It's been a few years.

Balantine has been writing a book about the multiverse.
Rogan has been expanding the pub, beer and snacks multinational that started with the Ravens.
And I have been communing with the elements in a monastery with 38 nuns.

Out of the blue I received a call to arms - apparently there is a note from Scry at the Ravens. Forsaking my research I headed to Ashwell to see what is required of us. Damn - it'll be good to be back in the saddle. I miss the adventure, the terror, the incomprehension and the failure to properly register people in the planed A & B lists.

Scry, who we haven't seen for over a year, is apparently out of his depth and needs our help. He has sent a missive that witters on about arguments between churches (it's probably a sports thing) the dead disappearings some suicides and a rise in highwaymen and piracy. He believes that this will have a negative effect on a visit by the king and queen in eighteen months time. (Rogan believes that the piracy is a personal attack as forty barrels of Greenmoss beer are missing from a disappeared ship).
Much as I love Scry I do think his logic is somewhat flawed but he promises that if we get involved we'll be given tokens that allow us 'freedom of the city' so what's not to like?

{Fanfare} - We're back on the road (he following morning obviously).
To Swarkstone - hero's all. We stop at the inns and eat and sleep well. On the third day of our travels we stop at the Red Pig where we expect an update from Scry.
The Red pig does really good beer and the food is worth writing home about.
Later that evening the owner came and visited us. Scry has some documents in the safe that he hands over. (link to docs)

So we need to talk to Officer Mihalis, Council Chairman Saffit and some priests.
What can possible go wrong.

And on to Swarkstone.

Rog and Balantine head for the Ducks Down (Rogs new pub) while I head to check in with Gwen (who has been helping Scry). As Gwen is nowhere to be seen at the Mage School and has been there rarely over the last month or so I join my companions for a beer or three.
Rogan is convinced that the real mission, the vital point we need to uncover is the piracy issue. Solve that and everything else will fall into place. Or it it doesn't, at least the Greenmoss beer might be recovered.
Travelling is thirsty work.

Deciding that our badges of honour are important we go and look up Council chairman Saffit.
What a politician. Denies the missing dead, says the city is so thriving that the larceny and the piracy have no effect and has a way with platitudes that makes Rog's skin crawl. But he gives us our 'city freedom sigils' and an office.
He also informs us that Officer Mihalis has been busted for corruption. It seems that a bunch of stolen goods have been found at his place (an obvious stitch up) we will clear his name.
Balantine on Saffit "He may have been telling the truth but may not know what the truth is", "I wouldn't trust him if we could trust him".
Damn it's good to be back.

A quick once round Keynote Square and off to Balantine digs for a freshen up.

It seems we have three things to investigate which in all likelihood are connected.
Firstly the rise in larceny, highway robbery and piracy. Rogan feels this is the most important and key to the investigation.
Secondly the disappearance of corpses and the reappearance of their mutilated remains.
And thirdly the flow of thugs onto then mysteriously out of the city.

Officer Mihalis - first port of call.
By the time we get to the Gauner district it's evening but we soldier on. As Saffit had given us the address for Mihalis we quickly find his lodging house. Although freshening up and putting on clean clothing may not have been our best course of action before heading for this shit pile suburb. We do rather stand out.
And Officer Mihalis has moved out.
To the 'Joyless' no less (whatever that may be). After some cunning cross examination of the lackey behind the desk of the lodging house we discover the location of the Joyless and get to experience the local custom of wearing disgusting clothing.
It turns out that the Joyless is an empty warehouse with a bouncer on the back exit. Well bouncer is a little harsh as that's a two syllable word and that brute would never understand it.
Exiting the warehouse it turns out the Joyless is actually a ship out the back of the warehouse. Listing slightly as it rests on the muddy bottom of an old canal it's now a bar and other things. The first level down is quiet but the sounds of music and revelry come from the next floor down. This next floor is a tavern and as custom dictates we make a bee line for the bar. It turns out that even with disgusting clothing over our duds we still rather stand out. A quiet chat to the bar girl and we have pints (of really very good beer, perhaps it's Greenmoss) and a visit from the boss. Harry Ellis is the captain of this fine ship and agrees to let us go down to the 'tar' to look for the 'cop' as long as we promise not to start any trouble.
As if.

