In the quiet of the night as the group sleeps Taran makes his way to the sleeping Ranger and Jeric. Gently nudging them awake and in a hushed voice he tells them:
Taran: “Before we leave Valencia, there is unfinished business here. The Cleric will not approve so it is best we leave him and the others undisturbed. The Council has given me the go ahead and the way to finish Stalben and his compound once and for all. As a former ranking officer in Gen. Talara’s army his life is forfeit. The way is through the sewers. We will strike quickly, silently and set the place ablaze once I have slit the throat of Stalben. Ranger, your lust for blood and skill make me know that you will accompany me for any trouble we may have along the way getting to Stalben as he sleeps. Jeric, as a foe of Talara and a deadly companion of mine I am asking for your help as well. We leave now and will be back before the others wake. Put these on.”
Taran hands them darkened cloaks and paint for their faces to make their entry as hidden and silent as possible.
Sigfried: “You have my blade.”
Looking Taran in the eye, Jeric takes the items from him and silently starts putting on the face paint.
Sigfried: “Duskblade, Samurai – let’s light up the night sky.”
Taran, already in his darkened cloak and face, hands them each a bag of the jumping caltrops. Holding the hilt of his sword hanging by his side, he begins to quietly lead the team outside the Inn. There he shows them the map leading them to the compound via the sewers.
Valencia has an extensive sewer system. Thanks to Ralen’s map, you head towards a large grating near the exterior city wall. For the three of you, prying it open shouldn’t be a problem but it may also cause noise and draw attention.
Jeric dimension hops Taran, then Sigfried, then himself past the grate, worrying about the consequences later.
Jeric has gotten you all in, and just in time too. As Jeric appears outside the sewers, a pair of guards stroll down the street. You all collectively hold your breath and stay totally still.
Guard 1: “So what did she do then?”
Guard 2: “What could she do? I already had her knickers off!”
They chuckle loudly as they continue walking by. They passed within a few feet so your timing was perfect!
It’s dark in here so you’ll need to light torches to see. No need to worry about traps and there were no magical wards.You’re very quiet though not completely since the water makes that tough. Either way, it will be hard for anyone to hear you unless you make a commotion.
It’s a long slog through the murky corridors. You estimate it takes an hour or so with all the twists and turns. Finally you get underneath where the compound should be. There is a ladder leading up to a 5’ wide grate. Faint light comes from the opening.
You’re underneath the ladder leading to the grating for the compound…
There are definitely voices above you. If you carefully climb the ladder you can get close enough to hear them…
Sigfried can hear two voices. One is soft-spoken, the other a bit louder and harsher. They are both definitely women. In order to make out specifics, you’ll have to scale the ladder. Doing so should also allow you to see through the grate to some degree.
Taran: (Whispering) “Ranger what do you hear? Can you move the gate?”
Sigfried heads up the ladder slowly and carefully. Peering through the grate, you see what looks like a kitchen. You realize this grating is basically a large drain in the floor. It makes sense considering someone of Stalben’s wealth probably does a great deal of entertaining and would need a sizable area to prepare food. The women continue their conversation:
Woman 1: “Daisy, make sure you don’t forget to put the garnish on that soup!”
Woman 2: “I won’t, Mrs. Ketchum. It’s comin’ right up, ma’am.”
Woman 1: “You’re as slow as an ooze sometimes, girl. I just want to get this done so we can get back to bed. Why his Lord would want food this late is beyond me.”
Woman 2: “He’s been all out of sorts lately ma’am. Been sayin’ strange things about how your past always catches up with you or some such.”
Woman 1: “Well, I’m sure you’d be a bit crazy if one of your family went missing, wouldn’t ya? With all the good he does for this city and us havin’ those three wizards lookin’ over us, you’d think they’d found his nephew by now. He was part of the City Guard for Shadow’s sake!”
Woman 2: “I don’t know ma’am. But it seems like there’s more to it than that…”
Woman 1: “Bah, you’re too young to understand these sorts of worries, Daisy. Come on, then. Let’s get this up to him.”
You hear the sounds of plates and silverware being arranged. After a few moments, the kitchen goes silent as Daisy & Mrs. Ketchum make their way out.
