Black Tide Rising

Chapter 1 "Welcoming Party"

I am falling. I am bleeding. I am going to die. My killer still stands before me, his face twisted in rage and splattered with my blood and bone. Time has slowed to a mere crawl and my mind is escaping. Escaping to the beginning of all of this. The beginning of what has brought me to this end.

It was not long ago when I found myself on the cusp of bringing Riverstem to wondrous glory under the great Rappenzor. A necropolis, the likes of which never seen on the face of Ayrdonya would have been created. Should have been created. There was nothing standing in our way except for the meddling Red Storm Company. The arrogant fools destroyed everything! So short sighted. They did not even try to understand. They were hailed as heroes by the people of Riverstem, adding to their arrogance. Soon they forgot about all they had disrupted. Master Mind was destroyed, the Dark One was dead, and my cult had been decimated. I had not forgotten.

I laid low for awhile as I recovered from my injuries and then set out to rebuild. The Dark One said that if we were to fail and he were killed that others would come. He said they would rise slowly like the tide, unnoticed until it was too late. All would drown under the Black Tide.

It was not long after his disappearance when my agents told me of the arrival of the others. Kel Rathalon, a cleric with a black soul. The only thing he tortured more than his soul were those that stood against him. Scourge, a dangerous warrior filled with hate the likes of which I had never seen before. His hate burned even brighter than that of the Dark One . Jinn Farenge, as beautiful as she was deadly. She could manipulate even the most devout of men to her dark will. And finally Malphas Greyson, a man without a shred of conscious. The brother of the Dark One, he was the other side of the same cursed coin.

I decided to ally myself with that dark quartet. First I had to gain their trust and provide them with something that they wanted. Resources. I had a network of cultists established in Riverstem, what was left of them anyway. Good fortune smiled upon me as I intercepted a plot to thwart the Black Tide. I sent one of my most trusted followers to warn them…

Chapter 1

Welcoming Party

The four members of the Black Tide meet for the first time in the reception hall of their new estate. The dark priest Kel sits at the table closest to the hearth. To his right is the beautiful Jinn a look of boredom or perhaps contempt on her face. Standing at the window, scanning the grounds is the hulking form of Scourge. Mahogany double doors suddenly swing open and Malphas strides in flanked by his half-orc cohort To’Kazh.

Malphas walks into the room and motions for To’Kazh to stand to the side of the hearth.

“Welcome colleagues. My gratitude is overflowing at the site of you all coming to the new Riverstem estate. This building has stood for many years under the care of a dear friend from Kingbridge who was nice enough to part with it at my humble request. Let us speak frankly. A man has had his life snuffed out before his time at the hands of a local adventuring band that goes by the name The Red Storm. For the most part groups of their like come and go with the wind, often overestimating their power only to become a meal for some beast that they were compelled to destroy. Heroism is such an unprofitable venture. In the end you always lose it all. For some reason, though, this group has failed to meet that demise and they have now infringed on our spoils. I believe that they deserve our retribution. I think it is time they discover the depths of the waters they have disturbed.”

Scourge eyes the orc brute with a measuring gaze, then turns to Malphas.

“An eloquent speech and, undoubtedly, we all share your sentiments. Although we each surely know of one another, perhaps an introduction is in order, as a mere formality of course. I am Scourge, the Nightmare of Zyvia City.”

“Indeed Scourge. I am Malphas Greyson and this is my cohort To’Kazh. He speaks not a word of King’s Common, but do you need a language when you feast on the hearts of men? It is my pleasure to meet you all.” Malphas bows low. “Some of you I have met on occasion and others I know merely by reputation. I have taken the liberty to have a gourmet feast prepared for you arrival. Nothing but the finest cuisine in all of Riverstem shall touch our palettes tonight. Let us move to the dining hall and speak of days to come. I am eager to hear all or your thoughts on the matters at hand and share with you my own.” Malphas rings a small bell to summon the butler.

An abnormally tall and gaunt man appears in the doorway wearing a formal butlers uniform. His gray hair is cut short and his eyes are deeply sunken. He gestures towards the dining room but moves his arm slowly, as if pained by arthritis, and says in a voice worn with age, “Dinner is served.” The group files into the dining room to find a table decorated with fine dishes and silverware. In the center of the table is a sliver, multilevel serving plate filled with exotic fruits and surrounded with several bottles of wine. As soon as everyone is seated two other servants emerge from the kitchen carrying pots filled with a rich smelling broth. They fill each soup bowl and then quickly exit the room, closing the doors behind them.

