Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 6
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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Introduction

    Happy New Year! Welcome to the new series of 2005 updates in our Arcanis campaign.

    This is the third Hard Point of the tournament module, "The Seeds of Our Destruction," written by Henry Lopez and set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at Our cast of characters includes:

    · Quintus Aurelius Ignatius (human Clr3), played by Mike Tresca (that's me):
    · Kham Val'Abebi (val Rog1/PsiW2), played by Jeremy Ortiz:
    · Ilmarė Galen (elf Brd3), played by Amber Tresca (my wife)
    · Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin Sor2), played by George Webster.
    · Beldin (dwarf Ftr2), played by Joe Lalumia.
    · Vlad Martell (human Ftr2), played by Matt Hammer.

    Our DM is Robert Taylor, a gaming legend in his own time:

    This is one of those scenarios where the majority of our characters were uncomfortable and out of place. Traveling to Sweet Savona is like going to Mardis Gras, and if you're not there to party it's a little weird. Being a female makes it even more awkward (Amber was not thrilled about most of the adventure).

    That said, this scenario is very dark and moody. It's a real murder mystery that unfortunately doesn't quite let you solve the murder (that's for the next scenario, ya see). I liken it to a 70's cop show, complete with cheesy "wakichika, wakichika" soundtrack in the background. When Quintus runs off down the street to chase the bad guy, you can just hear the music thrumming in the background.

    Ironically, Ilmarė had a lot to do with the plot, because she's an Elorii. Similarly, Kham has a fun time in Savona (nobody's surprised, right?). And really, this is Sebastian's show…he gets the opportunity to be the kind, caring, creepy guy to lots of women while Quintus gets squeezed to a pulp.

    This adventure allowed us lots of role-playing opportunities and emphasized just how awkward Quintus is when he's out of his element. I mean, for most of it he runs around without a spear OR a shield. The horror!

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Prologue

    "I don't recall agreeing to go to Savona," said Ilmarė, her arms crossed.

    "The sooner we get out of here, the better," said Quintus. "I get the distinct feeling we're not wanted on the val'Tensen estates any longer."

    "And with good reason," said Sebastian. "The rest of you don't have to go if you don't want to."

    Ilmarė rolled her eyes. "Fine. But you do realize that it's the Saturnalia ex Mille Basiare."

    Kham piped up from the nearby table, where he was laying with his chin on his hands. "That's the only reason to go to Savona!"

    Beldin arched an eyebrow. "The what?"

    "The Festival of the Thousand Kisses!" said Kham, hopping up from his seat. "It commemorates the victory of the Pantheon in the God's War."

    Ilmarė's lip curled in a sneer but nobody noticed.

    "Larissa bestowed one thousand kisses upon her husband Cadic to bring him back from the dead," said Kham.

    Someone cleared his throat, interrupting the conversation. It was a legionnaire of the Defiant Shield.

    "Duty and honor," said Quintus, putting his fist to his breast and raising it high.

    "Duty and honor," said the legionnaire. "We have captured a Nierite at the estate gates. He said he knew you."

    "Oh?" said Quintus. "What does he look like?"

    "He's wearing full plate armor," the legionnaire said. "And he's angry at being detained."

    Kham slapped his forehead. "I told Vlad that armor would get him in trouble."

    Quintus turned to the legionnaire. "Actually, he's a Milandisian. We're leaving now anyway, so he can accompany us to Savona."

    The legionnaire nodded and marched off.

    They walked outside of the estate to where Oriena's wagons were waiting. Four other pure blood Cafelans, acting as her handmaidens, accompanied her.

    Vlad greeted them with a warm smile. "How'd it go?"

    "We didn't kill any Howling Bears," said Ilmarė as the Elorii hoisted herself onto her mount.

    "We did send our host to prison though," said Kham with a smirk. "And I nearly died a couple of times."

    Vlad seemed unsurprised. "Oh," he said.

    "Was your journey productive?" asked Quintus as he climbed onto his mount.

    "Not really," said Vlad. Some of Oriena's servants helped the armored Milandisian onto his steed. "Tensions run high, but it was more a show of force than an actual mission. Still, we're not at war yet, so I guess it was a success."

    Oriena got into her wagon. "Joining us, Sebastian?" she said, with the door open.

