17 September 1380 C.E.
At the end of the third day at sea, Hada’s crew espied the beacon of the Tower of al-Jebail in the waning light. The crew furled the sail and unshipped the oars to bring the At-Tair-al-Bunni into port. Hada’s first mate clapped and chanted to the oarsmen, while Hada made ready to dock.
“Ohh, land,” sighed Quinn. “E’er so glad am I tae see ye.”
“Perhaps I should make you an Everland Helmet, with a seeming of motionless land to fool your brain into thinking you are not at sea,” Moria suggested to the Dalesman in a neutral tone.
“I’m so glad we made it back,” agreed Nyleth. “Thank you Hada, for a wonderfully … exciting voyage.”
Hada hugged the bard warmly. “Oh, Sayyadati, it was my eternal joy to be of service! If ever you have need of me, to not hesitate to call upon me. I hope your venture was fortunate?”
“Very much so!” Nyleth hugged the captain back. “I hope we will have a chance to sail together again soon!”
“Your relic, you will sell it?” she asked with polite inquisitiveness.
Moria shook his head in the negative. “Indeed not.”
Hada’s expression was incredulous, but she patted the wizard’s head affectionately (and excessively). “I am certain you know what is best.”
Moria frowned and muttered, “I was not joking about it being priceless…”
“Sellin’ it makes it hard tae be its guardian, anyway,” said Quinn.
“Ecoriel insists we will keep it, but if ever we do, I will tell you for how much,” said Nyleth, winking conspiratorially at Hada. She gave Moria’s shoulder a brief squeeze.
One of Hada’s men overheard the conversation and muttered something to a crewmate about “pilgrims” and “indulgences.” The crewmate nodded shrewdly and said, “More profitable in the long-term.”
As Hada had the ship rowed in, the adventurers noted that the quays were nearly full, and a great many ships were milling about. The captain cast her lines in and brought the ship to dock, but there appeared to be a great throng on the docks that evening.
“Right,” said Quinn. “So. Where we goin’?”
“Straight to the perfume shop?” suggested Moria. “I doubt we will find much, but perhaps we will get lucky.”
“I’m fer that,” said the Dalesman, glancing to the other two.
“Then, by all means, let us be on our way,” said the priest. Nyleth nodded at Quinn, but her eyes were drawn to the busy docks.
“Whass goin’ on here, then?” Quinn wanted to know.
“Dockfest?” Moria opines.
“Dockfest used tae be aboot th’ music,” Quinn declared. Nyleth stifled a giggle.
The wizard gestured at the large number of merchant vessels. “Yes, they really sold out.”
Hada called out to the harbormistress, who was accompanied by a host of city guards. As the crew began to unship the plank, the harbormistress rushed to interrupt. In Hammaddi, she called out, “Permission to come aboard, captain!”
Nyleth nudged Quinn. “Are we in trouble?” she whispered.
“Suren, I hope nae,” he muttered.
Exasperated, Hada replied, “I am Hada ar-Ri, captain of the Altair al-Bunni! My dock-fees are paid by the Lady Beyah ad-Dina! We have the right to port!”
The harbormistress replied, “The Bath Gate is closed tonight. Make berth or continue on your trade route! There will be no entrance to the market this night!”
Hada looked confused and enraged. “This is madness! The Bath Gate has not been closed in years! What is the meaning of this?”
Moria made birth by hopping off the boat onto the dock. Quinn jumped down beside his charge. The harbormistress spared them a glance, looking harried and annoyed. Nyleth waved merrily at the woman, her eyes clearly visible. “Hallo! Perhaps you could tell us what is going on?” she said sweetly.
“Indeed. We’ll just be docking then, shall we?” added Moria.
The harbormistress suddenly noticed the fey folk, and made hasty obeisances to the spirit-folk. Her contingent of city watchmen did the same. More amiable, she said, “I am sorry blessed one, but it is by decree of the Naibah. The city is closed until … uh, well … for the time being.”
“Oh, no!” Nyleth said, pained. “Has something happened? Is everyone all right?”
“What word was given, Honored Mistress, that the gates were to be closed?” Nima asked.
The harbormistress, looking about at a small gathering crowd of disgruntled sailors and tradeswomen, smiled apologetically. “There was an … incident, four days past.”
