Previous installment: Desk Jockeys and Pencil Pushers in Crestfire (D&D Adventure)
The party faced difficult circumstances. To cross the desert to the north, they needed water to last a month, but by the looks of it, the city didn’t have that much to spare. The party knew that they would need to solve the city’s water crisis but also needed to raise their own money to buy the amenities needed to continue their quest.
For this reason, the party pursued odd jobs and tasks posted upon the noticeboard outside Crestfire’s Consul building. They solved a feud between smithing brothers, agreed to track down a lost cat and finally, investigate the desecration of Crestfire’s most holy of sites.
The cleric of Alahur twitched as she was interviewed by Meowzer and Pemnaq. The rest of the party investigated the courtyard of Crestfire’s temple. The gardens remained green, despite water restrictions. Alahur’s healing energy kept the flowers in bloom, an acolyte stated. Kael revealed that the plants were fake. The opulence of the shrine belied its charitable and humble God, but the heroes didn’t take notice of this. Their query was the statue at the centre of the yard – a statue of the prophet of Alahur who allegedly founded Crestfire. The statue lay headless and upon its breast was written, “God is dead.”
“This is what happens when we let foreigners into our holy city,” the Cleric ranted, ignoring the fact that she was being interviewed by foreigners. “Good local catfolk don’t do this sacrilege. It’s all those foreign cats and humans.”
She still seemed blissfully unaware that she was speaking to a foreign catfolk and a human. They ignored her. Money would staunch their emotional wounds.
Eventually, they left the cleric and approached their compatriots at the statue.
“She didn’t help at all,” Meowzer sighed. Pemnaq shook his head.
Kael’thas, clutching his chin thoughtfully, ignored them. He approached the statue and in a stroke of genius, climbed up and licked the paint.
“2347 C. Lead-based. Fresh,” he savoured the taste. “Corner of Sphinx and Main.”
The party looked at Kael aghast.
“What?” he shrugged. “I did art in first year.”
Meowzer sighed as he healed Kael’s lead-poisoning with a blessing from Selune.
The corner of Sphinx and Main, to prove Kael’s suspicions true, was a paint shop – “Gnome Tones”.
The party entered.
Behind the countertop, only the top half of his head visible despite standing atop a tall bar stool, was a balding gnome with tiny spectacles. The rest of the store was lined with cans of paint.
“Hello, gentlemen. How can I help you?”
“We’re investigating some vandalism. Some red 2347 C lead-paint was used to deface the temple statue,” Pemnaq answered.
“I’m sorry. I do not reveal any details about my customers, even if they are an anti-religious insurgent group.”
Kenshin shared a dubious look with Meowzer.
“And where could we find this anti-religious insurgent group that you aren’t going to tell us about,” Kenshin asked.
“I’ll never tell you that they’re currently staying across the street at the Sphinx Inn! That goes completely against customer confidentiality.”
Feigning disappointment, the group left the paint store and approached the inn.
It was easy to spot their query in the sandstone room of the Sphinx Inn. While the majority of customers were down on their luck dockhands and desert guides, their tan and torn clothing revealing their poverty, one group of three individuals sat in the alcove dressed completely in the black uniforms of the Aulsan Foreign Students College.
Kael swore. Bad memories from the college, perhaps.
The party advanced upon the group, forming a perimeter that looked casual but had a combative purpose.
The head of the student group, a young woman with a Mohawk, smiled widely.
“Hello, friends. It is good to see fellow outlanders in these parts. Care to sit down with us?”
Her companion, a dwarf, let out a huge belch. The other companion, a half-orc, gave a small smile.
“Thank you for the offer but we haven’t got the time,” Pemnaq answered. “We are currently investigating a crime.”
The young woman laughed good-naturedly. “Crime, bard? What is a crime?”
Pemnaq wasn’t prepared for the question and didn’t answer. She continued.
“A crime is a term used by the weak to persecute the powerful. A crime is a fiction used to weaken the elite. The intelligent are condemned as cunning and fraudulent. The strong are abused for assault and murder. The laws of the weak call it a crime. But the powerful should know better. I see by your weapons that you are the powerful. Don’t be like these insects crawling around, subservient to a fictitious man in the sky. You are the powerful. You don’t need to delegate power to a story.”
