Of Kings and Dragons
An Assassin Loose in the City
…“King Blood-Eagle lies dying. The assassin’s sword has caused his wound to fester with disease. My magic has done little to slow it. Perhaps if I had the weapon that caused the damage, I could do more. As it is, I fear he will die quickly.”
The words of Gudrun Fire-Hair echoed in the ears of the Circle. They thought Blood-Eagle safe after surviving Isabella’s initial attack. She had shifted her attacks to Aki and they had even thwarted those.
Unfortunately, the Circle had little they could tell Gudrun. Isabella had attempted to attack Aki during his parade march through the city, but she had again fled when confronted. Gudrun already knew the rest. Frustrated, Gudrun retreated back to Blood-Eagle’s side.
Aki’s victory celebration was diminished by the news, but he took the time to reward the heroes for their help. Each member of the Circle was given one thousand crowns and a homestead inside the Horn Quarter of the city. But more importantly, the Circle was rewarded with the loyalty of the newest Linnorm King.
Unfortunately, the short celebration was interrupted by another unexpected disaster. The thunderous roar of an unseen beast filled the night air as a monstrous weight slammed into the longhouse. The rafters shook and splintered and everyone dodged an avalanche of death. When the dust cleared, the heroes pulled themselves from the rubble and rushed outside.
The night sky was dark with clouds and there was no sign of the monster that had attacked the longhouse. Screams reached them from across the city. Word quickly spread that a monstrous dragon was striking at people in the city. A guard had been snatched from the city wall. A second guard had been ripped apart in an alley, his body strewn from one end to the other.
Varin Naess quickly put the city guard on alert for the beast. Witnesses claimed it resembled the very beast Aki had carried into the city, except it was much larger than the prince’s prize.
Fear gripped the city and residents fled indoors. Those who fancied themselves monster hunters, drew weapons and prowled the streets with their eyes on the sky. The dragon was spotted several times. Each time it descended on the city to kill and then to disappear into the night sky again.
Hob suspected the linnorm was angered at the death of the smaller creature, perhaps a mate or a child. It sought retribution. When it was discovered that the guards who had been directly targeted had all served with Aki on the hunt, it helped confirm Hob’s suspicion of revenge. However, this further confused Hob. Craig linnorms were not known for their intelligence. he could not fathom how the creature was able to identify the individuals responsible. They suspected it was tracking any trophies or pieces of its charge. Everyone who had celebrated and had taken a piece for themselves was in danger, especially Aki, for he possessed the head of the linnorm.
The Circle felt Varin had the danger of the linnorm in hand, as best as it could be, so they decided to focus on Isabella. Her sword was needed by Gudrun.
They had met Isabella at the Hunting Serpent Inn. They suspected she was working with Bjorn Stormwolf and may have even been the stranger who visited him on Gorreg’s and Egil’s first night in the city.
The Circle found the Hunting Serpent deserted. The lone barmaid sat bored at a table. Tosti Finehall stood behind his bar, wiping it, again.
“Ah! Finally my friends return! Can I get you boys anything.”
“Isabella?” asked Egil. “Have you seen her?”
Tosti’s face fell as he realized they weren’t there for a drink. Of course he had heard of the dragon threatening the city. With citizens hiding in their homes, business would not pick up this evening.
Isabella hadn’t returned to the tavern, and her belongings were missing.
“When did she begin work with you?” they inquired.
“Isabella showed up about three months ago. It was a busy night. Gerrid Borjeson had not shown up for her shift. We were in desperate need and Isabella was in the bar. She jumped up and helped out. She was fantastic, anticipating needs before they could be asked. Even as I shut and locked the door on the last patron of the night, I offered her a job. She accepted.”
“And what about Gerrid? Did you give her any consideration?” asked Hob.
“I’m not heartless. I take interest in my people. I checked with her mother. She hadn’t seen Gerrid, and I haven’t seen her since. The streets of Kalsgard are often as dangerous as the wilds.”
Knowing Isabella would likely not return to the inn, the Circle left to visit Gerrid’s mother.
While in route to the mother’s home, Gorreg learned that his new home had been the latest building in the city to fall to the linnorm’s assault. He had yet to step foot into it.
Gerrid’s mother, Asgota was a pleasant old woman who welcomed the party into her home. When they asked about Gerrid, she became emotional. She had reported her daughter’s disappearance to the city watch, but they had done little. Only Tosti had shown any concern and he had not found her. Gerrid had left for work and simply not arrived.
Tholan asked to see Gerrid’s room, perhaps there was a clue among her things that held some secret. Her mother gladly showed the team Gerrid’s belongings.
Despite a mother’s love, the room was dusty. The belongings were few. A familiar scent caught the warrior’s nose. On a shelf he found a single small bottle of colored liquid. The scent of Isabella was strong. Picking it up, he turned on Asgota. “Is this Gerrid’s?” he asked.
“I suppose,” replied Asgota.
“May we take it?” he asked.
Asgota smiled. “Yes, if it helps you find my daughter.”
Tholan held the small bottle and looked around at the room. The layer of dust bothered him. Looking at the bottle, he realized it had not been dusty.
Something about the old woman roused Alrik’s suspicion. Despite her earlier anxiety, she was calm, too calm. But her gentleness and persuasive tone prevented him from deciding on just what bothered him about her.
