The City of Cowls

People Ain't No Good

Sixth of Sunharrow, 474

The next morning, Maudrin rose early and went out to visit the temples and shrines to Pelor in Indiss, and meet some of the priests and monks therein. Largely underwhelmed, he did meet a few good, dedicated men and women, including Brother Tarol, a monk at the Church of the Sunrise Over Water, a dockside temple.

Meanwhile, everybody else gathered at the Maw. Jorlim was absent, but Hedra, his young servant and assistant, was working the common room. As they debated which problem to pursue, Maudrin returned from his walk and joined the discussion. As they debated, a town cryer paused on the street outside to read his missive. Lord Mayor Fronc Derlain was offering to pay well for any information relating to the zombie attacks! The offer of a reward tipped the debate and the group set out to investigate the Zombie plague.

At the scene of last night’s battle, Anu recovered some black mud from the corner of a wall where a zombie had fallen, while Alaric found some rotten black leaf residue. Maudrin’s blessed vision revealed powerful evil in the blood spilled by the zombies. Meanwhile, Dove put a frightened local at ease and was told that the zombies had all come up the road from the east. He also told her about an old tale, the story of the Necromancer’s Garden, but he was certain that it was nothing but a story to frighten wayward children.

The group decided to visit the Scriptorium, a repository of knowledge where learned sages were known to spend their time in the perusal of old scrolls. Along the way, a suspicious squad of guards accosted Anu and accused the hapless Tiefling of being in the wrong part of town, but Alaric’s bluster and Dove’s silver tongue convinced them to leave her alone. But even these tools were of no use at the Scriptorium – there was simply no way that Anu and Fiona were getting in.

While Maudrin, Dove and Alaric entered and sought advice on their problem, Anu quickly found a side window and scaled the wall effortlessly. Finding an open clerestory window, she found the temptation to grab at a scroll too much to resist, and ended up in a precarious position.

Meanwhile, the other three companions were introduced to Guthrim, a sage knowledgeable in mythology and history, and Sigrun, a botanist by profession. From these two, they learned that the leaves were likely a variety of marshwillow that grows on the shores of Greenwater Lake, and that the Necromancer’s Garden was a legend with roots in fact – an ancient shrine to Nerull the Deathgod, razed years ago by a Pelorian crusade, which once stood on the western shore of Greenwater. Perhaps the ruins could still be found?

Their education interrupted by the sudden arrival of Anu and Fiona from above, the group said their hasty thank yous and good byes and left for the lake shore. As the shops and tenements grew sparser and the ramshackle huts more common, they realized that somebody was following them. in the lakeside shantytown they sprung an ambush on their pursuer, who claimed to be an adventurous young cobblers apprentice who heard them talking and wanted to join them. But when Fiona took him off behind a hut, he turned the tables on her and drove a knife into her gut! Luckily, she was able to wound him and her friends finished him off; the wound was not as bad as it had appeared, and the party began a search of the lake shore.

A few hundred yards to the south, they found a pile of old stone that resolved itself into a ruined estate of some sort – a large, collapsed structure with four mausoleums, all surrounded by a wall. Could this be it? As a tremendous storm broke over the city, skeletal figures crawled up from the mud and attacked. This had to be the place.

The battle with the skeletons was hard fought but victorious, and Maudrin’s vision revealed an aura of evil inside one of the mausoleums. After resting for a bit and patching up, the group entered the mausoleum. A clear trail led to the back wall, which contained a secret door. Opening the door revealed a dark spiral staircase, leading down into darkness…

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We're Going To Be Friends

Fifth of Sunharrow, 474

Maudrin was sure that the helpful (but dirty) man on the docks would not steer him wrong, but he was also sure he had been walking for a while and seen no sign of the inn that the man had pointed him towards. The streets were getting narrower and twisty, and the Sun was actually growing dim, moving down towards the western horizon. He’d been told to expect this, but it was disheartening to actually SEE it. Then, a dozen yards or so in front of him, a door opened on light and lively sounds. The sign above the door read “KRAYKENS MAW”, below a picture of a gaping, toothy hole surrounded by tentacles. An inn!

The place was starting to fill up, as it always did around sundown. Anu and Fiona sat hunched together near the back wall, also as they always did around sundown, heatedly debating how to go about rebuilding the Guild. Namoran hadn’t shown up in the two weeks since the massacre; the mysterious, masked attackers must have gotten her too. Among the regulars filtering in, the two ne’er do wells spotted Dove, a mysterious new face who had somehow managed to con Jorlim into giving her a free room – they needed her in the Guild. Anybody who could con Jorlim into a free anything must be quite the grifter. Jorlim hadn’t willingly parted with a single Sheaf since the day he was born.

The door opened again, and in came a stranger. Odd enough on its own, but this fellow was…clean. Interesting. A couple of the local toughs thought so too, and tried to make trouble with the guy. It was starting to look ugly when the door opened again, and in swaggered Alaric. The air in the place got a few degrees colder, and everybody shut up for just a half second. He was a big bruiser, and he projected an aura of menace that everybody seemed to notice except him. His presence averted any violence, and he sat down to a drink.

