A Letter and a Tavern
One Month After Arriving in Nesme
Erritch set the last report of attempted sabotage on one of his warehouses down with a scowl. The situation was rapidly deteriorating and the worst part was that he could not find out who was behind it all. He knew a lot about the Stonefist gang being used as muscle and even its leader Terro Stonehand a vicious thug and former pirate. But who was backing him continued to be a mystery. Erritch had already ruled out all of his major competitors in Nesme and none of the small merchants had the resources for something like this. He had even made discrete inquiries among his his contacts in Silverymoon and Sundebar and none of them had heard anything about anyone trying to expand into Nesme.
Pouring himself a glass of of his favorite wine Erritch stared at the burgundy red liquid with resignation. There was no question about it. Whatever was going on was not backed by some foreign merchant house trying to muscle into Nesme market. And that, he reflected, was extremely bad. Even the most unscrupulous and downright evil merchants were predictable to a certain extent. Their main goals were profit and power, and that defined the rules they played by. Sure they might send assassins after their rivals and hire wizards to cast curses on their opponents, but they would do so only if it offered them a clear advantage and it could not be traced back to them. After all, there is no point in getting rid of a rival if the local authorities want your head for the way you went about it.
Whomever this was did not have such inhibitions. The attempt last night had been the final proof he needed. The attempted warehouse burning would have, if successful, also set several other warehouses belong to other merchants on fire as well. So either that was a mistake or they did not care about splash over, and Erritch suspected the later. The only culprit that would not care about angering other merchant houses would be someone who intended to bully them as well. It had to be a thieves guild, most likely with the support of an already existing thieves guild in another city or some other sponsor.
Erritch remembered how much trouble the last thieves guild had been. It had taken him a full year to root them out and secure his docks from 'unfortunate accidents'. Nesme's remaining thieve rings knew to leave his docks alone, or else; and none of them wanted to find out what that or else was after what he had done to the gang Fordor's Fiends. No one had ever actually found Fordor or any of his chief lieutenants, the only clue to their fate was the appearance of all their gear in a Waterleaf backed pawn shop along with a note that said, 'all the money from these items were to be donated to the orphanage'. No had asked were the original owners were, and as several had cherished their personal equipment above all else, combined with the Waterleaf's sudden iron grip over their docks, had people drawing the obvious conclusions.
Apparently that lesson had not deterred this new gang. Pulling out pen and parchment Erritch began writing notes to various contacts both in Nesme and outside the city. If this new gang wanted to play rough, then Erritch would oblige them.
Xander floated through the shifting currents of his dreamscape as objects of all types glided serenely past him. His firefan still circled around him, now joined by the dull green marble sized orb of his latest spell. He had learned a lot in the last month, however it had raised more questions then it answered. After several nights of experimentation he had figured out how to move easily through his dreamscape and how to exit it at will. Two weeks of searching later, he found the second voice that was whispering to him.
He also realized that the storm was not quite as random as he first thought. One of the first things he had done, after learning to control his movement, was to travel far enough that he could see the storm as a whole, like when he had first accessed the dreamscape. After a few false starts he managed it. The storm was an immense cyclone, with all the ribbons of energy slowly winding tighter and tighter until the merged into one shining mass of energy at the tip. Try all that he might, he could not approach the energy mass at the tip of the cyclone. The nearest he could come was about a sixth of the way down the cyclones length and that had taken all of his will. He could float around the top layers of the cyclone without a problem however the further down he went the more effort it took to hold position and as soon as he stopped fighting he bobbed up to the top of the cyclone like a cork in water. Also the further down he traveled the bigger the objects floating around became. It was gradual but noticeable if you traveled down far enough.
Deciding that he deserved a break after managing to use his second spell, Xander was determined to spend his night simply drifting and thinking. What had Janus done to him exactly? And Why? He also had quite a few questions about the nature of magic in this universe. It was both familiar and extremely different then what he was used to, and Xander suspected, far more powerful here then back home. His spells would have taken him years to obtain back home, but here they were considered basic spells that any apprentice could learn with some effort and dedication. Xander shelved that particular line of inquiry with a small shake of his head. It only led to more questions.
Getting bored and slacking off was simply not the same without something to waste time on. Xander pulled his most recent spell, a small green liquid orb about the size of a marble, into this hand with a small burst of concentration. Taking a sitting position out of habit he began to meditate on the spell in his hand. Master Ghostblade had taught him several meditation practices that seemed to help with his control in the dreamscape and Xander hoped they would help him master his spells as well.
Under the professional eye of House Waterleaf's weapons master, Xander worked through the his spear and staff exercises. The padded ends of the staff blurred as he struck at imaginary opponents while dodging about the walled training yard. Dropping low Xander swept his staff through the knees of his last imaginary opponent and finished with a sharp strike to the head before dropping back into the basic guard position.