Jinn walks over to the table and pours herself a glass of wine.

She takes a drink and sets her glass down. Turning towards the rest of the group she says with a smile, “Greeting everyone. In keeping with your formalities, Mr. Nightmare, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jinn Farenge, sometimes known as Doll’s Eye.”

“The pleasure is mine, Ms. Eye.” Scourge picks up the wine and drinks straight from the bottle.

Malphas leans back in his chair after he finishes his meal.

“I have already began to set up a network for information through an associate I have brought with me from Kingbridge. It will not take him long to surround himself with Dredges. I would like to find out what happened to the Dark One and where he is resting now. The Red Storm apparently own an inn in a very unsavory part of town called the Stormfront. I have made inquiries about the establishment across the street. I believe it is called the Rotgut. I would like to keep a close eye on all of their holdings. In the mean time we need more information, reliable contacts, and above all else to keep our true intentions in this city veiled. Any ideas on where we can begin to pull the legs off of the cockroach known as the Red Storm?”

Malphas looks at Kel to see if he is paying attention at all.

Kel is rudly disturbed from thought and looks toward the assembled group and says “I am not one for small talk and plesentrys. You lost my attention and I drifted off in meditation. I have been to this Rotgut you speak of it is a hovel of a place. I wouldn’t have a problem spending a couple nights there to get more information."

Jinn interjects, “I can’t imagine, though, that we were brought here, given this great wine
and food just to be asked to go to some shithole in a flea-ridden, peasant
filled part of town.”

“True my lady. Let me be clear. It is not my intention to ever set foot in any establishment by a name of that kind. It is my suggestion that by purchasing the place outright we can fill its staff with operatives who can keep a keen eye on the band of do-gooders across the way. Make use of it as a means to subversively see their routines, who comes and goes on a daily basis, and where the chinks in the armor lie in those they trust. I would be happy to serve the figurehead of the ownership group and proclaim that the investment is being made to continue the work to raise up the district to a higher standard. The nobles of this city will eat the words from my hand like a pack of submissive dogs. Thoughts from anyone?” replies Malphas.

Jinn rolls her eyes and says, “I am a noble, thank-you-very-much, and would not defile my name by owning such a lowly place, so own it if you want.”

Scourge says, “How will you disguise our intentions while instructing the staff to keep so close a watch on the Stormfront? Perhaps it would be wise to have a single mole in their very midst as well. Send an agent to work for them as a barmaid; it will offer a closer look than from across the street. I will be more than happy to stay at the ‘flea-ridden shithole’ with our quiet friend here. Then we can personally see their comings and goings. In fact, I think that a night of drinking at the Stormfront itself is in order.”

Malphas smiles coyly.

“It is within our interest to keep The Red Storm close and be guarded from their sight in return. Do not underestimate the usefulness of commonality. Even grand dragons feed on cattle. I shall leave the interest in procuring the hovel and setting up eyes and ears within.”

Malphas motions for To’Kazh to come closer and speaks quietly to his ear. The very large half-orc leaves the room quickly.

“Now, what do we know of the Dark One’s passing other than it being at the hands of those wretches? I am unsure of the location of his demise. I am sure that we all have different purposes for being interested in what happened and how we can rectify the situation. Still, by your presence here I am assuming that whatever our purposes our goals are similar enough in this?”

Malphas smiles widely.

“I could use a night of revelry myself! Let us prepare for the evening and be off as soon as the sun is set. We shall deposit a few coins in their coffers before we withdraw from them the lives they hold so dear.”

The door to the dining room opens and the butler appears once again. He pauses, almost a bit too long, then draws a hollow breath and says, “A Master…Griff is here with two associates to see you. They have an unfortunate gentlemen with them that has his hands bound and a sack upon his head. Your brandy is warmed and ready in the study; would you like to receive your guests there?”

Jinn maintains her bearing and calmly replies: “Yes. Let’s go to the study
immediately and see who our guest is.”

“Thank you Ballon. Tell them we will be with them forthwith.”

Malphas rises from his chair and adjourns to the study.

