Fruit of the Fallen

The Lancaster Job

Collection and Return

Part 4 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Lathleer, far from the coast of Lake Galifar and the lightning rails that run across the continent, is significantly smaller than the titan of industry Passage was. The walls serve more as a suggestion against siege rather than a statement, and the border guards rarely bother checking entry papers, waving people on. Still, as a town bordering the nation’s capital, there is a thriving market, and many inns for the traveler to rest at. The Split Falchion easily slips past the walls with the rest of the travelers, as dusk falls over the walls.

Vargard leads the party off to the side and into in alley, away from the market crowd, “I’m going to need to meet with the contact for the next job. There’s an inn near the center of the city, right off the market, The Wilted Rose. Should be plenty of traffic, easy to blend in entering and exiting.”
“I know that place Vargard!” Marwyn cuts in, excitedly, “One of the first places I stopped at. Didn’t really like my music, though. I mean, it was my first gig, but I might have lied a little as to my experience. In fact,” Marwyn lets out a nervous laugh, “the guy who runs it said if he ever saw my face again he’d…” Marwyn trails off.
“Gods damnit kid,” Jorduna shouts in exasperation, “we’ve been here five minutes and you’ve already screwed the mission.”
“Calm down Jor, there’s plenty of inns, I’ll find another,” Vargard mediates, but then turns to Marwyn, a hard look in his face, “Kid, it’s great that you told me that before we walked right into an ambush, but next time,” he lets anger tinge his voice, “do us the courtesy of letting us know if there’s anyone in town who’ll lock you up on sight before we walk blindly in. Just, go. I’ll find you. Go,” Vargard waves Marwyn away, “and don’t draw any attention to yourself,” he yells as Marwyn sulks away.

“Damn Var, I thought you liked him,” Jorduna says, somewhat content.
“I do,” Vargard says in a low voice, watching Marwyn disappear into the crowd, “but I’m not the kid’s father. I’m his boss, and he needs to grow up and realize that. We’re a,” he lowers his voice, “mercenary team, not a daycare,” he thinks for a second, then grabs Jorduna’s arm as she moves out of the alley, “but don’t use this as an excuse to make his life hell either. That’s my job, Jor.” He lets go, and she storms off.

“Les, did Cletus take off during that?” Vargard asks, his voice returning to its normal pitch.
“Yeah Var, right as the drama started. It’s getting dark, you too late for your contact?”
“No, they aren’t expecting me for another few hours… Les, you understand why I had to do it?”
“Var, I do not agree with it, but yes. You are the boss, and you lead your men how you see fit. I am just worried that Marwyn will talk our ears off now every time we go somewhere new while trying to cover all his bases, and Jorduna will kill him just to get some silence,” Lesani smiles.
Vargard chuckles, “I didn’t think of that, true.” He picks a stone out of his pocket and tosses it up and down in his hand, and becomes serious again, “You should probably try and find Marwyn. Just in case he gets cold feet and decides to split. He’s the only one here who doesn’t have a vested interest in preventing that.”
“I need some reagents in any case. It will also be a good opportunity to get Marwyn a ritual book. He will need one, if I am to help develop his abilities.”
“Good, I’d lead with that. Give him a clear opportunity to prove and redeem himself. Get his spirits back up and show him someone on the team cares about him. It can’t always be me.”
A pause, and then Lesani carefully says, “Do you wish you could be?”
Vargard’s gaze grows cold, “Like I said, I am not his father. And do not pretend that that was about Marwyn, Lesani. I must meet with our contact, I will join you and the rest at The Stalwart Chaplain, unless Marwyn has made enemies of that inn as well.” Vargard brushes past Lesani on his way to the market.