“You got the moves down lad, but you must be lighter on your feet!” Master Ghostblade growled from his seat on the wall. “You're soft and squishy! Remember that! You can't go head to head like an idiotic plate wearing paladin!” Speed and soft feet lad, speed and soft feet are the key.”
Xander nodded as he took deep even breaths. He had improved a lot in the last two months. His fighting style now resembled an actual fighting style instead of a kamikaze brawler. His spell casting had improved as well. He had mastered both flamehands and acid orb to the point were he could cast either confidently and quickly, and was currently working on figuring out how to cast them wordlessly, but was not making much headway. He also had a feeling that another spell was soon going to make itself heard. His schooling with Tegard was just about done, he was proficient in both written and spoken common, and had even learned the basics of davek the dwarfish script, which Tegard was fluent in.
“Enough for today lad, off to the temple with you. I'm sure there's dozens of fascinating elvish histories just waiting for your attention.” Ghostblade said with a smirk. “Though if you would like to stay, I do need a volunteer to help with some archery lessons in a bit.”
“I would love to but Tegard would be most disappointed if I missed our last lesson. So I better go bye!” Xander babbled as he all but bolted for the temple grabbing his clothing and gear off the low wall on his way out. There was no way he was staying around to 'assist' the weapons master with archery lessons. He had no wish to be shot with blunt arrows again!
The old halfling chuckled to himself as he watched Xander sprint down the road towards the temple of Oghma. In truth the young sorcerer was doing far better then the weapons master had predicted. He had learned remarkably fast and was already at a level where he could beat the average guardsman with a staff and make a good show of it empty handed, and that was without magic. The two spell he knew were both combat spells and with his ability to cast them multiple times in succession made the young human someone to keep an eye on in a fight.
Stowing the training gear the halfling entered the mansion and headed for Erritch's study. The Stonehands had suddenly scaled back their attempts to take control of the docks and Erritch wanted his opinion on the matter.
Xander stopped running as soon as he was out of view of the Waterleaf mansion. Double checking all of his clothing and items were properly placed and accounted for, he strolled towards the temple. He still had time before he was expected. The weather was colder now and Xander was glad for the heavy leather coat he had picked up in Janus' fortress. Already it felt like a lifetime ago. The more he learned about this world the more he wondered exactly what Janus had been and what exactly Soligem was. Well he had a suspicion about Soligem at least. He had run across a reference to Acererak and his tomb of horrors in a history of the Sword Coast that had sparked Xander's curiosity. A bit of judicious research yielded an old temple tome on the undead, which contained a substantial section on the various types of lichs and summaries of several of the more infamous undead, Acererak included. There were far to many similarities between Soligem and the physical descriptions of Acererak and other demilichs for it to be a coincidence. After a bit of reflection Xander decided to keep his suspicions to himself. He doubted that going around saying he was sent here by a demilich would go over well with the locals.
Janus was still a mystery. As soon as he had learned to read competently he had, with the help of a young acolyte he had bribed, looked up the symbol of every god he could find both current and dead. Non of them had even remotely matched Janus' mark. Neither did it match any of demon lords, archfey, or any other significant power that he could find in the library. Tegard had encouraged the search and lent a helping hand when he was not busy doing his own research. The enigmatic young man had been very vague about what he was looking for when asked. Xander had not pushed and left a standing offer to help if needed.
As he walked he could now understand the snatches of conversation he heard in the street. Most of it was haggling with the occasional bit of gossip. The indiscretions of a prominent merchant's wife and rumors about mysterious attacks on river ships, seemed to be the topics of the day. Entering the temple he headed directly for the library bypassing the main hall. Nodding at the two door guards standing post at the library entrance, Xander slipped inside and quickly found Tegard at their usual table reading a small tome written in elvish.
“Xander,” Tegard said nodding in greeting. “The librarian expects you in his study in three bells for the removal of the circlet. Now, for your final test please read this letter the library just received this morning from Silverymoon. Read it and then give me both a summary of the letter and any deductions you can make about current events.”
Nodding Xander took the offered scroll and began reading. The letter was from the Temple in Silverymoon and addressed to the head librarian, asking for any information on the river ship attack, any rumors of the undead, and any other information of interest. The wording was friendly but formal. All in all about what Xander would expect from a group that reminded him of what the watchers council should have been like. The post script at the end was far more mysterious. As for the matter you mentioned in your last message, I have been able to find very little concrete information however your mystery matches up with certain events and rumors that I have learned of. As such, I think it would be best if the individual involved came to Silverymoon. Please advice him to be careful and be wary of 'thieves' on the road. Also be on watch for any mention of the Red Tear or Mermeck that may come your way.
