, bringing the party to a halt. "Maybe you all forgot in the excitement but it seems our new friend Silvara here is a werewolf. Are you not the least bit interested to find out what that means?"
"Ah yeah, right you are," said Unagi. "Got a bit excited at the prospect of settling an old score with a slaver".
"Me too," said Jean. "We should find out what exactly is going on here", she looked pointedly at Silvara.
"Well Silvara, spill the beans, what's the story?" said Shadow Flame.
"Well, yes, I am a lycanthrope, a werewolf. Although you appeared to have worked that out, with a little help maybe," she added, somewhat playfully.
"How did it happen?" asked Shadow Flame.
"When I was young, very young, my village was attacked by a group of very vicious werewolves. They would wander from place to place destroying all in their path. You thought those werewolves we fought in the Reaching Wood were feral? The ones that attacked my village were far worse. During the battle my family was killed and I was bitten. I do not remember what happened after that. I awoke in the care of Priests of Selune. I was too young to understand what had happened, and they took me in and cared for me, brought me back to my full health. I did not realise it at the time but the wounds I received were severe, and coupled with my young age, they were not able to cure the infection I had received from the beasts. While it is well known that Selune is the Goddess of the moon, what is less well known is that she is also worshipped by good lycanthropes and is their protector. The Priests, while not being able to cure my affliction were able to teach me how to control it. By a secret set of special training techniques and magical potions I was able to learn how to control my lycanthropy, to be able to stop the change, and to eventually be able to change as I wished. I began to see it not as an affliction, or as an infection, but as a gift. When I was old enough I joined the Priesthood and dedicated my life to persuing and killing those lycanthropes who had given over to the evil that so often takes their minds. That is what I was doing when I met you."
"So why didn't you tell us this when we met, why keep it a secret?" asked Shadow Flame.
"My friend, surely you understand the answer to that question better than any others? Why do you wear that mask? Why do you hide your true face from the world? For the same reasons I do not tell just anyone what I am. Besides, I'm sure you'll agree, it's just not the kind of thing you drop into casual conversation now, is it?" she said with a smirk.
"True enough," replied Shadow Flame. "I'm sure you'll understand my caution though, werewolves aren't well known for their calmness and restraint. I guess what I want to know is can this change be triggered by something else? Can it come out when you don't want it to?"
"No it cannot," answered Silvara.
"Never. I am in control of my change, and when I am changed I am in control of myself as well."
"So we are in no danger? I do not ask if you mean us harm, I ask if it is possible that we could be attacked or harmed by you while you were not yourself," explained Shadow Flame.
"It has never happened...well not since I finished my training and learnt the techniques required to control the change. You are perfectly safe from me."
"OK then. I am satisfied. Jean, Unagi, are you OK with this," Shadow Flame asked of his friends.
Jean and Unagi both voiced their agreement, and though they were both somewhat preoccupied, they seemed to understand and accept Silvara.
Without any further discussion on the subject they made their way to pay a little visit to an old acquaintance.
Aghal's home sat on a well-to-do street in a relatively wealthy part of town, but it was nothing special. A terraced house in a long line of similar 2 story homes it spoke neither of wealth nor power. It was the kind of home that a well off local merchant or a famed black smith might own - comfortable and well kept but otherwise unremarkable. Each house in the street had a small yard in the back where the residents could hang clothing or have a small garden, and it was this small back yard that Shadow Flame focused on. During the time it took to reach the house the party had decided that Shadow Flame and Jean would enter the home of Aghal via a back door if possible, scout out the home and then give Unagi and Silvara entrance through the most easily accessible entrance since both the fighter and the priestess wore heavy armor that would inhibit a quiet entrance.
