After the events of Samhain, I’ve developed something of a distaste for Dagger Deep. The entertainments arranged and approved by the illustrious King Willumarius, consisting of rogue skeletons murdering citizens, as well as a witch doctor blackmailing the dead into attempting his gauntlet of the undead, failed to amuse myself and a number of others. In particular I was humiliated by the ringleader, who magically compelled me to act in the manner of a house cat for far longer than I was comfortable. This, combined with the lack of prospects to make more than a survival wage as a guard, drove me south to Helm’s Deep for the winter, which proved far more profitable.
My work in the city has established my reputation as a reliable, discreet man, and a number of clients call on me regularly. One of the most powerful merchants in the city, who I’ll refer to as the Baron, though he can claim no such title, chose the winter months to move against a number of his oldest rivals. A provided bag of gold set me up in a middling inn belonging to such a rival, with instructions to wait for word from the Baron. For three weeks I drank and diced and moved throughout the markets to establish my presence as just another traveller and speculator. Finally a note arrived, slipped under my door in the night, with two simple words: CASTLE TOMORROW.
The Castle Suite was the finest the inn offered, and from the servants’ mistress I had coaxed the tidbit of information that the master of the inn stayed in it when entertaining some of his less reputable acquaintances. The next morning, I made noises of checking out to find more reasonable accommodation, and the innkeeper panicked at the idea of losing my lucrative custom; he offered me the Sword Room, normally reserved for lesser nobility, at the same rate, and promised he would see my clothes laundered each day at no cost to myself. I accepted, reluctantly, and was not at all shocked to learn that the Sword Room sat next to the Castle Suite.
A pinch of herbs in honey obtained from an apothecary negated the effects of the copious amounts of wine I put away at dinner that evening, and the innkeeper jovially helped me stagger upstairs to my new room, his pockets jangling with the coin he’d just taken from me in a game of dice. I pressed another crown into his palm before collapsing onto the bed, and he graciously made his exit. Hours later, after darkness fell, I heard the thud of heavy army boots in the hall, and the whisper of velvet shoes. The shoes entered the room next door, and the boots stopped outside. Another hour passed. The quick steps of a maid were followed by muffled conversation, and then a slap, before the woman retreated downstairs at an even more brisk pace.
I opened the door to my room, and found a chainmail-clad tough lounging against the wall opposite the Castle Suite. He seemed fooled by my look of confusion after sizing him up, and let out a chuckle as I started to stagger past him, muttering something about the privy. A misstep sent me crashing into him shoulder first, my weight crushing the air from his lungs, and my razor was out in an instant. I opened his throat as he was dazed and lowered him to the floor as quietly as possible. I took the dagger and key from his belt and made my way into the suite.
The sitting room was empty, save for a satin robe tossed casually across a chair, and I could hear worried whispers coming from the bedroom. I opened the door softly, and there the target was, in the arms of a lithe young man who gave me a knowing look. I ordered the old man to his feet and told him to dress. As he did so I handed a small purse to the boy whore, and told him the Baron appreciated his service. I obliged when he asked if he could give the old bastard a boot, who went down with a soft whimper. Then the boy was gone, and I marched the old man out into the hall. He almost let out a cry when he saw his guard dead, but it was cut short as I plunged the guard’s dagger into his heart. I pressed my razor into his hand, stifled him until he died, then dumped him against the wall and scattered a few coins on the ground between the two bodies.
I retired to my room, avoiding the rapidly pooling blood, and waited for the screams. A surprising length of time passed before it came, and I crashed through the door a moment later, half-dressed and sword in hand, to find a maid sobbing at the sight of the two ruined bodies. I took her into my arms as I drunkenly breathed words of comfort, then called at the top of my lungs for the law.
A trio of guardsman arrived within the hour, but the innkeeper refused to entertain the notion that I might be involved with the deaths, citing my custom and just how much I’d had to drink. This relaxed their suspicions, and I stayed in the inn three more days before I left. The Baron paid me handsomely for my efforts, and I booked passage to Ankh, with the intention of heading east. Heading home.
It took me the better part of a month to reach and then cross the Dragon Peaks. I made inquiries in a traders’ outpost as to the estate of Captain Zolus, in the north of the Empire’s territory, but as expected none of the grizzled trappers and hunters knew what I was talking about. I set my eyes on Camora as my next destination, and set out on the perilous, though ultimately uneventful, trip through Crow’s Nest Pass. Despite the danger of exposure, the lack of activity seemed to make winter the best time to make the trip.
I arrived safely in Camora, capital of the Empire, locked in by snow but protected from the worst storms by ancient arcane wards, the workings of which were lost to time, yet thankfully still functioning. The place rarely saw an end to winter, but sat as the centre of power, as far as something like that could be declared in the Empire. I spent a week in taverns and inns, asking after Captain Zolus; his name was known, of course, though none had heard from him for months. Finally an old beggar sought me out in a common room, and told me he knew the fate of Zolus.
