Silver Fangs

Back up in the now empty atrium, Caelinus walks over to Toshio and Iolana and scrutinizes them for an uncomfortably long moment. “You, girl, tell me truthfully, did you ever willingly assist Narcizia?”

Iolana shakes her head and says meekly, “No sir, never.”

Caelinus nods. “Very well. I know that you are telling the truth. All the same, don’t try to leave town. We will have more questions for you about what happened here.”

Caelinus turns to Toshio and asks, “What is your interest in all this? I know you are not like those others, who are just looking for trouble,” he nods towards Keng, Jharad, and Jethrik. “Are you here on the business of the Lady of Graves? Something tells me no. You seem to be hovering over this girl as though she were yours, when any fool knows she’s every man’s girl who has the coin to pay. Hmm. Maybe you are some love struck fool out to save the damsel in distress and ride off into the sunset? Is that it? What’s your story boy?”

Toshio replies, “I am here only to help this girl at the request of her friend. The friend has left this place, but still cares deeply for her and hoped that I could help persuade her to start a better life. I intend to do what I can to that end, and have stayed with her since the trouble started in order to keep her safe. I make no claim to her, romantic or otherwise, beyond helping her do that.” Toshio hopes that will satisfy him and that he won’t need to mention his connection with the temple, although that might not matter so much now.

For a moment it looks as though Caelinus is going to pursue his questioning, but then he turns away. To the Signifer and officer of the guard he gives instructions to take Anyanka away. She is now gagged as well as manacled.

Caelinus turns to Keng, “Now that is settled. There is a tavern right outside. Will you and your friends join me for a drink? It’ll be on me.”

“Most kind your lordship,” relies Keng, “perhaps you can can tell us about your Order?”

“I would be happy too,” Caelinus replies with a genuine smile.

Jharad laughs at Keng’s use of title and follows them out to the tavern.

Jethrik perks up. “I could use a sip. Perhaps a little fortification will stop these shakes.” He holds up a hand and jitters it wildly.

“I could use a drink as well,” says Zeyala.

Toshio tags along, quietly amused to see Keng getting along with the Hellknight. Keng did quite well tonight. He didn’t have to get involved, but he did, and Toshio makes a note to do something to show his appreciation – to Keng and the rest of his comrades.

As they are walking out Toshio pauses to say, “On second thought, perhaps I should join you somewhat later. I should see Iolana to safer lodgings first.” To the Hellknight he says, “She won’t leave town, my lord, as you’ve directed.”

Caelinus asks, “Where are these safe lodgings?”

Although he’s not eager to divulge his connection with the Temple of Iomedae (his instructions were to avoid doing so), Toshio feels that evasion would be inappropriate. “Her friend is lodged at the Temple of Iomedae. I expect that Iolana will stay with her there.”

“The Haven? Huh. I should have known you were from there. Make sure she stays there in case the magistrates have any further questions.” Caelinus starts to turn away from Toshio and Iolana but then turns back again to say, “The followers of Iomedae strike me as idealists who shrink from doing what must be done, but I will allow that you are brave, loyal, trustworthy, and honorable. I salute you.” He in fact does salute, right fist over heart, and then turns back with the others towards the tavern.

Toshio doesn’t argue, but graciously accepts the complimentary portions of the Hellknight’s statement. “Thank you, sir,” he says and returns the salute with his own.

Keng catches Jharad’s eye and rolls his eyes.

Jethrik leans over to Jharad and sniffles. “This is so sweet,” he whispers.

Zeyala is momentarily lost in thought, but a smile quickly breaks across her face as she exits with the others.

As the others leave, Toshio turns to Iolana. “It’s been a busy night, hasn’t it? I think you won’t need to worry about buying your freedom now. Still, you’ll be safer in the Haven. If you will gather your things I’ll escort you there. Besides,” he adds with a wry smile, “I think it’s the only place the Hellknight has authorized for you.”

Toshio considers Caelinus’ words as he waits for Iolana. Idealists? Certainly. And what could be wrong with that?  Many of his words were quite complimentary. But shrinking from what must be done? Toshio can only wonder what Caelinus had witnessed to give him that unfortunate impression. He notes that he’ll have to learn more about the Hellknights’ order, but there seems to be no chance he’ll be able to return swiftly enough to join the others tonight.

When Iolana is ready, he offers his arm, saying, “Shall we?” and they set off for the Haven.

In the tavern, Caelinus buys a round for Keng, Jharad, Jethrik, Zeyala, and Ealisaid. In response to Keng’s query he explains that the Hellknights are not a single order of knights but an umbrella term for several orders that were founded in the neighboring Chelaxian Empire.

Jharad nods his thanks when offered a drink, and then sits back and enjoys the conversation between Keng and Caelinus.

“We were founded to establish law and order. We provide a bulwark against the forces of chaos and barbarism that surround Cheliax and the islands of civilization established outside its borders such as Korvosa and here in Magnimar. We are called the Hellknights because we take as our model the iron discipline of the legions of the Nine Hells. Those legions accept no weakness or excuses and the punishments they bring to law-breakers and the unrighteous are dire indeed. Each Hellknight, in fact, must prove himself in combat against a devil summoned forth from those very legions for the very purpose of testing his mettle and worthiness to be numbered among us. Only a select few are able to bear the discipline, responsibility, and strength-of-arms that is demanded of the Hellknights.”

“Proof in combat!  I like that,” Keng says as he swallows a drought of ale and wipes his chin.  ”That is my kind of order!  But I must ask, why do you call me a force of chaos?”

“Because he’s met you.” Jethrik smirks.

Caelinus ignored Jethrik’s comment and says to Keng, “I can sense it in you. It is common amongst the Shoanti and the orcs as well, and I can see you are of both. Among them there is no proper hierarchy or rule of law, only primitive traditions and the whims of the chieftains and shamans who do as they please until someone stronger comes along. Don’t you follow only your own interests with no greater loyalties than to your own will?” He shakes his head. “Perhaps I should not blame you, as you probably have not known anything else until now. Am I right in guessing you have just come down into civilized lands? There is much you may learn here that will be of great benefit to you. I hope you have the patience and determination to do so. You may find that you will become greater when you become part of something greater.”

Keng starts to anger and begins to push his chair back, then thinks twice looking at the fully armored Hellknight. He sits back down and takes another pull of ale. He then says, “Yes, I have just come down from the from the Cinderlands, but I am no bumpkin. I follow my heart and life, because that is what’s true. Laws are things made by man and as such are flawed. Even the gods are fickle.”

“Well, certainly goddesses like Calistria are fickle. There are more reliable gods, however – like Abadar, Master of the First Vault. Now there is a god who represents progress, hard work, and the blessings that come from it.”

“All gods serve their own interests and it rarely matches ours,” Keng retorts.

“That is just it,” Caelinus replies, “Our own interests are often selfish and shortsighted. If we align ourselves with the gods of Law their interests and ours will coincide. Then we will be on the side of gods who can be relied on. But enough of such talk, I can tell it does not sit well with you. I offered to buy you all a drink to show my gratitude for your assistance and not to convert you. However you may feel about it, on this day you have served the city of Magnimar well. The gods of Law are sure to be pleased that the forces of Chaos have been quelled once more.”

Ealisaid breaks in to say, “Certainly the Pharasma will be pleased, for she sees the undead as an abomination against the natural order. I too thank all of you for ridding this world of that vampire and the madam who harbored it and even went so far as to create mindless undead to fight for her.”

Jethrik lift his mug, “Here’s to keeping whorehouses safe for all!”

“‘To each their own said the woman who kissed the buffalo,’ as my mother used to say,” and with that Keng toasts the group.

Jharad accepts his drink and nods his appreciation for their thanks. “And thanks to both of you for your assistance in the end. Sir Caelinus, what will become of the brothel now? And those who work there? I am curious what the Hellknights have planned for those who are innocent of Anyaka’s machinations.”

“Those who broke no laws have nothing to fear. Those who did will be shown no mercy. Anyanka and any we deem to have colluded with her or the vampire will be consigned to the Hells, the prisons beneath the Pediment Building where the Justice Court meets. The thirteen Justices of Magnimar will decide her fate. As for the brothel itself and these taverns, likely the city will take it over for the time being until it can be sold. The girls will probably be able to continue their trade as before. Most likely one of the older girls, or perhaps I should say women, will be appointed the new madam to oversee things for the Ushers and the Lord-Mayor’s Office or whoever else may take over.”

Jharad nods and says, “Sounds fair enough,” then takes a large drink from his ale. Smiling wide he continues, “So, is there any reward for serving the city of Magnimar as we did?”

Caelinus twirls his moustache and says, “You get the reward of having a drink with me and the satisfaction of knowing you did your civic duty and then some. Oh, and also that medallion you took. I’ll let you keep that for your troubles as well.”

Jharad laughs loudly and raises his glass to the Hellknight. “To your long life with good health and purpose Sir Caelinus. May I never find myself on the wrong side of you nor your order.”

To Jharad and Jethrik, Keng asks, “Care to take a walk?”

Jharad drains the rest of his glass and replies, “Yes, I could use some fresh air.”

Jethrik raises his half pint to the knight, drains it and takes his leave with Keng and Jharad.

“Try to stay out of trouble, or at least don’t go looking for it,” says Zeyala as the others are exiting the tavern.

“Booooorriiiiinggg” Jethrik sings.

Keng let’s out a loud guffaw, “Of course we’re going to look for trouble! Come with us!”

Zeyala shakes her head to decline. From outside, as her friends walk away, she can hear Keng saying, “I like this town. We got into a fight with some drovers. We killed a vampire. We busted up a brothel. I had sex with a warrior maiden and Toshio got in trouble! Now what do we do?”

Once the half-orc, elf, and gnome have left, Caelinus says to Ealisaid and Zeyala, “I must confess, I am relieved to see them go.” To Zeyala he asks, “You seem to be on friendly terms with them. How do you know them?”

“They do like to make an entrance,” admits Zeyala. “Friends with one, yes –  the gnome, Jethrik. He and I have known each other for some years and have done a bit of traveling together. The others, I have only made their acquaintance recently, but we have been working together… somewhat. We share similar goals and our paths seem to lead in the same direction.”

“Pardon me for saying, but I hope that path leads out of Magnimar. The priestesses of Pharasma such as yourself are of course welcome. You do a great service for us all. Those three, however, they are admittedly only looking for trouble and I would that they looked elsewhere.”

After taking a few puffs on her pipe, with a smile, she says to Ealisaid, “Magnimar is just as I remembered – nothing boring about this place. Thank you for the adventurous evening.”

Ealisaid laughs, “Believe me, I had no intention of dragging you into an adventure such as this. I merely wanted to keep an eye on things. However, I am glad you were here. Without your assistance things may have gone worse for your friends and many others. And I thank you too, Sir Caelinus, for your timely arrival.”

Caelinus nods, “I owe you a debt Ealisaid. Your intervention may have saved my life. Surely Narcizia intended me to wait in my quarters and to invite her in when she arrived later in the evening. I would be nothing more than a dry husk by morning if you had not alerted the watch commander who then woke the Signifer and broke the enchantment.”

Caelinus asks Zeyala, “You have not told me about the young Tian man who left with that girl, Twilight Blossom. Is he also one of your friends? What is his story? He seemed much more earnest than the others. My guess would be that he is some knight or paladin of Iomedae. Am I right?”

“You guessed right,” answer Zeyala. “He is a paladin in service of Iomedae.”

“However,” she continues. ”I really don’t know that much about him. He is an honorable man, to a fault… but distant. His mission was his own, but we somehow stumbled into it. Had he confided in us, perhaps we wouldn’t have brought so much chaos to Magnimar with us. But then again, most of us are as new to him as we are to each other. And trust is an expensive commodity. The girl he left with, I have no idea of their relation.”

“Hmm, well, I have no problem with the followers of Iomedae, though I find some of their ideas about mercy and restraint towards those who would break our laws to be naïve and even laughable. A good sort though.”

Caelinus finishes his drink and then excuses himself. “I must be off. It has been a pleasure ladies.”

Ealisaid says, “Goodnight Sir Caelinus. I think I must be getting to bed myself. Zeyala, I can walk back with you to your inn. It is, after all, on the way to the Midwives Shrine.”

“Thank you. I appreciate the company.” Zeyala gets up to leave, saying to the Hellknight, ”Good night to you Sir Caelinus.”

Considering how to show his appreciation to his comrades, Toshio is glad he didn’t have to spend his money for the atonement spell. He can use that money instead to get his friends something to commemorate defeating the vampire and the help they gave him this night. Something they can wear proudly, in or out of armor. Then it comes to him. If he can get them made, a gold pin in the shape of a wooden stake would be just the thing! He resolves to look into it after they’ve rested.

Back at the Temple of Iomedae, Chaplain Tira is astounded but pleased to see that Toshio has returned with Iolana. The girl is quickly settled into Haven with her own room. The reunion between Iolana and her friend Piousa is a bit awkward, as Piousa is overjoyed to see her friend alive, well, and free, but Iolana is still fairly traumatized by the events of the evening and full of shame and guilt for what she unleashed and became (however unwilling) an accomplice to. Chaplain Tira suggests to Toshio that they leave the girls to catch-up and invites Toshio back to her office so that he can tell her what happened.

Toshio bids the girls farewell, pleased that they seem to be on a good path at last.

Toshio tries to give Chaplain Tira a thorough briefing, but things were happening so fast that he’s sure he is leaving out some details. He confirms that he did not take advantage of any of the girls’ profession, but merely engaged in conversation. He describes briefly the wait for Iolana, then meeting her. He tells of Narcizia’s entrance, then follows up with his misunderstanding that led to him leaving with Narcizia.

He goes into some detail regarding his revulsion when he detected the strong evil in her, and his relief that his friends were (serendipitously) nearby to help (certainly saving his life). Her ability to control people’s minds is described. In this he includes the fact that a Hellknight also fell under her control.

He only covers sparingly the fight as he re-entered the Garden, then tells how he found Iolana again and they all went to finish off the vampire while it was still weakened. Anyanka’s complicity with the vampire is described, and the final outcome.

Lastly, he notes that he never got the chance to settle his bill. He intends to return to do so, as he doesn’t want the girls involved to be left short because of his actions. And he mentions his intent to have gifts for his friends crafted as tokens of his appreciation.

Chapain Tira smiles, “All seems to have worked out as the goddess would have intended, even to the extent of having the very friend, or at least ally, that you had insulted come to your aid. You yourself have performed admirably. In fact, you did more perhaps than I had intended. If I had known that there was a vampire involved… I pray your forgiveness in that matter, for I should not have sent you into such a great peril as that alone. In any case, don’t worry about any bill. I will send someone around to settle any outstanding debts, and to be assured that the girls are being treated well and in no further danger from either predators or the Hellknights.”

*                                                                     *                                                          *

“Twilight Blossom is safe?” asks Zeyala upon Toshio’s return to the inn.

“Iolana is her real name. And yes, I’m happy to report that she is safe. She is with her friend – the one who initiated all this – at the Haven in Iomedae’s temple. Thanks to you, I’m also safe, and very satisfied with the night’s work.”

“Iolana… that’s a lovely name.  I’m glad to know that she will be alright,” says Zeyala.

Toshio asks, “But the night’s work has left me very thirsty. What would you like to drink? And do you think the others will be joining us, or are they continuing their romp? I’ll get drinks for them, too, if they’re coming.”

“I’m not sure what the others have in mind for the rest of the evening, but a glass of wine would be divine.

Lighting her pipe, Zeyala continues, ”But Toshio, why did you not let us know what was happening? You could have been killed. So could any of us. Fate has brought us together, all of us. I’m sure of that. But it does none of any good if we don’t work together.”

Toshio orders some wine for Zeyala and good ale for himself. Then, between sips, he tries to answer her concerns. “I didn’t think any of you would be involved at all, or I would have filled you in beforehand. As it was, even I didn’t know that I’d be doing any ‘undercover’ work – no pun intended, and nothing like that happened – until after we’d all split up. Sure, we know now that it was wildly dangerous, but nobody on our side had any idea what was really going on. I probably wouldn’t have been sent on the mission if anyone had known. As it was, I was very, very lucky you happened to be there before Narcizia could kill me.”

“Thank you,” says Zeyala before taking a sip of the wine. “I understand now, but despite that you should have given us at least a hint before you had us follow you back into the brothel. All we knew was that you were looking for someone inside.”

With a chuckle, Zeyala adds, “We could have come up with a better plan than, ‘Get her!’

“Yes, I was a bit focused on my task, Toshio replies.

“Perhaps.” shrugs Jethrik as he comes into the room with Keng and Jharad and overhears Zeyala’s comment, “but who can quibble with success?”

Seeing the others come in, Toshio motions to the innkeeper for more ale for his friends and continues his explanation.

“When I walked into the Blissful Garden I had no idea what evil lurked there. My goal was to encourage Iolana to decide to leave that place for good, and to help her do so. I was also to help the other girls there if possible. It was known that something strange was going on, but not what. If my order had known what was going on, I doubt I’d have been sent. Also, I’ve never encountered a vampire before and didn’t know that’s what Narcizia was, only that she had a powerful aura of evil (and that was only discovered moments before you came to my rescue). I didn’t know what she really was until she had already turned to mist and we were heading back inside.

“Well, there had been enough trouble inside already, thanks to Keng and friends, and it could have been that Narcizia would make more. That’s why I asked you all to come back inside with me. And at that point we all knew there was significant danger – I didn’t think it required more explanation. It was Ealisaid, I think, that mentioned that vampires can regenerate within an hour and our time to finish it off was short. With that in mind, there wasn’t time for lengthy explanations.

“I wasn’t recalling that Keng and others had just been involved in a brawl inside the Garden and wouldn’t be welcome there. I had at first hoped to get Iolana out without a fuss, with the rest of you as back up, just in case. But getting you all back inside proved… difficult. Then the Hellknights arrived – something I’d been instructed to avoid, if possible, but it worked in our favor this time.

“I didn’t want to bring Iolana into the basement and expose her to more danger, but it was necessary. Apparently she was the only one who knew where the lair was. And you know the rest. So many things were happening so fast – and I’ve left out huge amounts of detail – there wasn’t an opportunity for full explanations, unless we risked letting the vampire escape, until now.” He takes another sip to wet his mouth. “I hope you won’t hold that against me.”

Jethrik rolls his eyes “No, but the whole… paladins as perfect and wise beyond words thing is totally out the window.”

“Well, here’s to walking away with only a few bruises, but all our limbs intact,” says Zeyala while raising her glass to toast.

“Here, here!” Jethrik joins in and takes a swig from his half pint. Turning to Toshio. “Aren’t you guys supposed to see into the future or something?”

“We do,” replies Toshio, hiding his mirth with another swig, “but we’re not allowed to tell what we see.”

“Or act on it, apparently,” says Jethrik.

“Or maybe… I was acting on it! Ha ha!”

“Oh he acts on it when it suits him,” grumps Keng. “He left us behind first in the Gardens and then in the cellars. Some paladin,” Keng snorts.

