Corruption of Azim

Chapter 3

Unexpected Allies

A hooded figure moved silently through the shadows of the night. It stopped at the town hall building and quietly picked the lock on the door.

Once inside, the figure examined the layout of the interior. There was a small stage with a lectern on the far side. Rows of seats filled the floor and some stairs on both the left and right led up to a balcony. There was a window conveniently placed next to the edge of the balcony.

Slowly and methodically the figure set to work. For once, guards had been more useful alive than dead. Their wagging tongues had revealed a time and location to kill off Isley’s nephew.

* * *

Killashandra awoke to the sound of a bell ringing. A band of sunlight streamed through a part in the window curtains. Tyrus lay still sleeping next to her. She pulled a blanket around her as she got up and walked over to the window.

The storm of the previous night had given way to a soggy but bright morning. The clouds were all but gone and the sun seemed to be delivering a summer-like day in late September. A few people could be seen outside going about their business. Shandra couldn’t determine where the slowly pealing bell was ringing from.

“Wake up, my love,” Shandra said softly as she shook Tyrus gently.

He groaned a bit and rolled over. “I thought we were sleeping in,” he said with a yawn.

“We have slept in. It’s late morning,” she replied. She sat back down on the bed. “Do you hear that bell? I wonder what it is ringing for.”

Tyrus listened to the bell. Slowly he opened his eyes and sat up. “Hmm, well, I guess you’ll just have to ask someone then.” Shandra gave him a coy look. “Oh. I see how it is. You want me to satisfy your curiosity for you.”

She smiled. “Yes. You can ask the innkeeper. And while you’re down there, you can order some breakfast and bring it up to me.”

A few minutes later Tyrus was dressed and he walked down the stairs to the tavern. The innkeeper was nowhere to be seen, so he just sat up to the bar to wait. Soon she entered from a back door and waited on the blackguard. He ordered breakfast, then asked about the bell.

Alyson breathed out a quick sigh of contempt. “It’s announcing a town hall meeting. I assume the mayor has prepared some kind of speech—and probably a new tax or policy of some kind.” She explained that the meetings were always held at noon.

Soon Asmodeus came down and Tyrus relayed the new information. “Do you think we should we attend his little meeting?” Tyrus asked.

DM
Do you want to attend the meeting? You should still have plenty of time to get to the Gnolls if you do. Or it might provide a little distraction to make it easier to slip out of town.

Eryx
“Know thy enemy,” is something Asmodeus would adhere to. He would want to attend the meeting, if nothing else to watch and see Renferell in action. If it’s boring, or Renferell’s easy enough to figure out for someone as intelligent as Asmodeus, they can leave. He would want to sit near the back, to more easily slip out. Regardless of how the meeting plays out, he would definitely want to leave just before the end so they can sneak off and find some gnolls.

Actually, new thought. If there’s a way to surreptitiously cast Dread Word (Book of Vile Darkness, p. 93) on Renferell, Asmodeus would want to do that (-3 Charisma checks), to see him bumble about even more. The spell requires only a verbal component, and Asmodeus would have to be within 25 feet, so that might not be feasible. Well, that and the fact that uttering the Dark Speech itself affects everybody who hears it. I’m still not quite sure how magic works with a spell like this. DM, what think ye? Would it be possible to cast such a spell without being caught? If the answer is “no” or “not likely at all” then forget I even asked.

DM
Regarding your Dread Word question, I think that because it is a spell which only affects “one creature of good alignment” then it wouldn’t affect the crowd, only the target. So it’s not exactly the same as speaking Dark Speech directly. As for whether it will draw attention to you, here’s my ruling: the act of casting (speaking) this spell is likely to turn heads in your direction. So depending on your situation (if you’re hiding, in a bustling crowd, bluff check, etc.) you may or may not be caught. In short, you can certainly try it—I’d say you have about 40% chance of being caught, but that could drop depending on how you handle things.

“Yes,” Asmodeus answered. “We should take the opportunity to see him in person; get to understand him better. Let’s make sure we are ready to go find our Gnolls though, because I’d like to slip out of town while people are distracted with the meeting.”

