In the distance, the last tolls of Asmodeus’ Bells peeled off over the harbour, signalling the midnight hour. Yulobilus Harbour was unusually quiet, barely a soul on the docks or walkways, a general sense of needing to stay home suddenly taking the populace of Kintargo, the flight of their Mayor shaking them. A dozen Dottari marched through, their heavy footfalls echoing off the stone buildings as their lanterns danced over the edges of darkness that spilled forth from the multitude of alleyways they passed. Even the ever reliable and brave guard felt no reason to peer too deeply into the shadows this night, their want for finishing the patrol high on their priorities. Once gone, a slip of a shadow moved from one of the alleyways, clear almond eyes sweeping the street before taking a few graceful strides and disappearing down another alley and through a concealed doorway in an old, fieldstone wall. Emerging into a tiny, hidden alcove dug into the back of a building, a gloved hand depressed a stone and stole into the small opening that appeared.
“You wish for us to fold, to flee rumours and shadows from the south?” Rickett’s voice was raised in anger as the halfling pointed an accusing finger at the Baroness seated opposite him.
In the warm, small sub-basement of The Thrashing Badger tavern, four figures gathered around an old oak table, glasses of spiced wine warming their gullets as they poured over missives and maps.
“I am not asking you to abandon your organisation Rickett, for I know your heart is as stubborn as mine, it is tied to this city through good and bad. But that responsibility should not fall on all that you have strived to free from Cheliax slavery. Give them the choice, I have supplied what I can to help facilitate an escape, but it is your words they will listen to.” Baroness Victocora leant back in the high-backed, padded chair as she turned her gaze to the others in attendance, looking for support.
Silence filled the room as Rickett stared down into his drink, frustration obvious on his strong face. Usually Zachrin, the High Priest of Shelyn, could smooth any dissent between the various faction leaders but even he wisely decided to let the halfling mull in peace. Opposite the priest, a well cloaked figure sat, arms crossed and hood pulled forwards finally nodded in the Baroness’ direction. The symbol of Milani was clear on the figure’s robes but in all the times the group had met, he or she, had never revealed their face, the fear of inquisition and spies leading the figure to hide their identity from all, including the other members of the Rose of Kintargo.
“Very well, I will send word to the various tillers and freemen to prepare for a voyage. The gift was generous as always mi ’Lady and I meant no disrespect, I just hate the thought that we may be jumping at shadows” Rickett’s voice was muffled as spoke into his glass, his mind working out the logistics of smuggling out dozens of his kin within a night or two.
“The shadows are real and they bare real teeth” Shensen’s velvet like voice filled the room as she appeared in the hidden entrance. Strolling in and taking a seat and wine bottle, the half-elf took one long draw before she acknowledged the looks in her direction, more specifically, at her matted appearance.
With a shrug and a smirk, Shensen brushed some gunk off her leathers and used a wine soiled napkin to clean the blood and soot from her scimitar before looking back at the expectant group. Glancing back down to her weapon and up again, Shensen just shrugged again before giving them all a wink “some Chelish Citizen’s members are going home with a limp”.
“We assumed” the Baroness said flatly, only slight concern in her voice for she knew how deadly the half-elf could be “but what of news from South, we have not the time or inclination for your theatrics, your show finished hours ago”.
“It was wonderful as usual Shensen, you and the new playwright make a wonderful combination”. The Shelynite priest interjected, his praise genuine from just arriving from the theatre.
“Do not encourage her Zachrin, her body is already too slim to carry a head that big.” The Baroness was getting frustrated, something she knew Shensen enjoyed but the others were not helping.
“A new Lord-Mayor has been chosen, one of Abrogail’s distant relatives. Rumour is, he is a high-ranking member of the Church and a whoreson to boot.” Shensen’s voice grew serious at this point as she leant in, almost fearing that the inquisitor’s of Asmodeus could breach even this sanctum. “My intelligence says he requested this position, one that no ranking member of House Thrune has wanted for decades. He was promoted to Paracount so he could rule all of Ravounel as well as Kintargo. They say Queen Abbie signed it off quickly, for it is said she finds him distasteful and creepy and wants him out of the Heartlands while the war rages.”
The news hung in the air, the five individuals weighing the words carefully. Queen Abbie was quite the tyrant and was rumoured to be quite sadistic behind closed doors. For her to find someone distasteful was quite the worry.
“How long do we have?” Rickett’s voice breaking the silence, his dagger carving the Thrune crest into the table before wedging the tip into it.
