War of the Burning Sky Session 23

With the addresses of the alleged arsons in hand, we went to the most recently burned building, having agreed that investigating at night would give us the best chance of encountering any shady activity.

The charred two story building appeared to have had a store on the first floor and living quarters above. The windows were shattered and the doors broken in. The outer walls were still standing, but the inside was burnt out.

Crossing the barricades around the building, we could see that the fire appeared to have started on the first floor of the bait and tackle shop.

To the north was a small boat repair shop. The shades on the windows were drawn and a little placard on the window over the front door said: closed.

The two story structure had two doors in the front, one for the shop and another presumably for the apartment above.

I knocked on the door to the shop, and not getting any response, quickly knocked on the other door.

Within a couple of minutes, a hand pulled back the shade of an upstairs window, revealing an older, pudgy-faced gentleman with round glasses.

“Sorry, we're closed,” he called down. “Come back tomorrow.”

“We're here by the magistrates order, sir,” I called up. “We promise not to take much of your time.”

“Huh, the magistrate?” he questioned. “I haven't done anything wrong.”

“I'm sure that you haven't,” I assuaged, casting guidance on myself.

“What's this about?” he asked.

“We just have some questions about the bait and tackle shop,” I explained, smiling eagerly, my warhammer resting on my shoulder in a display of transparency. “We promise not to take too much of your time.”

“It's awfully late,” he called down nervously. “Can’t you come back tomorrow. Please, I was just about to sit down to dinner in the back.”

“I promise not to take more than two minutes of your time,” I pressed. “Quick questions. I just don't wanna have to report anything to the magistrate.”

“What, what, what are your questions?” he stammered. “Maybe I can answer from right here.”

“Sure,” I agreed. “The bait and tackle shop, did the proprietor live in the premises?”

“Yeah, he lived upstairs,” he confirmed, “but he's gone. Moved out now, since the fire.”

“He wasn't there when the fire happened?” I questioned.

“He was in the shop during the afternoon,” the man answered, “and the fire broke out and the brigade put it out, but he couldn't stay there anymore. The whole place is pretty much burned out.”

“Do you know where he moved on to?” I asked.

“Ohh, I imagine he might be staying with his cousin, Esmerelda,” he replied.

“And can you give me his name?” I inquired.

“His name is Julio,” he answered. “Julio Chavez.”

“Anybody else have any other questions for him?” I asked my companions.

“Any other bait and tackle shops in the area?” I asked at Ulfgar’s counseling.

“Well, if you got your head set on fishing,” the man offered, “on the other side of the bay, there's another bait and tackle shop.”

“Alright, thank you very much. You have a good night,” I replied, returning to the bait and tackle shop.

“Good night now,” he replied, quickly closing the shade.

“Do you think this is a series of insurance scams going on?” I pondered.

“I'm thinking maybe this arson business is a protection racket, rather than an insurance scam,” Cyrus proposed.

“I'm wondering, perhaps, if there's only one other bait and tackle shop,” Ulfgar surmised, “he's gotta be awfully busy with lots of people in town. Putting your competitor out of business is a good way to reap all the profits.”

“I don't know, guys,” Xireas refuted. “It seems like there's a lot of business to go around here with all the influx of people into this town. I mean, I don't know much about fishing. I'm just saying that there's a lot of people here.”

“And he's all the way on the other shore,” Cyrus added. “Let’s search the building.”

I cast guidance on Xireas as we examined the first floor, where we found the typical trappings of a bait and tackle shop; fishing poles and all kinds of tackle, all destroyed in the fire.

We couldn’t find any indication of where the fire might have started, but behind a counter, Ulfgar found a wooden hatch to a basement. The top of the hatch was noticeably less burned than the surrounding floor, with the edges being the most badly scorched.

“Tell me what you think about this theory,” I proposed to my companions. “It looks like the fire started from below and the hatch was open. Then, maybe somebody came and shut the hatch afterwards.”

“Right,” Cyrus agreed. “Yeah, that sounds about right. Let's go find out.”

Cyrus pulled on the ring, lifting the hatch up, revealing the bottom side, which was completely burned.

Burned, wooden stairs lead down.

As Ulfgar led the way down the stairs, I placed a hand on his shoulder, and casting guidance, warned, “Be careful.”

As he was descending the steps, the fourth step collapsed and he fell a few feet to the basement floor.

Lighting a torch, Cyrus carefully proceeded down.

“After you, my lady,” I held the hatch for Xireas.

“I hate these places,” Xireas muttered.

“What underground?” I quipped. “No burned out husks of buildings that might fall down on my head.”

After Xireas went gingerly down the steps, I followed.

At Cyrus’ suggestion, I wedged a piton under the hatch frame, to keep it from completely closing.

The dank and musty basement was a thirty by thirty foot square, with a dirt floor, shelves filled with various sized burned boxes, and a padlocked wooden door on the far side of the room.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some rats scurrying under the door of the closet.

“Look there,” I pointed. “Maybe there's something in that closet.”

“Maybe it's not a closet,” Ulfgar noted.

“Any objection to me opening it?” I asked.

“Do it,” Cyrus agreed, and looking through the boxes of tools, he produced a claw hammer, which he used to rip the lock off.

Opening the door, we found a small closet with a small safe in the back, still closed.

On the walls we saw several small holes on the walls, big enough for the rats to crawl through, leading upward.

Based on the burn marking, it seemed like this was where the fire originated.

“It seems more complicated than just an arsonist, right?” Cyrus suggested.

“Yeah, either this was a really complicated arson,” I half-joked, “or maybe there's some sort of fire rats.”

Looking around we could not find any rats, but I did find rat droppings as well as tracks leading into the holes.

Cyrus examined the safe, which was locked, and didn’t find any scratches or marks.

