The party returned to the tavern and told Sam K about the job, whereupon he became interested in the hunt. Wean surmised that the rogue nimblewright had attacked the alley victims from a nearby rooftop, but a search of the possible locations yielded no clues. Inquiring about the victims also resulted in no way to narrow the search. So they decided they needed to figure out a grid to search using the “nimblewright detector” until they hopefully got lucky.
Several days later in the Dock Ward, they got pings from different ships docked near one another. They picked one at random, heading toward a ship called Heartbreaker, which floated next to its sister ships, Hellraiser and Eyecatcher.
“Can I help ya?” asked a man at the gangplank.
“Heard there was a metal man aboard and wanted to get a look at ’im,” said Sam K.
“Do you know anything about that?” asked Korahd.
“They’re attractions and nothing more,” said the man.
“And look, it’s attracted spectators!” said the eladrin.
Sam K nodded. “Aye, I’m interested. So, is there a ticket to buy, or…?”
“You’ll need to talk to the cap’n.” The man nodded to another crewman who ran off. After several minutes he returned and said. “You’ll need to go to the Eyecatcher.” He pointed to the flagship. “They’ll be waiting for ya.”
They were brought on to the flagship and escorted to the dining cabin, which was bedecked with golden filigree. The purple curtains were festooned with silken tassels, and the wood paneling scented with perfume. A magnificent feast was laid out on golden platters sprawls atop a mahogany table of exquisite craftsmanship. Even the doilies were something to behold. Standing behind it all with a wine glass in hand was a well-built, scantily clad man, his scarlet apparel designed to accentuate his trim figure and bountiful chest hair. A flashy rapier hung from his stylish belt.
“Welcome aboard the Eyecatcher,” he said, flashing his pearly white teeth. “Zardoz Zord, at your service."
Korahd tried to whistle; she can’t. “And I’m Korahd Shadowinter, at yours. I should have been a … merchant?”
“I was told you wanted to see my attractions.”
“I’m fully impressed. Yes, indeed, and please and also thank you.”
“May I ask why?” said Zord.
“Because I’ve never seen a metal man, and that sounds incredibly interesting,” said Sam K. “Something to tell the kids and grandkids … down the road.”
“Normally I would tell you to wait until the carnival was set up, but… how did you know I had metal men?”
“Word gets around.”
“Must get around very quickly. We’ve only been in town for a few days. Mostly waiting for approval to get our tents and animals unloaded and setup.” As they talked, a nimblewright walked in with a decanter and poured more wine into Zord’s cup.
Korahd’s eyes widened and she breathed, “Neeeat.”
They exchanged a few more pleasantries, but when it seemed clear that Zord’s nimblewrights were not likely the culprit, they said goodbye and returned to their tavern. Lord Renar Neverember was waiting for them, talking to Swift, who had stayed behind to mind the bar.
“Lord Neverember. Good to see you. Want a drink?” said Sam K, heading behind the bar to spell the Shifter.
“Always,” said the nobleman. The half-elf nodded and poured a cup of Neverember’s favorite beverage. After a healthy gulp, the young man said, “I love what you’ve done with the place.”
“Cheers, mate. And what about the name?”
“I love it, how’d you come up with it.”
“Funny story, actually…”
“You must tell it to me someday.”
“You’re right. We don’t have time to get into it right now.”
“And where did you get that unicorn.” Korahd casually positioned herself between Renaer and the statue.
Sam K shrugged. “Flea market. So. What’s up?”
“Just checking in, wanting to see how you’ve been doing. It’s been a while since you’ve come to see me.”
“Yes, I do regret that. This is a lot more work than I thought it would be.”
“Me, too,” said Korahd. “We’ve been kind of busy, especially after the explosion.”
“I heard something about that,” said Neverember. “It was light on the details though. What happened?”
“Someone killed a bunch of folks right outside the tavern! That’s a long story, too, but I’ll tell it to you anyway.” Sam K snorted and poured himself a mug of beer, putting money in the till. The eladrin sat at the table across from the nobleman, pulled a flower arrangement closer to herself, and started eating them as she brought him up to speed.
“…And that’s how a dog learned to ride a horse,” Korahd finished sometime later. Then she blinked. “Wait, I think the real story ended about ten minutes ago.”
“That was a crazy Blursday,” said Sam K.
“I see,” said Lord Neverember with a sigh.
“What’s the matter, Rainy?”
“I tried to make it interesting…” said Korahd.
“It was, Kor,” said Neverember. "It’s just that … when the Lords of Waterdeep ousted my father, I thought his long, dark shadow was finally gone for good. The truth is, I want nothing to do with him. But his spies hound me. One of them, a gnome named Dalakhar, had been watching me for months. Then, about two tendays ago, the spy was suddenly nowhere to be seen. My father didn’t trust many people, but he trusted that gnome.