As the evening went on, Fiona and Anu tried their best to recruit Dove and the new guy, Maudrin, to their guild. Seeing the four of them sitting together, discussing business, Alaric was naturally interested and joined them uninvited. Unsurprisingly, nobody thought it was a good idea to ask the big guy to leave, and Anu pointed out that the Guild would need muscle, too.

The door opened again, and another stranger entered, a short, skinny man of middle years who looked half in the barrel already, and proceeded to drink the rest of himself in as well. With drunken candor, he introduced himself to anybody who would listen as Odo Caldwell, a jeweler of the Crescent Ward, who was losing business to a smear campaign. Interested, and an the interest of protecting Caldwell from the two toughs who were eyeing him like hungry sharks, the fivesome invited him to their table, and learned that he had been accused of selling cheap paste and calling it quality gemstones. He swore vehemently that he was an honest man and would never cheat his customers, and the group agreed to come to his shop the next morning to investigate. But when he staggered out, and the nefarious looking pair of thugs followed him, the next morning became right now. After frightening off the would-be muggers, the group escorted Caldwell to his shop, which was also his home. He had been so drunk he had forgotten to let his guard dog into the shop, but luckily nothing was missing. While he swooned in a chair, the party investigated, finding his hidden stash. Using Caldwell’s key, they opened it to discover several amazingly cut stones, which Odo called his masterworks. When pressed, he said that there had been a few customers who were interested in buying one or more of them, but he had turned them away because they were not offering anything near the value of the stones. One, a fellow named Roelich, was particularly insistent and wanted to buy the cabochon-cut ruby. If business continued to decline, he would have to sell them at a tremendous discount and that would be a huge blow to his pride and reputation. While talking to him, they noticed a hooded figure outside the window. It ran away when it saw them watching. Quickly, they gave chase and followed the figure down a dead end alleyway! But when they thought they had the snooper cornered, they discovered that it had disappeared without a trace!

Thwarted, they headed back to the Maw to wrap up the evening. They saw several group of staggering drunks along the way, when they suddenly realized they weren’t drunks, they were Zombies! In desperate battle they put down a group of the undead, and they heard other battles nearby. The city guard thanked them for their help, and they returned to the Maw, seeing evidence of more zombie attacks along the way.

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The Talespinner
A story of life in Indiss

Rutger the talespinner sat hunched on a filthy scrap of cloth in the meager shadow of an abandoned shanty that leaned at a frightening angle. The hovel’s list created the only shade to be found at noon in Indiss, and in the month of Sunharrow, the height of summer, a shred of shadow in Indiss was more precious than anything.

Except ale. Rutger’s throat felt rough; he was parched. So when the gang of young toughs (at least, they thought they were) came swaggering along, Rutger extended a hand, rasping, “Copper…copper…a few coins for an old man…” The gang stopped, and the leader, a pale-faced wag whose voice had barely dropped, smirked at him.

“Sure, old man, we got coppers for ya. But you have to work for em.”

“Yeah!” piped in a scrawny girl with filthy red hair. “We want a story!”

Rutger sighed. “Alright, alright.” He swallowed a few times to wet his parched throat. “Hunker down about me and you’ll get your story. I’ll tell you about the old times, when the Devilkin ruled this land and fought the Scathelings until they had all killed each other and only the good folk of Pelor were…”

The lead boy spit. “Boring. We’ve heard that one a thousand times.” He’d produced a shiny pair of copper Sheafs, no doubt filched from a rich merchant’s purse last evening, and was dancing them across the backs of his knuckles. Rutger swallowed – he could almost taste the bitter ale waiting for him in Tarkwel’s Taphouse. He needed those Sheafs.

“Okay, then,” he began again. “You want excitement? Tales of adventure and death?”

The youths nodded, leaned in close.

“Then I’ll tell ye about the War of the Seven Cowls. About the Faceless Lady, who could be anywhere, anyone; and about the Ebon Cowl, the only one known to have thwarted her and lived.”

His audience glanced about nervously at the mention of the Lady. He had them now. He might even get a silver Crescent out of this, if one of them had one to give.

“It was 21, no, 22 years ago that the future Queen and her companions returned Prince Benedict from his long exile. In those days, there was only one Guild that mattered here in Indiss – the Seven Cowls. They were assassins, but they also dabbled in…well, everything! Their hands reached even into the shining palaces of Pelaurios. It was no coincidence that the capital had no Guild of its own. The Cowls were crime in the Sunlands.”

Rutger sighed, his rheumy eyes far away. "I was a Bravo with the Guild in those days. I had women and jewels; I drank the best wines out of golden cups. " Oblivious to the snickers of his audience, the old talespinner continued. "But then the Legion arose in Pelaurios. It was in the year that Benedict inherited the throne from old Angrohans. They drove our agents out of the capital and hunted any who practiced the assassin’s art to death. Whoever she was, their leader hated hired killers.