Toshio replies, “Keng, you were wonderful! You attacked the vampire, distracted Anyanka, and then kept her under attack until the Hellknight could take her into custody. Without your help I couldn’t have completed the mission. And I’m delighted that nobody suffered any serious wounds in the process. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Keng.”

Keng looks confused, then blinks his eyes and shakes his head. He scrunches up his face and replies, “Don’t get tricky like the elf.”

Jharad smiles at the reference but remains quiet, sipping his ale.

Toshio laughs gently upon hearing Keng’s suspicious nature expressing itself once more.

“And not just Keng,” continues Toshio. “You were each in the right place at the right time. I thank you all for your help.”

Jharad finally says with a serious tone, “Yes, Keng did very well tonight. In fact we all dealt with the situations presented to us quite well – with the exception of you, Toshio. I understand you were presented with conflicting courses of action and that in the end the safety of who you considered innocent took precedence, but the fact of the matter is that you asked for our help, lead us back into the brothel, and then abandoned us to Anya and her bodyguards. Without knowing the outcome, you left those who were following you behind. That is the mark of a bad leader. You need to correct that about yourself if you wish to lead us in the future.”

Taken aback, Toshio just looks at Jharad incredulously for a moment. Then he recalls Jharad’s usual level of tact. Nodding, he replies (in what might seem dismissive to someone with normal social skills), “I see, Jharad. I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

*                                                              *                                                         *

The next day is the celebration of the Day of the Inheritor, the commemoration of the welcoming of the worshippers of the late god Aroden into the Church of Iomedae. The day is commemorated with a solemn procession of the Iomedaean sword-circles and other white-clad lay followers through the city culminating in a circumambulation around the Seerspring Garden and then a noon feast at the Temple of Iomedae. Toshio, his mission complete, is able to join his own sword-circle, the dozen fellow knights with whom he trained before he returned to Sandpoint. At the feast Toshio and the others are able to relax and enjoy the various entertainments, including sacred plays enacting the various acts of Iomedae.

Afterwards, Zeyala makes one more visit to the Temple of Pharasma. She also buys a a silk scarf that is alabaster with gold accent, Magnimar’s colors.

Toshio also heads to the market on his own to buy pendants for everyone. He is not able to find gold stakes, but he does find silver fangs. He plans to present them to the others back in Sandpoint so all the people who know and care about them can also appreciate what they’ve done – and perhaps raise their status in the town somewhat when the townsfolk hear the tale.

As they leave the inn, Jharad settles all of their lodging accounts with the gold he made from selling Anyanka’s silver medallion bearing the three-blades of Calistria. He does the same for the night’s stay at the roadside inn on their way back to Sandpoint. When asked about this he smiles and responds, “Anyanka was kind enough to provide for our lodging given the trouble she caused us.”

Keng shrugs his shoulders and walks away as if to say of course this makes sense.

Jethrik chuckles, “Well, I prefer that over a hickey!”

Toshio also chuckles and says, “Well, it’s the least she could do.”

On the way back to Sandpoint, Jharad enjoys an ale while relaxing at a road side inn after the days ride from Magnimar. He pulls a rolled parchment from his pack and hands it to Toshio with a smile. On the parchment is a sketch depicting the processional during the Day of the Inheritor. While many figures are depicted, the focus of the scene is of Toshio, riding high on his horse, armor glinting in the sun, looking both majestic and devout. Surrounding or perhaps radiating from the paladin’s head is an extremely faint glow of white light, easy to miss with a cursory glance at the drawing. It is signed at the bottom right corner in Elvish runes – ‘Jharalion Aeirandi.’

Toshio unrolls the parchment and is surprised to see himself presented so. “This is quite nice, Jharad. You’ve certainly been generous to me in your presentation. You used you magic to make the sketch, no doubt, eh? Yes, very nice indeed.”

Upon returning to Sandpoint, Toshio makes arrangements to meet the others at the Rusty Dragon later on. Then he rides home to wash up. Dressing nicely, he makes sure he has his gifts with him, plus enough coin for dinner and drinks for everyone that evening.

At the Rusty Dragon he orders everyone a drink, and loud enough for the other guests to hear he says, “Things in Magnimar happened so fast that I barely got a chance to thank each of you for your actions, let alone thank you properly. Tonight I’d like to fix that.

“I went to Magnimar on business of my own, and each of you had your own reasons for going. And, as you four know, my work got me into a nearly fatal situation. While trying to help one of Magnimar’s residents I happened to meet a vampire, and I was supremely lucky that you four were nearby. First Zeyala, then each of you rushed in when I called for help. We managed to defeat the vampire, but not destroy it.

“Then, proving your worth as friends still further, you followed me back into the building so I could finish my task and finish off the vampire. That led to a painful fight with the proprietress and the Hellknights somehow got involved. But thanks to your help we managed to rescue the girl and the vampire was finally destroyed. To show my appreciation for your help and friendship, and to commemorate your part in ridding Magnimar of a significant evil, I would like to present each of you with a gift.”

He brings out a silver fang pendant and puts it on Zeyala. “Zeyala, thank you for being the first to come to my aid, and thank you for healing us so often in the fight that followed.”

He brings out a similar pendant and approaches Keng. “Keng, it’s clear that we don’t agree on many things. But it’s also clear that you value honor, bravery in battle and comrades every bit as much as I do.” He places the pendant on Keng and adds, “And I honor you for your outstanding actions that night. Your attacks on the vampire and against Anyanka kept me alive, and you provided superb distractions so I could get back inside to complete my task.”

Another silver fang pendant is placed on Jethrik. “Jethrik, thank you for following me back into the building. You didn’t know my task or what might be expected, but you trusted me and came anyway, even though I hadn’t had time to explain anything.”

“And Jharad,” he continues, presenting him with his own fang pendant, “thank you for your help. I don’t know how you managed to have everyone in the right place at the right time, or how you found the Hellknights so quickly (that was your doing, wasn’t it?), but without your intervention I wouldn’t be here.

“Clearly, there is much to the tale that I’ve left out, but I’ll leave those things to the bards among us to tell more elaborately than I could. I just want you to know how much I esteem each of you.” Bowing to them in the manner of his ancestors he closes with a simple “Thank you” and sits down, fully expecting that Jethrik will grab the opportunity to tell the tale in detail.

Jharad smiles at the paladin. “Thank you Toshio. As I said before you were faced with several difficult decisions that evening and leading a rabble like we seemed must have been daunting. Though I have admonished some of your decisions already I would like to say that in retrospect with the clearer visage that only time allows I can understand them. Your actions are honorable and you regularly think of others before your self. In the future I will remember this and endeavor to follow your lead with more trust.” With this he raises his glass to all around him and loudly says so that all those in the tavern can hear, “To Toshio, may he never find fail to come back from the brink of death.”

Zeyala bows graciously. “Thank you Toshio. Completely unexpected… and unnecessary, but I am humbled.”

Keng takes off the pendant and holds it out to Jharad, “Does it do anything?”

Chuckling, Jharad responds, “Yes, it keeps your neck warm on cold nights.”

Keng tosses it back to Toshio and says, “I ain’t in your club paladin. And you can’t buy me that cheap.”

Jharad frowns at Keng, “You are being rude Keng. He is not asking for you to join a club. Nor is he asking for anything like your allegiance. He is only expressing his thanks for us having his back in Magnimar. Surely supporting your mates in combat is something you can understand and appreciate.”

Disappointed, Toshio tucks the pendant into a pocket as he sits. “Jharad is correct. But of course I won’t force a gift on you.” He says no more about it, but waits with great curiosity to see if Keng will retract his words or even accept the gift.

Keng gives Toshio a blank look and continues drinking. He looks at Jharad and says, “The paladin needs more than a silver tooth to make amends. Such a trivial gift is more an insult than thanks. I do not wear jewelry I have not won in combat.”

Jharad laughs and says to Toshio, “Well… there it is,” and takes a big swig of his ale.

“Yes, there it is indeed.” He takes a swallow of his own drink. “Perhaps later you can help me understand what amends you are looking for, Keng. I wouldn’t want to leave any bad blood between us. Certainly let’s not let it ruin the evening.”

Keng leans forward and replies, “Give a gift that has meaning to who you give it not just yourself, tell your mates what you intend before leading them hastily into danger and pay me well to watch you back.  The road to the Nine Hells is paved with good intentions and so far your choices have proved ill conceived.”

“It was never my intention to lead anyone that night. My task was mine alone. It proved beyond me and it was only by Iomedae’s grace that all if you were there. You not only rescued me but also helped me finish my task. You were under no obligation to help – yet you did. If we continue our association I hope to learn what meaning you value so any gifts I offer will mean as much to you as to me.” He smiles good-naturedly, refusing to let the situation cloud the evening. “Until then, because I know so little of you except your strength and temper, I’ll just have to keep trying. Let me get you another ale.”

“Now that is a gift with meaning! Let us drink to more adventures!”

Keng continues after drinking, “Feed me/Pay me/Mine own hands find gifts.” He utters a loud guffaw pleased with his own lame ham-fisted attempt at poetry.

Jethrik is visibly relieved by the de-escalation of tension. He begins to play with his pendant, putting it in his mouth like a fang and saying, “Rawr! Rawr!”

Agents of Chaos

Other patrons and prostitutes begin coming out of the various rooms opening onto the atrium from the first floor or the second floor balcony. They too begin fleeing for the stairs and side exits at the sight of the Hellknights, like rats from a sinking ship.

One girl, however, does not flee. It is the Ulfen warrior maiden that Keng had been seeing earlier. She comes down the other stairwell opposite the one taken by Toshio, Jethrik, and Twilight Blossom. She stands and points to the girl and says loudly, “She is the one who knows where the vampire can be found – she and Anyanka. They are the ones who invited the cursed one among us and allowed her to use this place as a haven and hunting ground.”

Ealisaid hears this and says, “If this is true girl, then you had best tell us where it is and quickly.” Turning to Zeyala she says, “You may not now this but vampires reduced to a mist return to their coffins and reform within an hour. We do not have much time. We must find it before it is back to its full strength. When that happens it will certainly try to hunt down anyone who knows its true nature while the night remains, and there are many hours yet until dawn.”

“Aww crap,” Jethrik comments.

Keng snarls, “Toshio, explain why you risked us for a girl who consorts with vampires?”

Toshio responds, “First we must get as many to safety as possible, and Iolana here in particular to Ionedae’s temple.”

Turning to Iolana Toshio asks, “Do you indeed know where the coffin lays? Much evil can be avoided if the vampire can be destroyed now.”

Iolana looks down at her feet. It is clear that she is deeply shamed to admit that she does indeed know where the vampire is. She mumbles, “It is in the wine cellar. Well, just past it anyway. I will show you. I swear by all the gods that I didn’t mean to release it.”

Toshio looks to the priestesses of Pharasma and says, “Okay, we’ll take you there, and Iolana will lead us, but once you know where the lair is I will be taking Iolana to safety.”

Turning to Iolana he says in a kindlier tone, “Okay, Iolana. Please lead us, and quickly.”

As they go he calls to Keng. “Sorry, friend. My excuses will have to wait a while longer. But don’t worry – I’ll explain everything soon enough.”

Keng snorts, “Yeah, you keep saying that. But a reckoning we shall have.”

Iolanal leads Toshio and the others down the stairs off the atrium that lead into the wine cellar. She tells Toshio that it is down there that they will find Narcizia.

Keng mutters and grumbles to himself, and then whispers to Jharad, though not so quietly so that he can’t be overheard in the close confines of the basement cellar, “Pretty boy is leading us on another fracking bug hunt. Are all paladins idiots? When they swear their vows to be goodie-two-shoes do they leave their brains behind?”

Jharad draws his dagger and smiles at Keng’s comment.

Zeyala has also drawn her dagger. Following behind she says, “I can heal the living or hurt the undead only a few more times.”

On the way down, Toshio tries to find anything resembling a wooden stake.

Keng snickers and suggests, “Samurai, perhaps you could use your pecker as a stake?”

Zeyala can barely contain her snicker, but then composes herself to the seriousness of the moment.  ”Keng,” she whispers.  ”This is hardly the time.”

Suitably chastised Keng tries hard to make a serious face.

“Thank you for the promotion, Keng,” Toshio responds to the jibe, “but if nothing presents itself, my dagger will have to do.”

Down in the dark and musty wine cellar, lit only by an everburning torch in a bracket by the entrance, Iolana leads Toshio and the others to a series of shelves by the east wall. There she points to a crack in the wall between two of the shelves.

Iolana explains, “I heard from the other girls that the founder of the Blissful Garden was a wealthy procurer named Calogero. The rumor is that he was actually a vampire and that when he was destroyed his ashes were interred among the crypts beneath the Garden that were then sealed off. Some said that this was not true and that his ashes were scattered, but others said that not only his ashes but also the great treasures that he had amassed were also sealed off. I was curious, and I also wondered why the wine cellar did not extend all the way beneath the Garden. I hoped that if I could find the old crypts and Calogero’s treasure then I could buy my freedom and join my friend Piousa at the temple of Iomedae. So I came down here about a month ago and used that pickaxe,” she points to the tool in question lying in an empty barrel nearby, “to see if there was anything beyond this wall. I had only opened a little crack in the plaster and stonework beyond it when a mist poured out into the wine cellar. It was Narcizia. Calogero had indeed been destroyed, but Narcizia had been his favorite. He had turned her but no one knew about her. Her tomb had been down among the crypts that were sealed off. When I tried to get into them the seal was broken. She came through and promised me that with her help I would soon have everything I ever wanted, freedom, power, men falling at my feet. Instead, she enslaved me and used me as a cover so she could get herself invited into the homes of her prey. On three occasions she lost control and drank too much, killing them. Madam Anyanka found out what was going on, and they reached some kind of agreement, but the agreement almost ended tonight after Narcizia used her power on a Hellknight. Madam Anyanka confronted her, and Narcizia took control of her as well. Then you came. When you left with Narcizia I knew that you were doomed. But now you have come back. Iomedae has sent you to rescue me… from Narcizia, from Anyanka, from all of this.”

“You ungrateful wench!” screeches Anyanka as she appears from around the corner of the row of barrels to the south of them. “I provided a home and a family here for you. And Narcizia could have drained you dry, but no! She took you under her wing like a little sister. No matter now. None of you will leave this cellar alive!” Anyanka cracks her whip and at the sound of the lash, barrels begin to crack open in the wine cellar. From out of two barrels on either side of the stairwell leading back up to the atrium and from out of a third in the middle of the stacks of barrels not twenty feet from Toshio and Iolana crawl the corpses of beggars taken off the streets of Magnimar, murdered and turned into undead guardians by the vicious madam of the Blissful Garden to watch over the haven of the vampire Narcizia.

“And you Captain! You have betrayed my hospitality. Feel the sting of Calistria!” Anyanka steps forward sending the lash of her whip curling around his boots. Before he can react she hauls him off his feet, easy prey now for the zombie bearing down on him.

Iolana screams in terror and cowers in the corner between the shelving and the wine barrels.

Jharad magically enhances his dagger and then intercepts the zombie lunging for Zeyala. He stabs the zombie twice, the first delivering a white emblazoned symbol of Calistria on its chest. The second blow takes its head off completely. The undead creature falls inert to the ground.

Ealisaid is outraged at what Anyanka has done. “You would defile the corpses of the slain in this manner! You defy the Lady of Graves blasphemer!” She holds up the spiral holy symbol of Pharasma and a golden radiant light fills the wine cellar. The two remaining zombies moan as flakes of dead skin and muscle begin falling away from them, but they are not yet destroyed.

“Pharasma, cleans these abominations from this realm,” chants Zeyala as she adds her channeled power to Ealisaid’s.

Even as the zombies deteriorate, Jethrik whips out his dagger, races past Zeyala and Jharad, leaps up onto the stairs to get on a level with one of the zombie bearing down on them, and drives his dagger into its lower jaw and into its brain. It too collapses inert.

One last zombie remains and very aware that they may have to face the vampire again Keng grabs an old peg leg off the shelving and attempts to break it. It proves stronger than he thought and Keng soon works himself up into a rage as he tries snapping off the end of the peg to create makeshift stake. Keng screams, “Gorum’s Hairy Iron Balls! What the frack is this leg made of?!” His eyes are red and bulge out, he is breathing in great snorts as he tries again, and fails, to break the peg leg in two.

“Must have been owned by a very heavy pirate!” quips Jethrik.

Toshio gets back to his feet and draws his dagger, readying himself for the final zombie’s charge. At the same time, he observes that the aura around Anyanka is strongly evil, even more intense than the moderate evil of Narcizia. “Get Iolana to safety!” he shouts.

The zombie slams into Toshio, who is appalled at its devastating strength as his head and back cracks into the shelving behind him.

Jharad circles around the barrels to help Toshio, but the barrels hinder his first lunge at the zombie.

Anyanka lashes Toshio’s hand with her whip, causing him to drop his dagger.

Ealisaid continues to hold forth Pharasma’s spiral and the last zombie collapses into dust before it can strike Toshio again.

Zeyala moves up behind Toshio and casts Pharasma’s guidance on him, and then upon Jharad as well.

Jethrik runs back to the eastern portion of the room and peeks around the barrels. Smearing a bit of of butter from the pouch at his belt on his right palm he pantomimes walking across the grease with his left hand. “Whoops!” he exclaims and his fingers take a pratfall. At this the butter disappears in a glowing mist that shoots towards the floor by Anyanka’s feet causing her to slip and fall.

Toshio roars as he charges Anyanka, lands atop her, and attempts to pin her.

“We got ourselves a greased pig contest!” Jethrik announces.

With Toshio holding her, Jharad steps forward and strikes with his dagger, drawing blood from her free left arm as she attempts to intercept the blow with her bracer. Desperate Anyanka grasps the medallion bearing the three bladed symbol of Calistria and calls upon the wrath of the Goddess of Revenge. A dark radiance reaches out and begins sucking the life force from all in the wine cellar. Ealisaid counters Anyanaka by calling upon the life force in the name of Pharasma. Iolana runs shrieking from the wine cellar, just as Toshio finally pins Anyanka to the floor, preventing her from holding forth the symbol of Calistria. The dark energy she was radiating recedes.

Keng,  still determined to break the peg leg, wedges it in between the shelves and leaning his entire body weight against it he gives a great push finally succeeding in snapping in two. The two pieces break apart leaving the ends jagged and sharp; perfect stakes for an evil vampire’s extermination. ”Yes!” he cries out.

“Jharad!” shouts Zeyala. ”Get Anyanka’s holy symbol as from her as you can. Without it, her powers are weakened.” As she says this she cast another spell of guidance on Jharad and moves down into the rows of wine kegs to get away from Anyanka.

Jethrik calls out to Toshio and Jharad, “Watch where you put those hands! You don’t know where she’s been!”

A scream is heard from the top of the stairs. It is Iolana, and suddenly she is backing down the stairs again, shrinking from the fully armed and armored hellknight, Sir Caelinus. “Going somewhere, little lady,” he hisses from behind the closed visor of his helm.