“I spoke to a few of Dalakhar’s friends. Apparently, he was on a special mission to retrieve the Stone of Golorr and was afraid that the Zhentarim and the Xanathar Guild were close to catching him. When he heard about my kidnapping, he wanted more information about the adventurers who had rescued me. I think Dalakhar was planning to pay you to deliver the Stone of Golorr to my father in Neverwinter.”
Korahd described the dead gnome from the alley. “Does that sound like Dalakhar to you?”
“Did he have this Stone?”
The eladrin fished out the little stub of cigar she last had in Blue Alley and lit it as she worked through things. “And he didn’t have it on him when I searched him.”
“Well, someone limped off after messing with his body after he got blown up by a robot,” said Sam K.
“He must have taken the Stone,” said Neverember.
“Guess so. That was three days ago. Could be anywhere now.”
“And our rogue nimblewright got a better look at the thief than we did,” said Korahd.
“And still no leads on finding that.”
“I can reach out to my friends in the City Watch if you think that’ll help,” said Neverember.
“If you think that’ll help,” said Sam K.
“It can’t hurt.”
“It’s worth a try, sure,” said Korahd.
“Let me see what I can do. I’ll be by tomorrow if I find anything out.”
“Thanks. This is all too much thinky pain for me.”
After Lord Neverember left, Sam K said, “What a crazy coincidence. Or … not-coincidence, probably.”
“Or … super-coincidence,” said Korahd.
“Perhaps the nimblewright is in league with one of these factions that seeks the stone,” said Wean. “It’s a bit of an assumption, but if we follow that logic then it stands to reason the Xanathar Guild the more likely culprit, given that there were Zhents among the dead.”
“Could be, yeah,” said Sam K. “We got any other friends we can ask for help on this?”
“Do we know any Xanathar associates?” asked Korahd.
“We’ve met a couple of their birdmen, anyway.”
“What about Jarlaxle?” said Wean.
“That’s a good idea,” said Sam K. “Even though it means we would have to deal with him.”
Korahd shrugged. “I mean, his guy shot me in the head, but I don’t mind him so much.”
* * *
Neverember returned the next afternoon. “I was able to find some information. The limping man matches the description of Urstul Floxin, a suspected member of the Black Network.”
“Which faction?” said Sam K. “I hear the Zhents are at war with one another.”
“The non-legit one. A North Ward resident claimed he saw Urstul enter Gralhund Villa, just a couple of streets away from the tavern, shortly after the fireball incident. The resident reported him to the City Watch because Urstul looked suspicious.
“Two City Watch constables spoke to Lord Gralhund. He assured them that no one had broken into the estate and that everything was fine. The constables had no grounds to get a search warrant, so they didn’t pursue the matter.”
“Guess we could take the nimblewright detector up that way,” said Sam K. “See what’s what.”
“Okay,” said Korahd. Swift offered to work the tavern while the other three went to investigate the house.
* * *
Through a set of ornate iron gates, the adventurers saw a yard with several large trees, as well as two footpaths that led to a two-story brick mansion and eastward toward a detached coach house. The party cased the joint, finding a stable and a servant’s entrance around the back. The nimblewright detector did not indicate the presence of any automatons.
“Do you guys know anything about this Lord Gralhund?” asked Korahd. Neither of the others did, and she nodded. “I can’t be subtle, but I can try to be quiet. Still, it may be just as well to leave Swift and his thunderboomers out of this.”
“You’re not wrong,” said Sam K.
They asked around the neighborhood and were told that no one matching Urstul Floxin’s description had been seen leaving the villa. They returned to the manor intent upon posing as servants. No one answered when the half-elf knocked on the service door, so he picked the lock and led the way in, carrying a gourd fruit. Korahd had a sack of cabbages slung over one shoulder.
They entered a pantry lined with shelves containing dry foodstuffs, spices, folded tablecloths, and jars of preserves. Casks of fresh water, ale, and wine were also stored there, but more relevantly, two bodies lay on the floor: an older human male and a younger male halfling.
“Whoa,” said Korahd.
The half-elf set the melon down. “No longer a heist.”
Korahd placed her sack of cabbages on the floor and drew her rapier. “Definitely not.”
“Right then, let’s get to it,” said Wean, casting protective spells and pulling his shield out from under the vegetables he had carried in. Then he took point and opened the door on the west wall.
The floor in the room beyond was strewn with bodies. Two thugs holding bloody maces and clad in black leather armor stood over them. The sound of fighting could be heard coming from the top of a wide staircase in the northwest corner. Two iron chandeliers hung from the dark mahogany ceiling above a long dining table carved from red larchwood. Chairs surround the table, with a particularly tall and elaborate chair at each end. Lining the wood-paneled walls were tapestries and locked wooden cabinets that contained fine dishes, silverware, and candlesticks. A fireplace with a black marble mantelpiece has a framed family portrait mounted above it. The portrait depicted Lord and Lady Gralhund, their three young children, and a family dog.
“Is that red larchwood?!” said Wean, hoping to steal the initiative with a distraction. The thugs were quicker still, and though Sam K had his bow ready, he held his shot, not wanting to hit Wean.