The bar at The Stalwart Champion was mostly empty, filled only with enigmatically robed figures crouching over their drinks. An elf tends the bar, moving between the remaining customers every so often. A brooding figure sits at one of the few tables, Jorduna, daring anyone to challenge her custody of it. Five hours after he had left his crew, Vargard enters the bar, nodding at Jorduna.
“Took you long enough Var.”
“No witty complaint or insult Jor?”
“I’ve been up almost all day and most of that was marching, Var. Besides, I assume you have the details for the next job, which means serious time.”
“Yes, I have, so we’d best gather Lesani and Marwyn to go over the details.”
Jorduna, confused, says “What of Cletus?” A small grunt, and Jorduna jumps, startled, seeing Cletus sitting next to her, “Gods Cletus, some warning next time or I’ll pin a bell to your neck.” She composes herself, “Where are they anyway?”
“I saw the boy go upstairs an hour ago.” Cletus mumbles. “Les took her drink out back, maybe 10 minutes ago.”
“Right,” Vargard says decisively, “Jor, get Les. Cletus and I will head up to Marwyn’s room, we’ll do it there.”
“On it,” Jorduna says, all business now.

“Alright, ritual’s up, here’s what I’ve got,” Vargard states, as Lesani closes her ritual book and stands up, stretching. Marwyn, roused from his sleep, sits on the edge of his bed, next to Cletus. Jorduna sits opposite to him, and they all look to Vargard, standing by the door. “One Magartha of Thrane, travelling with her husband Terrance of Thrane, was accosted travelling between Danthaven and Fairhaven, on our side of the border. Highwaymen seemed to know their faces, and took Terrance hostage, leaving Magartha on the side of the road.”
“So why do we care?” Jorduna asked abruptly.
“Because,” Vargard’s voice filling with intrigue, “Magartha and Terrance of Thrane are not Magartha and Terrance of Thrane. I have on good authority that ‘Terrance of Thrane’ is actually a man by the name of Silas Lancaster, special courier of the Silver Flame along with several other titles, religious and otherwise,” everyone else in the room sits up, listening intently, “The Church is antsy about interfering, since ‘Terrance’ entered Aundair under fals pretenses and our Queen’s always looking for more diplomatic influence over Thrane.”
“Var, this sounds wrong to me.” Lesani cuts in, “Why would Thrane risk sending an important figure across another nation? Putting it bluntly, a hostile nation. Why not just use teleportation? Further, if he is not of that importance, where is the incentive to pay us to retrieve him?”
“This is the good part,” Vargard answers, “Thrane isn’t my contact. My contact, an Aundairian agent, says Silas escaped from Thrane. He wasn’t on a mission, he was fleeing with his wife. Defecting, as a matter of fact. The women known as Magartha arrived in Fairhaven a week ago, reporting the kidnapping. Then, one day later, Queen Aurala herself is delivered a price for the defector, and the threat that the same was offered to Flamekeep. And Silas himself? Hidden right near the border, South of Wrogar Keep. Either side can’t directly interfere; Aundair can’t move on Silas or risk tensions with the Church, and as a defector in Aundair lands, Thrane can’t interfere either.”
“But an unaffiliated third party…” muses Cletus.
“Not exactly the reason they’re hiring us, but close. You can thank the gods I still have some favors to pull from high places, or else this job could have gone to the nearest merc band in Fairhaven. As it stands, we’re on a clock. Part of our fee is an official letter from Fairhaven telling one Captain Merrick of Passage to shove off the hobgoblin he’s taken a vendetta against. Should still probably step lightly in Passage, Jor, but elsewhere the guards won’t bother you. At least, if they do, it won’t be for this reason,” Vargard pauses for a moment, taking a swig from a pouch on his waist. “Aundair has agreed to pay for Silas, and as best we know Thrane hasn’t made any advances, though I would expect them to have at least some agents in the area, so we’ll have to be careful. We’re going to be close by, providing support. This is a time sensitive op, meet is in three days, which give us two to get there. We’re coordinating with the Aundairian delegation on this one, and I’ve got the outline of the plan.”
The group each goes over the parchment Vargard hands out, reactions ranging from disapproval to delight. Marwyn, however, was left confused.
“Vargard, I’m not mentioned anywhere here. I… understand if you don’t want to take me along for this one, but can I at least ride with you to the exchange location?”
Vargard grins, “Oh, Marywn, you’re a part of this plan. In fact, I would say that you’re the key to the entire thing. You see, there’s another reason we were given priority for this job.”

