“I’m not sure we’ve done anything this year that hasn’t pissed off the Zhentarim,” said Korahd, going through Wean’s pockets to find one of the healing potions there. She carefully fed it to him and the young man regained consciousness.
“Whoa, what happened?” he asked, “and why do I taste fruit?”
The eladrin pointed at Agorn’s body. “That man tried to kill his mother, but the Zhents killed him instead. Then those two strangers stepped in to help,” she said, pointing them out.
Wean nodded. “Caught right up then.”
“And who are the two of you again?” Swift asked the strangers. “Your timing was perfect.”
“Like I said, I’m Mavia, he’s Salazar. We were watching Agorn’s mom’s house to see who would show up.”
“Just for fun, or…?”
“We’ve been monitoring Agorn to see if he was working with the Zhents or part of them.”
“Turns out he pissed on them more than any of us. OFF. Pissed them OFF more than any of us,” said Korahd. “You didn’t see anyone else come through here, did you? Carrying some sort of stone, perhaps?”
“Nope, just him and you lot.”
“You wanna come have a drink on us and we’ll talk about it?”
“Thanks but we need to go report in.”
“All right. Hey, let’s tell that carriage driver that her fare’s done for the night, maybe see if she’ll take us home.”
“Sounds good,” said Swift.
“Aye, we should be off, what with all the bodies piling up,” said Wean.
Korahd nodded. “I think that would be for the best.”
She led her companions over to the carriage. “Pardon me, madam, but your prior fare has expired and we wish to engage you to return us to our tavern.”
“What do you mean expired?”
“The Zhentarim stabbed him more than three times. You didn’t see him run into anyone else before he got here, did you?”
“No, just him and the lady he had me drop off before I brought him here.”
“There was a lady?” said Wean.
“Yes. I picked them up at the theatre.”
“Lady. I see. What can you recall about her?” said Korahd.
“Perhaps you could take us back to our tavern in North Ward, and we could ride by your previous drop off,” suggested Wean.
“Sure, it’s a tower in Castle Ward, which is sort of on the way.”
* * *
They picked up Sam K, piled back into the carriage, and took a ride over to a building encircled by wooden scaffolding known as the Yellow Tower. The outer door had a tiny peephole with a closed iron shutter on the inside, but it was not locked and the party let themselves in. Rotting tapestries adorned the walls, and mud and dirt had accumulated on the floor. Black handprints with fingers and thumb held together covered every interior surface.
“Is that a symbol? Does that mean something?” asked Korahd.
“That looks like the symbol of Bane,” said Wean.
“He’s one of the worst ones, right?”
“Huh. Neat,” said Sam K, heading through the next door.
Stone spiral stairs curled up into the tower and down into the cellar. Set into the west wall was a fireplace blackened with soot. A burned heap that was once a padded leather chair lay near the fireplace.
“Stairs,” the half-elf reported. “Up or down?” Then he held up a hand for silence. “Shh. Chanting from upstairs.”
“Up, it is,” said Swift.
At the top of the stairs, Sam K stopped and said, “Oh, my.”
A lidless iron cauldron hung on an iron hook within a soot-stained fireplace. A wizard’s portrait hung on the wall above the mantelpiece. The floor was littered with shards of broken glass, burned scraps of paper, twisted pieces of metal, and bird droppings. Other furnishings included a rocking chair, a trellis table, and the charred remains of a bookshelf, all shrouded in thick cobwebs. Arrow slits lined the walls, and pigeons nested in the rafters.
What had drawn the half-elf’s attention, however, were the room’s occupants. A woman led a chant with four candle-bearing underlings who formed a circle around a gagged and blindfolded man shackled to the floor.
Sam K cleared his throat as he stepped into the chamber to let the others in from the stairwell. “Excuse me. Do you know a man named Agorn?”
“Kill them,” said the woman. “We’ll finish this after we take care of them.”
“Oh, good. I’m about all bantered out anyway,” said Korahd.
“No one has any manners these days,” said Swift.
“You hate to see it,” said Sam K.