Unagi and Jean waited out the front of Aghal's house on the street pretending to be lovers on their way home after a late night in a local tankard house, while Shadow Flame and Jean quietly made their way around to the back of Aghal's home via a nearby alley. Once they had gained entrance to the yard Shadow Flame quietly moved up to the back door and picked the poor quality lock. He motioned for Jean to wait while he got the lay of the land. The door lead into a small room that was being used as a pantry; several shelves contained basic food items and there was a large tub for washing clothes on the floor. The pantry lead into a small but functional kitchen that was next to a modest dining room. Shadow Flame returned to the back and motioned for Jean to move inside. They moved through the rooms and entered the entry way at the front of the house. A short stairway lead up to the second story of the house in front of the entry way, and as he felt sure there was nobody on the bottom floor, Shadow Flame opened the front door and let Unagi and Silvara into the house.
Without a word they headed upstairs with Unagi and Silvara brining up the rear. At the top of the stairs was a small landing and a hallway from which 4 closed doors lead into other rooms. The party split up and each took a door. Unagi went to the left and opened a door that lead into what appeared to be a small office with a desk and several cabinets. Jean opened a door to reveal a small sitting room that no doubt acted as the only room the house had for entertaining guests. Silvara and Shadow Flame both went to the right and moved up to their doors. Silvara opened the door in front of her to reveal a large bedroom, with a single occupant asleep in a large 4 poster bed. As Shadow Flame moved towards the door in front of him it opened and a short, grey haired old lady poked her head out. As she saw Shadow Flame, dressed in cloak and silver mask moving toward her she let out a quiet cry of surprise and shut the door hard, locking it from the inside.
Shadow Flame had his own situation to deal with however, as the old woman was clearly shaken by his appearance. "Who are you? What are you doing in our house?" she called through the locked door.
"My dear lady," replied Shadow Flame, "we are hear on business to see Aghal. There is no need to be alarmed, we are old acquaintances of his."
"What kind of business takes place this early in the morning? My husband is old and ill and would not be doing any business at this time," she said suspiciously.
"We came at Aghal's insistence, it was his idea to meet at this hour."
"I do not believe you. My husband has been terribly ill with a wasting disease that the temple priests have been unable to cure. And anyway, even if it were true, why would you break into our home if you were here on legitimate business? I'm calling the watch!"
Momentary panic arose in Shadow Flame, and from it was born perhaps the silkiest lie the tiefling had ever told; "why Aghal himself let us in not 5 minutes ago" he said, surprising himself with the quality of both the lie and that of its telling.
No response was heard for several seconds, several of the longest seconds of Shadow Flames life, and then he heard the lock of the door unbolt and the old woman opened it. She still looked suspiciously at Shadow Flame but walked out of the door saying "I'm going to talk to Aghal to sort this out."
"Err, my lady, my business associates are in speaking with Aghal right now, perhaps it would be best for you to wait until they have finished their meeting?" Shadow Flame quickly stepped in front of the old woman.
"Young....man, how dare you try and prevent me moving through my own home. I am going in to speak with Aghal whether you like it or not!". She moved to side step around Shadow Flame and make good on her words.
Shadow Flame gently grabbed the old womans upper arm and said "I really do think it's for the best that we leave them to conduct their business without interruption," and moved her gently back into her room.
Once she was back in the room Shadow Flame let go of her arm. "I knew it!" she cried, "you are not here on business, you are thieves come to steal from a sick old man! I'm going to call the watch," she said as she began walking to the window that looked out over the street. Shadow Flame moved quickly to prevent her reaching the window, perhaps a little too quickly as he stumbled and fell heavily. It would have been comical in any other situation, but the stakes were too high to stop and consider the ludicrousness of falling over trying to subdue an old woman. At least none of the others saw him do it he thought as he picked himself up. As he stood the old woman had the window most of the way open and he leapt across the room with the dexterity that had just forsaken him and grabbed the old woman around the waist with one arm and placed his other hand gently over her mouth as he dragged her from the window.
"OK then, so here we are," he said to her, "my game is up. My friend has old business with Aghal and is currently in speaking with him right now. We mean you no harm, and as soon as they have finished we will leave. I promise to you that I do not mean you any harm, but I also cannot have you trying to alert the watch. So with that in mind, I'm going to sit you on the bed and take my hand from your mouth, and you are going to wait calmly, and without making any sound until we leave. Are we agreed?"
