Fruit of the Fallen

The Guilihart Job

Loyalty and Betrayal

Part 8 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

The Split Falchion camps on the Breland plains, less than a day’s ride from the Graywall Mountains. Marwyn glances at them frequently while waiting for dusk, faint orange light spilling from between the crags.
“Why didn’t we just wait in Ardev, Var?” Jorduna asks, eyeing the ground with distaste.
“Because, Jor, if this goes well we might be able to deal with Evalyn by tomorrow. Besides, I don’t entirely trust a town where a shipping mogul can have my men kidnapped without cause or resistance,” Jorduna looks away, shame and anger in her face, “I didn’t mean to chastise you, Jor,” Vargard adds, seeing this, “But as of tomorrow we’re on the clock. Cut down on the subordination. Speaking of which, everyone gather around,” he says to the group in general, laying out a piece of parchment on the grass.

Vargard points to a spot on the map, which is a rough outline of the Graywall Mountains. “This is where Evalyn’s man said they tracked the bandits to. It’s a system of caves, the perfect kind for bandits or highwaymen to hide out in. Their intel also suggested 10-15 moderately armed men, at least 2 mages.”
“Var, are we sure we can take them?” Lesani asks, a little worried.
“If we didn’t have Marwyn I’d be cautious,” Vargard responds, “But these guys aren’t well-trained, again, as per Evalyn’s information. We might not have to fight them all at once, or at all.”
“And why are we trusting Evalyn’s information?” Jorduna asks, taking care with her tone, “She did just have me kidnapped.”
“She’s a businesswoman, as I said. Shrewd, but not needlessly deceptive. I can’t see an angle for her lying to us that doesn’t involve our deaths, and she had a pretty good opportunity to take us out a few hours ago,” Vargard responds, reasonably. Jorduna grunts, accepting his answer. “As to what we are supposed to retrieve,” Vargard continues, “it is a sum of no less than 5000 gold, or the debtor, one Maxis Telgard of Breland. Alive,” There’s a pause as everyone takes in the information, Jorduna whistling slightly at the amount.
“What kind of service runs a debt of 5000?” Marwyn asks, a little awestruck, “I had a glance at the posted rates in Wroat, nothing could have racked up that much in a short amount of time.”
“It’d have to be something really sensitive. Or perhaps the target ran a job against Evalyn and made off with a good catch. Either way, that’s not our concern, apparently, or they would have included it in the information,” he says, tapping the parchment next to the map, “To that end, I’ve set a wager, on the side, on whether or not they actually owe anything?”
“A wager?” Marwyn asks, while Cletus and Jorduna look to Vargard with interest.
“Yes. We do this sort of thing occasionally. Strictly optional. I assume you know the basics of a wager?” He asks Marwyn, who nods his head, “Good. It’s 2:1 for this Maxis to either be guilty or innocent of the debt. Even odds, it’s too close to call for me.”
“5 on innocent,” Cletus mumbles.
“I’ll put 10 on guilty,” Jorduna says just after him.
“I… is that gold or silver?” Marwyn asks, hesitantly.
“Gold, unless you don’t have the courage to match us, kid,” challenges Jorduna. Vargard gives her a look but says nothing.
“1 on guilty,” Marwyn says, and reaches out with a gold piece towards Vargard.
He waves it away, “Not now, Marwyn. We don’t exchange gold until after the wager is satisfied, because we trust each other. Try not to spoil that,” he says, then notes the darkening of the sky, “If that’s it, I’m going to get some rest. Any takers for first watch?” he asks, looking around.
Eventually, Jorduna raises a hand hesitantly, and Vargard nods at her. Everyone else prepares for rest, laying out a blanket over the grass and setting themselves down. Fortunately, the southern nation of Breland was warmer than Aundair, allowing them to get away with sleeping just in their clothes. Marwyn rests a little uneasily, knowing that Jorduna was the only one awake, but eventually falls asleep.