The next floor down is an opium den. Having been shown to a private room we again skilfully question the drug supplying lackey as to the whereabouts of the missing Mihalis. He is insensible. Drugged to the gills. Rog tries smelling salts to wake him. Balantine checks his underwear (which doesn't wake him either). Not being one to fail to disrupt a party I banish all the drugs from his system and that wakes him up. We have a fully awake, terrified, paranoid and ranting ex police officer on our hands.
"No not like this - When I'm in my right mind they can find me - I need drugs to keep them out - gimme some now".
Rog, who has a better understanding of this life style that Bal or I hands over one of the pipes we were given with the opiate. This calms down Mihalis a little.
"Don't let them get in. Once they're in you won't get rid of them"
Trying to get some sense out Mihalis I asked about the churches, what had he found "Look at their faces, their hands. They're not priests".
Deciding he was not safe here we insist that he come with us as we will be able to look after him. Again off on a mad rant he insisted "No - it's not safe out there, they are just outside and will find me"
What a loon.
At about this point something just outside the ship forces a large mother of pearl horn through the side of the ship and through Officer Mihalis' chest. It waggles him around a few times and withdraws leaving a hole in the side of the ship which immediately started spewing fetid water and a hole in Officer Mihalis that immediately started spewing his internal organs and his final breath.

As water is entering the inside of the ship and as ships go that's really the wrong place to have the water I goto find the lackey and inform him of the breach. After a little panic (and some tea tray juggling) we find ourselves back on the tavern deck with Captain Ellis.
For some unaccountable reason he is upset. We explain to him that "It was a creature from outside" and "We did not start the trouble".
For some reason this fails to console him.
During this discussion I notice a couple of chaps who are getting up and leaving at the other end of the bar. This is peculiar as everyone else is producing weapons and approaching us. Out of the flames of the barbecue springs Art, off to investigate these odd people. Details to follow.
Captain Ellis, having turned various colours (almost the complete spectrum over a few minutes) orders action.
Fix the ship then kill us. In that order. Every one rushes to fix the ship.
Well - everyone else. We leave.

Back at the warehouse exit the bouncer confronts us. "Captain Ellis told us to leave". "That's OK then"

We're free. In the night. Off the ship. Escape complete.

A bell above us rings three times.
And as we continue, another.

We make haste directly towards the river as bells continue to mark our passage. Blocked by large passage of water I immediately create a carpet of water we can walk upon and we scurry over the water’s surface escaping our pursuers and back onto solid ground.

ding ding ding.

Getting close to the river we're hemmed in by low lifes. A quick left turn and we're through an alley (that I block with a fog bank so we are unseen). This leads to the back of apartment blocks that lie between us and the river. In the back door and as we open the front a man with a bell is passing. With a subtle twist of a wrist silence envelops him and his bell so no warning is given and with an unsubtle sword pommel Balantine renders him insensible.
We are at the river and we will be safe on the other side. No one would have the temerity to take this fight to the civilized side of the river.
But it's a fifteen foot drop to the water. We search for steps. On the left, but they are too close to the guarded bridge. Back to the right and...
The first crossbow bolt bounces off Balantine armour but winds him. The arrow that slams into my back does rather more damage.
Sod steps, we jump.
Again creating the carpet of water we head across to the other side. Fire arrows hitting my water carpet really hurt but the distraction does make me change course.
They no longer know where we are. They are firing speculatively. To let the people waiting for us on the other bank know where we are.
We turn down stream, still on the water to look for an escape. But wait, what is this. I recognize this stretch of water at that side canal should lead to the Hidalgo. Sanctuary. Scry's whorehouse has never felt more welcome.

Without a blink Sally took us in. Our river scum smell, our disgusting new over clothes, the water dripping off us, the arrow stuck in my back. Sally took all in her stride and ushered us into one of the more private rooms.
There is something to be said for the safety of a whorehouse. Asking Sally about the 'bell' warning system and the nerdowells of Gauner she assured us that none of the Gauner thugs would bother us on this side of the river (with the laughable exception of Harry Ellis).
Thankfully Captain Harry doesn't do whores - so we might be safe here ... tonight.

Shown up to Scry's apartment for the night (after getting the arrow removed and affecting some level of healing) we spent a quiet night.
In the morning our clothing had been cleaned by the wonderful Hidalgo operation but I don't actually recall getting undressed and handing over my clothes. I have to hand it to Scry - this is an astonishing establishment.

The following morning remind us, none to gently, that we have been out of the hero business for a while. Every limb hurts and we stagger round like a bunch of decrepit pensioners. Sally's girls serve up a stunning late breakfast that makes us start to feel better.

Not far from the Hidalgo we stop at the Water Rats home base to pick up a barge to the Council Chambers.
Councillor Saffit is somewhat taken aback at the news of Mihalis' demise, and immediately plans to delay any proper investigation into the event to keep us out of the loop and insists that we keep him up to date on our investigation. His politicians mask slips for the first time. I don't trust that.

We wait for Balantine to steal a painting of a map from our office then gratefully rest our still weary bones on a barge back to Balantine's mini mansion.

