Chapter 4 – Investigations

Chapter 4 – Investigations

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Last Updated: 11-17-11

Alista’s blade had already moved up a more aggressive position, “An assassin!”

“A bodyguard!” Greg replied, imitating her voice.

That was probably not the best way to respond, Deacon noted as Alista’s eyes narrowed. He took a few steps to place himself between the pair but was stopped as Alista’s hand swing to her belt pouch, palming something.

“Elt sura esu rena!” she declared, throwing what looked like a handful of sand at the man.

Greg had no time to react as it sprinkled down around him. He looked startled for a moment and then, chuckled, “Not much of a distraction pretty,” he gestured with open hands to the rest of the group, “And you appear to be the only one with a problem about my profession.”

That was true, Deacon noted, the rest of the group was more or less watching the exchange. Only Marigold had reacted, and that hadn’t been until the sand throw from the elf. Her eyes had narrowed and now she was glaring across the room at Alista. Something about the exchange had set the woman off, “Let’s all just calm down for a moment,” he said, putting up his hands. He turned to Alista, “Put your sword away.”

“He’s an assassin and there are two nobles in this room right now.  I will not.” she replied, keeping her blade trained on Greg.

“And two half-orcs,” Greg replied, still imitating the elf’s determined voice, “and two humans. I can count too.” his eyes were filled with mirth and there was no worry in his stance; a sharp contrast to the aggressive stepping of the graceful elf.

Deacon sighed. It was going to be one of those negotiations, “Alista, he’s my man. I’ve paid him. It would be poor professional ethics for him to murder me.”

Alista processed that for a moment, not taking her sword off the man, “Who says Assassin’s have any kind of ethic?”

“If I wanted you or your handler dead, Pretty, you’d be dead,” Greg replied, indignantly, “and, for your information, I do keep to my contracts.”

“Put the sword away, Alista. We’re not in any danger from him,” Vicor chimed in, sheathing his now clean blade, “He could just as easily fallen on you or me when he attacked that fire beetle. He’s bought and paid for by an ally; let’s keep it that way.”

Alista grunted  and, not taking her eyes off of the other human,  sheathed  her sword, “We’re  fools for trusting his kind,” she  said and then spared her glare to Deacon,  “And  you’re  an even  greater one for hiring him.”

Deacon sighed inwardly, that’s not going to settle anything. The elf is determined that he’s a threat. To the assembled, however, he nodded quickly, “Excellent,” he bowed in Alista’s direction in thanks, “Thank you for your trust.”

She did not react, other than to glare at the grinning assassin.

It was Choc that broke the tension, “Where’s the other humans? She asked, looking around, “Didn’t the girl say there were others. And Goblins?”

Deacon was glad that he was not the only one to notice the lack of what they had been expecting. There was no sign of the creatures that DeFloures had identified, nor were there any of the human nobles that had been a part of the party he had been invited to. The tunnel was the only likely route the goblins could have used to escape, yet, there had been no sign of the creatures in the room, “Anyone find any signs?”

The party broke for a moment to check around the room, but the result was, more or less, what Deacon had already determined. There were no signs of the goblins or any kind of prisoners. Deacon began to think for several long moments, considering what that indicated. It was Greg that broke up the thinking moment, “They’re not going to be here.”

“Obviously,” Marigold’s voiced in reply. Her arms were crossed over her stomach and peering up at the heavens, “We’d have noticed such a well dressed group.” Apparently the woman had to antagonize everyone.

Greg, however, took the words in stride, smiling to himself, “This isn’t where the Goblins are supposed to be.” he continued, unperturbed, “Haven’t you ever heard any of the scuttle in town?”

“I hear many voices,” Marigold replied, “And none of them concern Goblins.”

Greg laughed, “Then you’ve not listened to the voices too well. We’re in the wrong spot.”

“Then where,” Marigold continued to speak in a loud voice.

“Over by the old mill.” He replied, “The park. The one that the archduke promised to clear out of vermin like the goblins two years ago.”

“Excellent. Then we’ll take the wizard in to custody and then proceed with the nobles.” Marigold gestured to Alista, “Lord Carlyle, I assume you’ll act as a witness.”

Deacon looked from the elf to the half-orc, confusion in his eyes, “I’m sorry…what?”

Marigold sighed in frustration, “The wizard. The elf. ALISTA you clod.” She repeated as if speaking to an infant, “I’m placing her under arrest.”

“For what crime?” Alista demanded.

“For being a wizard.” Marigold replied, “I am a member of the church of Pharasma and one of her inquisitors. In her name, I place you under my authority.”