“Hada,” Nyleth said quietly. “Could she come aboard and talk a little more?”
The captain glared at the throng. “You have my permission to come aboard, ‘ukhti. Let us discuss an … arrangement in my cabin.”
“Ohh,” Quinn sighed. “It’s one o’ those kinds o’ deals.”
The harbormistress left her guard on the dock and followed Hada belowdecks. Nyleth followed, unasked and Quinn trailed her. Hada’s crew took up their most aggressive and manly poses to glare at the city watchmen. Mori sighed and followed his companions.
Inside Hada’s opulent quarters, the harbormistress folded her skirts under her legs and sat upon a silk cushion. Nyleth sat nearby, graceful as ever. The captain and her guest exchanged abrupt and casual pleasantries, inquiring each after the other’s family and the state of trade in the city and abroad. Hada cut the chase quickly. “So, have taxes increased in the city?”
The harbormistress made a demure motion with her hand and accepted a dish of shoma brought in by Hada’s second nephew, once removed. “Captain, I’m afraid I have no power to open the gates for you. The city watch has barred _any_from entering. Hada sipped at her milky white beverage in silence, fixing the harbormistress with a firm unblinking stare. “Captain, your … partners have been most inconvenienced, I’m sure. But the city is in a state of peril. It is for their safety as much as our own, that these measures have been taken.
“Something terrible must have happened,” Nyleth said politely. “Is there anything we can do?”
“That is our line o’ work,” added Quinn.
The harbormistress looked to the two hopefully, then drank from her dish, swallowing hard. “It is terrible…” she finally said. “Four evenings ago, a Fomoraig cog docked to trade in the Suq. We permitted the men to enter, once their coin had been weighed and counted, of course. They were told of our laws, that Sons of Mot were prohibited to disembark, but…”
She drained her dish, and Hada refilled it from a steaming carafe. “But the vile beasts attempted to sneak in under cover of darkness,” the captain concluded.
The harbormistress nodded, looking stricken. “Yes, Captain. I’m afraid so. Four of our brave watchmen were slain when the villains were unmasked.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Nyleth said sadly. “How upsetting for you all.”
The harbormistress nodded. “Accounts vary, but there were many of them in hiding, disgusting green-skinned horrors. They drew weapons and attacked the Bab al-Madina. Some of them forced their way in!” Hada sipped her shoma and screwed up her face in disgust.
“Have they been apprehended?” the bard asked.
The harbormistress looked at Nyleth apologetically. “The Naibah has sent for reinforcements to bolster the City Watch, but the gates are barred to all others.”
“I see,” Nyleth said sadly. “I understand, though. It’s best to keep the city safe. Is the cog still docked?”
The woman shook her head and thrust out her chin. “No, blessed one! I commanded the dock-guard to root out all on board and put the ship to the torch, but their captain acted first and cast off before we could apprehend him. We filled his sails with flaming arrows and cast alchemist-fire onto her bulkheads as they fled to sea. They will limp back to Malecor, if they make it at all.”
Hada muttered, “Lobraiders are hardy ships – hulls like elephantine. They are difficult to sink.”
Quinn scratched the back of his head. “Did ye get the name o’ that ship, pray?”
“The lobraider was named Gorga Bulagd,” said the harbormistress.
Nyleth grinned suddenly and turned to the captain. “Perhaps your crew would fancy some … deep sea fishing?” Hada grinned predatorily, and the bard continued. “If we were to bring back evidence that the ship was no more, would that guarantee our landing?”
The harbormistress looked longingly into the mid-distance. “If only it were in my power! Trade has stagnated these four days. The Sayyadahs are near to revolt! But the city watch has placed the city under martial law. I would grant you passage, if I could, but the watchmen have been granted control of the gates.”
“Mebbe we need tae have a palaver wi’ them, then,” said Quinn.
“Would it be possible to speak to the Watch?” Nyleth asked.
The harbormistress shrugged. “I do not see why not. You may try, but they have repelled all who have entreated them thus far.”
Nyleth smiled at the woman. “It is worth a try, yes? And if they say no, then perhaps we can go hunting tonight after all.”
Hada reclined on her lush cushions, fingering the hilt of her shamshir. “Sayyadati, my blade has hungered since we left port!”
“Then I believe we have a plan, yes?” Nyleth turned to Moria. “Shall we?”
