I can’t stand this city.
I was raised in the Long Dark, among the Drow. I’ve been through the slave pits and stalked the goblin warrens. I’ve seen the temples of the filth priests. And for some reason, this place bothers me more. Maybe it’s the contrast against the light and clarity of this new world I’ve found myself or that, even as female of no house, I had enough privilege in my dark home that I adjusted to it. Either way, I cannot wait to leave this rotting hulk. But first, we have business.
After a night’s stay in an upper city inn – complete with a scalding hot bath to try feeling clean again – we had many hours to pass before our meeting. Olaf, the bartender at the Mucky Duck, had arranged a meeting with Boris Cotton. This was the man that Hershel had chased from the tavern with his ‘diplomacy’. As a former Bowman, he could be a crucial source of information to address our ignorance of the greater structure of that group. If we are able to convince him that it’s in his interest to do so. We split up to pass the time until then. Deciding that I didn’t know enough about the layout of this town, I set my will against my disgust and set out to learn it.
Along the northern edge of the island and between the dock ward and the town wall, was a large, greenish field. Initially, I thought it scrub land reserved for cultivating food or livestock. Upon approaching closer, however, I discovered that was actually a large algae mat that covered the entire area (a small bay? shallow swampland? I am unsure). Though this could easily be a penned area for scouring fish, the algae mats could just as easily serve as sustenance for the poor.
Deciding not to descend to docks again, locally called the Filth apparently, I remained within the town wall and found myself walking through an open market. The market itself seemed a fairly standard one for the surface, though in breadth and variety, it paled next to the great shuks of Qataban. Strange to think of the great desert city. I briefly wonder if I will lay eyes on it again.
I found nothing that I needed or desired and then I rounded a corner to a strange sight. There were troglodyte heads on spikes, arranged like a macabre bouquet and standing from a woven basket next to a merchant’s stall. The woman noticed my glance and engaged me on them. I asked briefly why she had them and this began her on a bit of a tirade about the reptiles. I was able to gather that the creatures lived in large numbers in the swamp around the town. And that only their innate cowardice and the large number of city defenders, the Crows, kept them from regularly raiding the city. Slaying them appeared to be a symbol of loyalty to their home in the swamp. Moving on through the market, a familiar emblem on a tunic caught my eye; the Bowmen were here.
Pulling the cowl of my piwafi up over my somewhat distinctive hair, I moved casually into position where it would be difficult for them to see me watching them. They shortly finished their transactions and headed out of the market. As I followed them, I saw that they moved without worry, without concern of being observed. Ultimately, they approached a storefront that also bore the Bowmen insignia. They had a public office here. I made note of where I was in the town and retreated. Realizing that I’d spent more time meandering than I intended, I turned toward the Mucky Duck for our appointment with Cotton.
Meeting my companions on route and in the common room, we gathered and were quickly ushered into a back room by Olaf. It was here that Boris Cotton and another awaited us. To a random observer, Cotton appeared…unremarkable. However, for those trained to notice, he held himself in a manner trained to unconscious habit by years of practice. The large human male that stood at his side held a similar bearing. We took our seats.
The negotiations went as expected. Why should he trust or help us? Couldn’t he see that we were trying to help the innocent? Back and forth. He did confirm that he was with the Bowmen and no longer was. He also let us know that at least one faction, Trask’s, was still watching him. This was the reason that he was at Carrion Hill. He was protected from attack, as the Crows enforced the peace, but he was under observation (from the Bowmen office I found earlier) and couldn’t leave this place for the same. And it turns out that there was another reason that he couldn’t leave. The Bowman had a hostage.
After much back and forth, Cotton finally came to the point that he would only provide us with information if we helped him first. The Bowmen were holding a female that was important to him. At the building that I had located earlier. If we rescued her without harm and returned her to him. he would consent to provide us with what we wanted. He seemed doubtful.
We turned to one another and began planning what to do right there at the table, in front of Cotton. I could see that he was paying attention. Recalling Nathaniel’s work of illusion when defending Three Cedars, I asked if he could do it again, but with troglodytes this time. If we could pull enough attention away from the Bowmen storefront, we might be able to open a window during which the Crows were distracted and we could act against the Bowmen directly. We sent Hershel, with his bat cloak, to search the compound to ensure that they still held the girl, Alexandria, and to find where she was. He returned shortly with confirmation.
At this point, Cotton was engaged. He seemed eager and just perhaps he began to believe that we could do what we claimed. He let us know that there were an estimated 16 Bowmen in total, along with some hired workers. He also advised us that the there were two messengers that the Bowmen routinely employed. If either of them got a message out, they bring reinforcements and end this venture swiftly. He also said that one of them, Eddy Silk (apparently this is a real name on the surface), could be bought off. The other would have to be killed. Surprisingly, he volunteered to resolve both issues for us.
If the illusion worked as we hoped, and drew the Crows away, then Hershel and myself would infiltrate over the walls of the Bowman compound while Exelar, Caleb, and Seifer drew their attention by barreling through their front door. To enhance the illusion, we would also set fires in the docks and Cotton’s companion, Trevor, went with Nathaniel and Wulfgar to set it up. Deciding that there was no time like the present, we set the plan into motion.
