The witch, Sollene, was gone; teleporting to parts unknown and the heroes had defeated her will-o-wisps. They had saved Mayor Gargen from whatever blight and evil plans Vermelda and her minions had for him.
“Roman,” Gargen spoke, “you and your friends knew something was truly afoul in my household and you were the only ones willing to do something.”
Hartik huffed but said nothing.
“You saved me, Roman” Gargen continued, “even though you knew nothing about me or whether there would be any reward in doing so.”
“I did not do it for rewards or treasure,” Roman flatly responded. He began to wonder why he really did it in the first place.
“Nonetheless, my giant friend,” Gargen smiled, “You have my eternal gratitude. My house is yours, and whatever I can do to offer any assistance, all you need do is simply ask. I am at your service.”
“Sleep would be nice,” Roman said.
“Then by all means, use my bedchambers and rest.”
“I will not disgrace your room with my presence,” Roman said. “I am not worthy. Besides, you do not want my smell in your bedchamber.”
Gargen chuckled. “You are much nobler than you look, my giant friend. Very well, you and your friends can use the guest room.”
“But before you leave,” Gargen said, “There is one more matter we need to discuss. That witch is still out there and who knows what else. What do you suggest we do?”
“I would suggest you double or triple your guard patrols and keep everyone on alert. Have your guards question people and drop the names of Sollene, Cyro, and Vermelda. We want these villains to know that we know who they are, and that we are hunting them now. We want them on the run. We want them to come out of their dank, hiding hole and into the light. And once they are in the light, we pounce on them.”
After their discussion, Roman returned to his friends and the heroes took a much needed rest.
Before he fell asleep, Roman thought of all the adventures he and his friends had been through in the last few months. He wondered why his friends had made him their de facto leader. He never thought himself a leader of any kind. He knew he wasn’t very bright, intelligent, or charming; qualities he believed made a person a leader like his mother. He only did what he thought was right and if anyone followed him, then so be it. It was their choice.
When he was a pirate, his mother was his captain and he was trained to take orders without question. He was never taught to give orders, and now he had people looking to him for life and death decisions.
“What right do I have to make those decisions,” Roman thought. “Why would these people listen and follow an idiot like me? Don’t they know I’m just a buccaneer? They’ll end up dead if they keep following me, just like my mother. Sigmarus! I will find you and I will spear you through the heart. No, I will need to leave these people soon. I have found a trail that may lead to Sigmarus and I can’t ignore it. No, they can’t come with me. It’s too dangerous, and I certainly won’t allow Arien to follow me. I’m sorry, Arien, but I can’t bear the thought of Sigmarus plucking a single hair from your head. Very well then, it is decided. In a few days, after we’ve dealt with this Vermelda joke, I’ll go back to Morgath and begin my hunt for the white mask, alone.”
Roman finally fell asleep.
The heroes awoke to the loud sound of banging on the door.
“Roman!” Hartik shouted behind the door. “The city is under attack.”
Nolofinwe was the first to leap up from his meditative state. “Roman, wake up,” he said. “Something’s wrong!”
Maggie woke up with a strange tickle in her throat. She didn’t feel very well, but thought it simple fatigue from the last few days.
“No rest for the weary” Roman moaned as he got up. He wished he had a bottle of rum.
Arien stayed in bed and asleep as Roman, Nolo, and Maggie went to the door to speak with Hartik.
Hartik informed the heroes that an army of foul beasts was rampaging through the Dark Corner.
“If it wasn’t for our doubled patrols, all of Burran might have been overrun by now,” Hartik commented. “We’ve been able to contain them in the Dark Corner, but it’s taking our entire resources just do to that. We don’t know how long we can last. Buildings are on fire and there is smoke everywhere. The screams of mercy and death are deafening. Innocent people, women and children, are being slaughtered and there is very little we can do about it. We need your help.”
Nolo’s face turned pale and his expression stone cold. Flashbacks of his family’s massacre replayed in his mind. He ignored the pain of his bleeding, clenched fist. For Roman, he heard the roar of the tiger and felt his heart beating at triple the normal pace. The image of the triangle of vengeance burned in his mind’s eye. It was time for him to fulfill his dark oath of death.
