Ziedon tied the man's hands behind his back, tied his feet together, and gagged him with a strip of cloth from his shirt. Then he searched his body thoroughly, even to the point of looking in his shoes and under his shirt. Other than a dagger that looked fairly new and a small amount of money, the man carried nothing. However, there was one thing that suggested this man might not be what he seemed. He had a long scar across his chest, and another on his forearm, the kind one would receive in battle with swords rather in a common street fight.
Kreemon, in the mean time, sat back down and closed his eyes, working on the problem of restoring his form. He pictured his current shape, and superimposed his man-shape over it. Then he slowly let the dog slip away so that the man was the only thing left in his vision. He opened his eyes to find that he was still a dog, so he closed his eyes again and concentrated again, trying to find the key to his transformation, searching –
Kreemon opened his eyes to the sight of Korisca rushing towards him. She threw her arms around him and squeezed tight. Not sure what to do, Kreemon responded in kind, and noticed that he had arms – human arms. “You're back! Oh, Kreemon, I don't know how much more I can take of this crazy magic stuff.”
“It was a shock to me too,” Kreemon said, resisting the urge to growl and bark. “I am not sure why it happened either. I must be going through some changes.”
Ziedon said, “Nice to have you back Kreemon.” Then for extra assurance, he blindfolded the tussed up man.
“It is nice to stand upright.”
“After we deal with this fellow, we should move to our new quarters.”
Kreemon nodded his head. “Who knows how many know of this place now? It would be for the best.”
Kreemon looked down at the man he'd subdued in his Bork-form. “What do we do with him?”
“We wake him and conduct some questioning. Depending on the answers, we can leave him trussed up here… or we can dispose of him.
“I think we have this handled,” Ziedon said, looking at Korisca. “Could you please go out on your scouting mission now? Please be careful too.”
Ziedon looked down at the captive as Korisca closed the door quietly behind her. “Looks like a fighter to me.”
“Those are blade scars,” Kreemon replied, gathering the remainder of his gear in case they had to leave suddenly. When he was done, he waited nearby in case Ziedon needed him for the questioning.
Ziedon splashed some of the contents of a waterskin on the man's face, and gave him a light smack. “Wake up!”
The man groaned and his eyelids fluttered under the blindfold, but he showed no other signs of waking. Then, suddenly, he became alert and he shook his head back and forth. “Mmph?” he said under the gag.
Ziedon took a dagger and ran its sharp point softly up the man's cheek, stopping just at the corner of his eye. Ziedon put a little extra pressure on the dagger so the blindfolded man would know exactly where the point was located. “I don't have much patience right now, so I am going to remove your gag and you are going to tell me why you are watching an abandoned building. Lie to me, or attempt to call out, and you will regret it.”
Ziedon signaled for Kreemon to remove the gag. Kreemon did so, but stood close by, ready to put it back if necessary.
“Town –” he coughed, and rolled a bit of lint off his tongue from the gag. “Town guard. There were rumors that a thieves' guild was starting up and signs pointed to this place.” He spoke as if he'd rehearsed the line. Perhaps he'd known he was going to be interrogated.
Ziedon pressed a touch harder with his dagger and unsheathed a second one, trailing down the man's body to rest its point just below the man's belt. “You weren't trained well to lie, so I will ask again. At your next lie, I will let you choose what body part you will lose.” Ziedon pressed down with both points to emphasize his words.
Kreemon looked from Ziedon to the man with a degree of hesitancy.
The man clenched his jaw, and then relaxed when Ziedon didn't move the dagger further. “A smuggler was spotted climbing over the town wall last night. I tracked him here, and I've been watching the place since. The town guard's had its eyes open for smugglers for weeks. Some say there's a new thieves' guild involved, but I personally doubt it. A thieves' guild wouldn't survive in Maelbourg.”
“Describe this smuggler.”
“It was dark, but… tall, thin, long black hair, light step.” He could have been describing Kreemon.
Kreemon moved to one of the windows and took a cautious look outside before returning to his post next to Ziedon.
“Describe the events of last night as you saw them,” Ziedon said.
“The events? Nothing happened. Someone climbed over the wall, might have been two of them. Then I tracked them here and waited.”
“If you say you are with the town guard, who do you report to?”
“Captain Duddan, of course.”
“Tell me of Kull and Veleon.”
