chapter 2 Aaron was up before the light knock on the door, signaling his wake-up call. Starting with his stretching and warm-up exercises, he began his normal routine of sword training and forms. It always seemed slightly off, even after adding the parrying dirk his master suggested. The weight of the dirk felt wrong, not enough to be a problem, just, not perfect. After cooling down, washing, and a light meal of cheese, fruit and mead, he was off. Making his way to the middle city, Aaron stopped first at the temple of the Goddess of Light, to pay homage to his patron, which always amused him.
The head cleric always kept an eye on him, as if he would ever try to steal from "HER". His relationship with Lady Rannath, Goddess of Light was definitely strange. Normally a thief or assassin would align themselves with one of the more dark deities available, but Aaron was definitely not normal, not that he picked "HER"; more like she marked him as hers.
"You chose to use that 'rod of light' to save my cleric," he heard in his head. "It didn't have to remove most of the flesh on my left arm either, but it did," he replied. "Now I have to wear this enchanted glove or my "GOOD" arm would have issues with my line of work." "You could always set that aside and become a true paladin, a Paladin of the Light," she retorted. "I am what I chose. You knew that before you marked me as yours," he sighed. "I cannot change what I've become." "Can't or won't?" she asked.
"Never mind, this gets us nowhere." "I agree. You are my Lady," he declared, "and I am your sword, your servant. Bless me Lady and give me strength." "Always, my paladin," she sighed, "always." The cleric stood in awe as the brilliance that normally surrounded the kneeling man grew in intensity. "My Lady, My Goddess," he proclaimed as he fell to his knees as well. After dropping several gold pieces in the offering box Aaron left the temple with a renewed spring in his step.
The feeling would eventually fade, but for now he reveled in it. "What game are you playing at sister?" Malak, the God of Truth asked. "It is impolite to eavesdrop, brother dear," Rannath replied. "What business is it of yours anyway, Malak?" "He was banished and excommunicated," Malak declared.
"Not by me," Rannath responded. "Rannath, he is a thing of the dark," Malak replied disgustedly. "How can you reconcile that?" "I don't, and neither should you," Rannath accused. "He is not solely of the dark, and he is mine. He saved my cleric, and risked his life in the bargain." "You sound as if you love him," Malak remarked.
"You know that is forbidden." "I do not love him that way. He is mortal," Rannath responded. "Now please leave me be." And she left. "I don't think either of those two statements are true," Malak mused and left as well. After leaving the temple Aaron went back down to the lower level, to the Guild Quarter and the headquarters of the Assassins' Guild, a rundown building with a nondescript door. A dagger on the door was the only clue as to the location.
Aaron opened the door and stepped in to a small room with a desk and two doors behind it. Sitting at the desk, an older woman (read; hag) looked up from her knitting. "What can I do for you sonny?" she asked.
Aaron flipped a token on to her desk, but said nothing. Clearing her voice she nodded, picking up the token and examining it delicately and then returned it. "The door to the left," she pointed.
Tokens were calling cards used by both the Thieves' and Assassins' Guilds to identify guild members. Each guild used its own design, unknown to the other guilds, identifying an individual of a particular discipline and rank within that discipline. Tokens also identified the local hall a member was attached to. This particular token identified Aaron as a 3rd level master assassin, adept with a blade, one of only a handful of very, very deadly individuals.
The token also identified Aaron as belonging to no particular hall, since Aaron was a troubleshooter with no hall affiliation. Aaron opened the door and stepped through. "Ahh, Master Aaron how good to see you," Guildmaster Darius greeted him. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" "This," Aaron responded, handing over the marker he took off the dead thief.
"I want to know who was the mark and who took out the contract?" "As a master in this guild I should not have to remind you that I cannot comment on the particulars of a contract with anyone other than the person that accepted the contract," Darius countered.
"Fine, since the previous contractor is dead," Aaron smiled, "then I will accept the contract and fulfill it." "Pardon me for asking," Darius stepped lightly. "Do you have proof of the demise of the previous contractor?" "But of course," Aaron smile grew, tossing a severed hand on to the desk.
"Will this do?" "Um, yes," Darius replied. "It is all that is required.
The contract was for 20 silver pieces to be paid on the proof of the departure of a Geoff Wheatstone, of the Merchants' Guild. It was a low threat level, hence the price and experience of the contractor." "Will his head do as proof?" Aaron asked leaning forward.