Sigfried looks down at the two of you and gestures that he’s going in and heading for cover. The grate is hinged and easily pushes open. It’s only 5’ wide so it’s a bit of a tight squeeze with all of your gear.
Once through, Sigfried darts behind the prepping island in the center of the room, putting it between him and the set of stairs leading up to the next floor.
Taran and Jeric make their way up the ladder. You join one another, crouched low behind the island. It’s dark here and you had to douse your torches to make your way up the ladder. The little bit of light comes from a small window above the sink. It looks like this is a mostly subterranean kitchen, akin to a basement – the window is just above the ground line. It is still and serene here, the smell of fresh food still lingers in the air. A myriad of dried meats hang nearby. The counters are lined with numerous cooking utensils.
It appears the window and the stairs are the only exit/entry points aside from the sewer.
Sigfried: “Take the lead, revengencer.”
Taran, armed with two swords, for some reason grabs a kitchen knife and takes the vanguard as Sigfried instructed. In reflection, you realize the three wizards Mrs. Ketchum mentioned are the Council of Elders since they are the governing body of the city.
It’s dark in the basement kitchen and you’re using faint starlight to maneuver. Taran must go carefully but he does a good job of keeping quiet. Sigfried, as always, moves like the wind. If you weren’t looking at him, you wouldn’t know he was even there with you. Jeric, however, makes a miscalculation as he slinks around the corner of a counter top. His cloak catches the side of a large platter of silverware.
CRASH! BANG! TINGLE-TINGLE-TINGLE…
You look at each other, eyes wide as the moon. Jeric grimaces with a look as if he’s just been kicked in the groin. If anyone was near the stairs, they probably heard that…
Besides the island, there isn’t much behind which to conceal yourselves save hugging the wall. You do as best as you can to remain silent and covered. Jeric scurries back down the grate and hangs onto the ladder.
After about a minute you hear footsteps coming down the stairs and a voice.
Daisy: “I’ll take care of it, Mrs. Ketchum. I’m sure it’s just Petunia scroungin’ for food as usual. I’ll clean up down here.”
Once Daisy gets to the bottom of the stairs, she waves her hand over a rune on the nearby wall and the room illuminates. She heads towards the spilled silverware.
Sigfried moves out of hiding to come up behind her, blade to throat.
Sigfried: “Scream, you die. get in the hole and as far from here as possible and start a new life.”
Daisy immediately freezes in your arms. Her voice quivering, she asks, “Who are you? What are you goin’ to do to me?”
Taran: “Bring her to the gate Siggy. shove her down to us and I’ll take care of her.”
Jeric: (to Taran) “By knocking her out and leaving her in the sewer. Vengeance and the murdering of innocents are two different things. I’ll knock her out down here and tie her up and gag her.”
Sigfried: “Come with me, girl. Your actions decide if you see another dirty dish.”
Sigfried leads her down to the others.
Sigfried: “Now we need to (whisper shout) MOVE!”
Tears well up in Daisy’s eyes as she walks with Sigfried to the grate. As she reaches the edge of the hole she begins to softly weep.
Daisy: “Please don’t put me down there sir. The dark scares me. Oh please let me live I promise I won’t tell a soul.”
Sigfried ushers her down as Taran beckons for her. Before any gruesome act is taken, Jeric slams her between the shoulder blades and Daisy goes down. She’s a little thing so it doesn’t take much. Her frame is reminiscent of Jeric’s sister. The act of violence forces him to close his eyes and take a breath before he joins Taran and Sigfried back in the lit kitchen.
You are once again alone as you close the grate behind you. Luckily, it seems that Mrs. Ketchum left Daisy to her own devices.
The Ranger realizes leaving the kitchen illuminated may arouse suspicion so he activates the rune and the lights dim. The room is once again in darkness.
Presuming you head for the stairs, you assume the positions. Learning from past mistakes, Jeric takes great pains this time. It’s worth it as one could argue he’s moving as quietly as Sigfried! His deftness gives you all confidence as you make your way up the stairs…
You find yourselves at the end of a long hallway. It’s about three people wide and lined with long counter tops. Above those are cabinets with all sorts of glass stemware inside. This room is most likely where the servants arrange the meals before formal presentation to guests. At the far end of the hallway is a wooden door. Normally, this place would be pitch black in the dark but it looks like Daisy left it lit.
