When we arrived in Southport via boat, we spotted a ship with red and green sails unloading coffins into the port. A large man with gray hair and beard wearing animal furs and a woman with very tight hair and somber clothing, carrying a vaguely funeral air with mismatched clothing and gear and a halberd with a shovel head approached the ship.
As we surveyed the folks ahead of us, lightning struck, leaving Darvin lying on what was now a smoldering collection of timbers. We spent the next fifteen minutes putting the fire out. The strangers approached, identifying themselves as Gunnar and Elif.
We discussed Erevel’s exploits in the area, but we were distracted when my hand and arm reached out toward Gunnar. I asked him what was going on, and he shrugged, confused. I removed my gauntlet, which fell to the ground with a clang, and promptly slapped the poor man across the face. He yelped as the lightning tattoo from my arm transferred to him.
Magic coursed between us, and then he slapped Elif, transferring the power to her as well.
I was perplexed, but we explained the nature of the tattoos to them, doing the best we could. Though we know very little about the ancient elven magic bestowed—or forced—upon us.
After deciding to investigate the ship situation, we bluffed and intimidated our way onto the ship, soon discovering the coffins were filled with spices and treasures. Asakku swiped their cargo manifests, and we discovered there were discrepancies on the cargo manifest. Most were labeled as tribute, but some had been marked as “alternative cargo.” Returning to the ship, we investigated the so-called alternative cargo.
As my gut told me, and I feared, we discovered children in their very early teens. Nine humans, six wargs, four elves, and one half-orc. My chest lit with fury as I recognized the ship, finally. A mermaid with a chained collar. City of a Thousand Nights.
One of the crates of tribute was destined for Earl Dregard, the man who hired us to find the so-called necromancer. The others were destined to the king of Grey Reach. The children were destined for somewhere in the warehouse district. Darvin advocated sending the children to an orphanage, but we discovered there were none. Earl Dregard shut down all the orphanages.
Asakku and I headed to the shrine, leaving the others to guard the children. Asakku and I argued about what to do regarding the ship. He doesn’t understand the City. He doesn’t know what we’re up against, should we choose to engage them. I know his intentions are good, but he just does not understand.
When we got into the slums, Asakku elbowed me and pointed up. “There are young ones watching us. Shall we part ways in case they attack us?”
I shook my head. “They’re children. If they attack us, they are more likely to hurt themselves than us.”
“You do realize,” Asakku said, frowning at me, “that we might have to kill some of them.”
“I’d rather not, but if it’s absolutely necessary then… it is what it is.”
Asakku rolled his eyes at me and sighed. “You are a perplexing woman.”
When we reached the shrine, I spoke to my brothers and sisters. They said they could feed the children but have no facilities to tend them or have them stay. I sighed, looking at the long line of hungry, destitute people beyond. “All right. Asakku, perhaps we could take them back to White Horn?”
Asakku grunted. “Cassiel, how do you propose we take them?”
“Same way we got here, ourselves. It’s not so complicated.” I frowned, shaking my head.
“You’re the boss, Ser Spiky.”
“Why am I in charge?”
“Because you’re spiky.”
“And you say I’m the weird one.” I shook my head and headed back toward the docks.
When I arrived, the others had the first mate out on the dock and was talking to him. They identified him to me as Dorgald, and he’d been convinced to take us to the theives’ guild and believed some octopus god had saved him from certain death in the waves. On the way there, he mentioned he was getting fifty gold for the job and asked us to hold off on causing mayhem until he got paid. I laughed and passed him seventy-five. He grinned. “Well… is this going to be a continual gig?”
“It might be. We could have use of a ship captain,” I said.
He led us to the warehouse and then headed inside with a promise to let us know how many folks were inside and so on. We doubted he’d return, but as we waited, children streamed in and out of the warehouse entryway where we stood. They chattered, showing that they did, indeed, have tongues.
Dorgald returned, informing us that there were four men in the room along with the guildmaster. We then wished him well and sent him on his way. While I could not pretend I felt good about the affair, at least I could say he was of service. And he claimed he wanted nothing to do with killing or transporting women and children. A thief and a scoundrel he may be, but at least he wasn’t doing harm to children.
Our group looked at each other and nodded before striding into the hall before us, ready to confront the guild master.
As we entered, Asakku broke left, slipping behind one of the ostentatious pillars in the long room. The guild master sat on an ornate throne at the front of the hall, watching us, his eyes following Asakku until he vanished into the shadows.