Three days later, two miles South of Wrogar Keep
A small detachment of 12 works its way across the Aundair plains, dressed in the full regalia of a diplomatic escort of the nation. Eight of the riders are spread out in a slightly elliptical formation, guarding the inner four, whose dress characterizes them as mage, paladin, the diplomat herself (dressed the finest of all of them), and her attendant. Their horses ride effortlessly across the even ground, save for that of the paladin, which bears, in addition to his armor, two medium sized sacks balanced on either side, clinking slightly to the horse’s motion. Still, the paladin spurs his mount, closing the distance between himself and the diplomat.

“My Lady,” he says, deferentially, and awaits a response.
“Are we close, Goriel?” she asks, voice somewhat strained from concentration.
“Yes, my Lady. We will be upon them in less than 5 minutes. The forward scout has finished his report. We will be ready.”
“How many are there?” she responds.
“5, counting the Thranish turncoat,” Goriel reports.
“Are they insane?” she seethes, indignant, “or do they take us for fools. They must be holding something in reserve, else I see no reason our scouts did not slaughter them and save us the theatrics.”
“Yes, my Lady. One of their number is a caster of some skill. They are maintaining a passive teleportation circle around the entire group. Exact terms are to be delivered to you, my Lady, but it can be assumed they will flee if engaged,” Goriel finishes, in measured tones.
“Will this complicate our plan?” she asks, adding only a slight hint of concern to her voice.
“No, my Lady. I have made contact with the necessary parties and we have adapted. Strevius, my mage, has also assured me that he will be more than able to cast the necessary enchantments before the circle is activated, assuming it is not done prematurely.”
“I have personally read the letter delivered to our Queen, Goriel. The leader in charge of these raiders is a brigand at best. With a small fortune so close to his grasp, he shouldn’t make such a play unless the gold was in his hand. As long as our brigands don’t fail their part, we should have both turncoat and treasure in hand by day’s end.”
“Yes, my Lady. I would not worry about the mercenaries. They have the recommendation of a man I know and respect.”
“We shall see,” she replies simply.

The formation guarding the Aundair envoy splits as the kidnappers fall into earshot, fanning out and forming a semicircular line, with the diplomat and her entourage in the center. Several other riders join the formation from either side, the scouts that arrived at the meeting location an hour earlier, bringing their total number to 21. Ahead, standing in a small depression in the otherwise flat terrain, are the five brigands. Three wear a mix of muted brown and grey rags, assorted into what may pass as a uniform. Another sits bound and gagged in the very center of their formation. The last, dressed in a gaudy outfit similar to a street performer, save for the real gemstones interlined haphazardly into his garb, turns to face the envoy.
“Greetings, your worthiness,” he says, sarcastically, in a mock bow, “It is an honor to welcome you, and your money,” he continues, dropping the sarcasm with the last phrase and shifting into a business-like tone, “I assume someone of your esteemed intellect would have noticed, but I am the rest of my crew are sitting in the middle of a teleportation circle. We’ll pull the plug on this little gathering if you violate any of my conditions, or just do something I don’t like. Let’s start with the gold, you have it?” he finishes, bruskly.
The diplomat rides forward slightly. “I am Malakath ir’Vanier, representative of Queen Aurala and the Aundair throne. Dispense of the theatrics, rogue, and state your terms.’
“Straight to business, eh? Fine. You and one of your escorts may approach us, I would not force a lady to carry all that heavy, heavy gold now, would I?”
“Take me for a fool, do you cur?” Malakath countered, “I insist on even odds if I am to separate myself from my escort.”
“Oh, but we are just lowly thieves, poor souls who would be powerless against the might of your forces,” the man banters, and then smirks, “although let it not be said that I am not a gentleman. After all, you are but a fair maid. I will allow, but one more to accompany you.”
“Agreed,” Malakath shouts back, holding in anger. She dismounts, as does her attendant, and Goriel. The paladin hefts a bag in each hand, while the attendant remains close to Malakath’s side, keeping their robe secured in its place as they do. The group begins walking towards the bandits, those behind training bows and readying weapons. As Malakath gets within 15 feet of the circle, now easily visible, etched into the earth, the bandit leader holds a hand to his ear and ushers her to stop.
“Oh, but what is that I hear? The sweet, sweet hoof beats of a counterproposal, perhaps?” A second later, and Malakath realizes he is right. The sound of horses galloping, faint at first, is now readily audible, coming from the East.
“Thrane,” she spits out slowly, “Goriel, I thought you told me they weren’t an interested party.”
“It appears, my Lady,” Goriel lowly intones, “that we were mistaken.”

