Two uniformed Stormreach guards were waiting in the crowd and stepped forward as the adventurers drew near.
"You'll need to come with us," the younger, scrawny-looking one said. "This doesn't look good for you."
"Oh, hush Gawayne. There's no use in making it sound worse than it is," said the larger of the two.
"How can it be worse? A visiting noblewoman is dead and they were the last to see her alive!"
The adventurers all gasped.
"Lady Azdel is dead? We just saved her from the orcs earlier today!" cried Twila.
"Ok now, we're not talking about this out here with an entire circus forming around us. Come with me."
The larger guard led the way past the taverns, warehouses and shops, making his way through the crowded streets as the narrow road curved to the upper harbor. The younger guard walked alongside the adventurers, looking suspiciously at each one of them in turn with narrow-set eyes. He leaned in closer to Thysmac as they walked along.
"Ain't you an Essory? You look like one of 'em. Hey, Chuck, we got us an Essory here!"
"I told you to hush or I'm gonna zip your lip myself," Chuck threatened. "Quit making a scene. We'll go over who everyone is when we get to headquarters."
Gawayne turned from Thysmac and peered at Twila, keeping pace next to her.
"You look like one of them high-falutin' Phiarlan elves. Always thinking you're better'n the rest of us. Well, you can't get away with murder," he loudly whispered the last word. Twila gave him her best high-falutin look.
Chuck came to a dead halt and everyone bumped into each other.
"Gawayne, I will file a report if I hear another word from you. Do you hear me?"
Gawayne looked sullen and fell back a few feet as they entered the market gate. The Stormreach Guard headquarters was just inside the gate, across the plaza from the Adventurer's Union. Faith saw Evelyn Darkstone come bustling across the plaza as they were ushered into the HQ. She followed them in and asked who was in charge.
"I guess I am, at the moment," said Chuck.
"Well, what are the charges, Chuck? You know our line of work is dangerous and well, accidents happen." Then she leaned in toward Chuck and whispered, "Do you know who you have here? The half-elf is Thysmac Essory and the elf girl is Worthing and Ophela Blackgrove's daughter. Not the blue-haired one, the other elf girl. If the Chronicle gets ahold of this it will be all over the paper... oh dear, too late..."
Looking over her shoulder she saw a halfling stick his head through the open door. He was wearing a bowler hat that had "Stormreach Chronicle" printed across the front of it. She made a shooing gesture at him. He grinned and pulled out a quill and started writing on a scrap of parchment.
"Hector, get out of here," Chuck yelled. He waited til the halfling withdrew and continued. "Evelyn, just calm down. They aren't suspects. I need their help on a crime that's been committed. They are witnesses, that's all."
"Oh, I see. Then they are heros!"
"I don't know about that..." Chuck started but the dwarf wheeled around on her heels and headed back out the door. They could hear her faintly through the door before it closed.
"Yes, Hector... witnessed a crime... helping the Stormreach Guard... can't answer any more questions now..." and they heard her heels click on the stone as she hustled back over to the Union Hall.
Chuck indicated that they should have a seat on the benches and he went back behind the big counter to one of the many desks lined up there. Guards were coming and going, and the waiting room had a few other occupants. Faith couldn't tell if they were criminals or complainants. The massive room had no windows and some of the everbright lamps seemed about to fail; several of them flickered around the edges of the room. It gave the whole place a shabby, depressing feel.
Gawayne stood watching them with his arms crossed and a suspicious look on his face.
"You ain't off the hook, I think you look guilty," he started and Chuck yelled "GAWAYNE!"
"Hmph," Gawayne pointed to his eyes, then pointed at them. "I'm watching you!'
Then he quickly joined Chuck before he could yell again.
A female guard came out front and took down everyone's name and address. Then one by one, they were called back to Chuck's desk and questioned. While they were waiting, Faith looked curiously at Twila and Thysmac.
"So, you guys are kinda famous around here..."
Twila laughed, her infectious, bubbly laugh.
"He is, but I'm not. I just have um... prominent parents. I told you they run a couple of theaters over in the Phiarlan enclave, so they're in the paper a lot. They've kept me out of the spotlight though- I don't imagine the Chronicle even knows my first name. "
Thysmac shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"I wish they didn't know mine. It's not fun being the subject of gossip. And like Twila, it's not me that's well-known, I'm just one of the Essory family."
After each of them had been questioned separately about recent events, Chuck came back and asked them all to follow him. No one had been told the circumstances of Lady Azdel's death yet and they were confused. He took them to an octogonal-shaped room with a round table and asked them to have a seat. Windows around the room near the ceiling let in natural light. The female guard stuck her head in and asked if he was ready; Chuck nodded.
A bald dwarf with a heavy dark beard swaggered into the room. Thysmac stiffened and looked angry. The female guard announced him.
"Noble Coin Lord, Protector of Stormreach, Yorrick Amanatu."
"Hello, Thysmac, how is your family?" the dwarf asked.
"Ruined, thanks to you," Thysmac answered with rage in his voice. "How dare you even ask about them?"
The dwarf looked taken aback.
"I don't know what you mean, boy. I've always respected your family's flair for business. It's not my fault you fell on hard times..."
"Isn't it? Are you sure about that? What about Talon Darsin and the Sharn Syndicate?"
"Lord Amanatu is not here to listen to your accusations," Chuck stepped forward.
