11th day of the 10th moon in the year 4512 of the Noruz reckoning
Armed with the mechanical owl, Sorkin heads back to the Yazd refugee camp. He successfully barters for the owl totem. He wonders what kind of job Ruffar has in mind for tonight. Feeling ennui, even from his victory over the Yazd children, Sorkin moseys over to Ruffar’s joint at the prescribed time. If he were wiser, he’d have told someone where he was going, or even have taken a wingman, but that’s not the way he rolls.
Ruffar is not there. Instead, two of the goons Sorkin has seen hanging around from time to time are present. They decline to identify themselves despite Sorkin’s attempts to introduce himself and be friendly. Instead, they gruffly tell Sorkin to follow them. Though their pace is relaxed and unhurried, Sorkin is forced to jog to keep up. They lead Sorkin to a block with a lot of small, windowless warehouses, eventually selecting one to enter. They knock some kind of code on the door, and after a pause, they prod Sorkin forward. Sorkin enters a dimly lit room. A person bundled in burlap sacks is tied, seated to a chair. Dark stains of sweat and blood show through the sacks that cover him head to toe. Three figures hover near the chair, one of whom is Ruffar. After Sorkin steps into the room, the two escorts enter behind him. 4 goons, Ruffar, the prisoner, and Sorkin are now in the small warehouse. Sorkin suspects there is another door at the far end of the warehouse, but cannot see it in the dim light. Ruffar welcomes Sorkin, ‘I’m glad you decided to show up.’ Ruffar hands Sorkin a dagger and calmly orders, ‘kill him,’ gesturing toward the bound and motionless prisoner.
While Sorkin is amoral, and doesn’t realize it, he definitely is NOT evil, and wanton killing is not his bag, baby. He doesn’t really feel like killing a guy, especially if this guy didn’t do anything to him to warrant this. He realizes that Ruffar probably doesn’t care about this; he’s being put through a test. Damn, this is what boredom gets you into!
‘Oy, guv’na! I bet that’s Lackey all bundled up in those sacks, eh? Poor Lackey, pretty bad at his job… Ah well, he had it coming to him! It’s been a while since I’ve tortured and killed someone. Us gnomes have a ritual we need to perform before premeditated killing. I’m going to prepare myself for this; it’s going to be fun! Except I don’t need your dagger whereas I’ve got Chaos and Disorder right here!’ Sorkin flips out two of his daggers and shows them off. ‘But first, I don’t think you boys did a good enough job softening up this guy.’ First, he goes up to the victim and starts kicking him hard and punching him up quite a bit with the butt of the daggers.
After causing what should be quite a bit of pain to the victim, Sorkin realizes the victim is already unconscious, but proceeds with his show as planned anyway. He backs off a little, turns around, then starts speaking random, impressive sounding gibberish in gnomish. Then he casts two spells. The first is Friends, in order to favor future reactions with these goons. The second is Phantasmal Force, where he procures a dagger that looks like Chaos. He pretends he’s unsheathing it. He takes out the real Disorder in the other hand. Acting all ritualistic, he turns about and faces the victim. ‘Now, you will see how us gnome assassins kill our prey!’ Sorkin then cuts the victim’s belly a little with the real Disorder, just enough to wound him and cause blood and pain to flow freely. Some of the goons start chuckling at the outlandish display, perhaps encouraged by Sorkin’s spell.
Sorkin keeps the blade in the wound and twists it around a little. Then, with much pomp, he uses the fake Chaos to plunge it into the opened wound, making sure he jabs a little deeper with the real Disorder, so that it still feels like something’s going in, but not deep enough to kill the poor guy. The illusion shows a huge amount of blood soaking the sack.
‘Whoa, Ruffar, we got a bleeder! He’s going to make a huge mess here, which would be bad for the cops. Should I get rid of the body for you?’ The chuckling of the goons turns to laughter. Suddenly, Sorkin instinctively dodges a slap from Ruffar. Seeing Ruffar’s rage, Sorkin wonders if he should have taken the slap, no matter, too late! Ruffar strikes again. Sorkin instinctively tries to dodge again, but perhaps fortunately, Ruffar connects this time with a loud ‘thwack’ right across the side of Sorkin’s head. Sorkin staggers from the blow and his left ear rings (1 hp damage, will recover under unarmed combat rules).
