27 Marpenoth, Day of the Sun, 1300 DR – Year of the Starfall
In the wake of Harvesttide, Zare, Adriana, and Seamous enjoy an evening of frivolity at the Tipped Tankard Tavern. The atmosphere is a bit muted due to the plight of four local children that have recently disappeared, the most recent victims of a string of kidnappings and robberies that have plagued Cauldron for the past few months, but the community makes the best of it, trusting in the guard to discover the truth of the matter.
As the evening draws, Seamous suggests a trip to the Lakeside Pavilion. He is especially fond of the pavilion as the nearby park brings together his two great loves, the city and nature. Considering the mild evening, despite the mist that fills the air, which is a common phenomenon this time of year, he is eager to step amongst the trees and look out upon Crater Lake.
Along the way, steady drizzle begins to fall from the ash-gray sky. The crowded, rain-slicked buildings seem especially bleak and frightful this evening, hunched together beneath the gloomy skies. A few lights burn in their windows, but mostly their shutters have been closed for the night. The scent of chimney smoke fills the air, and the din of water trundles from the rooftops, splashing into dark alleys and turning street gutters into rivulets.
A sudden, plaintive cry for help from a nearby alley splits the evening air. Moving toward the source of the plea Zare and Seamous hear the sounds of scuffling feet and hushed cursing.
Carefully peeking around the nearest building adjacent to the alley the friends see two men, their faces split by black and white face paints, assaulting a robed figure lying prostrate at their feet. A third painted man stood nearby looking up and down the alley for anyone wishing to be a hero.
“Stay away from the orphanage,” one of the attackers growls while delivering a boot to his victim’s abdomen, “you got that?”
“Hey,” shouts Zare as he and Adriana trot down the alley toward the disturbance, the lookout barks a warning, but he had clearly not noticed the two until it was too late, “leave him alone.” The rogue and warrior place their hands upon the hilts of their respective blades as they approach. Seamous, placing himself closer to the street, draws his bow, ready to fire if things go south.
The three toughs back off from their prey at the companions approach, placing a hand on the hilts of their own short swords in kind. “This ain’t none of your business,” responds the apparent leader, his knuckles bloody from the beating he was giving. “Bugger off!”
“I don’t think so,” says Adriana. “You leave that man alone. I think he’s had enough, unless you’re looking for a bit of the same.”
The muscle-bound woman instantly gets the thugs’ attention. One leans toward the leader and whispers something in his ear. Perhaps it was due to the heartbeats pounding in their ears, but Zare and Adriana couldn’t hope to make it out. Seamous though, steady at the alley’s mouth with a bead on the largest of the brutes, could hear it clearly, “We’s gots to get outta here, man, it’s Adriana.” With that the confrontation ended and the three men turned tail and bolted away, disappearing around the corner onto Lava Avenue.
Zare helped the injured man to his feet. A large holy symbol hanging from his neck identified him as a priest of St. Cuthbert. “Thank you so much,” says the priest, “I don’t know what would have become of me had you not arrived.”
“Think nothing of it,” says Adriana, “as a guardsman it’s my duty to help those in need, especially from the likes of them. You’re lucky to be alive though, the Last Laugh rarely strikes so sloppily from what I hear.”
“The Last Laugh?” asks Zare. “They didn’t seem so funny to me.”
“A local theives’ guild,” responds the warrior, “perhaps the most dangerous one in Cauldron, but what would they care about the orphanage?”
“I wish I knew,” said the priest, wiping a bit of blood from his mouth. “I had just come from there, offering them the church’s condolences and a promise to do what we can to help recover the children, when these ruffians set upon me, corralling me into the alley. At first I figured they just wished to rob me, but they slapped away my purse when I offered it. Then I knew they had other things on their mind.”
“Perhaps we can discuss this more en route to the Temple of St. Cuthbert? The priestess is awaiting my arrival and I would certainly feel safer if accompanied by the likes of you,” the priest continues. “I am Ruphus Laro, an acolyte of the Cudgel. The temple isn’t so far away and I’m sure the priestess will reward you for your bravery once we arrive.”
“A reward you say?” says Seamous, having just finished restowing his bow. “I suppose my desire to visit the park can be quelled for such a worthy diversion. It would be a shame, after all, if any more harm befell Ruphus this night. You should learn to be more aware, my friend, for the city can be unkind to those that let their guard down.”
“Indeed,” replies the priest, “a fact that I hope to not be reminded of again any time soon.”
Along the way to the Temple of St. Cuthbert, Ruphus shares the following rumors:
*One of the children kidnapped from the orphanage is the bastard son of the Lord Mayor.
*A secret guild of halfling rogues is responsible for the kidnappings and robberies.
*One of the stolen orphans is the offspring of Dwern and Imogen Stormshield, two adventurers who disappeared a few years back.
At the temple Ruphus is met by another young priest. He explains that the companions helped him out of a rough spot and that he’s sure Jenya would like to meet them. After instructing them to wait, Ruphus is lead away deeper into the church.
As they wait for Ruphus to return, two figures approach from somewhere deeper in the structure. A young woman with premature streaks of gray in her rich brown hair steps forward with her hand outstretched in friendship. She wears a brown robe with golden trim and the symbol of St. Cuthbert around her neck.
