Faith was still asleep when the soft ding from her wayfinder woke her up. She cast around clumsily under her cot until her hand closed around the cool metal device, then she rolled over and popped it open to see what was causing the noise.
Thysmac Essory: Can you meet us? Information about tonight's job.
She fiddled with the buttons on the side until she found the one for messages.
Faith Fayrehold: Where and when?
Thysmac Essory: The Rusty Nail. Soon. Sending map.
Faith pushed the other button, the one that displayed her map and saw a small yellow arrow pointing off toward the market gate. She flipped back to her messages.
Faith Fayrehold: Should I find Is'kel?
Thysmac Essory: She's here already
Faith yawned and stretched. Her days in Stormreach had been anything but relaxing. She pulled herself together and headed out for the market. Once inside the gate, the map directed her down the steps and to the right, then down another set of steps into a shadowy area. A sign hanging over the steps read "Jester's Haunt" but it seemed more like a city maintenance area, with grates on the ground, billowing steam. She found the Rusty Nail at the bottom of the steps, advertised with a spinning wooden sign displaying a simple outline of a mug holding a curved nail.
The Rusty Nail was a decent sized space, with a large still and bar in the center. To the left was a small alcove with nothing in it but a wooden dummy that had throwing daggers stuck in it. Another alcove in the back of the room held what seemed to be a merchant's counter while the alcove on the right had tables for seating. The tables spread across the main room were mostly taken with people having their midday meal. Is'kel waved to her from the seating alcove where the rest of Faith's friends had shoved several of the tables together and were conferring with their heads lowered. As she approached, she noticed a bald halfling sitting next to Thysmac.
"Good, you're here," said Kal. "This is Madhand Mulvaney. He's going to get us in to this party at the Sharn Syndicate headquarters tonight."
"Pleased to meet ya, ma'am." The halfling rose and shook hands with Faith. He had heavy eyebrows and although he was bald, he had blond sideburns just below his temples. Faith smiled and took a seat and the halfling sat back down.
As usual, Twila and Is'kel were on opposite ends of the table. Twila had stopped actively harassing Is'kel, content to simply pretend she didn't exist. Is'kel, being an elf, didn't show any emotion over the continued snub but simply went along with the group. Faith hoped Twila would warm up to Is'kel sooner or later.
"Let's get you up to speed, shall we?" said Madhand. "I have been posing as the head of a local gang, I have tithed my stolen artwork to prove my mettle, as required to join the Sharn Syndicate and I am expected at tonight's gathering. But I work for Yorrick Amanatu."
"Why didn't he put you in touch with us before now?" asked Faith. "We've been working on this Sharn Syndicate thing for a while now."
"That, I can't say lass other than the fact that I am a deep, dark secret in his world. Let's just say when he needs things done in the underworld, he calls me. I've been working for him long before this Sharn muscle came to town." He stopped and thought about how much to tell them.
"I am the last of a gang that was all but eliminated here in Stormreach. I made a deal for my life; I switched sides. I still know people in the Boromar Clan in Sharn so you could say I'm a double agent. I have been reporting back to them as well. Talon Darsin has been told not to mess with me by his bosses. They think the Bilge Rats are still operating in Stormreach, with me as the head,"
Twila and Thysmac both gasped, and leaned back from the table.
"Bilge Rats... so you're a... a... ?" Thysmac could not complete the sentence.
"A wererat. Aye, I am. The last of us here in Xen'drik, that I know of. Not to worry, I've not infected anyone in years and have no plans to. My life was spared by Yorrick Amanatu and my allegiance is to him. He has intervened with the church of the Silver Flame, who want me dead. But the threat of a wererat makes for pretty good intimidation- those who cross Lord Amanatu sometimes find me in their kitchen. In any case, I've kept the illusion up that there are more of us than just me. It's been helpful in my line of work, both with locals and back in Sharn. Lord Amanatu has asked me to get you lot in to the meeting tonight."
"Why didn't you just tell him before now where the Syndicate headquarters were? We've been knocking ourselves out tracking it down," Twila was petulant.
"Didn't know," Mulvaney answered. "This little soiree' was only announced to the locals yesterday and we're not to know where we are headed. We each have a time to meet at the entrance to the Tenements, but it's different for each gang. I've checked with the Quickfoot and others; each of us has been given a slightly different set of instructions. From what I can tell, I am last to be taken in."
"So, what's the plan?" Kal asked.
"Meet me at the Tenement gate this evening, eight o'clock sharp. Wear hooded cloaks and these." He handed around half-face masks that were brown with a long, pointed nose. "These masks used to be worn by the Bilge Rats for important meetings. Several of the Bilge Rats were important people around town and it wouldn't do to have them recognized if the meeting were to be infiltrated. Luckily for us, the tradition gives us a reason to hide your faces too."
They each took a mask and tucked it into their bags.
"Now, when we get there, my understanding is that there is to be a private meeting with Talon Darsin where we will pledge our support to the Syndicate or most likely, be eliminated. Once everyone is in and has met with Talon, there is to be a rally or whatever you might call it, a party to get the new Syndicate officially launched. Your mission is to take out Talon as quickly as possible. He's sure to have guards with him, but most of the guards will be spread out watching the other gangs. Eliminate him, then try to make your way out. I won't be going in with you. I'll be in rat form, following you so that I can find a way out. Our mission is only to kill Talon Darsin; I don't believe it matters to Lord Amanatu if we make it out alive or not but I'd prefer that we all get out in one piece."
"Is there anything special we need to bring to be prepared?" asked Faith.
"Bring your fighting spirit, because we are bound to be outnumbered. Most of the Syndicate is human, halfling of elf, if that helps at all although I'm pretty sure there Talon has some monsters guarding him. A troll or an ogre, maybe a minotaur although of the three, I think a troll probably smells the least bad..." he shuddered. "I have a heightened sense of smell. That's difficult for a rat... Anyway, if you have no more questions, I'll see you all this evening."
