Given a moment alone together — as the charming Cora and Marquenora had gone to powder their noses – Caspian Rocksleigh briefly and bravely brings the conversation with Esme to talk of magic a and warning. Caspian entreats Esme to not pursue questions regarding her sister, Colette, as it is not wise to appear too curious about magic (or imprisonment) while residing in the Beauchene home in Athkatla. Esme is curious about Caspian’s reasons for his fear of magic, and he mentions the inherent danger and unpredictability of wizards, as well as the vast destruction that has been caused in the past by magics left unchecked. Esme counters that danger may be the price one pays for freedom, but Caspian retorts that he would rather be shackled and safe than free and dead. They agree to disagree on the matter, as Esme subtly considers and then takes Caspian’s advice to watch her tongue on her advocacy of magic in the city.
Esme has only been in Athkatla for a brief few months, but the Beauchene Salon is more than just a happy distraction for her, and she is wary of any actions that might bring too sharp an eye upon it. She has come for greater things, and her sister may not have much time left.
Thus, rather than pushing Caspian for additional information at a public event while surrounded by his uncle’s elite guard, and potentially losing the confidence of this seemingly earnest and charming young noble, Esme turns the conversation to the only marginally safer topic of religion. Turning a coquettish eye upon him, she notices Caspian’s pendant of Sune. Caspian self-consciously tucks his pendant beneath his collar and discloss that he wears it for his uncle’s sake; he confides that his uncle, one Florian Rocksleigh may rely too heavily on the power of his deity for his artistic and political pursuits. Upon the return of freshened Cora and Marquez, the conversation turns to other safer matters until Esme hears a noise at the top of her staircase…
- – -
We find Ness waiting in the bitter cold. The line to enter the great city of Athkatla is long, and Ness has been waiting with several caravans of farmers and traders while the guards slowly search and process each entry. The coughing of a young elven boy is audible in the wagon of Ness’s traveling companion, an Elven farmer named Eli. Suddenly Ness, who was content to simply recall his previous visit to Athkatla and peacefully make conversation with Eli, is hit in the back of his large half-orc head by the backswing of a stout quarterstaff.
He turns to see two Black Claw Mercenaries beating an older farmer, and the farmer’s quarterstaff swinging wildly as everyone else simply ignores the fray. Even Eli turns his head away, but Ness cannot abide this unbalanced fight. He simply stands in between the mercenary and the bloodied farmer asking, “Do you think we better talk this out, lad?” One of the mercs immediately freezes in fear, but his companion remains unfazed by Ness’s hulking form. Not finding him even the slightest intimidating, the merc simply spits on Ness (aiming for his face but landing on his chest) and socks him in the jaw. Ness smiles, and swiftly grapples the merc, pinning both of his arms to his sides. For added measure, he headbutts the merc, nearly knocking him unconscious. Ness asks the man again, if it would not be better to talk this out, and now the two agree. They leave without further incident, but not before making it clear to all that the Black Claw Mercenaries will return for vengeance. Evidently, the Black Claw believe themselves to be intimidating bullies rather than the overgrown fraternity of assholes who exploit the weak that they clearly are.
Ness turns to the farmer, and asks the cause of the incident. Apparently, the mercs had been hired to guard the farmer and his wares after agreeing on a price of 14 copper for the journey. The farmer informs Ness that the mercs had since claimed that the price was 20 copper, which was more than the farmer could afford, thus causing the prior conflict.
Watching the scenario with the mercs is a man with a lightly scarred face and a chestnut complexion. He sit on a rock along side of the road playing just one single note on his well-worn guitar at a time. He wears dark red leather hat that hangs low over his eyes, obscuring the precise nature of his features. Ness remarks to him, “One note at a time lad; that’s an odd way to play.” When Ness asks this man why he is outside but is not actually waiting in the queue, the man casually mentions he will have no problems getting into the city.
Ness turns away, feeling the pain along his jaw while patiently waiting and trying to protect the caravan, but the guitar player keeps talking. He appears to be traveling alone and commends Ness on his defense of the outnumbered farmer. He mentions that assisting in such conflicts has become something of a hobby for him, to which Ness replies “Aye, a curious hobby, lad.” As the musician stands to walk by Ness with a “I will be seeing you around, friend”, he casually brushes his fingertips along the monk’s shoulder while muttering a word Ness cannot understand. Instantly, though, Ness’s jaw ceases aching, and he feels completely refreshed. Ness wonders if this man is a monk; certain monks have been trained in the healing arts, and Ness has seen these arts many times. However, a guard approaches, having evidently seen the exchange. With a sharp tone, the guard asks if that was magic he just saw. The dark-skinned man stops at this, and his hand shakes slightly, as if from a slight fear. He marshals himself, however, and replies “No, would that I could,” with every word uttered in an odd yet soothing inflection. The guard immediately changes his demeanor and leaves, and the nameless bard takes a deep breath. He bows, and leaves Ness alone after this strange vocal exchange.
