As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.
In “Dramatic Entrances,” the first episode of Swords and a Squandering Snail, the group is in the city of Bowden to meet a contact of Cade’s. They intervene when a Holy Knight chases an unarmed man into the tavern in which they drink. The three of them face the Holy Knights and his initiates.
“The Minstrel and the Prophet” relates how the group rescues a strange individual known as Incarnos, and meets with Cade’s contact, an attractive woman named Carylle. Incarnos has a tale to tell, claiming to be an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago. This doesn’t faze Carylle at all, and she in fact speaks of the Old Gods.
In “These Are Not The Myths You’re Looking For,” Incarnos relates that he is a powerful being, once a servant of the old gods, tied to the mortal world by the Herotus. Incarnos had helped Herotus triumph over the old gods and was then betrayed. A fabled staff may lay buried beneath the tavern and gambling den at the sign of the Squandering Snail, and Carylle believes they can find it. The group agrees to make an attempt near sunrise, when few—if any—will be awake or aware.
“First Blood of the Morning” relates the groups attempt to secretly enter the Squandering Snail, only to awake some of the ruffians sleeping in the common room. Examples were made, but one opponent shouted a warning before he could be silenced. What would that shout bring?
Five: Deals and Tokens
“It’s just as likely they’ll just go back to bed,” Carylle said. “The Temples can be a noisy place.”
“Still,” Sabrine said, “let’s get this done and get gone.”
Carylle slowly opened the door to the cellar. We stood ready. I don’t know what I expected to leap out, but my nerves crackled and shivered. Of course, nothing jumped out of the cellar, so having the only source of illumination in the group, I volunteered to go first.
The stairs led down into an earthen cellar, the walls supported by wood beams. Wood racks, set in three rows, filled most of the area. The racks contained a variety of goods, mostly earthenware jugs, sealed with something that looked like dark wax. I noticed some small kegs and even a few boxes. The room had a mouldy smell bordering on unpleasant but not quite strong enough to be truly a stench.
Carylle came behind me and pointed out a opening in the south wall. I wouldn’t call it a hall or corridor, as it looked more like someone simply knocked a hole in the wall. As I got closer, I noted wood planks which explained why the opening hadn’t collapsed.
The room to which this hole led, however, had collapsed. Other than two old, empty barrels, the only thing of interest was a crumbled wall with wood beams and splinters pointing out of it at odd angles. Another short passage led out of this small area. I started to worry that we might have entered a maze. A quick peek revealed a small room, not high enough for me to stand upright. The place only held two chests, somewhat sunk into the ground and covered with cobwebs and dirt.
I turned back to Carylle who stood looking at the collapsed wall. “Maybe there’s something in these chests.”
Cade stood just inside the room. He pointed to what looked like a stick or pole, poking out from the collapse. “What’s that?”
“We have found it.” Incarnos brushed past Cade. Dropping to his knees, he began to weep. Both he and the pole protruding out of the debris began to shimmer. A faint, white light seemed to envelop them both. “The Staff of Parwen, it is found.” He reached toward the ceiling, looking up. “My time has come. Damnation or paradise, I no longer care.” He turned to Cade. “Take it. Mortal hands must touch the staff.”
“Be careful.” Carylle stepped back, away from the glowing staff. “You don’t know what will happen.”
“I do,” said Incarnos. “It will be glorious.”
Cade only hesitated a moment before grasping the staff. It slid out of the debris, not a mark or smudge of dirt on it. A flash blinded me. I stumbled, my back touching the wall. Slowly, my eyes recovered. Cade still stood, holding a staff before him. Incarnos had vanished. The staff glowed white, and strange runes covered its length. The runes shone with a deep blue light.
Cade held the staff horizontally before him. “I can read the runes.”
“What do they say?” asked Sabrine, standing just in the passageway.
Cade used one finger to follow the runes as he read them. “The arm and mouth of Parwen, mistress of secrets and opener of doors. To hold the staff is to find the path.”