Tyrus nodded in acknowledgment, then turned back to the bar to await the food. The innkeeper brought it out on a tray which Tyrus took upstairs.

Shortly before noon, the party had made their preparations. With packs prepared and horses ready in the stable, they walked down the main road toward the center of town. The bell was still ringing, though it seemed slower between rings now than before. The street was busy with people. Most of them were heading in the same direction toward the town hall. Tyrus and Shandra both kept an eye out for any Knights Justicar.

The town hall building was three stories tall with many windows in the front and on the sides. On top was a small belfry from which the ringing was coming. Tyrus noted that unlike most of the buildings in town, this one seemed to be in decent repair. The throng of people bottle-necked at the door, despite it being a large double door. The party waited casually in line to get inside.

The building interior had rows of fixed benches and a stage in front. Asmodeus had mentioned that he wanted to sit in back, so Tyrus looked for a good spot. Unfortunately, it seemed that there were quite a few townspeople who had the same preference. The back few rows were crowded, and some were already standing behind the last rows of benches. It was hard for Tyrus to get a good view of the stage, but it looked like there were open seats toward the middle or front, and there were also some stairs which led up on either side of the building. The blackguard imagined that these must lead to the balcony above.

DM
What do you want to do? Do you want to try to find a seat? Try the balcony? Stand in the back? You may attempt a Diplomacy check to try to get a seat in back. You may also want to blend into the crowd, so you may make Disguise or Hide checks (use whichever bonus is higher per character) to attempt this. (And as always, you can ask to use other skills if you want. For example you could use Intimidate to get a seat, though that might draw more attention than you want.)

I’m assuming that Gaimon and Tyrus are in their armor, unless you specify otherwise.

Whipblade
Tyrus will go for the balcony. If Asmodeus has talked to the party at all, then Shandra will sit right up front to provide a nice distraction for Renferell, much like that chick in Raiders of the Lost Ark. =)

Eryx
Balcony works for me. Asmodeus would roll his eyes at the suggestion, but wouldn’t stop Shandra. He would probably mutter something about her failure, again, to keep a low profile.

“I’m going to sit right up front,” Shandra said with a wry smile. Asmodeus rolled his eyes at the suggestion, but she had already started pressing through the crowd.

Tyrus decided to try the stairs on the left. The balcony wasn’t very full, so he chose some seats on the side close to the stairs. Asmodeus and Gaimon sat down next to him. Tyrus looked down at the floor below. Sure enough, Shandra had found a seat on the first row. He knew that she was planning to be a beautiful distraction for Renferell—probably because Asmodeus had mentioned something about wanting to see the mayor make a fool of himself during the speech.

Apparently Asmodeus had noticed her position as well, because Tyrus heard him muttering something about her not keeping a low profile. Again. But Tyrus didn’t mind. Since meeting the wizard, he had come to know how cold and precise Asmodeus could be. In contrast, Shandra’s personality was much more casual and fun loving. Besides, he thought, the University thinks she’s dead now, so I don’t think drawing a little attention will hurt.

Looking down over the crowd, he then noticed the Knight Justicar he had seen the day before. The Dwarf was sitting chatting with some of the people sitting around him. A large mace was propped up on the bench next to him. Tyrus wondered again how many Knights were present in the little town.

Shortly thereafter, a door opened at the back of the stage and several guards came in. The crowd hushed, and Tyrus realized that the bell had stopped ringing at some point. Following the guards was the mayor. Jacob Renferell was certainly dressed like a noble and he carried himself like one, walking over to the lectern with his nose in the air. Examining the man, Tyrus noted that he was slightly overweight, balding, and was wearing small round specticles.

Standing behind the lecturn, the mayor set down some papers and began to address the crowd. “Citizens of Fallerun, I — and visitors as well, of course — I am very pleased to speak to you today. As you probably all know, I am Jacob Renferell and I’m the distinguished mayor of this town.

“I’m pleased to report on the sucess of…” The mayor trailed off a bit. He had caught sight of Shandra looking up at him. “Ah — the success of…” He looked at his notes, “Yes, my recent policy to charge travellers entering the city. Now I know that many of you are not pleased with this policy. I hope you visitors understand the importance of keeping desirable,” he said while looking at Shandra, “er, I mean undesirable people out of the city.”