- – -
Fichelgus Hapshackle. Fitch to any who know him well, and skinny even for a halfling. He’s been living on the road, scrounging for scraps. Doesn’t draw attention to himself. He mutters to himself “It was supposed to be an easy job.”
Fitch is surrounded, pinned on all sides. He has been deeply cut by a crossbow bolt on his mid-side and is cornered, with nowhere to go and no hope of aid. He makes out the faint outline of a person standing in the doorway of the ornate bedroom where he lies wounded, the loss of blood blurring his vision. A woman is in the doorway, missing the top half of one of her ears. Long ears. Elven. In Fitch’s left hand, he holds a small diamond. Right hand, clutching one of his short swords. The six shadows surrounding him… Thieves? Of course, he thinks, who else.
The terrified Fitch recalls when Colibria gave him the job. Why was he so foolish to believe this job would be as easy as she made it seem? The Coramen Diamonds are a precious collection held by House Coramen, locked away… or so they should be. Yet Colibria shared to Fitch that a few smaller diamonds of the collection were perhaps stolen by some Thieves. These small diamonds were supposed to be stashed in this abandoned home, ripe for the picking. This large home has stood empty for some months, and yet he hears laughter downstairs as the conversation of the salon rages on. Fitch, thinking fast, rolls and hides under the large four post bed just as the window creaks open and something, or someone, crawls into the room. The shape walks around the room as Fitch secures the diamond in his backpack. Suddenly, both the figure in the doorway and the shape that entered the window vanish, leaving Fitch alone in the dark.
He leaves the cover of the bed to exit through the window but it is stuck shut, though seemingly not locked. Enchanted? Not wanting to shatter the window to attract attention, he heads into the hallway where he sees a few drops of blood. This blood is not his… was one of the Thieves wounded? After returning to get the bolt, Fitch tries to sneak to the large spiral staircase but hears someone rounding the corner downstairs. He collapses, mostly for show despite his pain. Fitch’s possum works and as Esme finds him, immediately stricken at the sight of this poor wounded halfling. She gingerly picks him up and carries him to her room, casting Light on her staff that leans carefully against the wall, out of view of the doorway. With the room well lit, she stows him under bed and tells him to hide. To mask the true nature of her disappearance, she changes into an enchanting and fashionable blue gown, steadies her face, and goes downstairs to amuse her guests with a discussion of fashion.
- – -
Esteban waits and prays in the Dawnspire Cathedral: Lathander’s most glorious chapel in Amn. Sunlight pours through the grand stained glass windows, and Esteban turns his thoughts to quiet contemplation and steely resolve. Tomorrow morning he may be a penniless beggar if the charges against him are confirmed. The chants of the priests now fill him with dread. The holy men are not magnanimous, not here. In Athkatla the priests fill the souls of the common man in the city with a sense of unease. Who will help him if the voice of the Morninglord finds him wanting? No one. Esteban receives his blessing and then follows the Captain of the Guard into the Hall of the Sun, under Lathander’s watchful gaze where all laws are decided.
Did Esteban, the charismatic young guard of such a fine family, betray his post, his family, and the laws of Lathander by aiding and abetting criminal spellcasters? Members of the noble guard wait in the Grand Chamber, along with Esteban’s father. Before the assembled guards, Esteban asserts his innocence while implicating his fellow guards: He proclaims his innocence and insists he intervened as spellcasters were being mercilessly beaten by members of the Guard.
The trial continues, although the proceedings appear to be an inquisition launched with the aid of conspiracy. Several witnesses proceed to testify against Esteban and his character, painting the young guard as a henchman of wizards. His peers resent him for his station within the ranks of the Guard, and likely resent that Esteban has not been tainted or controlled by corruption. Yet, the witnesses are not confined to simply jaded members of the Guard. Several additional witnesses provide elaborate detail about Esteban’s alleged collaboration with wizards.
The Dawnmaster Cleric proclaims his decision after he has heard the witnesses. He finds the evidence troubling, and Esteban’s incisive language more so. As a token of respect for his noble house, Esteban is free to go as he pleases while the court decides his fate, but must be at court at noon tomorrow for sentencing. Wounded but still proud, Esteban leaves the temple stoically and professionally until he reaches his mount. Leaping upon Juan Carlos’ saddle, Esteban gallops away from Dawnspire towards Waukeen’s Promenade…
- – -
Ness proceeds through customs, only raising slight alarm at the sight of his scrolls. With magical items not allowed within the city, the guards are checking all incoming traffic for contraband. Eli and the other farmers pass through customs as well, bidding Ness farewell as they continue to their destinations. And yet this new friend has not left Ness’ side, although he is just making small talk. The bard introduces himself as Khayyam Al-Rashid, and Ness returns the introduction. Ness appreciates this bard’s great taste for beauty and they discuss several great temples they have visited, although the bard has not visited Ness’ Chi-Shih Temple. These men both are passionate about travel and a happy conversation develops as they discuss the bard’s love of experience and the monk’s vow to chronicle. Cold from the long wait outside of the city, they decide to find a pint and a warm fire. They discuss the art to selecting a tavern, and Ness has a great taste for ale: one happy result from his slavery to a Dwarven home. Approaching the promenade, the men settle on The Eldritch Cock.
