Vengeance of the Golden Skull, Part 1:
After a few days back in Messantia, the group is beginning to get restless and look to go their own ways.
Lukas, the Hyperborian assassin, gets a message from an old friend begging him to meet at a bathhouse in the Dustbiter district for something of the utmost importance and secrecy. Meanwhile, Merhotep is given a new mission by the Nemedian Chroniclers: they fear political instability in Argos and wish him to meet an information broker in a bathhouse in the Dustbiter district. Finally, the Bossonian Archer (whose name is now escaping me) receives a new mission from the Aquilonian court: while Aquilonia is relatively stable due to the method of Conan the Great's abdication, they fear political instability in the surrounding kingdoms--Ophir, Turan, Nemedia, and Argos. They want the borderer to investigate rumors of this instability by meeting (you guessed it!) a man in a bathhouse.
While surprised when they run into each other there, the three accept it stoically and join their contact, who informs them of a plot against the king by a cult known as the Order of the Golden Skull, which is recorded on an encoded scroll. Aside from that all he knows is that apparently there is a Zingaran involved, who is in some way already within the court. He is then abruptly murdered by one of six serving girls who proceed to try and kill the party. Thanks to a sleep spell by Merhotep and some quick and dirty fighting by Lukas and the Bossonian, the group prevails just in time to be arrested by the town guard for the murder of someone else's slaves. As they dress, Lukas secrets the scroll in his boot, and Merhotep discovers small tattoos of golden skulls on each of the assassins' necks.
When the three fail to return to the inn, Merhotep's servant girl becomes concerned and seeks out Valder and Hrogar, the two Aesir warriors, for help. They track the group to the constable's office in the Royal Prefect, where their compatriots have convinced the prefect that not only were they acting in self-defense, but by proxy in defense of the crown. The constable asks that they rejoin him in two days to present their evidence to the Crown Prince, and sets them free.
Lukas feels duty-bound to inform his friend's widow of his demise so the group sets off for his house, where they find the woman and her two children being accosted by three thugs who have come to collect debts the dead man owed. The group quickly dispatches the thugs and rolls them for cash which they give to the widow and recommend she stay in an Inn for a few days until the debt collectors either get what they want or discover there's nothing to get. In thanks, she gives the group a decoded version of the scroll, which tells them the date of the assassination during the Festival of the King's Ear...which takes place in two days. She also tells them that her late husband had been spending a lot of time in the Redboots district, a place where nobody goes that doesn't work there, as it's essentially a giant charnel district where all the butchers and tanners work. It smells of blood and rot, and the streets (and the workers' boots) are stained red with gore.
Lukas then pays a visit to the Assassin's guild and gets a rumor going about an unregistered freelance assassin from Zingara operating in the city. He then hears a rumor about a guy who seems to know about these Golden Skulls, who haunts the taverns of the city and rants and raves about them. Most agree he's probably not long for this world. Lukas resolves to try and track this guy down.
The next morning, the group immediately go to the constable with their new information and he sets up an emergency meeting with the prince, who hires them on as investigators since they have made so much headway so far, even presenting them with a letter of Marque granting them temporary power as members of the King's Hand. The prince is unaware of any Zingarans in the court.
They also discover, thanks to the constable's interrogation efforts on the original slave-girl assassins, that the order is recruiting from slaves and disenfranchised youth, and espouses a nihilist philosophy whereby it must aid in the destruction of all the thrones of the earth, starting with Argos. The members are completely brainwashed, and are apparently being trained out of an abandoned facility in the Arena district by a man named Rolo.
The investigation continues...