“We shall try it your way,” he said.
“I have no doubt that you have a way, as well,” she said in Faerie with a hint of a smile.
“Nothin’ ventured,” Quinn mused, standing to open the door for the others.
The adventurers made their way through the throng of angry sailors and tradeswomen who clamored at the Bath Gate, spitting curses and ridicule on the guardsmen barring the many doors. The crowd called them “sons-of-paupers”, “faithless husbands”, and speculate loudly as to the sizes of their manhoods. Nyleth slipped through the crowd unobtrusively, sidling discreetly up to the sergeant, a middle-aged portly man with a long, bushy mustache.
“Good evening,” she said quietly, pulling the hood of her magic cloak down as she did. “My companions and I were hoping to speak to the captain of the Watch?”
Awestruck, the sergeant makes deep obeisances. “Most blessed traveler! Please forgive this unworthy one, but the captain is attending to matters most urgent! I have command of the Bath Gate this evening, if it pleases your greatness.” He commanded the rest of the guards to reverence, as well. They did so reluctantly.
Nyleth beamed a brilliant smile at them all. “Ahh, I see! He must be very busy with the problems of late.”
“Indeed, Your Radiance! The situation is … um, well, it is … urgent.”
Moria saw one of the guardsmen roll his eyes as he and the others finally made it through the crowd to join Nyleth. “Do you not agree?” he asked the man, who shifted his gaze uncomfortably away. “Come, come,” the wizard pressed. “If you do not agree with your superior, you should be man enough to say it.” The insolent fellow did his best impression of a deaf man, but shifted as if standing on hot coals. Moria shrugged and turned his attention back to Nyleth and the sergeant.
“We were hoping that we might be able to lend the Watch some aid,” Nyleth said, indicating her companions. “We have also had several, shall we say, encounters with the Sons of Mot. We were hoping our expertise might prove useful.”
The sergeant’s eyes gleamed. “Well, well! That is most fortunate indeed! We have need of reinforcements!” The guardsmen looked to each other quizzically, unbelieving.
Men in the throng began shouting at the sergeant. “Yes, yes! We will root out these demons! We will help, too!”
One of the tradeswomen shouted, “OPEN THE GATES! I have a wealth of Galatian grapes withering in my old!”
Nyleth turned to the crowd and smiled at them. “Perhaps we can solve this problem together.” The men cheered her on. “Perhaps, if we work together, we can aid the guards and the city.” The tradeswomen discreetly pull purses and weigh the contents, winking at the bard. Sensing she had inadvertently riled the crowd, Nyleth summoned her lute and began to play a tune, hoping to sooth them.
“So,” said Quinn to the sergeant. “If ye’re in need o’ help, here ‘tis. Care tae let us through?”
Wide-eyed, the sergeant slowly raised his gaze up the Dalesman’s full height and said, “Oh, mighty ghazi! Your valor only can save us from this menace!” He turned to his men. “OPEN THE GATES, YOU CURS! THE DJINN-FOLK HAVE BROUGHT A CHAMPION TO SAVE US!!!”
The guardsmen stare at their sergeant agape. Moria gestured at them with his hand to get on with it. Quinn smiled in spite of himself. “Dinnae worry. Nobody’s gittin’ past me.” Reluctantly, the guardsmen unbarred one of the doors, grumbling.
Nyleth addressed the assembled crowd. “Our champion will slay those responsible for your lost profits! Soon, you will be trading anew.” A raucous cheer went up amongst the throng, and the bard swept her hand in a grand gesture toward the opening door.
“After you, O Champion,” she said in Faerie. Quinn nodded once and led the way inside. Moria shook his head but followed along. The guards held back the throng as the four adventurers entered the city.
They passed through the sacred bath house, which seemed cavernous and desolate without the heavy steam that accompanied them upon their first entry. Nyleth splashed water on her feet and hands anyway. Quinn adjusted the straps of his shield and looked around. Nima checked his prayer beads and the draw on his scimitar. Once inside the city, the streets seemed depressingly empty and forlorn.
“Good. We should make good time,” said Moria.
“Shall we make fer the Citadel first?” asked Quinn.
“Oh, are we going to investigate that, then?” said the wizard.
“I said we’d help,” the paladin said simply, as if that explained everything.
