00:31 – 09:30 – The group find a nearby inn, and pay for a large room where they can stay together. The mood, in light of an ongoing conversation regarding the ethics of their actions against Funglop (Shadevia, Llewellyn and the Veteran all feel they were justified, whilst Ardwaine and Ormid have voiced doubts) is not good.
After paying for their room, the artificer erects several warding mechanisms in the chamber, and the group settle down to eat, to rest, and to make plans for the remaining time between now and their meeting with TocToc. The vyrleen, infuriated at the general mood of the group and rapidly growing bored (a dangerous scenario in even the most settled times), tries to tinker with the wards in order to slip out – despite being made aware of the pass phrase before they were cast – and receives a painful jolt and sharp word from the artificer for his efforts. The Veteran stands bolt upright through the entire evening, only speaking to justify the attack on the daemon; “It's no different from a band raiding the lair of a Dracani and stealing its hoard. The brute gathered its treasures by itself, and sees them as its property, but nobody calls foul when the 'heroes' burst in, 'murder' it and take its treasures”, whilst Shadevia keeps her own council, watching the others with her black, shifting eyes.
Ardwaine also keeps quiet most of the time, only speaking up to occasionally back up the artificer on a point when he replies (often angrily) to something the waforged has said. “That's completely different and you know it! Funglop seems to have gained the chronolily throgh his own exploration and cultivation. A Dracanus kills and razes for its treasures. The individuals that storm its lair are heroes because they kill a murdering beast that stole, with violence, that which did not belong to it!”
“Pah, you fleshbags amaze me sometimes.” growls Veteran, “Not in a good way either.”
“And you can act just like an unthinking golem at times too.” comes Ormid's withering retort.
And it is in the quiet minutes following this that Ormid suddenly recalls something – something that chills him to the core. In his minds eye he sees a standard, subtly displayed by all the bouncers at the Submissive Succubus, as well as by Funglop's personal guard – a pair of chains, twining like serpents around a brutally barbed sword. At the time it was just one more grotesquery amongst a catalogue of appalling sights and symbols. However, something has been niggling in the back of his mind ever since they arrived back at the hub station, and suddenly he knows what it is.
“Crap!” he spits suddenly, every eye turning to regard him in shock, “The symbol of the chain and the swords that was everywhere in that place. It's the standard of one of the 800 recognised concerns!”
No one moves, and assuming they are not following his line of thinking the artificer explains. “I think Funglop may have been a member of one of the 800 major business concerns in the city. I think we just stole from one of the Villa's major players.”
No one speaks for a while. Then, with a low growl, the Veteran simply states. “Everyone get some sleep, and we will worry about this tomorrow.”
It's simple advice, but under the circumstances sensible.
The group have a fitful night's sleep, the warforged keeping silent vigil over them whilst they rest, though the mood remains dark the next day.
10:00 – 11:40 – After a silent breakfast, the group finally agree that Llewellyn should go out and see if he can gather any information about what, if any, consequences their exploits the night before may have invoked. In truth, in the city of this size, the group are confident that even a group as powerful as whichever one the Solamith represented, will take a while to locate their small band.
They are of course wrong.
Remembering that there is a large board for bounties, jobs and other similar business located in one of the hub's corridors, the vyrleen takes himself there. As per usual the port is thick with beings arriving and leaving the dimensional markets, their strange languages and eerie presences a constant pressure, and Llewellyn has no problems blending in with the eclectic crowds. Moving carefully amongst the legs, tentacles and supporting fields of energy of the other folks, he soon finds himself staring at a huge board, covered in various posters, notices and bounty requests. All the documents are legible thanks to the potent magics woven into the board, and within a few seconds, Llewellyn spots several bearing the symbol of the twinned chains and sword.
Moving closer, he notices that two individuals are reading the poster – a human clad in incredibly heavy and ornate plate armour, the surfaces decorated with warding sigils and various seals and charms, and an almost skeletal, dundiir like creature with wide, milky eyes, straight, spiked hair (even its facial hair is stiff and pointed), and a permanent, dour rictus on its face.
“Hullo!” waves Llewellyn as he approaches them, his voice light and breezy. Both men turn to regard him, the dundiir almost immediately returning to reading the poster with a clack of its white teeeth, the human staring at him like he is something he just coughed up.
“So, what's going on guys?” Asks Llewellyn, ignoring the humans' baleful stare, “You reckon you have a lead on this one?”
As he is speaking, Llewellyn scans the poster;
“WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE: MURDERERS!
The Chained Syndicate hereby announces that a sum of 20,000 gps (adjusted to local currency of the successful hunter's choice), shall be paid upon the death, or delivery alive, of the persons responsible for the murder of Funglop Soog'Thron; Captain and respected confidant of the Syndicate.