Lesani wakes the group at dawn, having risen from her trance and relieving Jorduna at some point during the night. The group readies themselves, donning armor before mounting their horses. Marwyn feels a slight nervousness, remembering the numbers Vargard mentioned before. He spurs his horse, then grimaces, remembering the arrow that struck his calf. The horse picks up speed, and he dismisses the thoughts, clenching his fists to help drive them out. He stares at the mountains, growing ever larger, and lets his mind drift to the gentle breeze, and the occasional cluster of trees they pass. Eventually, the landscape grows hilly, a precursor to the mountains, and the sun rises farther into the sky. It is near overhead when they reach the foot of the Graywall Mountains.

“We’re on foot from here,” Vargard says, dismounting at the beginning of a crack in the mountains. He begins tying up his horse, somewhat inside of the ravine, away from the casual observer. The rest do the same, and then follow Vargard into the pass.
“I don’t like this,” Cletus speak up, “Easy ambush location, those walls,” he looks up at the cliff walls surrounding them cautiously, studying them for any signs of movement.
“It’s the only way to the target. That’s probably why they chose to hole up here,” Vargard agrees, “Just keep on your guard.”

The group continues through the mountain, slowly, keeping watch over their surroundings. Their paranoia is justified when an arrow flies only feet in front of the group, and a loud, Brelish voice rings out from somewhere above.
“That’s far enough, Aundair. Turn back now or the next dozen get closer.”
“We’re here for Maxis,” Vargard yells back, “To collect his debt!”
“Var, what the hell,” Jorduna whispers in his ear.
“If they think we’re lying to them then they won’t hold back,” he answers, whispering, “This is the only play that could resolve this peacefully. Now stay quiet.”
There was a short pause from the voice above, which Marwyn estimates is at least 50 feet up. The pause lingers, and eventually they speak again, “The only debt Maxis owes is to Breland, to which he intends to redeem by freeing it from the tyranny of its enemies. Let’s start with you!” he yells, followed by a firing order. Other men, a mix of human, elf, and dwarf, slide down the rocks behind the party, trapping them in.
“Run!” Vargard yells, as four arrows are fired towards the party, another one following shortly afterwards. They all miss, and the group starts running forward, deeper into the mountain, the men behind giving chase. Another three volleys of arrows follow them, until they get out of the archer’s line of sight, bends in the pass saving them. Two arrows strike Cletus, but deal only minimal damage. He utters a loud curse in what Marwyn assumes is Dwarven with each hit. Eventually, they reach the entrance to a cave, where three men stand waiting. The other four catch up from behind, surrounding them as Cletus hurriedly picks out the arrows.

By looks of their weapons, Marwyn can tell that they face 5 melee fighters, as well as another archer. The last bears no heavy armor, but wields a longsword as well as a holy symbol, that of the Silver Flame. They all ready weapons, showing no intent of bargaining.

The battle starts with Cletus, angrily pulling back an arrow and sending it towards the robed figure. A force seems to try and bend its path from her torso, but it still strikes true. Marwyn winces as it shatters after piercing the flesh, throwing additional chucks of wood into the wound. The caster screams, and though she remains composed, it’s clear that her battle stance has been compromised.

At the same time, the swordsman ahead of them, burlier than any behind them, with better armor and, to Marwyn’s arcane eye, better weapons, charges their formation. Vargard, slowed by his armor during the run, is out of position to challenge him, and he connects with Jorduna. His sword gives her a scratch on her arm, painful, but not a serious injury. Jorduna waits, as Vargard moves ahead and around the swordsman, positioning himself opposite of Jorduna. He takes a hit from the swordsman as he does so, causing blood to well up on his thigh, but the price is worth it. The swordsman, now flanked, tries to defend himself from both sides, but Vargard gets in a crushing blow that catches the swordsman in the small of his back. Turning away from the pain, he leaves himself open to Jorduna’s follow up, which catches him in the side, dagger biting deep. His stance lowers as he takes the pain, still up, but hurting badly.