The laughter stops and Sorkin hears weapons being drawn with his still good right ear. ‘When I tell you to kill someone, no song and dance. You do it quietly and quickly. Go ahead, get rid of the body. Be back at the inn tomorrow night for our next job.’ Ruffar and the four goons file out leaving Sorkin alone in the warehouse with the body. After they leave, Sorkin starts untying the victim and removing the burlap wraps. His initial hunch is confirmed as he identifies the body as Mory’s. Mory has obviously already been beaten and tortured. With increasing alarm, Sorkin realizes Mory is bleeding from multiple wounds including the relatively minor wound Sorkin inflicted himself. Lacking any real knowledge of healing craft, Sorkin is unable to staunch enough of Mory’s wounds quickly enough to prevent him from dying in his arms. Though Mory is thin and gangly, his still limp body is too unwieldy and heavy for Sorkin to lift.
Sorkin realizes this situation seems exactly the same as the beginning to a terrible play he saw called ‘Weekend at Mory’s’. He doesn’t think he can carry around the dead body very well, though. Let alone pretend the guy is alive! Although Sorkin may not be evil, he’s still amoral, so he chalks up the whole situation as a ‘best effort’ case and gets on with things. He quickly searches the warehouse for any boxes or nooks and crannies to drag the body over to and hide. If he doesn’t find anything, he expands his search area to nearby outside locations that are accessible via dark alleys. First off, though, he reties the sacks and shoves the body into the corner, in the darkness, so that at least no one will find it until daylight.
The warehouse Sorkin is in is pretty bare. The floor is just hard packed dirt, the walls are Sob-Rooz slag-brick, and the roof is wood frame with thatch. After tidying up a little, Sorkin finds the rear door to the warehouse and ventures outside to see what else is around. It’s late enough to be dark in the alley behind this row of buildings. All of the warehouses are built similarly. Figuring it would be best to burn the body in a different row of buildings, he chooses the nearest warehouse across the alley and picks the lock hoping to find it full of something flammable. Luckily, the lock surrenders quickly and Sorkin finds himself in a warehouse stuffed floor to ceiling with hay! He closes the door and goes back to retrieve Mory’s body. As he struggles to drag the body across the alley, another warehouse door (on Ruffar’s side of the alley) opens and a man steps out. He stands motionless, staring at Sorkin struggling with Mory’s corpse.
Sorkin acts as if nothing is amiss, making sure to not be facing the voyeur. He starts to drag the body down the alley in the direction away from the guy watching. He uses ventriloquism, pretending to be a drunk Mory or any other voice coming from the burlap sacks.
‘Hey Francis, this is like the craziest surprise birthday party I’ve ever gone to, dude! When are we gonna get to the party? Man, joining your fraternity was the best thing I’ve ever done!’
‘Quit your yapping, freshman! Floyd, you’ll get there when you get there. The other guys shouldn’t have left me to go on ahead to get ready; now I’ve gotta drag your drunk, puke-stained ass by myself.’
‘Dude, I’m having a blast! This is like crazy awesome. What the heck kind of initiation prank am I going to have to do? C’mon, tell me, Francis! Tell me!’
‘I’m not gonna say this again, Floyd, shut your pie hole, or I’m going to move you to the bottom of the rush list!’
Given the dim starlight, Sorkin’s ruse works. The guy either believes it, or decides simply not to get involved. He heads up the alley away from Sorkin and Mory’s corpse. The man’s figure dims in Sorkin’s infravision sight. Contrary to reason, Sorkin decides to go ahead with his plan and drop the body deep in the hay-filled warehouse. Sorkin’s eyes glaze over with the thoughts of the biggest bonfire he will ever witness! Once the body is well-ensconced in the hay, he lights that baby up, watches for a bit, then gets to frak outta there! On his way back to the inn, he realizes he’s supposed to show up at Enril’s for Corvis’s hocus pocus ceremony with the wooden animal dolls. He changes direction and notices his conflagration’s orange glow growing and lighting up the skyline.