He took his leave of them as the barmaid approached the table to take away their empty dishes. Faith ordered something to eat.
"So, what are you going to do about Burgundy Tir?" Twila asked Thysmac. He gritted his teeth.
"I'm about to go pay him a visit. With Zircon's note. He's about to enjoy the hospitality of the city dungeons."
"Well, not to plan and run, but I've got to go clean out the vault at the bank. Apparently the remains have been removed and I'm going to clean out anything left in the deposit boxes. Turns out, the rental has been paid in cash every month, not taken out of a specific account and the rent is due today. I'm going to watch and see who shows up."
"Do you need any help?" Is'kel asked. "I don't mind coming along."
"Me too," offered Malut.
"That would be great," Kal smiled. "I'm suprised I haven't seen Rat around today. I guess he's off investigating some new scrap of evidence about the anti-gnome conspiracy."
"I'll see you all tonight," said Thysmac, rising to leave. "Family stuff to take care of."
Faith's food arrived. "I'll hang out here with you Faith, while you eat," Twila offered. "See you guys later."
Everyone but Twila left and Faith ate her soup. Twila stared at a decoration on the wall without really seeing it, lost in thought. Idly she asked, "Do you think that's like a weapon of some sort, or a bird head?"
Faith looked on the wall behind her. The thing on the wall looked sort of like a hunting trophy, a head mounted on a plaque. But it was made of wood with sharp spikes on the top and a curved beak or possibly a handle. Further confusing the issue were dots on either side that could have been eyes or simply decorations.
"No idea, but I'm going with bird. Maybe a roc? I bet Ardan would know," Faith answered, looking around the tavern to see there were many of them mounted about on the walls. Across the room, a couple of humans were pulling the daggers from the dummy. The girl backed up and threw the daggers at the dummy and whenever she would get a dagger lodged in the dummy, the man would update her score on a board.
"That looks like fun," Twila said. "Maybe we can play next."
"I really need to go see my trainer," Faith said apologetically. "I don't know if I have time."
"Aw, training isn't going to take all day, is it?"
"I don't know. I'm supposed to be learning an 'animal path.' I'll be a clever monkey or a patient tortoise or something."
Twila laughed. "That sounds...interesting. But really, I need to just do something fun! Do you want to go see the street performers on the way to the trainer?"
They walked up the steps from the Jester's Haunt and passed the various merchants and mercenaries for hire. Musicians and acrobats were nearly always performing in the center of the pawn sellers area, just under the bridge that led to the market tent. Faith and Twila joined the crowd that was circled around a pair of lute players.
"Now we shall play for you, the Legend of Natty Gann"
The crowd clapped; this was a favorite.
The music started, fast and furious with the lute players picking their strings at lightning speed.
"The devil went down to Stormreach, he was looking for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind 'cos he was way behind and he was willin' to make a deal.
When he came across this young man picking on a lute and playin' it hot.
And the devil teleported up on a merchant tent and said: "Boy let me tell you what:
"I guess you didn't know it, but I'm a lute musician too.
"And if you'd care to take a dare, I'll make a bet with you.
"Now you play pretty nice lutestrings, boy, but give this devil his due:
"I bet a mad lute of gold against your soul, 'cos I think I'm better than you."
The boy said: "My name's Natty and it might be a sin,
"But I'll take your bet, you're gonna regret, 'cos I'm the best that's ever been."
The street performer was interrupted by an angry dwarf who ran up to him yelling for him to stop.
"That's garbage! Why are you playing that? Nat Gann didn't trade his life for a golden lute and you know it! He was famous for this pole balancing act, not his lute playing. This is slander!"
The crowd booed and started to wander off. The musicians were arguing with the dwarf about it being a fitting tribute to the noble Nat Gann and who knows if it's right or not because no one knows what happened. The dwarf argued that it was a mockery of a greatly talented man and they had no right to say things like that when a city guard approached. After listening to both sides of the argument, the guard told the dwarf to move along and not to interfere. Musicians had a right to play songs.
The furious dwarf started to march past Twila and Faith when Faith put out a hand to stop him.
"What to you want?" he whirled around on the girls.
"I'm sorry to bother you but..." Faith started but Twila was more impatient.
"You knew Nat Gann?" she asked.
"He was a close friend of mine, what of it?" the dwarf was impatient.
"We found his urn."
"What?!" the dwarf's mood changed suddenly. "In the Subterrane?"
"No, it was with a bunch of stolen artwork."
"Where is it now? I made that urn!" the dwarf was outraged. "Who are you?"
"We are adventurers, I'm Faith Fayrehold and this is Twila Blackgrove."
"Blackgrove... a Phiarlan Blackgrove?" the dwarf asked. Twila nodded. Being from an important family gave her some credibility, she realized.
"I'm Drake Aramon. I'm a blacksmith, I forge works of art for various public and private investors in addition to most of the armor for the Stormreach City Guard. Nat was one of my dearest friends and I made a memorial urn for him that was placed in the Subterrane when they built the new market tent. I had no idea it was even missing."
They described the urn they had found in Zircon's gallery to him and he confirmed that it was the one he had made.
"Where is it now?"
"We turned the stolen artwork over to the city guard."
"Thank you," said Drake. "I'll go see about getting it back."
They shook hands and headed back out to the busy marketplace. Faith told Twila she really needed to go train so she was prepared for their job so Twila gave her a quick hug and a goodbye. Faith went up to Union Hall and found the monk trainer having tea at the open air tavern. He tapped the back of her neck, waved his hand over a piece of parchment and studied it.
"I see we have quite a bit to do today, so let's get started."