The archer sees the failed charge, and attempts to pepper Vargard with arrows from behind. One catches him in the shoulder, the force nearly pushing him towards the swordsman in front of him. The four melee fighters from behind charge as this is done, surrounding both Lesani and Marwyn, their position exposed at the back of the formation. Lesani takes the point of a pike, grunting with pain. Marwyn somehow dodges two strokes, able to telegraph their strikes and dodge out of the way. The last is for Lesani, again, but this time she aptly dodges it, and follows it up with a crack of dark magic, instantly felling the last attacker.

“We’re killing these guys?” Marwyn asks over the battle.
“No choice! Keep fighting!” Lesani manages to grunt out.
The two in front of him, shaken from the sudden loss of one of their comrades, don’t comment, but keep trying to cut him. He takes a careful step back, outside of their reach, and draws his bow, managing to get a shot off at one of them before they close again. Green energy surrounds the tip of the arrow, striking the pikeman in the chest. Had he survived, the magic would have lightly cursed him, causing his movements to become clumsy.

The mage, finally recovering from the initial arrow wound, raises her holy symbol into the air. Silver flames erupt from her sword, and she charges Vargard, back exposed as he duels with the swordsman. The sword bites into his armor, and then through, dealing a small puncture wound to his back. The flames surrounding the sword depart, flowing into it, and Vargard stiffens as the fire burns his back. The flames spread outwards, filling the immediate area, just shy of Jorduna. Both enemies inside, however, do not seem to notice them.

Cletus utters another curse, louder than normal, and fires an arrow at the swordsman. His release was fast, yet the arrow flies just as deadly, striking the swordsman deep in the chest. He coughs up blood, close to death, and tries to flee. His wounds stop him from retreating defensively, however, and Jorduna plunges a dagger into his, catching an artery. He keeps moving for a few seconds, and then finally collapses.

“Stay away!” Vargard yells, through the flames, and then turns to give his full attention to the mage standing before him. He hefts his sword and attempts a large swing that would cleave her from shoulder to waist, but she steps out of the way, magic helping the sword swing down and away from her. Jorduna skirts around the edge of the flames, and reaches the other side of the caster without being burned. She plunges her dagger into the mage again, managing to strike in between the ribs, dealing deep damage. Blood starts pouring out of the knife wound, as the mage’s torso was already weakened from the arrow wound. The archer turns to flee, running into the cave.

The remaining two melee fighters at the other end of battle attack Marwyn and Lesani, neither managing to land hits, their focus broken from the reduction of their numbers. Marwyn notices that they do not plead for their lives or turn and flee. Rather, they still try and kill him, stubbornly cutting and hacking away at him. Lesani shoots another beam of dark energy at her other combatant, connecting and killing him. Marwyn steps back again, coming close to the battle against the mage, and fires another green arrow at the last melee fighter, catching him in the chest.

The caster, surrounded, raises her holy symbol again, silver light flowing from it. Her wounds stop bleeding, though it is clear she is still badly wounded. “You’ll… never…. defeat…. my….. faith….” she forces out, in between coughs. Vargard and Jorduna make quick work of her, and after a few dagger and sword strokes, she falls. Marwyn brings out his lute, quickly healing Vargard of his wound, the fire disappearing.

“We need to get inside,” Vargard says, sheathing and depositing the swordsman’s sword into his pack, while Jorduna quickly goes through the mage’s supplies, taking a few things, “The archers could catch up at any moment.” His point is punctuated by an arrow that flies towards the group. It falls well short of their position, but it encourages them all the same.

The immediate cave is empty, and unadorned. Various passages twist off from the entrance. There’s enough room for the party to take a short rest, recovering from both the fight and the sprint beforehand. Vargard takes the time to look over the longsword recovered from the swordsman. “A Vicious weapon. Glad he never got the chance to really use it,” he says, “Could be sold, unless you want it,” he says, reversing the blade, hilt pointed towards Cletus. The dwarf shakes his head, and Vargard sheathes it again. After a few minutes, he stands, “We need to keep moving. There’s no telling if there is a back way out of here.”