The bandit leader turns to face the oncoming Thranish delegation, as two of the bandits turn to face Malakath, the other still focusing on his ritual. “Greetings, Thranish theocrats, how happy I am to see you! We’re running a little over schedule with your late arrival and everything, but it’s not too late for the Silver Flame to recapture its lost lamb,” he pauses, and a shrewd look comes over his face as he assesses the situation, “It’s getting a little crowded over here, and you, the muscly one, seem to be wearing the best robe, so I take it you’re the leader of that little gang over there,” he says, to the full Thranish force, now assembled on the other side of the ritual circle, 25 in number, “I take it you’ll have no trouble bringing your offer to the table, so let’s just have you come over for now. If it’s any consolation, you have the superior numbers, so your men will probably avenge your death if these three over here decide to gut you.”
“The Silver Flame protects me villain, I do not need your permission to prove my faith,” the forward knight declares, stepping off his horse and carrying a single sack, larger than either of the ones Goriel carries, “I am displeased to see you, Aundairian. I would have hoped you people would respect the Church’s claim to this man, although I expected betrayal nonetheless.”
Malakath bristles, composes herself, and then speaks, “Yet this land is Aundair, is it not? I’ll pay you the kindness of not assuming that you butchered a border patrol, but even then this is a garish act of trespassing. Even after you decide to forfeit your claim on our refugee, some form of remuneration will still be expected from your government, lest you risk war.”
The knight, now equidistant from the bandits, stops, “Brave words coming from bookworms, Aundair. But try us, and you will see just how much paper stands up against the might of the Silver Flame. Leave this place now, and I might forget seeing you here.”
“Oh this is very exciting, yes, a great show,” the bandit leader cuts in, “but we are here to wage business. Leave the bloodshed out of it until the bigger purse has spoken.”
“Of course,” Malakath speaks, “The nation of Aundair is glad to pay your ransom, plus an additional half, to keep this freethinking man out of the clutches of tyranny.”
“Yes, very good, freedom and all that. Thrane?”
“We… we also offer half over the ransom.” He stares at Malakath, who looks to the bandit leader, who stands there. Looks are exchanged between the bandits, and a moment of confusion occurs. Finally, the bandit leader speaks up.
“And… huh. Anyone have a copper in their pocket?”
“Enough!” The Thranish knight yells, throwing his ransom on the ground, “I will not stoop to counting out our coin like a common miser. Let our blades decide this; the dead pay the ransom for the living.” The bandit leader starts to object, but his eyes catch the dropped bag of gold, open now, and full of yellow metal.
“Those terms are agreeable,” Malakath states, “as your spilled blood may also serve to fertilize our fields.” The Thranish knight draws his sword, as does Goriel, and the bandit leader finally throws up a hand on either side.
“People, people, please. Let’s be reasonable here. Leave the gold here, go over a little ways away from the hostage, and then fight. The winner can come back and close the deal.” Both turn to him with incredulous looks on their faces, “Ok, ok, go over a little ways and leave someone to watch over your gold if you must,” he turns away from the Thranish knight, muttering, “No one trusts an honest thief these days.” The knight motions, and a page detaches himself from the Thrane army. Words are exchanged, and the knight turns back to return to his group. On the other side, Malakath and Goriel turn away, leaving the attendant with the gold. As each respective group walks away, the bandit leader whispers in a low voice, “now would be a good time for either of you young, enterprising gentlemen to indicate any intent to join my crew. I’d even cut you into the deal,” he waits, and the two merely gaze back, “No? Ok, worth a shot.”