“I'm thinking the arsonist used rat holes to get in here,” Cyrus suggested. “Maybe gaseous form or miniaturization spells, wild shape. There's a ton of ways they could have got in here. It's either that or flammable vermin, right? So that's why I'm thinking it's a sophisticated arsonist.”

“Should we go upstairs or should we look at one of the other crime scenes,” Ulfgar asked, “and look for any similarities?”

“Let’s look at the perimeter of the building,” Cyrus suggested, “and see if we can locate where these holes are coming out. It's a long shot, because rat holes are usually very extensive, but we can try. Maybe there's a clue.”

“Might as well do it while working here,” I agreed. “Then on to the next scene.”

Looking around outside, Cyrus found a hole with obvious rat tracks coming out of it and leading away.

We followed the tracks to a nearby building, which was another burned out building on our list.

It was a sail repair shop, and we found similar rat holes nearby.

The condition of the structure and damage was similar to the last building.

The last building on our list was a nearby fish store, which also had similar holes nearby with rat tracks.

Surveying other nearby buildings, like the warehouse next door and the boat repair shop, we found similar rat tracks, but no nearby holes leading into their basements.

Investigating inside the sail repair shop, we found similar evidence that the fire started by the rat holes in the basement.

Investigating the fish store, which had no second floor apartment, we found a curtained off area in the back with a small cot, a desk with papers and quills, knives hanging on the wall, all damaged from the fire. We found no floor hatch inside, but behind the building was a set of metal double doors sloping up from the floor.

Cyrus opened the double doors with a slam, revealing stairs down into the cellar and scorch marks on the inside of the doors.

Cyrus led the way down the stairs, followed by Ulfgar, Xireas, and me.

Swarms of rats were scurrying all around the cellar—mostly on the floor, but some falling from the ceiling—with little sparks of flames coming out of their mouths.

“Xireas, maybe we need to take some alive,” I proposed.

“And what,” Xireas was puzzled, “make them pets?”

“To show to the magistrate,” I clarified. “Otherwise, they might not believe us if we tell them there were rats causing the fire.”

“Good idea,” Xireas nodded. “Go for it. It's a good idea. You should do that.”

“Can you put them to sleep?” I reiterated.

“I could if I had that spell memorized,” Xireas replied, “which I do not. I haven't had a need for that spell in quite some time, so it's not something I generally keep at the ready. But it's a good idea. Otherwise it would have done. This is disgusting.”

Casting spiritual weapon, I waded into the cellar, smashing a bunch of rats with my warhammer, killing some and sending others flying only for them to scurry away, while others crawled all over me, covering my armor, but unable to penetrate it..

Ulfgar did the same with his quarterstaff, and slashed others with his hand claws.

Hanging back by the stairs, Xireas cast toll the dead, but it didn’t seem to have any effect.

Advancing into the cellar, Cyrus cast caustic brew and a stream of acid soaked the swarms.

I crushed all the rats around me with my warhammer, and used my spiritual weapon to smash at the ones swarming Ulfgar.

As the rats were biting Ulfgar all over his hands, legs, and even up to his neck with their sparking teeth, he pulled out his mess kit to try and capture one, but only managed to slap a rat unconscious and send it flying to Xireas’ feet.

Meanwhile, Xireas cast toll the dead again to no effect.

Rats were crawling up Cyrus’ legs, trying to bite him as he scraped them away with his longsword.

I smashed some of the rats swarming around Ulfgar with my warhammer and my spiritual weapon.

“Get these bloody things off me,” Ulfgar cried as he smashed and slashed at the swarming rats with his quarterstaff and claws.

Xireas blasted the swarm with three magic missiles.

Cyrus managed to chop through all the rats scurrying around him, and I was able to finish the few by Ulfgar, leaving the cellar floor covered in dead rats.

Ulfgar scooped up the unconscious rat and locked it in his mess kit.

Looking around the basement, we found tiny little tunnels leading down into the earth.

“Do you think the magistrate’s still there?” Xireas asked.

“Let's go bother him,” Cyrus suggested. “I like the idea of annoying him.”

We concluded that the rats must have been attracted to this place by the dead fish, and burrowed their way here from further underground.

Ulfgar wondered aloud if there was any way we could prevent the rats from digging their way in, but we ultimately agreed that it was beyond the scope of our expertise or responsibility.

When we returned to the magistrate’s office, we found him sitting behind his desk.

“Didn’t I just send you all out to figure out those damn arsons?” the magistrate barked.

“Yeah, we figured it out, Lorb,” Cyrus declared.

“What the hell?” the magistrate was incredulous. “Already? What was the problem? What was it?”

Cyrus stepped aside and Ulfgar placed the mess kit on the magistrate’s desk, warning, “Be careful opening this up. It's not my lunch.”

“Fire breathing rats were the culprit,” Cyrus announced.

“Fire breathing rats!” the magistrate gasped. “Wow! That's amazing.”

“That's right,” Cyrus confirmed. “We captured one for you in case you didn't believe us. It’s in that tin.”

“And the place where we found them is full of rat tunnels leading further down,” Ulfgar shared. “So there might be more of them coming back.”

“You might have a citywide problem here,” Cyrus warned. “You might want to get some terminators on the job.”

“I see,” the magistrate noted. “I’ll have to get right on that to fix it up. Who knows, maybe they made their way out of that lost tomb of the fire mage somewhere under Seaquen.”

“The what? The Who? The what now?” Cyrus stammered.

“The lost tomb of the fire mage?” Ulfgar repeated. “Next time, lead with that.”

“It's only a story we tell children to frighten them at night,” the magistrate claimed, “of the old fire mage who was here many years ago, before the mages reinhabited this place and built it up. Legend has it that there's a tomb somewhere under Seaquen. People search for it, but no one's found it. It's just a story that we tell the children.”

“A legend,” Cyrus nodded. “Got it.”