The group sneaks through one of the passages, Jorduna moving about 40 feet in front of the party. Eventually, the party hears the sound of many people moving. Vargard throws up a hand, stopping everyone. He then motions Jorduna to move further. A few minutes pass, then Jorduna speaks to Vargard through the sending stone, “Var, you need to get up here. They shouldn’t notice from this distance.”
“What do you see?” Vargard asks.
“A cult,” she answers.

Marwyn follows the rest to Jorduna’s position. She crouches near a crack in the cave wall, through which a large chamber can be seen. Many people, villagers by and large, stand in the center. Several men and women stand at the far end, where the cavern is raised slightly. Jorduna motions for the group to keep quiet, and they listen to the figure standing closest to the crowd.
“…and I tell you the Mourning was just the beginning! Soon, it will come for Thrane, then in a few more years’ time, us! And how do I know this? Because it is Aundair who controls the mists! They betrayed their ally in order to buy time, to avert suspicion, before they are ready to take over the continent! But we know the truth! It is our solemn task, brothers and sisters, to rise up, and stop this menace. We, free-thinking individuals, will defeat them! For Breland! For Eberron!” he raises a hand in triumph, and the crowd follows. The leader speaks again, along the same themes.

“What the hell?” Marwyn whispers, “This is crazy, but I don’t see a cult Jor. There’s no god here.”
“It’s a cult of personality, kid,” Jorduna replies evenly, “charismatic guy feeds off those poor saps’ fear and superstitions while lining his pocket with their donations.”
“My bet is that our target is the leader of this cult,” Vargard muses, “I’m almost glad Evalyn gave us this mission, though I don’t like the look of that crowd.”
“Will we be able to disperse them?” Lesani asks.
“I hope so. By the looks of it they’re mostly village folk, locals who don’t know any better. Even if we fit the image of Aundair villains, they’re not prepared to charge into a brawl with real fighters. Looks like we were lucky, this tunnel leads behind them. If all goes well, we’ll just have to take the guys on the stage.” Everyone takes a look at the ones Vargard indicates. The archer from before stands behind the speaker (presumably Maxis), as well as several men armed with swords, and what appears to be a cleric of the Silver Flame (the Thranish finery accompanying such a figure being easily recognizable from such a distance). Marwyn is surprised slightly when he realizes the numbers given to them by Evalyn were accurate, minus the crowd of noncombatants.
“It doesn’t look like that blowhard is quite done talking, Var” Cletus breathes out, “We can probably plan a bit.”
“Indeed,” he thinks for a moment, “Marwyn, how do you feel about talking down the crowd. Same idea as before, in Wroat, only this time you get to tell the truth.”
“I..I..I don’t know,” Marwyn replies, nervously, “I don’t even know how to do this.”
“You don’t have to win their hearts, Marwyn,” Vargard replies, “They just need to doubt themselves. Lose their conviction in Maxis, assuming that’s him. If they’re here, they’re likely gullible, which means strong words said with conviction and simple honesty will turn their heads.”
“But what do I say?” Marwyn pleads, still unsure of themselves.
“I say we toss that and go in shooting,” Jorduna cuts in.
“My call Jor,” Vargard whispers back fiercely, and then addresses Marwyn, “The truth. If Breland truly knew Aundair caused the Mourning, if it were that obvious, then all the other nations would immediately rise up against them. Question his knowledge, it’ll cause him to lie more. Get him to lie enough, and the people will see through it eventually. Just look at the situation with a critical eye, if they don’t immediately try to attack you Maxis will try and confuse the issue. If things go poorly, we’ll turn to violence as Jor suggests. I’d just like to try and not have this crowd go home and speak of the Aundair villains who killed their hero.”
“I….I’ll try Vargard. I can’t promise anything,” Marwyn replies.
“That’s all I’m asking,” Vargard replies.
The group moves silently, the tunnel twisting around the chamber. Through similar cracks they gauge their progress, getting closer and closer to the end of the cavern. Soon, they see their exit, a small crevice behind the archer on stage. They are lucky in that the supposed Maxis is empathetic in his speaking, his words giving their few slips cover from any possible observers. They eventually make it behind their target. Marwyn prepares to exit, thinking of the best way to start his entrance. Jorduna taps his shoulder for a second, and whispers, “Wait, I have an idea.”