“He is marching with a full complement of personal Dottari as well a score of Hellknights, of which order, I am unsure. Based on the crossing and the war going on, I imagine we have about a week before he darkens our doorstep.”
“It appears we are in for dark times my friends” the muffled voice surprising the group as leader of the Rose of Kintargo stood “we must prepare to batten down the hatches and wheather the storm out, it is not a time for risks. The Rose will assist both the Sarenites and the Bellflowers to get the vulnerable out but I suggest we give ourselves three days to do so. We will want the four to bury our leads and put on our prettiest smiles for the new Lord-Mayor, for we will be most successful in our future endeavors when we appear peaceful and compliant.”
Already both Rickett and Shensen were on their feet, pride and passion plastered fiercely upon their faces as they had no intention of giving the new Thrunie an easy ride but both Zachrin and the Baroness raised their hands and beckoned them to sit, both acting as the usual voice of reason.
“The Rose is right, we must make sure our houses are in order and be prepared to lie low for a while, we have family and friends to protect. Recklessness now will give the new Lord-Mayor reason to immediately install horrific laws and harsh judgement.” As the Baroness spoke, the High Priest of Shelyn nodded his approval. “The Archivists will get to work finding everything we can on this new Lord-Mayor and will disperse some more wealth to assist the smuggling out of any of our people who need it. In three days, we go quiet, no more meetings, no more missions in the shadows until two full moons pass, we must gauge our enemy in the light before we strike in the dark. Are we agreed?”
Four pairs of eyes stared at the now standing Baroness, her fine features set in determination, the shadows of the room highlighting her striking countenance. Each were the heads of their own organisations, none beholden to another, but even the rebellious Rickett and Shensen could not find and argument to the Archivist’s words and found they counted on her wisdom more than they would like to admit. As one, all nodded and took a goblet and toasted their agreement. In one week’s time, they would be the public face of good, honest citizens.
3 Night’s Later
It was too soon, the new Mayor was arriving this night, his agents already sweeping the city with the assistance of the Dottari and the Church of Asmodeus. They had been undone, treachery somewhere in the ranks. Rickett and Shensen raced through the rank sewers, the stench and surroundings ignored as they zig-zagged through the tunnels, the sounds of hell-hounds on their heels. The ship for Varisia had left the previous dawn, the freed Halflings hopefully safe from the scourge currently hitting the city. But others were not so lucky, various members of the Bellflower Network as well the Archivists and Rose were also heading out the city this night, to find allies further afield and return when the time was right. But inquisitors had been waiting for them, many of their people captured or killed in the initial ambush. Shensen and Rickett had cut a path out for the Baroness and others but they were now dispersed across the city, their safety unknown.
Rounding another corner, Rickett’s crossbow flicked up with practiced reflex and a bolt flew free taking a hell hound in the neck. The two Dottari looked up on to spy a spinning figure coming down at them, a blade trailing flame as it struck both down in one fluid motion. Taking stock of their location, the two friends eyed a sewer grate.
“I am heading to the Thrashing Badger, to rally what allies we have left” Rickett spoke as he reloaded his crossbow. “If we are comprimised, we cannot use the usual meeting place, I suggest we retreat to the Opera House, surely there is space to hide there?”
Shensen nodded her agreement, before heading further along, her music store and allies now her priority.
Minutes later, Shensen climbed into to the upstairs window of her house and shop, all was dark and quiet. But the moment her foot touched the floor, she knew all was not right. Bright light flared in her expansive room, her four-poster bed collapsed and her wardrobes and vanity units destroyed and turned-over. Eight Dottari, ones she had not seen before stood with crossbows and swords ready as another figure entered. Clad in full chain-mailed and swathed in the heraldry of Asmodeus, a severe looking woman levelled a wicked-looking glaive at the half-elf.
“Shensen of Sarenrae, you have been declared a traitor to the crown and I, Nox, champion of Asmodeus and personal body-guard to Lord-Mayor Barzillai Thrune, have been given the authority to claim your head."
Shensen cocked her head, the woman’s words raspy and full of malice, but seemed to be almost echoing from her mouth, like they were just mimicked from elsewhere. Behind, even the stone-faced Dottari seemed to edge away from her, a palpable fear of the commanding woman. The fact there seemed to be small coils of smoke rising from the woman’s eyes certainly explained a few things.
“I have commanded my men to stay down, for I wish to have the honour of silencing your seditious voice.” There was no bravado in Nox’s voice, just flat statement of fact and assurance of her prowess, for she was first among the warriors brought into Kintargo, a highly demanded bodyguard in the courts of Cheliax. “And” now a cold smile curled on the woman’s scarred face “they are tired from butchering the acolytes of yours we found in the shrine beneath the sho.”
