Watching ships dock is not the most glamorous nor the most exciting of occupations. To be sure, ships entering Neu Ungren often carry interesting news and cargo from places foreign and to an unaccustomed eye there would be an eyeful simply in the riot of colors and bulging caps as the debarking crew eagerly made their way towards the row of supervised heaps (storefronts being entirely too kind a word) ready and waiting to part them from their capsack full of bric-a-brac.
To an accustomed eye, however, there is nothing especially remarkable about the Mastelli ship. A disappointing cargo, to be sure, unless the market for pilaf had skyrocketed, but the ship bore no markings of a particularly difficult crossing and Tomasso settled in for another disheartening afternoon of note-taking. It was very much like watching a party through a window; the guests known, the music familiar but all inaccessible. A different world, very much his own, but denied to him by the cruel combination of ill-luck, a bad name and powerful enemies.
As if perfectly timed to wipe the brooding away, down the gangplank walks the most improbable character he had yet seen in the city. It would be difficult to be any more emphatically rural than the thickset man trundling down to the dock; he screamed “peasant”. Tomasso eyes him with interest and put his purse’s life-expectancy at approximately 2 minutes. The man, clutching a small package tightly to his chest, stops for a moment and, like a bull preparing to charge, quickly takes stock of his surroundings and then strides off. Tomasso’s contract with Darian Shuh called for him to report on all matters of interest relating to ships arriving from the archipelago. It was an odd request but easy work and provided some much needed coin. This man’s appearance definitely fits squarely in the “interesting” category and he sets off in pursuit.
Neu Ungren’s docks are not famous for their hospitality but they are a child’s fairground compared to the neighborhood behind them: the Back O’. Either unaware or unperturbed the peasant cuts a direct path into the back o’ as if he was making directly for the bridge and the new city. Tomasso, out of his element, is pretty sure that the man has spotted him already but he does not appear to be interested in altering his course. If the man had spotted him, Tomasso has definitely spotted a group of local characters trailing him. He is attracting all the attention you’d expect from a steak thrown in among hungry dogs. Quite suddenly a man he did not recognize appears and has a hurried conversation with one of the trailing dogs; they disappear only to be replaced by significantly tougher customers. Clearly the man is carrying something of interest. Tomasso, hoping to warn the man and perhaps learn more about his mission, cuts across an alley and sprints down the next street so as to bump into him accidentally from the other direction. Too slowly, for he rounds the corner just in time to see the peasant, accosted by two men and with three more coming up the road, reach under his cloak and stab one of his attackers in the gut with a vicious looking farm implement.
Later on, Tomasso liked to think that he had considered his choices before plunging into the fray. This would be a lie. He was angry, watching the docks always made him bitter, but more so he hated an unfair contest. The man was clearly a competent, if uncomplicated, fighter and given just the two opponents he might have stood a chance. Five on one, however, was no fight and Tomasso felt his blood beginning to boil in rage at the cowardice of the assailants. He charges in and stabs the unwounded attacker with a quick thrust of his dagger. The peasant seems momentarily surprised but then, comprehending the tactical situation if not the reasons behind it, sets to his opponents once more. The three attackers, their chief among them, move up but by that time one of their men already lay dying on the ground. A furious melee ensues ending, inexplicably, moments later with the hurt or dying attackers on the ground and Tomasso and the man standing there unwounded. “Where are you going?” Tomasso asked. “None of your business” replied the man angrily. Tomasso represented that the man’s actions to this point had been suicidal, he was clearly going to the new city but could not have done it in a more conspicuous or dangerous manner. Moreover, the man owed him his life! He wasn’t leaving without knowing the man’s mission. “I have a package for Darian Shuh” the man replies simply. Tomasso grins; perhaps lady luck was turning his way. “Come with me” he said and they race away towards Shuh’s mansion.
It’s bad luck to run into a guildsman and generally he could count on an undisturbed journey through the familiar sewers. The guild habit, tough leathers and mask, once as comfortable to him as a second skin, were stifling. He wanted out of the guild in the worst way, perhaps this Shuh character would be able to help. He had come recommended as one with reliable smuggling connections. He was near to Shuh’s house now, a small villa in the new city, when he heard the footsteps of a large party of men moving in his direction. Ahead, at the intersection, he sees a band of thugs hurry by. Two of them are carrying a man, quickly trussed up with rope; it was Shuh. Shuh looks down the hallway and, seeing the guildsman, yells “find the kids at the crown tavern”. The group is too large to stop, they would easily overpower him, so he moves to the sewer entrance to see if there was anything to be learned about what had just transpired. Standing there looking at the shattered door of Shuh’s residence he is almost run down by two men, one obviously local, the other foreign in the extreme, running up to the residence. They had clearly been intending to go into Shuh’s house. “Excuse me” he said “Are you looking for Darian?”. Tomasso looks at him, nonplussed. What the hell was a guildy doing above ground, and how did he know Shuh? But the residence was clearly ransacked and this man might know about it. “We are” he said. “I just saw him being dragged into the sewer by a band of men. He said to find the kids at the crown tavern.” Off to the tavern.