    Sebastian looked at the horses. The horse whinnied nervously back. "Yes," he said, "I think I will."

    Kham shook his head in disbelief as Sebastian got into the carriage with five buxom women. "Unbelievable. It must be the hair."

    The wagon train started to slowly amble its way down a wide cobble stoned thoroughfare. Quintus and Ilmarė rode in front, side by side, with Vlad and Beldin behind. Kham climbed onto the carriage and grabbed hold of the reins.

    "What brought you here?" asked Quintus.

    "Another mission," Vlad said, staring southwards. "There's a missing ship of blackpowder that the Duke asked me to track down. I think it's a reward for leading the men. I mean, it is the Saturnalia after all."

    Quintus frowned. "The Saturnalia is filled with debauchery. You can lose an entire legion in Savona."

    "Speaking of free love," said Kham from behind them, "we're traveling on the Via Amare."

    "So?" asked Beldin.

    "Any couple that travels to Savona upon the Via Amare is promised true love and happiness," Kham said with a grin.

    Quintus and Ilmarė exchanged a glance. Quintus coughed and sped up his mount slightly.

    Kham leaned forward from the carriage, addressing Beldin and Vlad's backs. "You two will make a cute couple."

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 1a: Finally, Sweet Savona

    "Pardon my question, but you're not from around here, are you?" Sebastian asked the fifth of Oriena's female servants.

    The other servants were of pure Cafelan blood, with olive complexions, luxurious long black hair, and large, deep eyes. But the fifth servant had short hair and her skin was a coppery hue.

    "N-no," the servant said after Oriena nodded her permission to speak. "I'm a Myrantian."

    "Do Myrantians have names?" Sebastian asked with a hint of a smile.

    "My name is Hetshapet," she said, fingering an exotic amulet dangling from her throat. "I'm actually from Savona. I have a sister there." She shot the other servants a glance. "If anything, THEY'RE not from around here. And where are you from?"

    Sebastian smirked. "I'm not from around here either."

    Up on top of the carriage, Kham was espousing the glories of the Saturnalia ex Mille Basiare to Vlad.

    "The way it works is you run around the city bare-chested," said Kham. "And you try to get as many women as possible to kiss you."

    "Wow," said Vlad, wide-eyed. "And they do it?"

    "Oh yeah," said Kham with a wicked grin. "Of course, a little wine doesn't hurt. And the smell of Savona itself probably helps. They don't call it 'sweet' for nothing."

    When Vlad's confused expression didn't change, Quintus offered over his shoulder, "Some say that Sweet Savona's scent is a mild hallucinogenic, mixed with Helvasta."

    Kham rolled his eyes. "All business, all the time. You're no fun Quintus."

    "In a city like Savona, letting your guard down can lead to trouble. I prefer to celebrate this time of year by giving gifts to loved ones, not drunken debauchery."

    Kham waved him off. "So anyway, all these women wear red lipstick, so you can count how many kisses you've accumulated."

    "What do you win if you have the most kisses?" asked Vlad.

    "You get the title of Consort of Larissa."

    "That's it?" asked Vlad. "Just a title?"

    In front of them, Ilmarė snorted in a decidedly unladylike manner. "The Consort of Larissa stays in the Temple of Larissa for an entire week."

    Vlad looked back at Kham for guidance.

    "The Consort of Larissa officiates in certain select ceremonies sacred to the Smiling Goddess."

    Vlad blinked. "Wow," was all he said.

    "Don't get any ideas," said Quintus. "We're on a mission and we'll see it through to the end."

    When Quintus wasn't looking, Kham parroted Quintus' speech.

    Without looking up, Quintus said, "I saw that."

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 1b: Finally, Sweet Savona

    Sweet Savona's city gate swung into view as they rounded a bend, but they smelled they city long before they could see it. The fragrance was neither too pungent nor too cloying, but just sweet enough to entice travelers into its gates.

    The streets were festooned with colorful stringers and banners, letting everyone known of the Saturnalia's imminent arrival. Everywhere they turned, small bridges linked the city together. Sweet Savona was actually a series of small islands, strung together like a string of pearls. Passengers were ferried from the main island down the Grand Canal to the other parts of the city.