Deacon sighed, “Marigold…is this really necessary?”

“Are you questioning my authority?” Marigold countered.

“Can we not forget this, for the moment, and just finish with the nobles first before we start arresting each other?” Deacon tried in his most pleasant voice.

“I do not tolerate fools or wizards,” Marigold scowled, “She is, at the least, the latter.”

Deacon groaned as Alista’s face flushed. Her hand was already on the pommel of her sword, “You accuse what you do not understand.”

“You break the law,” Marigold returned, her own face changing to a darker shade of green, “You must be punished.”

Deacon stepped between the two women, “No one is punishing anyone until after we have located the missing nobility,” he paused and peered at Marigold, “We have seen nothing of magic this eve, save the alchemy of a glow rod – permitted by both the church and the lords of the land. You’ve no cause save…what? Sand and some odd phrases in elven to accuse her by.”

Marigold rose up to her full height. For a moment, it looked as though she might actually assault the young human. She glared at him, venom clear in her eyes, for a long moment, and then backed down, “As you say, Carlyle.” She huffed, “the arrest will wait.”

“Thank you,” Deacon returned, visibly paled, “Let us focus on finding the nobles. Greg, have you found anything?”

Greg paused in his surveillance of the potential conflict, tearing his eyes from the two glaring women, “No…not yet.” He quickly made a show of staring at the ground, apparently in a deep mode of thought and observation.

“Where are the goblins?” Choc asked, “Because those didn’t look like any goblin I have ever heard of.”

“Not here,” Marigold growled, “Idiot lost them.”

Deacon ignored that as well, “Does anyone remember where they were supposed to be?” he said to the group. He expected the negative head shaking from Alista and Vicor – they were not natives of Torklaid. When Marigold and Choc followed suit, however, he began to grow concerned.  Greg, however, snapped his fingers.

“Yes!” he began, “They were in the park..near the border between the nobles ring and the merchants. That’s where the disappearances happened that triggered the Archduke and his men moving in on the goblins.”

“A park?” Alista asked, her face more confused than Deacon had ever seen it, “And a sewer.”

Greg nodded, “Indeed, Pretty. And, now that I think on it, it’d make sense. That hole was a distraction. That’s why there’s no sign of the nobles in this stinkin’ pit. They were never here.”

“That is beyond normal goblin intelligence, Greg,” Alista pointed out. Deacon was impressed – apparently the bodyguard was knowledgeable as well as talented, “They don’t think that far in advance.”

Greg nodded, “Aye. But we already knew that, right Deacon?”

Deacon nodded. The different pieces of the puzzle were beginning to come together now. The kidnapping itself had been odd for goblins to begin with – their deception even more so. Someone, or something, was behind the actions. It made him uncomfortable that he could not place what, “Indeed,” he responded, “None of this is adding up properly.”

“Finally, something smart from the noble,” Marigold snorted, “About time.”

Deacon ignored that as well, “Let’s get moving. It’s going to be a long night.”

The city was lit only by the silver rays of the moon when they emerged from the warehouse and headed in the direction that Greg had indicated earlier. There were occasional lamps in windows, true, but, for the most part, the city was in shadows. It was hard to track Greg as the man lead them. He seemed to want to veer in to the shadows and his cloak accommodated that task, causing him to vanish until he seemed to recall that those following him were supposed to be able to do so. He would emerge then, back in to the silver of moonlight and allow the group to follow.

It did not take long to pass through the city. Deacon was rather surprised that there was not more activity in the night. At the least, there should have been a few men carousing about the taverns or passing along the streets, but they had been empty save for a few stray cats and one particularly pathetic looking dog. As they approached the park, they had still not seen another human soul. That is most peculiar, Deacon noted to himself, silence does not bode well for such a night.

There were barriers erected around the grassy area designated as the ‘park’ by the Archduke. Tree trunks lashed together with leather cording and pounded in to place by hammers were marred occasionally with postings warning about construction efforts. Some of the postings were warnings about odd occurrences at night, telling parents that they, and their children, would be best at home once the sun had set on the sweeping meadow, “Once you talk to a few of the non-noble’s, you’d know right away that the place is closed due to the Archduke’s failure to actually meet up to his publicity.” Greg spoke quietly, ducking under a section of the barrier, “The goblins may have been driven back, but they are in no way gone.”

“I’d think the Archduke would have guards on the area,” Alista noted, peering through the moonlight down the street that ran parallel to the barrier.