Jinn, followed by Malphas then Scourge and finally Kel exit the dining room and walk down a hallway adorned with paintings of noble men and women. Presumable these are of family members of the previous owner. They enter the last door at the end of the hall and find themselves in a study. An oak desk sits before a large window that looks out onto the back lawn. The walls are covered with book shelves that hold many books and various works of art. A small bar is situated against the wall opposite the desk with four glasses of brandy sitting upon it next to a wooden cigar box. Plush furniture is arranged near an ornate fireplace. In the middle of the room is a coffee table fashioned from the tusks of some sort of creature topped with a masterfully carved slab of marble.

Malphas goes over to the bar and removes a cigar from the small humidor. He pulls a lot from the dish next to the box and lights it.

Jinn takes a quick look out the window and then takes a seat and studies her
surroundings without touching the brandy or cigars.

The door creaks open and Ballon steps inside. In his hallow voice he says, “Master…Griff and associates sir.”

A short man, who looks even shorter standing next to Ballon, walks in followed by two brutish men dragging the unfortunate gentleman with them. The brutes throw the man to the ground and Griff steps over him. He looks at each of his hosts, raises his eyebrows, shrugs, and says, “Well, my name is Griffon and I thinks your butler is a bit on the deaf side.” He looks back at Ballon who is already exiting the room.

“Ring if you need me sirs,” Ballon says as he disappears through the door.

Griffon continues, “I’ve got a gift for you from Lord Raul.”

Scourge addresses Griffon, “You are Grayson’s “associate” from Kingbridge, I presume. Who is Lord Raul? And who is our gift here?”

“Actually I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting mister Greyson there.” He looks Jinn up and down and rubs his chin, “Come to think of it I haven’t had the…pleasure of meeting any of you. Lord Raul is a man that wishes to build a, shall we say, trust with you gentlemen and the lovely lady there. He is, for reasons I am not privy to, under the belief that you might have some of the same goals. I am to offer this gift to you on his behalf. This is a pathetic piss-pot cleaner from the Cloak and Stagger Inn. Seems he saw himself some unsavory things that Greyson and his troll were involved in. You know, murder and the like. I don’t know the details. In any case he’s sold the information to a local adventuring group led by a Paladin that’s got it in his head the he’s going to stop you boys..and you pretty lady.”
Griffon

Malphas puts his cigar down in a nearby ash tray and approaches the hooded man.

“And you are you under there, my friend,” Malphas says as he pats him on the head. “Perhaps we should take a look at who our guest has brought us.”

Malphas removes the hood.

Malphas touches the man’s face and brings his gaze to meet his. “Please make this easy on yourself and tell me what you know. I promise you that I can make every moment of the rest of your life the worst you have ever experienced.”

Scourge turns to Malphas and says, “Perhaps we should take our new gift somewhere more quiet before we interrogate him?” Then he addresses Griffon again,“I’d like to meet Lord Raul. Name a time and place.”

Griffon responds, “Well, I like the cut of your jib sir. I’ll deliver your request to Lord Raul and get an answer back to you tomorrow.” He nods to the group and winks at Jinn then turns to leave the room. The two brutes stand in front of the door unmoving. “Well?…Open the damn door!” The brutes quickly fumble for the doorknob, both of them trying to grab it at once as Griffon shakes his head. Finally they get the door open and he walks out. You hear him say, “Bloody morons,” under his breath as he rounds the corner. The brutes follow quickly after him.

Malphas’s eyes never leave those of the unfortunate man on all fours in front of him. He is a young man, probably still in his teen years. He has a cut above his eye with dried, crusted blood matting his dirty brown hair. In his eyes are terror. Pure terror. He tries to respond to Malphas but is only able to muster stuttering non-sense. A puddle of urine forms on the floor beneath him.

Malphas closes his eyes for a brief moment and then states, “You are correct Scourge. I am getting ahead of myself here.”

Malphas speaks to the large half-orc in his native tongue, “Gor blak tu vissen en vel airnia.”

To’Kazh walks over to the bound man and grabs him violently and carries him away out of the room, you can hear the man whimper as he goes.

“Let us follow my friend into the lower levels of the house and see what we can discern from him about this Paladin and his companions.”

The Black Tide files out of the room and heads to the opposite wing of the mansion. At the end of the long hallway they pass through a door and descend a winding stone staircase. At the bottom is a cold-storage room. A trap door in the center of the floor is open revealing another set of stairs. At the bottom is a sub-basement intended to handle water runoff. Hanging from chains over a deep-well sewer drain is the unfortunate gentleman. To’Kazh has lit torches around the chamber and stands silently in the back of the room.
Drainage chamber

Scourge says to Malphas, “Your orc really knows how to set the mood for an interrogation.” He strides up to the unfortunate captive, gets very close to him and quietly says, “Make this easy on yourself, friend. Answer our questions honestly and you may live to see another day.” He then walks around the man and leans against the far wall.