Bortheus shows up at the work site with 4 lbs of Negalutto. He finds Enril alone in the captain’s cabin still working on the mahogany furnishings. Enril does not look happy to be cornered by Bortheus again. Bortheus delivers his apology as sincerely as he can, given the circumstances, and offers the Negalutto, ‘as a small token because I felt embarrassed after Evor told me the wood was yours after all.’ Enril’s surprise quickly turns to suspicion as if doubting Bortheus’s true intentions. Nonetheless, he accepts the gift remarking, ‘this is hardly a ‘small’ token’ as he hefts the 4 lbs of cured meat. Not happy with the reaction, but having nothing to lose, Bortheus plows forward. He asks for information about the status of incentive payments and tries to confirm the certainty of the 2-week delay Beadle insisted on.
Enril sighs and shakes his head, ‘Sorry, I don’t handle these kinds of discussions. Why don’t you ask Lord Drafus? The guild really is up front about payment status and completion dates.’ Glancing down at the package of fancy ham with a guilty look, Enril offers, ‘I really appreciate your gesture here. This is quite a valuable present and definitely worth more than the wood we were fighting over. I’m sorry I really can’t help you with your questions… Can I invite you over for my friend’s religious ceremony? I got the feeling you doubted me when I said that’s why I needed the wood. We can eat the Negalutto together to commemorate the occasion. My friend is an elf and this is some kind of burial ritual for members of his tribe who got killed in a Claacos raid. Without this ritual, their spirits will wander Jaraah for eternity. It’s really a good cause. He would have paid, except he’s an elf and therefore basically has no money. He needed me to carve the wood into a statue of an owl to trade for an elven totem that some of the Yazd refugees found.’
Bortheus listens to Enril’s explanation with a mixture of incredulity, annoyance and sympathy. With difficulty he manages to suppress himself from bursting out, ‘Well, why didn’t you just ask, for crying out loud!’ But he can only bite his tongue so much, so he chuckles, ‘Oh, there really is a ceremony! . . . um . . . Well, that’s very nice of you, um, uh . . .’ and then he pulls himself together; this is a great opportunity to find out more. ‘Sure, Enril, I’d love to go. That’s really nice of you after the way we hit it off, wow, I’m a little… Well, that sounds really great. No hard feelings here, okay?’ Enril grins and agrees, ‘Sure, no hard feelings. Come by my place tonight, everything should be ready.’
Nothing is right about this ceremony. The sullen female 1/2 elf…Relana?… says she’s a singer from Jiroft. Corvis the depressed elf says he just walked in from the woods. Jongo, the older male 1/2 elf, plays drums and is a ‘good friend’ of Enril. How do these people know each other? The stories are weak and Bortheus is pretty sure they are all lying. The Negalutto goes great with the Reyal wine Enril supplied for the occasion. Conversation is stilted. It’s obvious to Bortheus he was invited unexpectedly, but given the place belongs to Enril, Bortheus is hardly crashing the party. Apparently they are all waiting for someone called Sorkin, a juggling gnome, who ‘should’ have the special owl totem Enril mentioned. Corvis has another 7 elven totems in various animal shapes laid out on a low table in front of the fireplace. They look like they could be elven. Who knows? Bortheus doesn’t know a lot about modern elves because they generally steer clear of Bandar because of the bad history of the Great Alliance. Bortheus tenses suddenly realizing maybe he’s about to be ambushed, but no, this is no way to ambush somebody. Enril’s place is nicely appointed. The Sob-Rooz slag-brick walls are covered with decorative carved wood panels. The floor is a real raised wood floor, not just packed earth. Finished instruments hang on the walls, and partially finished ones clutter a small work area in one corner. All of the furniture is well-built and finely engraved. Of course, Enril is a master carpenter, but this is a LOT of valuable wood.
Relana is surprised when Enril shows up with Bortheus, the man she saw at the High Tower Grille talking briefly with Salvar and his companions. Bortheus gives no sign he recognizes Relana. Enril identifies Bortheus as a Bandar government clerk assigned to the project Enril’s been working on which is the Sea Falcon.
Finally, Sorkin shows up out of breath. He starts excitedly, ‘You’ll never believe what happened to me…’ Corvis, impatient, cuts him off. ‘Later! We need to get this done and then get going!’ Remembering Bortheus is present, he adds, ‘It’s just getting late.’
Corvis instructs everyone to sit in a semicircle facing the fireplace with Corvis seated just right of the fire. Bortheus sits just left of the fire. Corvis tells Bortheus to pick up the first of the totems and pass it around the semicircle. Corvis chants in elven. The chant is repetitive, Relana soon joins singing in elven. Jongo fills in a low harmony to complement Relana. ‘Partial truths,’ corrects Bortheus to himself as he enjoys the genuinely good music.