There were supposed to be guards, Deacon knew, in frequent patrols. The Archduke had promised such to the nobles and the townspeople. Tonight, however, there were no signs of anyone save themselves. The Archduke’s house, it appeared, was not in attendance. He snapped out of his thoughts when he noticed that the rest of the group was looking to him for confirmation, “It would be the responsibility of the Archduke,” he said carefully, “Perhaps there is an emergency elsewhere.”

Marigold snorted, “You cover for your own kind, Carlyle.”

Deacon suppressed his urge to raise his voice and, instead, drew a deep breath, “Regardless,” he dismissed the Inquisitor’s accusation, “We should consider ourselves fortunate.”

That brought a dark chuckle from both Marigold and Greg. He chose to ignore the commentary and move forward under the barrier and into the grass beyond. There were several reluctant expressions among the rest of the group, but the others did follow.

An unknown quantity against a second unknown, he thought to himself. Despite their success against the insects, he knew this was no way to begin any kind of venture. Greg and Marigold spelled out a simply fact – there was too much mistrust among the members. The kind of mistrust that could poison a company as easily as any fluid could poison a body. Of all of those in the group, Alista was the one doing her best to sow that discord. Marigold and Greg were listening, discussing, and, yes, mocking, but the elf.

The elf had eyes only for Greg. They had hardly left the other humans since the declaration of his profession after the fire beetles. They still followed him as they marched through the grass, sparing only quick glances for the rest of the company. He had seen that kind of look before. Alista had determined that Greg was not only a threat, but the threat. Anything else was likely to blindside her, should it arise.

He sighed then, still watching her. Her cold attitude…was that a part of being an elf, or just her position that had left her so chilled?

“Eyes forward, Carlyle,” Marigold hissed in to his ear, causing Deacon to break from his musings, “Plenty of time to drool over elf flesh later.”

Deacon grimaced. Marigold was not helping matters any more than Alista was. Her antagonism seemed to be focused solely on himself. For reasons he could not fathom, the inquisitor had decided she did not like him. He turned his head to deliver a reply and found himself facing her hand in a motion for quiet.

Ahead was a raised tunnel, dug into the ground. A strange odor wafted from the dark hole, “Goblins?” he whispered.

“Most likely,” Marigold whispered back, “At least that’s what your assassin is signaling.”

The stench of the place was overwhelming. Deacon placed a hand over his mouth, struggling to keep his stomach under control, “They’ll feed on anything, Carlyle. Torklad may be rotten, but that rot will feed the vultures as well as the mice.” Greg commented.

Deacon nodded, “Torches?”

Greg shook his head, “They’ll spot ‘em coming. The elf can lead.”

Alista glared, the moonlight cold upon her almond eyes, “You first,” she gestured to the hole.

Greg grinned at the ice in her tone, “If you want a view, pretty, I can arrange a far better place,” she scowled at his words, “All right,” he sighed in false resignation, “Let’s go then.” He moved forward past her and entered the cave.

Alista’s elven eyes, he knew, would have little trouble with the darkness of the tunnel. Choc, Marigold, and Vicor would, similarly, feel more at home than he and Greg’s normal, human vision. To the humans, it would be unending shadows. He followed, then, in Vicor’s footsteps along the earthborn cave.

After a few minutes in the absolute darkness, Deacon realized, the smell was going to the be the least of his problems. The absolute shadows stretched all around them. He could feel the tunnel twisting and turning as they went, but see nothing. Only the sound of Vicor’s footsteps and breathing told him where he was in relation to the others. The darkness was all around – all encompassing and it was an unpleasant feeling.

Try as he might, he realized, there was little enough success in his being stealthy. The ground beneath his feet felt littered with dried earth and stones cracked loudly with each of his steps. His own breathing thundered in his ears so loudly that he was certain that the goblins could hear his gasping somehow within the strange tunnel.

“Relax, Deacon” came Vicor’s deep baritone, “You’re going to have to calm down or your heart will explode.”

Deacon swallowed, “All right.”

“There’s nothing to worry about. Alista’s eyes are like lamps down here. She’s never failed me.”  Vicor had dropped his voice to a lower level. Deacon could feel his presence by his heat as the half-orc stepped closer. Suddenly there was a hard slap to his back from the darkness. He heard Vicor give a low chuckle.

Despite the confidence of his companion, Deacon was worried. In the previous nest, Greg had not been concerned about torches or their light. This tunnel, far less structurally sound, was a place he felt that light would be more welcome. The assassin, however, was noting the danger of light. Deacon was certain that Greg knew something more than he had shared.