Kael’thas brought his hand to his face. “Gods-damn Niatcha.”
“You are familiar with our teacher, wizard?” the half-orc asked.
“I tutored him in…well, that doesn’t matter,” Kael’thas winced. “He was a quack.”
The woman looked disappointed. “Quack, you say? Insanity! Another term used by the plebs to devalue the elite. I though more of you, magic-flinger.”
Kael’thas shrugged. He really didn’t care.
“Regardless,” Meowzer interjected. “Did you vandalise the statue at the temple of Pelor?”
“Vandalism is so subje…”
“Shut up. Did you do it or not?”
“Aye, we did,” the dwarf replied. “These insects crawl in the dirt for a God that calls himself humble. They make themselves worse than beggars.”
The half-orc and woman nodded.
“And we would do it again,” the woman added.
Kenshin advanced, hand on his hilt. “Then you’re going to have to come with us. Law being irrelevant or not – we’re bringing you in.”
The group remained sitting.
Kenshin tensed. Meowzer raised his shield slowly.
“Do you know the teachings of Niatcha?” the woman asked, quietly.
Kael let out an exasperated sigh and turned around.
“The teachings are about power,” she continued. “Power is a means to an end, but not any end. A slave can work towards the end of their master. Power is the means to one’s own end. Yet how do we establish our own end? Even if free in name, we are still slaves to a societal structure, culture and morality that hold us back. We are slaves to inhibition that hold back our total freedom and total power.”
“We all owe a duty,” Kenshin replied.
She laughed. “To who? To God? We only owe duty to ourselves. And not even then, lest we enslave ourselves. For true power, we must be sporadic. We must not let anything dominate us.”
Before any of them could react, furniture was flung out in an arc towards and behind them. They managed to retain their footing by Kael was knocked into a group of ruffians, who looked angry until they noticed the black-clad young woman begin to float into the air.
“This is true power,” she grinned as she pointed at the inn keeper, who exploded after being struck by a bolt of lightning.
Meowzer, regaining his composure, kicked the group’s table into the woman, knocking her down. He then charged, drawing his rapier. The half-orc crossed his path, blocking with a mace, parrying and then attempting to counter. Meowzer barely managed to block in time.
Kenshin followed right behind. In one clean swing he attempted to slash at the weakened woman, but was intercepted by the axe-wielding dwarf. He dodged the dwarf’s swing and sliced half-way through the dwarf’s thigh, crippling him.
Pemnaq was the only one to close the gap to the woman. He levelled his quarterstaff to deliver a blow to her head. The staff didn’t find its mark as she released a wave of energy, knocking him back.
Lightning followed and he was close to being fried if not for his superior agility.
Kael’thas chanted a spell as his comrades struggled in the melee. The half-orc was strong and the dwarf had proceeded to crawl to a waitress in order to attack her before Kenshin turned back to try finish the job.
Finally, Kael’thas shouted the final words to his spell. The group fell asleep, all except for the leader who had finally had her head crushed by Pemnaq’s staff.
Around them lay corpses from the woman’s storm and a dead waitress from the axe of the crippled dwarf. Exiting the inn, they carried the comatose bodies to the temple.
“Who are these immigrants?” the cleric asked.
“The culprits,” Meowzer answered simply.
The cleric took their word for it and handed them the reward. At that moment, the sound of metal boots clanging on stone sounded from the entrance to the temple.
A tall, dark-skinned human wearing plate mail and the Crestfire flag on his front appeared, flanked by two town guards.
“All of you are to come see me in the town keep,” he boomed. “You are under suspicion for inciting violence, disturbing the peace and destruction of property.”
Kael’thas smirked. “Are we under arrest?”
This caught the captain off-guard. “Well, no. But you are under…”
“Which means nothing, Captain. We will come if we’re under arrest, and as we have done nothing wrong, we will not come at all.”
A bead of sweat formed on the Captain’s brow. “Sirs, I still ask that you come to the keep. Yes, you aren’t under arrest – but I need your help…”
“Then you shouldn’t have attempted to threaten us,” Meowzer said dismissively.
The group exited the temple one by one, leaving the Captain with clenched fists.
Kenshin didn’t leave. He was curious. The Captain seemed a strong man, and strong men only begged when they were truly in need of help.