Iolana runs to Ealisaid’s side and begs her to protect her from the Hellknight.

Jharad, tearing the medallion from Anyanka’s hand, says to the Hellknight while pointing to her, “Anyanka here is the one who ensorcelled you and our paladin friend…”

Anyanka screams in anguish, bucking and writhing beneath Toshio. She succeeds in throwing him off of her, and tries to scramble to her feet, evading Toshio and Jharad’s attempts to grab her again.

Sir Caelinus roughly shoves his way past Jethrik. Ealisaid, and Iolana until he is able to see Anyanka struggling to get away from Toshio and Jharad.

Ealisaid calls out, “Halt!” as a divine command, but the spell has no power over the priestess of Calistria.

Seeing that Anyanka has successfully thrown them off Keng bellows, “Bitch!” He runs and attempts a flying tackle to grapple her. He ends up sailing over her head hitting the grease and sliding into the barrels along the wall.

Jharad runs after and past Zeyala, turning right at the end of the row of barrels, determined to get the three-bladed symbol of Calistria far from the hands of Anyanka.

Ealisaid takes hold of Iolana’s hand and drags her out of the wine cellar and up the stairs where they are stopped by an officer of the watch and his patrol.

Zeyala stops in the middle of the row and sends forth another burst of healing power. Jethrik is healed of all wounds, and though still feeling a bit shaky, Toshio also feels greatly relieved.

Jethrik tries to run to the west side of the room to meet up with Jharad but is intercepted by the officer of the watch who steps off the stairs and draws his short sword. “Stop right there, gnome! What’s going on here?”

Jethrik responds to the officer of the watch, “Madame Anyanka is harboring a vampire. We’re just trying to stay alive.”

Ealisaid adds, “The gnome speaks the truth. We are here to hunt the vampire down – and Anyanka tried to stop us. We don’t have much time before it is able to attack again.”

“Just everyone stay were they are, until Sir Caelinus sorts it out,” says the officer. “All of you stand back against those kegs and keep your hands up where I can see them.”

Six members of the Magnimar Guard armed with halberds pour down into the wine cellar, some going to the west and others to the east so they can begin a sweep.

Hearing the guard tromping down into the cellar, Jharad slows, sheaths his dagger and stashes the symbol of Calistria in his boot. He then walks around the corner of the row of wine barrels, raising his arms and smiling at the guards as he comes into view.

Caelinus calls out, “No one leaves here!” He then swiftly moves to Toshio’s side to help grab Anyanka.

Keng gets up and runs after Anyanka.

Seeing that she is unlikely to get around Toshio and Caelinus, and that Keng is right behind her, Anyanka whips out a silver dagger and puts her back against the wall. “You’ll never take me alive!” she roars.

Keng tries to doge Anyanka’s blade and grab hold of her. She does manage to scratch him but he succeeds in grabbing her arm.

Already unarmed, Toshio keeps an eye on Anyanka but also keeps his distance. He keeps his hands lowered and non-threatening to let the Hellknight and the Guard take over against Anyanka. The Hellknight clearly has responsibility for the situation at this point, and Toshio has mixed feelings about that.  He’s grateful for the extra help – he wasn’t sure how they’d have held out against Anyanka and a vampire – but he had hoped to avoid having the Hellknights coming down on the girls of the brothel. “My lord, it’s true,” he says to the Hellknight. “A vampire is hiding behind that wall.” He gestures to the eastern wall.

Caelinus says to Toshio, “Stay out of the way boy. Go back to the stairs.”

Toshio raises his hands in submission to the Hellknight and says, “Yes sir. Up the stairs it is.” He turns and heads to the stairs, meaning to join Iolana and head upstairs with her.

Caelinus walks over and reaches out to jab at Anyanka with the index finger of his right hand.

Anyanka screams in pain but soon masters herself and with her free hand makes a hammering motion and shouts, “Chaos hammer!” Immediately a multicolored explosion of leaping, ricocheting energy engulfs Caelinus, Keng, and that entire corner of the wine cellar though not quite reaching where Toshio stands. Now it is the Hellknights turn to scream in agony. He staggers back from the awful power unleashed by the priestess of Calistria. Keng, to his delight, finds that he is completely unaffected. If anything, he only feels a warm tingly sensation and a sense of well-being.

Toshio looks back, but Keng doesn’t seem to be in trouble, and the Hellknight seems tough enough to continue. Toshio’s mission is to help Iolana (and, hopefully, the other girls of the establishment), so he continues to the stairs.

Jharad yells out to those near the stairs, “Your Hellknight is losing the battle, you may want to step in and help.”

 The officer of the watch and two of his men shove their way past Toshio and Jharad. One guard is left behind at the top of the stairs to prevent anyone from leaving and to keep a wary eye on Ealisaid, Jethrik, Iolana, and now Toshio.

Keng succeeds in pinning Anyanka, but his rage is spent and he can feel his strength ebbing.

“Foul agent of Chaos! I will smite thee!” shouts Caelinus, and though still staggered from the spell, he drops his shield and lays into Anyanka with his gauntleted fists as Keng holds her arms behind her back.

Anyanka manages to twist free from Keng, however. She tries to run for the door on the west wall, though Caelinus buffets her again.

At the stairwell Toshio sees that a Signifer, a Hellknight wizard, has  come down the stairs and says to him, “Your captain is fighting the madam, and needs extra help.”

The iron masked red-cloaked Signifer runs to Jharad’s side. He sees that Anyanka is going for the door that probably leads to the cellars beneath the tavern. “It’s time to put an end to this!” He begins gesturing and casting and before Anyanka can open the door a monstrously large hound appears with fiery red eyes. It’s hair bristles like flames as it growls menacingly. Flames erupt from between its jaws and scour the floor just behind Anyanka. She turns and puts her back to the door, and then just sinks to her knees. She knows that there can be no escape from the Hellknights of the Order of the Nail.

The guards rush in and soon she is in manacles and being hauled to her feet. A quick but rough search is made and she is dispossessed of her bracers and a potion. The other guards sweeping the cellar soon find her dagger and whip. The Signifer dismisses the hell hound.

Caelinus, fully recovered from the chaos hammer, takes off his helmet. He turns to Keng and says, “Well, if it isn’t the barbarian who offered to buy me an ale. And now you and your friends have helped us arrest a priestess of Calistria that has been harboring at least one vampire. I know that you three are Agents of Chaos but today you have helped maintain the Law, witting or not. Perhaps it is I that owe you all a round of ale.”

Keng shrugs his shoulders as if to say it wasn’t anything special and says, “Sir Knight, an ale sounds good right now, I am most tired, dinner too? Oh, and here’s something you might want for the vampire,” he hands Caelinus the wooden stake he made.

Caelinus accepts the stake. “Yes, I want that vampire! I owe her something too.” Saying that he draws his sword and advances upon Anyanka, putting the tip of his blade under her chin and forcing her head up so that she must look him in the eye. “Where is she?”

As though speaking against her will, Anyanka replies, “I cannot say. Kill me now if you must.”

Hearing Caelinus question Anyanka, Jethrik says to the nearby guard, “She’s behind that wall.” He points to the east wall.

The Signifer looks over and sees where Jethrik and Jharad are indicating. “Sir Caelinus, they say the vampire is over this way.”

The crack in the wall is soon found. Caelinus orders the guard to start taking apart the wall. In the meantime, he asks those present to explain what has happened. Ealisaid steps forward at that point and recounts the story Iolana had told her about accidentally freeing the vampire while searching for treasure, and how the vampire subsequently used her powers to control Twlight Blossom and Anyanka and to stalk those coming to the Blissful Garden. She explains how she and Zeyala were watching when Toshio and his friends came to the brothel and how Toshio had to be rescued from Narcizia. She discretely does not mention that Toshio is a paladin of Iomedae.

“Yes, I too have felt Narcizia’s insidious power,” says Caelinus ruefully. “I came here to investigate and this Narcizia tried to seduce me. She failed and then attacked me. I tried to strike her down but she weakened me and then took control of my mind. It is good that you drove her off. Now if we can find her resting place we can make sure she meets a more final end.”

Ealisaid continues by telling how she returned to the brothel and found out what had been happening. She insisted that they go back inside and attempt to find the vampire at once. She does not mention that Jharad used illusionary images of Hellknights to do it. She does say that once found and freed of the vampire’s influence, Twilight Blossom cooperated in showing them where the vampire might be found, and that is when the confrontation with Anyanka in the wine cellar occurred.

Caelinus looks to the others and asks, “Is there anything else any of you would like to add to this story?”

Jharad smiles saying, “That is as accurate as I would tell it.”

Toshio adds, “I think she has summed it up quite nicely. Anyanka’s tricks to keep the girls under her thumb led to Narcizia being released, and the rest you know.”

The guards finally break through the wall to reveal a series of catacombs. Fortunately they only extend beneath the Blissful Garden and it is not long before Caelinus, the Signifer, and Ealisaid find Narcizia’s coffin. The vampire lies within it like a fresh corpse only interred days before. Ealisaid tells Caelinus what must be done. Swiftly he drives Keng’s stake into the vampire’s heart, beheads the corpse and anoints the head with holy water given to him by Ealisaid. The head and corpse then disintegrate in moments as almost a century of decomposition catches up to them at once, leaving behind only the skull and bones. These Caelinus scatters. When this is done, Ealisaid checks the rest of the catacombs and then assures Caelinus that there are no more vampires or any other undead in the area. Caelinus then orders everyone out except for the guards who are left to guard the wall until a stonemason can be fetched to reseal it.

Rescuing Twilight Blossom

“This is not your mission, but I’d appreciate it if you’d stay close. Inside would be better, if the madam will allow it,” says Toshio to the others as he returns to the Garden. He makes sure his dagger is clean and sheathed before re-entering to look for Iolana/Twilight Blossom.

With a friendly smile, Jharad says, “of course we have your back Toshio,” and walks in next to him.

Keng is glad to hear that its back to the Garden for them since he left the Ulfen warrior maiden in a hurry with a gold piece holding her promise. He falls in at the rear looking around for any further signs of trouble.

Zeyala tentatively follows the others back inside. “My powers are waning. I’ll need to recite my evening prayers soon.”

Madame Anyanka and two bouncers intercept them at the front of the atrium. She looks down at the gnome and says, “He is welcome here.” Turning her eyes to Toshio she hesitates, obviously uncertain and surprised. “I thought you had engaged the services of one of our ladies already. I hope she was not a disappointment to you. You are welcome here though, but you are in unseemly company.” She casts her disapproving gaze upon Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng. “Your troublemaking friends are not welcome. They are banished from the Garden.” The two bouncers grin and slap their saps against their open left palms.

“I hope it’s not beyond mortal means to convince you that you are wrong about the others,” says Jethrik.

“I thank you for your understanding,” Toshio replies with an appreciative smile. “The disturbance caused some confusion, and I found myself led outside by one of the other girls while I waited for Twilight Blossom. Certainly Twilight Blossom has done nothing to disappoint me, and I would like to find her and continue our evening together.” Toshio makes no comment about the ‘unseemly company’, thinking that Jethrick will be enough back-up if needed. The vampire probably won’t be back soon enough to initiate any more violence while he talks to Iolana, so the others don’t need to be inside.

Keng blurts out, “I paid good money for some fun and have yet to get it. It is not my fault you allowed those trash drovers inside. Either give me my money back or get the frack out of my way.”

Jharad says to Toshio, “and tell her about the vampire.”

“Vampire?! What vampire?!” Anyanka says, slightly trembling.

Zeyala and Keng both realize that Anyanka is also being subject to the will of another and that means either the vampire girl is still “alive” (or undead as the case may be) or there is another vampire still active.

Toshio looks sternly at Jharad as he says, “You explain, please, master elf. Twilight Blossom,” he puts a bit of emphasis on Iolana’s working name, hoping that Jharad will understand that his mission involves her, “was expecting me in the room and deserves an explanation for my absence.” He leaves Madam Anyanka to rail at Jharad, and is grateful for the distraction, as he presses on into the Garden to find Iolana.

Jharad watches Toshio abandon them and then says to Anyanka, “Nevermind, apparently I misunderstood the gravity of the situation.” He turns to walk away from the brothel for good.

Keng reaches out to grab Anyanka while saying over his shoulder, “Everyone outside! Now!”

The bouncers, seeing Keng lunge for Anyanka move in to intercept him. The one on Anyanka’s left grabs Keng’s right arm with his left and proceeds to push Keng back with his right. Before the other bouncer can strike Keng with his sap, Jharad attempts to intervene by pushing him into the pool. The bouncer sees this and shifts aside, striking Jharad across the forehead instead.

Keng moves into the bouncer’s grapple, and then pivots and turns him into the other bouncer to block them both. He shouts, “More vampires inside! Get out now!”

“Ah well, yes… par for the course. Grab and smash,” mutters Zeyala as she reaches out to give Jharad a healing touch. Stepping back towards the door she says to Anyanka, “Look, I don’t know if you’re good or evil, acting on your own or not. I’ve lost interest. But I’m sure the commerce guild will be interested in the little undead party going on in here. Sorry boys… I’m tapped.”

Anyanka reaches out and strokes Keng’s arm saying, “Please, let us have no more fighting.” Keng is instantly disoriented, as feelings of love and lust fill his heart this charming and beautiful woman.

Jharad raises his hands as he backs up towards the door with Zeyala.

Taking advantage of Keng’s love-struck daze, the two bouncers attempt to take hold of him so they can throw him out; but Keng proves too strong for them. While smitten, for the moment, with Anyanka, he still resists them and maintains his hold on the first bouncer.

Hearing Zeyala’s threat, Anyanka finally backs away from Keng. “Get him out of here!” she hisses to her bodyguards as she turns and walks quickly away towards the far end of the atrium where the door to her office and the hall leading to the back garden are.

Keng seeing no one is listening and he is left alone decides it’s not his fight. He pushes off from the bouncers and backs out the door calling out to Toshio, “You’re on your own pretty boy.”

Toshio figures the scuffle is to his advantage and continues his search for Iolana, heading up the stairs when she’s not found in the atrium. He moves toward her room. As he goes, he gives a quick scan for evil in anyone he meets – he doesn’t want to find himself arm-in-arm again with a powerful evil being as he did with Narcizia. He detects little prickles of evil around him, probably the petty mortal evil of some of the clients and prostitutes in the atrium, nothing that Toshio hasn’t picked up on before when he was a paladin-in-training in Magnimar but distressingly more common than in Sandpoint where people are generally a bit more good hearted or at least more inclined to mind their own business than try to put one over on their neighbor.

“Toshio!” Jethrik snaps as he follows Toshio, “What is up with you? Why did you lead Keng and them into a fight? Why are you sticking your neck out?”

Toshio tries to reply quietly enough that Jethrik hears him, but not others. “I wasn’t trying, but when they said there may be more vampires I thought it would be better to be together. I was sent here on a mission to help the girls here, not for entertainment. That’s why I’m doing all this.”

Outside, Zeyala says to Jharad and Keng, “This is not good.”  ”I don’t know what Toshio’s agenda is, but he should not be in there alone. Hopefully Jethrik can keep an eye on him. That creature we fought in the street was definitely a vampire and I’m fairly sure Anyanka is in league with it. I didn’t detect any undead when we were near her and her goons, but that’s not to say there are no more inside her brothel. I’ll need to rest and pray before I am much use to anyone at this point.  And even if we had weapons, we’d probably be the ones to get arrested if we tried anything more with Anyanka,” she adds.

“Hmm,” Jharad replies, “I hate to be the one to suggest this but what about informing the Hellknights?”

At just that moment, the high priestess of the Midwife Shrine, Ealisaid, reappears from around the corner. “The Hellknights have already been informed. Alas for all who reside within the Blissful Garden.”

“Ah, Ealisaid…Wait. What?” says a confused Zeyala. ”We’ve got two friends inside there.”

Jharad says calmly, “That is not going to go well for them.”

Upstairs in the brothel, Toshio finds that Twilight Blossom’s door is closed.

“Toshio!” Jethrik warns, “Magic is active in there.” Which is a hell of a lot more info than I’ve gotten from you! he thinks.

“If they don’t open up, and soon, I’ll open it myself. Thanks for the warning.”

Despite picking up a spark of evil from whoever is within, Toshio still knocks. “There’s also a minor evil in there,” he says to Jethrik, “much like many of the denizens in this place.”

Twilight Blossom opens the door, “Oh! You’re back? I thought you had gone out with my friend Narcizia.” She stands there in the doorway, not appearing to be either pleased or displeased at Toshio’s return. She doesn’t seem to notice Jethrik at all.

Jethrik quickly sees that she is under an enchantment just as Toshio had been. He uses prestidigitation to create a small, crude marionette. Getting Toshio’s attention he just points from it to Twilight Blossom.

Toshio steps into the room, letting Jethrik enter as well, and then closes the door. Making the connection between Iolana and the marionette, he nods to Jethrik.

“Iolana, I am a priest of Iomedae. My real name is Toshio Izawa and I am here to help you leave this place and begin a better life. We have also discovered that Narcizia is actually a vampire and may be using magical abilities to control you and other girls here. Because of this it is far from safe for you to remain. Will you come with me to the temple of Iomedae now?” As he says this, he lays his hand on her shoulder and lets Iomedae’s power flow into Iolana.

Iolana jerks away at Toshio’s touch, but then her eyes widen. “Oh!” She shakes her head as if to clear it. “I… I… I am free! You have freed me!” She casts herself upon Toshio, grasping him in a tight embrace, her head upon his chest and then pulls away. “We must leave now! No one can beat her. She crushes the will of anyone she meets.”

“Sounds like my ex-wife.” Jethrik deadpans.

Smiling to see her freed, Toshio replies “Yes. Grab your things and let’s leave immediately. Narcizia is too much for us to handle right now. We’ll go to the temple and get help there.”

When Iolana has gathered her things, Toshio opens the door and checks the hallway. “How should I settle my bill here? I know it seems silly, but I can’t go without doing that.  Also, is there a way out that won’t alert Anyanka?”

“Ah…” Jethrik interjects “I have a little more experience with these things,” he chuckles, “There’s no way Anyanka is going to let your friend walk out of here. She’s… uhm… under contract with the house. I’d suggest a window or something. As for your tab, I’m on good terms here. Let me settle that. You two exit in the most discrete manner possible. Unless you want me to scout ahead for you…”

“Good plan! I’ll take care of the contract later. And I’ll certainly repay you when we meet later. Be careful.”

Outside, Ealisaid, addressing Zeyala but knowingly including her companions, says, “I caught up with Sir Caelinus before he got back to the Arvensoar, but I had no means of breaking the enchantment upon him. He allowed me to follow him back to the garrison. He headed back to his room without a word to me, as though getting back there were the only important thing. I then sought out the evening watch commander and he… well, he called for the Signifer. If you don’t know, the Signifers are the spellcasters among the Hellknights. He went to see Sir Caelinus and broke the enchantment. Sir Caelinus was not at all pleased. He is on his way here now with the Signifer at the head of a patrol. Zeyala, please tell me you have found out something about what is going on here. Who cast that spell upon Sir Caelinus? Was it Madame Anyanka? If we can find and capture the real culprit maybe the other girls will be spared.”