The old woman stood stiffly for several seconds before relaxing and nodding her head. Shadow Flame did as he said he would and sat her on the bed and slowly withdrew his hand. The old lady did as she agreed and simply sat there giving Shadow Flame a look that could have withered flowers. Satisfied the old woman was going to keep her word he moved over and closed the bedroom window.
As Shadow Flame was grabbing Aghal's wife to stop her calling out to the watch Jean walked into Aghal's bedroom. Silvara shook the old man to wake him as he was still heavily asleep. He snorted once and stirred, quickly coming out of his sleep. He looked up at Silvara through the haze of sleep and, as he became more conscious of his surroundings, an puzzled expression came over his face. Silvara smiled to him and opened her mouth to speak, but before any words could come out Jean pushed her way past her and stood over the old man. She leant in and grabbed the collar of his night shirt with both hands.
"Remember me old man?" she asked through gritted teeth. Recognition entered the old man's eyes, and the realisation of the situation came full force into his mind. Unfortunately for Aghal, the realisation did not have time to manifest any words or actions. Jean stood up and swung the Staff of Knowledge at the old man with a force she had never mustered before. The staff crunched sickeningly into Aghal's temple, collapsing the side of his head in a spray of blood and broken bone. Aghal's body spasmed several times, his eyes wide, as blood and spit frothed from his mouth. Then he fell still.
Silvara stood there, eyes wide at what she had just seen. Had that really happened, or was it maybe some shared vision with Jean's years of repressed rage and hatred for this man spilling forth in an emotional manifestation? She looked at Jean who was still standing over the body of Aghal with a wild look in her eyes. No this was real, that really happened.
"Jean...," she said, "...what the FUCK?!"
Jean simply spat on the body of Aghal and left the room with Silvara standing there in shock.
Shadow Flame, hearing Silvara's exclamation, poked his head out of the door of Aghal's wifes room and called out, "Jean, what's going on in there?" He cringed to himself as he realised he had just told the old woman Jean's name.
Jean walked out of Aghal's bedroom and declared "He's dead. I killed him," in a matter of fact voice.
Overhearing Jean Aghal's wife cried out, "what? You killed him? He was an old man! He was dying! He had only a few weeks of life left." She jumped up and moved quickly towards the window. Shadow Flame acted quickly and grabbed her, harder than he had intended, before she took more than a single step. She sat back on her bed and started weeping into her hands.
Jean walked into her bedroom and quickly took stock of the situation. "Your husband was a terrible man old woman. He was a slaver, and I am one of the people he bought and..."
"Don't you think I know my own husband you stupid, selfish bitch!" screamed Aghal's wife. "I know what he did and who he was, but he had changed."
"Those kinds of people never change," replied Jean. "He bought me and kept me like he would an animal. He was an evil man and he deserved..."
"Oh spare me your holier than thou speech, " interrupted the old woman. "So now you are a murderer and you have your choice to make, so if you're going to kill me kill me, and spare me your justifications. If you leave me alive I will be going to the watch as soon as you leave."
She began weeping into her hands once again and both Jean and Shadow Flame knew any further attempts at talking were pointless.
"Hey Kate, Bob," called out Shadow Flame with presence of mind enough to come up with uninspired aliases.
Kate? Bob? Who in the hells? Unagi thought. "What? Who are you talking..." he called out and cut himself short as the realisation dawned. "Um, yeah, what's up?" he called as he walked out of the office he had been rummaging through.
Silvara walked quietly out of Aghal's room, not looking anyone in the eye. "What's going on?" she asked.
Shadow Flame quickly brought Unagi up to speed and filled in Silvara on what Aghal's wife had said. "What are we doing?" he asked them.
"Well we're not going to kill the old woman," said Unagi, answering the question the old woman had posed a few minutes earlier.