Ensconced in the comfortable arm chairs in the drawing room we are scolded by the butler for not being here for last nights meal and "Oh yes, there was a delivery this morning for one of your companions". A small square package wrapped in brown paper, string and a drop of wax. I open it and am surprised to find a jewellery box that I could swear I last saw on Gwen's bed side table. (When I was ... errr ... helping her change the sheets or something as I obviously don't spend time in Gwen's bed chamber. Often. Or at all).
Inside there is a bit of cloth and a note. The cloth appears blood stained and there is something wrapped inside it.
A finger.
A female finger.
"Lets see how the bitch casts spells with no fingers. One goes every hour until we see you. Come to the Mess at the Council Chambers, find a table and we will find you".

"When did this arrive"
"About three hours ago"

"Rog - forget the beer. This just got serious"

I leave immediately. When I get on the barge I realize my companions are with me. I am grateful for their support as someone is going to die today. I will find them, whoever has hurt Gwen, and I will kill them. Of this let there be no doubt.

I don't notice much on the way to the Mess but one thing I do is that we have been noticed by a sharply dressed fop who is leaving the Council Chambers as we arrive.

In the Mess I look for some less populated section as when the blood letting starts I'd like to keep collateral damage to a minimum. One section near the back has a number of tables only one of which is occupied. Occupied by a (rather attractive) woman working on some documents.
Gwen, working on some documents.
As I sit down she raises her hands and waggles ten fingers (well eight and a couple of thumbs) and smiles.
"I received a box with a finger this morning. A box that was in your bed chambers". On hearing my box description she replies "That does sound like my box, but before we get to that can you sign this"
"What is it"
"One of the students at the Mage School wants to get a 'mystic' tattoo"
"Why am I looking at this"
"It's a 'boss, decision"
"And sign this"
"Two of the students want to get married"
"OK, it's their lives"
"And I sent the finger. I didn't think you'd meet me for breakfast (which you've just missed) and I was really drunk last night"

Prepared as I am to dismember whomsoever should displease me I choke down the hatred but allow some of the bile to hang around.
Gwens sense of humour rarely fails to get to you, and I use the term 'humour' really rather loosely.

"Tell me how smart I am"
At this point noone other than Gwen considers 'smart' as an appropriate adjective.
"We lucked out. One of the church guys who you were going to talk to died while trying to commit suicide"
"Explain a) the luck in going to talk to and now dead and b) died while trying to commit suicide"
"He planned to jump off a bridge after taking the same type of toxin that many others have but had a heart attack before he could jump, and I have the body. Tell me how smart I am"
"Other bodies have disappeared after death. How do you 'have the body'".
"I got it transferred to the Sanctuary, out of the city morgue. It'll be safe there. Tell me how smart I am"

The team is on the down side of the adrenaline rush that proceeds a fight and without having the fight happen Rog and Bal are sufficiently distracted to not notice a pamphlet that Gwen pushes across the table towards me. It is obviously stolen from the library but is a treatises relating to the type of magic I am now using. Gwen whispers "Tell me how smart I am" and this time she rather does have a point (I don't think I'll mention this pamphlet to the others).

"And another thing, this City Ward Seal we get while helping Scry, what are the chances of hanging on to it afterwards. It's great and I get so much work done"
"Now is not the time to push your luck, but I'll ask around"

So to the Sanctuary to look at a body. And one that we were not involved in the death of. This will be unusual.

The 'science' based (whatever that is) Sanctuary is a large building that has seen better days.
No one is in reception and it almost seems deserted. I'm glad Gwen got the body moved to a 'secure facility'.
Finding some one we ask to see Clorinda Gale who runs this show. Eventually, after running a maze like a lab rat (what ever they are), we are escorted into a torture chamber where white coated people are dismembering a body on a central table in what looks like a very small stadium. There are a number of platforms of ever increasing height that would allow people to overlook this evisceration and none of them more than a few yards away. I have seen some very strange rituals in my time but this does some what disturb me. the fact that dismemberment has become a spectator sport in the name of 'science'. (I must look up what that means).

Clorinda, a rather strikingly tall woman, introduces herself to us.
"I suppose you want to see the body".
"Why not"

In an underground, chilled room there is a corpse on a central table.
No visible signs of violence. This chap (Blackcoat Barbarin) was from the Church of the new Aesthetic who believe that only beauty is good and ugly is evil. He didn't join recently.
Apparently he consumed the toxin then a large flask of salt water and went to throw himself off a bridge as the tide was turning which would have washed the body out to sea but his heart gave out before he could jump. There is really nothing that we can find or do with the body so we check his personal possessions.

Balantine checks his underwear and is then somewhat surprised to learn that other than his clothing he had no possessions other than a number of leg wigs.
As Bal theorizes on this discovery we others look at each other and mouth "She said 'lead weights' didn't she".