[note: because of the potential for several bad outcomes in the current scene, I am holding off on my in character journal of session 34 to be included in session 35’s log. Instead, I decided to write log as if I was writing a chapter in a novel. Obviously I don’t have exact dialog and I didn’t do several passes of editing, but I think it came out ok.]
The beast’s victory was all but assured when his claws came out. Blood in their mouths, veins pumping with vigor and the lust for battle, the fighters stopped only when one dropped to the ground, his flesh torn, his body mangled.
The companions looked on from above while the crowd erupted, mostly in anger. Krajkah cheered, much to the dismay of Esera. Her innate need to help others was blocked completely by the surging masses of the Stallion. There was no way down to help the fallen man as he bled out on the floor of the cage. Lily told her whatever she wanted to do was not worth it. As the Lawgiver priest walked stoically from the combat pit, Esera’s frustration only increased.
Bellrauthian paid no heed to the crowd, nor his fallen opponent. He was beaten and sore and needed some rest, and his winnings. He took up his snake, Ilia, and returned to his fighter’s chamber.
Arden and Krajkah pushed through throngs of people to collect their winnings. Karsten’s suggestion paid off in the form of gold. After the winnings were collected, the companions joined up again and proceeded down the stairs to find Karsten.
Choking on soot and the smell of nearly every human secretion, the companions found Karsten on the lower level. Congratulating him on the victory, they followed him to the room where Bellrauthian awaited.
The beast sat on a metal stool. Blood still dripped from his hands. His neck and face were bruised. Esera’s eyes immediately lit up and once again Lily encouraged her to have some discretion. Krajkah’s reference to “knick-knacks” didn’t make things easier for anybody.
Bellrauthian explained how he got to be in Liara. He was born in Falkovnia, but fled for a reason still unknown to the companions. He found himself in Tepest for ten years. Life wasn’t easy on him then, but it was there that he met Karsten. Eventually, he left Tepest and took up residence in Liara.
While he isn’t welcome in half the city, Bellrauthian found a home in Liara and a stable to be a part of. He had a form of a respect in the city that many places in the Core wouldn’t afford him.
But in the fighter’s room they still couldn’t talk about the central issue at hand. They went deeper into the Stallion, past the opium dens, past the vomit, the smoke, the carnal pleasures not hidden well enough, and into the depths of the saunas. The water there was foul, but it was likely to be the most private place in the building.
The companions learned only a scant amount of new information from the caliban and Karsten. Mayor Ferrier was being held in Castle Faerhaaven Castle by Sir Tristen Hiregaard. He left Tepest to find out why trade had dwindled and was snatched up by the army preparing to invade. He was considered an honored guest after the capture.
The army wasn’t simply a Hiregaard army though. Prince Bolshnik coordinated with two of the other five houses to send the army into Tepest. Doing so would cement his tyranny for even more years. The cost would be minimal since the Tepestani posed no threat. And the enemies of the Tepestani surely couldn’t be too many for a Nova Vaasan army to handle.
Karsten revealed to his friends that he was staying with a friend of his, perhaps someone who shared his secret obsessions. His name was Count Antoni Sawicki, one of the more reclusive noblemen of the area. The Count was known primarily for his foolhardy expedition through Tepest and down into the Shadow Rift. His eccentric plan involved building a staircase down into the Rift, but workers went down into the black mists and never came back up. The project was canceled.
The companions agreed to meet with this Count on the condition that his ill-fated plan not be brought up. They also agreed to meet with Bellrauthian on the morrow to learn more about Liara. Even though he couldn’t be a part of the noble society nor enter the Iron Cathedral, he knew much of the goings-on of the lower class citizenry of southern Liara. As time neared 3 a.m., they all left the Staggering Stallion and went their separate ways.
On the way to his stable, Bellrauthian found himself accosted by a group of thugs. They smelled of wolfsbane, misunderstanding the true nature of Bellrauthian’s bestial features. Leveling threats at him, they attacked, intending to give him the beating of his life. And possibly his death.