The two armies reform their formations a few hundred feet away, neither attempting to preemptively strike the other. A silence falls, as each side waits for the other to make a move, until finally, getting impatient, the bandit leader yells, “Oh get on with it already! Some of us are getting bored over here.” With that, the Thranish knight leading his delegation spurs his horse, and leads the charge. From the distance, and through the dust thrown by the horses, not much can be seen in detail, save only for screams of the impaled, flashes of magic going from one side to the next, and the sun reflecting off of blades thrown in the air. Though outnumbered, the Aundair side holds their own, and the fighting gets intense, spreading out over the plain. The bandit leader grows nervous as horses pass closer and closer to the circle, trying to flank the other’s positions. Finally, a loose arrow goes over his head as the fighting gets near, dust thrown from bloodied horses’ hooves actually reaching the bandits, does he yell, “Alright, any closer and we’re out of here. I’m doubling the price next time, I swear I will, and AGH!” He screams, as does everyone close to the circle, as a loose bolt of magic energy explodes, stunning them all briefly. The bandit leader regains his senses, picking himself off the ground and grabbing his prisoner, “Alright, that’s it. Get us out of here Wileloc,”
The magical circle flares to life as either side’s attendant shields their eyes from the light. A flash, and the five are gone.

The fighting stops, and everyone looks to the spot where Silas Lancaster and his abductors once stood. Silence falls for a second, and then Malakath’s voice rings over the plain, “Good job everyone, it looks like they bought it,” She turns to Goriel as he helps the man who was the Thranish leader off the ground, blood flowing from an injury to his arm. “That was fine work Velar, I almost mistook you for the real thing.”
“The same compliments extend to you, my Lady. Am I correct in assuming that our role in this drama is over?”
“Correct, it’s up to your people now, Goriel,” She says, watching clerics pick up the wounded on either side and tending to them.
“They’ll deliver, my Lady,” he says, reassuringly. “I must say, I am impressed that worked. I believed the bandit would recognize a con when he saw one.”
Malakath smiles, “Ah, but in his arrogance he forgot one basic fact about my kind. The greatest skill a diplomat can have is the ability to bluff.”

The bandits catch their breath as they teleport into their hideout, a small cave located about 3 miles south of the meeting place. Torches line the walls, still lit from when the bandits left that morning. Wileloc speaks, “Gods damnit Nel, you nearly got us killed there. What were you thinking, letting them fight?”
“I was thinking,” the bandit leader, Nel, replies annoyed, “that they might have just killed each other off and we get triple the gold for this fool.” He prods Silas, who grunts and falls over.
“Gotta say Nel, when you first said you’d got a high up in the Silver Flame, I was skeptical,” says a ratty, gnomish voice, one of the other bandits. “He’s a half-elf. Everyone knows they only let the humans wear the fancy robes there. Rest of the kinds just get to pay the tithes is all.”
“That’s idle speculation at best Jeremy,” Nel replies, “But this man’s identity is certain, even if that is true. I mean, if it wasn’t, why would Aundair AND Thrane come to pick him up?” The gnome, Jeremy, remains quiet.
“So what we do now boss?” the last bandit, an orc, asks in a simple voice.
“I don’t know,” Nel says, pensively, “Maybe I should have invited more players. Breland, Zilargo, hell, if the goblin’s pay I’ll send to Darguun. They just popped up, probably looking for leverage over the other nations… yeah… yeah… You, my friend, will still make me a mint,” he looks at Silas, then pushes him up against a wall, studying him intently for a second. Then, a moment later, he drops him, satisfied, “So don’t go dying of disease or anything while we hole up here,” he says sideways to the sprawling Silas.
“Nel, I need to ask you a serious question,” Wileloc speaks again.
“What?!” Nel yells, even more annoyed.
“How much are you expecting to pull in from this? I mean, I’m guessing 2, maybe three thousand tops. For the four of us, it’s a windfall, but these scrolls were expensive. If we go at this rate we’ll lose more money than we gain on this teleportation trick. And it’s not like we go pretty far, they can still find us if they lock down the area and search every crevice they find.”
“But they won’t, trust me,” Nel replies, “But you’re right, I need to think of a better con. Maybe something to do with lightning rails…….” Nel stares off into the distance.
“Oh gods, now he’s gone again, off to think up some other genius plan,” Wileloc curses, “I’m going to rest, since I was the only one who actually did any work that whole time. Do you want to know how hard it is to hold a teleportation spell for over an hour? I’m surprised I didn’t accidentally finish it when Nel was monologueing. One of you watch the guy.”
The orc and the gnome look at each other, then to Silas, then back to each other, exchanging a series of gestures in an attempt to convince the other to do it, while avoiding disturbing Nel. It was when the orc considered adding his axe to the argument that Silas finally looked up, yellow eyes reflecting the torchlight, and spoke, “Vargard, now!”

