Heretics of Tarantia, Part Two
Our heroes leave the King's palace and determine to begin their investigation by seeking out Essenic, the mercenary who they were told fired the arrow which killed Urestes. Armed with rumors that Essenic spends a lot of time on the Avenue of Roses (Tarantia's "red light" district), they head out to "interrogate" some of the prostitutes who live and work in the area. As they travel, they note that word has hit the streets of Urestes' murder, and most people are placing the blame squarely on the cult of Asura. In an effort to slow down the rumors, Lukas applies his background as a seditionist to plant "counter-rumors" which suggest the Asurans might be getting set up. While no one thinks his efforts will stop people from blaming the Asurans, the group hopes that Lukas can at least keep things at a slow boil instead of a pressure cooker about to explode.
One of the heroes ends up with a prostitute who was just with Essenic last night, though she says he was only with her for an hour and wasn't interested in talk. Still, she is able to provide a physical description, which is corrolated by Valder, who pounds the pavement to gather information on the streets. In addition, Valder comes up with some more information about the mercenary, including that he has a wife in the Khorotas Ward who he rarely sees, who works in a laundry, and that he apparently has a house in Khorotas.
Thinking they may need another hand, the group pays a young boy to find Kristina, who headed for the docks a few days ago looking for work aboard a ship, and sets off for the Khorotas Ward. Tracking down Essenic's wife is not difficult; the group asks at a few laundries in the area and are directed to the shabby tenemant apartment in which she resides.
It becomes clear very fast that Essenic's wife has no love for the man, who she calls a "filthy bastard." She tells the group to look for Essenic at a tavern called the Sign of the Lion, and slams the door in their faces.
After a few quips wondering why Essenic would ever want to blow off such a friendly woman, the group heads for the Sign of the Lion. The tavern itself is a rowdy place, and they note that there is already a bar fight in progress when they arrive, though it seems a personal matter restricted to one corner. When they hear someone yell, "Get her! Teach the bitch a lesson!" They sigh and move towards the fray.
Sure enough, they discover Kristina being set upon by eight men. Two others lay on the floor unconscious, one with a bloody nose and another with a black eye. Weapons have not yet been drawn, but the battle looks like it's boiling to that point. Hrogar steps in first, grabbing one man and hurling him across the room. He spins another to face him, and Merhotep casts a spell, mesmerizing the man where he stands. Decimus and Hrogar take the opportunity to club the man unconscious with two mighty blows of their fists. Lukas hurls a dagger into the wall between the legs of a third assailant, asking "How'd you like to become a bitch, yourself?"
Valder hops up on a table and shouts, "Quick! Someone get those men away before she kills everyone in the bar like she did last time!"
Kristina grins and takes the cue to draw her swords. The crowd, ever entranced by Valder's charisma, move to help, and the remaining assailants flee. The group and Kristina greet one another, and Kristina wastes no time informing them of two things: firstly, the fray began because the unconscious guy with the bloody nose "got fresh," and secondly, that she's heard about the trouble they've stumbled into. They in turn inform her that they're working for the king, albeit off the books, and invite her to help. Having nothing better to do, she agrees.
Eventually the group locates Essenic, who has just finished winning a purse over a game of mumbletypeg. They discuss how to approach him and decide their best bet is for Merhotep to become invisible while Lukas and Valder approach the mercenary under the guise of hiring him to assassinate someone. Kristina, Decimus, and Hrogar will take positions at the bar in case backup is needed.
The two approach Essenic, only to be rudely turned away when he flatly denies being an assassin and tells them to be on their way unless they want trouble. Merhotep notes that two of Essenic's three companions seem shaken by the hints dropped, but Essenic silences them both.
Lukas, Valder, and Decimus leave the inn, intent on going to toss Essenic's house, while the others stay behind and watch the mercs. Eventually, after an hour or so more, the mercenaries leave, and Merhotep, still invisible, follows. He witnesses Essenic threaten the two shaken mercenaries, warning them that if they don't keep silent they're bound for the gallows when the authorities find out...and worse if the Brotherhood finds out. He then orders them to split up and get out of town. They go their separate ways.
The party follows the one who seems the most uncertain and takes him into custody, turning him over to the town guard for interrogation. The only new information they get is that he was hired by a man named Parnas to act as backup for the cemetary job last night.