"Agreed, but we can't exactly just walk out of here and deal with the watch. I'm not going to gaol for Jean's insanity," Shadow Flame looked pointedly at Jean.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," she said.
"I can cast a sleep spell on her," suggested Shadow Flame, "it'll buy us about 20 minutes, hopefully enough time to get out of town."
"Out of town?" exclaimed Unagi.
"We still have to wait and see what Fallon learns," countered Jean.
"Well you should have thought about that before you decided to pop the old man now shouldn't you Jean?" said Shadow Flame. "We can't stay in town, the old woman knows Jeans name, and she's seen me, and I can't just exactly take of this mask and blend into the crowd. She doesn't know who you are Bob, nor Kate, but you're not going to be able to freely walk around here once word gets out either, are you?"
"Yeah OK. Fine. Cast your spell and let's get the hells out of here," said Unagi after a moments thought.
The rest of the party agreed with Silvara simply nodding her agreement. Shadow Flame went into the old woman's bedroom and told her, "I'm going to cast a spell that will put you to sleep. When you wake up we will be gone."
The old woman did not even acknowledge his existence so Shadow Flame cast the spell and the party fled the house of Aghal Morlike.
They got back to their caravans and quickly gathered everything they needed. Unagi was driving the lead caravan with Jean riding inside, and Silvara drove the second caravan with Shadow Flame riding inside. All told it took little more than half an hour for them to be on the road after leaving Aghal's house. They headed towards the gate they had entered the city through. The road traffic was virtually nil so early in the morning so it took only minutes for them to be at the west gate of Berdusk. As they approached the gate a weary pair of city guards stepped out of a small guard house and held up a hand each to indicate that Unagi should stop. As the caravans came to a stop one of the guards walked up to Unagi and asked, "are you the owner of these 2 caravans?"
"Certainly am," he replied, "what can I do for you?"
"I assume you are a merchant?"
"In that case I need some information," said the guard.
"OK, always happy to help," replied Unagi playing his role well.
"I just need to know your name, you cargo and your destination if you don't mind."
"My name is Bob," explained Unagi, "I'll be traveling north selling weapons and alcohol."
"Quite the odd mixture of wares there," remarked the guard. "You would be aware there is a tariff on all trading caravans leaving the city."
"How much?" asked Unagi.
"It's 2 copper, part of the cities policy of keeping trade internal to Berdusk," explained.
Unagi reached into his coin purse and threw the guard the requested 2 copper pieces.
"OK then, thanks for your cooperation Bob, I wish you good trading," said the guard as he waved the caravans forward.
Unagi drover the caravans west in the direction of Baldur's Gate, Silavara's caravan taking the lead and moving quickly to put as much distance between them and the city as possible. After around 2 hours of travel Shadow Flame suggested to Silvara that they pull off the road for a few hundred meters and setup camp. She slowed the caravan and indicated to Unagi they were heading off road. Unagi followed them into the brush land for a few hundred meters before they stopped and began to set up camp.
As they went about setting up camp Shadow Flame questioned Jean on the nights events as it was the first chance they had to talk about it since they left Aghal's place.
"Jean, what happened, I thought we were going there to talk," he asked.
"I know," replied Jean, "that really was my intention when I went there."
"Well what in hell happened?"
Silvara stopped what she was doing and looked over at Jean.
"I....when I walked into his room, saw him lying there asleep, my mind...I was...rage. I can't recall being so enraged! I lost it. I didn't mean to kill him, I guess I just wanted to...to hurt him, and before I could stop myself I killed him. I wish I hadn't, but..."
"But what?" said Unagi, "it's not like he ever gave that same consideration to those who's lives he stole. The world is a better place without him, I say you did what you had to Jean and I won't be shedding a tear for Aghal."
"OK fair enough Jean, I understand," said Unagi, "I can't say I'm terribly sad he's dead either. The problem as I see it is that now we are all wanted in Berdusk. We are criminals. It makes things much harder than they need to be."
