((Feel free to jump in here whether you're already part of this or not. Hopefully we'll take the story from here on the forums and lead in to Intayazz's rescue. If this doesn't read as smoothly as it could, my apologies, we did this in IM and I translated it to story. Should read ok though I think. ))
It was early evening and the Phoenix Tavern was fairly quiet. A few patrons bustled about the main section, but the back and the loft were all but deserted.
Smudge had come early, hoping to catch a few of her friends alone, before the bustle became overwhelming. She was tired. The days had been running together for her, consumed mostly by the search for Intayazz, and a growing impatience to get moving and do something about it.
A slight movement caught her eye, and she looked up from her thoughts. A lithe halfling, dressed all in black leathers, his face hooded and shadowed, padded silently up the ramp and over to her table. Smudge recognized him as one of the three who abducted Intayazz.
She slid her hand down to a dagger strapped to her thigh, hidden beneath the table, and glared at him, her face hard. "You! I know who you are. Why are you here, and not wherever you are keeping Intayazz?"
He moved casually to a nearby chair, and slid into it. He carried himself calmly, coolly, his hands away from his weapons at all times. "And hello to you as well, little lady. Wonderful weather we're having. Wouldn't you agree?"
She turned in her seat slightly, keeping herself facing him. "Do you really expect me to greet you and make small talk as if you were anyone else? You're not here to talk about the weather. What do you want?" She replied, her voice low and angry.
"Alright then, questions it is then," he said with a slight smile. "Tell you what, if you're willing to deal with me, I will deal with you. You may ask a question, then I shall. I will answer as truthfully as I believe you are. That gives you one free question. Do you agree?"
She nodded slowly, not relaxing her posture or looking less suspicious of the man. "I agree. Do the rest of your people... the mage, the priest.. Know you're here?"
"Yes, yes they do. Sent me even. Well, perhaps not the stingy robe, but such things are beyond what you ask. My turn, is it? The young halfling, that is here most days, he has been well? His dreams seem troubled."
Her voice was angry. "Blinten has been troubled since Intayazz was taken. He is eager to find him, and I think at first, angry he couldn't do what the rest of us wish we could have. Of course the kid's dreams are troubled. But how do you know of his dreams?"
"Well I visited him last night. He was quite unaware." He reached into a pocket and casually tossed a small pouch to Smudge. "Poor lad, going through such a thing. "
Smudge caught the pouch and ground her teeth, barely keeping her anger in check. She knew the contents by feel. They were another pouch of the wooden coins Intayazz had had made for Belladara's sisters.
The shadowy halfling continued after a brief pause. "Well that question was concern over another friend, and I do not feel right about counting it towards our agreement. Please ask another." His tone was surprisingly genuine, no hint of mockery.
She eyed him warily, wondering what he was up to, that he'd so easily give her another question. "You surprise me that you'd give me another... Why did you take Intayazz?"
"I took him because I was hired to help. Though that may not be what you wish to know. You want to know why those who employed me took him. Is that correct?"
"Yes, I do," she said, nodding slightly.
"Of course. Yes, well, your friend was taken because he was getting close to things sensitive to my employers. You must understand that such people do not like what they do being brought to the public's attention?" He paused, "Well... I suppose that is my question," he said, chuckling.
The corners of Smudge's mouth twitched into a slight smirk. Hoping to gain some foothold in the conversation by turning the tables and returning courtesy to the stranger, she replied, "I do understand, and as you were more than fair with me - I was prepared for the question about Blinten to be my question - we won't count that. Ask."
"Oh, you are most gracious. Very well, then. Do you know who placed the bodies for your friend to find? Naturally my employers are very angry at whoever did so. This whole mess could've been avoided had they stayed where they were put."
Surprise showed on Smudge's face. "I'm glad to have been gracious then, as you've given me information as well in that question. No, I don't, as much as I would like to, I don't."
"Hmmm, unfortunate. They would like to know. Be on the lookout for the person, would you dear? Of course you will." He tilted his head, looking off into the tavern.
She shot him a look of mild irritation at being called 'dear' and nodded curtly." My turn then. Who are your employers?"
"Oh, a simple, yet important question. Very well. The priest, that you seem to know of, has hired me to deal with the hinderances that he and his group have been experiencing. Priests all of them, though I think you may have gathered this information yourself. But confirming what you know is sound as well." He pauses a moment.
"Oh, but I am following trails, yes, 'who they are?' They devote themselves to the Shadow. They have become increasingly powerful recently, and believe they are nearing being able to summon an incarnate of their dark god."
Smudge gestured for him to continue. "You are still "following trails". Confirming my information is nice, but I was asking for more than that. Names... I don't care if you give me personal names, or Grand High Poohbah of The Cult of the Shadow's Chamberpot..."