The mayor shifted his stance and focused on his papers. He went on for a bit trying to explain how certainly travelers could afford such a small fee and how they’d be benefitted by the hospitality of the town. Stammering somewhat, he told of how Fallerun had valuable goods and services that were well worth a small fee.

This is going to be a long meeting, Tyrus thought. He rested his head on his hand and looked over toward the window.

“Everyone will be pleased to know,” continued the mayor, “that I’m implementing a new policy. Starting today, th—AHHHH!!”

Renferell fell to the floor. Still looking toward the window, Tyrus was startled by the sudden appearance of a small figure with a crossbow. The figure’s hood was drawn, but Tyrus thought he recognized the red bearded face which was quickly mouthing some words while making hand gestures. Then the figure vanished again, and the window swung open.

Down on the stage, Renferell had quickly been surrounded by guards. A cleric was kneeling over him. The Dwarven Knight Justicar was on his feet. The crowd was panicked. A few guards were making their way up to the balcony.

DM
What will you do now? Some guards are headed up to the balcony. Although you can’t see the front door underneath you, you suspect they’ve blocked it off.

Asmodeus was considering trying his Dread Word spell, but was interrupted by the sudden attack. He had been waiting for mention of a new policy, hoping that his spell would ruin the delivery. Meanwhile, Tyrus thought he recognized the assassin as the Gnomish bard from the tavern. He is the only character in the group who noticed the figure.

Eryx
I’ll roll spot checks for Asmodeus and Gaimon. Basically, since I’m assuming that the mayor was shot with a crossbow (I know this is metagaming), I’m wondering whether they would have seen it hit him before be collapsed, and also whether they would have been able to tell which direction it came from. Also, Asmodeus’ score will be affected depending on whether or not his familiar is within arms length. He always has it with him, especially on a day like today with planning for Gnollish interaction, but I don’t know if he would have been able to bring it inside.

Asmodeus: 8 (6 without the familiar).
Gaimon: 13.

If they did notice something, they would immediately communicate it (whispering) to the others in the group. Gaimon would be standing up, ready to defend Asmodeus from anybody, even guards if they get a little rough with the mage. (Specifically the mage. If they’re just being jerks to everybody, that’s different.) He hasn’t drawn his sword yet.

Whipblade
Shandra is surprised, and will look to rejoin the rest of the group quickly.

Tyrus shakes his head in surprise and mutters something about gnomes only pretending to be harmless before turning to Asmodeus. “This changes things. I couldn’t tell how bad he got hit, did you see?” Tyrus wants to head back to the tavern, but also is trying to note the general reaction of the crowd to see if it’s like… “well, he got what’s coming to him…”

The group needs to replan. He’ll mention the gnome pretty quickly though. “We should find out if he’s working for someone. Our goals may coincide.”

Tyrus muttered something about Gnomes only pretending to be harmless. Then he turned to Asmodeus and asked, “This changes things. I couldn’t tell how bad he got hit, did you see?”

Gaimon answered instead, saying, “It looked bad. He was hit in the chest.” He had stood up to get a better view and to be ready to protect Asmodeus.

It looked as though Asmodeus was about to say something, but he looked behind Tyrus and closed his mouth. The blackguard turned to see two guards approaching. The first approached quickly and was surveying the area where the assassin had briefly appeared. “I could have sworn I saw something here!” he said as he looked around.

The second guard approached Tyrus. He glanced up at the armored Elf standing nearby, then looked down at Tyrus and Asmodeus and asked, “You didn’t see anything, did you?”

But before either could respond, the other guard yelled out, “Hey! Look at this! There’s a rope hanging down from the roof right by this open window here!”

The second guard immediately turned away from the group and looked out the window. One then turned away saying something about the belfry, and the other shut the window before running off. A guard on the stage below called out to the crowd, telling them to remain calm and stay in their seats.

During the commotion, Tyrus surveyed the crowd to ascertain their reactions. Most of the people just seemed frightened and worried that something might happen to them. There was a decent amount of concern being shown for the mayor, though there was small group that looked almost pleased. Especially a man with black hair and beard wearing a dull green tunic who was grinning ear to ear.

