Avienda heaved Xiang’s body up and over the parapet, then quickly climbed up after him. Spying the open trap door, she dragged the monk over to it and yelled down. “This man needs a healer, NOW!” She slid Xiang into the hole, and was relieved to feel those below grab him and carry him away.
She slid gracefully after him to find herself in a wood-paneled room set up as a healing ward. The white-robed men had already laid Xiang’s body on one of several cots scattered about the room. An older man with a gray beard was directing several younger clerics as they stripped the monk and examined his wounds. Avienda was about to tell them he’s been poisoned, but saw the men already knew and were moving to drain the venom from his wounds.
Above her she could still hear the fighting going on. Looking up, she saw two of the militiamen at the parapet, reloading their crossbows. Between them, Beau fired his short bow at something, then leaped over the parapet and out of her view. She thought about rejoining the fight, but was wounded herself and exhausted from carrying the monk’s body across the rooftops. If the remaining party members and militiamen couldn’t stop the remaining assassins, then they could just come and get her here.
As she finished that thought she heard the militiamen above cheer. One of them called down, “It’s over, we won.” The other was trying to wrestle the fallen guardsman through the trapdoor; several clerics rushed over to relieve him of his burden. The older priest gestured for them to lay him beside Xiang, and then feverishly directed his assistants as he tried to revive both of the fallen.
The rest of the party straggled in, looking much the worse for wear. Delwyn was dragging one of the assassins with him. He claimed to have choked the man unconscious and brought him in for interrogation. However, when the guardsmen examined him they found him dead, a white froth spilling from his mouth.
One of the younger clerics addressed the party. “We’re glad the rest of you are safe. Lord Burl is on his way and should be here within the hour. In the meantime, who requires healing?”
Ignoring the cleric’s question, Carric gestured towards Xiang with a worried expression. “What about Xiang? Will you be able to save him?”
The cleric glanced over his shoulder with a worried expression. “Father Berman is an expert on poisons; Lord Burl had the Duke bring him in incase something like this were to happen. If anyone can save your friend, it’s him.”
Avienda moved to stand near Xiang, being careful to stay out of the way of the clerics as they worked. A viscous purple liquid was oozing from Xiang’s wounds, mixed with blood. Suddenly, the monk’s body began to spasm and shake violently. The clerics hovered over him, working frantically.
Suddenly Xiang took a huge gasp of air as his eyes snapped open. Avienda smiled with relief. “Thought we’d lost you there!” She nodded towards the older man. “You owe Father Berman here a world of thanks. Lord Burl thought the assassins might try and make another move, and had the best poison specialist in the duchy standing by. Don’t you feel special?” she asked with a grin.
Relief over the safety of her friend replaced the adrenaline coursing through her body. Slumping to her knees Avienda felt her vision begin to blur. “I’m glad we all made it,” she murmured as the poison began to take effect.
The clerics eased the bard onto another of the cots strewn about the room. Father Berman continued to work on the fallen militiaman, but several of the other clerics tended to Avienda and the rest of the party as needed.
Delwyn, caked in blood, finds chair to sit in. He waits patiently for the appropriate time to reveal that they have succeeded in their mission.
Carric slumped down on to one of the empty cots near Xiang. Not being nearly as hurt as the others, he also waited to be tended to.
Xiang looks around obviously trembling. As his nervousness subsides he begins to speak in a broken , tired voice. The skull……… We must, … I know where it is . Xiang pauses and begins to tremble again " He is there! " reaching up at Carric and grasping his arm " We must face him, the mansion is waiting …." with the last words he passes out again ,
Shocked, Carric leaned forward. “Xiang? What are you talking about? What mansion?” If he doesn’t respond, Xiang gently shakes him.
The sun was just beginning to peek over the city’s rooftops when Lord Burl arrived at the safe house. The clerics were still working diligently to aid the party and the wounded militia. The guardsman who’d fallen in the battle rested fitfully upon his cot. While not as resistant to the poison as Xiang had been, the clerics still felt he had a good chance of recovering fully.