“Maybe it's more than just a story,” I hinted. “Have you ever heard of fire breathing rats before?”

“Not in Seaquen, I haven’t, no.” the magistrate admitted.

“And yet,” Ulfgar learned over the desk and opened the latch of his mess kit.

“Look at all the burning bite marks on this guy,” I pointed at Ulfgar’s arms.

“Who’s gonna fix my tunic!” Ulfgar commented.

“Yeah,” the magistrate admitted, pulling the rat up by its tail. “That’s an ugly little thing. Well, we'll take care of it. Good job.”

Reaching into his drawer, the magistrate produced a little strong box. “I haven’t had a chance to count all these out yet.” He counted out the gold coins and gave us each the thirty we had agreed on.

Then he took out the contract and wrote “job completed” on it, instructing us, “Okay, sign here that you received your money.”

As we all signed it, Cyrus shared, “Well, we're staying at Grandma Baker’s barn, if you have any more work for us.”

“Lorb, can I ask you,” Ulfgar began, “is there anyone we can talk to that might be able to give us more info on this fire mage legend? Perhaps some children that know the story well…”

“Yeah, I'm sure there are some folks around town that might know more about it,” the magistrate deferred. “I don't know any more about it than that. I've never had the time or inclination to look into it.”

“Alright, well, thank you for your time then Vorb,” Ulfgar acknowledged.

“Alright, get out of my office,” the magistrate barked. “I gotta think.”

“Yeah, and by the way,” Ulfgar added as we left, “I love what you've done to your beard.”

As we made our way back to Grandma Baker’s, we continued to keep an eye out for any followers.

As we passed near the statue, we saw Torrent walking quickly to catch up with us, and stopped to greet her, with “Hey, Torrent,” and “Well met.”

“Hi, everybody,” Torrent said. “How are you all holding up? How do you like Seaquen so far?”

“It’s good.” Ulfgar added, “It's rattier than I remember.”

“Rattier?” Torrent asked. “Maybe. Well, we are right next to the ocean, right. So how goes it? How have the past couple days been?”

“Well, we have some minor, incidental stories to tell you,” I replied as we began walking together toward Grandma Bakers, “but how did it go with Lee?”

“Well, I connected with Lee Sidoneth,” Torrent shared, “who would like to meet you all, and then he will be willing to sponsor us for a viewing or meeting over at the Lyceum Academy, especially in light of the fact that we have the the intel that we need to get. So, he'll set it all up. It’s just gonna take a couple of days to get on the calendar and get everything all sorted out over there. It's a bit of a mess with this whole war effort happening. So, it's coming. I just need a little bit of time to set it up.”

“Do they know that we have information for them?” I asked.

“Well, I mentioned it to Lee,” Torrent reiterated, “but no one else knows, and Lee's completely trustworthy.”

“Boy, I've heard that before,” Cyrus muttered.

“Alright, let's fill you in this whole Jess situation?” Cyrus mentioned. “We were doing a little shopping and we discovered that somebody had charmed the magic shop owner to inform them when we arrived in town and to tell us to meet them at this certain location. When we got there, Ulfgar Initiated contact with these people and it seemed really fishy. We're not sure, but we think that this is a hostile opposing force, Ragesians or something. They were looking for us by description, specifically us, our group.”

“And you didn't kill them?” Torrent asked.

“No, we did not kill them,” Cyrus confirmed.

“Wow, I'm impressed,” Torrent said lightheartedly.

“Well, the family,” Ulfgar explained, “we didn't know whether they were just charmed or whether they were in cahoots.”

“Exactly,” Cyrus agreed. “We were suspicious of this Jess’s abilities, since she did charm the shop owner. So it’s possible that the family that we were led to could have been prisoners themselves or victims.”

“Ah. Charmed,” Torrent pondered. “Where was this? Angradin, who was this person that was charmed that you mentioned?

“The proprietor of the magic shop,” I shared. “I believe her name was Tenga.”

“Tenga!” Torrent gasped. “They charmed Tenga? Are you kidding?”

“We think so,” I explained. “Everything was going normal, and then, all of the sudden, her face seemed to go blank as she mentioned that she had been told to look out for us and to direct us to a specific address. And then, when Ulfgar went to the address and met with the family there, Jess—Ulfgar, correct me if I'm wrong—but Jess seemed reluctant to engage while Ulfgar was outside of the house.”

“Yeah,” Cyrus concurred, “and the whole scene was iffy, right? They were all pretending this was a perfectly normal situation of a family inviting a complete stranger to dinner, without acknowledging the weirdness of having charmed the shopkeeper to get us there in the first place. It was all freaking strange.”

“Huh,” Torrent considered. So what do you intend to do?”

“We told her that if she wants to talk,” Ulfgar revealed, “she can meet us at the fountain in the morning.”

We returned to Grandma Baker's house when Torrent asked, “Do you really think this person is dangerous? I guess they must be, right, if they—”

“I expect it's hostile,” Cyrus maintained. “I don't think this is a friendly maneuver.”

“Yeah, our running theory is that they might be associated with the inquisitors,” I added.

“Maybe we should get some help from the authorities here,” Torrent contemplated. “We're not out in the wild. They have constables and there's a whole tower, full of mages, and there's all types of resources here. If they are with the inquisitors, do you think they might be a source of information?”

“The authorities will bring nothing but trouble,” Cyrus posited.

“You mean if we were able to capture them?” I clarified.

“If they were captured, yes,” Torrent nodded.

“I don’t see why not,” I presumed. “We did just do some work for the magistrate.”

“Ohh, Lorb,” Torrent sighed. “I'm sure that was a treat.”

“Oh, he's a treat,” Ulfgar agreed.

“I don't know if I’d go to Lorb for help with this,” Torrent advised. “If the consensus was to get the authorities here to act on it, I don't know if I would go to Lorb.”