Deacon’s musings carried him along in the darkness. As much as he wanted to confront the assassin, he had no idea where he and Alista were in the darkness. He could hear feet crunching on gravel and some breathing over his own. Vicor he could still feel was nearby, but that was all he could be certain of.

Deacon took to counting his breaths as they moved through the shadows. Fifteen in and fifteen out; three sets to a minute. The numbers were helpful – something to focus on as he followed. Numbers were always reliable to him and the counting helped, finally, to slow his breathing.

His nerves calmed with the breath. Deacon had not been afraid, but his nerves were ready. Deacon had been in danger before. Merchant caravans were an excellent target for thieves and brigands. Lord Carlyle had ensured he was trained to protect himself. He had handled his sword before against such ruffians. Somehow, though, the atmosphere was different in the darkness. Somehow the lack of light brought the worst of his thought to the forefront.

Despite Vicor’s reassurances, he had little enough reason to trust the elf. Or, for that matter, Vicor himself. House Traven and House Carlyle were not, strictly, in competition with each other. Travenholm was excellent for producing soldiers and a few trade goods – stone and earth mostly. The goals of House Carlyle were far more varied and rare than any of the dry goods coming from Traven. The Carlyle’s had hired Traven’s men more than once to guard caravans just as Travenholm had purchased blades and cloth from Carlyle.

Competition, however, was a constant danger among the Houses. Lord Traven had, on more than one occasion, declared his disdain for the cheating and political competitions of the Houses. Deacon had heard such from his father. It was an interesting dynamic that, according to his father, was equal parts entertainment and frustration. Had that determination and attitude been passed to his son? What was Vicor’s motivation in coming to the party – and armed?

All of this sifted through his mind in the cold dampness of the cave. The odor had grown stronger but, somehow, he had grown to ignore the rotting scent. Finally, after what seemed like eons in the darkness, there came a whispered command to stop. Deacon felt himself guided forward a few more steps.

“Just around the corner,” he heard Alista’s whispered voice, “A square of light. Someone is burning torches for light. But they have their entrance covered with a curtain or something.”

“Or something?” Greg’s whisper shot back, “That’s the best you have pretty?”

Deacon heard Alista growl, “If you have something better, Greg, then please share. I can’t tell in this darkness whether it’s a curtain or a carcass. It’s not leaking and it’s not stinking. That’s the best I have.”

Deacon heard a low chuckle from Greg and, more disturbingly, Marigold, “Relax, pretty. Now that we know where the Goblins are, we can challenge ‘em.”

Deacon took that moment to make himself known, “And they don’t know that we are here. That gives us all the advantage that we need. Alista, could you tell if the nobles are in there?”

“No,” she replied, quietly, “All I know is there are fires. Torches, I am certain, rather than glow rods or something larger like a bonfire or a kitchen. And we’re in a cave. There’s no reason for fire, save those beetles, and they didn’t keep themselves burning from what I saw.”

Deacon nodded, impressed again at her caution, “Indeed. So, here’s the plan,” he began, “We go in, catch them by surprise. If the nobles are in there, we move in and take them out before whatever is holding them can attack. If they aren’t, we leave something alive to talk with, assuming they are capable of common speech.” He paused, “Anyone have something to add?”

Marigold’s voice came from the darkness, “Don’t die.”

Deacon rolled his eyes, unsure if the half-orc was trying to be humerous or serious, “Indeed. Partners if possible. Alista, you take the front. With your enhanced sense, you’ll be able to tell if they’ve noticed us. You throw open the covering and the rest of us attack.”

Deacon heard the distinctive sound of Alista’s sword sliding from its sheath, the elven steel almost ringing. The group came around the corner and Deacon saw what had been meant by the hanging. A square of flickering light was before them, broken up by an uneven flap of what was, most likely, cloth.

They moved quickly through the darkness toward the square of light. Deacon could just make out the edge of Alista’s form as she broke across the barrier. She waited a moment as the companions gathered and then threw aside the covering, the party rushing in.

Beyond was a large natural cavern. The source of the stench was easy to spot – rotten food was strewn about the cave floor. Sputtering torches, thick with pitch, were placed on natural shelves around the room casting the glow they had seen in the darkness. There were four groups of humans in rich clothing, each guarded by a pair of goblins.

A separate pair stood in the middle of the room shouting orders in the rough tongue of the goblins. The one shouting wore a conical helmet and waved a steel long sword while the other, somewhat quiet, stood next to him in dirt stained robes. She appeared to be the only female. The shouting stopped abruptly as the companions burst through the door.

“I’ve got that one, “ Greg declared, pointing to the conical helmet.