Xiang lay upon his cot, slipping in and out of consciousness. He frequently mumbled about “the skull” and “the mansion”. The rest of the party was recovering well. Avienda was conscious and feeling much improved. Delwyn, Beau, and Starch had all been cleaned up and had their various wounds attended to. Only Carric still suffered; he was almost certain the small bloodstain on his robes was never going to come out.
Lord Burl consulted briefly with the lead cleric, Father Berman, in hushed tones. At the end of their conversation he game the cleric a small smile and patted him gratefully on the shoulder. Burl then briefly visited with each guardsman, thanking them for their bravery in the fight. Finally, he approached the party.
“I understand you’ve had an eventful evening, to say the least. Tell me, were you able to successfully retrieve the statue?”
Carric nodded his head tiredly. “We were able to retrieve it, though we weren’t prepared for all that we faced.” Carric nodded towards Xiang. “I hope it was worth it.” The sorcerer fixed Lord Burl with a suspicious look before continuing. “And it wasn’t just the thieves guild we fought on the rooftops either, despite what you told us.” He gestured towards the body of the assassin. “We were all nearly killed by THAT thing and two others just like him. What they hell are they?”
Burl looked over the body of the dead assassin before continuing. “They’re members of an assassin’s guild. A death cult, to be more specific. They have ties with the Zhentarim, and are used for the most important and difficult tasks.” Burl smiled sardonically before adding, “You should be flattered.”
He turned his attention back to the party. “May I see the statue? Were you able to examine it at all in the museum?”
Coming to Carric’s defense, Avienda shook her head and gestured around the room. “You obviously were expecting the worst. It would have been nice of you to fill the rest of us in. Especially since we were the ones putting our lives at risk.” Crossing her arms, she glared at Lord Burl.
Beau steps from the shadows, hair still smoking from the fireball. “Excuse me, Lord Burl, we just risked our lives for this statue some of us barely made it here. You are very quick to ask for the statue. Did we take it to protect it, or did we steal it for you? I apologize for my forwardness, but like I said we barely made it here.” Beau looks up at Lord Burl with a stone cold straight face as he asked the questions.
Burl met the Avienda’s gaze. “I was prepared for the worst; there’s a difference. I didn’t know these assassins would strike again here, but it seemed a good possibility.” He shrugged. “It’s what I’d have done.” He looked over at the halfling, but I assure you the statue is exactly what I told you it was, Master Tumblebelly. It belongs to the Mining Guild as I described. I’m meeting with one of their representatives in three day’s time to personally return the statue to them. In the meantime, we will examine it for clues to the location of the lost city of Earthfast. I know that you all have been through a lot this night; probably more than you bargained for, and for that I apologize. As I said, these are desperate times. But take solace in two things. One, you will be well-rewarded for your efforts. And two, the fallout from the Thieves’ Guild will more than likely give us leads that will allow us to take the fight to the Zhentarim for a change. You have done well. I will arrange a suitable reward with the Duke in the coming days. I have much work to do examining the statue and observing the Thieves’ Guild, but you’ve certainly earned some time off to relax and recover yourselves. Just be cautious. I doubt the assassins could mount another attack anytime soon, and the Thieves’ Guild will be too worried about their own problems to seek vengeance on you. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t those out there who wish you harm."
Arms still crossed, Avienda continued, “I won’t argue semantics with you Lord Berl. If you prepared for the worst, you should have prepared us for the worst as well. And the bottom line is that you didn’t.” Shrugging herself after Burl finished speaking of desperate times, rewards and what not, she looked over at the paladin. “Just a well paid group of mercenaries now aren’t we Starch?” Leaning back on her cot she closed her eyes. “Your hired help needs their rest Lord Burl. Thank you for the healing. I’m sure we would have met our fate that much quicker without it.”
Burl smiled sadly at Avienda. “We all have our roles to play, my dear. Is what I did much different than what the Harpers ask of you? Live long enough, and you may find yourself in the position of asking the same of others yourself.”
He turned to the rest of the party. “If you’ll give me the statue, I’ll leave you in peace. I have a very short window to research it before returning it. You are all welcome at the castle anytime; I can have rooms set aside for you there if you’d like.”
Delwyn glances at Carric and Avienda, nods ever so slightly to the bag of holding on his hip and shrugs unsure of whether or not to make lord burl wait for a bit before he is given the statue.