“What authorities would you get?” I questioned.

“Jess seems to be a powerful magic user,” Ulfgar warned, “if she's able to charm—”

“Well, that's exactly what I'm getting at,” Torrent explained. “If you think Jess is a powerful mage, maybe this is a way to expedite our way to the Lyceum. Maybe we can recruit them to help us.”

“If you have resources that we can withdraw upon,” I submitted. “If we can expedite our entrance into Lyceum, that's our goal. We want to get this intelligence to them and turn the tide of this war.”

“I think we should handle it ourselves,” Cyrus noted.

“What say you, Ulfgar?” Torrent asked.

“I don’t know what type of help they can offer,” Ulfgar considered, “if they're not gonna grant us an audience. I'm not sure I trust a tower full of mages, much more than Jess. I’m not sure who to trust anymore.”

“Cyrus, is your concern corruption among the wizards?” I asked.

“Yeah, that's one,” Cyrus admitted.

“Well, this is basically their city,” Torrent noted. “Lorb is obviously the administrator around here, but this is basically their place. They built it. They basically run this place. This was half something into the sea and they recreated this place themselves, so it's basically their place.”

“My main incentive to draw on these resources that Torrent mentions,” I argued, “is the possibility of expediting our entrance into Lyceum.”

“That’s sort of what I’m getting at,” Torrent continued. “If we bring them into this, maybe that gives us another feather in our cap to get us in there more quickly. That was the idea at least. But we've been traveling for such a long time, and I've gotten to know all of you, and I trust your judgment, and this is just another option, especially since we're in a civilized place where they have laws and police. I don't want to jeopardize your standing should something go wrong. “Let's say, for example, in the odd case that Jess is not what she seems, and you go off and you start attacking her—I'm not doubting you, by the way, but let's say something goes wrong—and now it looks bad on you. That would not be helpful to our situation.”

“I invited her to meet at the fountain tomorrow morning if she wanted to talk,” Ulfgar mentioned. “If she comes in peace—”

“We're not gonna jump her,” Cyrus interjected. “We'll just see what the hell she wants.”

“But, Torrent, you mentioned something about Seaquen having sunk into the sea?” Ulfgar asked.

“Yes, many, many years ago,” Torrent revealed, “there was a city at the end of the peninsula, and there was some natural disaster, and the city at the end of the peninsula collapsed and the city fell into the sea. It was a volcano or something—this was many hundreds of years ago. As it goes, a bunch of mages then came out and reclaimed the area and rebuilt their tower where it is today, and then rehabilitated this whole area to make the modern modern day Seaquen. But there are some old sunken ruins out on the tip of the peninsula on the east coast.”

“Torrent,” Ulfgar questioned, “have you ever heard the legend of the lost tomb of the fire mage?”

“Ah, the lost tomb of the fire mage,” Torrent nodded. “Yeah, that's a little tale that the kids read about in school. Legend has it that there was a fire mage who was here in the ancient times, and that he was powerful and he dabbled in all kinds of pyrotechnic magics, and somewhere under Seaquen he had created some kind of tomb or something.”

“So not at the same place as the city that sank?” Ulfgar asked.

“It's a legend,” Torrent maintained. “No one knows where it is. Anyway, he became a lich, and he's down there, and he's haunting his fiery holes. And if the children don't go to bed, he'll come up out of the depths of his tombs and get them in their sleep.”

“What’s his name?” Cyrus asked.

“Rizik,” Torrent recalled. “The tale of Rizik.”

“I wonder if he has anything to do with the volcano,” Ulfgar wondered, “or whatever caused it to sink,”

“Or the fire rats,” Cyrus added.

“What fire rats?” Torrent asked. “What's all this fire rat business?”

“A few places burned down,” Cyrus explained. “We discovered it was fire breathing rats that burned them down.”

“Jesus,” Torrent gasped. “Fire breathing rats.”

“That's the mission we finished for the magistrate,” I explained.”

“I see,” Torrent nodded. “That would make sense. All your questions about Rizik? You're an inquisitive bunch, if I have a new one to be.”

“Alright,” Cyrus conceded, “”I guess we can see if these majors can prove themselves to us and help us with this Jess situation. So how are we gonna get them to help us? They're not just gonna take some ragtag bunch and just start investigating for them, right?”

“Why don't why don't we do this, if I may suggest it,” Torrent suggested. “Why don't you all come with me and we will go down to Lyceum, and we'll see if we can get the attention of Commander Foebane, and see if he'd be willing to listen to us.”

“Should we do that now?” I asked.

“The short answer to your question is, yes,” Torrent advised, “but let's not divulge anything about our case or any of that stuff just yet. That's my suggestion. Because I'm just not sure of him just yet. I know Lee's always been solid with me. He's been my mentor since I started, so I'm pretty sure he's solid. But I don't know Foebane that well, so I don't know if I would divulge this just yet.”

“Let me ask you this,” Cyrus questioned. “Is it possible that members of the Lyceum would look favorably upon the Ragesian Empire?”

“No, I don't believe so,” Torrent answered. “I don't think so.”

“So, what are we being so careful about?” Cyrus asked. “I just wanna know what we should be looking out for?”

“That's just the way I am,” Torrent replied. “Commander Foebane, no offense to you fellas, is a dwarf, and he's not a mage. He's a military type, and he's someone we could take this problem to and see if he could get the resources that we need to go apprehend Jess. I think if we spoke to Headmaster Simeon, he's probably someone we take the case to, cause he's basically—from what I learned from Lee—he's pretty much leading up this whole war effort and the call to arms for everyone to come here and make this the center of the rallying cry for the war campaign. So, my preference would be to divulge that information to headmaster Simeon.”

“Ulfgar, did you get the names of those people that were in that house with Jess?” Cyrus asked. “We’re going to have to report that.”