    The small caravan of Larissan pilgrims dismounted and entered through the Porta Amare, Savona's main gate. At the center of the city was their destination, a ziggurat with an apex crowned by a large brazier that burned the sacred incense of the Smiling Goddess.

    Kham nudged Vlad. "The Temple of Larissa," he said.

    They took a scarlet lacquered gondola to the temple and smoothly approached a paved landing occupied by a smiling and laughing crowd.

    Oriena stepped onto the platform ahead of her servants. All of them seem relieved, even the reserved Hetshapet. Sebastian escorted Oriena onto the main road of the city.

    "This is the Via Risum," Oriena said to Sebastian. "It is also known as the Way of Laughter."

    Sebastian looked around. "It seems appropriate."

    The road leading to the Larissan temple was a miniature festival unto itself. The Via was lined with open aired Tavernas, where sweet meats and fine red Savonan wines flowed like Yariss' beard. Small vendors plied their wares along the street, selling anything from small handcrafted goods to fine delicacies, from masks to garish garments for the upcoming Saturnalia.

    Quintus shot Kham a look. "Stay focused," he said.

    Kham pretended he didn't hear him.

    Oriena led them unerringly through the temple's maze-like interior, passing various chambers and shrines. In one chamber, a fountain flowed with heady, golden wine. In another, the chamber was filled with large, soft cushions and oversized divans. Suggestive murals adorned the walls, depicting scenes that appeared to be nigh biological impossibilities.

    "Normally," Oriena explained, "the lady Meliza val'Sheem resides at the Governor's Palace, but during religious festivities she can be found here."

    Oriena continued up a marble staircase to the top floor of the Temple. They passed through a small foyer into a large room that took up the entire floor. A veritable army of attendants, scribes, and sycophants scurried about the chamber like bees attending their queen.

    In the center of the ordered chaos was Meliza herself. Although she was an older woman, she had a vivaciousness and sensuality that a woman half her age could barely muster. Her long, dark hair, braided with twin golden twine, cascaded down her left shoulder. Meliza wore a diaphanous scarlet robe that left little to the imagination as she reclined upon a gilded throne, crafted to resemble a peacock. One immaculately manicured hand rested upon the head of a large black leopard.

    "All hail Meliza val'Sheem, Governor of the province of Cafela and High Priestess of the Temple of Larissa!" shouted a servant.

    Oriena bowed and her servants followed suit. Everyone inclined their head except Ilmarė.

    "Holy One, I present to you Sebastian Arnyal of Canceri." She rubbed Sebastian's arm, "Sebastian and his companions helped root out and destroy the heretical cult in Coryan. He safely escorted us to here."

    Quintus glanced over at Ilmarė. She shrugged her shoulders in response. "Burning a book apparently makes you a hero."

    Seated before Meliza in a comfortably cushioned mahogany chair was a familiar man dressed in a finely tailored white toga.

    "Decimus?" asked Quintus in surprise.

    "Aurelius Ignatius!" Decimus exclaimed, rising to his feet. "It's good to see you." Decimus turned to face Meliza. "Holy One, it appears that the Lady of Fate has seen fit to have my path and that of these fine citizens cross again. I have had dealings with them before and they were most capable and discreet. Perhaps they may be able to assist my employer yet again."

    Meliza appraised them through half-lidded eyes. She said but one word: "Dahhhhhling."

    The governor waved her hand in a vague gesture that could have meant she was impressed with their accomplishments or that they should be dragged out and hanged.

    Decimus cleared his throat. "Yes, well. Suffice it to say, lady and gentlemen, that a shipment meant for my employer was broken into. The good senator is a collector of antiquity and wishes to recover three items that were stolen from a crate I was to receive on his behalf. The items were a helm, a staff, and an urn from an ancient civilization, possibly Elorii."

    Ilmarė, who was watching some of the servants through barely concealed disdain, snapped her head about to focus on Decimus.

    "I wish to hire you to reclaim these artifacts and bring the thieves to justice," said Decimus. "Can I once again count upon your efficiency and discreetness?"

    Quintus stepped forward. "Having successfully discharged our duty here, we will take this task-"

    Beldin stepped in front of Quintus with hands on hips. "How much will you pay?"