Carric notices Delwyn’s furtive look and gestures towards him. “Go ahead Delwyn. Let’s all take a look at it.” Smiling wearily towards the cleric, Avienda spoke cryptically, “I trust your judgement Delwyn, do what you think is best.”
Delwyn carefully removes the statue from the bag and is captivated by it. He doesn’t move to give it to the Lord, though he isn’t making an effort to keep it from him.
Carric observed Delwyn’s strange reaction, and leaned forward to take the statue.
“Delwyn? You ok?”
“Hmm…? Oh. Yes, yeah I’m good man. Here’s the statue burly man.” Carric grabs the statue before Burl gets his grubby mitts on it. Depending on the lighting in the room, he casts light on his staff so they can all get a good look at it.
Burl moved in close to also inspect the statue by Carric’s light. (He makes no move to take it.)
“What do you make of it? Did you notice any peculiar markings on it? Did the statue do anything while you had it?”
Carric replied, “I was the first one of us to touch it. I don’t recall anything unusual about it, but we were… busy… at the time.”
From her corner, eyes still closed Avienda quipped, “If you stand on your head and put your finger on your nose while you’re touching the statue it will roar like a lion. You should try it Burl.”
Ignoring Avienda, Burl continued to examine the statue. “It’s a beautiful piece to be sure, but otherwise it looks unremarkable. Is there any inscription on the bottom? Is it the weight you’d expect from a solid silver statue?”
“No… no inscription that I can make out. Delwyn, since this is a dwarven artifact, can you tell us anything about it? Would a dwarven artisan have hidden anything in or on it? Is there any significance to the figure depicted?”
“Well man I can tell you a bit about it I think anyways… Well it’s like definitely more than sorta maybe from Earthfast and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen similar things before. I uh, kinda get a feeling this thing wants me to go back there. Other than that I don’t know man, its more familiar to me than it should you know?
Ignoring the group of men clustered around the stolen piece of silver, Avienda made her way over to Xiang’s cot. Sitting on the floor beside him, she reached up and grabbed the unconscious monk’s hand, muttering to herself. “We all have our roles to play dearie, the Harpers may put you in a similar position. Who the hell does he think he is, assuming to know what I would or wouldn’t do? The nerve of some people.” Looking up at Xiang’s still face, she patted the hand she was still holding. “I’m sorry Xiang, you don’t need to listen to me rant, you do need to get better and wake up though. I saved your sorry-ass Xiang Chi, so you owe me this one.” Leaning her head along the side of the cot, hand still entwined with Xiang’s, Avienda drifted into the afternoon as she listened to her companions drone on about silver statues and Earthfast.
Cracking one eye , Xiang smirks and looks up to Avienda . " Death will make one require rest. " continuing to whisper " I have seen a vision which makes the circle complete. The skull, golden ram’s head skull, that we saw mention of in the museum. That skull is evil, or being used to progress evil. A shadowy figure, one who as my sprite was on its final journey, attempt to devour me. Whatever or whoever is in possession of the skull, they plan to use it for dark purposes. I have seen the location of this skull and as soon as my body heals I plan to go and face this evil. I dare not mention this to the rest for I am way too tired to deal with debate that may ensue. So instead I rest and pretend to sleep so they will not pester me. If you wish to mention it to them, since you are so very fond of arguing with them, feel free. Now if you’ll excuse me I am supposed to be in a coma or something," With that Xiang winks and closes his eyes returning to his meditation .
Stifling her laughter and concealing her broad smile, Avienda whispers back, “you are such a bastard! I do not like to,” the word argue died on her lips as she leaned back and smiled again. “Thank you for confiding in me Xiang Chi. When Burl leaves I will, converse with our comrades.”
Lord Burl looked curiously at Delwyn. “You’ve seen similar statues before? Where? And what do you mean it wants you to ‘go back there’?” He shook his head in confusion. He stood and stretched his back tiredly, then sighed. “I had hoped the statue would provide us with answers instead of more questions. Nonetheless, I need to take it back to the Duke’s castle. Any or all of you are welcome to accompany me; as I said, rooms can be provided for you.” He looked at Delwyn. “And any assistance you can offer would be most appreciated.”