Keng is bored. He finds the whole thing quite a damper on his fun. He can tell now that this evening is not going to end well.

Jharad smiles and rests his hand on Keng’s massive shoulder. “I am sorry my friend, but remember the night is not over yet. Besides, you did get to wrestle with a vampire!”

Keng shrugs and nods, “Yeah that was fun.”

In response to Ealisaid, Zeyala says, “One of my colleagues was charmed and led away from the brothel by a vampire. Fortunately, Keng here, was able to get him away from the creature. I don’t think we destroyed it, but after fighting with it, it vanished. My friend had some unfinished business with one of the girls inside… oh… not that… um… well… anyway, it’s that paladin of Iomedae that I pointed out to you earlier. Well, we tried to follow him back in and Anyanka and her thugs chased us out. I’m fairly certain that she’s in league with the vampire. She had no interest in talking with us and managed to charm Keng,” she explains. “Oh, the gnome and my friend, the paladin, are still in the brothel… ” Zeyala adds.

Jharad says, “Okay, we need to go back in and get our friends. I will send in an illusion to lead us in then we quickly find them and leave. Good to go?”

“Are you crazy?” Keng crosses his arms and shakes his head. “There are more vampires in there and his lordship of blackness and his inquisitor leech will be here soon. We should stay out of this one.”

“But they mean to just sweep through and purge everyone, including Toshio and Jethrik!” says Zeyala. “My only concern is that I can heal maybe once more. I’d be more of a hinderance.”

Ealisaid breaks in, “It will be a little while before Sir Caelinus gets here. I left the Arvensoar when it was clear to me what they planned to do. They were still getting armed and ready then. I don’t think they will do any harm to any customers, but it is the innocent girls in there I am concerned about.”

Jharad pauses, “Well what do you think Zeyala? Any ideas how to sort out the innocent ones and get them to safety?”

“If we can get them in a group, I can cast my healing energy. If any of them are undead, we’ll know right away. For those that are charmed or in league with the vampire… I don’t know,” says Zeyala.

Keng snorts, “Hey everyone please gather in the atrium…” He then turns to Jharad, “Elf, I knew leaving my axe behind was a bad idea.”

Jharad responds, “Well this will have to do. Lets do this: Zeyala you stay by the door. Keng you follow me in and be my voice. I will need you to yell ‘everybody out now’ when I say. Ealisaid if you would be so kind as to back me up. Ready?”

“Grr! Ready!” growls Keng.

“Ready,” says Zeyala not so confidently.

“Yes, this is as good a plan as any, given we don’t have much time,” Ealisaid says. “I will also call upon the life giving power granted by the Lady when the time comes.”

Jharad nods then commands “Criar Imagem” as he creates the images of two Hellknights before him. Jharad has them lead him and the others into the atrium. At the sight of the bouncers he says, “That’s them!” and the images menacingly point and advance on them. At Jharad’s signal, Keng yells for everyone to clear out. Immediately, the atrium clears out, even the bouncers sprint for the other exits. No one wishes to chance being taken away by the Hellknights.

Jharad says quietly, “That worked well.”

Jethrik hears the commotion and looks down into the atrium. “I never thought I’d be happy to see a Hellknight!” Jethrik muses. “My lady, no need to defenestrate! Our passport has been made. Hellknights are busting up the place and your madam and her thugs have made themselves as scarce as you’d expect them to! Let’s promenade!”

 Seeing Toshio and Jethrik on the balcony above the atrium talking to a girl Jharad calls to them, “Gentlemen, we are going to have more company of the likes of these two very shortly. May I suggest we leave now.”

Jethrik tips his hat, “You are most perspicacious, my esteemed colleague. I concur with you in the most absolute terms!”

Keng reaches out for Zeyala’s arm to guide her. “Come Zeyala, let us begone before serious trouble erupts.”

“We must avoid the Hellknights. Other way,” Toshio says, turning back to go by the more “discrete” ways.

Narcizia

Toshio hears a knock at the door. “May I come in good sir?” asks a girl’s voice that he recognizes as the one that he first overhead squabbling with Madame Anyanka in the room in which he is now waiting.

Toshio opens the door and lets her in. “Come in. What is your name? They’re calling me Captain tonight.”

A young brunette is standing outside the door. Like Iolana, she is young and slim, but there the resemblance ends. She is even more beautiful, and has much more poise and elegance. “I am Narcizia,” she says as she comes in, closing the door gently behind her. She doesn’t seem to care at all about the brawl downstairs. “I am a friend of Twilight Blossom. I thought I’d keep you company until she returns with some wine and perhaps some cheese and grapes. I take it this is your first time here. How do you like it?”

“Pleased to meet you, Narcizia. It’s certainly been an interesting experience. Not what I’d expected. Pleasant, but not what I’d expected. There’s the disturbance downstairs. And while avoiding that when they first came in I overheard Anya, quite upset. Is everything alright?”

Narcizia smiles sweetly. “Everything is perfectly fine, Captain. There are sometimes fights and disagreements, but it is just petty bickering among us girls or the drunks getting too worked up. I am sorry for all that. It is usually more peaceful here. However, if you’d like, we can go someplace quieter. Maybe you have a private room somewhere?” She comes closer and rests her hand on Toshio’s arm and looks deep into his eyes, obviously eager to get him alone.

“If I wouldn’t be offending Twilight Blossom, we could go somewhere else if you would be more comfortable. I would finish my conversation with her, but perhaps that can wait for another time. In truth, I’m not here for the more exotic services – just to spend time in conversation,” he replies, pointedly adding, “…mostly to listen.”

“This is a place for those who prefer discretion. It is best to mind one’s own business here.” She smiles, and then offers her arm to Toshio. “Let us go then.”

Toshio, regretting the possibility of being seen, recognizes that there are more important things than his sense of propriety and steps out with Narcizia.

“Where do you recommend that we go? I’ll have to escort you back of course. And to settle up – I wouldn’t want to upset Madame Anyanka.”

Narcizia opens the door and they walk out arm in arm. “If you don’t have a place, I am sure we can find a quiet inn nearby that can accommodate us.”

Jethrik runs back to the halfling’s boudoir and gathers up his clothes, belongings, and shreds of dignity. The sounds of the struggle in the main room still clear to his sensitive gnomish ears. With a longing glance to an open window, he turns back to check on his friends. Once back in the main room he climbs up on a table and sees Keng beating the stuffing out of two drovers. Best to end this before one of them gets hurt. 

Finding a feather still stuck to his chest, he plucks it off. “Hey Bartimus!” he yells, “Why so serious?” and blows the feather in his direction. It glows and the light streaks to the drover who collapses in laughter.

Zeyala says very loudly, “Oh, I seem to have forgotten my hat.”  She reenters the building, but reaches out to Jharad and casts cure light wounds on him as she passes.

Madame Anyanka looks over her shoulder at Jethrik, a little surprised by his interference in the brawl. Then she turns back, walks towards the brawlers in the vestibule. She holds forth the three-bladed medallion that is the holy symbol of Calistria of the Savored Sting while calling out, “In the name the Lady, you will all calm down and stop fighting this instant.”

All the combatants immediately feel a sense of peace and calm wash over them, with the exception of Jharad who presses his attack and knocks out the drover by the door with his sap, leaving a second imprint of a black hand.

The bouncer starts to go for Jharad, but Anyanka holds him back.

Bartimus continues rolling on the floor, clutching his sides and laughing hysterically. The other drover steps away from Keng and says, “Madame Anyanka, we apologize. We had a bit too much to drink and got a little carried away. We promise it won’t happen again.” In the vestibule, the other two drivers are rubbing their eyes and blinking as their sight begins to return to normal.

Jethrik moons Anyanka and everyone else, as he pulls on his clothes. This greeted by some tittering and giggles from the crowd.

Jharad stifles a laugh at Jethrik’s maneuver. He picks up the everlasting torch the drover took and replaces it in its sconce. To Anyanka he says, “All we wanted was to leave your establishment. It is unfortunate that your haste to entrance us and these drover’s hostility made such a mess of what should have been an simple task.”

Madame Anyanka responds, “I do what I must, good elf, to maintain peace in my house. Go, all of you, and trouble us no more.”

“Yes, Madame,” agrees Zeyala.  ”We were willing to leave when you made it obvious you were not interested in what I had to say.” To the others she says, “Jharad, Keng, Jethrik.  We need to catch up with the priestess.”

“I don’t know what bee got in your bonnet, but I was perfectly happy to stay and… observe all due religious observances.” Jethrik stammers, “None of this was my idea, dammit! Why can’t you big folk keep your tempers in check long enough for a guy to… commune with the higher powers?”

Madame Anyanka turns to the gnome and says, “If you weren’t fighting or causing trouble, then you may stay.” Right then Bartimus stops laughing and begins trying to catch his breath and pick himself up off the floor. “In fact,” she nods towards Bartimus, “I saw that you did your part to end the fighting. Stay then. You need not leave here frustrated and Petunia, I am sure, would be happy to continue entertaining you.” Petunia is in fact standing by her door with a hopeful look on her face.

Jethrik looks pleased with the situation, or perhaps just himself (not an uncommon feeling for him). “You are as wise as you are alluring.” he bows to Madame Anyanka. Turning to his companions he says, “See you in a few… I mean… an hour or so.”

“Jethrik, we have business to attend to. Zeyala needs us. There will be time to play with the halfling after,” says Jharad.

“What? Oh now you’re gettin’ on my nerves.” Jethrik complains. “Fine, Mr. Party-pooper. But you better send flowers to Petunia.”

With a wide smile, Jharad walks calmly over to the halfling girl. With a snap of his finger he produces a pretty bouquet and hands them to her. “I will bring Jethrik back for you to play with soon enough my dear,” he says with a bow and then turns to walk out.

“What the…?” Keng wonders why everyone stopped fighting, especially when it was just getting good. He suddenly has an urge to return upstairs he feels so good! “Well that was sorta fun, elf! Why did you call for me?”

Before Jharad can reply, Zeyala and Keng, who are facing the atrium as Jharad and Jethrik take their leave, see a door open on the eastern side of the second floor behind the balcony. Out of the door steps Toshio, arm-in-arm with an elegant and very beautiful brunette girl. Toshio in turn, sees his companions down in the atrium below.

Toshio gives the slightest shake of his head to indicate, “Don’t.” He sincerely hopes the others see this and understand he doesn’t want them to make contact with him here. Unfortunately discretion is not in their natures.

Jharad stops and looks over at Toshio and the girl. With a wry grin he waits to hear what Toshio and the others have to say.

“Well well well… Pretty boy has a secret side he weren’t lettin’ on to…” Keng let’s out a loud laugh, “this evenin’ ain’t turnin’ out so bad after all!”

“Whooo hooo!” shouts Jethrik, “I mean, ya gotta shell out for an atonement spell anyway. Might as well live a while first, eh?”

“I suppose that is one way to put it, master gnome. However, since this is a place that normally appreciates discretion,” Toshio gives a distasteful look towards Keng, Jharad, and the five drovers (conscious and unconscious), “we can talk again later, in more regular settings. Now, the lady and I are on our way out and not wishing to be detained.” Hoping they get the hint and that they don’t use his real name, Toshio walks to the stairwell with Narcizia.

On the way down the stairs, Toshio reflects on the situation. He isn’t sure how much Iolana will let him help her – at least for right now – or how much she’ll tell him (if anything) or if she can even be trusted. Narcizia, however, may be looking to make some extra coin off Toshio, scamming the client from Twilight Blossom – or she may be looking for a way/place to tell Toshio what’s really going on (this is his hope). Or Narcizia could be totally on the other side and he’s just in a bad spot. Being new to the undercover gig, he’s hoping he’s not totally botching the job.

“Are those people downstairs friends of yours?” Narcizia asks quietly.

“I know them, though I’m not certain I can truly call them friends yet. I hadn’t expected anyone I know to make such a fuss though, or cause such a ruckus.”

When they get back down to the atrium, Twilight Blossom comes out of the kitchen with a tray of cheese, grapes, and a jug of wine. When she sees Toshio with Narcizia she stops in surprise and actually drops her tray. Then she lowers her head and steps back out of the way.

Toshio is surprised to see Twilight Blossom’s reaction. He had expected that a servant would be bringing the food and drink, not her. Fearing he’s erred significantly, he makes a quick plan to return to her, hoping to salvage the conversation.

Back outside and down the street but still within sight of the Blissful Garden, Zeyala says to Keng, Jethrik, and Jharad, “The only reason I interrupted you is that a head priestess of my order in the city has warned me about patrons contracting a disease of sorts after visiting this establishment. We spotted a man departing who looks like he may have been affected. I was hoping to gather you to help find this man. I was also hoping that I could find out whom the man was with, as she may be the one spreading this affliction. The Madame is unwilling to divulge that information, so at this point, I am ready to go after the head priestess and see what she’s found out about the patron.”

Jethrik stands with his arms crossed glaring at Jharad. His mouth is twisted in a sneer and he is tapping one foot impatiently.

Once outside and away from the others, Toshio turns to Narcizia and says in a tone conveying the gravity of the situation and the need for real candor, “Quickly – was there something you wanted to talk to me about? Is there something unusual going on in the Blissful Garden?”

“I really think we should go somewhere more private. Your friends are right over there,” she indicates them down the street, “and we should get away from this place. Let’s go this way and find a private room.” She tugs on Toshio’s arm to lead him away from both his friends and the brothel. “I’ll tell you what you want to know away from prying ears and I will let you experience the skills and talents that have allowed me to be invited into the finest homes of Magnimar.”

“Just a bit out of the way will do. A private room won’t be necessary.”

As they walk away, Toshio attempts to sense if he is in the presence of an evildoer. Narcizia looks over at him, smiling at his scrutiny that she mistakes for a more prurient interest. Then he stumbles away from her, mouth agape, bowels almost emptying. Toshio finds that he is in the presence of the strongest evil he has ever felt, more intense then he could ever have imagined.

Genuinely puzzled, Narcizia reaches out to steady Toshio. “What’s wrong baby?”

Unsure what to do, Toshio thinks he knows why Iolana looked so downcast as he left. It wasn’t that he’d gone with another girl. It was that he’d gone with this girl, and Iolana has at least some idea of what that means. Now he’s sure Narcizia’s “talents” are more along the assassination line than entertainment of any kind.

Trying to steady himself, he abruptly turns back for the brothel. “Oh dear…” he says in a heavy breath. “…I’ve left something in the Garden.” Toshio then calls loudly, “Zeyala! Help me, will you?”

“Oh no baby, you don’t need their help. Only mine!” Narcizia pulls Toshio back and looks him in the eyes and he finds himself drawn into her gaze and realizes that he would do anything for her. Anything!

Jharad says, “He’s in trouble, and that is no girl. Be wary.” He then drinks a healing potion as he runs to help Toshio.

Jethrik says (not loud enough for Toshio or the girl to hear), “Don’t let the girl get away.” He then casts hideous laughter on the girl but it seems to have no effect on her.

Keng, completely lost, just stands there, looking back and forth.

“Toshio, are you injured? I can hear him, but can someone nudge me in the right direction?” quips Zeyala. ”I don’t see all that well, remember?”

The girl whispers something in Toshio’s ear. They are now arm-in-arm again. Toshio says, “I’m fine. I just stumbled a bit and it startled me. The girl and I are going to spend a little private time together. You can go back to whatever you were doing.”

Jharad yells, “Aha, it is you! You owe me money!” and tries to grab Toshio and knock him over and away from the girl. Unfortunately, the girl pulls Toshio out of the way and Jharad not only fails to grab his friend but almost loses his balance and has to spend a moment righting himself.

Jethrik starts a recital in an attempt to fascinate the girl as he walks towards her and Toshio. She pays him no mind.

Keng growls, “I know not what madness this is about but by the God of Iron something is not right!” Keng roars and charges towards Toshio and the ‘woman’ and tackles her to the ground.

Narcizia yells, “Toshio, kill them for me!” At her command, Toshio actually does go for the dagger at his side. Narcizia looks up at Keng and says, “You! Step back!” Keng not only does not step back but he instead punches her in the face. She doesn’t seem to even feel it and leaps to her feet.

Toshio, dagger drawn, breaks free of Narcizia’s mental hold, and instead of striking at Keng he buries the blade in Narcizia’s chest. She shrieks in pain and outrage, though it doesn’t seem to have been a mortal wound.

Jethrik shouts, “The girl is some kind of vampire! Zeyala, blast her like you did the skeletons.” To inspire his friends he quips, “I wonder what she’s been sucking at the brothel! More than necks I’ll bet.”

Busy fighting, Toshio is glad he was able call on the light of Good to smite this thing! He had never imagined he’d be confronted with a vampire – if that’s what it really is.

Zeyala moves up and chants a prayer. “Let Phrasama’s energy cleanse those that should be at rest.”

Keng seeing his instincts were correct and this beast thing was an enemy draws his dagger and stabs her in back.

Narcizia shrieks and yowls as she is burned by the life force radiating from Zeyala and stabbed by Keng, a blow that actually draws blood. Panicked, she backs away from Toshio and tries to dodge around Keng; but Keng, snarling at the mere scratch he made, tackles her to the ground once more to hold her for the others.

This gives Toshio the chance to strike again. No sense regretting swords left at the inn, he thinks. His dagger sinks into her chest again. Once again a well of blood fountains forth but Narcizia continues to shriek and thrash about in an attempt to get away.

Zeyala continues to brandish the spiral of Pharasma and call upon the life force in the name of her goddess. “Pharasma, return this creature to eternal slumber.”

With a final agonized wail, Narcizia evaporates. Jharad and Keng find themselves holding nothing more than a greenish mist that drifts away and sinks down into a nearby storm drain outside the Blissful Garden.

“What the hell was that?” shouts someone from the crowd of people who had stepped out of the tavern to see what the screaming and fighting was all about.

“They came from the Garden! I saw them!” says another bystander.

“Vampire! It was a vampire! These girls are vampires!” says a panic stricken man who steps quickly away from one of the girls who had come into the tavern from the brothel. “Grab them don’t let them get away!”

Other men grab a couple of the girls, though other patrons choose to run in fear and at least one other girl escapes the clutches of the frightened mob.

“I’ll take care of ‘em!” says another man breaking off a chair leg to use as a stake.

Keng turns to Jharad, “Elf, now why did you fracking call me down?”

Quickly smiling at Keng, Jharad then turns to the mob and yells, “Stop! All of you – stop now! I am sure all of these girls are fine. But to be sure there is an easy way to find out which does not include you being executed for killing innocent girls!”

Once he has their attention, Jharad continues calmly walking over and says, “Toshio would you be so kind as to scan these girls for an evil taint.”

Keng grimaces and then shrugs his shoulders and follows Jharad and Toshio.

Toshio turns to address the mob. As he does so, he scans the girls for evil, just in case. “Stop!” he shouts, with all the righteous authority he can muster. “Release those girls immediately!”

