Downstairs, the shop.
Upstairs, a bedroom with single bed, a small kitchen, a bathroom and a living
room with walls covered in old pictures and postcards.
Preston had said that old things would help obscure the view of anyone searching for them, and he had said that this was his bolt hole.
A good place to hide.
But who were they hiding from, and how had Lexor found them with such ease.
During a careful search of the pictures, Scrylash discovered two that piqued
his interest (other than the one of Telac that he had discovered earlier). One
was of the female Drow from the Altus Conclave, the other a female wearing a
pendant that matched the one on the gun that they had found in Preston's safety
Searching further he discovered a monocle under the pillow of the single bed that seemed to have the same properties as the chakra viewing lens also from the safety deposit box.
They woke the following morning, after a quiet night, feeling refreshed. Well Ballantine and Scrylash felt better than they had in months and Sanguine was practically glowing with the Chakra stones hovering above his recumbent form, spinning. As his consciousness returned they fell to the floor. Some strange combination of the magic he had tapped into while healing his companions after the confrontation with Gill, and this place of Preston's seemed to be having an odd effect.
During the night, on watch, Roggen had been trawling through the old magazines and periodicals in the downstairs shop and had come across a number of copies of the 'Strand Magazine' that included apparently fictitious stories of the adventures of Avram Esterbrook by his friend Boswell Hardwick. It seemed that Esterbrook was some kind of amateur sleuth.
While they were digesting this information, two events occurred to surprise
Firstly a huge eye, attached to an equally large head peered through the upstairs window and secondly, the postman delivered a telegram.
The telegram was from Lexor, inviting them to a late lunch at the Misogyny's Club, and the eye & head were attached to an elderly Cyclops that appeared to work at the taxi stable at the end of the road. Being no strangers to strangeness, they took both in their stride and decided to take Lexor up on his offer. They had said that they would return to the Caecus College, Esterbrook's place, that afternoon and with nothing else planned for the rest of the day, it seemed churlish to turn down the offer of free food.
At the taxi stables to order a cab to level 6, to the club, they discovered that the Cyclops was called Phreed and hailed from Haven. He'd been surprised to see smoke rising from the chimney of Hob's End and had a look in to see who was there. He apologized for startling them but they reassured him that apology was not required but none the less, took advantage of his offer to pay for their mornings cab journey.
Their first visit to Level 6 proved an eye opener.
Given the cost of living the Turen and the size of the properties on Level 6, there was obviously a great deal of money higher up the city. Talking to their cab driver they got a confession of a youthful visit to level 9 (even though they could get no one else to admit to the existence of any levels above 8).
Up there things were really different.
The Misogyny's Club stood in it's own grounds, beyond a guarded gate and substantial
Having checked their credentials they were allowed through the gates and pointed at a substantial many leveled building.
Upstairs, the dining room was sparsely populated with tables, but given the rooms size, this still meant a goodly number. The large gaps between them assured privacy and also meant that no one had to sit too close to the snoring, dribbling, farting gnome that they were here to meet. Rogen, with dwarven subtlety, shouted 'BOO' in Lexors ear. He woke with a start and rather threatening fistful of glowing rings. Deciding that the smiling dwarven face was friendly he visibly relaxed.
The table stood in one of the many arches overlooking the garden, open to the elements but not effected by them. A silence hung round the table that wasn't explained just by the distance of the other diners. There was some subtle magic at work here.
Over a sumptuous lunch, Lexor talked of his friendship with Telac, hinting
at a recklessness of youth and an enjoyment of a disgraceful retirement. He
told them that he admired Telac's decision to join the Altus Conclave, to put
something back, to do some good, but that was not for him. Not enough whoring,
drinking or traveling. Roggen was very impressed with the beer served in the
Misogyny's Club and asked the name of the brewery, but was unable to get an
answer, the recipe had to suffice. Scrylash brought up the subject of the sword
and Lexor visibly brightened. "I thought it rude to open the subject, but
if you don't mind, I'd love to see the blade". This gnome certainly has
an odd sense of propriety.
He said that he had an appointment with his fencing teacher on the roof, which happened to be in one of the places that coincided with the location of the the Conclave and Telac wished to meet with them, so if they would accompany him ...
The vast roof space was split into a number of areas of parks and exercise
spaces. Waiting in one of the further ones was Patkin, the fencing instructor.
Scrylash handed over the Drow sword for Lexor's inspection. Having asked permission to unsheathe it he examined it, testing it's balance. "If I could afford it, I'd offer to buy this from you"
"I wouldn't sell it"
"I know. But it seemed polite to acknowledge it's value"
Telac approached the group with a horrible, bare toothed grimace on his features. As the party tensed, Lexor whispered out of the corner of his mouth "That's a smile". Leaving them with their privacy, Lexor went to his fencing appointment.