Three Days Earlier, The Stalwart Chaplain
“You have got to be kidding me Var, this is a joke, right?” Jorduna says, incredulous, “You’re telling me that the kid looks exactly like Silas Lancaster?”
“Not exactly, no. Silas is older, for one, but the basics are there. As it happens, all this is because you got made by Captain Merrick.”
“You’re going to need to run that by me, Var,” says Jorduna, confused.
“See, when Captain Merrick woke up on top of that roof the next morning, his first thought was revenge. So, he sent your description to Fairhaven, to his boss pretty much, and they ran it by the Eyes. He must of called in a favor for that to happen, he really hated being bested by you, Jor,” Jorduna puts on a smug smile, “The Eyes, being good at their jobs, had already tied us to you. Apparently, while one of their agents was compiling the report to be sent back to Merrick, another was passing by, having just received the news of Silas’ kidnapping. He saw the sketch of Marwyn, and that’s when this whole plan was set in motion.”
“That would explain why he knew to stop us at the gate,” Lesani said, interested, “I had wondered why, seeing as he never saw our faces.”
“Yes, and that’s also why he let us go. Fairhaven told him to let us loose, he was just making empty threats to try and scare me.”
“How are you going to swap me and Silas, Vargard?” questioned Marwyn, a little hesitantly, “How are you even going to get me to look exactly like him?”
“Ah, that’s why we’re assisting Aundair with this one. They get a fake Silas to give the criminals and a team to track them down, we get paid and a few favors from Fairhaven. They’re covering that end. Must have quite a few wizards capable of illusion magic.”
“Assuming the trade goes according to plan,” Cletus interjects, “How would having another Silas be helpful? The thieves would be leaving with gold, not Marwyn.”
“Not my department. They just told me there’s a strong likelihood they’ll need another Silas. They’ll slip you, Marwyn, a tracking stone, similar to the sending stones Jor and I have, but with additional layers of spells to let the users know where the other is. They’ll want that stone back after the job, by the way. After the exchange is made, we track Marwyn by the stone, hit the bad guys, bring them in,” Vargard thinks for a moment, “And don’t worry Marwyn. My contact said we shouldn’t worry about you being moved too far. Again, not sure where this information is coming from, but it’s trustworthy.”
“Are we really going to trust the kid with this?” Jorduna laughs, “I mean, I know most of you guys are soft on him, but really? The key to the whole plan? Assuming the bandits take the gold and ‘Silas’, what’s to stop him from just ditching the stone and kicking it back with them? We just met this kid.”
“What do you say, Marwyn. Can we trust you?” Vargard stares into Marwyn’s eyes, waiting for an answer.
“Yes, yeah I’ll do it. You guys gave me my first chance to be something better than a washed up bard or village tanner. You can trust me. Besides, who better to play the role of a spy, than a bard?” he theatrically states, trying to finish with a flourish, but ending up sprawled on his back after tripping on a knot in the floor.”
“I could think of a few hundred people,” quips Jorduna.

Three Days Later, Thranish Envoy

“This armor is itchy, Var. How do you wear it all the time?” a Thranish Cleric of the Silver Flame asks.
“Quiet Jor,” the Thranish knight beside her whispered through his helmet, “We’re going to start the gallop soon, and the entire show is based on these guys buying that we’re pious Thrane knights representing the holy kingdom. Holy knights don’t complain about itchy armor.”
“Sorry Var.” the cleric responds.
“Charge!” the knight in front screams, and the knights begin the gallop.