"Yes, I know," said Jean, "I'm sorry, it's not what I wanted. What can I say?"
"Well we'll leave it at that for the moment, I'm exhausted. I think we could all use some sleep," said Shadow Flame returning to the caravan.
They all retired and slept away what remained of the day.
They all awoke early, much earlier than they should have after the previous day. They slept only 3 or 4 hours before rising. The only thing keeping them from moving off was the information they were waiting on from Fallon. Since it had been only a little over a day since they had last spoken to him it was decided they would simply camp for the rest of the day.
The decision had been made the previous day that Shadow Flame would take one of the horses and return to Berdusk to speak with Fallon. The round trip voyage should not be much over 5 hours assuming an hour to speak with Fallon, and after that they planned to travel to Iriaebor to see what they could find out from Silas Coldstone, leader of the 3 Wheels.
Shadow Flame set out early, and after 2 hours arrived in sight of Berdusk. After casting a spell to alter his appearance he rode into Berdusk and went straight to the home of Fallon. After being shown in by Fallon's Halfling servant Shadow Flame was informed that Fallon was out of town and was not expected back for several days. He had left a message for the party that explained he would need to travel and speak with some of his contacts since the resources he had at hand had proved inadequate. After thanking the young Halfling woman, Shadow Flame rode back to where the party had made camp.
After everyone was up to speed the decision was made to move off and travel to Iriaebor with the plan to return to Berdusk after their business in Iriaebor was finished. Since all merchant traffic between Iriaebor and Berdusk direct traveled via the large barges that floated on the river Chionthar they decided to travel to Iriaebor via Asbravn so they could stay on the road to accommodate the caravans. Using the barges would expose them to the Berduskan militia many of whom were stationed to help the merchants on and off the barges while moving the barges past the rapids via the huge cranes that had been setup by Berdusk.
So without wasting any further time the party set off in the late afternoon towards Asbravn.
An hour after setting off for the day Unagi spotted a large column of riders approaching them. As the riders got closer it was clear that they were Berduskan militia and Unagi quickly and quietly let the rest of the party know. As the riders closed to a distance they could call to the party from the rider at the head of them held up his arm whereupon the troop came to a halt. He called out to the party, "travelers, please stop."
Unagi pulled his wagon to a halt, and Silvara did the same behind him. The lead rider approached Unagi; "Well met to you sir. Can I have your name please?"
"Certainly," replied Unagi, "my name is Bob."
The captain of the riders squinted at Unagi suspiciously, "is that Bob with two b's?" he inquired.
Unagi looked a bit puzzled, "err, yes it is, one at the start and one at the end."
"Would you have any objection to us taking a look in your caravans?" asked the Captain.
"Of course not," said Unagi. "Could you tell me what this is about?"
"Several days ago 2 criminals fled Berdusk. You and your friend driving the second caravan match the description of 2 known associates of these criminals, one Unagi, a gladiator, and one Silvara, a priestess of Selune."
"Oh really?" Unagi asked casually. "And what are these criminals wanted for?"
"They are murderers," the Captain replied matter-of-factly. He turned towards the guards and signaled for them to begin searching the caravans.
Inside the caravan that Unagi was driving Shadow Flame cursed quietly to himself as his concerns about being a wanted criminal in Berdusk were confirmed. As the Berduskan guards approached the back of the caravan he quickly uttered the words to the spell that would alter his appearance making him look like a short rather nondescript human. Before the guards could open the door to the caravan Shadow Flame opened them himself and stepped out and asked, "what seems to be the problem here?"
The guard captain rode around and took Shadow Flame aside to explain what was happening while the guards searched the caravan.
As the guards moved forward to the caravan Silvara was driving, Jean called upon the power of the Staff of Knowledge and began weaving an illusion in the back of the caravan. Several barrels and chests appeared in the back of the caravan as Jean herself melded into the wall of the caravan without a trace. The power of the staff was such that as the guards searched the caravan they were able to interact with the illusion, even opening the barrels and being able to smell the alcohol inside them.