Malphas approaches the young man very slowly and says, “Please tell me your name, son. We can come to an understanding, you and I. I do not wish to harm you in any way. I cannot say the same for all of my companions. You have landed yourself in a very precarious situation. Let me help you help yourself. Tell me about the information you passed along to this Paladin. Tell me who this Paladin is and tell me how I can find him. Please”

Kel casts Zone of Truth on area behind the prisoner so the edge of the spell is just in front of him so he is effected but the interrogators are not.

The unfortunate man replies, “I..I just told him what I saw. I saw the orc carry that whore…the dead whore out of the Cloak and Stagger. I heard what you said to Master Reynauld. There was an adventuring group in the common room the next night and they were boasting about destroying evil and said that they had destroyed it all. That no one would stand against them. So I said that I heard of some evil doings and offered to sell them the information. The group told me to go away but later their paladin came up to me with ten gold pieces! His name was Sir…um…Sir Nyven.”

Jinn walks seductively around the group’s guest, trailing fingers across
his face to guide his gaze past her body. “Who was Sir Nyven with?”

“Make sure you tell me everyone his was with” and with that, Jinn playfully
squeezes the unfortunate man’s nose in a playfully painful manner.

“I..I…I don’t know their names,” the terrified man replies. “But I can find out for you. No one ever notices me. I think they are still staying at the Cloak and Stagger.”

“The Cloak and Stagger?” Malphas grins, “I always enjoyed the characters of that establishment. They often have profitable appetites.”

He turns his attention back to the young man, “Tell me your name, son. We may have a place for you here. We can forget all about our first impressions. We can chalk this up to a misunderstanding brought on by a third party. There is a better life for you here with us. Women, coin, wine, and prosperity are knocking on your front door. Will you answer?”

“Um..sure mister. I’m called Tobias,” he stammers.

“Well then Tobias. Welcome.” Malphas motions to To’Kazh who roughly releases the young man from his shackles. “Now let us speak of this pristine knight you are acquainted so closely with. What do his companions look like? How many of them travel with him?”

Tobias climbs to his feet on shaky legs, “I’m very thirsty Mr. Malphas and I haven’t eaten for days. May I have something to drink and maybe a crust of bread?”

“He seems unwilling to answer our questions, perhaps he is not so useful after all. Except, perhaps, as a meal for your orc," says Scourge

Jinn says, “Let me handle this. He’ll go out in pain with a smile on his face. You don’t want to see this. It’ll give you nightmares.”

Malphas shrugs and leaves the room. To’Kazh stays; his gaze fixed on the young man. As Jinn begins to approach a small yellow toothed grin begin to appear on his face.

“To’Kazh, make him hurt. Bad. Then walk away,” with that Jinn kisses the guest on the cheek and says “I will take care of you.”

Terror fills Tobias’ eyes once again, “I..I don’t need any food! Please! Please don’t hurt me! I’ll do anything! Please!” His pleas for mercy degrade to blubbering sobs as he drops to his knees and buries his face in Jinn’s boots.

Scourge strides over to man, and roughly grabs him by the collar and yanks him to his feet, “You say that you’ll do anything? Then die like a man. You have seen our faces and heard our names. You know who we are and you know that you are of no use to us. You are going to die in this cell, of that there is no doubt. How you die is up to you. Accept your fate and face your end with some dignity!” Scourge draws a dagger and holds it out to the man. “Take this and thrust it at my heart. Perhaps you’ll kill me, and somehow find a way a out of this place. Or you can stand there and blubber, and let this savage eat you alive. What do you choose, Tobias?” He steps back and holds his arms out wide, inviting the man to attack.

Kel steps forward calmly. “There is no need for such a dramatic display.” He turns to Tobias, “Don’t worry once you are dead you won’t stay dead long. I shall raise you and to serve as one of my minions. You will be part of our ultimate triumph. Once the Dark One returns and we destroy the Red Storm, I will give you to the Dark One. Let me know when you are finished, I must prepare.” Without another word Kel turns and walks out of the room.

Tobias looks up from Jinn’s boots and gasps for breath. He manages to say, “You’re going to what?! Please no!” He leans forward into the floor sobbing. A muffled prayer to Auronius is barely identifiable through his sobs.