Alista surveyed the goblins quickly, assessing them in a glance, “That pair,” she said, pointing to a pair of goblins guarding a quartet of terrified noblewomen, “Ready Vicor?”

The half-orc nodded, his blade coming from its scabbard. The two charged across the room, Alista in quick steps to match Vicor’s tremendous stride. Vicor’s swung his blade forward as he reached his opponent, the full weight of his towering form crashing into the hastily raised rusty axe wielded by the goblin. There was a snapping of wood and a shriek of pain as the axe head separated and was driven into its wielder’s arm.

“Sloppy, Vicor,” Alista commented, blocking the knife her own goblin was attempting to strike with.

“Effective though,” he replied, stepping out of the way of a clumsy swing from his opponent.

Alista nodded, parrying the dagger, “That may be,” she slashed low, tearing across the goblin’s belly. The creature screamed and dropped, “But it’s not safe.”

Vicor rolled his eyes and shifted his blade in his hand and fell in to one of her instructed stances. The goblin paused its attack, confused at the sudden shift. Vicor took that hesitation and thrust, his blade sliding through the goblin easily, “Better?” he asked to his bodyguard, pulling his sword from the dying monster.

Alista huffed at his tone, “Make sure and clean your sword,” she replied.

Across the room, Marigold and Choc were advancing on a second pair of their green skinned opponents. Choc had a large cudgel and Marigold wielded her staff, again speaking words to her goddess. The two were a formidable pair. Marigold, her voice low and commanding, would call on the power of Pharasma to wrap the creatures in mystic power. Once held, Choc clubbed them soundly with her cudgel. The first one dropped after only a few hits of the stout wood, but the second was made of sterner stuff – it took him a full half dozen blows to go down.

Deacon, however, seemed to have chosen the better disciplined of their foes. In a guttural voice, the monster spoke, “Another step, high born, and I will slit this maiden’s throat,” his words were blurred and difficult to understand, but the intent was clear as the goblin placed a dirk to the throat of one of the women hostages.

Deacon stopped moving, putting his hands in the air, “A moment, sir, and we’ll discuss this.”

Even as his words left his mouth, Deacon was shocked to hear a whistling sound. A dart flew past his ear and landed solidly in the arm holding the maiden in place. With a screech of pain, the creature slashed furiously across the woman’s throat, a scarlet flow following its blade, “Don’t let them in your head, Carlyle.” Greg’s voice shouted from behind. The noblewoman, her eyes locked wide and terrified, was discarded as the goblin shifted back.

Deacon had no time to reply to the assassin’s comment. The death of the noblewoman had freed the goblin to act and, despite the pain it must be feeling from the dagger, it moved to attack Deacon with a furious swipe. The blade was still crimson with the noblewoman’s blood. Deacon stepped from the path of the swipe and drew his own weapon, slashing at the goblin as he moved.

The creature proved its training, dodging his blow as well. Fortunately, Deacon noted, that meant that the goblin had moved himself far enough away from the other nobles he was guarding that another human life would not be lost. He continued the assault, attempting to keep the goblin from realizing the advantage had been lost.

The creature, however, seemed to notice his slip in judgment and turned; fleeing in the direction of the opening the party had come through. Deacon tried to catch the monster as it dashed past, but it was too quick, ducking under the broad sweep and beyond his reach.  Swearing to himself, Deacon moved to chase the monster, only to be pulled back by Greg moments before a crossbow bolt speared the air he had occupied a moment before, “Later, noble. Eyes forward!” Greg ordered, spinning Deacon in the direction of the Goblin that had shot at him.

The final goblin was the only one armed with a ranged weapon and, Deacon noticed, was guarding only a single prisoner. He had just enough time to spot a blonde head of hair as he charged in, slashing his blade in a furious arc. The goblin had only a moment to draw its dagger and take a desperate swipe before the trauma of Deacon’s attack reached its brain causing it to cry out and drop the weapon.

Deacon followed up the furious blow with a thrust to the creature before it could recover The goblin dropped to the ground in a lifeless heap. The fall of the goblin gave Deacon a chance to look around the chamber. His companions were finishing off the last of the odd creatures. Marigold looked slightly wounded, and Choc was grasping at a bleeding wound on her arm, but, for the most part they appeared to have come out of the encounter in good shape. Greg was freeing the hostages on the other side of the room, chatting quietly with them in his gregarious voice even as he peered about.

It gave Deacon a moment to peer at the singled out prisoner. His blonde hair and distinctive beard struck in to Deacon’s mind almost immediately, “Prince Robert?” he asked, shocked.

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