“Of course,” said Moria, sounding resigned.
“If Amirandi’s back, then he ain’t leavin’ ‘til the trouble’s done. And if he ain’t back, he ain’t gettin’ in.”
“Then we shall do what we can to help, Ghazi Quinn,” said Nima.
“Makes sense, I suppose,” said Nyleth.
“Quinn. The man walks through walls, you may recall,” said Moria.
The Dalesman shook his head. “Thass right, damn ye. If’n the Sons o’ Mot were attackin’ the Citadel, thass where we should start.”
“Would they be at the citadel?” Nyleth mused aloud. “Or would they perhaps be laying low? Weren’t they injured?”
“Could be, aye,” said Quinn. “We’ll keep our wits aboot us.”
“Lead on,” said Moria.
The adventurers made their way toward the Citadel on the hill at the center of town. There, they were stopped by a contingent of watchmen asking why they were out after curfew.
“Peace, my friends,” said Nima. “We are tasked with helping to remove the Sons of Mot and helping resolve the issues besetting the City.”
“The sergeant at the Bath Gate conscripted us,” added Quinn.
Gruffly, the watchman replied, “Well, we’ve taken no captives yet. But we have two slain within. You may speak to the lieutenant.”
“Could you direct us, gentlemen?” Nyleth said sweetly.
“Indeed, blessed one. Follow me.” He led them into the courtyard and showed them two small twisted green goblin bodies hanging by the neck. He sent another man to fetch the lieutenant.
“Mm,” Moria said with distaste, eyeing the bodies.
“This does seem like a lot o’ trouble for a buncha redcaps, d’ye think?” asked Quinn. The wizard nodded wordlessly at his behomothian companion.
The lieutenant arrived, looking testy. “Yes? What is the meaning of this intrusion? We are harried enough as it is without Abu Fi’ri’s efforts to aggrandize himself!”
“We’re here tae help, sir,” Quinn said honestly and directly.
“Well, you can help most by observing the curfew! The city is in a state of terror, what with these villains running amok. We can barely keep the peace!”
The paladin held up the hilt of his falcata. “We’re adventurers, sir. This is our kinda business.”
Then Moria interjected, “I beg your pardon, but ‘amok’? The streets are all but deserted.”
Nyleth lay a hand briefly on the wizard’s arm and addressed the lieutenant. “You did well, sir. The city seems very safe.”
The lieutenant glared at Moria with large, fierce almond eyes. “Thanks to us! Just yesterday, there were four freedmen stabbed to death in the warrens! We have urged all to remain inside after dark.”
“So, we should begin our hunt in the Warrens. Many thanks, sirrah,” said the wizard, tipping an imaginary hat.
“‘Less ye ken where else they might be hidin’?” said Quinn.
“We’re not sure,” the lieutenant said in frustration. “They appeared to have split up after slaying their way into the city. Some were seen in the pleasure district, others in the Trade Quarter. We think they are moving through the warrens near the city walls, but some claim that they appear most frequently in the Pleasure District and the Suq, though no incidents have been reported there.”
“The Suq’s where th’ perfume shop is,” mused Quinn. Moria nods, closing his mouth as if he were about to say the same thing.
Nyleth glanced between the two of them briefly. To the lieutenant she said, “Perhaps you would be able to grant your permission for us to investigate the Suq?”
The man sneered. “Fine! Fine, do as you will! But if you are knifed in the street, let it not be said you were not warned against it.”
“I will make sure that nothing such as that happens, sir,” the bard said sincerely. “You all have enough to worry about, I am sure.”
The lieutenant made a curt obeisance to them and left, seeming – for all his bluster – somewhat relieved. “I thank ye fer yer time,” Quinn said with a salute before turning to depart.
The adventurers walked through the deserted streets with only the lamplight from second-story windows to illuminate their way. A cat could be heard crying in the gloom as they found their way to the Suq, which looked much larger without the usual ubiquitous tents and stalls that usually dominated the center. Abah an-Ni Lavender & Perfumes was located at the northeast edge of the Suq al-Madinat. It was part of a series of vending stalls in a sandstone single-story building with circular windows paned with colored glass too small for anyone larger than a child to fit. The door was wooden, of fine make, and secured with an iron lock.