To call it a fight would have been very generous to the evildoers surrounding the chained man. Even the winged snakes that lurked in some of the arrow slits did not stand much chance against the adventurers. Sam K found the shackle key on the woman’s body and handed it to Korahd, who released the prisoner. The man introduced himself as Shan Chien.
“So tell me, Shan Chien, how did you run afoul of these… Baneites? Baneys? Not that I really care what they call themselves,” said the eladrin.
“They wanted to brainwash me so they could take over my broadsheet.”
“Then I’m glad we got here when we did.”
“Wait, you’re a newspaper guy?” said Sam K.
The man explained that he was the publisher for The Targe, a broadsheet that offers up vitriolic rants on all manner of local topics, including politics. The Banites’ ritual was designed to break his will, making him subservient to Bane. The woman – Amath – had been using this ritual to “turn” broadsheet publishers as part of a larger plot to control the flow of information in the city. They also found notes in the room saying that the Zhents hired the Banites to take control of the news in Waterdeep.
“Huh,” said Sam K. “Well, will you write a good review for our tavern, by way of thanks?”
The half-elf looked back down at Amath’s body and frowned at a lump in her pouch that he hadn’t noticed before. He leaned down and lifted up an oblong green stone with an uncanny appearance. Sam K quickly handed the stone over to Wean, almost too eagerly. “It talks!” he said, sounding disturbed.
“Interesting,” said Wean. “I hear you’re a key,” the young man addressed the stone and started a mental conversation with it.
“What did it say? Is it as nice as the unicorn?” Korahd wanted to know.
“I dunno,” said Sam K.
“This is the Stone of Golorr, all right,” said Wean. “Or rather, this is the aboleth named Golorr, who was turned into this stone. It does indeed know where to find the vault and the keys needed to access it. We’ll need to secure a cask of dwarven ale, a painting of a dwarf miner, and a silvered warhammer. However, the vault is not without a guardian – a gold dragon named Aurinax.”
“So do we just give the stone back to Renaer?” said Korahd. No one had an immediate answer, so the eladrin shrugged. “Okay, I am now in dire need of a hot bath and the longest trance in the history of elvenkind.”
“Someone’s coming up the stairs,” said Sam K. “Hm. Bodies everywhere. Hope it’s not the fuzz.”
Swift aimed his gun at the stairs, just in case. A gray-skinned man with long black hair and dark clothing ascended into the chamber. When he saw the party, he looked confused. “Who are you? Where is my stone?”
“I’m Korahd Shadowinter,” said the eladrin. “If you drink enough fluids, you might be able to pass it without too much discomfort…”
“That’s just sound advice,” said Sam K, trying to sound bored. “Anyway, you’ve got the wrong tower, mate. This was the murder party.”
“Murder party,” said the man. “Then you won’t mind if I add you to the casualty list then.” With a gesture, a wall of force encircled the chamber, blocking off any chance of escape through the windows and onto the scaffolding.
“I didn’t bring you a monkey!” said Korahd, striking him with a hex-fueled eldritch blast. Sam K shrugged and stepped forward to engage the man, who evaded his dagger swipe. The man did not, however, dodge Swift’s first bullet. Wean advanced to threaten the man with his rapier, and Korahd joined him in a flank.
Sam K managed to stab the man with his second attack and the magical wall shattered. With a snarl, the man maneuvered behind Wean, ignoring the pain of more dagger and rapier strikes, and evoked a lightning bolt that struck the entire party! Only Korahd avoided the worst of the spell, and thinking quickly, she grabbed the Stone of Golorr out of Wean’s pocket and escaped out the window, fey stepping to get out of sight and hopefully lead the man away from her companions.
The ploy worked, though when she deemed it safe to return, she found two of her companions looking grim near the prone form of the third. “Sam didn’t make it,” said Wean. The eladrin fell to absolute pieces crying over the half-elf’s body. The others let her mourn, and after several minutes, she pulled herself together enough to discuss next steps.
“I don’t know who that guy was,” said Wean, “and I’ve never seen that spell in person before, but I can’t say I’m eager to see either again anytime soon.”