“Hector, Helena was the mother, and the two daughters were Danielle and Regina, and Jess, herself,” Ulfgar shared, “but I don't know that Jess has done anything wrong yet.”

“I'm particularly concerned because you told me that you suspect Tenga might have been charmed,” Torrent expressed. “That's a big deal.”

“Yeah, that's what we thought as well,” I replied.

“Tenga is no slouch,” Torrent shared. “I can tell you that. I've known her for years. We've hung out together. We've gone on a fair share of missions together, and she is no slouch. So that brings me great concern, if just not for the welfare of my friend. So, if she is also, let's bypass that whole situation and don't even say anything to her because if she's charmed, she might act in a way that will blow up what we're gonna do.”

As we were leaving the barn to return to the Lyceum, Grandma Baker appeared with her familiar basket with a couple of bottles.

“Evening, everyone,” she greeted us.

“Hello, missus Baker,” Cyrus replied as we all nodded to the matron.

“How y'all doing today?” Granda Baker enquired. “Haven't seen you all day. You must be famished. Looks like y'all are heading out, but how about a little something to eat before you head on out?”

“We are,” I noted. “It was a prosperous day, but no reason for us to head out on an empty stomach.”

“I could eat,” Ulfgar seconded.

Grandma handed us her basket filled with fruits, dried meats, cheeses, a couple of fresh loaves of bread, and a couple of bottles of wine.

“So, Granny, did anybody come calling for us while we were gone?” Cyrus probed.

“I was out most of the day shopping and attending to errands,” Grandma Baker replied, “so if someone did, I wouldn't know it.”

“Grandma Baker, this is our companion, Torrent,” I introduced the two.

“Ah, it's a pleasure to meet you, my lady,” Grandma Baker replied.

“It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Grandma Baker,” Torrent returned. “Your cookies are renowned across all of Seaquen.”

“Ah, you must have tasted them,” Grandma Baker blushed. “I'll make a batch for you all tomorrow.”

“Ohh, that would be quite the treat, Grandma Baker,” Torrent flattered.

“Thank you,” Torrent made a divine gesture, “and may Oceanus’ blessings be upon you.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Grandma Baker scurried out of the barn. “Just leave the basket on the porch when you're done.”

We heard her return to her house.

After we had our fill, we headed out, feeling well rested.

Torrent led us back across town, past the magistrates house and The Yawning Griffin—which was now closed like most of the shops—right up to the Lyceum gate.

A couple of blue robed mages stood at the gate.

Torrent approached them, “Greetings. I am Torrent of Oceanus, Associate of Lee Sidoneth, and I need to speak to Commander Foebane on an urgent matter.”

“Just a moment,” the guard replied, stepping back and appearing to cast a spell, before replying, “Okay, just one moment please. He will be right out.”

After five or ten minutes, a stocky dwarf with a bald and tattooed pate strutted over, a large sword at his side.

“Torrent,” the dwarf announced and Torrent nodded. “Commander Foebane. How might I be of service? What's the urgent matter?”

“Yes, that’s me,” Torrent replied. “Do you have a private place we can confer for a few moments? It's a matter of city security.”

“Yes, of course,” he turned and waved at the blue robed guards. “Come right this way.”

Commander Foebane led us through the gate into a small building nearest to the gate.

Following, we entered a small office with a big conference table surrounded by wooden chairs. Pulling one out at the head of the table for himself, Commander Foebane bade us, “Please, have a seat.”

Torrent sat in the chair nearest Commander Foebane, and we all followed suit.

“So what's going on?” Commander Foebane asked. “What's the situation?”

Torrent deferred to us.

“We are the Ambassadors of the Blue Sky—” I began.

“We are new in town,” Cyrus interjected, “and we were shopping, and we encountered a shopkeep who was told to keep an eye out for us and to inform a person, that we do not know, of our arrival, which was unusual, but—”

As Cyrus spoke, Commander Foebane reached into his vest, pulled out a small leather bound book, placed it on the table, flipped it open to a blank page, and began taking notes. “May I ask who the shopkeep was?”

“It was Tenga Litaranesh of The Yawning Griffin,” Cyrus shared. “During this exchange, our sharp eyed companion deduced that it seemed she was under a Charm spell—”

“Hmm. Tenga?” Commander Foebane’s eyebrows raised as he gave Torrent a sideways look for confirmation.

“—and was compelled to give us this information. She was compelled to tell us to meet this person at this address.” Cyrus handed Commander Foebane a paper with the address written on it. “And the person who did this was a foreigner. A short blonde woman that went by the name of Jess. We don't know this person, so we went to the address to see what was going on, and my friend Ulfgar here went into the house to talk to them.”

“Yep,” Ulfgar began, “I stepped in briefly and was met by what seemed to be—”

“What was your name?” Commander Foebane interjected. “Ulfgar what?”

“Ulfgar Untbergheim,” Ulfgar shared, “from Dassen.”

“Got it. And you, Cyrus, what was your last name?” Commander Foebane inquired. “I didn't quite catch it. Just so I have a record of this.”

“Just Cyrus,” Cyrus answered.

““Just Cyrus,” Commander Foebane noted. “Of?”

“Nowhere,” Cyrus maintained.

“I see,” Commander Foebane nodded.

“And I'm Angradin Hammerforged of Clan Hammerforged,” I interjected as Commander Foebane scrawled down our names, “and this is the Xireas Morte.”

“Nice to meet you, sir dwarf,” Commander Foebane nodded. “Okay, please continue, Master Ulfgar.”

So I went into the house,” Ulfgar continued, “and what appeared to be a regular looking family with another guest—seemingly coming for dinner—but I had the distinct impression that this family might have also been charmed.”

“So all of them were charmed,” Commander Foebane noted. “Interesting.”