Maxis addresses the crowd. His lieutenant, Corwin, had told him of the Aundairian’s coming to ‘collect his debt’. He did not care, however. They would be weakened from their fight with his entry guards, and even then, he had his best men here, for just an occasion. The crowd may or may not help, though he doubted it. They were mostly sheep, and what made them highly profitable also made them unreliant in terms of protection. His thoughts drifted back to what he was actually saying, having been speaking on autopilot for some time. This is too easy, he thought to himself. “Then, it will be Argonessan. The dragonborn will put up a good fight, of course, but they will be unmatched by the power of the Mourning. After them, the entire plane will be at their mercy. I implore you people, if we do not stop Aundair now, they will erase our history, our people, and our future!”
“Lies!” a voice booms behind him, and from behind Maxis comes a well-dressed figure, with the mark of detection twisting across his face.
Surprised, and annoyed at the intrusion, Maxis turns to face the intruder, now flanked by several warriors, “Who is this? Aundair troops, come here to kill me?”
“No!” the figure in front shouts again, “I am Marwyn Verdani d’Medani, come here to disperse of these lies, Maxis Telgard of Breland,” Marwyn shouts, trying to keep the confidence in his voice. There are murmurs in the crowd, unsure what to make of the new speaker. Maxis questions whether to turn his men on them now, but decides against it, fearing how this would make him look. Speaking of defeating an evil conspiracy was one thing, but cutting down men unprovoked right in front of them would likely forever ruin his credibility.
“Stand down, guards. Marwyn of Aundair,” he stresses the last part of the title, “is here to do nothing but spin lies, dissuade us from the path of righteousness, crush the last willful resistance of the Aundair corruption!” he yells, and the crowd jeers at Marwyn. Marwyn flinches internally, though manages to keep his outward composure.
I’ve never met anyone who has this much control over so many people, Marwyn thinks to himself. He realizes it has been several seconds since Maxis last spoke. He’ll need to speak soon, or forever lose any favor he might gain from the crowd. “He calls you free-thinking people,” Marwyn begins, trying to buy time to think, “But I only hear one man speaking of all of you. I see through his act. He speaks, you listen. No one challenges him, no one questions him, are these the actions of free-thinking people?” Marwyn asks forcefully.
“Yes, those of people who know true wisdom when it is spoken,” Maxis counters, unphased, “That is why I do not have you cut down this instant, because we are not scared of any words, for we have the truth!” The last phrase was drawn out dramatically, the crowd cheering behind it.
“The truth?” Marwyn asks, confused as to how Maxis had deflected his questioning so easily, “What truth is there in his bluster. What facts do his words contain? He claims Aundair caused the Mourning, but will you accept this based on his word alone? If it is as easy for this layman to see, then surely Zilargo, your steadfast allies, would have discovered our supposed treachery. Surely then, the surviving nations would have risen to crush Aundair for this act!” Marwyn counters, now matching Maxis’ confidence. This is just like acting, Marwyn realizes.
“Ah, but as Aundair contains the key to the Mourning, it would be all too easy to crush such an uprising,” Maxis says, though he sounds less confident now, straying from his central message.
“Then why wait? Why not lift the mists from Cyre?” Marwyn asks, sensing an opening. The archer, bow still drawn, looks at Maxis momentarily, asking with his eyes for the order to fire. This is not missed by some in the crowd. “How does any of this make sense in a logical world?”
Maxis, furious at Corwin for breaking composure and for keeping his bow drawn, lapses momentarily, but picks back up, “Because our governments are weak! We all know the King tries his best, but his soft heart for his people denies him the ability to risk his people in order to rise against Aundair! But we know that we must strike, before they are truly ready to strike us!” he replies, though is disheartened when the crowd doesn’t respond as enthusiastically as he expected. He reconsiders his position of violence, eyes glancing over the look on the hobgoblin’s face.
Marwyn sees the archer’s glance towards Maxis, and the crowd’s registering of it. He tries for a gamble, “Maxis would have you believe we are bloodthirsty conquers waiting to take over the continent! Yet here I am, speaking to you all, whereas the entire might of Aundair could have been cast down upon you. I am of Aundair,” he pauses, preparing to lie, “But I am just as fond of Breland, the home of my order!”
Maxis, close enough to make out the face paint mimicking the mark of detection, applauds Marwyn internally for that touch. He also curses, realizing the crowd is too far to make such a deduction. He prepares to speak, when, to his surprise, Corwin interrupts again, “And what of my men you slaughtered, outside this very cave! I saw it, I barely escaped!” The crowd looks to the warriors standing behind Marwyn, and can see signs of battle.
“They attacked us, unprovoked!” Marwyn cries, sensing an unfavorable shift in the crowd’s emotions, “Cornered us and rained arrows from above while we tried to reason with them. They gave us no choice! And how long has this man here,” he points to the Corwin, “Stood here in front of you? How worried did he look? How mournful? Did he shed even one tear?” Marwyn takes a chance, guessing the answer, “Do you believe he cares as much for you? I assume he informed Maxis, did he break his stride, did he even bother informing you of the loss? Where were his tears?”
The crowd looks to themselves, and their murmuring eclipses Maxis as he tries to respond. “The marked one’s right,” one voice, breaking through the noise. “My son was out there, the bastard,” another, and Maxis realizes that Corwin had hung him with his words and actions.