Using the ornate cone Taran brought with him, the samurai moves slowly down the hallway and turns his ear towards the door. You don’t hear anything on the other side. Given the time of night, it’s not surprising. The rune for this room isn’t obviously displayed. You can search for it but it will take time.
You are now up against the door. It looks like it will easily push open.
When you open the door you find yourselves awash with pure opulence. It looks like the hallway leads to the main foyer of this incredible villa. The amount of wealth is staggering; the walls are adorned with all kinds of valuable artwork, sculptures and tapestries. It’s not gaudy, just very impressive.
Taran, the sight makes you sick to your stomach. To you, all of it – every piece of craftsmanship – represents the blood of the fallen. The blood of your village and all those like them. The spoils of war, all turned into paintings to furnish this maggot’s home. The incredible rage causes the bile in your guts to rise in your chest. You suddenly drop to one knee as the feeling overwhelms you. Jeric and Sigfried rush to help steady you but you waive them off. The damned geas spell is beginning to rear its ugly head. If you’re going to do this, you’ll need to do it soon before the magic incapacitates you further.
There are multiple doors on this ground level (the floor plan is basically a large rectangle). Two winding, marble staircases ascend to the floor above. Between them is a large, wooden double-door. Beautiful carvings are found throughout. In the center is a large “S.”
The light is faint here but enough to make your way around. Several small globes placed in strategic places emit a soft glow. You assume they probably function similar to the runes.
The three of you crouch low and hug the banister as you move upstairs. It’s not a great distance but the fact that you’re basically out in the open makes it feel like an eternity. Jeric and Sigfried exchange worried glances when they look back at Taran who is beginning to sweat profusely. His shaking sword hand doesn’t make you feel any better.
You finally arrive outside the large double-doors. You can see light from the space underneath.
Sigfried takes the Listening Cone from Taran and carefully places it on the door. It’s a handy little item since the sounds are so faint you probably wouldn’t be able to hear them without it. You make out what seems like someone mumbling accompanied by frantic scratching of some sort.
Sigfried crouches down and looks through the keyhole. It’s tough to make out but you see a man at a desk scribbling away with a quill. A fireplace burns behind him.
Sigfried: (whispering) “I suggest we try some of the other doors – see if can find a room adjacent to this one so we don’t have to barge right in…“
Jeric: (whispering in Taran’s ear) “Is that who you seek? Keep in mind that I can magick you right behind him. You’ll have him completely surprised.”
Taran, your shaking hand tenses around the hilt of your katana when you lay eyes upon him. The man at the desk is indeed Victor Stalben, former Second Lieutenant of the Black March.
Sigfried, you can move to the door to the left but keep in mind you haven’t determined if the room with Stalben is connected to any other. You can certainly try entering to see…
Taran gives Jeric an approving nod and whispers where to place him once the spell is cast. Keep in mind, Jeric, you can only teleport Taran 20’ since you’re 8th level. Peering through the keyhole doesn’t really give you an accurate idea of how far away Stalben truly is.
Sigfried, the smaller door to the left has an iron handle and keyhole (albeit much smaller). Furthermore, it doesn’t seem as any light is in the room as looking through the keyhole yields nothing but darkness. No sound is heard when you place the cone on the door.
Jeric and Taran, you watch Sigfried intently as he shakes his head “no” and moves to the door to the right.
Sigfried, you find a similar situation here. No sound and no light to see anything. The only difference is this door is locked.
Sigfried pushes against the door to the right to no effect. He comes back to you and shakes his head “no” once more.
Taran turns to Jeric and gives him the go ahead for the spell, whispering to him to wait to a count of 3 before coming in.
The three of you stand up from your crouched positions. Taran assumes a fighting stance, Sigfried readies himself to take on the door and Jeric closes his eyes to summon the arcane energy needed for the spell. A moment later, Jeric opens his eyes; his pupils are gone and they glow a faint purple. As he reaches out and touches Taran, pale motes of light dance around Jeric’s fingertips. In an instant, the Samurai disappears leaving nothing but a few of the swirling motes behind. Jeric’s eyes return to normal as the Duskblade and Ranger turn their attention to the door.
