While travelling between Esouro and Homestead, both Vannessa and Malen shared some stories about their past.
Malen recalled his people’s swimming and diving lesson’s as well as the competitions. That year, Malen won in his age group and that earned him the right to join some adult Korindians on the next ship to leave for the main land. But Shaintar’s seas are unpredictable and a freak storm hit and their ship sank on the shores between the cities of Coastline & Haven. A group of Rangers found Malen, apparently the only survivor. Malen decided to join the Rangers at that time, since he felt a debt towards them and it would be a great way to see more of the world.
The following night, Vanessa regaled the group with her own story about how her great-grandfather would sit her on his lap as a child and tell her of his travels and adventures and how he always looked younger than her grandfather, he was also more active and vigorous for much longer so maybe he had some elven blood.
A few days later they arrive at the gates of Homestead, the very city where General Jeremiah Grayson was supposed to settle in after many years of faithful service to Galea. Awaiting their turn to enter the city with their contaminated wagons, they went over what they knew and/or suspected about the Necromancers’ plot. So far, all they have is a list of names of people in Homestead found on the dark sorcerer and the names of a few other people of note that Garrick, a fellow ranger and leader of another group, shared.
So, when it was their turn at the gate they spoke to Sgt. Ollar there and managed to convince him to let them thru but that they need to make sure that nobody touches the contents of the 3 wagons. Sgt. Ollar gave them a letter, vouching for them and he had the wagons marked with long red strips of cloth, as a warning.
Once at the Rangers’ HQ, Vanessa and Malen were escorted to see Ranger-Captain Deron Von Garron, commander of the local Ranger garrison. Vandien and Toji stayed behind to keep an eye on the wagons.
Once in Capt. Deron’s office, they explained their encounter with the other Rangers and the “Merchants” summoning undead (see Riding to the Rescue) and their subsequent investigation of the bodies and the wagons.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Tia, the Captain’s cup-bearer, was listening carefully to as much as she could.
Capt. Deron agreed to keep things as quiet as possible and made sure all the contaminated foodstuff was locked up and safe. The storeroom in question has a two lock system, so he has one key and gave the second one to Vanessa.
After that, the heroes were left to their own devices. So the took a few hours to relax, clean the dirt and dust of the road. They then set off, that night, to discover what they could about the names on their mysterious list. Vandien led his friends to some taverns and other seedier places. Vanessa played the role of distraction, with her beauty and charm, while her twin used his own talents (even though he’s the “ugly” twin).
They confirmed that Sgt. Agrom ‘’Scarhead’’ BloodFist, the orc night-guard has a nasty temper and is on probation and that he resents his superiors. And that Master Harrick McCormick has a gambling problem and since he’s the one in charge of the city’s grain storage, he’d be obviously a viable target to blackmail him into cooperating with the Necromancers.
Not much could be discovered about Ranger-Lt. Taline Chorano, second in command of the Rangers in the city, apart from the fact that she was assigned to the Kingdom of Erimar before being re-assigned to Homestead. She’s stern but fair, dedicated and hard-working.
The real enigma was Mortimer ‘Mort’ Holchek, a candle shop owner. Nothing really noteworthy could be gleaned about him. He didn’t seem exceptional but he did manage to get a deal to supply all candles to the Rangers’ HQ as well as to the Baron’s keep.
The lack of “dirt” or detail about Holchek bothered Vandien. Why was his name on the list? What leverage did the Necromancers have on him? This of course motivated the Rangers into digging a bit deeper into the candle shop owner.
They had also discovered that the Necromancers, posing as merchants, were to seek refuge at the Empty Barrel Inn with is close to the Baron’s storage and various mills. It was a seedy dive, catering to those who searched for any type of paid labour, until it was bought by a group of immigrants, coming from “up north”. The owners seem to be a mix of brothers, sisters and cousins. Once the place was renovated & cleaned-up, it was welcoming a higher class of clientele, who had traveled a long way to deliver their goods and wanted more than just watered down beer and stale bread.
Being careful not to attract any unwarranted attention, our heroes kept an eye out for trouble, but while staking out the Empty Barrel that night, they were somewhat surprised that Tia, the Captain’s cup-bearer, looking very different, dropped down from the rooftop behind them. They suspected someone might be tailing them but were never sure.
Tia greets them and begins explaining her presence there.
«I’ve been in the city for a while now trying to get to the bottom of a possible conspiracy or plot. I’m an agent of the Black Lanterns. »
Her statement is met by blank stares but after a few moments Malen remembers a few fragments of information.
Tia confirms and adds a few more details such as that the Black Lanterns were formed to counter the machinations of the agents of the Malakar Dominion, the Prelacy of Camon as well as Tor-Mastak agents of the Kal Empire or Shadowlands spies. And that she is here specifically because a Ranger working in the city sent an encrypted message to her organization.
And now our group of heores seem to have, unwittingly, stumbled upon a major clue and element of this conspiracy and she would, of course, welcome their aid. So, after a brief discussion, they agree to check out the candle shop owner.
No big surprise to find that Holchek’s place was both closed and quiet. But they carefully investigated all around it. Tia and Vandien went to the rooftop and peered down from a skylight. Meanwhile, Malen, Toji and Vanessa walked to the back alleys and looked into the ground floor window. There was no activity or movement within. Wax in large vats, in blocks, candles hanging almost everywhere and various oils to make scented candles are evidence of a prosperous business.
Tia unlocked the skylight and they hopped down as quietly as possible and Malen simply “blinked” inside and unlocked the back door. Working as a team, they discovered a trap door leading down into a storage cellar for hemp, rope, twine and string. They kept investigating and found a secret door at the far end of the cellar. They borrow a candle along with a brass holder and open the door that leads to the city sewer system.
They explore one tunnel to their right for a short time then double back and do the same with the left side. Toji hears something, behind them, voices. They quickly extinguish their light and hide. The noise turns out to be footsteps and voices. At this distance no specific words can be made out.
Malen decides to shape change into a rat and crawl towards the source of noise. He sees 3 men loom over him as they walk by, oblivious. Two of them are heavily muscled and with scars on their hands and face as well as noses that have been broken more than once. The third man was much smaller but still in good shape, probably from working in his shop and kept his head shaved clean. This was most likely Morty Holchek himself.
All three men opened the secret door that led to the candle shop cellar and locked it behind them.
Malen-rat rejoined his friends and resumed his normal shape. After a brief discussion, they set off to discover where the three men came from. Between Toji, Vanessa and Vandien’s tracking skills they managed to find another concealed entrance to a short tunnel, then a cellar with many smaller rooms. This led them to stairs upwards where they herd people talking, drinking and be merry.
The Rangers quietly exited the building and discovered they were in the Empty Barrel.
to be continued…