Corvis proceeds with final rites for the elven totems, reserving the owl for last. While the last of the ‘ordinary’ totems is making its way around the semicircle, Bortheus inspects the owl totem. Even to his untrained eye, he can appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship that went into its creation. Thinking it a shame to let such a work of art pass from this all too desolate world, Bortheus nonetheless passes it to his right.
Wondering who possessed such a totem crafted with lost arts, Corvis resignedly places the owl in the ceremonial fire. It’s slow to burn, in fact, it doesn’t seem affected by the fire, at least initially. As it finally starts to hiss and crackle, it releases strange smelling gases that feed the fire and change it from lazy orange and red to preternatural violet and white. Faint moaning and wailing start as the fire starts to suck in air that hisses on its way under the door and through the window seams of Enril’s house. Everyone’s attention is riveted on the flames as a ghostly elven face appears. The face is female, and ancient. Unfocused eyes scan the semicircle. As if having trouble seeing, the face rotates hesitantly, mouthing unheard words, until its gaze falls on Corvis. Then, the eyes concentrate on Corvis and the face speaks in elven (only Corvis and Relana understand).
The face fades as the totem is consumed and the fire returns to normal color. The wind dies down.
Corvis breaks the silence. He simply translates what the elf woman said into Aval. For all anyone else knows, ghosts jabbering in elvish is normal for this kind of ceremony. However, Corvis looks completely surprised by the apparition.
Half bemused and half bewildered, Bortheus is amazed there really was a religious friend, and here the Sea Falcon is second fiddle in Bortheus’s mind to these elvish ghosts and this… incredible floor. Still, Enril promised there would be some real progress to see tomorrow, so maybe the diplomacy worked. Some fancy ham (which Bortheus ate a good amount of, anyway) was a small price to pay for that, and Bortheus can always file a petition with the Bandaran Government Reimbursement Board once they return home; Evor’s in the same boat and would probably support the petition, especially given this story.
Sorkin probes Santa’s Big Helper with questions on what the heck he just witnessed. ‘Corvis, who the heck are the Apostles? Are they some 90’s revival band? And what/who are the Circle? Are they a quintet of rotund acapellists trying to compete with Ringo’s Starr? You know, they will never be the Starr. And who was that tall woelf we just saw in the fire. Furthermore, do you know just how much I had to go through to get that owl, just so you could burn it?!?’
Corvis explains what he knows about the Circle which isn’t very much. Jongo says since arriving in Kahnul, he’s heard some murmurings of the so-called Apostles and their leader Tadiq.
Getting nothing from the elf, Sorkin turns to the other interesting (read: new) character in the room. This guy looks like a tank! Sorkin’s been looking for a tank for the party, if they’re ever going to have a chance to purloin the treasure. He chats with the tank and gets his backstory, etc. Somewhere in the convo, he asks if he’s ever considered the adventuring life.
Bortheus looks on the bright side. Of all the barriers to and distractions from mission securement, the little gnome Sorkin is by far the most entertaining. Bortheus makes pleasant conversation and is grateful for someone to talk to in this rather awkward business episode. But during the conversation he finds he needs to explain a few things to Sorkin.
‘Pardon me, the adventuring life? The clerkship of Bandar, obviously (gesturing around the room with his hands) is a little more than a desk job. …. Sorkin, a clerk of the Government of Bandar is a man of honor and duty, and I am a clerk of Bandar. My honor is in securing my mission, correctly and efficiently. My duty is to nation, government and countrymen. Right now I am trying to serve my nation in securing the completion of the Sea Falcon to be the new flagship of our Navy, to defend our country against the… the… whatever the threat is from the South. Piracy from Yazd, elvish ghosts, Claacos, apostles, circles, squares, purple fires and wooden birds, all are reasons to get the Sea Falcon completed, launched, and deployed to the defense of the good Bandaran nation. Which is why I’m here. One thing I can say clearly is that it is quite an adventure.’
As everyone gets ready to leave Enril’s home, Enril encourages them to head to the river west of the city tomorrow. He says there will be ‘another religious ceremony’ to see at the Sea Falcon’s dry dock. He won’t claim it will be more interesting than Corvis’s elf-ghost, but says it will definitely be a spectacle.