“What path?” asked Carylle.
“To the next staff, I suppose,” Cade said. “I’m not quite sure, but I fell drawn in that direction.” Cade pointed.
Drustan spoke from behind Sabrine. “South and west.”
“South and west?” I asked. “What’s there?”
Sabrine shook her head. “Ostvel? Tremmek? Maybe Eltanin.”
“A long journey whatever our destination,” Drustan said. “But now I believe it is time to go. If anyone heard that fellow’s call, we might have some troubles leaving.”
An incorporeal voice sounding like Incarnos filled the cellar. “You have saved me and sent me to redemption. Now you must do so for your entire world. In your hands, you hold fate. Do not waver.”
I frowned. “Oh, now that’s a bit much.”
“The fate of the world?” Sabrine asked. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“People, it is time to go,” said Drustan.
Without further comment, we left. I was the last to reach the stairs. The others stood in the storage room as I climbed out of the cellar. I looked around the room. “Did someone light some torches?”
From behind the barrels in the centre of the room, stepped Murnac. Behind him stood four men.
“Gentlemen, we have our rats,” Murnac said in a loud voice.
The doors disgorged four more men, two from each door.
Murnac sneered. “Did you find any cheese in the cellars, little rats?” His gaze passed along us until it rested on Carylle. “Cornille? You little whore. What are you doing here? Helping these thieves, are you? What were you looking for down there?”
“My name is not Cornille,” Carylle said, “and we were looking for artifacts from a time when elder gods walked the world, before Herotus.”
“Bloody hells, thieves and heretics both.” Murnac drew his short sword “Maybe the Holy Knights will have use for you. Lucky you left the blades and armour behind. They came looking for you. I’ll bet they’re still around.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” asked Cade. “How about we toss you a few coins and you get out of our way.”
“If you think it’s just that easy, you don’t know much about us, son.” Murnac felt the edge of his short sword “My boys here have spilt the guts from bigger sausages than you, and I’ve used this toy in games of my own. You hand over whatever you’ve got of value. You hand over Cornille, too. She needs a lesson taught.”
I knew this wouldn’t end well. My strategy, and it seemed to usually work, was to remove the head from the serpent. As long as we didn’t face a hydra, that might clear our way out. The problem with magic is one becomes rather obvious when one is practising it, that is if someone knows what to look for.
“Get that one.” Murnac pointed at me. “He’s some kind of warlock or something.”
It seemed someone knew what to look for.
As the brutes moved forward, I noted the three we had spared among them. Mercy has its drawbacks, especially in a place like the Temples. Still, earlier we had routed a handful of Holy Knights—true, they were Initiates, but it was still an achievement—so nine men, one of them standing back from the action, shouldn’t have proved too great a problem.
Drustan moved in first, as one would expect. He had reach with his spear and showed the advantage that gave him by opening up one of the brutes along the arm. That one fell back, clutching his wounded arm and blood stained his clothing.
That left eight.
I released the spell I had prepared. Hiding behind a cluster of toughs wouldn’t save Murnac this time. With a flash, the bolt of energy streaked from my hand to strike him. He shouted and stumbled back, but other than burn marks on otherwise fine clothes, I didn’t have the success for which I had hoped.
Cade had dropped the staff and drawn his sword. Carylle—or was it Cornille?—defended herself with a short sword that looked surprisingly similar to the one the brute Sabrine killed had carried. Sabrine had her sword out, the quarters far too close for her bow. I still had Frost in hand and I set to work. Facing Initiates had quickened my blood, but facing these toughs didn’t worry me at all.
Overconfidence is often one’s worse foe.
Murnac’s brutes were fast. My weapon had reach, but I faced two men who knew their business. One would lunge and draw my guard when the other would strike. Still, I had learnt the sword from a man many had considered the greatest soldier in VeBrance. While I couldn’t chance an attack, I maintained a strong defence Sooner or later, someone would make a mistake and the blood would flow. I just prayed it wouldn’t be mine.