Shandra was no longer at her seat below, and Tyrus suspected she was trying to meet up with the group. Looking down, Tyrus noticed that the guards were picking up Renferell. With the cleric following closely, they took him out the stage door. Then Shandra showed up and sat down with the group.

After a few minutes, the guards allowed the crowd to leave the building. Apparently the assassin had escaped and the soldiers were searching for him in the town. The party made their way out and headed back toward the tavern to get their gear.

Tyrus felt that he could finally tell the group what he saw without being heard. He briefly explained what he saw. “I’m pretty sure it was that Gnomish bard we played cards with yesterday. We should find out if he’s working for someone. Our goals may coincide.”

Asmodeus agreed. “Though I hope the means to accomplish those goals aren’t too disparate.”

Arriving at the Blue Drake, the group suddenly stopped just inside the front door. At one of the tables the the Gnomish bard sat with a bored look playing cards by himself.

DM
Enter Karasu and Nock. =)

I’m assuming that the group will want to speak to the Gnome over a game of cards. Feel free to post as much direct dialog as you want, and I’ll work it in as we go.

Also, Tyrus had a great sense motive check back there (which I rolled for you). +11 for the win.

Karasu
Nock continues to shuffle cards, scarcely affording the entering party a glance. He yawns and prepares a random card in his hand.

Eryx
I would have Gaimon start to play cards at least, maybe Tyrus a bit later, after explaining the rest of this post to the Blackguard. The rest of this post may be affected by that conversation with Tyrus. Then Asmodeus would join them a little later, as it would look suspicious if the entire group suddenly sat down with the Gnome (both to the Gnome and perhaps to other patrons/guards/etc.).

Obviously the point is to see what the Gnome’s motivation and strategies are. Is he working for someone? Can we convince him to work with us? What’s his end goal? Or is there even one beyond killing Renferell?

This next part would come out over the course of a number of games, until eventually, once he’s gotten Nock’s opinion on the assassination (or at least whatever Nock will say in public) Asmodeus will turn to the Gnome and directly confront him. Asmodeus would broach the subject (again, after a few games) by acting like the mayor’s assassination was a bit of a setback, complain about how it ruins their plans and may very well set them back. If he dies, the Kingdom may send a new mayor, and who knows how that one will act. If he lives, he’ll be more paranoid and possibly more difficult to frame and deal with.

The strategy is to try to get the Gnome to join up voluntarily and offer himself to the group. If that never happens, then Asmodeus will just ask him straight out. Make sense?

Also, since Asmodeus has a Dex modifier of 17, I assume he would be decent at shuffling cards (which is much like using the somatic and material components of a spell) and would try to show off a little.

Obviously Asmodeus would adjust his strategy if someone else joins the group to play cards that shouldn’t hear the kind of conversation they’re engaging in, but he would try to get Tyrus and Gaimon to help him discourage other participants. And we need to find out if the Mayor actually died. Maybe Elandra will know or other random patrons or guards that we could ask over the course of the afternoon.

Whipblade
Shandra will head out with Elandra to find out the fate of the mayor. Tyrus is cool with what Asmodeus has outlined.

DM
Although I agree that a high DEX score would help you with shuffling cards, but I’m not convinced that experience with somatic and material components for spells would help. That’s like saying that someone who types all day or is a potter or something that uses hands a lot is automatically good at shuffling cards. If anything, the Perform skill would be what you’d need.

Quickly Asmodeus whispered to Gaimon, “Go play cards with him.” Then he pulled Tyrus off to the side. They sat at a nearby table and had a quick discussion. The wizard explained that he didn’t want to scare off the Gnome or draw too much suspicion. He hoped that they could get the Gnome to join them. They would need to carefully reveal what they knew.

Gaimon sat down at the table with the bard. The Gnome didn’t seem phased at all. They began playing cards. After talking with Asmodeus, Tyrus joined the game. He noticed Asmodeus quietly talking to Shandra. Shortly thereafter she got up and left the inn.