“So I just told Jess that we'd meet her in the morning if she wanted to talk,” Ulfgar explained, “and backed out of there. It just didn't feel right.”

“Yeah,” Cyrus endorsed. “Our general sense was that this was fishy at best.”

“So why not go to the magistrate,” Commander Foebane asked. “Why bring it here?”

“Torrent suggested we bring this here,” I explained.

“Yeah, we're not from here,” Torrent elaborated. “She said this would be the best place to report this.”

“Jess seems to be some sort of powerful magic user,” Ulfgar reasoned, “and who better to handle the other magic users than the mages of the Lyceum.”

“We suspect,” I revealed, “that this may be an Inquisitor.”

“Ah, okay,” Commander Foebane nodded, leaning forward intently. “That makes more sense.”

“The Inquisitors have been chasing us ever since we left Gate Pass,” I shared.

“Hmm,” Commander Foebane acknowledged. “Ohh, you're the group that's been coming down from Gate Pass, are you?”

“What does that mean?” Cyrus asked.

“There have been rumors of a group that came down through Gate Pass,” Commander Foebane explained, “and put the flames out over at the Fire Forest.”

“Damn it!” Cyrus cursed loudly. “I didn't want everybody to know our business.”

“That's right,” I shared. “That is us. We are The Ambassadors of the Blue Sky, Extinguishers of the Innenotdar Forest, Liberators of Cornerwood, Destroyers of the Inquisitors, and Exfiltrators of Gate Pass.”

“And don't forget the fire rats,” Ulfgar mentioned. “The fire rats—we did that too.”

Commander Foebane scribbled furiously.

“Yeah, that's right,” I added, displaying the signed contract, “and exterminators of the fire rats for your magistrate.”

“Very well then,” Commander Foebane acknowledged, with a chuckle at the reference to Lorb. “That must have been a treat.”

“So we were thinking,” I explained, “that this may be why they were trying to lure us into this residence where we would not be witnessed by the populace. I cannot imagine the Inquisitors would be popular among the wizards of Seaquen.”

“I see,” Commander Foebane nodded.

“We did have the suspicion that the family may not be willing participants,” Cyrus clarified. “That they may have been unwilling. Charmed victims of this mage as well.”

“If this person is powerful enough to overcome Tenga,” Commander Foebane spoke cautiously, “then townspeople should be not much trouble at all for them. So it makes sense that they may have been overwhelmed by—whomever this is—their magic.”

“I think what Cyrus is trying to say is that this is why we did not engage,” I clarified. “Because we did not want to risk harming the innocents in Seaquen.”

“No, this is perfect,” Commander Foebane acknowledged, “and I thank you for following this path and bringing it to my attention. This needs to be dealt with.”

Commander Foebane reached into his shirt producing a small item that glowed for a second before he put it back, promising, “This shall be handled very quickly.”

A moment later, there was a knock on the door.

“Come,” Commander Foebane bade.

The door opened revealing one of the blue robed mages from the gate.

“Matteo,” Commander Foebane instructed, “We have an urgent matter here that needs to be attended to. Send a replacement to the gate and gather your team for you to go question and bring in this one individual by the name of Jess.”

“Ohh, we arranged to meet with her at the fountain tomorrow morning,” Cyrus explained. “So if you need to—”

“We don't know that you'll come,” Urlfgar warned.

“I don't know that you'll come,” I agreed. “They’re better off finding her at this location.”

“Yes, I agree with Master Angradin here,” Commander Foebane decided. “The time is now. If, in fact, this is some person attached to the Inquisitors, then we must act now. I prefer not to wait. So we will see to this.”

“Can we be of any assistance?” I offered. “If in fact this is an Inquisitor, it would not be the first that we put down.”

“Yes,” Commander Foebane considered. “See now, I appreciate that. That would be too easy. If they are, then they may have valuable information for us that we may want to extract at some point. Yeah?”

“Ohh, agreed,” I grinned. “We can capture them.”

“No, no,” Commander Foebane insisted. “Matteo's team excels at this sort of thing.”

“As you wish,” I acquiesced. “Matteo's team must be an elite squad. I wish we could watch them from a distance.”

“He is,” Commander Foebane confirmed and began issuing instructions as we listened and talked among ourselves.

He sent for a man named Bernardo Clemente.

A short time later, there was another rap at the door and another fellow entered.

“Senor Foebane,” the man said. “I understand we have a situation.”

“Absolutely, Bernardo,” Commander Foebane confirmed. “I need you to head on out with Matteo and abduct this one Jess. She's allegedly a powerful caster and a charmer of sorts. Would you see to it and have her brought back here so we can have a chat with her and see what the hell is going on. We'll see just what she wants with these fellas over here. You all have any objections to having a chat and seeing what the hell she wants with you?”

“No, I would love to,” Cyrus grinned.

“Yeah, I'd like to know,” Ulfgar agreed.

“Yes, mon capitán,” Bernardo pledged. “It shall be done. Come, Matteo. We have work to do.”

The two turned and left.

“Make yourself comfortable, boys,” Commander Foebane seemed to relax in his chair. “Can I get you all anything while we let them do their thing?”

“I’ll have a wine,” Cyrus quickly replied

“Very good,” Commander Foebane replied, briefly taking the device from under his shirt again.

A short while later, a white robed man came into the room with a tray of refreshments, and a brass carafe of wine, and a bunch of glasses.

Commander Foebane gave a nod and the man walked out.

Rising, Commander Foebane suggested, “Why don't you all hang around here, and as soon as they come back, I will escort them back here so we can all have a chat and see what's happening. Please don't leave this space. The rest of the area is restricted for the time being. I appreciate that. We will do whatever’s necessary to make you comfortable while you are our guests here.”

We all indicated our agreement and Commander Foebane walked out.

Almost an hour later, we heard a fuss outside the room just as the door slammed open.

