The slasher howled and ran forward onto Oromis, biting and clawing at him. As Oromis dodged the attacks and shoved Karama off him, Hebo strode forward and whispered a strange spell. Karama howled again and, oddly enough, ran back to his hovel. Oromis laughed and trudged after him, swinging heavily with his axe. Eclipse and Ezio soon joined the offensive while I said a silent prayer to Eight’s god, the Wonderbringer. Luna and Hebo drew their weapons and stepped forward, only to see Karama charge past all of his foes and right into Luna’s path.
The thunder cannon blazed. Hebo’s magic-laced words stung. Luna’s trident spilled his blood. But the slasher kept coming. Ezio took a terrible strike to the chest and fell back, bleeding heavily and breathing weakly. The wounds that we inflicted on Karama were not as strong as they should have been. Some strange magic was laced into the threads of his very being, and he recovered from his injuries almost as fast as we caused them. I fired again and dodged around a corner right as Luna teleported herself to safety.
Karama fell to his knees from the last attack and moaned, “That one… hurts… uncomfortable…”
He looked up and saw that I had foolishly left the exit unguarded. He began to trudge towards the door, leaving behind black pools of blood in his footsteps. I fumbled to reload my cannon while Ezio tried and failed to find the strength to load his bow.
Hebo jumped out from around the corner and growled. He raised up the crossbow that I had infused with magic and levelled it at Karama. The shot pierced Karama’s back. He let out a shriek and fell forward onto his hands. When he turned around, we saw that Hebo’s bolt was sticking out from Karama’s stomach. He clutched the bolt and pulled it through, his wounds closing almost instantly. “You!” he laughed. “I guess I have time to play a little more before-”
Hebo cut him off by drawing his sword and started the Slasher right in the eye. The small goblin, not even half Karama’s size, stood his ground and drew himself up as high as he could. Karama marched forward, bloodlust in his eyes. Hebo did not flinch. He swung right as my cannon was ready and I fired another shot into Karama’s side, tearing out viscera from a smoking wound. With a quick slice, Hebo removed a few of Karama’s reaching fingertips.
The Slasher drew back to attack, but Ezio rushed in, shouting something in elvish. He blocked the attack and hacked off Karama’s arm. Karama tried to react but was cut through the chest by Luna’s trident. I fired one last time then moved to block the exit. With a punch to the back, I told him, “Kneel.”
Karama did not, obviously. He fought back, fierce as he could. Another strike and Ezio was on the ground, bleeding out from the attack across his neck. Hebo surprised us all my whispering in his language, hissing “I relish this moment! I will taste your blood!” He jumped onto Karama’s shoulders and dug down with a dagger, piercing it into Karama’s eye. The fiend was blinded temporarily and wildly threw down Hebo to the ground. Before he could react again, Flamebreaker flew through the air and smote off the Slasher’s head.
We sighed with relief for a moment. I spoke an incantation of healing for Ezio, closing his wound and giving him new life. Luna fell back, exhausted. Oromis and Eclipse emerged from the hallway, both of them covered in black blood from a source we did not recognize. While we briefly wondered where they had gone during the fight, we heard a rasping sound. A struggle for air.
It came from Karama’s head.
The head’s eyes began to twitch, and the mouth grew into a twisted smile of fangs and blood. It tried to speak but it lacked lungs. The body on the ground began to move and twitch, too. The severed fingers grew back. The wounds were closing again.
Luna reacted first, but mostly was spewing words of disgust. She stabbed her trident into Karama’s head and took a few steps away. “Keep the head away from the body!” she cried.
Not knowing what to do, Oromis and Eclipse started attacking it. Oromis severed the other arm and Eclipse began to burn the body with holy fire. Nonetheless, the wounds continued to close.
I jumped on the body to pin it while Hebo took a rope from my pack and tied it up. Ezio kept stabbing the head attached to Luna’s trident. Oromis struck the body again, but nothing seemed to be working.