“Kull? There's someone by that name in the guard. He does patrols outside the town walls. I'm not sure about the other guy.”
“The person who came over the wall, did that person go straight to the brewery?”
“The 'hide-out' you were watching.”
“Oh. No, he stopped by some house first.”
“It appears that today is your lucky day. The people you saw coming over the wall were Townsman Ulan's daughter, his heir, and her body guard, not some lowly brigands or smugglers. Due to the recent problems in town, they thought it best to sneak in unannounced. However, on their way to town they found that there is an army out in the woods, scouting the wall and looking for weaknesses. They found guardsman Kull and agreed to bring word to town guard inside the walls, since they were coming in anyway.”
“An army? That's troubling. Where were they camped?”
Ziedon gave the rough location of where the army had been camped, but noted that since the army had detected the pair, they may have moved. It was unlikely, though, that they could have hidden all traces of their presence or movement. Ziedon further explained who the army worked for and why they were there.
“An army of the king… That can't be good.”
“As you are with guard, their message has now been passed and honor is satisfied.”
Ziedon removed the points of his daggers and said, “You may now ask questions.”
“Have you told anyone else about this army? It could start a panic in Maelbourg if people knew.”
Satisfied that nothing unusual was going on outside, Kreemon took a seat at the table.
“Only the afore-mentioned Veleon, who Kull said was associated with the town guard. Any other questions?”
“I'd just like to get this news to Captain Duddan as soon as I can.”
“I have a few more questions myself… Who have you reported to concerning the 'smugglers' you saw last night and the 'thieves guild' location?”
“No one yet, and now I see I won't have to.”
“What happened to the patrolling priests? They were thick in the streets and now are nowhere to be seen.”
“I don't know. 'The ways of Morenth are for Morenth alone.'”
“I see. Well then, you should also let the captain know about Ulan's heir. I imagine things are complicated enough right now, but she will need protection when she claims her birthright. Give him the name 'Llewyn.' That is the name I will use if I need call upon him.”
“I don't understand the need for the blindfold. Wouldn't it help if I could describe you to the captain?”
“Knowing of the Heir's existence will suffice. Knowing more might be dangerous to you due to those who would try to deny her her birthright.
“You just relax right there for a little bit. I need to gather my things and prepare to depart. You will be set free soon enough.”
Ziedon gathered all of his equipment and books together. He mentally called for Tah'iera, met her by the window and made a quiet request. “Keep a look out please, and give me a little warning when the girl returns.”
It was another half-hour before Tah'iera reported. Ziedon intercepted her as she entered, and raised a finger to his lips. “I am going to be leaving now,” he said, putting the dagger in the man's hand and dropping the coin-purse nearby. “You can work yourself free in a little bit. I would prefer you not know where I am headed.” It would take him some time to cut himself free with his hands tied. Ziedon and the others would be well away by then.
Ziedon signaled for the other two to follow, and they left the brewery. “Lead on to our next dwelling,” he said to Kreemon, signaling for Tah'iera to come along. To Korisca he said, “then we will hear what news you have.”
A chill breeze blew occasionally, rustling fallen leaves and loose garbage, but it was hard to believe that there would be a blizzard in the afternoon. Patches of sunlight still shined through an unimpressive cover of clouds, and squirrels, mice and other small animals still moved about, as if expecting many weeks of calm weather in which to prepare for winter.
The three of them got funny looks from guards now and again, but they weren't bothered. Perhaps the guards were still intimidated by the recent flood of priests. Their passage was noted, however, and if anyone had received a good description of them, and was able to see through the disguises, there was a chance – a small chance, but still a chance – that there would be trouble later.
The landlord recognized Kreemon, and welcomed the three of them. He seemed uninterested in anything but the money, which he made them pay, all sixty aglars for the first month, before he would go any further. He told them when meals were served, insisting repeatedly that the food his wife cooked was better than anything they'd get in a tavern, and added that meals would be brought to their rooms for an extra copper a day. A chamber pot, if they didn't want to use the public outhouses during the winter, would be taken care of for another copper a day, and the landlord had connections to provide other services, such as laundry and sewing, again for an additional fee. A lock for the door would be provided if necessary, but the landlord insisted that theft was never a problem in his house and most of the boarders were happy enough to bar the door from the inside at night. Naturally, the lock had to be rented, for five diyars a month.