Anyone with information or any knowledge of those responsible for this crime should contact the offices of the Syndicate at once.”
Trying not to let his sudden discomfort show on his face, the vyrleen blows a low whistle, and pointing at the poster, addresses the human. “Oooh, that's a nasty sounding bit of business isn't it? I might take that and look into it myself.”
He moves to reach up and grab the poster, but the human, in a ragged, torn voice, stops him.
“No. You must not. It is illegal to touch the announcements.”
Llewellyn stops. “So, you going after that one are you?”
The human regards him again, his slightly milky, grey eyes boring into the vyrleen with a hellish intensity. “Why don't you just piss off little one, before something very bad happens to you?”
Realising that this situation could be the start of something very nasty, it takes every ounce of Llewellyn's bravado and grit not to allow his sudden panic to register on his face or in his voice.
“Oh, okay then. Just trying to be friendly is all.” He moves away, contemplating waving, but realising that his hand is shaking too much, “See you round then!”
As he moves way, allowing the crowds to engulf him, Llewellyn is sure he can still feel the humans' dead eyes following him.
11:41 – 07:00 (16/5/13268 K.C.) - The group decide to stay at their current inn for another night, though on the rogue's return they begin to try and form a plan about how they can lie low and avoid the Chained Syndicate.
The day drags on, with each individual trying to keep themselves occupied. Food is ordered and brought up, and most take the opportunity to try – usually without any success – to get some sleep. Then, in what would be the tenth hour after noon back home, the air in the room subtly changes; a faint, buzzing pressure seeming to fill it, like low-level white noise or a dim static field. Ormid senses it at once, and leaps up his eyes wild. Gritting his teeth, he allows his vision to shift into the spectra of arcane energies, and at once, amongst the dizzying weave of magics and powers that form this dimensions background radiation, he sees it; an unfocused but potent scrying probe.
“What? Asks the Veteran.
Ormid ignores him, and begins to seek out the spell again. To his horror, it is twining through the room like a hungry mist, and almost reflexively, he focuses his will on the ambient magical energies and begins to thicken them around the probing spell – a crude, and incredibly difficult way of dampening its effectiveness. Time seems to slow to a crawl for the artificer, and he is vaguely aware that the others have drawn their weapons, and brought forth their spells, ready to strike at what they think must be an imminent attack.
“Sssssit. Down!” He growls through clenched teeth, “You're distracting.....m-me.”
The spell seems to gather itself, and Ormid fears he may be losing against it (not surprising given the totally jury-rigged defence he is putting up). However, all of a sudden it backs off, and the artificer almost sobs as the pressure that was surrounding him is suddenly, and painfully released.
Panting with the exertion, his face crimson and swathed in sweat, Ormid stumbles to a bed and flops onto it.
“We need to leave at first light, and find somewhere else. I think I pushed it back, but they must have a vague idea of where we are now.”
Ormid is soon snoring, and the rest of the group, now shaken up, try to find some sleep. However, with the noise of the hub station coming in through the window, and adrenaline pumping through them, sleep is elusive.
07:01 – 08:00 - “What was all that about last night?” Asks Shadevia over breakfast.
“A searching spell, cast wide over the city like a net, seeking something. It was powerful but had no focus. I hope I was able to keep it from finding us, and was careful to try and push it away gently, but who knows,” the artificer shrugs, “I may have just confirmed what the caster or casters suspected.”
“Which is why we need to move today.” adds the Veteran.
For the first time since Funglop, no one argues.
08:01 – 11:20 – The group leave the inn and decide to head into the market proper, away from the core. They are soon moving amongst the babbling, sprawling markets and crowded streets of the Villa, the lilac skies around them filled with the twisting skeins of the multitudinous other streets radiating out from the core like tentacles. It is a fight to stay together in the crowded streets, and on more than one occasion they get split up. However, they are together when the crowds suddenly thin around them, the street quickly becoming empty and silent; the stalls here closed, the businesses that hang from its edges shuttered and sealed.
Only five individuals remain here; five humanoids dressed in grey-green robes and cloaks bearing the chains and sword motif of the Syndicate. Three wear plate armour forged from black volcanic glass, and wield vitreous scimitars of the same razor-sharp stuff. Their skin is stony and black, though sulphurous light, like that of magma, blazes through runes that are carved into their flesh, and out of their liquid, molten eyes. They have no hair, though a nimbus of yellow flame dances where hair would normally be, and as they stalk towards the party, a skin of flame envelops each blade, turning it into a razored brand.