    Decimus favored Beldin with a smile. "Ah, I do not believe we've met. Well, master dwarf, I can extend 200 imperials for the safe return of the goods."

    Satisfied, Beldin nodded.

    "We'll do it," said Ilmarė.

    "It's done then," said Decimus. "One of the Governor's assistants will escort you over to Dock 18, in Little Savona. It's just off the coast."

    "Excellent," said Quintus. "Let us… "

    The legionnaire looked at his companions. Sebastian was too busy saying goodbye to Oriena to respond. Beldin was in conference with the assistant. Ilmarė stood with arms crossed, facing Quintus. Vlad and Kham were missing.

    "Where's Kham and Vlad?"

    Vlad walked in with one arm holding up Kham, who half-stumbled out into the chamber.

    "Hi guys!" said Kham, a smile plastered across his face. He started to walk towards the black leopard with hand outstretched. "Oooh, nice kitty."

    Vlad yanked him back.

    "Don't tell me…" said Quintus.

    "The fountain of wine," Ilmarė finished.

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 2a: Sitting on the Dock of Savona

    A short trip across the Savonan Channel by barge brought them to the docks of Little Savona. Being early evening, the amount of activity on the dock was almost non-existent. Most ships had already released their cargo ferried their crews over to the mainland. The few people still around were dockworkers taking care of some last minute business.

    The assistant ushered them over to the Captain of the Guard in the warehouse where the merchandise was being held for transport.

    The warehouse was a large wooden structure with only one door. The back end of the warehouse was filled with creates and numbered 1 to 30. One create in particular was pulled out of the ordered stacks.

    The Captain, a young woman in her mid-thirties with average Cafelan looks, stalked over to them. "Who are you?" she said.

    "I am Quintus Aurelius Ignatius, Signifer of the Legion of the Triumphant Rays of the Invisible Sun. I am on a mission at the behest of the Governor to investigate the theft."

    The Captain was unconvinced. "You have a writ?"

    The assistant stepped forward and handed it to the Captain, then excused himself.

    "Ah," she said. "I am Captain Priscani. We're questioning this dockworker," she pointed at a man surrounded by two other guards.

    "You believe he had something to do with the theft?" asked Quintus.

    "He was one of the dockworkers on duty until early this morning. He says that he, along with most of the skeleton crew manning the docks late last night, fell asleep. In fact, it appears that everyone on duty fell asleep last night. He swears he knows nothing about the robbery or the murder."

    "The what?" asked Sebastian.

    "The murder. The Dockmaster was found with his throat torn out in his office."

    Quintus glanced into the smaller room that was contained within the warehouse proper.

    "Did you examine the body?" asked Quintus sternly.


    "Were there any signs of forced entry?"

    "We haven't-"

    "Well what have you been doing all this time, Captain?" Quintus snapped. "We'll take the investigation over from here."

    Quintus turned his back on Flavia. "Ilmarė and Kham, check the lock. Vlad and I will check the corpse. Beldin, check the crate. Sebastian, see if you can find out more from the dockworker."

    Flavia looked as if she wanted to cut Quintus in half. "Sergeant Aquillus will assist in the investigation," she nodded towards one of the guards. Then she marched out of the room with the remaining guard in tow.

    Inside the Dockmaster's office was a scene of utter carnage. He was face down on his desk in a pool of blood.

    Vlad kept his hand on the hilt of his sword as he looked around the room. Quintus turned the body over.

    The Dockmaster's throat had been torn sideways and it looked as if he had been thrown onto the desk after he was dead, discarded like a rag doll.

    "Something powerful did this. Something with claws," Quintus said, pointing at the Dockmaster's ragged throat.

    Vlad nodded. "Maybe…a leopard?"

    Quintus looked up at Vlad. "Perhaps. But this attack shows signs of intelligence. Animals go for the throat and great cats rake downwards with their hind claws. His left arm looks broken. I'd expect bite marks elsewhere on his body. Whatever attacked the Dockmaster, it went straight for his throat."

    "Look here," said Vlad. He tapped a sheaf of paper. "There's a log of every item here in these shipping documents. The crates were supposed to be forwarded to Coryan and consigned to Decimus, but their place of origin is blank."

    They went back to the center of the warehouse to find the others waiting.

    Beldin reported out first. "The crate is where they left it, in the middle of the room. It's empty except for the straw used to pack its contents."