Strike from the Shadows
Nathaniel and his group headed out to the docks of the Filth. The rest of broke into smaller groups and searched for taverns to await the signal. Exelar, Seifer, and myself ended up at one such establishment. In a rare fit of fortune, there were three Bowman there. We ordered drinks and waited.
Shortly thereafter, the cries went up from the lower town. Fire! Troglodytes! Most of the bar patrons, including two of the three Bowmen ran out to see what was happening. However, one of them, deep into his cups, remained at the bar. Exelar and Seifer followed the others into the street. Seizing the chance, I wreathed my self in shadows and moved towards the bar. The barkeep, seeing the shadows advance toward him, froze in place and dropped the mug he was cleaning, causing the drunken Bowman to look up at him. In an instant, I seized the man’s head, channeled my strength, and wrenched it up and around with all my strength. He dropped to the counter, dead.
From my veil of shadow, I looked at the barkeep and drew a finger to my pursed lips. I set several steel coins upon the counter and locked his gaze. He nodded numbly as I then smiled darkly at him and made my exit. further down the lane, I found that the other two had each dispatched their Bowmen, as well. Walking past, I saw that one body’s wounds were seared closed while the others were frostbitten. It seemed a good omen.
Moving on toward the Bowmen compound, we met up with the others. It turned out that they had also found a brace of Bowmen and had dispatched them handily. As the compound came into sight, I faded into darkness, Hershel took wing, and a lance of purplish-black light, Xar’eth no doubt, struck a Bowman in the front of the building as our infantry plowed into them.
Dodging down an alley, I clambered up a wall, using drainpipes and balconies to lever myself up and over the wall. I could see the small bat that was Hershel and used him as a guide while dropping silently down into the courtyard. I heard the clashing of metal and grunts of pain as the others continued to occupy the Bowman forces in the front. Locating the bat, it flew across the yard and into an entrance that appeared to drop down below the ground. Unseen, I entered and followed it down.
Following stairs down, they ended in a long hallway. It was dark, of course, with only a few guttering torches. But it was also wet. The air was damp and the walls were coated in condensation. It must have been close to the water level of the swamp. I could hear voices in the distance and began down the hall, when a whisper brought me up short.
Hershel was in a cell off the main hallway with the girl. Having flitted through the bars as a bat, he forgot that she could not get out as easily. I drew back the bar and directed both of them out. Looking back to make sure that they were out before I made my move further in, I saw Caleb coming down the stairs. He was clearly spoiling for a fight. But I stopped him and had him hold while searched farther in. I was in for surprise.
The room at the hall’s end had a set of stairs that descended into swampy water. Standing at the water’s edge were troglodytes. One of them clearly was a tribe chief. And surrounding them were five Bowmen. One of them stood out. Speaking to the trog chief, he had twin swords slung across his back and a dangerous bearing. Even with Caleb at my side, this was a dangerous proposition. The trogs looked ill at ease and their conversation with the Bowmen seemed strained. I could use this.
I pulled out a blade that I had stuffed into my boot and marked the position of one of the Bowmen. Calling upon my Drow heritage, I dropped a sphere of shadows onto the troglodytes and the leading edge of the Bowmen, then through the dagger into the thigh of one of them. He cried out that the trogs were attacking and took a swing at one of them. The leader, I think I heard his men call him Kane, seemed to hesitate. He wasn’t falling for my gambit. But at the last moment, the trog chief attacked him and went all in.
I cloaked myself in shadow and snuck into the room, behind the Bowmen. Caleb, seeing me disappear, took this as his cue and charged down the hallway. Kane struck the chieftan’s head from his shoulders with a scissor of his twin blades and turned to face Caleb’s charge. I struck at a Bowman as he struck down a trog and they both fell dead at the waters edge. Taking advantage of Caleb’s distraction, I stuck at Kane as walked to the hall. Though my hit struck home, he didn’t fall. He recovered his balance, gave me a look and turned so that he could see both Caleb and my self. But fortune remained with us.
The stones were slick around the water, causing his strike to go wide. Caleb’s rush hit him true and, though it wasn’t disabling, he did lose his footing. Taking the opportunity, I struck as well and Kane went down into the water. Resetting my footing in anticipation of his return, I waited. But he did not rise from water. Suddenly, the waters surface began to roil and then resettled. A dark reddish stain drifting to the surface announced his fate. A moment later, a troglodyte rose slowly from the water, locking his eyes with mine. As I made no advance toward it, it took the head of the former chief and sunk back below the water, never breaking our gaze. It was done.
Deciding that perhaps the Bowmen could be censored or even exiled if the town watch investigated the compound and found them associating with troglodytes, we dragged one of their bodies up to the courtyard and set fire to the building as we left. Exelar had intercepted Hershel and the hostage girl and was already returning to the tavern, and to Boris Cotton. It was time to go.
We broke up as we left the now burning compound to avoid being seen travelling as a group. As we reached the Mucky Duck, we could hear new cries about a second fire, nearby. Here’s hoping that they found the evidence that we intended for them. Entering the tavern and the back room again, we entered to find Cotton embracing his newly freed daughter. We had saved a life and, in doing so, secured an ally. After a time, Cotton began to provide an initial briefing on the Bowmen while we enjoyed a task well completed.