I heard a cry. It was Carylle. She had fallen back and had taken a wound. I lost focus for just a moment, but a moment was all these toughs needed. I slid away from the lunge, but it cut clothing and the skin beneath it. I took a step back, suddenly sharing five foes with Cade.
“This was not how I envisioned the end of this little quest.” Cade had the presence to laugh at his own joke.
“This is never how I envision the end of anything.” I couldn’t muster much more than a weak grin.
“You can still hand over your goods,” Murnac said from behind his men. “You can keep that whore Cornille if that’s your wish.”
“I hear the fear in your voice, Murnac,” Sabrine said. “And you have reason to fear.”
I glanced over at Sabrine, careful of the men I faced. No wonder she could hold a conversation, she only faced one man. Drustan had another at his feet, that one not moving. The men facing Cade and I stepped back, glancing at Murnac then Drustan.
“If you wish to see more of your men fall at my feet, I care not,” Drustan said. “My arms have not yet begun to ache. I have hours of slaughter ahead of me if that is your wish.”
“We can walk out of here, disappear, never return, and you can tell any story you want,” Sabrine said. “In all honesty, you won’t be very pleased with the treasure we carry.”
“Have you looked in those chests in your cellar?” I asked.
“Don’t play me for an idiot, there’s nothing in them,” Murnac said.
“Did you really look? Really search?” I clicked my tongue. “You didn’t dig deep enough. We couldn’t carry it out, but it’s yours if you’ll have it.”
Murnac closed one eye and appraised me sidelong. Finally he spat on the ground. “You’re a liar.”
“Whatever you believe, I’ll tell you one true thing.” Cade pointed to Drustan. “That man scares the burning hells out of me, and he isn’t lying when he says he has a full day of slaughter ahead of him. If you want to trade all your men for our steel, clothes and few paltry coins, that’s your decision. Let us walk out of here then set the Holy Knights on us for a reward. You’ll come out better.”
“That I can accept,” Murnac said. “Right, out you get. I’ll give you an hour before I call the Church. Maybe you’ll have more time if they don’t offer me enough.”
With a wave, Murnac moved his toughs back from the door to the kitchen. We all stood, facing Murnac and his men, unsure to take his offer. Drustan reached into his tunic. I heard the tinkle of coins. He tossed a couple of wrens on the floor.
“For the funeral,” Drustan said. “You men fought better than the Initiates.”
There were no thanks, at least none we heard. And why would anyone expect gratitude after one has killed a comrade? It was simply Drustan’s way. I’d already accepted that I’d never understand him.
We filed out of the storage room, Drustan coming last, backing out of the room. He slammed the door and we ran. Clearing the tavern, we raced to the tenement. Around a corner, and out of sight of the tavern, we paused. Drustan tended to Carylle’s wound, which he judged painful but superficial. Cade held the staff. It had a greenish gem or jewel at its head and had its foot capped in steel.
“This can’t be good,” Sabrine said. “You’d think a holy quest would require people with more, . . . I don’t know, maybe more faith?”
“I can’t say I believe we’ve been chosen, but I’m not going to refuse this,” Cade said. “This could be our chance to destroy the Church.” He looked around at the rest of us. “So, southwest?”
“If you say southwest, yes,” said Sabrine.
“Not me,” said Carylle. “There are those at Highstone who need to know what has happened.”
“There are people at Highstone who will believe all this?” I asked.
“There are.” Carylle touched my arm. “There may even be people who can help.”
“When you are done there, look for us in Ostvel,” Cade said.
Sabrine smirked. “Or maybe it will be Tremmek.”
I looked into Carylle’s bright, hazel eyes for what I thought would likely be the last time. “And if not there, maybe Eltanin.”
This concludes Swords and A Squandering Snail. Coming October 26, the character sheet and history for Eam of Tomerlan.