He looked over to where Avienda was whispering to the seemingly unconscious Xiang. “Father Berman tells me Xiang Chi will recover quickly, the guardsman less so. I can have Xiang moved to the palace, or he can remain here with the clerics a bit longer; whichever you prefer. If there’s nothing else, I should get going.”
Carric spoke up, “Lord Burl, if it’s all the same to you, we’d like to join you in a few hours time after we’ve had a chance to rest. May we meet you at the duke’s castle later today?” Using the message cantrip he targeted on Avienda: “Back me up here. We need time to talk without others around.”
Standing up and glancing at Carric, Avienda smiled, “yes, Lord Burl we can meet you later to discuss the statue in even greater detail. Please, take it with you, after all, you and the Duke were the ones we stole it for right?” Looking down at Xiang’s still body she continued, “It would probably be best to leave Xiang here with us in the competent hands of your master clerics.”
Burl shot Avienda an odd look. He turned to the rest of the group, saying “You’ve more than done your part, and I’m grateful. I’ll have your reward ready when you arrive at the Duke’s castle. Otherwise, you’re free to do as you please, although again-”, he looked at Delwyn, “-your assistance in investigating the statue would be most appreciated.” He stood and picked up the statue. “Thank you all again. I will see you at the castle. And please be cautious when you travel. I doubt the Thieves’ Guild will trouble you, nor will the assassins have time to send more of their numbers. But the Zhentarim is not without resources, and I fear we’re beginning to irritate them. Please be safe.” With that, he turned and left.
Beau spoke up, “maybe I’m a little paranoid, but did that seem odd? He was quick ask for the statue and was prepared for everything that happened but did not warn us of anything.”
Avienda growled at Carric, “I’ve told you before to stay outta my head Carric! I don’t like being whispered to when I can’t whisper back! What’s so important that you couldn’t speak in Burl the Great’s presence?” Grinning at the sorcerer, Avienda waited.
Gesturing towards the clerics bustling around the room, Carric sighed heavily, “please! Could we please have these conversations in private?!” He drew out the word ‘private’ as he spoke it.
Still waiting for Carric to speak, Avienda grinned down at Xiang then and steps backwards 5 steps through the doorway behind her. Making a grand bow at the waist, she ushered her companions into the room, closing the door behind them. Returning her gaze to Carric, she fluttered her eyelashes and smiled winningly…still waiting.
Delwyn was a tad sullen the statue had left, but moved to talk with his friends without hesitation.
Carric entered the room closing the door behind him. Once they were in, he found a chair and gathered the party around him. He continued in a lowered voice, mindful of those in the next room. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on here…. and I’m not saying that Burl is anything other than what he seems… but I AM starting to think we’ve been too trusting of him. Do you all agree that we should be concerned about him?”
“So, uh, just to be on the like up and up here guys, I had some weird feelings when I had our little statuey thingy. I think I have kinda like an idea man of where the entrance to the path to Earthfast is. I think some answers about my experiences and my deity may lay in that journey man. It sounds like it was a great dwarven ciity and I’d like to see it…again maybe? I don’t know man, it was a pretty spooky and crazy experience. That being said I’m starting to think we need to be more cautious around the burlyman. I don’t know that he’s bad, but I don’t know if he’s good.
Carric shook his head, “I could tell there was something about the statue that left you troubled. What do you mean ‘again’?”
“I don’t know man. I kinda feel like maybe I’ve been there before, maybe as a wee one or uh… I… I just don’t know. Maybe the guy in the sky who saved me was there and he’s sending me a message man. I don’t know.”
“Delwyn, didn’t you tell us before that you had memory loss? Do you think that statue is trying to trigger something in your brain that you forgot but didn’t really? We should go back with Lord Burl and see if he will give you a chance to look at it some more. He seemed to want your help.” Avienda shrugged, “of course that could change once we get to the Duke’s house. If I read him right, we aren’t getting anywhere near that statue again for a while.”
“I… I dunno. I just had some spooky visions when I touched the statue and my tattoo tingled as well. Im like pretty sure its a memory. The problem is I’m not sure whose memory.”