“What are we waiting for?” Maggie sang, twirling her rapier. “Let’s go kill ’em all.”
“Oh Roman,” Arien finally spoke up, breaking everyone’s train of thought. She slowly pulled herself up out of bed. “I don’t know if I can go. I’m so tired. I didn’t get any rest and I don’t think I have much power in me.”
“What do you mean?” Roman asked.
“The last couple days, I’ve had these horrific nightmares. They seem so real. They give me no rest and I can’t regain my powers because of them,” Arien confessed.
“Roman, what do we do?” Nolo asked.
Again, Roman questioned to himself why these people sought his council, but he let it pass.
“It sounds like you are afflicted by the same curse as Gargen was. If that’s the case, then there is only one person I know who might be able to help…again,” Roman said with a grimace. He hated the idea of having to make yet another deal.
“Morgath,” Nolo whispered.
“Yes, him,” Roman confirmed.
“But if he’s in the Dark Corner…” Nolo started saying.
“Then maybe he’ll need help,” Roman finished for Nolo.
“Then let’s go,” Maggie piped with a wicked smirk across her face. “My rapier is thirsty.”
The heroes gathered their things and headed out to the Dark Corner.
When the four heroes arrived to the Dark Corner, they discovered that Hartik did not exaggerate.
The slums burned and smoke covered the tops of buildings like a thick shroud. All around them, they heard the constant screams of men, woman, and children, the clash of steel upon steel, the breaking of glass, the crumbling of buildings, and the ever continuous explosions. The streets were littered with the dead and ran red with blood. It was a war zone.
“Well, ain’t this place charming,” Maggie commented.
“Did I underestimate Vermelda?” Roman whispered to himself, as he surveyed the carnage.
“They listened to me. They followed me and this is what I wrought upon Burran. I am no captain; no leader. I am only a harbinger of death and destruction. What have I done?” Roman heard the tiger roar in anger and he almost lost his control.
A touch on his shoulder broke him out of the coming rage. It was Nolo. “Roman, you alright? You seemed…distant there for a moment.”
“I wonder if Zufem is alright,” Nolo said.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Roman said. “He’s tough and can handle himself. Besides, he’s a troll. You think you’ve killed him, he’ll just grow back again.”
“Trolls can do that?” Maggie asked.
Roman just rolled his eyes.
“You think we could check up on him after Morgath?” Nolo inquired.
“Maybe,” was Roman’s only response. He thought about enlisting the aid of the troll, if they were able to find him, but quickly remembered that Zufem was a lazy bastard and probably couldn’t be bothered.
The heroes tried to sneak through the slum to avoid any unnecessary fights, but weren’t as successful as they wanted to be. They encountered a group of vile goblins and bugbears, which the heroes quickly dispatched. But Roman knocked out and captured one of the goblin leaders. He thought perhaps the thing could be a gift to Morgath, after the two of them interrogated the little beast.
When the four companions arrived to Morgath’s home, they discovered the front door ajar. Cautiously, they approached and entered the house and found three bodies in the entrance corridor. The first was a dead carcass of a strange hybrid creature with the body of a bird of prey and the head of a stag. The second was the bloody corpse of a gnoll. The third was the motionless body of Skye.
Arien quickly rushed in and knelt down next to Skye’s body. Arien fought back tears. Her friend was dead. She noticed puncture wounds on Skye’s neck and her body felt cold to the touch.
Nolo investigated the three bodies and realized that the bird creature and the gnoll had probably died long before Skye. It seemed odd to him. “What happened to Skye?” he thought.
“Mags and Nolo, look around the place,” Roman ordered. “Hopefully, Morgath is still alive and around here somewhere.”
While Roman stayed in the entrance corridor, Nolo and Maggie split up to investigate the house. Arien picked up her friend’s body and carried it to a guest room. She laid the corpse down onto a bed and cleaned the blood off of her friend’s stiff face and combed her hair.
Suddenly, the front door burst open and an abominable creature stood at the entrance with a snarl. It was a giant, blue-black furred panther with six legs and two tentacles from its shoulders. But what nearly threw Roman into an involuntary rage, were the three duergars that stood behind the giant panther, ready for battle.
“Nolo!” Roman shouted, “We got guests and I’m gonna need your healing!”