Bernardo and Matteo were dragging a figure with a black hood over their head into an adjacent room.

We followed them to the next room where they tossed the limp figure through the door of a glass cube etched with silver.

“Is she blocked from spellcasting?” Cyrus asked.

“Yeah, she won't be able to do much,” Bernardo assured us, closing the glass door of the cube. “She won't be able to cast any spells. We'll be ready though when we start to question her.”

“Okay,” Cyrus seemed satisfied.

Bernardo removed the hood from the figure's head, revealing a woman with blonde hair.

“First of all,” Matteo said, “let's do a quick scan to see if they have any Charms or magics and make sure that she's clean. We did a snatch and grab, real quick. We think this is the right person.”

“I do not remember seeing this woman,” Ulfgar winced.

“I see,” Bernardo acknowledged. “Okay, well when we got there, this was the only blonde lady in the house. She put up quite the struggle and cast spells at us to try and stop us, so we believe this to be the right person.”

“Did the family turn out to be under a Charm?” Cyrus asked

“Yes, we cast a bunch of Dispel Magics on them,” Matteo shared, “and they were immediately released from her hold.”

“And they're safe?” Ulfgar enquired.

“They are safe,” Bernardo confirmed, “and they will be pursuing their lives.”

“That's good,” Ulfgar nodded.

“Maybe she had put up a glamor to change her face when you walked in, Ulfgar,” Cyrus speculated, “and this is her real face.”

“Could be,” Ulfgar acknowledged.

After they had cast some spells, the woman began to regain consciousness.

Bernardo removed a circlet from atop the woman’s head.

Her appearance immediately changed.

Writhing in the chair was a tall female with glowing red eyes, long horns, leathery wings, a barbed tale, and black nails like talons.

“Alright, so this is your Jess,” Bernardo stated. “Whoever this is, this is Jess.”

“So what are you doing after this interrogation?” Cyrus teased.

“Can you tell us how you encountered her?” I asked.

“Well, we went in,” Bernardo detailed, “and we were looking for the blonde lady that you had described. And we did, in fact, find the blonde lady there, who was sitting at the table with Mr. Rojas and their daughters. It all started out quite civilly. We asked her to come with us. We had some questions to ask her, and she became quite hostile quickly. So we set about to subdue her. So we had a few guys with us that were loaded up on hold person. So we cast a bunch of hold persons on her before she could do any real damage and then we knocked her out and brought her back.”

“What hostility did she present?” I asked.

“It appeared that she was going to cast some spells at us and attack us immediately,” Bernardo explained, “but we managed to get the jump on her before she could react and actually execute her spells.”

“How does that containment unit work?” I pressed.

“Well, it's a special amber glass cell,” Bernardo continued, “and you see the silver that is etched all around the edges is to prevent any teleportation escapes. So any type of teleportation spells or devices are rendered inoperable.”

“Can she cast other spells?” I asked.

“It's doubtful in the predicament that she's in,” Bernardo assured us. “It's highly doubtful because of the way she's restrained in that cage.”

Approaching the glass cage, Cyrus said, “So, Jess, you were looking for us. Here we are. What do you want?”

“If you give me the case now,” the fiend threatened, “I will spare your lives. If you don't, I will surely escape these shackles and rain fire and hell and all of you.”

“So you're working for the Ragesians?” Cyrus asked.

“It does not matter who I'm working for,” the fiend insisted. “What matters is you giving me what I need.”

“Well, that's not gonna happen,” Cyrus stated, “so I guess we're at an impasse. Maybe if you tell us who you're working for, we can work something out.”

“Such as?” the fiend asked. “What do you propose?”

“Well, you're a carrier, right?” Cyrus pointed out. “A middleman. Your job is complete once whoever commissioned you gets their case. If we go directly to them, and deal with them, then you're off the hook, right?”

“I'll make a deal with you,” the fiend offered. “If you promise to release me, I will answer your questions and give you the information you request.”

“You work by contract, don't you?” Cyrus asked.

“We do,” the fiend confirmed.

“Is there any way you can have her put in a Zone of Truth?” I asked Barnardo.

“Zone of Truth?” Bernardo considered. “I believe, my friend, Zone of Truth is primarily a spell provided by divine power.”

“That is correct,” I confirmed.

“So the mages here,” Barnardo admitted, “including myself, would not have access to that particular school.”

“If you can hold her here until tomorrow morning,” I suggested, “I can facilitate this.”

“That would be very helpful,” Bernardo replied. “Thank you.”

“You probably all already know this,” Cyrus warned the mages, “but be careful when you talk to her. Don't agree to anything. They work by contract, and if you promise something, then you’re held to it. So if you're gonna question her, be real careful what you say to her. That’s a devil. A creature from the hells.”

“Alright, so how can we get some information out of her,” Barnardo asked. “Do you have some experience with these creatures?”

“We fought one in the fire forest,” Cyrus noted. “I don't have direct experience, I've studied some.”

“Who sent you?” I asked the fiend.

The fiend’s eyes glowed brighter for a second as she looked at me.

The amber glass seemed to absorb what was coming out of her eyes.

“We don't seem to have a deal yet,” the fiend replied. “If you let me go, I'll answer your questions. It's quite simple.”

“If you answer our questions,” I countered, “I'll see what I can do.”

“It doesn't quite work that way, my friend,” the fiend stated.

“I'm not quite sure she's our prisoner to barter with anyway,” Ulfgar hinted, heading toward the door. “We're here to parlay, and if she doesn't wanna talk, I'm not quite sure what we're here for anymore.”

“Bernardo,” I asked, “what are your plans with her?”

“Well,” Barnardo explained plainly, “she has very few options if you ask me. She can cooperate, and we can be kind enough to simply banish her, if she’s in fact a devil. If she chooses not to cooperate, well then, perhaps we shall very publicly execute her. How would that suit you, Jess? Would you rather us execute you or banish you? What would be your preferred method? It can be easy or difficult.”