    Quintus nodded. "Kham?"

    Kham rubbed his head. "Well, the door to the warehouse was locked, but somebody picked it. He rubbed his finger against his thumb. "There were scrapes and shavings around the lock."

    "Interesting. Sebastian?"

    "The watchman is missing. He was a Myrantian youth who was recently hired. According to the workers, he was a bit on the thin side and had the same overall look of an average Myrantian. The only distinguishing mark was a tattoo of a black teardrop off the corner of his left eye."

    "So the Myrantian is our only lead," Quintus said with a sigh.

    "Not quite," said Ilmarė. "Someone is watching us from the crow's nest of a nearby docked vessel."

    "Oh really?" Quintus walked over to the doorway. Ilmarė pointed to a figure that ducked as it realized it was spotted.

    "Simple enough, he's not going anywhere," said Quintus.

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 2b: Sitting on the Dock of Savona

    They marched over to the docked ship. No one else was on board. Above them, a head bobbed in and out of sight.

    Quintus turned to his companions. "Okay, so who's going to climb up there?"

    Ilmarė crossed her arms. "Not I. That's suicide."


    "Dwarves aren't climbers," said Beldin with a snort.


    "In this armor? It'll take me more time to get out of it."


    Sebastian narrowed his eyes as he peered up at the crow's nest. "No thank you."

    "Kham?" Quintus muttered something under his breath as he realized Kham was missing. "Where did he go now?"

    No one answered. "Fine," he said. "Well, I'm not going to peel off my armor to get up there either."

    Quintus looked up again, only to see a young boy's face peering down at him.

    He took a deep breath. "Boy, get down here! We're not going to hurt you!"

    Upon Quintus' command, the boy clambered down out of the crow's nest and landed lightly on his feet before them. He was obviously scared out of his wits.

    Quintus smiled and got down on one knee. "How long were you up there, son?"

    "Since my father told me to hide."

    "When did he tell you to hide?"

    "In the wee hours of the night, a thick white fog came in," said the boy. "It put everyone to sleep. Father told me to hide until he came for me. I went up this mast and waited."

    "And then?"

    "Then a black-hulled ship, with dark sails furled, docked in an empty slip."

    Sebastian leaned down next to Quintus. "A black-hulled ship? Are you sure?"

    The boy nodded, his cheeks streaked with old tears. "Yes. A man came off the ship and spoke with father. Then father took some papers from him and pointed to that warehouse." The boy pointed to the warehouse. "Then the…things came."

    Sebastian cursed in Cancerite. "Harvesters," was all he said.

    "The things were all spiny and scaly. They started carrying big, heavy crates from off the ship to the warehouse. Then the man had one of the scaly creatures grab father while another slashed at him with its claws. Then I hid because I was afraid."

    Vlad shook his head. "So much for the leopard theory."

    "Can I see my father now?"

    Quintus stood up. "I think maybe he should see his mother," he said quietly.

    "I'll take him," said Sebastian. He patted the boy on the head. "Do you know how to get to your home?"

    The boy nodded. "What happened to father?"

    Sebastian's lips became a thin line. "It may be best if your mother explains," he said.

    The boy's home was not far from the warehouse. Sebastian rapped lightly on the door.

    A grieving woman, wrapped in a dark black veil, answered the door.

    "Are you the wife of the Dockmaster?"

    She nodded and then saw the boy step out from behind Sebastian.

    "Oh thank Larissa!" she shrieked, clutching the boy to her. "Thank you, at least I have him."

    "Mother? What happened?" the boy asked in confusion.

    Sebastian extended a purse full of coins. "Here. Please take these 50 imperials. Spend it on whatever you require."

    The woman took it wordlessly. "You are a very kind man," she whispered. She kneeled down to talk to her son.

    Sebastian shut the door and turned on his heel.

    He walked quickly away, but not fast enough—Sebastian heard the wail of sorrow echoing through the streets behind him. It was an all too familiar sound…the same gut-wrenching grief that had overcome Sebastian when his mother sacrificed herself to help him escape a Harvester attack.

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 3a: Re-acquaintance With a New Friend

    Their next stop was to find the Myrantian youth, who lived in a ghetto on the southern end of the city. Immigrants from Abessios came up to Sulpecci and Savona looking for an easier way of life, but what they got was squalor and ill treatment.