I don’t trust Burl either. The man meets with us in tool sheds, works directly with the Duke who cannot even keep simple secrets, like the fact that we are Harper agents from his cabinet whom he claims to not trust, and he hired us to steal an artifact from the museum in his town." She rolled her eyes. “He’s completely trustworthy just as we’ve always known him to be. But in the end, what does it matter? He asked us to steal something for him and we did. He played his role, we played ours.” She looked around to make sure she had her audience before continuing, “Xiang Chi has had a vision. The rams head artifact that we researched during the museum heist is some evil artifact being used for some nefarious end. I believe he would like to seek this item out and has an idea of where to look. I for one would like to stop being Lord Burl’s lap dog mercenary and go and do something heroic for a change.”
Smiling at the sorcerer she continued, “so to answer your question, no I don’t trust Burl. But I never really did. He gave us time off, let’s use it.”
Carric found himself sympathizing a bit with Lord Burl, who had also recently been the target of Avienda’s tongue lashings, but otherwise didn’t take the bait. “I’m actually in agreement with you. It does seem like we have some time before Lord Burl will be able to tell us more about this statue… though he has said he needs Delwyn’s help.”
“Lovely to agree with you as always Carric,” Avienda winked. “Delwyn, you should head over to the Duke’s residents and see what more you can find out about your connection with the statue. Did you want the rest of us to come with you or no? We could always go and collect our reward,” she made quotes with her fingers as she said it, “and then leave you to investigate further. Just be careful how much information you divulge. That shouldn’t be too hard for you right?” Opening the door and leaning her head out of it she continued, “I think Carric is right, Xiang seems to be in fairly good shape, I’m sure he could continue over with us. Do you think it’s wise for us to take up Burl’s offer of room and board? It may be smarter to blend into the city than to sit under his prying eyes.”
“I feel like we should all go, but not necessarily stay overnight at the castle. If we don’t trust Burl 100%, it’s probably note wise to stay there…”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Me too. Um.. Am I supposed to stay in the castle though? You know, the like maybe possibly dangerous possibly super friendly castle?”
“I doubt that Lord Burl would require you too. And if he does… well… that would certainly seem suspicious wouldn’t it?”
“I think it would probably be safest if we stagger our exit from this safe house and head to the Duke’s.”
Avienda will stagger her exit so she leaves with Xiang. Leaning in to appear to be helping him down the street and speaking quietly, she’ll ask, “tell me more of your story Xiang. You said you had a vision, and suggested that finding this skull will make the circle complete. I saw that skull in the vision we had when we were time traveling. Right before I found our bodies outside of Lastfall. Could we stop that from happening if we find this thing and destroy it? I want to go with you. I think the rest of the group does to, if you’ll have us.”
Following Avienda out the door he responds " I had a vision , of a dark figure wearing the mask, I felt his evil. I flew over the mansion where he is located, I feel like this is where we need to go, well where I must go. There is darkness all around us I feel, shadows , we must be very careful, I feel like we are not safe. Perhaps we should speak of this to Carric, apparently nothing gets past his eagle like eyes, He should be able to spot the evil before it even comes close to us." Xiang smiles again and continues to walk with Avienda
Avienda frowned at the monk, “don’t get upset with Carric, Xiang. We all had a rough night, he was trying to make light of the situation. Like I said, we only spoke briefly but I felt as if the rest of the party wanted to travel with you. I think after we collect our payment,” she sighed heavily when she said this, “and let Delwyn investigate the statue more thoroughly with Lord Burl, we should be able to settle in for the night at the Inn. After that, the worlds our oyster. I for one would like to shake the dust of this town off my boots. You never answered my question though. Do you think this vision you had correlates with the vision we all had when we time traveled?”
Xiang looks at her with a funny expression " I have no ill will toward Carric, It was my poor attempt at humor. I am still working on that." Xiang ponders her question for a moment " Not sure honestly, if the visions are connected. I know that the horror that took my soul over in that moment, is something I will not shake for a long while. If they are connected that can’t bode well for us or these lands. In the end I hope that our friends will come, I dread tackling that evil spirit by ourselves." Xiang continues to walk with Avienda to the Dukes house joining everyone else.