The nearer thug attacked, striking the young man once. He managed to deflect the other with a shield spell. Then Wean struck back and Korahd stepped into a flank on the injured thug. Sam K finished the man off with a well-placed arrow. The other didn’t last much longer against the trio, though both Korahd and Wean were injured before he fell.
“Do you need a minute, or should I quickly steal your pain so we can move on?” asked Sam K.
“It sounds like there’s fighting going on close, so I think we should make haste,” said Wean.
The half-elf nodded, reached out toward each of his companions, and mimed pulling something away from them. They felt a little better and pressed forward.
Up the stairs, a battle raged between several Zhents and house guards, and the floor was strewn with dead bodies. Doors to the master bedroom stood open, and they heard a shout from within. “The City Watch is on the way!” The door to the south of the stairs was ajar, and beyond it, they could hear someone putting a boot to another door.
“Should we play the savior role?” asked Wean.
“Sure,” said Sam K. “Go after Boot-y.” Then he put an arrow in the door beside the thug kicking it. The man turned, and the adventurers recognized Urstul Floxin. “Oi, Gimpy. Pay attention to us.”
Floxin tried to run past Sam and down the stairs, getting stabbed by Wean for his trouble. Then Korahd blasted him and a brief exchange later, the man lay unconscious on the floor. By that time, the house guards managed to overcome the Zhent invaders.
“Are there any more intruders?” asked Wean.
“Not on this level,” said one of the men. “Who are you?”
“Passing do-gooders,” said Sam K.
“I see. Well, thank you for your help.”
“The servant entrance was open and we heard fighting, came in to help and got attacked by these … Zhents?” said Wean. Then he pointed at the door Floxin had been kicking. “What is beyond that door?”
“Would you like us to keep searching while you protect the lady,” said Sam K as the noblewoman exited the master bedroom accompanied by a burly half-orc. “Oh, hello, lady.”
“I would like to thank you gentlemen for coming to our rescue,” said Lady Gralhund.
Sam K bowed. “Madam.”
“Korahd Shadowinter, potential future gentleman, yet presently at your service,” said the eladrin.
The woman nodded. “These gentlemen attacked us, wanting to kidnap our children.”
“How strange!” said Korahd.
“Despicable,” said Sam K. “We took one alive. Is the Watch really coming?”
“We can clear the house,” offered Wean.
“I would feel safer if such strong men and women like you were to guard me and my family until the Watch arrives,” said Lady Gralhund.
“As you like it, milady,” said Korahd.
Wean nodded. “We’re happy to help. But we’ll need to check the rest of the estate to make sure there are not other denizens lurking about.”
“No, my guards can take care of it.” Lady Gralhund nodded at the house guards, and they left to search the estate.
“Is it safe?” said Lord Gralhund as he finally emerged.
“More or less,” said Sam K as Korahd said, “Kind of!”
“When did this fellow,” the half-elf kicked Floxin on the stairs, “first show up?”
“They showed up about an hour ago,” said Lady Gralhund, her expression strange.
“Are we making you uncomfortable, my lady?” said Sam K. “That is not our intention. We only wished to help.”
“Not at all. I’m still bothered by this whole situation.”
“I’m glad,” said the half-elf.
“I wonder if this was for a simple ransom,” said Korahd, “or if they had some other goal in mind.”
“Who can tell with their kind?”
“Mommy is it safe to come out?” came a small voice. The Gralhunds comforted their children.
A short while later, the City Watch arrived. Barnibus Blastwind and Saeth Cromley headed up the investigation and questioned the adventurers at length. Afterward, they took Urstul Floxin into custody, and Sam K spoke softly to his companions. “We have an in with the City Watch. We can probably still question him.”
Korahd nodded. “The lady is hiding something, too.”
* * *
Within days after the events that local broadsheets dubbed the “Gralhund Villa Bloodbath,” the City Watch cracked down on the Black Network. The papers portrayed the Black Network in the most unflattering light, thus dealing a crippling blow to the faction’s already questionable reputation.
“This is going to bite us on the arses,” Kor sighed as she poured over a broadsheet.
As if on cue, a flying snake arrived at the tavern with a note tied to it. The note read: “I would like to know more about what happened at Gralhund Villa. If you can spare the time, meet me at Ahghairon’s Statue in the City of the Dead at highsun tomorrow. You’ll be paid generously for your time and trouble.
— Istrid Horn”
“Called it!” said the eladrin.
“Another meeting,” said Sam K. “Need an assistant to keep track of them all.”
“Bonnie, cancel my appointments for tomorrow at highsun,” said Korahd.
* * *
Ahghairon’s Statue was a well-known landmark in the city’s parkland cemetery: a tall, marble sculpture of a bearded, robed wizard standing atop concentric steps and facing west toward the skyline of Waterdeep, his hands outstretched and a broad smile on his face. At the foot of the statue stood a female dwarf clad in plate armor. The Autumn weather was chilly and the cemetery was otherwise empty.
Without preamble, the dwarf said, “I’d like ya to hide me.”