As the guards reported to the captain that the caravans appeared to be what Unagi claimed them to be he turned to Unagi and said, "sorry for the inconvenience Bob, but I'm sure you understand."
"Of course Captain," replied Unagi. "I hope you catch them soon."
The Captain returned to his men, and after they had all mounted up he signaled them to ride.
The party took a moment to calm themselves after such a close encounter before continuing their journey north.
After an uneventful journey along the Uldoon Trail the party arrived in Asbravn early in the morning, before lunch. Not wanting to expose themselves too much to the local populace they set about quickly doing what they needed to do. They wanted to get rid of all their cargo, weapons and Zzar, sell the caravans and buy some saddles for the horses. Since the harvest had passed some time ago Asbravn was much quieter during their visit and it was an easier task to dispose of their items quickly and without having to wait. The local blacksmith bought their remaining weapons for a steal and the Zzar was sold to the proprietor of the Board Laid Bare Tavern. They had their midday meal in town, and after acquiring saddles, set off on the Dusk Road south to Iriaebor.
The party continued for a day and a half out of Asbravn without anything of note happening and were able to enjoy the landscape and the weather which was still fine going into the Autumn months. They set up camp for the night and posted watches. After they had slept for little more than an hour, Unagi's regimen of push ups was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat behind him. He quickly jumped up and turned around, his hand instinctively going to the hilt of his sword. He paused for a moment as he regarded the figure sitting calmly in front of him on a large log.
"That remains to be seen," replied Unagi as he sized up the figure calmly sitting before him. He was human, dressed in black leather armor from neck to foot and a black traveling cloak with the hood pulled back. No weapons were visible under the volume of his cloak but he carried himself with a confidence that suggested he was armed. The man had seen a few winters with his short blond hair shot with streaks of white, and several small scars marked his face as one that had seen its share of battle.
"True words Unagi," he answered to the fighters statement. "I come to you with an offer."
"I will not waste words," the man continued. "I am aware that you and your friends have recently come into a large sum of money."
"I see. And how might you know such a thing?"
"I have been hired to kill you and your companions," the man stated bluntly.
Unagi smiled, "I think you might find that harder to do than you seem to think."
"Doubtful," the man answered. "However, I am nothing if not...fair. I am willing to void the contract if you can give me a good reason to."
"So what would you call a good reason?"
"The contract is for 20,000 gold pieces. Make me a counter offer."
Unagi paused for a moment. "20,000 gold pieces hey?", his whistle suggested he was impressed. "So what would you consider a worthwhile counter offer?"
"That is entirely up to you and your friends. I know you cannot speak for them, so I will leave the offer on the table, so to speak."
"You think you could take us all by yourself?" asked Unagi.
"Just because I'm sitting here with you alone does not mean I am by myself," the man answered.
"How many men do you have?" Unagi quickly asked.
"Enough for my needs," was his answer. "Look, I will give you a chance to take the offer to your friends...who seem quite happy to sleep, and return in a couple of days to hear your answer."
"There is no need for that, I can give you a counter offer right now."
The man raised an eyebrow, "please," he said.
"I'm thinking that the offer is, I cut off your head, and then see how far up your arse I can jam it," Unagi said as he began to draw his sword.
"Foolish," the man said, seemingly to himself, "I should have waited for one of your friends and spoken to them." Before Unagi could finish drawing his sword the man disappeared in what appeared to be a swirling mist of black smoke.
Unagi woke the rest of the party and quickly explained what had just happened.
"So you were doing push ups when this man showed up?" asked Shadow Flame.
"A man's got to keep in shape," explained Unagi.
"But don't you think that when you're on watch you should, well, watch?"
"Relax, I have to keep it together, I'm the front line for you guys, remember?"
"Yes, but the whole point of being on watch is so that you can watch what's going on around the camp, not so you can do push ups."
"Yeah, yeah OK. Let's concentrate on the subject at hand yes?" Unagi finished.