“Pathetic.” Scourge kills the man with the dagger that he offered, swiftly and cleanly.

The razor sharp blade slices deeply through the man’s throat. His head tilts to the side opening the artery wide. Blood sprays in pulses onto the stone wall leaving three almost identical spatters. He falls to the ground. Blood bubbles from his esophagus in a last attempt at a scream. The scream falls silent – never reaching his vocal cords.

Kel returns to the room with a black gem in his hand. He grabs the corpse by the head and places the gem in its mouth. He starts chanting softly and moving his hands. The chanting gets louder and louder until there is a crackle of energy between Kel’s hands. When the chanting ends, a ball of black energy leaves Kel and enters the corpse through its mouth. When all of the energy is in the body it starts to move. Twitching at first, then it’s arms and legs start to move. It gets up on its knees and then onto its feet. Awaiting a command from its master. “Come with me.” Kel starts to walk out of the room and the abomination follows.

“Rathalon, that is disgusting. What do you plan to do with this abomination?” Scourge says.

“I plan on making as many as I want to. They are useful,” he replies.

After leaving the cellar Malphas heads into the manor’s kitchen. Thumbing through the cupboards is a young, thin roguish looking adolescent.

Malphas addresses the man warmly, “Aloshawn. It is good to see you. Thank you for coming. I have a couple of tasks I need you to undertake on my behalf.”

“Sure, boss. What can I do for you? I kind of like Riverstem. It is much more…simple than Kingbridge.”

Malphas gives the young man and amused glanced, “I need you to find out who the owner is of the Rotgut and any skeletons or tastes he may have that could work in my favor.”

The young man shrugs, “That should be easy enough. That place ain’t exactly Auronius’s bed chamber. Anything else?”

Malphas lowers his gaze, “There is an adventuring party that I have learned is interested in our dealings in this city. They frequent the Cloak and Stagger and are led by a Paladin who goes by the name Sir Nyven. Find out everything you can about him and all of his companions. I want every detail no matter how mundane it seems. I know it goes without saying but avoid drawing any attention to yourself or me in both of these favors.”

The young man smiles, “Sounds like I’ve got some work to do. Have Ballon to tell the cook to make some more of those biscuits she made for dinner. They were terrific.”

Malphas replies, “I will. Take some petty gold from the fund if you need to spread a little around to information, within reason.”

Aloshawn laughs as he leaves the room, “Yeah, I got it.”

Malphas is sitting in the study waiting for the rest of the party smoking a cigarette. When the Black Tide comes into the room he leans forward and says, “Scourge, I believe that we agreed on a night on the town. You still feeling like having some libations at the Stormfront? I am eager to see first hand the character of our enemies.”

Malphas and Scourge didn’t notice Kel until he spoke “Not that I was eves dropping but, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to meet our enemy.”

The group prepares for a night on the town and departs. A carriage ride brings them to the Red Light district, and The Stormfront.

The Black Tide flows out of the carriage and into Stormfront. The establishment is quite busy, many patrons crowd around the bar, a bard plays a lute on the stage, and several maidens dance to the music. One table is open under a mounted green dragon head on the far wall.

Malphas goes over to the table and first brushes off the chair and section of the table in front him before sitting. He eyes the green dragon with an impressed gaze, “This creature appears to have been dispatched with a single blow. Quite impressive.”

He surveys the room and its inhabitants while waiting for a server to come and take his drink order.

Jinn goes up to the bartender and orders the finest wine. She looks all around the bar sizing up all the men. Once she’s spotted the biggest man, she approaches him. She spends some time flirting with him. She just wants to make friends.

Once the guy starts getting touchy-feely, Jinn goes to the next closest guy and starts to flirt with him.

An extremely busy barmaid approaches the table and manages a wearied smile, “What’ll ya have?”

Meanwhile at the bar, two bears of men begin raising their voices. They appear to be arguing over Jinn.

Jinn is highly amused by the two men.

In response to the barmaid, Jinn calmly replies that she’ll have a glass of the best wine.

Jinn stands up from the table and walks over to the two men that are arguing over her. Her walk is deadly seductive and she will not be satisfied unless she’s caught the attention of every man and woman in the bar. She puts a hand on each man’s shoulder and says, “Boys, I’m only interested in a man I can feel safe with. How can I possibly be safe with either one of you if both of you are in the bar?”