Maxis starts to order his men to attack the group, but Marwyn shuts him down, “Return to your homes! Flee from this place, for I doubt this liar will come quietly to answer for his sins! Do not be brought down with him!” The crowd, their faith in Maxis broken, starts to flee the chamber from the tunnels behind them. Both groups form up, weapons drawn, but not engaging yet. Eventually, the chamber clears, and they stare at each other.
“Nice trick with the mark,” Maxis eventually says, in a voice far less flamboyant than before, “Who really sent you?” Corwin looks to him, as does the Thranish cleric, but they say nothing. Marwyn realizes that several two of his guards had left in the crowd as well, leaving his number at 5.
“Evalyn Guilihart,” he responds, a little surprised at both Maxis’ change in manner and the ease at which he took his defeat.
“Ah,” he says, a little reluctantly, “Evalyn. That… I… how much is she paying you?” He asks eventually, a desperate tone in his voice.
Corwin looks to him in distaste, “I don’t believe this. You’re bargaining with the man who killed my men?”
“As well as my partner,” the Thranish cleric adds.
Maxis looks at the two of them, backing away slightly, “You were both paid for those services, I believe?” he tries to say in the confident voice he had before, but it breaks slightly. The two remaining melee fighters look to each other, not liking the fissures erupting in their side of the fight, and start breaking for the far tunnels. They go unchallenged.
“Gentlefolk, I believe we are at an impasse,” Vargard steps forward, in front of Marwyn, “We all want Maxis. However, my side has the best claim on him right now, so to speak. I am sure he has amassed some wealth from this scam of his. If you two would drop your grievances against him, and us, I will make no claim against this,” he finishes.
“That is… reasonable, Aundair. The lost may always be returned with the Silver Flame’s grace,” The Thranish cleric replies, surprised at the appeal to diplomacy.
“Hell, gold’ll always buy me off,” Corwin answers, then gives the cleric a look, “50/50 ok with you?” The cleric nods in agreement.
Maxis looks to the situation with a mixture of relief and horror, and he decides to try and run for it. “Not so fast,” Cletus says, breaking out from behind Vargard and drawing his bow. He adds something to the end of the statement. Another Dwarven curse, Marwyn presumes. The arrow hits Maxis in the leg, stopping any hope of forward movement.
“Nice doing business with you,” Vargard says to the remaining two figures on the stage. They return his compliments, and The Split Falchion turns to leave, Vargard hefting Maxis over his shoulder.