There is too much to be done: Stop the mob from hurting any girls; find Iolana and get her out if possible; keep the Hellnights from getting involved; and warn the temple of the vampire before the vampire can strike again. This all flashes through his mind in the briefest of moments, but he puts all but the immediate need (protecting the girls) aside for now.

One girl he picks up nothing from, from the other he senses evil but it is less than faint and there is not even an aura. It is probably some petty mortal evil or even the influence of the more malevolent aspects of Calistria’s teachings – not someone needing to be dealt with by extreme actions, Toshio thinks. Maybe she can be guided back after this, but for now, the mob.

“Where’s the city watch when you need them?” says Zeyala. She then shouts at the top of her lungs, “Ealisaid! Can you hear me? Please return to the brothel!” It does not seem, however, that Ealisaid or the Hellknight she went after are anywhere nearby.

Jethrik jumps up on a barrel. ”I came out of the brothel, am I a vampire?” Jethrik shouts rhetorically. Several in the mob look at each other, considering that they may need to do in the gnome as well. Jethrik quickly points to one of them. “And you sir, you did also. Let’s put a wooden stake in your heart! Run wild! Run through every brothel in the city killing every woman and man within a city block of a cathouse! Believe me, you would drown yourselves in more innocent blood than that creature ever drank. We tested that creature before we drew our daggers. Won’t you do the same?” This seems to give those with the stakes pause, as they consider whether they really want to murder in cold blood the frightened girls they had been lusting after only a few moments previously.

Zeyala reveals her holy symbol as she moves towards the men holding the prostitutes. “If these girls are truly undead, then they will writhe in pain from my holy energy.” A halo of light radiates from her, bathing everyone nearby in its golden radiance. Neither the prostitutes nor anyone else bursts into flames or suffers any other harm. From the murmuring in the crowd, it is evident that Zeyala is recognized as a priestess of Pharasma, whose crusade against the undead is well known among the people of Magnimar. Appeased, the prostitutes are released. They run to Zeyala’s side and fall at her feet, weeping and kissing her hands in gratitude. The mob begins to disperse, as the various men present decide that there are safer taverns and brothels in Lowcleft, and that vampires and other such creatures should be left to Pharasman clergy, gnome bards, and other outlandish types better suited to deal with them.

Keng turns to Jharad and says, “Now will you tell me why you interrupted my fun?”

Jharad bursts out laughing. “Keng my friend, would you have missed this chaotic mess? Even for the pleasure I dragged you away from, which you of course can return to now? I think you would have been more angry to have only heard Jethrik’s telling of the vampiric entanglement and to have missed full participation in all its gory detail.”

Keng grunts, “Humpf, perhaps you are right. This was fun. I guess it is not important for you clearly aren’t going to tell me. So what’s next?”

“Toshio, are you wounded?” asks Zeyala. “Or anyone else for that matter? I still have a bit of healing. But now I fear for Ealisaid. She followed after a Hellknight who left this brothel in a stupor looking quite similar to how you did only moments ago, Toshio. Unfortunately, I have no idea where she went, other than along this street.”

Jethrik says, “Well, I’m going to see what’s going on in there if you guys aren’t. I’d like to know if that madam was controlled by the vampire and where her head is now that it’s dead.”

Toshio replies with a bright smile, his cheerfulness somewhat incongruent with the situation, “It may be the first fight for this to happen, but no – I’m not hurt” He gives a quick look around before adding, “I don’t think we can follow that thing through the sewers, and I need to find someone inside the Garden. Then the temple will want to know about this despite the late hour. Stay close if you can. If not, we can meet back at the inn. We’ve much to share.” He moves quickly back to the brothel, seeking Iolana.

Jharad continues to bleed from his head wound but smiles and follows the paladin. “Let’s go Keng, looks like we are not finished here.”

“Jharad,” says Zeyala, ”before you return to the brothel, let me heal your wounds.” Her hand begins to glow with energy and then she touches his forehead and erases the last trace of the earlier brawl.

Brawl in the Brothel

Upstairs, Toshio hears a knock on the door. Lotus Blossom asks who it is and is answered by one of the young servant girls. She says that she has a message from Madame Anyanka for the Captain if he is not indisposed. He is then informed that Twilight Blossom is free to see him now if he still wishes. The girl departs. Lotus Blossom does not seem put out by this but simply offers to show Captain the way to Twilight Blossom’s room, which is on the other side of the second floor – though of course Toshio already knows exactly where it is.

“Thank you, Lotus Blossom. You’ve been very helpful tonight.” He lets himself be lead to Twilight Blossom’s room.

Lotus Blossom leaves Toshio in front of Twilight Blossom’s door. At his knock a young girl’s voice bids him to enter. It is not the voice of any of the speaker’s he overheard earlier. Inside, the small room is furnished much like one he just left: a fairly comfortable and clean bed, side table with a lamp, a dresser, and a chair. Standing to greet him is a dark haired girl with blue eyes matching the description of Twilight Blossom or Iolana that he was given by her friend Piousa, formerly Bright Flower. Toshio observes that Twilight Blossom is several years younger than himself, probably in her mid to late teens.

“Hello, Captain. It is nice to meet you.” She approaches and kisses Toshio lightly on the cheek as she shrugs off her shift. She smiles and reaches out to help Toshio disrobe. “Don’t be shy,” she says. “I can see in your eyes that this is your first time.”

Hearing the new voice, Toshio suspects that the real Twilight Blossom has been moved away after the confrontation, replaced by the shapeshifter. He holds up his hands to stop her, smiling disarmingly. “Remarkable. How can you tell that, just by looking in my eyes? What gives it away?” Sitting down he continues. “A friend said I should spend some time with you, Twilight Blossom. Is Twilight Blossom who you really are?” Inwardly Toshio hopes that if this is the imposter that the question will bring out the admission, as he was told. He tries not to show his anxiety over the answer to this question.

“Of course it’s really who I am. Who else would I be?”

Toshio relaxes a bit. “Oh good. I’d been told there was a stand-in, but I’m glad to know you’re the real Iolana my friend sent me to see” he says, letting the real name drop as casually as possible.

“Iolana? Yes, that was my name, but who told you? Here I am only Twilight Blossom.”

She seems greatly puzzled, but not puzzled or startled enough. It begins to occur to Toshio that Twilight Blossom, or Iolana, seems a bit detached, as if she were under the influence of a drug, or possibly even an enchantment.

Downstairs, Madame Anyanka seems taken aback by Jharad’s strange request for “gnome and half-orc boys” and then alarmed to see that Jharad is walking towards Petunia’s private room just off the atrium where Jethrik had just gone in. The plaque above Petunia’s door with her name and services has been turned over so that it only reads “Entertaining.”

Madame Anyanka, suddenly understanding that Jharad must be seeking friends, interposes herself between Jharad and the door and with her hand signals for the bouncer, “I am sorry, Bluebird, but it is not permitted to interrupt our guests, even if they are friends of yours. You will have to wait until they are finished. Now please, you and Harbinger come this way and I can find diversions aplenty for you until your friends are done.”

Jharad smiles at her. Pulling out his coin pouch he yells loudly, “Jethrik, Keng… I need you now!” He tries to hand a gold coin to Madame Anyanka who declines to accept it. Still smiling he says calmly, “Sorry for the interruption.”

“Good elf, please cease your shouting! This is a respectable bordello, not a cathouse in the Shadows!”

“Good madam,” says Zeyala, “We mean not to cause a disruption, but it would do you wise to listen. I know that Pharasma’s head priestess Ealisaid has provided assistance to both your ladies and customers alike. It is at her behest that I am here. There was a Hellknight who just left. It is in both our interests to know which girl he was with.”

Madame Anyanka’s eyes widen at this new affront. “We do not divulge the private affairs of our clients. Who do you two think you are? Ean, get them out of here at once.”

The bouncer steps up to Jharad and Zeyala, sap in hand, and says, “You heard Madame, time to leave.”

“Before you remove us, you might want to rethink that. I care not about your clientele, but think of the reputation of your establishment,” suggests Zeyala. ”The priestesses of Pharasma are able to cure many ailments, but I doubt your coffers remain full if it becomes known that a girl in your employment carries and passes on something that cannot be cured.”

Jharad stands his ground next to Zeyala and does not leave her.

Keng deep in his rhythmic thrusts growls and curses when he hears Jharad shouting for him. “Gorum’s balls!” he cries as he rolls off the Ulfen woman. He hastily grabs his clothes, flips a gold piece to her and says, “Keep it warm and free for me, I shall return as long as I have breath.” He races out of the room down the stairs, pulling clothes on as he goes.

Boy is this halfling going to be disappointed, reflects Jethrik when he hears his name called. He hastily drops the feathers and cleans the creams off, then grabs his cloak and wraps it around himself as he strides forth into the atrium. “What do you need Jharad?” he growls. “And you’d better be prepared to apologize…” pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the room behind him, “to her.”

Hearing the shouting, Toshio hopes that his comrades didn’t come looking for him. He can only imaging what might cause that if such is the case. Right now he feels his mission with Iolana clearly takes precedence, and he leaves Jharad and the others to handle themselves. Besides, whatever trouble they’re in, they’ve most likely brought it along with them. Still, curiosity bites at him (or perhaps just nibbles) and he turns half an ear to listen for his name, just in case he’s the client whose private affairs Anya won’t divulge.

“Is this a normal evening here?” he asks Iolana, trying to restart the conversation, and hoping for a good chance to turn it to Iomedae.

Iolana shrugs. “It happens sometimes. Men come in drunk or fall in love with one of us and start acting crazy, usually both. Madame Anyanka will simply have the bouncers throw them out.”

Toshio chuckles at the thought. “I bet that would be amusing to watch, if it didn’t happen too often and as long as nobody inside got hurt. Still, I don’t feel a need to go watch the proceedings. I’ve seen enough drunken brawls to know I don’t like them.”

The girl laughs, “I agree, let them look after themselves, we will look to each other. I still want to know who told you my former name, but we can talk later. For now, I am only Twilight Blossom.” She gets down on her knees in front of Toshio, who is sitting on the bed, and begins undoing his belt buckle. “And I have ways of helping you forget everything else…”

Madame Anyanka steps back, with the bouncer in front of her and on her right. She seems calmer now and smiles sweetly at Zeyala. With expressive gestures she begins to explain in a soft entrancing voice that the Blissful Garden is a place of pleasure and respite from one’s problems and that through the grace of Calistria she protects her girls from infection to ensure that neither they or anyone else ever comes to harm in her place. She will happily discuss Zeyala’s concerns though, but outside.

Jethrik bumps Madam Anyanka across the back of the knees as he passes her, interrupting whatever attempts she may be making to entrance his friends. ”Don’t poop in the punch bowl,” he scolds.

Jharad ignores Anyanka and says to Jethrik and Keng, the latter of whom he sees jumping up and down on the second floor balcony trying to get his pants on and make his way to the stairs, “Outside, now.”

Then he gently places a hand on Zeyala’s shoulder to guide her and says, “After you Harbinger,” flipping the gold coin in his other hand to the bouncer who catches it in his left hand with a smug grin.

“Madame Anyanka,” says Zeyala. “It was never my intention to start a row in your establishment, only to talk, but it seems you have made your decision.”

“We need to leave!” Zeyala calls to Jethrik and Keng.

“Perhaps the Hellknight will provide answers,” Zeyala whispers to Jharad.

As Jharad and Zeyala head for the vestibule, with Jethrik right behind and Keng coming up to them on the south side of the atrium’s pool, a group of inebriated drovers pours in from the street. The first of them nudges the second in the ribs and says, “Well, well, Pherick. Look who’s here! If it isn’t our old pals from the Slippery Plow.”

Hmm, Jethrik ponders, This must be that karma thing my friend was trying to tell me about.

Jharad extends his hand as he continues to walk forward saying, “Cor de Pulveriz,” filling the entrance hallway with a cone of clashing colors.

Again taking Iolana’s hands to stop her, Toshio says, “Actually, I really did come here just to talk to you. Think: who do you know who would share your real name with me, and why?”

Iolana seems perplexed by this, as if she is having trouble thinking things through. Then she looks down and sees the cross hilt of Toshio’s dagger. A sudden light comes into her eyes and she mumbles, “Iomedae? Bright Flower? No… Piousa? Piousa sent you?”

“Yes, my dear” he replies with a warm smile. “Piousa ‘recommended’ you. She cares about you a great deal. Though you would not be wrong to say Iomedae sent me.”

Now Iolana seems a bit more focused. She scoots back a bit from Toshio and looks him in the eye. “Piousa recommended me? Why?”

“I was asked to find out how you are doing and to help you.”

“Help me?” She laughs, but Toshio hears a hollow ring to it. “I don’t need any help. Piousa has gone her way, and I will go mine. You may go back and tell her I am fine and I wish her well. She need no longer concern herself about me.”

“Are you really Iolana, known as Twilight Blossom?” asks Toshio, pressing the point.

“You think I’m Moon Flower don’t you? Well, I’m not. I’m me. If you would like to see Moon Flower instead, that can be arranged.”

“No, no, no. I came to see you. I was told that Moon Flower sometimes fills in for you, so I needed to ask. But tell me, why would Piousa be so concerned about you if you are so happy here?”

The girl sighs. “She thinks I should have saved my money, paid off my debt and joined her on some kind of silly crusade for Iomedae. But why should I do that? Why should I become monster bait when I can enjoy myself here with my friends and handsome gentlemen like yourself?” She moves forward again, obviously intending to renew her attempts at seduction and end the conversation.

“Leaving here wouldn’t necessarily mean crusading for Iomedae.” Trying to give her some time to let other possibilities occur to her, Toshio asks, “Is there any more tea? Or perhaps some ale? I could use a drink. How about you? Maybe a snack?”

“Sure, let me go out and get something for you. Besides, I want to see what all the shouting is about. Please wait here.” Twilight Blossom gets up and exits, closing the door behind her.

He waits nervously. Not because of the disturbance, but he’s not sure of Twilight Blossom’s intentions. If she’s chosen to be in league with this place instead of leaving it or remaining a victim, she might make trouble for his mission (which he recalls includes more than just Iolana). He has no interest in showing his face to Keng, or the others, and is fairly certain the trouble is their own fault.

Pherick and one of the other drovers in the vestibule is drawn into the spray of colored lights cast forth by Jharad, but Bartimus and the other two force their eyes away to focus on the elf again.

Considering that he is, for all intents and purposes… naked… Jethrik goes back to Petunia’s room to grab his stuff. I’ll probably have to jump through a window again. God I hate when that happens!

Not wanting the elf to get a chance to cast another spell, two of the drovers leap on Jharad and try to wrestle him to the ground.

Keng rushes over to Jharad to pull the two drunken louts off.

“Pals from the Slippery Plow, indeed,” mutters Zeyala. “May Pharasma grant her blessing despite our follies,” she chants and makes her way towards the door. She passes the two drovers who are still stumbling about the vestibule blinded by Jharad’s spell. The last drover by the exit moves aside for her to pass with a polite nod.

With the help of Keng and Zeyala’s invocation of Pharasma’s blessing, Jharad extracts himself from Bartimus and his friend. Drawing his sap he rushes the drover by the exit. “Move!” he says to the drover in a calm but firm tone.

The drover, seeing that Jharad is armed with a sap, pulls an everburning torch from its bracket by the door and growls, “I’ll move your head off your shoulders, you dirty stinking fairy!” as he belabors Jharad on the head with it.

Bartimus and the other drover direct their fury against Keng, but the half-orc barely seems to feel the blows.

“Come get some!” Keng bellows as he throws a sweeping roundhouse punch at Bartimus that sends the drover bouncing back into the wall, though it is not the knock out blow Keng had expected. These drovers are a bit tougher than I thought.

Zeyala calls upon her goddess and radiates positive healing energy upon the brawlers, then gives a slight curtsey to the drover who let her pass, chuckling, “Boys will be boys,” as she exits completely out of the tavern.

Jharad’s sap glows briefly. “Escudo,” he utters, causing a fine transparent bubble to envelop him as he strikes the drover with the sap. His blow bruises the bruiser but fails to take him out.

The drover’s counterblow with the torch manages to punch through Jharad’s shield spell and again Jharad sees stars as he is struck on the head.

Bartimus, the other drover and Keng continue to punch, kick, elbow, and knee at each other, but for the moment no telling blows are landed by any of them.

Jharad recovers quickly and strikes back. He hits the drover twice with his sap, the first time leaving the arcane mark of a black hand print on his chest.

This time the drover is unable to penetrate Jharad’s shield.

Bartimus lands a haymaker on Keng but the half-orc doesn’t even seem to feel it.

Keng’s response is to knee Bartimus in the groin. The drover gasps and backs off but quickly recovers and returns to the fight. Keng grins, gleeful that he has finally gotten a serious brawl!

The Enchanted Hellknight

Toshio means to enjoy some time and conversation with Lotus Blossom while waiting for Twilight Blossom. He wonders how much she may know of the homeland. In any case, it’s a topic for conversation that will let them while away the time. Once introduced, he finds that she is quite sweet and demure. He sees that her complexion is paler and hair curlier than the Tian-Min (those from Minkai) or the Tian-Shu (those from the Successor States of the fallen Lung Wa Empire). Though Lotus Blossom is dressed in the silken robes or kimono of Minkai, she tells Toshio that she is actually a Tian-La from Hongal, a land of wind swept steppes and nomadic tribes that lies to the north of Minkai. It is the first kingdom one reaches on the other side of the Crown of the World if one follows the trade route known as the Path of Aganhei.

“My grandfather told wonderful stories of Minkai. I spent many hours listening to tales of the old world.”

“Well that is a world away from here,” Lotus Blossom says. A young boy comes and sets down a tea service on the table before them and then withdraws. “Here, let me pour you some of this Black Dragon tea.” After handing him a cup and giving him a moment to savor it she asks him if it meets his approval.

“Yes, the tea is quite nice. You can never tell if an establishment really knows their tea until you’ve tried it. And even then, serving it really, really hot can go a long way to hide lower quality.”

She laughs. “Well, the tea is actually imported from the Successor States. I am glad you like it. How do you like Magnimar so far?”

Seeing that the girl prefers to talk about more light hearted and immediate things, Toshio tries to help her guide the conversation along the lines she’s comfortable with. Things like good places to eat, performers currently in the city, and other popular entertainment. It’s more work than he’d anticipated, keeping tedious conversation going, but he recalls to himself that it’s his duty. Also, he doesn’t want Lotus Blossom to feel badly about her performance, so he really tries to relax into it and enjoy it for what it is. However, he keeps his ears perked for anything that may be mentioned pertaining to his mission, however obscurely related.

That’s when he sees a tall dark haired man coming down the stairwell into the atrium. He is dressed from head to toe in black leather garments. His boots are so shiny they actually reflect like mirrors. A small insignia of thick nails forming a sunburst can be seen on his black felt cap. Beneath his black cloak a wickedly long dagger can be glimpsed. His steely gray eyes seemed a bit glazed however, and he twirls his black handlebar moustache absentmindedly. Anyanka hurries to greet him and ask him if all went well. He mumbles something politely, bows slightly, and walks past her towards the vestibule. Anyanka is a bit put out by this and then hurries up the stairs to the second floor.