“Do you think that we should let them know we’re here?” asked Nyleth as they considered the locked door. She tried to peer through the window, but it was dark within and the glass was opaque.
“No,” said Moria. Then he cast a spell to detect any magic signatures.
“Well, nae,” Quinn said quietly. “I’m just nae … comfortable with all this breakin’ in.”
“Maybe the back door is open?” Nyleth said softly in Faerie. The Dalesman shrugged and started to make his way around the other side of the shop.
“Hold,” said Moria, voice strained in concentration. “Powerful magic,” he said.
“That shouldnae surprise me,” said Quinn. “Can ye tell what sort?”
The wizard released his spell with a sigh. “No. It lies within the building. I cannot identify the type of magic.”
“Would you like a second pair of eyes? Could we not work together?” Nyleth asked.
“What I need is for the wall to be transparent. Or an open door.”
“Hmm, I can try to open the door for you at least,” said the bard.
“Is there magic on the lock?” asked Quinn. “‘Cos if ye kin open th’ lock, I’ll open the door.”
“No. Only within, it seems,” said Moria, making a face. “Barring some Nystulian chicanery.”
“Nystul, that piker,” said Quinn. “Always confusin’ the rest ‘f us…”
“A prankster and a blackguard,” agreed Moria. “The world is well rid of him. Assuming it is rid of him. How could we ever really know?”
Ignoring the Mystralian banter, Nyleth rummaged around in her bag and produced a handful of hat pins and lockpicks. “All right. I will give it a try, then.”
A few moments of applied thievery later and the lock popped open with a click and the bard smiled. “Ecoriel, I’m going to pull the lock off – and I assume Quinn will open the door. In case, well, something goes … magical.”
The Dalesman’s hand found Nyleth’s shoulder and guided her back from the door. Moria readied his wand as Quinn held up his shield then reached out and opened the shop. The heavy wooden door swung inward easily. The shop was dark within. The wizard repeated his divination, and after a few moments of concentration placed a hand to his head.
“Are ye all right?” Quinn hissed. Nyleth looked at Moria worriedly.
The wizard nodded. “Very. Powerful. Transmutation,” he enunciated. Nyleth gently pulled him out of the direct line of the door.
“Where is this spell, Fakir Moria?” asked Nima.
“Spell or artifact, it lies within. I could not pinpoint it,” said the wizard.
“I’ll lead,” said Quinn. “I need some light, though.”
“Let us grant you light, then,” said the priest, evoking magical light on the spellknight’s shield.
The others readied themselves for trouble, then Quinn led them inside, hugging the front wall with the windows. His shield cast harsh, bright light into the building, illuminating walls filled with glass vials of many different-colored liquids. There was a wooden screen behind a counter in the back. Quinn pointed to it, then made his way around the room in that direction. As he drew closer, he could see that the screen was carved delicately and folded along brass hinges to conceal the back of the shop. Quinn slid the screen aside to reveal a set of balances, mortar, pestles, bowls for mixing, and another wooden door, set into the back of the shop.
Moria peaked around the doorway, trying to pinpoint the magical aura. He tilted his head to one side, then looked down. “Below. Under the floor,” he said softly.
Quinn swung his shield around to shine light on the floor, which was covered by an expensive-looking rug. The spellknight stepped over to move the rug aside. Nyleth moved to cover him, and Moria leveled his wand at it, though from his expression, he felt foolish doing so. When the Dalesman pulled the rug away, it revealed a trapdoor in the wooden planks of the floor.
“Right. We ready?” Quinn asked the others.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” said Nyleth. “But yes, I think we are, Quinn.”
Nima and Moria entered the shop proper, closing the door behind them. Nyleth began humming a tune to bolster he companions, Quinn cast a defensive spell and invoked the divine bond with his falcata, causing it to shimmer with holy light. Then he reached down and pulled on the trapdoor. It lifted easily on oiled hinges, revealing a wooden ladder beneath. They were all overcome by the aroma of countless oils, herbs, and floral scents. He descended swiftly.
“Quinn,” Moria whispered after him. “Be a Settite.”
The Dalesman looked back up with a puzzled expression before realization dawned on his face. He touched the brim of his hat and the wizard nodded. Quinn vanished, replaced with Calum, the cultist he and Moria had encountered back in Icatia. After another nod from his companions, the spellknight turned to inspect the cellar.