“Maybe we should burn it,” suggested Ezio. He lit a torch and put it under Karama’s head. The head tried to twist and move but could not. I ignited my dagger and stabbed it into the neck of the body where the head used to be. After a sickening sizzle, the body finally went limp and the head stopped.
We did not move for what seemed like ages, staring quietly at the pieces that were Karama the Slasher. He did not move again.
I used my medical kit to patch up Ezio, telling him that a good night’s rest and some magic from myself and Hebo would set him right. Oromis kept pacing back and forth around the body, his rage still fuming from the fight, cursing between gritted teeth. Eclipse tended to Luna and Hebo.
At length, Luna asked, “What about the magistrate?”
“Nothin’ down there,” replied Oromis. “Magistrate is gone after this thing did something to him. Then he sent a basilisk after us.”
“A what?” I asked, looking down the hall.
“Basilisk. Tried to petrify the cat,” he said, pointing to Eclipse. Eclipse shuddered for a moment, apparently remembering a fight that we had not witnessed.
“We should take Karama to the Yellowjackets,” suggested Ezio. He took Karama’s head from Luna and began walking down the hall out of the safe house. Oromis grabbed the still-tied body and dragged it away, leaving the leaves of ivy stained with blood behind him.
Hebo, Luna, and I followed Eclipse down the hall. The tabaxi was clearly shaken by the fight with the basilisk and we could immediately understand why. The dead snake was larger than her. It was gashed in wounds and sat in its own blood and guts. We inspected the bodies of the dead Yellowjackets nearby. There was no sign of the magistrate.
I spun the masterwork eye on my face and began to detect magical traces around here. Oromis mentioned that Karama did something to the magistrate, so I thought I could find it. On the ground was a strange stone with a carving. Luna recognized it as the same symbol that the Yuan-Ti priest had worn on the mountain of sacrifices. I pocketed the stone for the time being. Hebo used another of my ropes to tie up the body of the basilisk. We dragged it out, too, wondering if Say’ri would be interested to know that a basilisk was in her safe house.
Outside, we met Ezio and Oromis, discussing at length the fight in the safe house with Say’ri and her soldiers. They had successfully put out the fires of the Lowtown and had converged on the safe house right as the Great Ones had emerged. Say’ri, I think, was not surprised to find Karama dead. She had requested he be taken alive, but we could not make it so. The Slasher had to die. At least, that was our intention at the time. Whether Say’ri be pleased about this or not, I am afraid we did not care.
While they discussed, Hebo asked Luna, “What is the birds and the bees?”
Luna looked strangely at Hebo. “I’m… what?”
“The farmer used to talk about birds and bees. Told me he would tell me when I was older,” replied Hebo. “I am older now. She is a bird.” He pointed at Say’ri, the aarakokra.
“And everyone else is a bee.” He pointed to the Yellowjackets.
“Hebo makes a fair point,” I interjected. “I would also like to know what that means.”
Luna’s face went red. I wonder why.
We overheard Say’ri asked about the basilisk we had dragged up before she began shouting orders to the Yellowjackets. She had said she was concerned that a vile creature such as this was in her city, but she did not want the body. With a short word, she dismissed us for the night. Her soldiers took Karama’s body and we were left alone in Lowtown among the smoke and ruin.
Ezio began to laugh, slowly at first, then fully. Between laughs, he clutched his side where blood began pooling from the wound again. “I think… I think I need a drink.”
I put my arm around Ezio to help him walk. Oromis gave a sigh as he watched Hebo, Luna, and Eclipse struggle with the basilisk’s body. He picked it up in one arm and began marching. “Why is this thing here?” he asked.
“Maybe we can sell it to the Menagerie,” I said. “Like we did with Renshato’s parts.”
“Aye, that makes sense,” Oromis replied, immediately interested at the prospect of earning some coin.
We began our journey out of the ruin of Lowtown back towards the Sailor’s Chateau.