In the ensuing conversation they discovered, amongst other things,
Telac also called upon a passing Salamander, giving it to Sanguine he informed him that the lizard could be used to contact him if required.
Making his excuses, Telac returned to the Altus Conclave, even though he had not actually left it.
Turning back to Lexor they found him exhausted from his exercising and offered
the services of Patkin to the group, as he had already paid for the time. Patkin
indicated that Roggen should step up first and with a quick sword flick, disarmed
"I admire your style" said Patkin "but it is so alien to mine that I'm afraid that there's nothing I can teach you".
Both Scrylash and Ballantine spent a good half hour in training with the tutor and appeared to benefit from the training, the wounds aside. Scrylash's wounds healed almost immediately. Sanguine guessed that this was somehow connected with the feeling of euphoria from that morning. Maybe some of the healing power that he unleashed was still extant and was somehow still having an effect.
Later than planned they headed off to the Invisible College to keep the appointment
with Esterbrooks butler leaving Lexor promising to send them some funds and
some of the club's excellent beer. A club carriage took them to 656 Penchant
Terrace on Level 5. Ringing the door bell they waited for the butler's hostility
only to be hailed from the upper window by an apparently identical man - but
this time polite and helpful, who apologized for the inconvenience but assured
them that he would do his best to get access to his master.
Startled by his manner and promising to return the following day they took further advantage of the free coach to head back to Hob's End. Just inside level 3 their discussion was rudely interrupted by the sounds of footsteps on the carriage roof, a hail of arrows through the windows and an exploding smoke bomb at their feet. Sensing that this was not a friendly welcome they de-coached to give fight. Scrylash, in an attempt to disorientate the attackers threw a smoke bomb into the blinding smoke, Ballantine and Roggen flailed round in the haze while Sanguine bolted out of the smoke with feline grace.
A strange singsong chanting emanated from the smoke as Roggen started sounding the area for solid objects in much the same way as a bat does, but at distinctly lower frequencies. Scrylash engaged a swordsman, one of the enemy as much by luck as judgment as the smoke made it impossible to see. Ballantine bravely used his body to protect the horses from arrows. Sanguine, now with a clear view of the attackers, sent a ball of fire to engulf one of the brigands on the nearby roof. The sight of the blazing body falling into the street was enough to cause his rooftop companions to flee. Roggen, using the dwarven echos, was able to attack one of the highwaymen though the opposition was managing to sometime successfully target the source of the sounds. Ballantine's success with the revolver was continuing and he had resorted to pounding on another assailants head with the blunt end. As the smoke started to clear, Sanguine reentered the fray causing the eyesight of both Ballantine and Scrylash to clear. Without hesitation Scrylash backhanded his opponents sword out of his hand and knocked him unconscious as Sanguine gutted Ballantine's attacker with claws that protruded from his hands. Roggen finally decapitated the only brigand left standing and they assessed the damage. The coachman was dead, both horses slightly wounded and everyone hurt to some extent, with the exception of Sanguine.
Raising a cloud of mist to cover their retreat they dragged the surviving attacker inside and drove the coach back to Hob's End.
Dropping the majority with the captive the coach was taken to the taxi stables where the locals agreed to hide it for the moment.
The prisoner woke bound, gagged and blindfolded in the small metal bath tub. They made him aware of his position and the fact that there would be less mess from the spilled blood in the bath. As Roggen slowly inserted one of the spikes of the dwarven blade through the underside of his chin the captive informed them that they had been hired to check out a group that was expected to visit Esterbrooks establishment and find out what they wanted. Their approach had been unsubtle as there had been no instructions on how this information was to be gleaned. Further intrusion of metal into flesh revealed that the man who had hired them was one Norbert Oilwater, some 'Nancy boy' who was expecting a message to say that the information was available. Under threats of death he finally gave up the address of the middle man. 160 Chance Lane.
They are not naturally bloodthirsty but this man and his companions had tried to kill them. This was not torture in cold blood. They would be terrible at torture in cold blood - as they would later find out.
Re-gagged, they bundled him into another carriage from the stables and headed
to Level 2 to find this Norbert.
Passing the two up two down at the given address they stopped at a tavern further down the street, hired a back room with a second exit and sent a runner to Norberts house with the message that his information was available and to visit the pub.
Waiting in the coach with the trussed vagabond, Roggen and Sanguine watched an effeminate chap who matched the given description enter the bar. Following him inside they were in time to see him step into the back room, realize his mistake and faint. On the off chance that he was faking, Scrylash smacked him round the head anyway.