Then she licks her tongue and walks back to the table to sit by the big gladiator with the big…chain.

Malphas laughs to himself as Jinn manipulates the men at the bar.

He turns his attention to the barmaid and smiles at her, “Good evening my dear. You seem a great deal overworked in your vocation tonight. Instead of a glass of that wine bring us a bottle.” He leans in and kisses her hand softly and says, as he looks back up at her, “And please bring it yourself. It would be a shame to not see you again.”

The barmaid visibly swoons over Malphas’s comments. Pushing her bangs away from her face she promises to return with a bottle from Stormfront’s private stock of elven wine. As she turns to walk away she almost runs into the two brutes that were arguing over Jinn, apologizes and then disappears into the kitchen. The two men are now staring each other down in drunken male posturing. Each trying disparately to impress Jinn. Finally one of them throws a wild, drunken hay-maker that miraculously connects with the other mans jaw making a loud slap as it knocks his head back violently.

Jinn rises from the table and moves away towards the bar and then with a barely perceptible incantation she disappears.

Scourge leans back in his chair and says, “I couldn’t agree with you more, Malphas. Where is our wine?”

The drunken brawlers exchanges a few blows and finally the man struck first falls to the ground stunned and disoriented. The winner looks over to the table grinning, then with a look of disappointment scans the crowd for his prize. He turns to return to the bar and is met by two city guardsmen that appeared from the crowd behind him. The apprehend the man and escort him from Stormfront leaving the other man on the floor.

Jinn passes soundlessly and invisible through the kitchen and then through another door into a storage room. There is a wooden door to her right that appears to be a door to the outside and another wooden door in front of her that appears to lead to another interior room. She attempts to push it open but finds that it is locked.

The commotion in the bar settles down. Jinn reappears and sits back at the table just as the waitress returns with a fine bottle of wine. Malphas pays the 200gp for the wine without batting an eye and pours for the group. Just as the first few tasty sips go down a group of five Trillian soldiers step through the doorway. Four of them stay by the exit and the fifth steps onto the stage and quiets the bard, “May I have your attention please! PLEASE!” The bar quiets and all of the patrons focus their attention to the stage. “My name is Captain Aummond of the White Dragon Guard. We are here under orders from Lord-General Ramanos himself. It appears that the Crimson Scourge has struck a northern settlement outside of the Kingdom. Many of you are too young to remember how dangerous of a disease this can be so I caution you to listen carefully to my instructions. We are here to screen each of you for the disease. The process is painless and you will be given a mark on your hand to indicate that you have gone through the screening. After being screened you are not to make physical contact with any citizen in the city that has not been screened. Until we determine if the Scourge is present the City of Riverstem is hereby quarantined. Please stay where you are and I will screen each of you. Once you have all been screened you will be free to go about your business.” The Captain steps down from the stage and first approaches the Black Tide’s table. He comes first to Kel and produces a long white feather…

Malphas calmly leans forward and speaks very politely to Aummond.

“Captain, please, is it necessary to screen us in this establishment? We are not native to this city. We are clean, I can guarantee you of this fact. I would ask you a kindness and to reconsider, or at least meet with our group in a more private setting, perhaps at my estate.”

Kel winks at the Captain and says “Are you going to buy me dinner first?”

Captain Aummond ignores Kel’s quip and waves the feather over his head while he replies to Malphas, “We have an entire city to screen citizen. I’m sure you understand. Like I said, it is quick and painless. You will be free to return to your estate momentarily.” He turns to one of the soldiers with him and says, “This one is clear.”
The soldier approaches Kel and produces a small wooden stamp adorned with arcane markings and says to Kel, “Your right hand please.”
Captain Aummond steps next to Scourage and begins to wave the feather over the gladiator’s head.

Malphas makes direct eye contact with Captain Aummond.

“So you are going to ignore this small courtesy I have asked of you sir? I can understand the volume of your duty here. It is noted that your job is a tireless one. I am simply asking for a little discretion.”

“However, I would ask that you not further add insult to your refusal of a favor by blanketing us into the lower class status of simple citizens. To that I take some offense sir.”

The captain stops and faces Malphas, “Please accept my apologies sir. Of course we would be happy to conduct your screening privately. Would you and your party care to meet in a room upstairs?”