"Why yes, yes of course," Darius replied. "I do not know who initiated the contract, the particulars of verifying and payments were done through a blind drop." "Hmm, makes me think that the initiator wanted to remain anonymous," Aaron stated, pulling the head from the sack.
"I am going to need to keep this, but this should be verification enough for the purposes of the contract." "I will initiate contact and payment," Darius replied, "anything else?" "No," replied Aaron, "good day." Aaron stood up nodded his head (men in their profession never shake, you never know what is in the hand your shaking) and returned through the door, acknowledged the guard (for that is what she really was) and left.
With barely enough time to reach the palace and the council chambers, Aaron headed off. He was passed through the palace gates with no fuss and arrived in the anteroom just as the doors were being closed. The steward spotting Aaron held the doors for him.
"So nice of you to join us, Lord Aaron," Lord Colin Beadle proclaimed. "I was afraid we would have to start without you." "Never be afraid where I'm concerned, Lord Colin," Aaron responded. "I will always be where I'm supposed to." "Well, yes, very good," Colin replied, "let's get down to business." The Guild Council was made up of the heads of the major guilds in Aithen; merchant, fighter/guardsman, weapons/armor, magic/sorcery, craft, bard.
The neutral Guilds, thief and assassin were not part of the policy making of the Council but still played an important role in the day-to-day operation of the Council's interests. If money and enterprise were involved, the Guild Council was interested. The Council also interacted with the other guildhalls of the Five Realms. Each Guildmaster held a spot on the Council, with an election for Council head. The head of the Council was required to give up his guild's interest and nominate a replacement to his chair.
The Council head oversaw the Council's actions and directions and reports to the King who also has a spot on the council, usually filled by the Chamberlain. Lord Colin Beadle, was the current Council head. "Lord Aaron, I trust that your return means the thievery has come to an end?" Lord Colin asked. "I object milord," interrupted Briard, head of the Thieves. "My Guild is in no way affiliated with the recent loss of coin and property." "A poor choice of words, Master Briard," Lord Colin smirked.
"My apologies." "Well, to answer your question Lore Colin, yes and no. I have removed the immediate threat to the trains, but I believe that there is more going on than a little robbery," Aaron explained.
"I had initially thought that Master Wheatstone was involved with the passing of information, but recent information makes me rethink his involvement." "Geoff, you say," Master Gerard, the acting head of the Merchants interrupted.
"I just don't believe it." "I agree with you, Master Gerard," Aaron continued, "I believe Wheatstone was duped into a meeting with the robber, who by the way had also accepted a contract to eliminate Wheatstone." "Well, where is Wheatstone?" Master Colin asked.
"Show him in so we may hear his side of this story?" "Unfortunately, Wheatstone pulled a short sword and tried to skewer me with it, and I had no choice but to remove the threat, as well as Wheatstone," Aaron sighed as he set the leather bag containing Wheatstone's head on the table, "I now believe he was just trying to defend himself.
He was surprised to see me and possibly thought I was there to kill him, which means I was also duped, which doesn't sit well with me. I will find out who passed the information to this cut-purse, who initiated the contract and lured Wheatstone to the meeting." Aaron sat back and crossed his arms. "Well, I'm sure no one here had a hand in this business," Master Colin paused sweeping has hand across the table. "Keep us informed of any new developments.
There is another matter that will require your talents, Chamberlain Walton you have the floor." "Thank you, Lord Colin, the King sends his regards," Walton began. "There are some irregularities coming out of the Duchy of Realto. Tribute trains leaving the Duchy are short upon arrival in Aithen, with seals still intact. The King would like the Inquisitor to investigate. if seals can be bypassed then shipments are no longer safe or verifiable.
The Merchants Guild and Sorcerers Guild will be affected, commerce will be affected." "Lord Aaron, can you leave in the morning?" Lord Colin asked. "I will require an extra day in Aithen," Aaron responded. "I can leave the day after tomorrow, no sooner." "This is important," Master Gerard countered.
"My Guild guarantees those shipments, if word got out, it would be catastrophic, simply catastrophic. You must leave immediately!" "Master Gerard, YOU do not command me," Aaron growled, leaning forward and gripping the hilt of his sword. "I said, I will be ready to leave the day after tomorrow, no sooner." "My apologies milord, I meant no offense," Gerard backpedaled mopping his brow.
"The day after tomorrow will be fine." "If there is nothing further?" Lord Colin scanned the members. "No? Good, we'll adjourn this meeting. Lord Aaron, safe travels, good day masters." "Lord Aaron?" Walton asked.