My Oghma bless you with his knowledge,
Father Merital head librarian of Silverymoon.
Putting the letter down Xander thought hard on what he had just read and how it matched up with all he had learned in the last two months. The post script was by far the most interesting, mysterious, and presumably sensitive part of the entire letter. Why would he even be given access to it? Unless... Tegard. It had to be about Tegard.
Deciding to get the easy stuff out of the way first Xander began. “This letter is mostly about local rumors and a basic exchange of information. The river attacks are common knowledge and it makes sense for Silverymoon to want more information on them. The part about the undead sounds like trouble and I presume that the Oghamite's have more information about it then we do. It also fits in with some stories I heard the other night down at the tavern. A group of drunken caravan guards and adventurers were boasting about their recent victories against several groups of skeletons and other undead.” Xander explained, pointing out the appropriate parts of the letter to Tegard as he went.
Tegard nodded. “I agree, well done so far. How about the rest of the letter?”
“That is the most interesting part.” Xander replied. “It is purposefully vague and worded very carefully. Unless someone knew what they were talking about it does not mean much. The only really concrete pieces of information are the names Red Tear and Mermeck, and that this mysterious individual would be traveling to Silverymoon some time soon. Implied is that some group or enemy wants the individual stopped. Also there is some sort of mystery that the head librarian of Silverymoon does not understand.”
“Very good. Xander very good indeed. Your read the letter perfectly and understood not just the words but the different shades of meaning behind them.” Tegard said grinning. Watching a student master a difficult lesson was always rewarding and Xander had worked hard for his new language proficiency.
“But we know one more thing from this letter.” Xander interrupted with a slight smirk.
“Oh?” Tegard inquired his expression going still and blank.
“Yes we know the identity of the mysterious individual.” Xander continued. “It has to be you. Only the mysterious person who I presume the chief librarian gave the letter to could okay me reading it.”
“Not necessarily, I could have stolen the letter or made it up entirely.”
Xander gave the possibility a moments thought before shaking his head. “Possible, but unlikely. It is not your hand writing and I know that you have been busy doing your own research. So busy that I doubt you would bother to come up with something this elaborate for a final exam when you have better things to spend your time on.”
Tegard shrugged. “I won't confirm or deny your assumptions.” Privately he was quite pleased with Xander's deductions. It confirmed that there was indeed a perceptive mind behind his student's habitual mask of immaturity and love of some mysterious pastry called Twinkies.
Xander snorted quietly. “Your choice.” he said not believing Tegard's evasiveness for a minute but unwilling to push. “A few of us are going to the Ruby Rat tonight. Care to join us?”
Tegard thought for a moment. He had found all the information there was to be had here in Nesme, and he was not leaving for Silverymoon until tomorrow. Plus it had been a long time since he had some fun. He nodded, “I'll be there.”
Xander smiled. “Excellent, this will be fun. It will be good to relax and chill after the last two months.”
“Some relaxation would be nice. However I have no intention of growing cold.” Tegard replied.
The Ruby Rat, known affectionately as The Rat by its patrons, was a old converted warehouse wedged between a blacksmith's shop and herbalist, and exactly eighty three feet from the wooden docks. There were many finer taverns in Nesme but none with finer ale for two coppers a mug. It was the watering hole of choice for all river folk and dockworkers who needed to relax after a hard day of work.
The tavern was already hopping when Xander and Tegard arrived. Two river ships had docked that afternoon and the place was packed with off duty sailors who were rapidly becoming happily drunk sailors. Weaving through the crowd to the corner booth were Rosco and his group were drinking, the two men sat down and poured themselves some ale from the pitcher on the table.
“So Xander what are you going to do now?” Mira asked after everyone was settled comfortably with drinks in hand.
“Not sure,” Xander said. “Silverymoon sounds like a fun place to visit and it seems like the best place to learn more about my magic.” He paused to take a drink of ale. “The Oghmite library in Silverymoon is much larger then the one here and the head librarian did give a letter of introduction to use.”
The group nodded in agreement. Silverymoon was the arcane heart of the Luruar. Its arcane universities and libraries were some of the finest in the world, only rivaled by likes of Shades, Thay, and Coramanther. If information Xander was looking for existed, it would be in Silverymoon.
Two hours later and the Rat was rocking. A pretty half-elven bard was entertaining a appreciative audience and the ale was flowing freely. Even Tegard had relaxed and told a few stories about a hapless guard he had met while traveling with a trade caravan.
The brawl flared up out of nowhere. One moment dozens of sailors and dockworkers were happily drinking and singing away, and in the next fists, bodies, and furniture were flying in every direction.