But Yorrick Amanatu rubbed his head with both hands and looked tired. He waved Chuck away.
"Leave us, please."
Chuck looked surprised and opened his mouth, then shut it again. He glanced around the room, then left, shutting the door behind him.
"Listen Thysmac, you and your friends here have stumbled into some nasty business. Very nasty. These Sharn people are murderers and they are taking over."
"I hear you let them. What I hear is that you knew they were setting up my father!"
Yorrick shook his head. "It's not that simple. A few falling stones have turned into a rockslide, here. Now, this is top secret information I'm about to share. You lot are already in this further than you know but if you're going to combat it, need to know the whole story."
Thysmac took a deep breath to calm down, but his eyes still glowed with anger.
"By my beard and belly, I swear I did not know what they had planned. This Talon Darsin fellow, he came to me and said he could increase the Coin Lords' power and make the city a better place. Between the Merchant's Guild and the Adventurer's Union, we Coin Lords have been put between a rock and a hard place more times than I care to admit. The balance of power in this city is already shaky, with each House enclave more and more independent. He said we could restore the balance of power by making things better and I was fool enought to believe him.
'Clean up the gangs and the street thugs' he said, 'tax the underworld, get your share of all the money changing hands behind closed doors' and 'bring back more free market trade by undermining the Merchant's Guild,' he promised and more. He said I just needed to trust him, that things would get worse before they got better but to let him work his plan.
Thysmac, I will place my oath on stone when I tell you that I did not know they planned to set up Admitus, but that I did think it was clever when it played out. It cast doubts on all your father's work and policies, many of which we Coin Lords had opposed. It was just business. But when I sent my guards to bring Admitus in, it wasn't to arrest him. It was to protect him. Admitus and I didn't often see eye to eye on policy, but I respected him. I got word that he was going to be assassinated and I brought him in. Thysmac, he wasn't taken to the dungeon. He was taken to private quarters in Lordsmarch Palace and treated as a guest.
I had a watch over his room twenty-four hours a day. Talon Darsin showed up at the palace and wanted me to hand Admitus over but I refused. No one but my most trusted guards knew where he was- I even placed a decoy in the dungeon. That night, they killed him. Darsin bribed my own guards to turn against me. In my own quarters. One of them woke me up in my sleep, with a knife to my neck and told me I couldn't protect anyone, not even myself and not to interfere with Darsin again."
Amanatu paused, eyes cast down. Thysmac's eyes were full, but no tears fell.
"Where is his body, Yorrick?"
"It was shredded," Amantu covered his eyes, remembering the horror. "Chopped into a hundred pieces, to make an example. I don't know who I can trust; I don't believe anyone any more. Thysmac, I want you and your friends to find the truth. Clear your father's name. Find the evidence, the facts that prove the Syndicate is behind all of this. I cannot be involved and you cannot repeat what I have told you here, under any circumstances. If I am implicated in any way, you will get to know the inside of a Stormreach dungeon personally."
His voice was sad. "But this has to be set right. It's tearing the city apart, this Sharn Syndicate. My guard is compromised. The economy is ruined."
"Why should I fix your mess?" Thysmac demanded. "Why don't you just tell everyone the truth?"
"I'd be dead before sundown and the truth would go with me," Amanatu said plainly. And then he sighed heavily.
"And so would my sister. My sister Vanya is an adventurer, like you. She's been missing since your father was killed, Thysmac."
Thysmac looked shocked.
"Isn't she mapping the Subterrane?" asked Twila. "That's what the papers wrote."
"The night they killed Admitus, they kidnapped Vanya and her entire party. They sent a press release to the paper with all of her travels, but they left me a note that they have her and if I cross them, they'll kill her and her friends. I have to appear to be cooperating, for her sake.
Look Thysmac, prove your father's innocence and run the Sharn Syndicate out of town and I'll sponsor the case to unfreeze your family's business and assets personally. I'll put through a commendation to name him as a city hero. I'll even back one of you Essorys to head up the Merchant's Guild again."
Thysmac was quiet. They all stole looks at him, watching for his reaction. Malut put an arm over and patted him on the shoulder. Thysmac looked around the table.
"Will you help me?"
"Of course," they all answered.
"I may need a few more people to help," Thysmac told Amanatu.
"Do what you need to do, but remember to only tell people what they need to know. People who know about my involvement," he looked pointedly around the table,"are at higher risk than those who don't. Do you get my meaning, boy?"
"Yes. Now what can you tell us about Lady Azdel?"
"She and her two bodyguards were found dead in the Wayward Lobster earlier today. Poisoned, probably from a concentrate of deadly mushrooms. It was a fast-acting poison, they were dead before anyone could do anything. Brother Tanglewood, the cleric and Union binder at the Wayward, found them when he returned from the public outhouse. He tried to revive them but it was too late. He's all torn up about it."
"Where's Pearl? Pearl Drumling?" asked Twila. " Lady Azdel's servant, is she dead too?"
"She might be dead, or abducted. We haven't found the servant girl yet, although it looks like someone tried to administer a poison antidote. There was an empty poison ward bottle on the table."
"That's terrible," Faith said, remembering how happy they all were just a few hours ago.
"Lady Azdel was going to the Twelve. She had a message," Malut offered.
"Was she now..." Yorrick stroked his beard. "That is telling. Apparently she had just arrived in Stormreach from Sharn a few days before she went missing..."