Another of the hunters is a hulking brute, almost 8' tall. Its flesh is stony and solid, and bears runes similar to those of the flame-haired warriors, though these gleam with a faceted, bluish light. Clad in plates of granite, and wielding a huge stone tetsubo, it stamps its feet and sends hairline cracks spider webbing out from beneath them. Its eyes are gems of deepest blue, and as it prepares for battle, a deep sapphire light fills them.
Standing apart from the rest, using them as a shield, is a fifth figure. Robed from head to foot, and bearing a staff of coral from which hang stinging tentacles, this figure is wreathed in a pall of mist and stands in a permanent puddle of water. Its face is hidden behind a mask, but its voice can be heard chanting a spell; a watery, vaporous voice that raises hackles along the adventurer's backs.
Genasai. Elemental humanoids that are thought to be hybrids between human and elemental spirits – three of fire, one of earth and one of water. Two of the fire genasai block escape in one direction, the third accompanied by the earthen brute and behind them the water genasai, stopping escape in the other direction.
There are no accusations, no chances for parley, and within a few scant seconds of meeting them, the group are embroiled in bitter fight...
It lasts less than 30 seconds, though by the end of it Ardwaine and Llewellyn bear some serious burns. The first to fall is the earthen brute, who's slow but devastating swings with his club make him easy pickings for the warforged's axe (once he has transformed its blade to flame to bypass the brutes resistance to physical harm, and accepted a potent enhancing spell from Ormid, which gives the weapon a supernaturally keen edge). Next to fall is the water genasai; a potent spell caster who blasts the minds of the party with confusing bolts of psychic power, and who makes liberal use of hexes to punish those that fail to strike a foe, or who strike too well. Despite being well protected by the armoured soldiers and brute, Llewellyn, master acrobat and deadly assassin (with a smile) repeatedly darts in at them, strikes hard, and retreats. At one point, the furious swipes of the melee combatants are turned against them as the rogue deftly tumbles within their swings, and they find themselves catching themselves with their attacks. In another darting attack, his mace severs some pipe within the mage, and a spreading puddle of fishy, blue ichor begins to widen around them.
Last to fall are the three fire genasai. They are seasoned warriors, and when angered, they agitate the air around them with their heat, gaining a concealing mirage from distant attacks. Alas for them, their foes are not distant, and they are taken down, little by little, blow by blow; by magic, blade, hammer and arrow. Ferrous' lightning breath helps hugely at one point, not only blasting the warriors and sending glassy cracks through their flesh, but dazing them with its fury; making them slow and unresponsive.
30 Seconds, and it's over. “We need to get out of here and fast!” Grunts Ardwaine, her face reddened by the fiery assaults of the soldiers.
“This way.” Replies Llewellyn, already half way up a wall. “We can flip over to the other side, and make our escape.”
11:21 – 12:30 – It is a stomach churning process, crawling down behind the shops that hang over the edge of the street, with nothing but emptiness and other distant streets behind and below them. At least it is until they reach a depth equal to the middle depth of the road (about even with what would be the shops' deepest basements), when gravity suddenly reverses, and down becomes up. Now climbing up the backs of the stores that huddle beneath the street on which they just battled, the group pull themselves on trembling legs onto the roof tops, allowing themselves a moment or two to catch their breath and to slow their madly beating hearts (apart from the Warforged, who simply squats by them, scanning the streets below for possible trouble).
12:31 – 17:00 – The group form a plan. Llewellyn is sent into the city to try and find some kind of help, his main objective being to try and find out if the Chained Syndicate has any powerful enemies within the Villa. The rest of the group hide in an alleyway, choked with shattered pink stone and alive with tiny, crystalline vermin. After a small eternity of waiting, Llewellyn returns, and reports success.
“There is a concern named the Bond Eternal, that are rivals to the Chained Syndicate. There is a long history of bad blood between the two concerns, that is driven by more than just market trends and import / export issues.”
“Oh?” replies Ormid.
“Yeah...um...” The vyrleen looks sheepish, “They're kinda'. Angels.
“Sorry what was that?” Asks Shadevia, her voice hollow and dolorous.
A groan goes up from the party in general.
“Ugh, celestials are as bad as daemons when push come to shove.” Growls Ardwaine.
“Yes, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Replies Shadevia.
“Or just another enemy.” comes the warforged's grim response.
“Yeah, and we may need to grease a few palms to get to speak with them.”adds Llewellyn.
Another general groan of dismay.
“Well, let me check our funds.” Mutters Ormid, grabbing the group's kitty sack, “At least we have that diamond you found the other day...”
The artificer's speech stops as he opens the sack and peers inside, his eyes widening as they see something within. After a moments speechlessness, he looks directly at the vyrleen, and asks in a stern voice. “Remind me Llewellyn, where exactly did you say you 'found' these gems?”
“Eh? What?” comes the confused reply...