He chuckled. "Chamberpot? Sharp wit, young one. Names I cannot give you. I apologize and hope you understand that they do not wish for me to do so, and I do not cross my employers, even ones as unsavoury as these. As for what they call themselves, well, they do not give themselves a name. For when you are following the true 'god' then you do not need to label yourself anything, other than his followers. Followers of the Shadow, perhaps, would be best. They do not see themselves as a 'sect' of the Shadow, but rather the true church of the Shadow. They call each other, brothers. They refer to themselves having 'the faith.'" He shrugged. "All others who give names to themselves are seen as heretics."
She nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. "Fair enough. Enough information to go on I suppose. Though, every cult seems to think all the others heretics... Your turn."
He nodded. "As fun as this is, I fear I must turn serious, now. Would you stop searching for your friend? Knowing that, continuing to do so will be met with deadly resistance."
Smudge's expression was hard as she shook her head. "If you've been watching us you should know by now, we won't. You can meet us with deadly resistance, we will bring deadly force of our own. The only way we'd stop, is if you returned him to us. And I'm still not sure that would stop us from seeking your employers out."
He sighed at her response. "Of course. But I must ask. I have been sent to deal with what is seen as the additional threat. Now I am sure they meant to have you and a few of your friends killed, but I do not resort to such things unless I have to. Perhaps you will think about my words? Your friend, well, I doubt he will last very many days longer. I would hate to have you or one of your friends perish, only to find he did not make it."
"An assassin, who would work for cultists, who doesn't resort to killing unless he has to... Don't get me wrong, I'm rather glad for the peculiarity.. But it does strike me as strange. I will think on it, but whether that changes anything..." She shot him a look to say that it wouldn't.
"But he is alive then." Slight relief showed on her face. If he was alive, there was still hope. "Good, that was my next question. Since I doubt you will be forthcoming with where he is...." She paused, leaving the unspoken question hanging a moment as she considered her next question. It was difficult not knowing how many more he would ask.
He laughed, the sound genuinely amused.
"Perhaps you can confirm or deny a curiosity of mine. A friend of ours has been acting rather strangely lately. She was close to Intayazz, and I'm not sure I entirely trust her to not have been part of this, or at least know something about it. But at the same time, the idea seems almost as crazy as she seems to be. If you've been watching as closely as you seem, I'm sure you know who I'm talking of."
"Yes, in fact I do know of who you speak. She it not involved in any way. Though her situation does seem to be curious."
Smudge nodded, looking relieved. "One less path to follow. Not that the kid will believe me, but maybe that will help Blinten sleep a little." She gestured for him to ask his next question.
He leaned back in his seat. "I do not have anymore questions to ask of you. Other than I wish you would consider leaving things alone. Though I was not keeping track, so feel free to ask one or two more, just so I do not risk cheating you. But, please, be quick about it, I'm afraid I must be away soon."
She chuckled a little, flashing him a crooked smile in thanks. He was certainly an odd one, allowing her so much leeway when he had the upper hand in all this. It had to be that. That he was so confident in his position, that he did not mind humoring her. Regardless, she'd take advantage of it.
"I said I'd think about it, no? I have two questions, one important, and one more a curiosity... First, it would seem the guard are involved as well, or someone high enough up to be pulling puppet strings. Since they are bringing up stupid accusations against Intayazz - I already know you won't name names - So if you won't, at least give me an idea how high up it goes?"
He stayed silent a moment, before answering. "I am not the one looking in on that. But I would say be wary."
She gave him a slightly surprised look. "Hmmm, so you are not all-knowing. This is good to know." She nodded slightly as she continued. "Believe me.. I am wary."
He laughed. "No, not all-knowing."
"The curiosity then. You broke into Intayazz's room last night... Just to watch Blinten sleep? Have you been peering in all our windows to watch us dream?"
He chuckled. "No, no. I would never enter the home of a lady, uninvited. You do not have to worry about such things. Just your friend's room. To see if I could find out exactly what he knows. He is very good at not talking."
She noded a little, with a soft chuckle. Relieved that at least one less person is invading her privacy. The idea that the guard was scrying on her apartment had unsettled her enough that she did not return home the night before.
"That is good to know... And Intayazz not talking.. that does not surprise me. I'd think you'd find most of us that way." She frowned. "I don't think you're going to find many more answers. If they were to be had, we'd have them."
"Yes, I imagined so, but they were quite interested in knowing whether he told anyone else." He looked towards the ramp as if judging how close others were to joining them. "Though, there was nothing in his room, so I would have to believe that he kept no written records," he said, chuckling his eyes still on the ramp.
"No, he was foolish enough to get himself into this by not sharing what he knew. What we know, we've pieced together ourselves." Smudge remembered the journal Blinten had brought to her shortly after Intayazz was taken. There was some information written in common, but the rest in another language. She had figured it was just personal, but now... Maybe she should take it to one of her friends that might be able to read it.
He nodded, still looking away. "Of course. Now I fear I must be elsewhere. It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope we can do so again under better circumstances."
With those last words, he disappeared, leaving Smudge alone to ponder over what just happened.