Taran, you feel Jeric’s magic course through you. For a the length of a breath your world is nothing but a swirl of colors. You pop back into reality a split second later and find yourself elevated above your quarry. The spell has teleported you atop a large desk. Your hulking figure looms over Stalben. The fireplace casts an eerie glow on your darkened face. It would be hard to find a more intimidating figure anywhere in Majeria at this very moment. When you appear, he looks up and almost falls over in his chair. Stalben is simultaneously completely surprised and incredibly frightened.
Stalben: “W-who are you??!! How did you ge… oh Gods.”
His eyes widen as they take in your katana. A fearful look of recognition comes across his face.
Taran: “Too long have I waited for this moment.”
Before Stalben can utter anything further, the Onyx Ronin (due to the camouflage) brings his magic katana back and slashes across Stalben’s throat. Taran remains motionless at the end of his swipe as Stalben’s head slowly begins to slide off his neck. It rolls unceremoniously onto the floor by his feet and blood sprays from the stump atop his body.
The combined efforts of the two of you is enough to break open the door with a loud “BOOM!” You come upon Taran on top of the desk with a geyser of blood erupting behind him.
Taran, you look down at your feet to see what he was writing. You notice the name of the addressee: Xi’an Vu (another name on your list). Stalben was writing a warning to him. It’s a pity the fool will never be able to send it. The envelope nearby lists the city of Juab in the Plainslands as the destination. You grab the letter for safekeeping.
The fortunate happenstance fills you with elation. You cannot enjoy the good fortune for long however as your head spins and you fall from the desk to the floor. The ill effects of Ruger’s magic grow stronger.
After looking over the scene and helping Taran to his feet, Sigfried says grimly, “We need to find the other servants.”
Rolling the body yields nothing but expensive, blood-soaked clothes and jewelry.
Jeric suggests a course of action in regards to setting fire to the villa.
Wisely, Taran starts the fire as suggested by Jeric. This is before Sigfried acts on his suggestion to look for valuables while simultaneously search for the innocents housed in the villa.
It turns out you won’t have to search far for them. You hear voices beginning to amass on the first level. The loud crash of the double-door woke a handful of them. They haven’t noticed the fire yet.
Your exit from Stalben’s writing room is dramatic to say the least. From the ground floor you see 5 individuals in nightclothes looking up at you in shock. As smoke begins to billow from the room, Sigfried yells, “Run for your lives!”
Some of the frightened servants begin to scatter, either back to their rooms or towards what you expect is the main entrance to the villa. Two, however, stand their ground yelling,“The Master!” They watch you cautiously as you rapidly make your way downstairs. As you close on their level, they move up the opposite staircase. It seems this loyal man and lady are more concerned with their Lord’s state than their own.
You are now on the ground floor. A quick look back upstairs shows flames licking the ceiling above the large doors.
As you barrel into the hallway that leads to the kitchen, you hear screams from above. The loyal servants have discovered their master’s fate.
There is general commotion and yelling coming from the main foyer. Deep, husky voices probably belonging to Stalben’s security detail.
You run down to the kitchen and head for the grate. Taran makes good use of the his alchemist fire and sets the island ablaze. With it on fire, it will be tough for anyone to follow you should they surmise how you gained entry. Taran also opens and spills over a bag of caltrops that sparkle slightly, adding another level of security to your escape.
You quickly scurry down the ladder. Daisy is still unconscious, lying bound and gagged in the muck. Taran picks her up and heads deeper into the sewers. Jeric and Sigfried follow suit. You light new torches from a safe distance as the cacophony of frantic yelling fades into the background. The only sound is your heavy panting and your wet footsteps.
The trip will take an hour back to the opening. After 45 minutes, Daisy starts to come to…
Just before Daisy awakes, Jeric reminds you all he won’t have enough magic to hop to the other side of the grate as you did on the way in. The girl’s frightened reaction to you changes the topic.