Darvin approached. “Greetings, Guild Master. We are here to conduct an exercise in reasoning.”
“Slavery is bad. You are involved in it, thus you are bad. We are here to end slavery, and thus here to end you.”
The guild master raised an eyebrow. “Kill them.”
And now the killing. I rushed one of the men off to the side, swinging at him and grazing his neck. Scarlet appeared beneath my attack. “We’re going to need some help in here!” he bellowed.
I heard the others enter conflict behind me, and a crossbow bolt whizzed past my head, slamming into the stone pillar beyond. Over my shoulder to the left, the bearded man caused brambles to grow over the door nearest the throne, blocking escape as the guild master leaped for it.
I attacked him a second time, missing as he jumped backward toward the pillar, swinging his hammer at me again with little effect.
The stench of burned flesh filled the air, and the shrill, terrified screams of one of the thugs rung off the wooden walls. Darvin, I assumed, since I couldn’t see him behind me as I focused on the man standing before me.
The doors opened to my right, and several orphans stumbled into the room, bearing knives and one carrying a javelin. I snarled, bellowing “get the fuck out!” and hoping they would flee so we wouldn’t need to cause them harm.
One shrieked, “It’s her! Get her!” and then ran out of the room. He came back a moment later, looking harried. The others stabbed at me, their daggers scratching my armor. More annoying than harmful. I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the jackass with the crossbow. Fine. Let them scuff my plate mail.
We continued pursuing the leader of thieves’ guild. I tried to tackle him with no luck. The children screamed behind me, their terrified, agonized wails tearing at my soul and will to fight, but I grit my teeth against the scent of burning flesh and hair.
After a brief conclusion to the struggle, two orphans remained and chased us around, trying to stop us ineffectually now and then by stabbing at us, but really they couldn’t do much. There wasn’t much we could do to stop them without leveling harm, and they refused to let us go, despite everyone else in the room being dead, some horribly.
After about half an hour of trying to get the last ones out, I finally convinced them by chucking gold at them until they left. They threatened to come back and take the rest off my corpse. I just… I put my palm over my face and took point down a narrow, dark staircase leading deeper into the guild.
In the basement, we found a man with a shaved head, a massive, spiked hammer leaning against his leg, sitting on one of several, massive crates. Deep scars covered him, speaking of a life of pain. Darvin stepped forward and spoke up. “Greetings, friend. I was wondering if you would be amenable to some profit.”
“Well, we would like to see if we can avoid a fight. You look like a man we don’t want to argue with.”
“Smart.” A gap-toothed grin flashed.
“Bribe is such a distasteful word, but… what gratuity might we offer you to, perhaps, leave and allow us reign of this place.”
“I’m going to have to worry about Grooven for awhile. You know. He’s got eyes out there.”
“He may be too busy running to pay much attention to you for awhile.”
“Hm.” He stroked his beardless chin, considering the prospect. “Listen. I don’t like that asshole. He does fucked up things to kids. I don’t like this job. It sounded really cooshy. Thought it was great, but this? This was not what I signed up for. I just want to be back in the arena. I’ve been down here for awhile.”
“What can we do to facilitate your return to the arena, then?”
“I want two things. I want Grooven dead. He touches kids. It’s wrong. Second, there’s this tavern I’d like to buy. Spent a lot of time there. Loved it. Don’t want you killing anyone to take it, but I’d like it bought.”
“Sounds like a fair enough trade,” Darvin said, exchanging glances with me. I nodded, and I heard the others murmur asset behind me and down the hall. “Before you go—and I’m just making conversation here—what do you know of child assassins who remove their tongues? Have you heard of anything?”
He shook his head. “I have not.”
“If you do, will you tell us? You seem to care for the lives of children.” I asked, tilting my head.
“That sounds… horrifying. I will. There is, however, one problem: I know none of your names.”
We introduced ourselves, and he told us he was Herental the Lion, a known gladiator. “Bring me Grooven’s ring when you have slain him. I am typically at the arena. His cruelty to children cannot go unpunished.” He then departed past us, climbing the stairs.
We discovered a magical deck of cards Darvin believed was a Deck of Many Things. The rest of the crates had jewels, scrolls, silk, and so on. Beyond, we discovered a barracks for children, and in the master bedroom we found a collection of tanned tongues.
Oh hell. This man must die.