After a few games, Asmodeus came over and joined in the next game. Tyrus could tell that the wizard was waiting for the right moment to bring up the subject of Renferell. But he didn’t have to wait long, because the opportunity presented itself when the innkeeper’s daughter rushed in the front door.

“Mother! Did you hear what happened to the mayor?” she cried. The girl was easy to hear in the relatively quiet tavern. She briefly told her mother about the incident, though she didn’t know the condition of the mayor.

“Quite the unexpected event,” Asmodeus commented. “I wonder if he’ll live, and what the townspeople think of his fate.”

“Indeed,” replied Tyrus. “It didn’t seem like the assassin left much opportunity for the guards to track him down. I wonder why he did it?”

Gaimon shrugged with a slight grunt.

DM
Does Nock have anything to say on this topic?
Also, Shandra left to go find out the fate of the mayor, and enlist Elandra’s help if she can be found.

Karasu
I think this calls for a Sense Motive check for Nock to ascertain whether he can trust Asmodeus and Tyrus. Nock doesn’t know if he can trust the humans, but feels more inclined to confide in the elf. If he rolls successfully, he will tell Gaimon he hopes the mayor is dead and good riddance. If not, he will lose the next hand on purpose, excuse himself and go to his room in the inn.

The Gnome looked briefly at the two Humans sitting at the table, sizing them up. He then looked over at the Elf and quietly said, “I’s hope he be dead. Good riddance.” Then he began dealing the cards.

Asmodeus grinned.

Tyrus realized that the conversation would turn serious now. He casually looked around the room. Only two other people had entered while they had been playing, but they were sitting at the bar talking to each other. They’d be out of earshot as long as the party didn’t grow careless.

“It is a setback for us though,” Asmodeus began. “If the esteemed mayor dies, then the Validras nobles will just send someone else. Who knows what will happen then? But if he lives, he’ll be more paranoid and difficult to deal with. Either way, it will ruin our plans — or at least set them back.”

Still playing cards, the Gnome listened with guarded curiosity. In hushed voices, the group discussed their goal and plans. Asmodeus was taking a gamble by revealing their motives. Tyrus knew he needed to play along, but prepare himself just in case things went sour. A few more people entered the tavern. One of them looked over at the table clearly wondering if he could join in the game, but the blackguard turned him away with a menacing stare.

“It’s difficult work,” Asmodeus continued with a sigh, “Overthrowing a kingdom requires a subtle kind of destruction to deny one’s enemies the chance to prepare themselves.” The wizard punctuated his sentence by revealing a winning hand of cards.

DM
There you have it. The party has exposed their plans and motives, at least enough for Nock to get a good idea of what they’re up to. The Sense Motive check was very successful, so Nock believes they are being genuine.

What will he do next? Does he have something to say, or will he wait for Asmodeus to reveal what they know about the assassin?

Karasu
Nock looks bored at the idea of the mayor surviving to become more cautious or dying only to be replaced. There is a recklessness about him that makes him overconfident in his abilities. He figures the poison will kill the mayor off but, if not, that just lengthens the time he gets to toy with his victim. For a minute Asmodeus and Tyrus almost lose Nock’s interest, almost that is until the beautiful, shiny words “overthrowing a kingdom” tickle his gnomish ears. A malevolent sheen shows in his grey eyes. He says nothing more but nods approvingly and seems eager to hear where he might fit into their plans.

Eryx
Asmodeus would, in the next hand, say “What I wish is that we had the assassin on our side. Such a person would obviously be a great asset to us, and I venture that they would enjoy working with us as well.” He would finish this last part staring directly at Nock.

Karasu
Without a word Nock picks up his masterwork crossbow, narrowly aims it at Asmodeus’ heart, and says, “Case my diminutive stature deceive ya, I’s not to be trifled with. I’s doesn’t trust longfolk such as yerselves, but since ya carry mixed company,” Nock nods at Gaimon, “I’s feel freer ta join ya, if only ta overthrew the Validras.” Nock lowers the crossbow and picks up his gittern instead, He strums absentmindedly for a chord or two, then adds, “I’s doesn’t trust ya outright, but I’s trust the elf. He don’t bluff at cards.”