The patrons of the Crown are an odd bunch and the arrival of two men, one in Milluric pesant garb and both reeking of sewer does nothing to change this. Their entrance is noticed by a tall, well built man at one of the tables who sizes them up with obviously professional competence. The barkeep, a suspicious cove, does not seem willing to provide any help with finding “the children”. On hearing this, though, a young man stood up from the corner booth. Recognizing the island clothes of the peasant he comes over to meet them. The young man, obviously of good birth, is joined by a young woman who had been lounging indolently at one of the other tables. The man, probably their bodyguard, stands up. The peasant, on questioning by the woman, introduces himself as Alberto with an urgent delivery for Shuh. He had gone to his house but found it ransacked and Shuh apparently kidnapped. Recognition all around as the young man and woman introduce themselves as Matthias and Szilvia Sarkad, the wards of Shuh. Alberto, pleased, says that as they are the ultimate intended recipients he can fulfill his duty and he reaches under his cloak. The man at the table, clearly their bodyguard, tenses before relaxing as Alberto withdraws a small package and presents it to the siblings.
While introductions continued, the bodyguard Vida, being introduced by Szilvia and Tomasso introducing himself as a having business dealings with Shuh, Matthias retreats to open the contents of the package. These turn out to be a letter addressed to the pair by their uncle Roberto and a soft pouch containing a heavy lump. Roberto relays the unfortunate news that their father is dead, murdered in all likelihood, and the killer unknown. In the turmoil Janos, their uncle, has assumed the regency and is accusing their half-sister of dispatching her father. Janos is, Roberto warned, looking to clean house and logically this would involve liquidating anyone with a claim to the Sarkad throne. The letter, he hopes, would arrive in time to warn them of Janos’ intentions . They should get to Malarta as fast as possible, looking to Shuh for help in all matters of transportation, and meet with him in Al-Thasdun. From there they would be well placed to plot the downfall of their uncle and the return to power. Should they run into an doubters or have difficulty securing passage they were to show the pouch’s contents to prove the authenticity of their claims. Matthias opens the pouch and out dropps the signet ring bearing the Sarkad royal seal.
Sensing that this was neither the place for such discussions and noticing some increased interest from the barkeep, Vida suggests that they leave at once. Tomasso confirms that they have a compatriot waiting outside who might be able to help and the newly joined party descends into sewers to meet with the guildsman. Seeking a place where they could continue deliberations on Shuh’s rescue and their future away from prying eyes, they head to one of Darian’s safe houses. Safe hole might be the better term, since, on arrival they discover that Shuh’s hideout is sewer maintenance closet CCLXCVII. Not the most elegant of accommodations but, the lock having proven no difficulty for Szilvia (to the guildsman’s surprise) most adequately furnished for their purposes. An ornate map of the archipelago pinned to the wall, arms, a suit of armor perfectly fitted to Vida hanging on a dummy and a chest which Szilvia eyes hungrily but Vida cautions might be trapped.
A second round of introductions proceeds. Goals are discussed and found to be mutually compatible. The siblings need to leave Neu Ungren as fast as possible and get back to Malarta. Tomasso and the guildsman simply want out, destination unimportant and are willing to sign on. It is decided that recovering Shuh should be the first priority. Szilvia is confident that she could recover the majority of his hidden assets given time but that may be days they can ill afford. Besides, Shuh has been a loyal and reliable guardian for the pair and his knowledge and talents would certainly be useful in the days to come. Feelers are sent out and word comes back that Shuh’s captors are holed up in a warehouse in the docks. Time being of the essence, the party decides on rolling the dice, figuratively, and literally kicking down the front door.
The warehouse, a squat complex of linked buildings backed onto one of the many canals leading down to the river. Surrounded by fencing broken by a large rolling gate on the ramp leading to the water up which the laden barges would be winched to be unburdened of their cargo. A quick reconnaissance shows that the property is patrolled by a set of dogs and armed guards with more likely in the upper stories of the center building. The party is discussing how to get in with the least disturbance when, to their amazement, the guildsman pushes on a series of levers in quick succession and the ramp gate noiselessly glides along its mechanism. The way is open.
Vida charges up the ramp and towards the men guarding the warehouse door. Szilvia, vanishing before the eyes of a startled group, heads to reconnoiter the back of the property. The dogs, howling, charge the group and attack Vida and Tomasso. They’re quickly dispatched but they have stalled the group long enough that the men on the gate have almost succeeded in closing the heavy warehouse door. The guildsman fires a powerful shot from his crossbow, the first time anyone has seen this fearsome weapon in operation, and the bolt blows through the warehouse wall approximately at head height for those frantically closing the door on the other side. It misses, unfortunately, but seems to have a wonderful tonic effect on the men motivating them to bar the way all the faster.
Vida moves forward and with help forces the door open. They proceed to cut down one of the guards and move through the warehouse towards the central building. Szilvia, meanwhile, has snuck round and opens the door to the main room. Still concealed she watches as the group of thugs starts descending from the floor above. One carries Shuh, still trussed up like a loin roast, on his shoulders. The party floods into the room and blows are about to be exchanged. Matthias, sensing rightly that the thugs are unnerved by the imposing presence of Vida in his full knightly regalia, suggests a parley. The negotiations wind their course and the thugs, slightly richer, still alive, but definitely Shuh-less are allowed to depart.