They quickly decided to free their first captive as he had, eventually, told them the truth. Going out the back door and round to the carriage Sanguine removed the gag and blindfold. "Your story panned out. I'm going to set you free. If any word of this ever gets out I personally will ensure that everyone finds out that it was you that told us". Pressing his palm to the unfortunates forehead he cast a spell that caused the skin under his palm to tingle harmlessly "And I will always be able to find you". Sanguine cut the ropes, opened the carriage door and, almost before he could tell the terrified thief to run he was alone in the carriage. It was just as well that so few people realized how much of magic was showmanship.
Norbert Oilwater was bound, gagged and blindfolded and dragged out to the carriage. "Traded the last one in did you" quipped the driver. "Reckon you got a bum deal there". Still laughing, the coachman turned the vehicle round and started heading back to Hob's End. He was still laughing till Ballantine told him to take care "Our last driver got killed".
Norbert Oilwater woke bound, gagged and blindfolded in the small metal bath
tub. They made him aware of his position and the fact that there would be less
mess from the spilled blood in the bath. "Oh, you scare me. If anything
happens to me you will be in serious trouble so let me go now".
They threatened him with death and bruises and other fiendish nastiness' to no effect. "Let me go and there will be no trouble".
A couple of hours ago they were inserting metal spikes in one captive and now they were unable to hurt the man who had hired people to kill them.
"Just start breaking his fingers" muttered Sanguine.
Roggen held a sword point to his throat "Oh you're scaring me"
"Break his fingers"
Scrylash cut a finger to the bone "You are going to be in serious trouble if you don't release me"
"Just break a damned finger"
Finally Scrylash decided to knock Norbert unconscious again, but in his frustration,
misjudged the blow and opened up his forehead, tearing off an eyebrow in the
process. This broke Norbert who immediately spilled his guts.
He'd been hired by Esterbrook's man to try to find out what they wanted with his master.
This was getting a little strange. Had they actually been speaking to Esterbrook's man or to Esterbrook himself when they had been calling.
Sure that Norbert had told the truth, Sanguine healed the wounds. Deciding to revisit Penchant Terrace in the morning they settled down for the night but not before arranging for a message to be sent to Lexor detailing the demise of the clubs coachman.
The morning brought the postman with two large envelopes and a package. There
is something strange about the idea of a postal service in such an otherwise
apparently lawless place.
The package turned out to be a case of Misogyny's Club beer, the large envelope contained a pouch holding 1,000 gold groats and a note from Lexor stating 'Leave it to me'. Presumably this was in reply to our news of the coachman.
The third envelope contained a letter signed Boswell Hardwick.
"Please accept my profound apologies. The situation has got out of hand. We should meet at your earliest convenience. The attached should convince you of my credentials". Also in the envelope were two pages of printers proofs of an, as yet, unpublished Avram Esterbrook story.
In the hope that this Hardwick would be able to shed some light on the previous nights experiences, they engaged another coach and, bundling Norbert in, headed for 18 Tered Road on Level 4, the address on Boswell's letter.
Sanguine and Scrylash called at his front door. They found Boswell to be as
open and honest as his writing suggested.
Before he could get too involved with his explanations Sanguine interrupted him, "Sir, we have learned to be somewhat careful about whom we trust so two of our companions are outside in the carriage along with one of the unfortunates involved in last nights troubles. If you could give us a moment I would like to free our captive and invite the rest of our party in, if that is all right".
"Please invite your friends in, but I would rather know nothing of the ... other"
"And he will know nothing of you"
Outside Sanguine put the frighteners on Norbert and tied him up in a magical web. "These bonds will evaporate in about 90 minutes. When that happens I'd get out of this carriage and go home". Instructing the cabby to head for level 2 till Norbert escaped, Sanguine joined the others inside the comfortable study of Boswell Hardwick to listen to the tale of 'The Case of the Girl had Soup for Breakfast'.
Some three months earlier, Avram Esterbrook had taken on a case brought by
concerned parents. Their daughter had recently taken to staying out all night
and they were concerned for her welfare. Esterbrook had followed the girl and
she, along with a number of companions from various levels had taken to visiting
a bar called the Lamprey with a club called the Store House in sub level 1 of
the city. What had piqued his interest was the fact that one morning, after
a breakfast table row the daughter had continued the row with her mother in
the kitchen during which time she had dipped a cup into a pot of soup and drunk
down the boiling liquid without batting an eyelid.
A couple of weeks after this incident, Avram had followed the girl from her home to the sub-levels and neither had been heard of since.
Esterbrooks man had called upon the services of the thugs in a desperate attempt to try and discern whether the adventurers who were constantly pounding on his door were in any way responsible for his disappearance. Their mention of Preston Elliot had put Boswell at ease and their insistence that they would find Avram positively cheered the old man up.