At the same time, from the vestibule, Toshio, hears the baritone laughter of an all-too familiar half-orc accompanied by the giggles of at least two girls. With horror, he realizes that Keng and perhaps the others have come to the Blissful Garden. He suppresses a cringe as he gets up to head for the stairs, but spares a moment to scrutinize the man in black while most nearby are also looking at him. He picks up a faint aura of evil emanating from him. “I’ll just take a peek without disturbing anyone, while I wait,” he says to Lotus Blossom, feigning curiosity about the rest of the establishment and hoping to learn a bit more of what the man in black was about.

“No wait,” says Lotus Blossom. “You can’t go up there.” But it is too late, as Toshio has already left her side and gone up the stairs, though giving Anyanka enough of a lead that she does not see him follow after her.

In the vestibule leading to the atrium, Keng is laughing and joking with the two girls when a figure in black rudely bumps past the redhead on Keng’s left arm on his way out of the brothel. Startled, Keng sees that it is Caelinus who has just passed them without a word.

Keng snarls slightly at Caelinus’ back, but then quickly softens his features. He hesitates a bit and then pushes off from the wall and says to the two girls as he hands them each a silver piece, “No he’s a right piece of trouble. He hang around here much?”

The blond shudders a bit and whispers, “That’s Sir Caelinus. He’s one of the Hellknights. I’ve never seen him here before.”

Caelinus passes Jharad and Jethrik on his way out of the brothel. He says nothing to either of them and doesn’t seem to recognize them from earlier. In fact, he seems lost in thought as he heads down the street.

“Well, I’m sure he’s not here for the reason we’d expect.” Jethrik muses, “Or he wouldn’t have come openly. Besides, what’s the fun in that? No, there must be another story going on here. I’ll bet my brass buttons we’ll find out what it is before our hangovers wear off. For now though…” he gives Petunia’s hand a kiss, “there are damsels to woo.”

Jharad thinks of following the Hellknight but then simultaneously remembers where he is and how dangerous the man in black is. “My thoughts exactly my diminutive friend.”

Zeyala observes Caelinus departure (though unaware of who he is) and Jethrik and Jharad’s seeming interest in him. Ealisaid leans over and whispers, “I should have told you before when he entered, but that man in black is one of the Hellknights of the Order of the Nail. His name is Sir Caelinus.” She shrugs. “I guess even the Hellknights have their needs, and will fulfill them if it is lawful to do so.”

“Ealisaid,” says Zeyala. “There’s something not right about that Hellnight? Look at his eyes. Perhaps I should get my companions.”

“By the Lady! I think you’re right. Sir Caelinus seems to have been enchanted!” I’ll go try to find him. He went down that way.” She points towards the direction of the Arvensoar, Magnimar’s garrison. “You go see if you can find your friends.”

“I’ll gather them and then follow after you! I will also inquire who the Hellknight spent time with,” says Zeyala.  She makes her way out of the teahouse and then darts across the street and into the brothel.

Upstairs, Toshio finds a hallway that must follow the perimeter of the atrium. Above each door in the hall is a placard with the name of one of the girls and a listing of the services she can provide and their prices. This causes Toshio to blush a bit, as his upbringing was sheltered and genteel enough that such things were not discussed let alone given a price. Toshio doesn’t even know what some of the things listed might be. What is M.S.O.G. or Around the World? Anyway, he sees Anyanka enter a room up ahead and on the right. The name above the door is Twilight Blossom.

Toshio continues down the hall past Twilight Blossom’s room, but tries to get a look as he goes by. The door is closed however, though he can hear a heated conversation inside as he passes. He slows as he passes, and then stops to listen. He tells himself he’ll be ready to go as soon as he hears any hint that they’re finished inside or if anyone else shows up. He turns so he’ll look as if he’s returning to the atrium (and will do so if any of those things happens).

Inside he hears Anyanka almost, but not quite, shouting, “What did you do! What did you do! Do you know who he is?”

A young girl’s voice says, “Anya, you worry too much. I will take care of him. You won’t see him around here again.”

Anyanka retorts, “I shouldn’t have seen him here the first time! And how will you ‘take care’ of him? Like you took care of the others? He certainly told others where he was going and who he was going to see. If anything happens to him they will certainly come here in force and will certainly blame Twilight Blossom! Or me! You will ruin us all!”

The girl laughs harshly. “Have a care Anya, you are beginning to annoy me with your nagging.”

“By the Savored Sting I’ll bring you in line!” rejoins Anyanka.

“How dare you call upon your whore goddess against me!” says the other.

Right then, Toshio hears people coming up the stairwell, and Lotus Blossom saying to someone, “He went up here, I tried to stop him!”

Not inclined to make trouble, Toshio moves toward Lotus Blossom and the voices and away from Twilight Blossom’s door to give the appearance that he was on his way back to Lotus Blossom.

Lotus Blossom comes up the stairs and down the hall with a surly brute in studded leather who is slapping a sap against his open left palm. Lotus Blossom says sternly, “I am sorry Captain, but you are not allowed up here unless you are with one of us.”

Toshio responds, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause trouble but I didn’t care to be seen by one of the patrons entering the Blissful Garden. I wasn’t sure where to go.”

The bouncer looks to Lotus Blossom. She smiles at Toshio in understanding and says in a more gentle tone, “You should have said something down below. We know how to handle such things. Come with me.” She holds out her hand to Toshio. “I’ll take you to a private room where you can wait until they are gone. If you tell me who they are, I will have one of the servants come to tell us when they have either left or gone to a room of their own.”

Ignoring the bouncer, Toshio smiles at her as he takes her hand. “I should have known you could handle that. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me at the time. The brute who came in, the half-orc, is the one I’d prefer to avoid. I didn’t see if he had friends, but it would be better to avoid them, too, if possible.”

Jharad follows his companions into the atrium. He makes a nonchalant bow to the statue of Calistria and has a good look around. With a wave of his hand his clothing turns into colorful silk garments of blues and greens showing off his muscular physique. He then moves over towards the stairwell on the right to get a better view. Before he can get up the stairs a surly brute in studded leather with a sap in hand heading down the stairs shouts at him a warning that no one goes upstairs without an escort.

Jharad smiles at the bouncer, “Relax my friend, this is the house of Calistria. I did not know the rules.” With that he returns downstairs and approaches the unattended at the pool.

Jharad notes that Petunia has led Jethrik through a door into a private room off of the atrium, one with her name written on a plaque above the door along with a list of numbers and acronyms as well as prices. He idly wonders why a 71 would add to the regular rate and what “Around the World” (also an extra charge) might mean in this human (and at least one halfling) den of iniquity.

Keng approaches the shapely veiled woman and says, “I am in need of company tonight.”

The veiled woman turns to him and Keng feels a strange tingling in his head that swiftly fades away. She says to him, “I am Moon Flower, pleased to meet you. Walk with me to my room and tell me about your ideal woman.”

Keng shakes his head at the strange tingling and thinks, ‘I didn’t drink that much, must be the strong ale.’  He grabs her around her waist and half carries her up the stairs, “Ideal woman… (low growl)… Well first it must be a she!” Then he continues, “I have heard tales of these battle maidens here at the temple. I like a woman who is strong and courageous in battle as well as den.”

She laughs and points the way to her room, passing Jharad and a bouncer on the way up. “Battle maiden huh? Then you are in luck, for I am an Ulfen battle maiden from the Lands of the Linnorn Kings!” Inside her room, she takes off her veil and slips off her robes and Keng sees that she is indeed a fair skinned and well toned Ulfen woman with sky blue eyes and long platinum braids. “I have been looking for a man strong enough to handle me,” she says with a sly grin.

On the second floor in a private room on the west side belonging to Lotus Blossom, Toshio tries to turn the conversation to how things work in the Garden. “You must need to be quite a quick thinker to work here” he comments, seeking to give genuine praise where able. “Keeping us fussy visitors from making mistakes must keep you on your toes.” He tries to keep his mind from wondering about the curious numbers and acronyms adorning the plaque above her door.

Lotus Blossom laughs, “Yes, we do have to keep our wits about us. I understand that you were here to see someone else.” She moves closer to him on the bed where they are sitting together. “I am sure she will be free soon; but if you’d like to warm up a little with me…” She strokes him softly on his upper thigh and waits for his response with a coy smile.

Toshio stops her hand by taking it in his own, holding it kindly. “Your suggestion is appreciated, truly. But I am here tonight for a different kind of companionship. Let me pour more tea for us, and I’ll enjoy your company no less ‘though we only talk.”

Downstairs in the atrium, Zeyala rushes in and makes her way over to the pool to intercept Jharad. ”I hate to interrupt you, but I need to pull you away from the entertainment for a moment,” she says to him.

Jharad smiles as she approaches, answering, “Of course. Is there a problem?”

“As you were entering this establishment, you passed a dark haired man exiting. He was dressed from head to toe in shiny black leather. He wore a black cap and his mustache long. Do you recall him?” asks Zeyala.

Jharad nods and responds quietly, “Yes, the Hellknight. We encountered him before at our first pub.”

Zeyala leans in close to Jharad and whispers, “I have been observing this brothel at the behest of a head priestess of Pharasma. Her name is Ealisaid. Something is happening to the patrons, and that man appeared to have been infected. Can you gather Jethrik and Keng? While you do, I will speak with the proprietress of this establishment to see who that man was with.”

Fortuitously, the madam of the Blissful Garden comes down the southern stairwell into the atrium. A bouncer has a few brief words with her, then she dismisses him and claps for one of the young girl servants to attend her. They exchange a few words and she sends the girl upstairs. Then she notices the newcomers and approaches Jharad and Zeyala.

“Welcome to the Blissful Garden. I am Madame Anyanka, but please just call me Anya. It is nice to see a couple coming to visit us. It is our custom here to give names to newcomers. So if you do not object, I will call you,” she notes Zeyala’s silver trimmed black robes and her ceremonial dagger, “Harbinger,” She turns to Jharad, “and you shall be Bluebird. Now, how would you like to be entertained this evening? Are you looking for a third or…?”

Jharad smiles sweetly, “My lovely Harbinger here loves to do things solo. I on the other hand have a distinct taste for gnome and half-orc boys… at the same time. I think I saw some wander off this way…”

Jharad heads off to fetch Jethrik and then Keng.

Into the Blissful Garden

As Toshio approaches the facade of the Blissful Garden he notes that there is a central door that must open into the vestibule. A painted sign of a garden in twilight hangs over the door. On either side of that are open doorways leading into taverns, though red lanterns hang over them. They are no doubt owned and operated by the brothel and a place where clients can either meet the prostitutes who work within or wait and relax until their favorite is free to see them. The sounds of classical Chelaxian music, conversation, and laughter drift out from the establishment and its subordinate taverns.

A young boy, dressed plainly but not poorly, comes up to Toshio and tugs at his sleeve. “Good sir, if you’re looking for a pleasant company and entertainment, follow me!” He points to the Blissful Garden. “All you could wish to find is within there, good sir.”

“As it happens, I was on my way there” says Toshio, minding his purse. As he walks into the Blissful Garden he hopes he is presenting the very image of calmness, in contrast to his rapidly beating heart. Oh, I’ll hold my tongue in the future! he promises himself.  He looks for a greeter – not the boy he saw outside – to help him.

In the vestibule, a marble hall with an inlaid mosaic floor depicting the blissful garden that is the brothel’s namesake, a beautiful red haired woman with dark eyes and a charming smile approaches Toshio and holds out her hand in greeting. She is dressed in tasteful but form fitting embroidered silk, green with yellow highlights. Yellow being the color often used by courtesans and priestesses of Calistria. “Welcome to the Blissful Garden. I am Madame Anyanka, but you can just call me Anya. Please follow me to the waiting room where we can talk about what you seek. And what will your name be good sir? Or shall I give you one?”

Toshio smiles in return. “Thank you, Anya” he says as she leads to the waiting room. “Please, pick a name for me. That would be fine.”

“Hmm, let me think that over…”

Anya leads Toshio into the atrium, complete with a pool, a rather large shrine to Calistria, wall murals depicting Calistria enjoying herself in a sylvan setting surrounded by nymphs and satyrs, and stairs leading to the upper floor. Reclining around the pool are several young girls in red and yellow silken dresses that are surprisingly modest. He notes that there are a couple of young men as well. The girls, and young men too, smile and wink at Toshio flirtatiously as Anya leads him through the atrium, and then return to giggling and quietly whispering among themselves. A couple of them are engaged in quiet conversations with well-dressed men, probably merchants or lesser nobles. Of the seven girls who are in the atrium, including the two already engaged with clients or potential clients, two are blond, one has auburn hair, two are Tian, one is a brunette but at least as tall as Toshio if not taller and Iolana is supposed to be shorter, and the last is shapely and about the right size but covered in a veil like a Keleshite woman so that he cannot see her features or even the color of her hair.

As they walk back, Toshio looks at the various characters in the establishment. He tries to see them more forgivingly than he is initially inclined -as people on different walks of life than his own, rather than vile sinners. As he does this, he tries to note the various exits from the place. Catching himself tensing up, he tries to relax, consciously trying to get ready to enjoy an evening in the (innocent) company of a lovely lady – and that this attitude will be necessary for his mission.

Anya pulls back a beaded curtain and ushers Toshio into a small room on the far side of the atrium. In the room is a couch upon which Toshio and Anya can sit and look out through the curtain at those in the atrium. Behind the cushion is a desk and chair and behind that a series of shelves full of books.

“How about we call you Captain? You seem quite fit and with that haircut and the way you walk around you make me think of a militia captain.” She holds up her hand and looks away, “And no, I don’t need to know if you are really a soldier or not.” She turns to face him again and lowers her hand to gently touch his knee. Leaning in she whispers, “Of course, you are welcome to tell me if you wish.”

“You’re very kind” he replies. He accepts the compliment for what it’s worth and lets himself look pleased, recognizing that it’s her job to flatter her customers. “Captain will be fine for tonight.” He recalls the girls he saw on the way in and hides his disappointment that none matched Iolana’s description. He reminds himself to think of her as Twilight Blossom, at least until they are properly alone.

She leans back again and smiles, gesturing to the girls in the atrium, “But what I really want to know is if any of my girls has caught your eye? Or one of the boys? We can accommodate just about any of your needs here?”

“Several of your girls are quite attractive. A friend recommended one in particular as good company. ‘Twilight Blossom’ is the name given. Is she here tonight?” He is ready to respond with a different choice, just in case, but allows for hope that things will go more smoothly than that.

“Oh, she is a popular one. Let me check.” Anya reaches behind her and picks up a book of the desk. She pages through it and checks a list and then looks back up at Toshio. “I’m sorry Captain, but she is preparing to see someone who has booked her for early this evening. If you wish, you can go out and return in a couple of hours when she’ll be free to see you. I’d be happy to put you down as her next appointment. There is a tavern right outside where you can have a drink until then. You can even have one of the other girls join you if you wish, but you must be a gentleman and buy them some refreshment as well. Or if you would prefer a quieter atmosphere, you may linger here in the atrium and mingle a bit. I can have one of the servants bring you some tea or wine.”

“Yes, please do put me down for her next appointment. If I were to spend some time with another girl while waiting, would it upset her if I left when Twilight Blossom becomes available? If not, the taller Tian girl would make the waiting more pleasant. I’d be happy to buy her a drink while we visit. The atrium will be fine, and some nice hot tea would be very nice.”

Anya laughs and brushes Captain’s knee again. “Oh of course not. The girls here all know that you may return another time and see them again. Besides, what handsome young man wouldn’t like to have such beautiful girls fighting over him?” Anya flashes a mischievous (or is it malevolent) grin at him. “The Tian girl you speak of is named Lotus Blossom. Come, I will introduce you.”

Lowcleft or “The Rubble” is just as Zeyala remembers from her previous excursions there. It is a vibrant district at the bottom of the Seacleft full of small playhouses, pubs, brothels, hookah bars, and a wide variety of other entertainments. The Golden Pot proves to be a pleasant little Tian-Shu tearoom complete with Lung Wa era landscaped chairs (probably copies) imported from the Successor States. After finding a table and checking the menu board Ealisaid orders a variety of dumplings. She tells Zeyala that the Tien word for them translates into Common as “heart refreshers.” The Tien-Shu serving girl asks what kind of tea they would like. She recommends the Dragon Well green tea, which is a pan-fried green tea, or the Lapu Mountain Tea, which is a smoked black tea. They also have jasmine tea and many herbals as well. Zeyala notices that other customers are also smoking pipes or hookahs as well.

“The Dragon Well sounds refreshing,” says Zeyala. As she begins retrieving her own pipe, she asks Ealisaid, “Do you mind?”

“No, not at all. I’ll just be keeping watch on the Blissful Garden across the way. It looks like the first customers of the night are arriving.”

Through some quirk of the curse that impaired her vision, Zeyala is able to see just as well in the night as in the day though only for a limited distance. She finds that she is able to observe the facade of the Blissful Garden. Various well-dressed men, and occasionally couples, fill up the taverns. A few clients go directly into the Blissful Garden through the vestibule, but a few of those quickly come out and enter one of the taverns. Beautiful or at least pretty young women, and a few young men, come out of the main entrance and enter the taverns, some to return soon after leading a man by the hand. Younger boys and girls also seem to be running errands, or going up and down the street inviting people to come in. Piousa explains that these are the children of the women who work in the Blissful Garden and that they are employed there to bring in customers, and do simple chores until they are either apprenticed elsewhere in more respectable jobs or become prostitutes themselves.

Zeyala lights her pipe and focuses on passers-by and patrons, along with the prostitutes gathered out front. She is paying particularly close attention to the children.

“I think it’s a bit sordid to employ the children,” says Zeyala. “I have no problems with the trade, when a person has made the decision to enter it, but I do have misgivings raising a child into the business, so to speak.”

Ealisaid replies, “As you know, the Midwife,” by whom she can only mean Pharasma, “does not approve of abortion.” Ealisaid does not need to tell Zeyala that the Church of Pharasma considers it an abomination to kill a child in the womb, sending it prematurely to the afterlife and robbing it of its destiny. “Though there are devices and magic to prevent conception, not all the women use them or can afford the more effective ones. Occasional pregnancies are inevitable, sometimes even encouraged.” Ealisaid nods to the building across the street. “Like other professions, whether knights, priests, farmer, craftsmen, or traders, the youth follow in the footsteps of their elders. It is all the same to the Lady of Graves however. People live, and then die. Some must live in squalor while others enjoy rank, wealth, and privilege. All must go to the Boneyard where they are judged equally and dispatched to those realms where they have pledged their service or where their hearts incline them. We may have compassion for those we serve, but our duty to observe and help maintain the cycle of birth and death and the fulfillment of allotted fate takes precedence over mere sentiment.” She looks again at the prostitutes, their clients, and the children leading new customers into the taverns and brothel. “This is their fate. They must make the best of it.” Ealisaid ends her inadvertent sermonizing by tracing the spiral of Pharasma over her heart.