    "Where were you, anyway?" Quintus asked Kham. His gaze was focused on a smudge of red lipstick on Kham's collarbone.

    Kham buttoned up his shirt. "Taking in the local sights," he said with a straight face. "But enough about me, you need to finish changing your clothes."

    "I don't see why I have to change and no one else does," said Quintus.

    Quintus had, after much convincing, changed clothes into his "normal" everyday wear. His usual longspear, lorica segmata and shield were left behind. He only wore his gladius and a commoner's tunic.

    "That's because you represent the law in Savona. The rest of us, even a Nierite in full armor, are just strangers here." He looked at Quintus in the full-length mirror. "That's a little better," said Kham. "Now, try to stop walking like you're in the military."

    Quintus looked at him sideways. "What are you talking about? I'm totally relaxed when I walk."

    Ilmarė snorted.

    Quintus turned around to look at the others. "What?"

    Sebastian coughed and looked away. Beldin stroked his beard and said nothing.

    "Well, you could maybe…loosen up a little bit," said Vlad.

    Quintus took a deep breath. Then he imperceptibly lowered one shoulder.

    "There, now I'm relaxed."

    Kham rolled his eyes. "Just stand in the back and let the normal people do the talking."

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 3b: Re-acquaintance With a New Friend

    The squalor of the Myrantian portion of Savona was well hidden from casual visitors and tourists. The pavement was uneven and broken in places. The walls of the building were layered in soot and dirt. Even the bridges connecting the very small island were cracked. The fragrance of Savona's holy incense could not dispel the stink of human misery.

    Sergeant Aquillus led them onward. "Be careful," he said. "This is not a safe place to be after hours."

    Heads from the shadows peeked out from garbage strewn alleyways, but practiced eyes noted their bearing. Thugs turned away to hunt weaker prey.

    Aquillus pointed to a sign swaying languidly above a splintering wooden door. "That is the ancient tongue of the Myrantians," he said. It read, “um'Shakti."

    "Um'Shakti means 'cracked or broken god'," said Ilmarė.

    Aquillus nodded. "The um'Shakti was one of the heretical gods they worshipped before their deliverance from barbarism. Yet, the old ways are sometimes hard to dispel, even after centuries."

    Ilmarė sneered at Aquillus back. "The new ways are not as entrenched as you may believe."

    Aquillus did not reply. Here merely pulled his cloak closer around him against the chilly evening and stood back from the door.

    "Not joining us?" asked Vlad.

    The sergeant shook his head. "These vermin can smell a guardsman, even when in disguise."

    "In that case, maybe you should stay out here too," said Kham to Quintus.

    "Bah! I can blend in with the best of them!" said Quintus, a little too loudly.

    Kham bit his lip. "Okay, fine. Just…don't say anything."

    The Taverna, unlike the many they were accustomed to in the Coryan Empire, had no outside tables. Given the bleak surroundings, it was probably for the best.

    Inside, patrons sat upon cushions at tables that lay close to the ground. A smoky pall hung over the entire room, complementing the sullen nature of the Taverna's inhabitants. The scent of rank sweat mixed with that of cinnamon in a nauseating combination.

    A traditional bar extended across the west side of the room. A heavyset man, his face glistening from a layer of oily perspiration, nodded as they entered. At the far end of the bar, three young Myrantian women stood next to a small vertical shrine of Larissa.

    "Here for the one of the girls then?" the bartender asked. "If you want one of them to bestow Larissa's Holy Communion, it'll cost you."

    Kham stepped forward before anyone else could open their mouth.

    "We're looking for a Myrantian boy," said Kham, sidling up to the bar. "He has a teardrop tattooed under one eye."

    The bartender pulled up a mug. "Going to have something to drink?"

    Kham nodded. "Sure. We'll all have a mug of a'Talkin."

    The bartender smiled a gap-toothed smile and served up the hot, bitter mead. After everyone had their drink, the bartender leaned forward.

    "That kid was always pestering one of the priestesses. Ask Maatkare," he pointed at one of the girls with a jab of his thumb. "But I warn you, any time spent with the girls will cost you."