Nox’s sentence never finished, for in a split second, Shensen had cleared the space between them, a song of vengeance springing forth from her darkened face as she freed her blade, flames roaring down the metal. The dervish’s foot landed atop the threatening glaive, forcing it into the floor and throwing the surprised champion of Asmodeus off balance. Then her head trembled and the sickening sound of tearing flesh filled the room as Nox’s head tore backwards, now only hanging by tendrils of flesh. The Dottari took several seconds to register what happened, seconds too late as the vengeful bard was among them, stepping in and out of their reach in a deadly dance of death, metal flashing and a song filling their ears as their own voices called out in pain in terror. As quickly as it began, the dance of the dervish was over and the blood covered diva was alone on her room, a massacre at her feet.
“Impressive, I am truly in awe at your prowess, you are no mere dilettante” Nox’s voice shook Shensen as the bard turned around to see the woman standing, holding her head in place as the skin reached out to itself and began sealing the vicious wound. “Let me see how long your exuberant energy lasts”. With that, Nox raised her glaive again and attacked.
The two battled back and forth for minutes, the quickly enraging Asmodean not landing a single hit upon the dancing and leaping Sarenite whose sword found home over and over again, tearing limbs loose and scarring the flesh of the ever regenerating devil spawn. More Dottari poured into room but as she ducked under a wide swing of the glaive, Shensen drew upon her powers of song and words crept into each man’s ears, suggesting they leave and assist those fighting the fires that seemed to cropping up in the city. To a man, each one turned on their heel and headed out into the city.
“Enough!” Nox pulled back, her armour shredded and mutliple red scars criss-crossign her body, wounds so terrible even her regernation was not helping. She was frustrated, for while the half-elf was covered in a sheen of sweat and blood, she was not looking as tired as she should, the woman dancing and fighting in a tempo to minimise her effort. “Who trained you whore, no Bard’s College teaches fighting like that?”
Shensen was not going to allow Nox to waste her time and advanced as she spoke “Being a Diva is just this current part of my life” an ear flew from Nox’s face “for I have many chapters leading up to this moment” several fingers severed in a spinning strike “and I have faced dangers and horrors across Golarion both above and below ground in my adventuring days that even a devil-cursed being like you could not dream of.” Chain split as Shensen spun low and reversed her grip and swept her blade up, tearing Nox’s left leg free at the thigh sending the woman to the ground in agony. “And, not that is your business, but my life did not begin as a half-elf, but one as a drow!” Shensen’s voice was now in quiet, wavering fury “and we do not learn how to fight, for that implies effort and a chance of losing, we learn how to kill!” With that, Shensen swept her sword across the fear struck woman, a scream caught in her throat as she was dissected in four lightning quick flourishes. “I will not let harm befall any more of my friends and Barzillai Thrune will never occupy Kintargo, for I will take his life this night”.
Shensen’s senses picked up more movement and looking up, trying to clear her mind from her clouding thoughts of vengeance, she laid her eyes upon the applauding figure of Corinstian Grivenner.
“Well done child, that was an impressive feat, but your story is over, a tragedy in the making I would say” the words dark with venom and spite.
Unlike the others, he was ready for her springing vengeance. While trained in the church to fight, skilled and deadly himself, he knew he was no match for the ex-adventurer. But he was wiser and brought a back-up plan. Shensen heard the fluttering of wings and the call of what sounded like a cockerel before she reached the smirking priest and managed to slow her dance and flip back into the room as suddenly she was surrounded by flying creatures, the bard blinded and confused as feathers, tails and beaks seemed dance around her. In all but a moment of confusion, the fight was over.
Corinstian ordered his men into the room, several returning from their strange compulsion to assist the people of the city. “Take the valuables as well Nox’s body.” As the priest looked over at the remains of the bard, he pointed them out as well “And take her body, it will make a fine present to our new Lord-Mayor, for he will be assured by the passing of the Diva of Kintargo. No rebel leader will left after this night to oppose our glorious Lord’s ascent.”
And hour later, great pillars of fire roared from the heavens, engulfing the shop and home of Shensen, the hidden shrine to Sarenrae defiled and destroyed. The blaze lit up the night sky in unison with two others, home of Baroness Victocora and the meeting place of the many dissidents of the city.
Thrune and Asmodeus had come to Kintargo and now, their rule will be unnapposed.