As the gnome, elf, and half-orc approach the facade of the Blissful Garden a young pre-pubescent girl, dressed plainly but not poorly, comes up to them and says, “Good even’ gentlemen, if you’re looking for a pleasant company and entertainment, follow me!” She points to the Blissful Garden. “All you could wish to find is within there, good sir.”

Stature’s good, but I like them to ripen first. Jethrik thinks. Jethrik replies in Tien, “Lead on, but don’t get to close to the elf. I don’t trust his hands.”

As Jethrik talks with the girl Jharad translates to Keng in Orcish, “Jethrik is asking the girl if there are small boys within which look like her for his pleasure.”

Keng laughs with a loud guffaw, feeling his dark mood lift.  He picks up Jethrik under his arm like a bail of hay and walks towards the entrance of one of the taverns flanking the main entrance of the Blissful Garden. Jharad, laughing, follows them inside.

As he is hauled inside the tavern, Jethrik sees that sitting by the window of the Golden Pot across the street are two Pharasman priestesses, and the one smoking a pipe is Zeyala who has clearly noticed them.

Zeyala lets out a muffled laugh. “Fancy that. I’m watching the brothel from the outside, and my friends will be seeing it from the inside.” Holding her pipe by the bowl, she points the stem in the direction of the tavern.

Jethrik thrashes around under Keng’s arm until he is in a position to wave “Helloooooo!”

Jharad and Keng both look over and see Zeyala and Ealisaid.

Zeyala’s only response is a raised eyebrow. Then turning her gaze back to Ealisaid, Zeyala says with a grin, “Perhaps I should cast virtue on them.”

Ealisaid shakes her head with a wry smile and replies, “Boys will be boys I suppose. At least I don’t see the other one, the Iomedaean with them. So there is that.”

Keng nods to Zeyala across the street as he sets Jethrik down on a stool at the brothel’s tavern. Then he shouts out, “Anyone hear the one about a half-orc, an elf and a gnome who walk into a whore house?”

Jethrik announces, “The half-orc needed to wash his pits!” He then enthusiastically waves fresh air to his face, spins, falls off the stool, and mimics passing out on the floor with a dramatic flourish.

Jharad laughs, “That is about the worst joke I have ever heard. I thought you were a comedian Jethrik?”

Jethrik opens one eye and looks up at the elf from the floor, “I am a comedian with a gnome’s nose.” he replies in a hurt voice.

After Jharad and Keng have had a couple of mugs of ale and some food is brought Jethrik pushes back his own mug (half-pint) and empty plates. “I want to toss some coppers to some dancing girls. Maybe give some silver to the cute ones, or some gold to the accommodating ones! What do you say boys? Shall we behave badly?”

A beautiful Varisian with dark red hair and “large tracts of land” approaches and asks if they would like to buy her and her friends some drinks. She looks over her shoulder to indicate a blond and a pretty halfling girl sitting nearby. The two wave cheerfully at them.

Keng tosses one more back and then grabs the two human girls for a quick tour of the back!

“I like that kid.” Jethrik laughs. “Not much for building up the story, but he does know how to bring the action. Myself, I prefer to have a few more chapters in my tales.”

Jethrik waves over the halfling lass. “Hey there sweet lady, tell me your name and your fondest daydreams.”

The halfling girl comes up and takes Jethrik by the arm saying, “I am called Petunia. And my fondest dream is that you’ll take me in back and show me the famous ingenuity of the gnomes.”

“Flattery will get you whatever you wish.” Which is my coin, I’m guessing, Jethrik thinks to himself as he follows the little flower away.

Smiling widely Jharad extends his arm with a flourish. “After you.”

Jharad laughs at Keng and Jethrik with their new ‘friends’ and casually looks about the room for some girl that may interest him. Seeing none he picks up his mug and moves into the brothel proper, hoping to find some dancers and maybe a cute companion to flirt with.

Observing that Zeyala’s three companions have entered the brothel, Ealisaid says, “In case you are concerned, none of those girls are Twilight Blossom.”

“Lucky for them,” says Zeyala.  ”I’ll still keep close watch over them to see if any symptoms arise.” That’s odd, thinks Zeyala. Jharad is going alone. I wonder if he likes to watch.

Looking for a Fight

When Jharad, Jethrik, and Keng arrive at Ye Olde Slippery Plow, they find that a band of Varisian performers are on stage performing an old and popular Varisian song, “Paint it Black.” The tavern is already filling up with patrons, but the three are able to grab a corner table.

Keng covers his ears and grimaces at the lousy music coming from the band, “What is this shit? Jethrik why did you bring us here?”

Jharad laughs at Keng’s pain, clearly enjoying the music himself. His hands tap on the table and head nods to the beat. “Don’t you speak Varisian?” Jethrik asks. “I think you’d like the lyrics. It’s all about a man who’s lover has died and he is deeply morning. Very dark and moody.”

Jharad begins surreptitiously looking around the room at the various groups of patrons, trying to gauge their possible skill at brawling.

Leaning close to Keng under audible cover of the music he says so only the half-orc and maybe Jethrik can hear, “Take a look around at those we may want to entice into joining us in some physical banter.” Remembering whom he is talking to, he repeats his idea with a mischievous grin, “Look around at whom you want to fight later on.”

Keng nods his head and is able to distract himself from the terrible shrieking and caterwauling of the band by sizing up the room.

Looking around they see that there are six tables spread around stage. At the moment there are only eight other patrons, yet the night is still early. Those eight are sitting in three different groups at three different tables. Three are burly men with daggers at their sides. They look like they might be off-duty members of the watch or perhaps caravan guards. At another table sits a well-dressed couple, perhaps a merchant’s son and his girl. Around the last of the occupied tables sit three middle-aged merchants enjoying a round of ale and playing dice.

Jharad really likes ales. He asks for the tavern specialty first.

The tavern wench says, “Our house brew is Irespan Ale, but we also have Dwarven Stout, and I believe a barrel of Shoanti Beer and some Two Knights Ale from Sandpoint. Will that be a mug for each of you, then?”

Jethrik orders a half mug of Irespan and offers to pay for everyone’s first round, planning to “pace” himself and not get trashed until later.

“I will start with the same,” Jharad answers.

Once their first round is brought around, the three see that the tavern is beginning to fill up with boisterous drovers and teamsters. All six tables and the seats at the bar are now full, and there are at least a couple dozen of them. The three tavern wenches and the barkeep are quite pressed to keep up with them, and several groups order not just mugs of ale, but have a whole barrel brought over and set at their table so they can fill their mugs themselves. Bottles of wine and stronger liquors are also brought out. The Varisian musicians finally take a break. Several of the newcomers cast curious glances at the three demi-humans sitting at the corner table.

At one point, the following is heard. “Hey Bartimus, did you hear this one? An elf, a gnome, and a half-orc walk into a tavern… Heard that one yet?” This is greeted by loud guffaws and even more snide glances at the side table. “No, Pherick. I don’t believe I’ve heard that one yet,” responds Bartimus, one of the other five drovers at the table. “Well,” begins Bartimus, “An elf, a gnome, and a half-orc walk into a tavern, the barkeep comes over and asks, ‘What’ll you all be having?’ The elf, pretty as you please, says, ‘I’ll have Kyonin Faery Wine for it tastes like all the things that elves love: moonlight, forest berries, and pixie dust.’ The gnome says, ‘I’ll have Gnomish Golden Light, for it tastes like all the things that gnome’s like: rich earthy flavors, sparkling gems, and wildflowers.’ The half-orc, however, says, ‘What I want isn’t ready yet. Ask me later.’ So the barkeep brings the others their drinks and still the half-orc orders nothing. The other two get another round and are feeling pretty good, but still the half-orc orders nothing. The barkeep asks, ‘What is it you are waiting for?’ The half-orc says, ‘Bring another round for the others, I promised to tell them what it is that half-orc’s like to drink but only when it’s ready.’ The barkeep shrugs and brings a third round and then a fourth round for the elf and the gnome. At this point they are quite drunk. That’s when the half-orc says, ‘Now I’m ready for my drink.’ He takes out his axe, lops off the heads of the elf and gnome and fills his mug from their gushing stumps. To the astounded barkeep he cries, ‘Nothing quenches a half-orc’s thirst like the blood of his enemies! They should have known that. I was just waiting for it to get strong enough to make it worth drinking.’” This is greeted with laughter, some groans, and of course more glances and smirks at the side-table.

Jethrik asks Jharad, “Did ya hear the one about the Varisian who walked into a bar. He starts complaining to the bartender about how bad his wife is in bed.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the bartender says. “Everybody in here is always talking about how great she is.”

The drovers hear this, but only some of them are Varisian or part-Varisian. The others are Chelaxian. Consequently, the Chelaxians laugh, but the Varisians scowl at Jethrik and at their fellows who laughed.

Jethrik directs a pleasant smile at one of the scowlers.

Keng stands up and walks over to Pherick and says, “Did you hear the one about the Varisian who forgot his rain coat? He got wet!” Keng proceeds to dump his mug of ale over Pherick’s head. Then he kicks him in the chest pushing him off his seat. Keng throws back his head and roars with laughter.

“Uh, not really in the spirit of things big guy,” comments Jethrik.

Jharad, who was planning a not so obvious assault, roars with laughter.

As Pherick scrambles up, sputtering and fuming and shaking ale from his bear, all five of the others jump up so suddenly that there chairs fall over behind them. Everyone else in the tavern stops talking to stare.

“What in the Nine Hells!” shouts Bartimus.

“You pick on one of us you pick on all of us, orc swine!” says another rolling up his sleeve. The others nod and snarl in agreement.

Then the double doors of the tavern swing open and a tall dark haired man walks in. He is dressed from head to toe in black leather garments. His boots are so shiny they actually reflect the tavern’s torchlights like small mirrors. A small insignia of thick nails forming a sunburst can be seen on his black felt cap. He shrugs his black cloak back over his shoulders to reveal a wickedly long dagger at his side. With steely gray eyes he surveys the scene as he twirls his black handlebar moustache. “Is there a problem here?” he asks quietly.

“Ha, ha! No! No! Not at all.” says Pherick nervously. “We were just sharing some jokes and I laughed so hard I fell over. My uh, friend here,” he nods to Keng, “was just about to help me up. Right, friend?” He asks this as if all their lives depend upon Keng’s going along with this sudden camaraderie. All eyes in the tavern are on Keng waiting with baited breath and fearful eyes for his response.

Keng laughs loudly and slaps Pherick’s shoulder so hard he causes him to stagger a bit. “Of course! We were just telling jokes!” Keng motions for the hostess, “Ale for my friends here!” He then slips the hostess a gold piece and whispers sotto voce, “Keep them coming.”

Jethrik is visibly relieved by Keng’s response. He casts prestidigitation to clean up Pherick and his friends.

Jethrik’s trick does not escape the notice of the dark stranger. He curls his lip slightly and says, “How considerate of you, Sir Gnome.” He turns his attention to the barkeep and points to an expensive bottle of wine on the top shelf behind the bar. The barkeep hurries to bring it down and uncork it. “Yes indeed, Sir Caelinus. One bottle of Kyonin’s finest coming right up.” Caelinus walks slowly to the bar without sparing the would-be-brawlers a second glance. Several men vacate the bar, leaving Caelinus plenty of stools to choose from. He sits and takes the goblet proffered by the barkeep. After a couple of sips he wheels around to watch the band as they come back on stage and begin tuning their instruments. This of course means that he is able to watch the rest of the tavern as well.

Laughing at the outcome Jharad helps join their two tables. “This is Keng and Jethrik. I am Jharad. And who the hells is the big ugly guy in black?”

As their newfound “friends” quickly try to shush Jharad, the elf inexplicably finds himself spitting a cork out of his mouth, though Jethrik’s desperate arcane muttering and finger wriggling probably explains it as an attempt to shut him up.

Bartimus hisses at them, “Keep it down!” In a whisper and with a glance at Caelinus he says, “That’s Sir Caelinus. He’s one of the Hellknights. There are only two or three of them in Magnimar but that’s more than enough. They’ve been deputized to maintain law and order here – by any means necessary. If you three want trouble, me and my boys’d be more than happy to give it to you – but not here. Not now. Not with Caelinus around. None of us want that kind of trouble.”

Jharad glares at the gnome and then barks out a laugh, “Well here is to new found enemies when father is away,” and raises his glass to the others.

Keng is intrigued with this ‘hell’s knight’ and the intense dread of him felt by the locals. Disappointed his ‘fun’ has been temporarily ruined he has another idea. He pushes back from the table and walks over the knight and stands looking at him until the knight looks up, he then says, “I am Keng. I would like to buy you an ale.”

As soon as it became clear that Keng was walking over to the Hellknight, Bartimus and his friends quickly cleared out of the tavern, leaving only Jharad and Jethrik to witness Caelinus response to Keng.

Caelinus looks Keng over from braids to boots and then looks him in the eye and with a curl in his lip says, “I am Caelinus of the Order of the Nail. I don’t drink with bringers of Chaos.” Keng can practically hear the capitalization. “You had best watch yourself. You’re in civilized lands now. Drink with your friends, don’t cause trouble, and you’ll have no reason to have any dealings with me.” He turns his attention back to the Varisian musicians who have begun playing once more.

Deflated, Keng returns to the table, sits down and silently drinks his ale. Perhaps the liquid courage will rebuild his sense of bravado but for now the evening seems ruined.

Visibly relived, Jethrik gives a courteous bow to the Hellknight and scurries over to Keng. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of other faces to smash in. The story of this night is just beginning!” he says in a stage whisper.

“Well, I love this band and all, but the party’s over here…” Jethrik shrugs. “If you know what I mean. Let’s hit the streets and meander a bit until we find something worthwhile.”

Keng sullenly nods his head.

“You know what we should do!” Jethrik says perkily. “Get a really good dinner… Something exotic! A good dinner is what you need to keep up your strength for a night of drinking and brawling. Let me think, Chelaxian? Tien! That’s what we should look for!” Jethrik starts to describe his favorite Tien dishes in the native language…

Keng perks up at the thought of food.

Jethrik ends his unintelligible rhapsody with “The Blissful Garden! That’s where we should go. Unless you guys are boy scouts.” He looks them over, and then chuckles, “Hardly! Let’s go!”

“Agreed, I’m starved,” says Jharad as he downs the rest of his ale. He stands and slaps Keng on the back, “Let’s go”

Keng grunts, but gets up and follows Jharad.

Zeyala is Invited to Tea

The Midwives’ Shrine is located across from the Seerspring Garden. It is a relatively small temple of Pharasma, but even so it’s spires rise high over the surrounding buildings. In stained glass over the arched entrance the spiral of Phrasma reflects the light of the setting sun. It is a comfort to Zeyala to enter the dark cathedral and participate in the evening chanting of hymns to Pharasma and passage of the The Bones Land in a Spiral. Several dozen devotees are gathered within, all dressed in formal robes of black with silver trim. The service is a solemn commemoration of the cycle of birth and death, which is to say a typical service of the Lady of Graves.

When the service is over, Zeyala approaches the priestess of Pharasma, who is an older (but not old) woman. “You’re Grace, my name is Zeyala. I am an oracle of Pharasma. I am visiting from Sandpoint… well… actually, I’m originally from here, but my family moved to Sandpoint many years ago. I am here in the company of friends, but wanted to pray and pay my respects to the goddess. I don’t remember this temple from my childhood and was curious to visit once I learned of it.”

“Thank you for visiting. You say you are an oracle and that you came from here. I take it that you must have received some instruction at the Cenotaph. Well you are always welcome here as well. I am Ealisaid Margaid. I am actually the only head priest here, as leader of the worship of Pharsma Midwife. This is a small shrine and so does not need a priest or priestess for the Lady’s aspects as Prophet and Reaper. Which aspect of the Lady are you devoted to?”

“I am devoted to prophesy,” replies Zeyala. “But I acknowledge a being’s passing without judgment.”

Ealisaid raises her eyebrow, just a bit. “A priestess of fate? I am actually glad to hear it. Since the death of Aroden and the beginning of this Age of Lost Omens, not as many have dared to take up the primary worship of the Mad Prophet. I commend you, for the Church of Pharasma needs priests for all three aspects: the Midwife, the Mad Prophet, and the Reaper of the Dead. Tell me, who are these friends you travel with? Did they not come with you to pay respects to the Lady of Graves? For all seek her favor, or should; for all fall under her jurisdiction.”

“Their destinies fall along another path,” explains Zeyala. “One man serves Iomedae, two are fey and one is a half-orc, whom I must admit I know not where their faiths lie.”

Ealisaid raises her eyebrow again. “You certainly are traveling in mixed company my dear. I have not had many dealings with demi-humans. Their ways are odd yet even they are subject to fate and must come to the Boneyard to be judged. How do you get on with the follower of Iomedae? We deal with the followers of all the gods, and they generally know they must be on good terms with Pharasma for it is she who assigns souls to their respective afterlives, including those pledged to all the various gods. Yet Iomedae and her followers are especially resentful that Phrasma, in her aspect as the Mad Prophet, gave them no warning that Aroden would fall.”

“Good men fall, while tyrants live. Knowing Aroden’s fate would not have changed anything,” says Zeyala. ”Toshio is a good man. We have mutual respect through deed. We do not dwell on ancient history.”

“Well, enough of that,” says Ealisaid. “Are you rejoining your friends now? Or do you have time to accompany me on an errand? There is something I would like to check on and we can have tea and talk more while I do it.”

“I will see my friends later,” says Zeyala.  ”We are sharing rooms at an inn, but I’d be honored to join you on your errand.”

“Excellent. We will be heading to Lowcleft. There is a brothel there named the Blissful Garden. I have from time to time checked on some of the girls as midwife and to give various cures and blessings from time to time, though usually the madam there, whose name is Anyanka, takes care of detecting and removing the diseases that one would usually expect to find cropping up from time to time. Madam Anyanka is a priestess of Calistria, the goddess of lust and revenge. She appreciates my assistance, but to be honest she is a vicious woman. Ah well, as we who worship the Lady of Graves know: ‘All who live must face her judgment.’ Anyway, my concern is that over the last three weeks three merchants, two older and one a young man, have died of sudden illnesses. So sudden were they stricken that there was no time to even call a cleric to heal or cure them. With the older man it might have just been their time. With the death of the younger man, people began to talk. It is known that all three frequented the Blissful Garden, and furthermore that all three had a particular favorite, a girl known as Twilight Blossom. This may all be a coincidence, but I suspect something deeper may be going on. There is a teashop across from the brothel named the Golden Pot. I’d like you to join me there for some tea. We can talk and keep watch. Maybe, probably, we will see nothing unusual. Still, one never knows. At the very least, we will have some time to talk and I will treat you to some of the best tea to be had in Magnimar, and we get tea from all over the Inner Sea and beyond, even from the Dragon Empires.”

“Intriguing,” says Zeyala. “As you said, even if it comes to nothing, the company is welcomed and tea sounds wonderful.”