Shadow Flame let it drop. "So did you ask this man his name?"
"Uh, no," answered Unagi.
"I see. So did you ask him who put out the contract?"
"...no," he answered again.
"Right. But you remembered to offer to shove his severed head up his own arse?"
"Of course," Unagi said smiling. "I also found out that he isn't traveling alone."
"Well that is something I guess," replied Shadow Flame, "but it was kind of a given don't you think?"
"Let's just get some sleep and we'll discuss this in the morning," said Jean. "Whoever this person is, he's said his piece, let's just worry about it then."
The party agreed and everyone went back to bed for the night.
Early into the third watch of the evening, Silvara was looking out into the darkness thinking about what had happened in the previous few days. She was startled out of her revelry by a thud coming from the log she was sitting on. Looking down she saw a silver throwing knife sticking into the log not 2 inches from her hand. She spun quickly around, the words of a spell on her lips. Leaning calmly against a low stump about 6 feet from her was the same man that visited Unagi earlier that night judging from his appearance. She let the spell drop leaving it fresh in her mind in case she needed it.
"Well met milady," the man in black said.
"Well met to you," she replied. "What could you possibly want after speaking with Unagi?"
"Well that is precisely why I am back. I made what you might call an error in judgment. Your friend, Unagi, he is not the most subtle of people is he? A little rash, a little too quick to anger. I came hoping to talk with someone who might be more rational, someone who can judge an honest offer for what it is."
"Yes, Unagi can be lacking in subtlety."
"So you know the contract is for 20,000 gold correct?" Silvara nodded. "5,000 gold a head," the man continued. "It's a big bounty, and normally I wouldn't hesitate to collect, but it is clear that you and your friends have profited greatly from the incompetence of others, and I am giving you the chance to....call off the dogs, so to speak."
"May I have your name good sir? It makes conversation so much easier and pleasant?"
The man thought for a moment, "I see no reason why not. My name is Bradmor milady Silvara. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Thank you Bradmor," Silvara replied. A short silence fell between them for a moment as Silvara thought of her next question. "Tell me Bradmor," she continued after a minute, "who has put this contract upon us?"
Bradmor laughed quietly. "I suspect you have figured out the answer already," he replied, "but I don't mind telling you that Frans Helmshall of the Red Dragon Trading Coster is most....displeased with you and you companions."
Silvara smiled, "I can't imagine why," she said. "So, what would be a good counter off in your opinion Bradmor?" she asked.
He thought for a moment before answering, "would you not agree that 30,000 gold pieces would make it worth my while to drop the contract?"
Silvara nodded her head in agreement. "One thing puzzles me Bradmor," she said.
"Oh milady? And what is that?"
"Why would you expose yourself in this manner? Until you came to us we had no idea the contract existed. Now we have a good deal of information, including who put the contract out and your name," she explained.
Bradmor smiled to himself, "Milady, you know nothing of real value. You do not know me. You do not know who I work with...if anyone. You no doubt suspected the Red Dragon Coster would try something like this, and, most convincingly, I am unconcerned with your knowledge since you cannot possibly know when or how I will strike. I don't want to sound cocky, but I could kill you and your friends with little effort. I merely saw an opportunity to increase my profit and I have taken it. Either way, at the very least, I am 20,000 gold pieces richer."
"Fair enough I suppose," Silvara answered. "I will take your offer to my friends with the promise of giving it consideration. Of course I cannot promise more than that."
"That is true milady. I thank you for your time."
Bradmor waved his arm in front of him and disappeared in a burst of misty black smoke.
Silvara woke the rest of the party and filled them in on the second appearance of Bradmor. Now that they had a little bit more information they could work with - they knew this assassins name and they knew the Red Dragon Traders were behind the contract. Obviously they would not be giving this man 30,000 gold pieces, but they knew he was out there and that he would be coming for them soon. After discussing the situation they decided to simply break camp rather than bothering going back to sleep, so the gathered their equipment and set off before dawn had broken.