The Great Ones settled into the tavern at the Chateau, enjoying drinks and licking our wounds. The crowd watched merrily as Hebo played his music and continued his song of Renshato’s defeat. I tucked myself away into a corner and identified the strange stone we found. It was a magical amulet capable of storing magic spells. It appears that one of the spells stored in it was a teleportation spell, forcibly used on the magistrate. I told this to Ezio and he agreed. He asked if we should show the stone to Spider in the morning, but I decided to keep the amulet with me instead. I could certainly find many uses for it. Besides, it was out of magic now. There were no traces of any teleportation magic in it now, and that would not help our investigation.
Ezio confessed to me that he was troubled. Karama was not a spell caster. I agreed with this. How could he have stored a teleportation spell in the amulet? Just as we suspected earlier, we were almost sure of it now: Karama had help. Or, perhaps Karama was lower on the ladder than we thought? Maybe he was a servant of some higher power. Something related to the five-headed serpent insignia on my amulet.
After Hebo’s performance, Ezio ushered the Great Ones into our room upstairs for the night. He asked Hebo to cast his protection spell over us. As we began to rest for the night, I overheard Ezio and Hebo converse.
“You’re growing,” said Ezio.
“Huh?” asked Hebo. “I’m not taller!”
“No,” laughed Ezio. “I mean, you’re becoming stronger. How are you doing?”
Hebo’s usual chipper mood faded for a brief moment before he smiled and said, “I miss the farm. With the animals and the crops and the farmer, you know? I miss it.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “I’m growing, I guess. The farm is very comfortable. But farmer says comfortable doesn’t help you grow. Doing hard stuff, being strong. That helps you grow.”
“That’s right,” said Ezio.
“I guess I miss the safety of the farm. But it wasn’t always safe.”
Ezio thought about that for a moment, remembering when our group first met together. “No, I suppose it wasn’t. But look at us. None of us are ever really safe. This is a dangerous life we’ve jumped into. That we… That we chose.”
Hebo finished the ritual and the magical dome enclosed our space. Luna looked silently out the window for a while before curling up with a blanket and pillow. Oromis stripped off his spiked armor and fell asleep in an instant on a pillow. Eclipse cuddled up next to him, still shaken from the basilisk that had almost turned her to stone. I could not make out the whispers they spoke to each other, but I heard Oromis say quietly to her, “Don’t worry, kid, I’ve got ya. You’re fine now.”
“What about you?” asked Hebo.
Ezio shuffled his blankets for a moment, wincing from the pain of his wound. Eclipse had magically closed it, but the pain would not go away for another day or two. “I tell you, Hebo, I kind of admire your simple life before all of this great ones stuff. On the farm, I mean. I never really had that. My brother and I lived in… well… let’s just say it was pretty non-simple. We fended for ourselves for a long time before the Court of Owls brought us in. Things got even more complicated there.”
“Is that why you want to challenge them?”
“Maybe,” replied Ezio. “I’m not so sure anymore. What we did today – taking out a murderer – that’s a good thing. A lot of people are going to be safe because of us.” He thought for a moment. “The Court of Owls might not all be bad people. They’re thieves and murderers, but they have reason for what they do. I’m still concerned about the Redstone Canyons. There was a Drider there.”
“I remember that,” said Hebo with a shudder.
“The Court was silent on that. Drider’s are… I am still not convinced that was the only Drider in that area, and the Court’s silence on the matter is deafening.”
Hebo thought about this for a moment before asking, “You had a brother?”
“Have,” corrected Ezio. “Well, maybe had. I don’t actually know. I haven’t heard from him in years now. I’d really like to find him.”
“I don’t have a family,” said Hebo. “It’s just me. The farmer found me on his doorstep with a note that said ‘this is Hebo’. There was a harmonica in my basket.” He pulled out the harmonica, scratched with age.
Ezio smiled and patted Hebo on the back. “That’s ridiculous, Hebo. You have us for a family.”
