The Winter Guard marched slowly back towards the relative safety of the Seven-Pillared Hall, the Duergar fortress of the Horned Hold slowly melting into shadow behind them.
Garrick took the lead, alongside Amelia the rogue, who acted as their guide. A long train of freed captives came next with Isak and Odus interspersed amongst them. The vampire Kane brought up the rear, his supernatural senses ever alert for whatever murdered the captives they originally freed and assaulted Terrlen.
“I think I liked it better when the distrust came from the vampire, at least then it was more drama-oriented and less… annoying.”
“I’m sorry,” apologized Garrick. “It’s just that we would have such trouble navigating the Labyrinth without Terrlen, and since you sent him on ahead…”
Amelia smiled. “That’s true. If you didn’t have me here now, you’d be up the Styx without a paddle. Fortunately, after having tracked you here, I can see certain landmarks, and other signs left behind by the minotaur civilization.” She stared up at the cavern wall ahead, turning her back on the swordmage, motioning him to be quiet. She adjusted her eyepatch and stared ahead, adjusted it again and smiled at him. “We’re headed in the right direction. Come on!” Garrick moved to keep up and motioned to the others to follow.
They travelled a distance more, frequently stopping while Amelia got her bearings. Garrick was surprised, something that had happened too frequently of late in his life. “What ‘landmarks’ are you seeing, Amelia? Each outcropping of rock looks like all the others to me.”
“They’re there to be seen, if you have a sharp enough eye, handsome,” she replied with a chuckle.
“Well,” Garrick began, a little frustrated, “I doubt anyone has sharper eyes than you.” He still couldn’t tell what she was seeing.
“Not these, days, no,” chuckled Amelia.
Garrick wasn’t sure what to make of the rogue who kept insisting on her presence in their lives. There was no doubt she had helped turn the tide against Murkelmor, slaying his shock troopers. And she covered up for them after the massacre at the duergar outpost in the Seven-Pillared Hall. She was pleasant enough to be around, too… but still an unknown quantity. For now, the fact that she hated Solomon would have to be enough.
Odus had an audience, therefore Odus was happy. He made the journey seem less arduous for the people by teaching them marching songs and regaling them with tales of high-spirited adventure. He tried to keep their minds busy, because he knew the awful memories of their enslavement at the hands of the devil-dwarfs would overtake them, given the chance.
Isak listened to Odus telling the people everything would be all right once they got back to the Seven-Pillared Hall and wondered just how true that could be. The Mages of Saruun were never seen, and their enforcer was an ogre who would be just as likely to eat these people as make sure they were safe. Maybe it would be possible for someone to escort them to the surface… what with the threat of the duergar and Bloodreavers gone, it may be possible. But then what? How much longer could they feel safe in the Seven-Pillared Hall when there was a shadar-kai witch who by now would be hunting them and whatever else Solomon was up to?
Kane stayed far enough behind to have the privacy of his own thoughts. It was looking like the road to a cure would be a longer one than he had hoped. In the meantime, his affliction gave him some advantages. In his darkest heart, he admitted he rather enjoyed crushing Murkelmor’s skull and sending him to the bottom of the well, and the taste of blood…
“Best not to go there,” he thought. If I ever want to walk freely in the sun again, I need to get a line on who might best be suited for such a thing. It may be time to make some new contacts…”
As they approached their destination, Amelia spoke up. “This is where we part company, gentlemen. Solomon’s made it… difficult for me in there without the proper disguises, and anything I’d need to pull that off is back in my pigeonhole. I’ll make contact again soon.” And with that, the rogue disappeared into the tunnels.
It was the second morning since the Winter Guard had returned to the Halfmoon Inn. After settling back in the first day, they quietly took some of their won possessions to Gendar’s Curios. The drow was extremely pleased to see them, for they had returned the skull-rod that was his, and had a great many items to barter with. The dark elf was an accomplished magician apparently, since he claimed he could enhance both Izak’s sword (the group snickered at this, even Kane) and Kane‘s ki focus. After bartering for about half an hour, the dark elf relented on his hardline negotiations and the group left with new items and the promise that the ones left in his care would be ready the following day. It was obvious that he saw future business opportunities in the form of adventurers who raid forgotten lairs and return with ancient treasures…
When they had reached the Halfmoon Inn after Gendar’s, the Halfling Rendil called them to the bar.
“Making quite a name for ourselves, I see,” he began. “All sorts of folks coming in, asking about you.”
Alarmed, the members of the Winter Guard looked at each other…Odus leaned in. “Whatever do you mean, friend Rendil?”
“Well, it’s no secret you guys keep coming back from successful expeditions into the Labyrinth,” began Rendil. He immediately seemed to regret his words, though, with a sideways glance at Terrlen, drinking in the corner. The poor man had tried unsuccessfully several times to approach the Winter Guard to apologize, but usually broke down before he could get any words out. Rendil had seen that play out and an embarrassed look crossed his face.
Odus nodded in sympathy. “Go on.”
“Right. Well, for instance, the dragonborn over there? Her name is Surina. She has been trying for months to get rid of ‘malevolent presences’ in the Hall, and when she heard about your exploits in the Labyrinth, she started asking more questions; I’m sure she’s going to try to enlist you ins some sort of holy crusade.” He cast a quick sideways glance at Isak. “Gendar certainly seems to have taken a liking to your group, that’s for sure. Dreskin, less so, since you don’t shop with him as much. He’s the exception, though. But I knew you were big time after last night.”
Uh-oh they all thought together.
Seeing their trepidation, Rendil continued. “Someone came in while you were gone, looking for you. I said you’d be back soon, but he didn’t seem like the patient type, if you know what I mean. He left this for you.” From behind the bar, Rendil pulled a scroll with a wax seal. The seal was in gold, with an intricate “S” against the background of a Minotaur head.
“It’s magically sealed,” observed Odus. “I may be able to break the enchantment.”
“Saruun,” said Garrick, nodding in agreement.
Rendil cleared his throat. “Well, not that it’s any of my business, but… oh, never mind. I am sure you all know what you’re doing.”
“You have obviously made an observation, Rendil,” hissed Kane. “Out with it, please.”
Rendil gulped. “Well, it may have been a trick of the light, but… remember when the Oridinator Arcanis came in here briefly the other night? That’s the magician that enforces the laws for the Mages of Saruun, here in the Hall. Well, the one who came in last night… I couldn’t see his face, and his hood was pulled low, but…”
“…yes?” prodded Odus.
“Well, it… I mean,… sigh. The robe that the man from last night was the exact same type of robe as the Ordinator or I’m a kobold mongrel!”
“Notoriety, indeed,” mused Odus. “Well, friends? Shall I attempt to open it?”
“Not here,” began Garrick. “Rendil, would you…”
“Not a problem,” interrupted Rendil. There’s a room back here.”
The Winter Guard congregated in a separate dining room. Sitting at all cardinal points, they waited as both Odus and Garrick brought their arcane skills to bear on the seal. Moments later, the seal crumpled, and Odus read the contents of the letter:
Noble and brave heroes!
Your actions against the slave trade in the Hall are commendable. I am in a position of power in the evil organization that was behind the actions of the Bloodreavers and Clan Grimmerzhul, and I wish to help you defeat my comrades in exchange for asylum. I have been seeking a way out of the organization for months and I believe you can help me. Please! Follow the attached map so that we can meet in secret, but I must warn you to be careful… you are being watched.