The Circle hoped to find some clue to Isabella through the bottle of perfume. They needed to get it to Gudrun but decided to follow up on it themselves first. Lost in the Jade Quarter of the city was a shop that Thryan knew about. It was a perfumery run by Madam K. Perhaps she could tell them where the perfume was from, and provide them a lead to Isabella.
The shop was small and the proprietor that met them at the door was not Madame K. The young man eyed the large ulfen warriors with unease, perhaps he feared their large size would knock over the shelves of the shop. Hob remained outside while the others entered. Tholan felt tired but followed the others into the shop.
The curator took the bottle and gently sprayed its contents. Closing his eyes, he sniffed deeply at the scent. He smiled at the pleasant odor. Turning back to the Circle, he opened his eyes.
“It is a pleasant scent,” he said. “I’m sure…” Woozy, the proprietor suddenly staggered back a step.
“Huh,” he mumbled. “Sorry about that. It must be something I ate.”
Tholan understood how the little man felt. He was feeling dizzy himself.
Egil smelled Isabella, or was it just the bottle of perfume the little man had sprayed into the air.
The shop curator suddenly staggered again and collapsed to one knee.
“Kill Alrik,” whispered a soft female voice into Egil’s ear.
The ulfen warrior never had an opportunity to consider the words. A powerful sensation overwhelmed him. All he could see was Alrik. All he could think of was Alrik. All Egil could do was follow the command of the voice. Drawing his sword, he leaped forward and swung. The blade bit deeply and Alrik staggered backward from the attack.
Panic filled the room as everyone sought to get out of Egil’s way. The tian proprietor collapsed to the floor. The chaos drew Madame K out of the back room. Her screams to exit her shop immediately filled the air.
Hob knelt next to the shop keeper, but suddenly a sharp pain erupted in his back. He staggered as an invisible sword was pulled from the ghastly wound. He turned to find the source of the attack, but there was no one there.
Tholan finally succumbed to the poison that had coated the bottle of perfume. He doubled over in pain and nausea. He vomited violently before collapsing.
Alrik worked to get away from Egil. He found a wall of bottles blocking his escape. He slammed into them, spilling oils and perfumes.
To protect Alrik from his friend, Thryan cast a spell and arcane energy coated the floor of the shop with slick oil. Alrik slipped in the oil. Hob struggled to avoid an invisible attacker. Tholan was barely conscious and violently sick. Madame K’s screams rose over the chaos, but everyone ignored her.
As Egil made his way across the oil, Thryan cast a second spell. Flames sprayed the oil and perfumes, erupting the room into an inferno. The invisible attacker took advantage of the chaos to turn her attacks on Tholan. He was unable to defend himself. With Egil free of the oil, Alrik did the only thing he knew left to do. He fled and Egil followed. Gorreg dragged the shop keeper from the room and then joined in the chase.
Hob attempted to heal his wounds and found the shop keeper dead. Tholan was unconscious but poison obviously coursed through his veins and he too suffered from Isabella’s sword.
The fire quickly engulfed the row of houses.
Alrik fled through the streets and alleys of the city. Thankfully, Egil proved less agile than Alrik. Snow and obstacles slowed him. At one point he felled a horse to cover his escape. Egil was confused by the horse and Gorreg directed him in the wrong direction. With Alrik lost, Egil finally gave up and returned to Aki’s longhouse; never questioning his hostile actions against his friend.
Word of the fire spread. Unfortunately for the Circle, they were the only visitor’s to Madam K’s at the time. They were believed responsible.
The rest of the Circle made their way to King Blood-Eagle’s. They had lost their only clue to Isabella, and now Hob and Tholan both suffered from the same curse as Blood-Eagle. Gudrun and Hob applied their healing to their wounds. Their early intervention prevented the disease from taking hold.
Egil was found at Aki’s. Immediately upon seeing Alrik, the desire to kill overwhelmed him, and he attacked his friend. Egil was subdued and Thyrie was summoned. Thyrie examined Egil. She revealed that Egil was under the effects of a powerful charm spell, and his memories were not his own. Some of them were false and others were missing. The only constant Thyrie could find was Isabella and Bjorn Stormwolf. How much of Egil’s memories were true? How much of his relationship with Isabella was even real?
Isabella had to be found. The party decided on a plan to draw Isabella out. Currently, she would expect Tholan and Hob to be under the influence of her sword. Perhaps Alrik was even dead. If she thought them weak, she might show herself. If they were at full strength, they would have the drop on her.
Tholan and Hob were loaded into a wagon and the Circle set off across the city to the temple of Erastil. The journey was slow and deliberate, the ambush set. Isabella did not disappoint them.
“Hello,” Isabella said. She stood perched atop the wagon, straddling both Hob and Tholan.
The Circle faked surprise.
“We have a problem,” Isabella said. “We continue to bump into each other, and you continue to interrupt my plans. I have an alternative to offer.”
Isabella offered to give the Circle the information they needed to save King Blood-Eagle, if they would deal with Bjorn Stormwolf. Isabella refused to tell the party why she was willing to give up her partner, but the offer gave them the man they felt was behind the assassination attempt on King Blood-Eagle.
“We agree,” said Hob.
Isabella glanced down and found Hob looking up at her. Isabella was stunned to realize the party had led her into a trap. She scowled, dropped a piece of parchment onto Hob’s chest, and then vanished.