“I want NO part of this stone,” said Korahd. “I mean, I WANT glory. But I also want to live to tell the story. Let’s give it to Renaer. Maybe he can do something for Sam.”
They agreed that was the best course of action and returned to the tavern. Once there, Korahd hired a messenger to fetch Renaer, and before too long the nobleman arrived. “I got here as soon as I could.”
Korahd thunked the stone on the bar. “This is it, right?”
“Yes, that is the stone.”
“Because Sam died getting it, and the rest of us came as close to death as makes no odds.”
Renaer Neverember sat down heavily and started weeping for Sam K’s loss. After a while, they brought him up to speed regarding the rest of the night’s events.
“A man with long black hair and a spellbook a mile deep decided to make sure we paid a hefty price,” Wean concluded.
“Whatever the wizard has in mind for this vault can’t be good, right?” said Korahd.
“I wouldn’t think so.”
“No, it can’t be good,” agreed Renaer.
Swift nodded. “This man also knows who we are most likely. Or will very soon. The stone is not safe in our hands.”
“Oh, I TOLD him who I was,” said Korahd, horrified at the realization.
“I can’t believe the Zhents have someone like him working for them,” said Renaer.
“Maybe they don’t?” said Korahd. “It seems like everybody is chasing this vault for one reason or another.” She stared into the eyes of the stone.
“Perhaps we should go to the vault, give this gold dragon the stone, and be done with it,” suggested Wean.
Korahd looked over at the young man. “Now THAT might work. Just seal it off from EVERYBODY.”
“He has no qualms about going through us to get the stone, and we can’t stop him,” said Swift. “If we give the stone away he’ll still track us down, find out who we gave it to, and then kill us. The way I see it, the only real way to be safe is to find the vault and remove his reason for wanting the stone.”
“That guy was Manshoon,” said Korahd suddenly. “He’s the leader of the Zhentarim.” At the others’ curious expressions, she shrugged. “The Stone told me. As glorious as it would be to claim such a treasure for oneself … to have it in your hands and walk away from it would be LEGENDARY.”
Wean nodded, conceding the point. “A more pressing question may be, can we get Sam back? Renaer?”
“I can pay to get him resurrected, but does he want to come back?”
“Who wouldn’t want to come back?” said Swift.
“My grandmother,” Korahd said automatically.
“I’m not sure how to answer that question,” Wean said softly. “I would want to come back.”
“We should try to bring him back, at least,” said Korahd. “And if we fail, we’ll find someone else. Someone else … healsome. Because this is dangerous enough as it is.”
“Yes, let’s try,” said Renaer.
“…THEN we can rest,” said the eladrin.
Two hours later, the party returned to the bar with Lord Neverember and Sam K’s body. The resurrection had not been successful. They made arrangements to bury the half-elf in a spot they thought he’d find appropriate. Then they decided to rest for the remainder of the night and consider their next move in the morning.
* * *
They returned to the Temple of Gond to collect the reward for having destroyed the rogue nimblewright. They were awarded five hundred gold pieces and several curious and questionably useful items by the Gondians.
“Broadsheets,” said Swift thoughtfully once they were back at the tavern. “Hey, you know? The Zhents might not have had such a bad idea trying to control them. That Shen guy owes us now. What if we had him print a story of his experience that ends with him watching us teleport away to an unknown location with the stone? Might buy us a little time. If he thinks we skipped town he’ll have to regroup.”
“I like the way you think, Swift,” said Korahd.
“It’s better than any of our other plans,” said Wean.
“Also it would shine a spotlight on the Zhents and thieves guild that will force them to be less active for a bit, maybe,” said Swift.
“I may know someone that can help you if you are going after the vault,” said Renaer.
“Indeed?” said Korahd.
“We could use the help, it would seem,” said Wean.
“Yes, I can speak with him,” said Renaer. “See if he’ll join your cause. Do you know how to reach the vault?”
Korahd nodded. “We know where it is, and we know what the keys are, though we still need to acquire them.”
They divided up the tasks, each adventurer seeking a different key while Lord Neverember reached out to his contact. Then they made the rest of the preparations they could think of in anticipation of visiting the vault and its guardian Aurinax.