Eryx
I’m not going to post complete responses until the DM has written this next part up. But the moment the crossbow was pointed at Asmodeus, Gaimon would drop his cards and reach over his back, prepared to draw his sword and cut the gnome down while he spoke. The only reason I’m posting this now is because the action would be simultaneous with Nock’s.

As Tyrus watched, the Gnome seemed to lose interest in Asmodeus’ exposition of their plans. But when the wizard mentioned overthrowing the kingdom, the Gnome seemed to perk up. Tyrus saw what he could only describe as a malevolent sheen showing in the assassin’s gray eyes as he started to nod approvingly.

As the next hand of cards was dealt, Asmodeus said, “What I wish is that we had the assassin on our side. Such a person would obviously be a great asset to us, and I venture that they would enjoy working with us as well.” He was staring right at the Gnome.

A brief awkward silence rested on the group. It was obvious now that the group knew that the Gnomish bard was the assassin. Without a word the bard picked up his crossbow and narrowly aimed it at Asmodeus’ heart. Gaimon dropped his hand of cards and reached up over his shoulder to grab the hilt of his weapon. But before he could draw, the Gnome spoke.

“Case my diminutive stature deceive ya, I’s not to be trifled with. I’s doesn’t trust longfolk such as yerselves, but since ya carry mixed company,” here he nodded at Gaimon, “I’s feel freer ta join ya, if only ta overthrew the Validras.”

He then lowered his crossbow and picked up his gittern instead. Gaimon relaxed a bit and picked up his cards. Tyrus breathed out a sigh of relief. Certainly the town would be on alert after the incident with the mayor, and the last thing they needed was a trivial bar fight. He noted how calmly Asmodeus had dealt with the situation, though his expression of surprise had been mildly humorous.

The bard strummed absentmindedly for a chord or two, then added, “I’s doesn’t trust ya outright, but I’s trust the elf. He don’t bluff at cards.”

“What is your name?” Asmodeus asked.

“Nock.”

“Welcome to our group, Nock.” The wizard looked disturbingly pleased. He then then introduced the group and reiterated their goal of overthrowing the kingdom. This was obviously what the Gnome wanted to hear.

While Asmodeus spoke, Shandra returned. She sat down at the table in time for the wizard to introduce her. Then she told the group what she had learned.

“The mayor lives, for now. The wound was deep, but the danger is from poison. They aren’t sure whether he’ll live. The next few days will tell. Also, the guards are now on the lookout for suspects. Their major clue seems to be a small, poisoned crossbow bolt.”

DM
What will the group do next? This chapter is close to wrapping up. Nock is now part of the group, albeit with some trust issues.

The group now needs to decide on a plan of action. Will you try to hurry and skip town—perhaps to follow through on the Gnoll plan? Or is a new plan in order? Ideally I’d prefer it if the group takes action instead of waiting to react to the fate of the mayor. But I understand if you feel like that’s critical info.

The new plan won’t be explained out in dialog/narration, so go ahead and post back and forth now to figure out what you’ll do. Once a decision is made, then I’ll finish off the chapter.

Eryx
I assume at this point it’s about 2 in the afternoon, and we should still have plenty of time to get out to the gnolls. Asmodeus would state this, inquire if Nock wants to come (to avoid being stuck while the guards are looking for him), and surreptitiously suggest to Gaimon to talk to Nock and help the gnome understand the group dynamics and the trust going on. While on their way, Asmodeus would ask Nock if the poison could be specifically traced to him. The mage is not worried about the crossbow bolt itself, as there are probably many crossbows in the city.

Karasu
Though Nock is slightly amused at the idea of framing the local gnoll tribe, he is confident in his special-blend poison and understands the need to get out of town for the time being. He will go along with the rest of the party. Nock is already impressed with Gaimon’s loyalty to Asmodeus and will patiently listen the elf’s narrative. In response to Asmodeus’ queries, the poison is indeed a unique mixture of Nock’s own making, so he understands the danger he’s in and won’t try to hide it. He may, however, appear none too concerned on the surface.

Asmodeus pondered the new information. “I suggest then that we leave town before the guards have any chance to trace the poison back to our new friend. We’ll continue with our previous plan for now. When we return we’ll be sure to discover the fate of the mayor.”

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