Aundairian Envoy

Marwyn looked to his side, trying to keep his head down. The mage had cast some of the spells on him before they had ridden to the bandits, such that his face looked older than it really was, and his limbs frailer. Keeping the robe on at all times was a necessity. Malakath was delivering the lines she had practiced last night, her enunciation perfect, tone precise. By the sound of it, the arrogant jerk of a bandit was buying it. Soon, a minute more, and the Thranish envoy would come crashing in, quickening the pace of this tableau. Marywn had dreamed of being a great stage performer before, when his mind had grown tired of imagining the masterful playing he would have, the fine wine he would drink. The women he would…

But there it was, the thundering. And, like clockwork, the ‘Thranish’ knights lined up, opposing the Aundair forces. The bandit lapped it up, and Marwyn could see through half glances his eyes sizing up the fortune he was about to acquire. And Silas, behind him, looking beaten and forlorn. The mage, Strevius, was taking the time to study Silas, so that the final layer of magic could be cast at the last second, mimicking Silas’ injuries.

The Thranish leader, actually Goriel’s lieutenant, just threw down the bag. Show’s about to start, Marwyn. Goriel and Malakath left him with the gold, more than he had seen in his life. And then, there was the bandit’s offer, out of the blue, join him and at least part of it was his. But Marwyn knew how easy it was to lie, and he braced himself for the swap coming up. There’s the arrow, spell is coming soon… now!

As the bandits were stunned and blinded, the Thranish page lept forward and cut Silas’ ropes, pushed him Marwyn’s way, and ran back to his position. Marwyn caught the cringing half-elf, putting the cloak around him, and shoving him towards the sacks of gold which now made a workable cushion for Silas to land on. Strevius, the staged battle taking him just in range of the teleportation circle, cast the remaining spells on Marwyn, giving his body the exact look of malnourishment and abuse that Silas’ had. Marwyn crouched down, his hands restrained by temporary ropes, another spell by Strevius. The bandits got their sight back, and… yes! It was actually working! There was a buildup of energy, similar to the warehouse, but lesser. A pop, and he was in a cave.

“All right Marwyn, now just wait for the rest to find you. Shouldn’t take long, and they won’t kill you so long as they think you’re Silas. Just play the part.” Marywn nearly gave it away when, as they were arguing amongst, the leader suddenly grabbed him and stared in his eyes. Fortunately, the terror there was genuine, and he looked away. They stopped arguing, the leader just… staring into space, and the mage left the room. The other two were ‘non verbally communicating’, shoving each other, probably over who was going to watch him.

Suddenly, the stone hidden in the sole of his torn sandal vibrated, a silent indicator that his team had found him, and were waiting for his signal. He pressed down hard with his foot, waited until the right moment, and shouted, “Vargard, now!”

Nel snapped out of his reverie, losing the thought of somehow swapping train cars on a moving lightning rail, and becoming very angry with that realization. “Silas, we talked about this. You stop shouting crazy things, and I don’t take out your tongue. I realize today was exciting, so I’ll gi… wait, who’s Varg..”
A crash cuts him off, as the wooden door blocking the exit out is kicked in by several pounds of steel boot. Vargard rushes in first, tossing a short sword to the now unbound Marwyn. The rest of The Split Falchion followed. “Hi,” Vargard says cheerily, “I’m Vargard. Nice to meet you. We’re here to take you in alive, though they never said if we needed all of you…” he trails off, giving pointed looks at the orc and gnome.
The gnome sizes up the intruders, not liking what he sees, "Screw this Nel, I knew they’d get us one day or another, I surrender,” The gnome runs into a far corner, crouching with his hands behind his head.
The orc, feeling his axe in his hands, and figuring that he might as well smack something since he already bothered picking it up, charged Vargard.
“Yes, at least someone’s faithful around here. Counterproposal, you drop everything you own, leave now, or watch, if you want, as I slit this fake Silas’ throat, and then leave.”
“Tempting,” a voice behind him whispers, “but this is much more fun,” Nel jumps, startled, and is brought back down by two daggers plunged in his back, courtesy of Jorduna. Nel crumples, unconscious. The orc holds his own, but is eventually beaten down by a combination of Vargard’s brawn and Cletus’s arrows, Lesani tying up the gnome.