They return to their horses, which are thankfully unmolested, and get set to travel, Marwyn still peelings pieces of paint off of his face. The archers from before had disappeared somewhere, likely never to return. “That was good thinking with the mark, Jorduna,” he says carefully, trying not to sound condescending.
“That was good speaking, kid. Though you were lucky that archer bungled it for Maxis,” she replies, proud of her ingenuity.
“Indeed. Though I wish we could have avoided the scene at the mouth of the cave, I am pleasantly surprised we managed to resolve the latter conflict without bloodshed,” Lesani says, then looks at Maxis’ leg, “Relatively little bloodshed,” she corrects herself.
“Please, wait. I’ll double whatever she’s offering you,” Maxis says. Seeing their looks of disbelief, he repeats, “Triple! Triple I swear!”
“Sorry, but we’re getting paid in a form you can’t match,” Vargard bluntly tells him, and Maxis starts to look desperate.
“Please, you can’t bring me back to her. She’ll kill me!” he pleads.
“What did you do to her?” Marwyn asks, curious.
“I… I may have robbed one of her caravans that was travelling from Droaam,” he admits, “But I didn’t know the stuff I took was worth that much! Of course, I got robbed soon after that, and never had the chance to even profit off it! So it’s not like I really stole it in the first place,” he adds.
“Not my concern,” Vargard tells him gruffly, tying him sideways to his horse’s saddle, then reaching for his purse, “Now, I believe that was 10 and 1 for guilty, Jor and Marwyn respectively,” he tosses each of them their winnings from the bet. He then accepts coin from Lesani and Cletus. Marwyn wasn’t sure what he meant at first, then remembered their earlier bet. “It’s a long ride to Evalyn’s, but I think we’ll make it before dusk.” He spurs his horse, as do the rest, and they ride out east.

“Absolutely splendid job, Vargard,” Evalyn says, as she sees Maxis being brought through the gate. The sun has nearly set, the ride to the Guilihart manor taking the rest of the day, “I have even heard word from my spies hidden within his former flock that you brought his con crashing down around his ears. My men also tell me they helped spread sedition, but that your young man over there did a marvelous job of his own. I just wish you could have brought the debt as well. A shame. For him,” she says darkly, eyeing Maxis.
“Please, Evalyn, let me explain,” Maxis starts, fear in his voice.
“Oh, save it for the rack,” she says maliciously towards him, all grace dropping out of her voice in an instant. “Take him,” she says to her guards. They gag him, and he screams through it, to no avail. “Well, that concludes your part of the bargain, I suppose,” she says to Vargard, “I, of course, have never broken the confidentiality of a client, so unfortunately I will be unable to hold up my end of the bargain,” she says. Vargard starts to protest, but she continues, sweetly, “Of course, that means that you probably shouldn’t return to the inn you were staying in two days ago, Vargard. No, no that wouldn’t do at all. There’s no telling what you may find hidden under the bed your… supple body slept under. I would, in fact, suggest avoiding Ardev all together,” she finishes, voice filled with sarcasm.
“I… curse you Evalyn, for this treachery,” Vargard says, though his eyes don’t echo the sentiment. They two groups look at each other awkwardly.
Then Evalyn yells, “Then get off of my property already!”

Returning to the unnamed inn, Vargard finds that his previous room had been rented the previous two days, and had been reserved for the entire week. He thanks the owner for the key, and tells him that the room can be freed if necessary. Everyone runs up to the room, and Vargard hurriedly unlocks the door. Hidden underneath the mattress of the far bed is a sealed folder. The front is marked, “To Vargard, with love,” followed by a stylized outline of a kiss.
“Var, are you sure she was just acting?” Jorduna asks, ribbing him.
“Yes. Yes, by the gods I hope it was just an act,” he says, and opens the folder.

Continued in Part 9, Travel to Trolanport – Informants and Intrigue

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