“Good evening,” says the woman. “I have spoken to Ruphus and learned of his harrowing ordeal, as well as your remarkable heroism. I’m Jenya, the acting high priest. I am in your debt.”
After exchanging greetings and introductions the priestess then lead the heroes to a comfortable sitting room with a warm fire that is more than welcome considering the dampness of their clothes. She invites them to sit with a waving hand and asks the acolyte accompanying her to get a tray of hot tea to help warm the bones of her guests.
Once the younger priest has left Jenya, although still warm and friendly, adopts a more business oriented demeanor. “Despite this attack on one of our own, I remain resolved to help the orphanage recover the missing children and to put and end to whatever plots are underway against the citizens of Cauldron. These kidnappings must end and the guard seems unable to discover the truth of them on their own. Considering your bravery, I have a proposition for you if you’re willing to hear it, though you’re act in saving Ruphus this night does not indenture you in any way to agree. Will you hear me and consider my words?”
Zare, Adriana, and Seamous look at each other, not sure how to respond. Neither Adriana or Seamous had really ever considered themselves heroes, though Adriana had such aspirations which were constantly being blocked by her superiors in the guard. Zare, unable to remember his past, suddenly had a bout of butterflies in his stomach, but he couldn’t tell if it was due to the prospect of something new or the thought of renewing his proper course. Ultimately they nodded to each other in agreement and indicated that they would hear what the acting high priestess had to say. If anything they would get a cup of hot tea out of it.
Jenya then began to relay the following information:
* Four children were kidnapped from the Lantern Street Orphanage three nights ago. Their names are Deakon, Evelyn, Lucinda, and Terrem. The children are the most recent victims in a series of strange disappearances and robberies.
* The orphanage has two common bedchambers on the second floor – one for girls, the other for boys. Two children were taken from each room. None of the other children and none of the resident staff heard or saw anything.
* The orphanage has barred windows and excellent locks protecting its doors. The children are locked into their rooms at night to prevent any midnight mischief.
* In the wake of the kidnappings, the church of St. Cuthbert has publicly vowed to locate the missing children and bring the kidnappers to justice.
To try to help locate the children Jenya had utilized an artifact, located here at the church, called the Star of Justice to cast a Divination spell, but the response she’d received was a cryptic riddle that no one at the temple has been able to decipher. She hands a copy of the divination to the party and Zare takes it from her. It reads:
The locks are key to finding them.
Look beyond the curtain, below the Cauldron,
But beware the doors with teeth.
Descend into the malachite ‘hold,
Where precious life is bought with gold.
Half a dwarf binds them, but not for long.
“We’re sure the first line refers to the locks to the children’s rooms at the orphanage, but we could discover nothing unusual about them,” Jenya continues, a cup of tea being places on the small table beside her chair. The acolyte set the rest of tray before the heroes, distributed cups, and poured hot water into each allowing the guests to filter their own tea to their pleasure.
Jenya’s guests ponder the words for several minutes while preparing their tea. The warm fluid helped chase away the chill of the wet night. They discussed the various lines and nodded in agreement with the acting high priestess that the search must begin at the at the orphanage.
“Does that mean you’re willing to accept this mission?” Jenya asked. “The safe return of the missing children is all we ask, though if you discover the rest of the kidnap victims and the source of these crimes then we’d be in your debt. The Church of St. Cuthbert can offer you a reward of 2,500gp total upon the completion of this task provided all the children are returned safely.”
The mention of such riches set the hero’s eyes to nearly pop out of their skulls. None of them had ever seen so much gold before and they nearly drown each other out in their collective agreement.
“Very well then,” replied Jenya, and she removed 3 vials, the seal of St. Cuthbert prominently labeled on them, from a pouch on her robe, “take these potions with you. They will heal you should you come under attack like my acolyte did this evening. I’m sure this task will not be completed without its share of peril. Should you require more than this vial is capable, feel free to return and the Church of St. Cuthbert will do what it can to aid you. The riddle says that the children will not be held for long, so I fear time will be a factor in this endeavor. I wish you luck.”
The high priestess stands and begins to turn away before looking to Adriana as though another thought had just occurred to her. “Adriana, you are a member of the guard, are you not?” Upon hearing the warblade’s confirmation she continues, “I trust this mission will not interfere in your normal duties? I will speak to your captain on your behalf. The Church and the Guard have good relations, trust that I will be able to negotiate terms with him to allow you the time to aid us in this.”
“Thank you, Jenya,” the warrior responded, “we will do everything we can to ensure a good outcome for the children and anyone else we can discover,”
“I trust you will,” with that the acting high priestess left the sitting room to whatever other duties she had that evening. The heroes were left alone to their own devices.
“The hour is late,” said Zare, “but three days has passed for the missing children and it may already be too late to save them. I say we don’t delay and attempt to gain entry to the orphanage immediately. The worse that can happen is they deny us entry but then we can try again first thing in the morning. What say you?”
Seamous and Adriana were more than up for starting immediately as they’d each already begun spending their share of 2,500gp in their heads.