The stage in the Cock is empty, but the bard goes first with his new companion to the bar. They meet Aloysius Daltrom, the dwarf proprietor, and Ness barters scribe services for a few nights lodging. Ness orders mulled wine while the bard asks for something vintage, prissy, and ubiquitious… launching the two men into a conversation about the particulars of his elven wine. Ness dislikes the vintage, but enjoys his new friend’s company, and so they toast. Ness finds a table near the circular fireplace and begins to unwrap his footwraps so they may dry. The bard goes up to the stage, battered guitar in hand, eager to try his hand at impressing this new crowd in a new city. No sooner has the bard reached the stage and Ness begun removing his footwraps, however, than five Black Claw mercenaries saunter inside. They do not notice Ness immediately, but the orc perks up, and keenly begins to tie his footwraps.
Meanwhile, Esteban rides to the end of the promenade and arrives at the Eldridge Cock. He and his horse are sweaty from the ride, and Esteban needs a drink to cool himself both physically and emotionally. The Black Claw mercenaries block the entryway, but Esteban simply brushes past them without incident and approaches the counter, asking his friend Aloysius for an ale.
- – -
As her guests depart, Esme invites Caspian to tea. He politely accepts, and Esme tells Caspian she will send him notice later in the week with details. Esme waits for Caspian and his guards to depart her property, and then returns to her bedroom where Fitch has successfully hidden himself. He continues to cunningly elude her suspicions, and despite his unkempt appearance and implausible story, Fitch convinces Esme that he is simply a wounded victim of a terrible attack.
When Esme insists Fitch reveals how he has gotten into her home and the manner in which he was attacked, Fitch bolts through the bedroom door and down the winding grand staircase. Esme attempts to slick the staircase, but Fitch deftly lands and runs from the home.
Despite her ballgown and the precarious walk down the staircase, Esme is able to keep Fitch in sight due to his injuries. When the chase turns to the rooftops, Esme attempts to scare Fitch with her magic. He does eventually scare, falling to the ground as he gasps for breath and clutching his wounds. Fitch still manages to convince Esme that he was not running out of guilt, “No Ma’am,” he is running because he is late for a meeting with an important person at a nearby inn.
Esme decides to not harm or restrain Fitch, but insists she continue along with him in the hope of discovering who exactly it was that nearly killed him in her home. Esme believes his presence must have something to do with Colette. She is deeply disturbed from the realization that her home is not secure, and that several bloodthirsty people managed to break into her home while Caspian’s expert guards patrolled her property. How could the guards not have noticed the noise of the altercation or the presence of these dangerous individuals? As they wind through the promenade, they walk in silence until they reach the Cock.
- – -
The mercenaries soon notice Ness and begin to hassle him next to the impressive, round central firepit. Attempting to defuse the situation, Ness places his bag of chronicle scrolls on a bench and attempts to intimidate the increasingly threatening Black Claw mercenaries. Esteban, noticing an uneven fight and fully aware of the reputation of the Black Claws, places himself next to Ness. The mercenary captain, wielding a massive greatsword, is not intimidated by Ness’s stature or composure, and demands revenge for the earlier “assault” on his henchmen. Ness still remains non-combative, but Esteban begins to draw his sword. With a final cures, the captain draws his sword in one smooth motion and swings right for Ness’s head.
As the fight erupts, the bard’s music swells. In the crowded public pub, Esteban challenges, slices, and decapitates one Black Claw while another is incapacitated and humiliated by Ness’ rope knots and expert blows. The music fiercely rages while the crowd watches. Seeing the opportunity, Fitch sneaks into the fray and, seemingly unnoticed, disembowels another Black Claw with his short swords before retreating into the crowd.
Esme watches Esteban in the brawl, fully aware of how dangerous the situation will be after the fight has concluded. Even if the patrons of the Cock do not know Esteban by his notorious arrest, they will report the family insignia on his armor to the Guard. With only the captain and two other mercenaries standing, Khayyam begins to fascinate one of the henchmen, Esteban engages the other, and Ness begins to grapple the captain in a struggle to the death. The captain is strong, but Ness’s half-orc rage begins to win out, as he moves the captain’s head closer and closer to the roaring fire. Finally, Ness gains the upper hand and swiftly pins and hogties the captain, just as Esteban dispatches the lone remaining combatant. As the last Black Claw falls, the bard’s song ends and the patrons of the pub cheer.
As the finishes with a flourish and the cheering swells, Ness and Esteban exchange wary, albeit triumphant, glances.