“Of course,” the waitress replies. “Take the first room on the right on the 2nd floor.”
The Black Tide followed by Captain Aummond and one of the soldiers ascend the spiral staircase to the second floor and into a large windowless room containing two beds. Captain Aummond again produces the feather and says, “This will only take a moment.” He again approaches Scourge.

“Hold a moment, and explain to me this process. I prefer to know what is being done before I consent. I am… mistrustful of magic.”

Captain Aummond abruptly stops and retracts the feather, “Yes of course, I understand. I too am distrustful of magic. In fact, I am of the opinion that the Crimson Scourge was born of magic. This feather is simply a detector of the disease. I am told that it will glow blue when passed over the head of an infected person although I have not witnessed it yet and certainly hope not to. The stamp that leaves a mark on your hand is not removable nor could it be replicated. It will only disappear when the stamper is deactivated. I have already screened well over a hundred people including myself and my men and there have been no ill effects.” The Captain again raises the feather, “May I?”

Malphas says, “When do you plan on deactivating the stamper? What type of mark are we talking about here? Could I please see the mark on your hand for reference Captain?”

The Captain again turns to Malphas and holds out his right hand. On the top is a simple, but perfect circle. “We will deactivate the stamper once the entire city has been screened. Then our orders are to continue south, screening villages along the way, until we meet up with a regiment of the Silver Guard.”

Scourge does not trust city officials, nor anyone who tries to use magic on him uninvited. He eyes the captain suspiciously, weighing his words. He does not believe that the Captain is being entirely honest.

The Captain again holds the feather out over scourges head.

Scourge straightens to stand at his full height, glowering at the captain. “This man lies.” He moves to stand in front of the door.

Malphas leisurely begins to walk around the Captain as soon as Scourge is in front of the door.

“It appears this situation has grown beyond your control Captain. Perhaps you would like to reconsider what you have told us and supplant your previous statement with the truth? After all, sir, honesty is the best policy, is it not? Please tell us what this is all about, for all of our sakes.”

The captain replaces the feather in his pouch and sighs deeply, “Very well. I will take my leave and we shall discuss this at a later date.” He and the soldier with him step around Scourge and disappear down the hallway. Malphas, Scourge, and Jinn return to the common room to find it nearly empty. They meet back up with Kel and then return to their carriage ordering the driver to transport them back to their estate. The hour is quite late by the time they arrive. Ballon greets them at the door and informs them that Aloshawn has returned and is awaiting them in the study.

“Excellent,” Malphas says, “Let’s adjorn to the study for a nightcap and a little bit of information, shall we? Thank you Ballon.” Malphas then moves into the study.

Following Ballon, the associates traverse the hallway to the study and find Aloshawn laid out across the sofa. His head is tilted back over the edge of the cushion and he is holding a bloody handkerchief to his nose. He lifts his head slightly as they come in then lets it flop back down as he greets them in a nasal sounding voice, “Home so soon?”

“We found the clientele at the Stormfront a bit, primitive for our tastes.” Malphas eyes Aloshawn’s accessory and states wryly, “It would appear you had a run in with some primitives of your own. Troubles?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” replies Aloshawn as he slowly sits up. “I was at the Cloak and Stagger looking into that adventuring group like you asked. They were there alright. They had a table in the middle of the room so I took a seat at the bar and was just keeping an eye on them. I gave the serving wench a little slap on the ass and next thing I know I have a paladin punching me in the face.”

“Sounds like even the pious have anger management problems. Perhaps we could help him with that.” Malphas pours himself a drink from a decanter on the far side of the room and then turns back to Aloshawn. “What did you learn of this man of the cloth and his companions aside from him having a strong right cross?”

Aloshawn responds, “They are staying at the Cloak and Stagger in a bunk room. Room 12. There are five of them in the group: the Paladin, a cleric of Auronious called Tenner, an elven wizard called Sojorn, and a Ranger whose name I didn’t get. Their equipment didn’t look as though it has seen much battle. I discerned that most of their experience was in training and tournaments. It seems that they are trying to get the attention of the Adventurer’s Guild in order to gain entry and spoke of a ‘big mission’ that would surely get them in. I was unable to get anymore detail on the mission other than they were going to hunt down some murderers and bring them to justice tomorrow.”

Malphas sits in a chair near the fireplace in the large study. The light dances around his face, casting shadows on the wall as he leans forward and says, “Perhaps it is time we extended a bit of hospitality to one of their members. I think the elf may be a good choice. I know how much G’Bron loves elves.”

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