Sensing this danger, Bellrauthian went on the defensive. The thugs fought as hard as they could, but Bellrauthian’s instincts kicked in and his knowledge of the streets aided him. He quickly ran to the nearest busy street and put himself out of harm’s way. Already bruised and beaten from the cage fight, any skirmish could have proven fatal. But the rage of the street thugs may have only been abated for a time. Bellrauthian would need to watch his step on future nights, when the Lawgiver pays no mind to the affairs of men, and beasts.
Meanwhile, the companions walked the streets that led them to The Tavern. Their minds were foggy, their arms tired, their clothes marked with soot and smoke stains. In any other city, they may have been mistaken for the homeless or slave labor. But in southern Liara, they were the elite, choosing to stay among the poor due to circumstance.
While walking Zadnaya St. west of Anglisky., they heard a woman scream and people gasp. A man was retching at the side of the road near a dark alley into the Warrens. Many of the city’s natives, interrupted from a walk home after work, stood in a half moon shape around the entrance to the alley. Their spirits crushed from another day working in Liara, whatever awaited the companions in that alley had removed any sense of safety they had left.
Arden was the first to speak, inquiring about what was happening, but his friends quickly followed. A man named Zachary answered. The companions were obviously foreigners and not poor ones either. Zachary responded with disgust and distrust. What would they do for the downtrodden of Liara? What could they do? But the companions pressed on, with sincerity. Zachary didn’t trust their words until Krajkah and Arden simply pressed through the crowd and into the alley.
A woman was killed, Zachary said. It was the signature killer. He had struck down another by the name of Arina Sofia in the Stallion not long ago. That one was left in the privy, though there was no message left with her as far as the companions knew. This one had a message, and the scene was not worth seeing, not for one who wanted to keep his wits about him.
But Krajkah and Arden went in anyway. The buildings of the Warrens were barely recognizable as such. Most were crumbling brick, between two and four stories tall. For most a couple stone steps lead up to an open doorway, wood being too scarce to build doors with. Only narrow unshuttered slits passed for windows. The buildings appeared to have been arranged in no particular order and were often crammed right up against each other and odd angles. Some were literally falling down and rubble chokes the narrow alleys between them, in other cases you can see tall structures leaning into each other like drunks turning the pathways between into darkened caverns.
Everything in the Warrens was covered in layers of grimy soot, even the natives. The sides of the street and the narrow passages between the crumbling buildings were piled with trash, excrement and the occasional dead animal. Slinking cats, all rib cage and yowl, hunted for the rats which must surely thrive here.
But on that day, it wasn’t a dead animal that the companions found; it was a woman. She was pretty, or would have been before she was brutally tortured and murdered. Her long raven black hair looked neatly brushed and flowed down over her pale shoulders framing a delicate childlike face. Her snowy white flesh was peeled away in bloody inch-wide strips along her belly, inner thighs and the bottoms of her feet. Flexible shining wires were threaded through the flesh of her arms and razor thin slits were visible all over. Despite the obvious evidence of torture there was very little blood and none of the wounds appeared serious enough on their own to have killed her. Most horrifying of all, it appeared that her eyes had been gouged out since two large and pure white flowers flecked with crimson sprouted from the then empty sockets. On the soot covered red-brick wall above her corpse a message was scrawled in greasy black letters in Vaasi: “In My Lady’s Honor.”
Arden stood motionless as he beheld the horror of the scene. Krajkah, seemingly undeterred, strode forward and began poking and prodding the body. Though Arden knew Krajkah’s respect for women was questionable, he could do nothing to stop him. Besides, what could Krajkah have done that was worse than the girl’s killer?
It took almost a minute for Arden to snap out of his stupor, but when he did, he and Krajkah discussed the situation. The girl seemed to be a prostitute. Her mouth showed signs of harlot’s sweet, an expensive drug common among high priced escorts. Perhaps the girl was from, or serviced, the north side of Liara?