The sun rose not long after the party set out. The weather had taken a turn for the cold with a brisk wind, and with the party having moved into a more bushy terrain there were no large trees or hills to break the wind. They traveled for 2 or 3 hours into the morning when they were startled by a quarry of crossbow bolts breaking from heavy shrubs either side of the road. Most of them missed but Shadow Flame took two of the bolts before he even knew what was happening. The party reacted swiftly, leaping from their horses and using them as cover as another group of bolts burst from the shrubs. Unagi broke from cover and charged toward the bushes on the left side of the road, while Jean and Shadow Flame began speaking the words of spells. Following Unagi's lead, Silvara broke cover as well and charge toward the bushes on the right side of the road.
As the fighter and the priestess closed on the brush either side of the roads, orcs broke from their cover, screaming war cries and brandishing heavy axes and swords, they charged. Several stopped to join melee with Unagi and Silvara while several rushed the road to attack Jean and Shadow Flame. The horses bolted forward as the orcs closed on the road leaving the spell casters exposed to the orcs attacks. Silvara and Unagi fought ferociously, the orcs no match for their skill in battle, and neither received wounds from the orcs, being able to parry or dodge most attacks, and wearing any that got through their defences on their heavy armor. The spell casters fared only slightly worse; both Jean and Shadow Flame had managed to get defensive magics cast before the orcs had closed the distance to melee. Jean had a shimmering shield floating in front of her and Shadow Flame had several illusory images of himself weaving around masking his true location. Several orcs fell, thinning their numbers; the orcs facing the spell casters had their hands full further as Ixxizigut swooped deftly around them stabbing with his poisonous tail. Unagi had killed all but 2 of the orcs that had broken from the brush in front of him when a large shadow extended across the road. Unagi looked across to the brush the orcs had broken from to see a huge, ugly creature striding towards him. "Ogre!" he called out to the party as a second one stood up and began closing the distance to the spell casters, "Two ogres!" he corrected himself.
The orcs started screaming their war cries louder boosted by the appearance of the ogres. Silvara still faced several orcs, although there were orc corpses on the ground beside her as well - she was holding her own. Shadow Flame and Jean had killed most of the orcs that had made it to the road, but their magic was spent, and Shadow Flames illusionary images had been dispelled over the course of the battle, while Jean was using the wand of missiles that had served her well in the past, but they were not equipped to handle the ogre that was making its way toward them. Unagi felled the last orc on his side of the road and turned his attention to the ogre and Shadow Flame and Ixxizigut turned their attention to the other ogre leaving Jean to worry about the remaining two orcs on the road.
The battle went quickly in favour of the party as Unagi put the finishing attack on the ogre that had charged him by giving it an extra smile. Silvara had killed the orcs that had attacked from the right, their bodies lay fallen around her, and she turned and charged the orcs remaining on the road. Upon seeing Unagi slay the first ogre, the other one decided that it wasn't going to hang around and suffer the same fate - it turned from Shadow Flame and fled back toward the brush on the left side of the road. Unagi began to chase it down while Shadow Flame turned back to help Jean and Silvara with the remaining orcs on the road. The fleeing ogre was heavily wounded and Unagi was catching it quickly. Realising this, the ogre decided to turn and try and fight it's way out of its predicament, and smoothly turned and swung its giant club at the persuing Unagi. He was caught off guard by the ogres move and stumbled back a couple of steps under the weight of the blow from the ogre who smiled and pressed its advantage. Momentarily stunned by the blow Unagi was caught again by the ogres club. It snapped him out of his daze and he moved smoothly forward and drove his blade into the ogres chest. The ogre let out a weak wheezy gasp as it stumbled back and fell dead to the ground. Unagi turned back to the party in time to see the final orc fall to a blow from Silvara's mace.
Once they were back together Unagi began searching the bodies of the dead orcs while the rest of the party went about rounded their horses back up. The orcs had nothing of value on them, so the party saddled up and moved on.