"May I have a word with you please?" Aaron turned and followed the Chamberlain out through a side door and down a hall to a set of doors flanked by guards. The guards came to attention as they approached.
The Chamberlain opened the door allowing Aaron to enter and followed him in closing the door. "Please have a seat," the Chamberlain offered making his way to his desk and sitting down. "There is more to this problem in Realto, that the other masters need not be concerned with," Walton began. "The Duke is sick, possibly on his deathbed. The King believes and so do I that the Duke's illness is not naturally caused and that, coupled with the tribute irregularities are the first steps in a campaign to remove the King.
If his heirs die off he may be forced to name an heir from one of the other houses. Aaron, he's worried and he wants you to look in to it. I am concerned that your latest mission may have been supposed to end in a different way, if you understand me." "What, that I was a target?" Aaron laughed. "Please, it would take more than two incompetent fools to interrupt my living. I'll grant you that there are serious issues here.
What with the information concerning the payroll being leaked, tribute issues and the possibility that the Duke is what, being poisoned? Well, I have some experience with poisons, so that should be easy to determine.
Based on the type of poison, I should be able to find out who made it and for whom it was made." "That was what the King figured as well," Walton replied.
"The King would like you to get to the bottom of this fast, before it escalates." "Fine, tell the King that I'll leave in the morning," Aaron stood up. "I have not been home for many years; apparently, I've stayed away too long.
We've had our disagreements my father and I, but if he dies, there will be blood and some of it will flow from that council room." Aaron nodded to the Chamberlain, turned and left through the door. "Well, let's pray that the Duke lives," Walton whispered to the room.
After leaving the palace Aaron made his way down to the Central Quarter, an area of Aithen where the denizens of the city live, work and play. Aaron entered the 'Dragon's Horn', one of the rougher watering holes in area of rough inns and taprooms. After allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark interior, he scanned the tables until he saw who he was looking for. Making his way to a table in the back, he sat down addressing the lone man.
"Remo, I have a job for you," handing over a small pouch of coin. "I need you to put eyes on Master Darius for the next few days. Find out who he contacts, who he meets, or where he makes drops, and who recovers them." "You want the Assassins' Guildmaster followed?" Remo raised an eyebrow, and hefted the bag of coin.
"That will cost a pretty copper. It can be done though, for how long?" "I knew you were my man," Aaron chuckled, "until I tell you to stop, or the information satisfies my curiosity. I will be out of the city for a while, possibly a month.
Just compile the information and I'll get with you when I return. Keep a tally and I'll settle up then also." "Good hunting milord." Remo slipped the pouch into his cloak. "You as well," Aaron responded, standing and turning to leave. After a quick lunch of bread, cheese and fruit, Aaron once again travelled to the Guild Quarter. Except this time his destination was a well maintained building and grounds. Looking the door over, he located and disarmed the trap and tripped the hidden handle.
Pushing lightly on the door he entered the Thieves' Guild. "Ah, Master Aaron, I was wondering when you would stop by," Briard stepped forward in greeting. "How can this Guild serve you?" "A question, Master Briard. Would the Guild sell poisons to unsanctioned clients?" Aaron looked at him harshly, "even through intermediaries?" "Certainly not, as you rightly know," Briard replied huffily.
"That would be catastrophic to our livelihood as well as our lives. Only licensed members may buy or handle potions and poisons, why do you ask?" "Just clarifying some things," Aaron replied. "So then, anyone doing so would be outside the protection of the Guild, regardless of who they where or how well they were connected?" "Master Aaron, if you have information concerning wrong doing inside of this Guild," Briard's voice rose.
"I will know of it!" "No, no, nothing of the sort," Aaron raised his hands to calm down the irate master, "I am just verifying this Guild's stance on non-sanctioned trade of poisons. If I happen upon wrong doing, I will of course rectify the matter and forward the information on to you." "You are within your right to correct any irregularities, Master Aaron," Briard replied.
"As masters, we have a solemn responsibility to the protection of our Guild, I should not have to remind you of that. As a member of the Council, we have an even greater responsibility to this realm and kingdom. If you find in your travels a guild member who is violating the sanctity of this Guild, then I expect you to deal with it harshly and with extreme prejudice." "Thank you, Master Briard," Aaron smiled, "that is what I intend to do.
Thank you for this chat and good day to you." Aaron bowed slightly and backed out of the room. Moving up the street he muttered, "That went well, least I know that Briard isn't directly involved, I'm going to have to tread carefully with the local Guildmaster in Realto." Aaron returned to his room, and make preparations to set off in the morning.