Ducking some flying crockery Xander watched as Rosco and the halflings jumped into the fray with whoops of delight. Dodging the occasional punch Xander and Tegard tried to stay out of the war zone that the center of the tavern had become.
“This happen often?” Xander asked as he redirected an errant combatant back into the fray with a kick. The halflings were using their size to their advantage striking at the backs of their opponents knees and tripping others, as they scuttled around trying to stay beneath the notice of the brawling dockworkers.
“On occasion,” Tegard replied deftly avoiding a wild punch before grabbing the attacking sailor and smashing his face into the tavern wall. The now unconscious sailor crumpled to the floor. “This one is larger then most.”
Xander's answer was muffled as a drunken half orc nailed him with a right cross to jaw. The next minute was a blur of punching and dodging as the two men got caught up in a small pocket of brawling toughs.
Avoiding a drunk rush by one dockworker Xander gave him a push to help him along, while Tegard efficiently punched one man in the head before tossing the dazed man into a nearby pair of fighting sailors, sending all three to the floor in a tangled heap. Xander used the momentary lull to put his back against the wall and observe the chaos.
Two dozen armed toughs had piled into the tavern and joined the fun. Four of them were heading for Xander and Tegard while the rest waded into the fray clubs swinging. The leader of the four, a scarred black haired thug who was built like a linebacker, grinned nastily as he looked Xander
over with a critical eye. “Yep, your the one. Boss wants to 'talk' with you and your friends. Make it easy on yourself and I won't hurt you, to much.”
“If your boss would like to see me tell him I'm free for lunch, say noonish?” Xander quipped as he mentally scrambled to find some sort of out. He had left all of his weapons in his room. The only thing he had available was the small dwarven knife hanging on his belt, which would not do him much good against four bruisers with clubs. He had his two spells but throwing fire or acid around in a crowded room was probably not a good idea.
“Wrong answer,” the thug said not sounding the least disappointed, raising his iron banded club he waved his fellows forward. “Remember boys, the boss said alive and walking.”
“I must insist that you gentlemen leave immediately.” Tegard said his stance making Xander do a double take as the young scholar stepped forward. “Otherwise this could become... unpleasant.”
The left most thug just charged with his club held high, and Tegard moved. Leaping forward he blocked the thug's swinging club arm and redirecting it into the man's own groin. As the man started to crumble in agony Tegard shoved him into the second thug while ducking a horizontal strike from the leader. Staying low Tegard stepped into the third thug and rabbit punched him in the gullet with his right while entangling the thug's weapons arm with his left. Straitening up Tegard gave the suddenly breathless thug a solid right to the jaw before stripping the club out of his hand with a complicated bit of wrist work that Xander could not quite follow.
Blinking Xander belatedly remembered that he was fighting and refocused on the two now untangled thugs just in time to duck under one swinging club before catching the second with his face. Shaking away stars Xander watched from the floor as Tegard quickly knocked the two remaining thugs unconscious with moves that were straight out of a Bruce Lee movie.
“Were did you learn to do that?” Xander asked in amazement as Tegard helped him up.
“That is a story for another time.” Tegard replied.
Xander nodded wordlessly as he focused on the giant scrum that was the center of the room. He was just in time to see the unconscious form of Rosco get stuffed into a sack by two thugs, other toughs were already carrying three other halfling sized sacks. Xander rushed towards the door with Tegard only a step behind. But even as they moved the thugs closed ranks and retreated out of the inn.
Bursting out the doors they saw the kidnappers round the corner to the docks. Racing after them Tegard jerked Xander to a halt as a crossbow bolt shot past .
“Its no use.” Tegard said as they peeked around the corner. The thugs had boarded a river ship that was beginning to pull away from the docks. Half a dozen men with crossbows were standing at the rail with a clean field of fire down the pier.
“Dammit,” Xander growled. “What now? We cant just let them get away!”
“We try to get close and they will pincushion us.” Tegard replied. “Once they get out into the river we lose them.”
“Not necessarily.” Focusing Xander called up his latest spell. Positioning his hand like he was holding a softball he stepped around the corner.
“Eksi” Xander whispered causing a orb of brownish green acid to materialize in his hand that he pitched at the sails of the fleeing ship. He watched it arc into the lower half of the main sail before Tegard dragged him back around the corner and out of danger from returning fire.
“Now we just have to find the ship with the acid hole in their sails.” Xander answered Tegard's unspoken question.
“Good thinking.” Tegard said as they began running towards the Waterleaf mansion.
P.S. The preparing is over, Let the adventures and battles begin!
Sorry I was not able to update sooner. already halfway through chapter ten.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed my story so far. It really gives me inspiration to continue working.