“There was a mage, I think they called him Wileloc,” Marwyn says, his features starting to return to normal as he willed the enchantments away, “he went down that way,” he points, indicating a small tunnel.
“Var, we may have a problem,” Les says, calmly, while finishing restraining the gnome. “I am sensing a ritual being cast, almost completed I should say.”
“Cletus, Jor, you’re faster. Stop the mage from getting away,” Vargard ordered, which both acknowledged. Marwyn ran after them, Lesani and Vargard watching the prisoners.
Marwyn walks in to see Jorduna and Cletus restraining Wileloc, who was standing in front of a circle similar to the one before, and holding a ritual scroll. “No, please, I was trying to get away from all this! Nel was going to get us all killed, or wrose, and I didn’t want anything to do with it anymore!” Wileloc pleads.
“Tough break,” Jorduna says, unsympathetically. “Try that with the Aundairian courts, they might be lenient. Me, I’m paid to bring you in alive, but not necessarily conscious. Try and keep that in mind, mage,” the last word full of contempt.

Above and out, Marwyn sees that the cave was more of a tunnel, dug out of a small rise in the plains. Without knowing exactly where the entrance was, it is easy to see how well it could have been hidden. Malakath and her staff are waiting, having just ridden from the battlefield. “I counted one man seriously wounded among them all, due to another who got a little carried away,” she began, addressing the group, “and the rest with minimal injuries. Nothing permanent. And here, I see four brigands, one of whom I will enjoy bringing to trial back in Fairhaven. On top of it all, I have one former Thranish official, spy, courier, take your pick, what matters is he is now a very grateful, Aundair ally. Flamekeep can’t complain, either they admit to trespassing in our territory, plenty of witnesses of Thrane involvement mind you, we made sure of that, or they’d have to explain the security leak and the stolen uniforms, as well as their lack of involvement to their own people. Best take a hidden loss than a politically messy, very visible tie. This is good work, Vargard, I am pleased to say that you have lived up to your reputation.”
“The honor is mine, my Lady,” he replies, with considerably more grace than usual, “I relish the chance to serve my homeland in such a capacity.”
“I bet the gold soothes your conscious just as well,” she banters back, and they both smile, “I must also say that your young apprentice, or whatever he is to you, did remarkably well for one of his age. Were he of noble birth, he might have made a potential apprentice of my own trade. Alas, his is a more mundane fate.”
“As you say, my Lady,” Vargard responds, carefully.
“Well, I will take custody of your prisoners now, and pass on the word of your success. Report to Fairhaven to receive your reward. It was a pleasure, Vargard.” She turns as her men collect the four bandits, not expecting any response. Marwyn, beside Vargard, turns to him.
“Did you hear that, Vargard?," he says after Malakath leaves earshot, boasting, "I just got a compliment from a representative of the Aundair crown! That’s just as good as getting the good word from the Queen herself, right?”
“Calm down boy,” he says, in a joking manner, “you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to screw up in the future. Seriously, though, you performed well under pressure, and didn’t give away the trick until the right time. I’ve yet to see you perform in actual combat, but that’s beside the point. You’ve earned my trust, and you’ve earned a spot with us.”
“So do I start calling you Var now?”
Vargard chuckles, “No, not yet. Like I said, yet to see you in combat. But at least now you’ve given me something to shut down Jor with whenever she questions your place here.”
“Let’s cut the Elven drama here, Var,” Jorduna cuts in, smarting slightly from the last remark, “I want to get paid, get drunk, and maybe get myself a shiny new dagger.”
“All in good time, Jor. First things first, we’re going to Fairhaven.”

The group gathers their horses, mounts, and starts riding to the North. Towards Fairhaven. And hopefully, towards answers.

Continued in Part 5, The Great University of Fairhaven – Trials and Trails


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