Then he brought them upstairs.
The apartment was clean and sparsely furnished. A main, windowless room with a fireplace, closet, table and four chairs had doors opening into two smaller rooms. One room had a cot large enough for two, a closet and a stool, as well a second, smaller cot propped up vertically against the wall. The second side-room, about half the size of the first, had one chair and writing-desk. Each side-room had one window, which let in a chilly draft through the shutters. The apartment was clearly meant for one or perhaps two people, but the landlord told Kreemon that any way he wanted to rearrange the furniture was fine, but if he broke anything, he would have to pay for it.
Kreemon asked the landlord for a third small cot. The landlord was happy to oblige, for an extra aglar a month.
Looking over the room, Ziedon said, “I will take the smaller room with the desk. Kreemon, if you would please move the smaller cot in there, I would appreciate it.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kreemon did as Ziedon asked. He had to rearrange the rest of the furniture so everything fit in the cramped space.
Ziedon went to the window and called to Tah'iera. She arrived in seconds, and hopped in before Ziedon closed the shutters.
“From what Kreemon says, there will be a blizzard this afternoon, so we will need to do several things this morning. But first, let's hear Korisca's report.”
“I went to the Silver Sign like you asked, but first I checked around town to see if anyone's heard of the merchant. A couple people had, but there wasn't anything new. He came from the Eastern Kingdoms with all sorts of crazy stuff, including a book that's supposed to let him summon the spirits of the dead. Same story as before. I asked at the west gate, pretending to be looking for foreign spices, and they hadn't heard of any spice merchant, but then they started asking questions, so I got out of there and didn't check with the other gates.
“The Silver Sign was pretty quiet. A couple of drunks that looked like coal miners, and an older man with a big beard, who was just sitting there staring into space. I asked the barkeep about the merchant. Said he just stays in his room all the time. I got a funny look from the old guy when I was leaving, but then he went back to staring at nothing. I guess that's the kind of guy who hangs out in bars this time of day.”
Ziedon asked about the blizzard.
“It was a crazy thing. Just some light snow in the middle of the afternoon, and an hour later, all of a sudden, you couldn't see five feet in front of you.” The blizzard went on all the next day, only tapering off after dark. Between then and the earthquake at midnight on the eighth, there was a lot of strange weather – heat, snow, fog all one after another.
“Does it snow here often?” Ziedon asked. “As heavy as it did in Huerten? I ask because if the town is caught unprepared, we might be able to earn a little coin. How plentiful is coal or firewood? Are there large stores within the city, especially since the city is sealed?”
“We get a blizzard like that every few years, but usually people can guess it's coming. This one just popped out of nowhere. I don't think you can make any money off of coal. There are mines outside of town, so we have more coal than we know what to do with, so unless you have the money to buy them out…. I don't know what the best thing to sell would be. In Huerten, a lot of carts broke when they had to drag them back in the storm. And some roofs caved in.”
Ziedon listened as he wrote out a short note. When Korisca was done, he said, “We should get a supply of wood for ourselves, to keep us warm. Could you two handle that? I am going to visit the merchant, though it might be a trap. If it is, my bird will come get you and lead you to me.”
Something tickled the back of Ziedon's mind when he said that. Somehow, it made him think of the blue ribbon. He continued to think about it as he closed the door to his new room, and dressed in his merchant finery. Half-dressed, Ziedon paused, pulled out the blue ribbon out and silently thought over the things he'd said. Nothing happened, so he said them aloud, slowly. Still nothing happened. But the phrase that had gotten him thinking was “my bird will come get you.” He focused on the familiar portion of the sentence, and had Tah'iera come into the room. He tried to get her to say whether she noticed anything odd about the ribbon, but he couldn't convey the concept to her. He tried touching the ribbon to the bird, but again, nothing happened. It was possible that the bird had nothing to do with it.
When he decided he was ready, Ziedon emerged and gave the note to Korisca. “Give this to some trusted individual to deliver to the first priest he sees.”
Korisca looked at it and nodded.
“Okay,” Kreemon said. “We might as well see if we can get a hold of the Bard too. He might get a little nervous when he can't find us.”
“Though we might not want to tell him where we are living now. Instead, set up a meeting time and place.”
“Maybe one of the inns or taverns that has a private back room. We will look into it.”