It was walled in sandstone, with flagstones for a floor. Ceramic jars were stacked to the ceiling on two of the walls, while various other items were stored along the other walls. One wall had a workbench, and an armor stand bore a beautiful set of ornate full-plate. The trapdoor appeared to be the only way in or out of the cellar. He waved the others down, and Moria was the first to join him.
“Ecoriel, be careful…” said Nyleth.
He quirked an eyebrow back up at her. “Always.” She grinned down at him.
“I dinnae see any other way oot,” said Quinn.
“There may not be one,” said Moria. “And whatever the magic is, it is in the chest yonder,” he added, pointing at a container near the workbench.
Quinn crossed to the chest, checking to see if it was locked. He accidentally kicked a fragment of stone from a dense pile on the floor in the center of the room, which drew everyone’s attention to it. There appeared to be fragments of a broken idol all over the floor. “Weird,” said the spellknight.
“Hmm…” said Nyleth. “This used to be of a Djinnah named Nikkal. She was the Lady of Orchards, lovely and noble. But there are runes all over the fragments of the idol.” Then she sat on the floor at the top of the stairs with her legs hanging down.
“Fascinating,” said Moria. He proceeded to examine the chest Quinn was inspecting. It was made of wood and secured with a stout iron barrel lock. He gestured to Nyleth to come down, and she did so quietly.
“Think you can crack this one?” he asked her.
“Not sure, but I can try,” she said. The lock proved to be more difficult than the one on the door. “Bother,” she said. “This could take some time.”
While she fiddled with the lock, Quinn and Nima took a closer look at the full-plate. The suit of armor was of Hammaddin make, a masterwork of exceptional craftsmanship. It also sat next to a crate full of leather armor parts and two complete hauberks: studded leather and leather, respectively. Behind the armor stand sat a cache of weapons marked with the words “ad-Dawa al-Jadeed”, including a greataxe and a masterwork composite longbow.
Nyleth gave up on opening the chest, grumbling. Quinn picked reached for the greataxe. He lined the blade up with the lock, then took a swing. His blow cleaved off a nice chunk of the lock, sending fragments ricocheting in all directions and popping it off neatly. He set the axe down and made a bow-like gesture toward the chest.
Then he returned to regard the armor. “So, why’s a perfume shop got this in th’ cellar? I mean, I still havenae seen nothin’ that says ‘Bad Guys Are Here’…”
Moria shrugged, removing the remaining lock fragments and opened the chest, Nyleth at his side. The chest was filled with precious coins, mostly copper, but some gold, silver, and the rare glint of platinum. There was a leather pouch, a vial of pale orange liquid, a scroll, and a perfect sphere of polished black marble. The veins of the stone seemed to almost perceptively swirl before the elves’ eyes.
The wizard narrowed his eyes in concentration, and after a moment, plucked the vial and scroll from the chest. He placed them to one side, closed the chest, then turned to regard the two items more closely. “A lesser spell-scroll. And healing in a bottle,” he said after another moment. “Useful.”
Nyleth’s attention was drawn to the workbench. “NIma?”
“Yes, Sayyadati?” said the priest.
“And Ecoriel, when you’re done…” she added, holding up a roll of parchment. “Look at this. It seems to be a bunch of maps of Protea, but they all say Hama bint Alifazza on them. And they’re covered in Fomoraig notes. It looks like they’ve been all over. Doa ny of these places look familiar? Is al Jebail on here anywhere?”
Nima examined the parchment for a few moments, then shrugged and handed it to Moria. “Wasn’t Alifazzah’s name on one of the other books that was stolen?” Nyleth asked him. “The Settites took it, right?”
“The Grimorium, yes,” said the wizard.
“Should we keep these, then?” she asked.
“As you like,” said Moria. Then he took a breath to steel himself and opened the chest once more. He placed one hand on the black orb within, but froze at Nyleth’s hissed: “Ssshhh!” He glanced over with a frown.
“The back door … someone is unlocking it,” she said softly. They all heard the distinctive sound of a key turning in the lock on the back door.
Quinn started to climb back up the ladder, still in his Calum disguise, Nima and Nyleth quietly following him up. Moria scooped up the orb and placed it in a pocket, closing the chest before joining the others back in the shop…