“I prefer neither,” the fiend admitted. “So if you want to parlay, let's cut a deal so that we can both get something out of this.”

“I don’t think I could agree to make a deal until I know who sent you,” I maintained.

“Parley is not about making deals,” Ulfgar argued. “A parley is about exchange of information. Based on what we hear, perhaps we can strike a deal.”

“Here's a nugget I'll give you as a show of good faith,” the fiend offered. “You may or may not know this, but I am an agent of the Ragesians.”

“Shocking,” Ulfgar quipped.

“Shocking or not,” the fiend continued, “it's information that you didn't know for a fact before. Do you want more? Give me something.”

“Perhaps we should all sleep on it,” I suggested.

“If you're executed,” Cyrus submitted, “You won't be able to return to the room for a hundred years. What you're getting is an easy banishment, and then you're free to continue your duties and your deals and your contracts.”

“Well,” the fiend resisted, “I have some unfinished business here right before it to get on with before going back, if that's the case.”

“Exactly,” Cyrus threatened.

“Like I said,” the fiend maintained, “I'm willing to cut a deal with you, give you some information, and then, as part of that deal, I'll agree to move on.”

“I say we let her sleep on it,” I suggested. “See how she feels in the morning.”

“Yeah, that's a good idea,” Cyrus agreed. “I don't know if we are okay with it, but I'm pretty sure there are ways to torment beings like this in your custody.”

“I'll tell you what,” the fiend offered. “Obviously you're not willing to let me go. So how about, if you promise to give me a banishment, I'll give you a list of all the people in the city that were charmed?”

“What use is that information?” I asked.

“Well, all those people are, let's say, encouraged to be hostile towards the Lyceum,” the fiend hinted. “It makes their job that much more difficult, doesn't it?”

“Cyrus, once she's banished,” Ulfgar asked, “wouldn't her spell be broken, or would it still be in effect?”

“I don't think she needs to be on this plane for the charms to continue,” Cyrus stated.

“Bernardo, I think that would be your call,” I suggested.

“I would think they would need more than that,” Ulfgar suggested. “Charmed people that are hostile against the Lyceum—especially now that they're aware of people being charmed—they might be able to Counterspell it.”

“Yeah, they won't be able to find them,” the fiend warned. “I can assure you of that. Without my information, you'll never find who they are.”

“People hostile to the Lyceum should stick out like a sore thumb, I would think,” Ulfgar argued.

“Yes, there were many troublemakers here,” the fiend admitted, “despite my charms, but my seeds will grow to thorny bushes in the city should you not care to strike a deal with me?”

“I'm not inclined to strike a deal,” I stated. “I say we see how she feels in the morning.”

“My friends,” Bernaldo said, “perhaps we shall confer in the other room for a few moments. Let us see if we're here for a moment. Matteo, would you be so kind? Bring the others in.”

“Si, senor,” Matteo replied, calling in a couple of other guys.

Barnardo brought us back into the previous waiting room and we all took seats around the long table.

“Are you sure you can hold her for the night?” I asked.

“I am pretty confident,” Bernardo surmised.

“Do you have any way of making her talk?” I asked.

“She's quite formidable,” Bernardo concluded. “I think in this case we must rely upon negotiations to get whatever information we can from her. But I think, knowing who those people are—if she in fact works on these contracts, as you said—may go a long way to reduce tensions in the city. So perhaps agreeing to a banishment may be a way to go?”

“It wouldn't be my choice,” I responded, “but I think we can all agree that you must do what's best for Seaquen, and maybe that's a small price to pay.”

“Yes, information is in short supply,” Bernardo reckoned, “and any few bits and pieces we get will be helpful to help us piece together our enemy and their capabilities. Obviously, this devil infiltrated our city and charmed some of our people, which is not good.”

“If she were to be banished,” I asked, “could she not just come back? How does that work?”

“I'm no devil expert,” Berbardo admitted, “but I think she'd have to be somehow summoned and put under a new contract and sent back out.”

I looked back and forth between Cyrus and Xireas.

“Oh, I mess with the dead,” Xireas shrugged. “I don't mess with devils and demons. I just mess with the dead.”

“Would we need her to divulge, then,” Ufgar pondered, “who summoned her this latest time, to this plane? I mean, I would think that if we banish her, and if this person is able to resummon her, then all of it is undone. We have to stop the person that brought her in the first place.”

“If we agreed to banish her,” I suggested, “we should get more information than just who is charmed, like who sent her and what her mission was.”

“I agree,” Ulfgar nodded.

“Presumably you have high level casters in this citadel,” Cyrus posited.

“Yes,” Barnardo nodded.

“Can't one of your powerful wizards do something to control her?” Cyrus suggested.

“It is possible,” Bernardo considered. “We'd have to do some research to figure out how to do that.”

“So maybe we should reconvene in the morning,” I reiterated. “Let her be uncomfortable.”

“I think at the bare minimum we need to know not only who she's charmed, but also who summoned her,” Ulfgar maintained. “How she got into this plane.”

“And what was her objective,” I added.

“She wanted the case for the Ragesians,” Ulfgar surmised.

“I think,” Bernardo looked up for a second, “one of you should make the deal. Tell her you'll banish her, if she cooperates and provides you the information.”

“You're gonna agree to banish her,” Cyrus asked.

“Yes,” Barnardo agreed, “I would be willing to make the call to have her banished, if she cooperates and gives us the information.”

“Bernardo, is there any reason to do this before tomorrow morning?” I asked. “To make this decision so hastily?”

“Well, at the end of the day,” Bernardo shared, “I shall have to confer with the Headmaster. So that's fine. We can post guards and then reconvene tomorrow to get some more information out of her.”

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