    Sebastian wiped his mouth and stepped forward. "How much?"

    "25 imperials."

    Sebastian nodded. "Fine," he plunked down 25 coins into his empty mug.

    Maatkare was a very pretty girl, not more than 17 summers old. She was clad in a diaphanous short robe that left little to the imagination. Maatkare exchanged a sad little smile with Sebastian as he walked over to her.

    "I would like to speak with you for a moment," Sebastian said, returning her smile. "I'm looking for a boy with a teardrop tattoo."

    Her eyes lit up. "Has anything happened to him?"

    "We don't know. He has disappeared and we want to ask him questions about missing cargo and…a death."

    "A death? I haven't seen Senmet all day."

    "Is that his name, Senmet?" Sebastian asked. "He may be in trouble. If you can tell me where I can find him—"

    "I don't think so," she said quickly. "Now if you have business upstairs that's fine, but I'm done talking."

    Just then, a woman swathed in an expensive robe and hooded cloak entered the taverna. The scent of expensive perfume wafted around her.

    The woman pulled back her hood. Sebastian recognized her.

    "Hetshapet?" he said in surprise.

    "Maatkare?" asked Hetshapet, striding over to them.

    Sebastian looked between them. "I take it you two know each other?"

    Hetshapet hugged Maatkare tightly to her. "Sister! I have enough to buy you from the Myrantians!"

    Maatkare wept as she clung to her older sister.

    "T-they haven't been by the taverna this evening," she said.

    "Hey!" the bartender said, leaning forward. "I don't know what this sudden interest with Maatkare is all about, but nobody is taking her without Menu's authorization. Not you," he pointed at Kham, "and not you either." He pointed at Hetshapet.

    Quintus took a deep breath. "Then maybe it's time we had a little chat with this Menu."

    Kham glanced sideways at him. "I thought you were going to not talk today."

    Maatkare wiped her eyes. "I-I don't know if I can trust you," she said.

    Sebastian put one hand on Hetshapet's shoulder. "These are my friends," he said softly. "If anyone can make this right, they can. But we can't do it without you. Maatkare must let us know what happened to Senmet."

    After a whispered exchange between Maatkare and Hetshapet, the younger sister turned to Sebastian. "I will tell you all that I know."

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 4a: Massacre at the Old Tenement Building

    "It appears that Senmet was a recent émigré from Abessios and fell in with the wrong people," Sebastian explained as Aquillus led them to the tenement building. A garbage-strewn canal sloughed by, emitting the foul odor of human refuse as they crossed the final bridge to their destination.

    "That would be Menu's gang," Kham said.

    "Right," said Sebastian. "Senmet was always very kind to her. He even protected Maatkare when one of her clients got violent."

    "How chivalrous," said Ilmarė.

    "But what was he doing at the docks?" asked Vlad.

    "He was letting the other thugs in whenever a big shipment of goods arrived," said Sebastian.

    "We're here," said Aquillus.

    Looming before them was a seven-story building that looked like it might collapse at any moment. A gust of wind swirled by, tossing up a small amount of soot. A piece of masonry flaked off the top of the building.

    "You want us to go in THERE?" Kham asked in disbelief.

    Sebastian nodded. "The basement, specifically."

    Few lanterns were lit in the dead of night. Even the drunk derelicts were missing from nearby streets.

    Vlad kept his hand on the hilt of his sword and made his way inside.

    The air was warm inside the building. A lantern's meager light illuminated the hallway. From behind a termite-infested door, a child wailed in hunger. Next door, a couple was having a loud argument.

    They walked past those scenes of misery into the basement area. A single light illuminated the steps below.

    "Careful," said Ilmarė. "It's far too silent for a basement filled with men."

    Vlad reached the bottom step first. He stood, transfixed.

    It was a scene of savage carnage. The bodies of several men lay strewn about the room, broken and shattered like rag dolls long forgotten by their owners.

    Quintus stepped past Vlad and crouched down to look at the bodies. "Snapped bones, skulls and chests crushed. Men didn't do this."

    "Don't be so sure," said Ilmarė. "There is much evil that men can do."

    "He means they're not strong enough," said Kham. "I've seen gang wars. They're fast and messy. Not like this. This is…deliberate."

    Beldin rolled one ragged body over and pulled forth a staff. "I think we found our missing staff."