Toshio Sent on a Mission of Mercy

Toshio arrives at the Temple of Iomedae in time to put up his horse and attend the evening prayers. After that he is ushered into the austere office of Chaplain Tira Ronnova. Chaplain Tira is a gracefully aging Chelaxian aristocrat whose entire life has been lived in service to Iomedae. She had already been the senior most priest of Iomedae in Magnimar when Toshio entered the temple-fortress as a page at the age of 7. In some ways, Chaplain Tira was the one who had really raised him, as he had only seen his actual mother and father during brief vacations in the summer time until his training was finished a year ago.

Chaplain Tira greets him with a warm smile and a comradely embrace, and then takes her seat behind her large mahogany desk. She gestures to one of several chairs in front the desk. “Please, take a seat Toshio. I am glad that you were able to return in time for the Day of Inheritance. I see, however, that you are troubled. Please, tell me what is the problem and by the grace of Iomedae I will do what I can to help you and ease your heart.”

Toshio smiles in return, happy to see her despite the reason for his visit.  “Chaplain, thank you for seeing me. It’s good to be here, but I wish I were here only for the celebrations.” His smile fades as he describes the situation. “I am indeed troubled. Not long ago, I used abusive words when one of my companions acted foolishly. Injured and angry, my tongue lashed out, speaking a slur against his race. I knew my error immediately, and a black cloud has come between Iomedae and myself. I have come to ask for your guidance in atoning for my mistake. I have apologized to Keng – he’s the one I insulted – but the cloud remains. What can I do?”

Chaplain Tira nods in understanding. “The sins of bodily action are obvious and fairly easy to curb. The sins of the mouth are much harder to catch. Sins of the mind and heart are the most subtle and insidious. Any of them, however, will block the light that we are given to share with the world. Toshio, have you ever wondered why paladins are held to a stricter standard than clerics? Have you ever wondered about the source of our power? If our goddess Iomedae set the standard, then whose standard did she follow before she ascended?”

“I hadn’t realized paladins are held to a higher standard than clerics. It doesn’t make sense to me. Clerics wield such power through their divine spells. Paladins have so little power by comparison. Just strength of arms.” Toshio finds he isn’t able to puzzle out an answer to this question.

Tira then asks, “Consider this as well: from whom did Iomedae get her power? It could not have been Aroden, for he was not an especially benevolent or kindly god. What do you think of this?”

Toshio ponders this for a moment. “If Iomedae didn’t get her power from Aroden, then she didn’t get it from any god. Could her power be from Good itself? Or Law? If that is the case, should those be our focus, rather than Iomedae herself? That would make sense, at least to my mind. But it also means our example is greater even than Iomedae – and our required path even narrower and harder to follow.” He looks to the Chaplain, hoping for confirmation of these concepts, or at least some additional guidance if his ideas are going in the wrong direction.

Chaplain Tira nods, “Yes, you are on the right track I think. Many philosophers and theologians have debated these ideas for centuries. It is still unknown who among the gods or beings that inhabit the great beyond are actually the eldest. Some of them may have even come from a universe beyond ours. Many claim there is a multiverse. Was Chaos the origin of all things? Or is there something, or someone who existed before or who even made the Maelstrom in order to house all the many worlds that this unknown god intended to make. No one knows for sure, and neither Aroden nor Iomedae have seen fit to tell us, if even they know – for they were both mortals who ascended to what we call godhood. The older gods like Pharasma are of course silent – as they are about so many things. They may not know either. I agree, however, with those who say that there is a Divine Law or an Unknown Lord who takes precedence over all else both in terms of time and power, and that within the created order only Heaven, the realm of law and good presided over by the good deities and the archons, truly reflects this principle that is beyond and yet behind all things. Heaven is the ideal that all are bid to follow and emulate.

“Now when it comes to paladins and clerics, I am both so I know within myself the difference. Clerics are agents of the gods. As long as they do the will of the god to whom they worship and as long as they bring others to that god to direct worship to them, which may in fact empower them, then all is well. The gods will tolerate a bit of straying, and do not demand perfect conformity to their own principles as long as their will generally is done. One may say they are forgiving, others may say they are negligent. I suppose it depends upon the god in question. Paladins, however, are not simply agents of the gods they serve and in some cases hold values that are superior to the gods they serve, such as the paladins of Abadar the god of merchants. It is rumored that even some of the Hellknights are paladins, but I think that is an old wive’s tale. It is always a friend of a friend of a second cousin who knew of one. Anyway, paladins certainly serve in the priesthood’s of those gods who have them, but the principle they serve are those of Heaven alone, and this principle may be the Divine Law of the philosophers or the will of the Unknown Lord. We know not. What we do know is that as paladins advance in skill and determination they, or we I should say, become greater and greater vessels of grace. However, we must maintain a perfect conformity with that principle that transcends even the gods. It is almost inevitable that we misstep from time to time, but the gods have provided us with means of atonement. I imagine it is atonement that you seek, to bring your heart back into alignment with the principle that grants us our power.”

Toshio is comforted that the Chaplain added “we” and “us” to her statements. He immediately feels less an outsider, and that he can return to the company of paladins. “That is a large order, aspiring beyond the gods. But it’s encouraging to me that we can at least recognize that goal and strive for it.” He pauses a bit, listening, then responds, “Yes. I do seek that realignment. Atonement.”

Chaplain Tira leads him back into the main temple hall. “I will perform the rite of atonement, so that you may be fully restored as a paladin in the service of Iomedae. May you cleave ever closer to her example even as the goddess embodies the light of Law and Good. Before I begin, it is usual for the penitent to present a gift to the goddess, as this rite is not casually given. The worth of the gift corresponds to the severity of the sin. In your case, in anger you used hurtful words directed at a companion. So, I think it is not a monetary gift that will be asked but a task I would like to set you that can restore the balance by perhaps helping or even saving another. Would that be acceptable to you?”

“Yes, that is very acceptable.” Toshio is intrigued by the possibilities. How will he be of aid to another, and what circumstances might lead to saving another? Although simply paying for the spell would certainly have been easier, Toshio feels that this task – whatever it may be – will be more worthwhile. “What is the task?”

“There is a young girl whose welfare is of concern to us and of concern to one who has taken refuge with us. I want you to check on her. I will tell you more after you have been restored.” Chaplain Tira then begins lighting candles and incense. She bids Toshio to kneel and clasp his hands in prayer. Chaplain Tira brings forth her prayer beads and kneels at Toshio’s side though slightly in front of him. Both face the image of the sword and sunburst enshrined in the main hall. It is a large silver sword, easily a dozen feet tall, standing on its tip and centered on the cross guard is a halo of golden rays. After an hour of prayer and meditation, Toshio feels a lightness of body, soul, and spirit, as though a burden he did not even fully realize he had been carrying has been lifted. He even feels a deepening of the grace he had known before – a sense of being further protected and of being imbued with healing power. Is this from Iomedae? The Divine Law or Unknown Lord? He does not know, but the grace, protection, and healing power are there and will remain for as long as he resist the temptations of craving, ill-will, or cowardice in the face of evil.

Chaplain Tira rises and smiles at the newly restored paladin of Iomedae. “Welcome back, fully restored to our ranks, Toshio. Now I would like you to walk with me to the Haven. I want you to meet a young woman named Piousa. She is a devotee of Iomedae and in time may become a priestess herself.”

Toshio smiles in relief as the spell is completed. “Thank you, Chaplain. I hadn’t realized how much I had been affected.” He follows as bidden to the Haven.

Haven is a dormitory within the grounds of the Temple of Iomedae where women, young or old, and children may seek refuge from those who have or who would hurt and abuse them, whether slavers, pimps, or cruel husbands. The Temple of Iomedae has an agreement with the Office of the Lord-Mayor and the Council of Ushers that those who are accepted within the walls of the temple will be granted asylum there until the priests of Iomedae may negotiate a more permanent and just life for those under their protection.

Haven is well guarded by fully armed and armored paladins who are alert to any who might try to sneak into the grounds of the temple and harass those they are warding. They of course recognize Chaplain Tira and allow her and Toshio to pass with very little comment. Chaplain Tira takes Toshio to the second floor and knocks at the third door down. A young girl within asks who it is, and upon hearing that it is Chaplain Tira she quickly opens the door and bows low. She is young blond girl, maybe 16 in the bloom of youth. She is dressed in the white gold trimmed cassock and chasuble of the devotees of Iomedae. Her quarters are austere but clean and comfortable. Chaplain Tira introduces the girl, Piousa, to Toshio and asks if they may come in and talk. The girl eagerly complies, though she seems a little in awe of them both.

Toshio bows in return to Piousa. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, miss.”

Chaplain Tira says to Toshio, “Piousa came to us just a few months ago. Her name then was Bright Flower. She was an inmate at the Blissful Garden in Lowcleft.”

The girl blushes a bit and looks down, “Well, I wasn’t exactly an inmate. I mean to say I wasn’t a prisoner or slave. I was more like an indentured servant. I was able to come here in the mornings and early afternoons if an escort could be found willing to take me.”

Chaplain Tira responds, “That may be, but if your family had not been forced into debt by greedy landowners and merchants you would not have had to sell yourself to a brothel to keep your family from starving. You may not feel you were forced, but I don’t believe you or your family were given much choice.”

Turning back to Toshio, Chaplain Tira continues, “If we could, we would lift all the peasants out of poverty and redeem all their daughters and sons from the wretched lives they are forced into by the greedy and ruthless. Alas, we do not have those kinds of resources, and it is perfectly legal for families to sell their children to the stews and bawdy houses. Unfortunately, it is not Iomedae who rules the hearts of the leaders of this city, but Abadar the Master of the First Vault, whose concern is commerce and moneymaking and not the fate of families or children. Anyway, Piousa visited us as often as she could and when she saved enough to buy her freedom she came here. She is now a postulant in our order. I have asked you to come here, Toshio, because I believe you can help a friend of hers. Piousa, why don’t you tell us about your friend?”

Piousa begins her story. “It is hard to make any real friends at the Blissful Garden. There were too many rivalries and too much jealousy. Some of the girls were just resentful and bitter. They hated themselves for being there and everyone else. I think Madame Anyanka even enjoyed these conflicts and stirred them up on occasion. I think she thought that our competitions with each other for the handsomest and richest clients would make the whole place more popular as we would all be more willing to do things we otherwise would not.”

Toshio wonders what these ‘things’ could be, but doesn’t engage his imagination too deeply – he realizes he probably doesn’t really want to know.

“Also, if we were too busy fighting with each other we wouldn’t have any time or energy to give her any problems, at least not directly. On the other hand, she is a priestess of Calistria, the goddess of lust and revenge, so of course degradation and petty vengeance was a form of worship to her.”

What a horrible goddess to follow! How can people do that and live with their consciences? wonders Toshio silently.

“Still, I did make one friend. Her name, her real name, is Iolana. At the Garden she is called Twilight Blossom. She was from my village, having gone to the city a year before me. She was one of the few who dreamed of better things and we often came here during our free time, to worship Iomedae. Of course, we could only come in the early morning when there was no work or chores, and Madame Anyanka would not let us go if there was not a guard to accompany us – as much to keep us from running away as to protect us from stalkers or slavers. Still, I had hoped that Iolana would save her coin and be able to buy her freedom too and that together we could join the priesthood of Iomedae.” Piousa shakes her head sadly. “She was never able to do it. She always spent her silver and gold on frivolous things, makeup, new dresses, and even drugs like flayleaf. Madame Anyanka made such things easily available of course, and even encouraged their use as long as it didn’t affect one’s appearance or performance. In this way, many of the girls not only couldn’t save enough to buy their freedom, but they even became further indebted to her. After I left, Iolana still visited me here on occasion but she seemed less and less interested in our friendship or in Iomedae. She seemed to have given up. Then, a month ago, she told me she had discovered a secret and that in a few days time she would be free to join me. She refused to tell me anymore, because she was afraid her guard would overhear. After that, I didn’t see her for a week. That was unusual. I actually went back to the Garden to see her. She came to the door and told me she was safe and that she was sorry but she would not be visiting me anymore. Our lives were too different she said. She bade me have a good life and closed the door. She seemed really different. It might have been the flayleaf, but she just didn’t seem to be all there. Chaplain Tira told me that these kinds of things happen. People grow apart, and some choose a path of destruction.”

“That is what I thought,” says Chaplain Tira. “If that were all there is to the story, then I would not have brought you to hear it Toshio. Go ahead, Piousa.”

The girl continues, “Since that day, three prominent men of Magnimar have died of some mysterious illness. All of them were wealthy merchants that I know were regular clients of Twilight Blossom, my friend Iolana. They were older men, so the first couple of deaths were just attributed to fate and the infirmities of old age and overindulgence in food, drink, and other such things. The third death was a younger man, and now rumors are spreading throughout the city of a curse or of malevolent witchcraft. The rumors even included talk of the Blissful Garden and Twilight Blossom. Please, Sir Toshio, please go and see if my friend is okay. She may be in some trouble that she can’t get out of!”

Chaplain Tira lays a restraining hand upon Piousa and says to Toshio, “I have been told that Sir Caelinus, a Hellknight, may be assigned by the Council of Ushers to investigate. If that happens, I fear for all the girls at the Blissful Garden, not just Iolana. If he finds anything to arouse his suspicions he may arrest them all and send them to the Hells, the dungeons beneath the Pediment Building, to be put to the question. Toshio, I bid you, as part of your atonement, to help this girl’s friend, to help and perhaps save all the inmates of the Blissful Garden. Find out what is going on there and put an end to it before any more innocents, or even the not so innocent, are harmed. If it is something you cannot handle on your own, report back to me. I wish to send you this very night. I would have sent another but all of our priests and paladins who reside here are known. They would find out nothing and their visit to such a place would cause a scandal. You, however, because you live in Sandpoint, are not so well known. Be circumspect. Go there and say you wish to see Twilight Blossom. See if you can win her confidence and find out what you can. I caution you, however, while you may spend time with her do not take advantage of her services. It is lawful to do so, but Iomedae would not approve of such a liaison, especially when it cannot be said that the girl in question is really in a position to choose according to her own will and dignity. Will you take this mission, Sir Toshio?”

“I have no experience in these things. But I will take the mission anyway. But how should I dress? I don’t imagine white and gold would be very good cover there. Can you tell me what I should expect? How much money should I bring? What hazards in behavior I may face? Of course, you needn’t worry about me taking advantage of Iolana’s services. I hope to buy her time, and then spend it in innocent conversation, learning what I can. Piousa, you said that Iolana once dreamed of better things. Can you tell me what those dreams were without betraying a confidence?” He pauses. “So many questions. I’m sorry. I just wish to be as prepared as possible.”

Chaplain Tira says, “It would be best if you did not openly wear anything to connect you to Iomedae. Just wear what you would normally wear when you are not on duty or on pilgrimage. You may even wear your sword or at least a dagger, that would not be unusual for a merchant or nobleman in Lowcleft.”

Toshio nods. “I’ll just bring the dagger. My sword is not a common type.”

Piousa adds, “You would not even be expected to give your true name. Madam Anyanka will assign you a name when you arrive. If you are nervous and do not know what to do in such a place that will be all the more convincing. You will be given a choice of the girls who are available. Normally you could ask if Twilight Blossom were available. Men often come in asking for a favorite or one whom a friend had recommended. In this case, however, that might arouse suspicion. If Twilight Blossom is not immediately available you could spend time with another and then ask again later for who is available. It is rare, but some very wealthy clients do see more than one girl a night, sometimes more than one at a time. And it isn’t always sex they want. Sometimes they just want a companion to while away the hours, to talk and drink with. They may even invite a girl out with them, but usually Madam Anyanka will not allow new clients to do that. It is too risky for the girls. Madam Anyanka doesn’t want to lose her investments so easily. Now Iolana’s dreams were like mine: to leave the Garden and become a priestess of Iomedae, or at the very least to marry one perhaps. I think if you are able to see her and speak with her privately, if you mentioned that you were a devotee or even a priest of Iomedae yourself, then she might open up to you. Of course, if that is no longer her dream she might not. You will have to see how she is.”

“Shall I create a false name before going? Would such a lie draw shadows over me again?”

Piousa responds, “That won’t be necessary. Just ask Madame Anyanka to give you a name or give her one you wish to be called by if you prefer. It won’t be a lie. It’s more of a courtesy for the sake of discretion.”

“How will I recognize Twilight Blossom? I would like to be able to pick her out if she is available. I certainly hope I won’t have to choose another, wait with her, and then put her off when Twighlight Blossom arrives. Would it be odd if I said ‘A friend recommended Twilight Blossom. Is she here? I certainly hope so.”

Piousa laughs. “Don’t worry, that would not be odd at all. They will not even ask who might have recommended her, or if anyone does just say you’d prefer not to say. She is about a head shorter than you, slim, with blue eyes, and brunette. Her hair is long, falling down to about the middle of her back. Don’t worry about trying to find her. Madame Anyanka will tell you the names of whoever is available. Oh, well, except… that is… unless Moon Flower is available. If Moon Flower is available and Twilight Blossom or even some other girl who is asked for is not available, Madame Anyanka sometimes tries to have Moon Flower stand in for them.” Piousa shudders a bit. “I don’t know how she does it, but she is able to take the form and even pretend to be one of the other girls or any girl really. I understand though that, if asked directly, Moon Flower will tell you her name. Not everyone knows that, but regulars at the Garden and their friends know about it. So be sure to ask Twilight Blossom if she really is who she says she is. It won’t arouse suspicions if you know to ask.”

“Well, this will be a new experience. Is there anything else I should know? If not, I’ll get changed and be off. I’ll report tomorrow, unless you have other instructions.”

Chaplain Tira shakes her head, “No, I don’t think there is anything else you need to know, except be careful. If there is indeed a murderer involved and it isn’t just an unfortunate coincidence that these three men died, then it is a very subtle one.”

Chaplain Tira ushers Toshio out of the room and follows. She turns to Piousa once more before leaving. “Thank you Piousa. Toshio will do all he can to help your friend if she is in need of help.”

“Thank you, milady.”

Chaplain Tira takes her leave of Toshio with a salute, uttering the frequently heard prayer and battle cry of Iomedae, “For victory, for the heart!”

Toshio echoes the salute as they part. “For victory, for the heart!” He returns to his room and readies himself. He selects nice clothes and makes sure he has nothing to connect him with the temple of Iomedae. Toshio checks his belt pouch, ensuring he has enough for the evening. Erring a bit on the side of caution, he brings only 4 gold, 10 silver, and 20 coppers with him. Before leaving his room he reviews the names he’ll need to remember, so he won’t need to do so on the way there and become an easy mark. Madame Anyanka; Twighlight Blossom, whose actual name is Iolana – a head shorter than me, slim, blue eyes, brunette hair down her back; and Moon Flower, who can take on the appearances of others (he shudders a bit at this thought). Remember to verify whom you’re talking to. Just before going, he makes sure he has his dagger ready. He doesn’t wear any armor, as he doesn’t want to draw attention. Having finished his preparations, he makes his way to the Blissful Garden by foot.