When Daisy regains full consciousness, Taran removes her gag (but leaves her bound) and begins to question her.
Taran: “Tell me everything you know about your master and what he was up to?”
Daisy: “Please sirs, don’t hurt me. I-I’m a no one, I won’t say a thing to anyone. Please don’t leave me here, I have to get back to Phillip and mum. Sir, I don’t know what you mean by ‘up to,’ honest I don’t. Lord Stalben is a kind and generous man. His is the best house I’ve ever worked.”
You all exchange glances. It seems Daisy won’t be a source of information regarding Stalben’s activities provided he was doing anything clandestine. You worry about her mention of loved ones. If they were back at the villa, there’s no way of knowing what ultimately happened. They’re in The Gods’ hands at this point.
In the interest of not providing Daisy with any additional means of identifying you, the group of you remain silent until you make it back to the original grate. Daisy nervously shuffles along with you, fighting back tears. When you make it there, Sigfried looks at Daisy and places a finger over his mouth in a “shhhhh”-ing motion. She nervously nods in understanding. You wait. And wait. And wait. It’s closer to dawn now than the middle of the night. Looks like the guards don’t patrol as often then.
When it feels like enough time has passed the three of you grasp hold of the gate. It takes some muscling, but your combined strength manages to pop it out of place with a small “clang!” You funnel out, escorting Daisy along with you. Sigfried keeps watch holding on to Daisy’s arm as Jeric and Taran shimmy the grate back into place. Unless someone was closely investigating, the opening looks just as it did when you first arrived.
Taran, face still blackened but slightly streaked from the profuse sweating walks menacingly towards Daisy who cowers into Sigfried.
Taran: “You Lord and Master was a terrible person. He murdered innocent men, women and children during the Rebellion. Whatever happens to you in the days ahead, know this: we are watching you. Those who endorse killers are subject to the same fate themselves. You would be wise to carry what happened to you tonight to your grave. Do you understand, girl?”
Tears well up in Daisy’s eyes. She nods rapidly and mouths the word “yes” though she is too shaken to speak.
Taran: “Go then, and pray to The Gods with all your might you never see us again.”
With that Taran slices her bonds with his katana. Daisy freezes for a moment. Taran nods towards the street and Daisy follow his cue. She runs off as fast as her little body will take her.
Jeric: “We need to leave – now.”
You show your agreement by moving at double speed towards the inn. Along the way, you wipe the camouflage from your faces and discard the cloaks atop a pile of homeless urchins. Not a word is spoken among you. What is there to say, really?
Sigfried, you were pleased to see the group of you working so cohesively. You aided a comrade when he needed you. Perhaps that will add some more trust among a group that is sorely lacking in that department. You truly hope no harm came to the other inhabitants but sometimes it can’t be helped. Life is war, and there are always unfortunate casualties in war. Besides, if this man was truly the monster Taran painted him to be, there is never too high a price for Justice. Obviously the Council of Elders thought so…
Jeric, so many conflicting emotions swirl about you. You are empathetic to Taran’s cause. Talarra is every bit the villain to him as he is to you. Dispensing sweet justice to one of his lackeys was gratifying in its own way. But then you wonder, at what cost? You have a score to settle, true, but you do it to save your family and simply survive. It seems Taran has made his life about extracting vengeance on those who wronged him. What kind of life is that to lead? How much blood does one spill to meet that end? So much gray in a world of black and white…
Taran, you heave and vomit part of the way back to the inn. Your body is wracked with pain from the geas spell but you smile. You smile the whole way home. You have struck another blow for your village. For your family. For your honor. You may be known as Taran the Shamed, but there is no shame here tonight. Your katana has drank the blood of your enemy. Its thirst is sated. As the inn appears in the distance, two feelings envelop you (as they always do when you cross a name off your list): the first is determination. You are newly resolute in your quest for vengeance. The second is the unfortunate byproduct of a life such as yours. By the time you have remembered the names of those lost to Talarra, it is gone. By the time you honor Master Ovsunn’s memory with a silent prayer of honor, it is gone. It’s gone – the feeling of happiness. And the worst part is what gets left behind in its place… emptiness.