“And her! Rumors swirled around her. She was said to have no face by some who had met her. Others claimed she was the Queen in disguise, or the Queen’s half-elf compatriot using powerful sorcery to hide her identity. It really doesn’t matter. Once her Legion had a stranglehold on crime in the capital, they came at the Cowls.

Rutger paused in his telling, his throat suddenly dry again. How to tell them that he had seen her? Or at least, he thought he had, that the strange creature who came for the Azure Cowl that awful night had to have been her, for even through the smoke and the flames, he could not possibly have imagined the melting, the awful swirling, of her facial features…and what had been a rather plain human woman was suddenly Otiere, the Azure’s favored concubine. He dropped his knives then, fled the burning mansion and took shelter in a bottle of liquor and the anonymity of a storytelling beggar’s life. But sometimes, he wondered when – not if, but when – she would come for him.

“Forget it, Utred,” the scrawny girl whined, tugging at the leader’s sleeve. “He’s forgotten where he is, the old drunk!”

“Leave off, Brida. Hey, Talespinner! I want to hear the rest!”

“Eh? The Cowls! Yes, they came for the Cowls. It was nine or ten years ago when they found the Argent Cowl, all purple and swollen from the poison that he’d been fed. He was a poisoner, you see, but nobody made that connection then. We just figured a rival had done for him – it wouldn’t have been the first time something like that happened. But even before an heir could take up the Argent, just days later, the Scarlet Cowl was stabbed to death in broad daylight by a score of swirling, flying blades that dropped lifeless to the dirt along with her – and she was the best knife-fighter anywhere .

“Now, some of us figured it was one of the Cowls angling for supremacy, but me, I had a hunch it was something else. So, when we caught some Halfling creeping about in the Azure Cowl’s big house, we figured we’d put the screws to him and get the knowledge out of his head.” Rutger hung his head. “But we didn’t get a damned thing. He wouldn’t talk…and me and the boys were pretty rough on him. He died before dawn. After that, it was as if war had been declared. There were ambushes, fires, knifings, poison, strange sorcery…Why, my pal Ulrich got killed by some creepy elf who pulled his nightmares right out of his head and showed them to him. He shrieked like all the Devils of all the Hells had their claws in him and dropped stone dead. The sight of it turned my hair white.”

“What did they look like? The nightmares,” a tiny lad with sunken eyes squeaked.

Rutger gulped. "I can’t rightly say. But I remember, they had…they had…

“What?”

“They had teeth.”

The Sheafs weren’t dancing on Utred’s fingers anymore. Like the rest of his gang, he was leaning in to hear every word, his hands clenched into excited, meaty fists.

“But the worst came three nights later. I was part of the Azure’s crew, a firebug. We killed however we wanted, but we burned the evidence afterward. It was his trademark. Anyhow, we woke that night to the smell of smoke and the sound of screams and splintering wood and roaring flames. Everything was a nightmare of chaos and death. I tried to find the Cowl, but I was, well, I was prevented.”

“By what?” Brida whispered.

“By her. By the Faceless Lady. She had come, I think, to avenge her friend, the Halfling we’d killed. And avenge him she did. The Azure Cowl burned that night, as did most of his crew. The rest of us, the handful that survived, fled into the night and never looked back.”

Utred snorted. “You never saw the Lady. You’re a liar and a drunken old fool.” He tossed the Sheafs into the dirt. “Come on, let’s get out of here before we catch his stink from him.”

Rutger scowled after them, but he scrabbled quickly after the copper coins and began to haul himself to his feet.

“What about the Ebon Cowl?”

The talespinner turned suddenly. “Eh? What do you want?”

It was Brida, the filthy red-haired girl. “You said you would tell us about the Ebon Cowl. I want to hear.”

Rutger nodded slowly. “He thwarted her, you see. She came for him, with all of her resources, all of her power…and he escaped. The Lady lost a lot of her people that night, and the Ebon, he got away. And he’s still out there, somewhere in the city, with his most loyal lieutenants around him, watching and waiting. When the time is right, he’ll step from the shadows and rebuild the Guild, and crush the upstart Legion in Pelaurios, and all of this street warfare and random murder will finally stop. He’ll bring order back to Indiss.”

Brida smiled. “Thank you for the story. Here,” she fished in a hidden pouch and pulled a tarnished silver Crescent, handed it to him.

Rutger reached for it, then, “no,” he said, shaking his head firmly. “You get yourself a bath and some clean clothes with that. You need it more than I do.”

She clutched it close, nodded brusquely, and scampered off. Rutger watched her until she disappeared down a narrow alleyway. She would make a fine storyteller someday. If she managed to survive childhood on the streets of Indiss.

Turning slowly, the talespinner set out for Tarkwel’s, already tasting the bitter ale. It would be a good day, after all.

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