Ziedon headed out. He kept off the main routes, using Tah'iera as a scout to determine the best route and to see if anyone was following him.
As Ziedon walked, he held the ribbon and thought about sending a message to Kreemon. “Maybe it is some sort of communication item,” he thought as he tried out several different themes of establishing mental contact or sending a message. He even thought about the ribbon as a message scroll itself, mentally placing a message onto the ribbon and then willing the message to Kreemon. When he did this, the ribbon came startlingly to life. It wiggled free of Ziedon's grasp, and fluttered up into the air, quickly disappearing from sight.
Ziedon watched the ribbon disappear and smiled, satisfied that he had discovered its purpose – a means in which to communicate with trusted people afar. “Definitely will come in handy,” he thought, and continued on to the spice merchant.
Soon, the landlord was up with the cot. Kreemon put in the main room near the fireplace. “Leera,” he said to Korisca, “you can have this one. I'll be in the room because I want to be near the window.
“So, where is the best place to get some firewood? It got pretty cold before and I don't want you to get sick.”
“You don't want me to get sick? Oh, how sweet.” Her sarcasm was thick, but then she smiled. “There are lots of places to get firewood, but it's probably more expensive now that the town's locked down. Coal would be cheaper.”
Kreemon looked at the fireplace and asked, “Can we burn coal in there?”
“Sure. It has the housing and cages and everything. Might be a little smoky, but it will be warm and cheap. I'm sure we can get wood if we have to…. Say Kreemon, can you read? I want to know what this says.” She handed Kreemon the note.
“Depends on the language,” Kreemon said, and read the note silently.
“You tried to keep that which was mine within your library,” the note began. “Those who stood in my way were struck down as I reclaimed my property. For your impertinence and folly, I took something of yours. To further show you my power, I will turn the city white and my angry voice shall call out from the earth. Maybe then you will understand the power of my ire, and give me the homage and respect that is my due and offer reparations to renew the peace.”
Kreemon whistled as he finished and said, “Basically, it is an offer of peace between Ziedon and the priests. I didn't think he had that in him.” He handed the note back. “This is pretty important. It needs to get to a priest as quickly as possible.”
“Alright, I guess.”
At that moment, a silky blue ribbon fluttered out from Kreemon's new bedroom, and hovered in front of him for a moment. Korisca took a step back. “What's going on?” she asked.
Then Kreemon heard Ziedon's voice. “Kreemon,” Ziedon said, “this is a test to see if this ribbon is a communication item. Please don't lose it.” Kreemon caught the ribbon as it fell towards the floor.
“By the Four!” Kreemon exclaimed, as he grabbed the falling ribbon. “Did you hear a voice?” he asked Korisca.
“No, did you?”
Kreemon shook his head. “Another trick of Ziedon's. This ribbon spoke to me with his voice.”
Kreemon held the ribbon in his hand and thought of Ziedon and the ribbon as a magical message carrier as he said, “Ziedon, yes, this ribbon is some sort of communication item. I got your message.”
The ribbon wiggled out of Kreemon's hand, and flew back into his bedroom, and between the slats of the shutter.
“I'd say that things keep getting weirder,” Korisca said, staring at the shutter, “but this is nothing compared to you turning into a dog.”
“The dog part was a little confusing. That's for sure. Well, let's get going.”
“You're coming with me? Okay.”
“Let's first find a runner to deliver the message and then see about buying some coal. We can then look around at a few taverns to find one that has a private meeting room and then find someone to pass a message to Forgolon about it being our meeting place.”
Both activities went quickly and without incident. The coal would be delivered by noon, and they found someone who agreed to pass a message on to Forgolon. At least, the person seemed to know who Forgolon was; it was never possible to be sure.
Next, Kreemon and Korisca bought several days worth of food, to get through the bad weather, and returned to the boarding house.
They were greeted well before they arrived by a frantic-looking Tah'iera. The demonic bird squawked at them, and flew back and forth. Finally it settled on the ground and pointed a wing in a particular direction, then took off and flew that way.
Korisca stumbled away from the bird when it landed, then paid closer attention. “I think it's pointing toward the Silver Sign,” she said. “Ziedon's in trouble.”
Each of you paid 32.5ag for your rooms, and several days of long-lasting food. This assumes you went for the lock and chamber pot, which added a small amount to the cost (61.6ag/month total for the apartment).