Meanwhile, as the other three head for Essenic's house, a carriage pulls up and a muscular man wearing the robes of a cleric of Mitra leans out and offers them a ride, saying he'd like to speak with them about Urestes' death. They clamber in and he introduces himself as Constantius, high priest of Mitra in Tarantia. He asks them how they came to be involved, what Urestes might have said to them before he died, and what they think about what's going on. He seems at first genuinely concerned over the murder of a priest in his care. But when they hint that they might believe the Asurans are being set up, his mood darkens and he insists that the Asurans, demon worshippers that they are, are clearly guilty when observed objectively and that he would fear for their safety should the people of Tarantia find out they may be siding with the villains in this conspiracy. Our heroes, of course, don't take kindly to what they feel is a veiled threat, but they agree to continue their investigation and share any information they might find with the Mitraeum. He drops them off at the address they've given him (several blocks from Essenic's house) and wishes them farewell, with all the blessings of Mitra.
They find nothing of interest at Essenic's house, but feel that things are starting to come together, though they don't yet have anything concrete. They have a theory, now, that there is an element within the Mitraeum which is extremist and looking to set up the Asurans for some dark purpose which knowing the Mitran faith could be as simple as driving foreign religion from Aquilonia.
They hit the streets to research Parnas, but come away fairly certain that the name was just an alias used by whoever hired the mercenaries. Thus discouraged, they retire for the night.
That evening, in the dead of the night, the group are attacked by would-be assassins in their sleeping chambers. The first one to awaken is Lukas, who hurls two daggers into the face of his assailant, then dashes out into the hall in case his companions need assistance.
He sees, two rooms down, a head fly out of Hrogar's room, and Hrogar steps out. Two more doors down, a body slumps face down from Merhotep's room, blood rapidly pooling around its neck. Merhotep nods to the other two, motions his servant girl to collect the head from Hrogar's assailant, then drags his own attacker's body back into his room.
Between Merhotep and Hrogar, yet another body crashes through the door, followed by Decimus, bloody sword in hand.
The sounds of battle emit from Kristina's and Valder's rooms. The group kicks in Kristina's door and Lukas hurls a dagger through the back of her assailant, as Kristina runs him through with her rapier from the front. Decimus and Hrogar turn to Valder's room, in time to see an assassin leap out of Valder's window, with Valder in hot pursuit.
The city watch is called, and the group rifles the bodies before they arrive, removing from the bodies amulets inscribed with Asuran symbols that the group is now fairly certain are fake. When the watch arrives, the heroes get the distinct impression that the guards have been instructed not to ask too many questions. They clean up the mess, save for Merhotep's room, when Merhotep refuses them entrance, and depart. Later, Valder returns looking rather wounded, and reports that his assassin managed to escape.
The next morning, Valder is awakened by a soft knocking at his door. He issues a warning that he's not in the mood for tricks and he will see his visitor run through at the first inkling of foul play, then opens the door a crack to find a cloaked man who begs Valder to let him in. Against his better judgment, Valder consents. The visitor, it turns out, is Gaulan, a priest of Asura who wants to make it perfectly clear that their cult, mysterious as it may be, is shocked and horrified by the murder of Urestes, who by all reports was a well-liked man, and that the Asurans had nothing to do with any of it. Their loyalty is to their sect and the king, who has supported them more than once in the past, and they merely wish to be left to worship in peace.
He has little new information to give, save to confirm Merhotep's earlier suspicions that the amulets and symbols, though authentic, are fake in that their use in these contexts is nonsensical. He apologizes but refuses to reveal any information about the cult, as it is a mystery cult and goes against their deepest tenets, and says he accepts that this makes his faith suspicious to many people, but that enduring hardship is part of having faith.
He also tells the group that his efforts to use sorcerous means to uncover the identity of the conpsirators have been blocked at every turn. He is, however, able to read the amulets with psychometry and come up with a name for the man who placed the trinkets into boxes which were delivered to the mercenaries. The man's name is Taspius. Gaulan promises to investigate this Taspius and let the group know if he comes across anything. He also tells them that should they need him they need only light two candles and place them in the windows of their rooms, and he will come as soon as he can. He then takes his leave.
The group decides that their next step is to visit the Mitraeum and discover as much as they can about Urestes. As they prepare to face another day....we end for now.
To be continued.