    "And the helm." Vlad reached into the bodies and lifted a helm with the tip of his sword.

    "But no urn?" asked Quintus.

    "Well, parts of it," said Sebastian. In one corner were the remains of a thin ceramic shell. The inside of the shell smelled like rotten eggs and the interior was covered with a thin layer of effluvia.

    "And the boy?" asked Quintus.

    Vlad shook his head. "No sign of him. If Senmet's dead, his body isn't here."

    Ilmarė was staring at the helmet. "The fool Decimus was right," she whispered out loud to herself. "These artifacts are of Elorii make. I remember…"

    The world swam and then all was dark.

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    The Seeds of Our Destruction - Part 4b: Massacre at the Old Tenement Building

    Ilmarė was no longer Ilmarė in the swirl of memories that was the birthright of all Elorii. She was Kildarė, a scout in service of the Nevanos the Slayer.

    Nevanos was dressed in full battle regalia, his armor spattered with black ichor. Two large, sculpted leaves swept up on the sides of the helm and a single white feather, tipped with red, acted as its plume. Nevanos prided himself on being visible on the battlefield to ally and enemy alike, even though it singled him out as a target.

    A huge bastard sword was in both of his hands. Nevanos was breathing hard as he yanked his blade out of the body of a massive insect-like humanoid.

    "Try your mind tricks now, bug," said Nevanos. He rapped his helmet with a gloved knuckle. "You'll find Marokene magic is much more powerful than you anticipated."

    Nevanos pointed at Kildarė with his sword. "Kildarė! Report!"

    "These are the last, sir," she said. "We have destroyed all of their eggs." She had the remains of a slime-covered shell in one hand. "With the death of the queen, the ilHuan threat will finally be eliminated."

    "Don't you mean murdered?" asked Endrade, walking up behind her. His hands and staff were covered in the same black ichor. "Nevanos, this is wrong. Whatever quarrel we have with these people, they have as much a right to live as we do. This is no longer a war, you have turned it into some sort of mad quest for genocide."

    Nevanos stalked over to him. "You would rob me of my victory?" He sneered at Endrade. "But you are correct, I have been selfish. The Ardakene should also share in the glory."

    He looked over at the insectoid body. "The ilHuan queen is still alive. Finish it off."

    Endrade clutched his staff with both hands. Nevanos grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved the Ardakene towards the body of the ilHuan.

    Endrade stumbled over to the queen's body. Its chest rose in long, shuddering gasps.

    "Go on, finish it," said Nevanos. "Then you can be known in the history books as Endrade the Merciful."

    Endrade placed his staff on the ilHuan queen's multifaceted head, as if to strike her. It was a gnarled staff made of a single branch of wood, topped by the carving of an Elorii maiden's head. A soft gold glow emanated from its tip and flowed across the ilHuan's body.

    "You mean to heal it!" Nevanos shouted. " Now I have proof of your treachery!"

    "It is true," Endrade shouted back. "I have healed all who needed it, Elorii and ilHuan alike. This war is wrong, Nevanos, and you have gone mad with power!"

    Nevanos pointed at Kildarė. "As Marokene warlord, I find Endrade guilty of treason in service to the Elorii Empire. Execute him."

    Kildarė reluctantly took her bow off of her shoulder and knocked an arrow. She took careful aim at Endrade's head.

    "I don't want to do this, Endrade," she said through clenched teeth. "Put the staff down."

    Endrade smiled up at her. The glow grew stronger from the staff as the Queen's wounds began to close. "You knew me well, once. You know I can't."

    Tears streamed down Kildarė’s face. "It doesn't have to be this way!"

    Nevanos walked up behind her. "Do it," he said.

    "We have hidden the eggs in a place where you will never find them!" Endrade said, the whites of his eyes showing as he gazed unflinchingly at Kildarė's arrow. "They will survive in spite of your mad-"

    A shuddering shaft sprouted from Endrade's forehead. He fell backwards, finally silenced.

    "Well done," Nevanos said from behind Kildarė, one hand on her shoulder. "You will get a commendation for this."

    Kildarė whirled around, her bow forgotten, fists clenched. Just then, the ilHuan Queen rose up on its haunches behind Nevanos…

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