He claimed that some weeks past a badly wounded trader had arrived in the city, and as he lay dying in the Empress’ poorhouse, he told tales of a black tower rising in the north. His last words were of black orcs. The beggar told me that he had ridden with the Captain many years past, knew the location of the estate well, and was certain that the manor had fallen and was, indeed, where this mysterious tower was now. Naturally no one would listen to him, as he was known for having a taste for the drink, and would I be so kind as to furnish him with a bottle? I gave the man some coins and headed for the palace, not sure of my next course of action but inwardly seething with rage at what had become of my home.
I was refused an audience, even with lesser secretaries. My frustration grew, and it finally took the application of a small amount of pressure in a dark alley to gain entrance to the Council’s offices. One Lord Tyrell was the first willing to receive me. He reckoned himself a general, commanding five hundred foot and half as many horse, responsible for enforcing order in the city and surrounding countryside. He, too, claimed that he had ridden with the Captain in his youth, and was alarmed by my story of the Captain’s death. I asked him for a squadron of horse to investigate what was developing in the north, and he balked at my request. I asked in a less polite manner, badly rumpling his very fine silk coat, and he said a handful could accompany me if I so desired. In my haste I agreed, and the next morning set out with six troopers to make the journey north.
The contingent was led by a Lieutenant Singh, a dour, grim man of middle years who resented being ordered out of the warmth of Camora to ride to the fringes of settled territory on what he considered a fool’s errand. Few words passed between myself and the soldiers, especially when the discovered the nature of my work. All of the men were nobles of low rank, second and third sons of lesser houses, badly indebted to the banks and laying claim to land far outside the Empire’s practical control. Typical cavalrymen, from what Reman had told me.
A week of hard riding passed before the men turned on me in the night. I awoke to a pair of troopers forcing me to my feet and holding my arms tight, while another stripped me of my weapons and pack. Lieutenant Singh let me know that my assault on Lord Tyrell could not and would not go unpunished. I crushed his nose with a headbutt, and hurled one soldier into the fire. The other went down with a fist to the throat. I helped myself to his sword, and laid about wildly, keeping the other three back as I retrieved my sword belt. I took the Lieutenant’s horse and rode away hard, leaving them behind, stunned.
Another week through increasingly familiar territory brought me home. I saw no black tower, but the manor house still stood half-burned, and buried under snow. A structure out in the fields was new, but I declined to approach it. There was no one about, not even sentries, and I roamed the grounds freely. Little of value was left, but I found the remnants of the Captain’s journal, written in some script I did not know. I set up in the ruins of the house, and waited for dark.
When night fell, I approached the new structure, and it was here I finally found the new residents of the estate. Orcs and other creatures patrolled the area surrounding it, though not thoroughly enough to find me. The squat, square building was constructed of wood, and from what I could tell carved elaborately with runes and sigils. I could not get closer, and so left, and began my journey south before the sun rose.
I knew that Singh and his men would have followed me north or returned to Camora for reinforcements, so I took a different route. However, I also knew my journey would force me to cross the Dragon Peaks again eventually, and that meant passing through the capital. I decided to stop in Montun, the largest city on the fringes of the Empire, and learn what I could of how to pass through the city while avoiding Lord Tyrell’s wrath. My inquiries were cut short when I was confronted by a Wolf Priest and a number of his acolytes. They were unarmed, but I had been raised to recognize the true power in the Empire, and allowed myself to be arrested without argument.
The priest’s name was Albinius, and he offered me passage out of the Empire on two conditions. The first was that I must return to Camora, and employ my skills to remove a servant of Lord Tyrell that had infiltrated the ranks of the Order. The second was that I was to act as the Order’s eyes and ears in Dagger Deep. Albinius would not tell me what interest they had in a hamlet so far beyond the reaches of the Empire, but I agreed. He also would not tell me how they knew that I was established in Arrakis, let alone in Dagger Deep itself. I was in no position to argue, and their aims seemed to line up with mine to a degree, so I accepted the offered Mark and left Montun that night.
Several days later I arrived back in Camora, with the name of the agent I was meant to remove. The guards at the gate stopped me briefly, but waved me through when I showed them the Mark. Acting as an agent of the Order seemed to have some privileges. Tracking the man down was simple enough; the Council members had informally divided the city amongst themselves, with the aim of cutting down on inter-house skirmishes in the streets. Tyrell held the warehouse district, and only a handful of taverns were maintained there. Moving about here was more difficult, but not impossible, and I found my man fairly quickly. I told him that I brought a message from the Order, and he followed me willingly. There was more of a struggle when I brought out a knife, but he was a schemer, not a fighter, and the man died in an alley, the victim of a robbery that would go unsolved.
The Mark let me pass out of the city similarly, and I began my journey westward once again, back to the land of Arrakis and Dagger Deep, and where I would begin to serve a purpose I did not yet understand, and perhaps never would.