Arden was struck by the surgical aspect of the torture on the girl and hastily threw off his jacket. As he unbuttoned his shirt, Krajkah told him not to have his way with the girl. Arden simply glared at Krajkah as he pulled off his shirt and took a closer look. Though it was hard to compare, his scars appeared quite similar to the girl’s. Man and dwarf alike couldn’t figure out the puzzle. Krajkah had an idea, and stuffed his filthy thick hand wrist deep into a place men once had to pay to visit.
It was then that Krajkah noticed the message was written in a hurry. There were always people around here, but it also meant the scene may have just been set and the native Liarans interrupted the killer.
Back at the alley, Lily continued pressing Zachary for information. She tried to thank him with gold, but he made it clear he wouldn’t last through the night. Even the silver he accepted may have been too much, but he cautiously accepted it. Lily left him and met up with Krajkah and Arden, leaving Esera by herself at the entrance of the dark alleyway. Esera wasn’t sure she trusted the group of armed men casually waiting a block down from the incident. They were likely this area’s stablemen, but Esera had no way of knowing if that was good or bad.
Disgusted by the depravity of it all, Lily held back the contents of her stomach as she surveyed the scene. There was nothing more to be found on the dead girl, but Lily’s eye caught the inexperienced hand of someone not native to Nova Vaasa in the writing on the wall. The note was not only hastily scrawled, but it seemed to be done by a foreigner as well. Lily was beginning to think the whole situation was a horrible and elaborate copycat of the signature killer.
It was around that time that Krajkah noticed tracks leading away from the scene. They were man-sized and were clearly carrying something on the way in, but not on the way out. The nature of the prints and the lack of soot on the girl meant the killer was likely still nearby.
It took quite a bit of convincing, but Esera eventually relented and entered the alleyway. Overcome by the drama of the situation, she could not stride bravely forward and try to help. She covered her eyes and used her hand to assist her in walking down the alley. She kicked trash here and there all the way down the alley. There was barely room for two men standing shoulder to shoulder to pass the scene of the dead girl. Esera’s foot smacked into the naked leg of the girl with the sound of a freshly butchered ham hock falling to the ground and she almost stumbled onto the corpse.
The incident was so heinous and disgusting that it seemed to give Esera newfound bravery and she looked over the dead girl’s body. Confirming the incision marks resembled Arden’s, she expressed her desire to leave this situation until the following day before tracking the killer. But there were no words she could have said that would have stopped the stubborn dwarf that once tried to rape her.
Krajkah followed the tracks for only ten feet as they led to a large trash pile. Signaling for his companions to surround the pile, he prepared for an assault. He jumped into the trash pile with all his might, cutting himself on a rusty bit of metal. Not the least bit embarrassed, he explained the situation and moved the trash pile out of the way.
He found a small cracked passage where a portion of the building’s foundation had collapsed inward. The unstable brick left a black gap into darkness beneath the structure. Near the opening they saw several other strange tiny prints and evidence of things being dragged in and out of the crawlspace beneath the crumbling building. As Krajkah moved aside the coverings a stench of putrescence foul enough to cut through even the constant urine stench of The Warrens wafted out. A chill crawled down their backs and they felt an inexplicable dread radiating from the strange dark place.
Esera once again was adamant about waiting until morning to investigate. Who knew what dangers lurked within? But Krajkah got down on his hands and knees and bravely entered the most evil place the companions had yet found in Nova Vaasa.
There was only a few feet of space between the gritty stone beneath him and the cobwebbed darkness above. Heavy brick arches supported the floor of the building above and obscured his view of the surrounding area allowing only eight feet or so of clear sight. In the darkness he could see drag marks across the floor and piles of broken stone and less identifiable debris.
Lily joined Krajkah in the unholy place and lit a tiny candle that gave her some semblance of sight through the darkness. The two of them slowly crawled deeper and deeper as the feeling evil increased, the ever-present oppression of a decaying building above them.
Suddenly they spotted several pairs of glowing orange eyes in the darkness. They were surrounded.