“That’s good, then,” smiled Hebo. “And I’ll help you find your brother. I can be your brother, if you want.”
“I already think of you that way.”
Ezio rolled over and tried to find sleep. I shifted myself to sit next to Hebo. He looked up at me as I sat down. “Yes?”
“I would like to talk to you about what happened in the safe house,” I replied, speaking in Goblin.
Hebo looked surprised but happy to speak his native language. “I tried to be very brave.”
“You were!” I replied. “But you said some… very ferocious things to Karama. I wanted to speak to you about that.”
“Oh yeah! I shot the bad guy with a crossbow, then attacked! But I don’t remember saying anything.”
This bothered me for a moment. How could he not remember that? But that did not matter. “That is well, Hebo,” I said. “Trust me when I say it was ferocious.”
“Okay then,” said Hebo. “I trust you.”
“We could use some ferocity on this team. But please let us know if this life is too much. I overheard you and Ezio speaking. About your simpler life on the farm back in the Redstone Canyons. While it was not always safe on the farm, it is certainly safer than being here in Everdusk.”
Hebo only nodded and fell fast asleep. I looked around to my companions.
There was still no sign of Petra.
Morning came without incident. Hebo had scrambled downstairs to find us some breakfast. I cleaned my thunder cannon while Luna cleaned her trident. Ezio rose much slower than usual. Eclipse inspected his wounds and found them completely closed. The skin was still red and bruised, but Eclipse promised that would go away very soon. Oromis continued to snore loudly before we roused him and he began the arduous task of equipping his spiked armor. I looked through my spellbook until I found what I wanted. I stored a few simple spells into my new amulet before pocketing it again.
Hebo returned with some kind of food and a note addressed to Ezio. Ezio read through it quickly and announced that we were all summoned to meet with Spider, his Watcher, at noon under the gallows. The thought of going towards the gallows made us all uneasy, but we went nevertheless.
On our way, we stopped by the Menagerie and sold the basilisk to a very large goliath man behind the counter. The goliath gave us a meager 400 gold pieces for the kill, suggesting that monsters with names tended to have much higher bounties. Hebo quickly named the basilisk “Eddie”, but the reward was not adjusted.
We found the gallows in Darktown, another impoverished district of Everdusk. The people here looked better off than those in Lowtown, though they all had an air of theft and depravity here. Ezio, alarmingly, seemed right at home. As we approached the gallows, we followed Spider’s instructions to find a passage below the district in what looked to be an old waterway of some kind. The passageways were filled with hollowed out rooms in dark crevices where a few sad souls gathered, looking longingly at us and our inventory.
We followed the dark passageways down until we found a room set up much nicer than the others. It was well lit by a variety of torches with a long table in the center. The table was covered in food. Spider, Ezio’s Watcher, stood at the end of the table. His face was a mask, in a very literal sense.
“Congratulations,” he said, his voice slightly muffled by the mask. “You’ve done this city a great service. Sit, and eat! We’ve much to discuss.”
Spider paid us for our services, giving me a voucher for a magical item from my artificer master, Zerrick, and a bag of coins. He spoke to us about what a coroner had discovered about Karama. The man was a shifter, able to transform into a bestial form, and he had some strange arcane work done to him. A tattoo of a five-headed serpent was on his chest. It may have had something to do with his ability to regenerate, and my fiery knife was enough to cause that regenerative magic to fade.
Spider confessed that the Court of Owls was confused by all of this, and that the Yellowjackets were completely in the dark. Karama had no known associates who were still alive, but Spider strongly believed he was working either for or with someone. The magistrate was nowhere to be found.
That brought Spider to his next order of business for the Great Ones. The other magistrate who had survived was wanting to return to the public’s eye and continue their work, unhindered by the rampage of the Slasher. One high-ranking member of the Dark Sun’s Syndicate was to hold a gala at a mansion in two days. Spider wanted to hire us as security.
As we finished lunch (my companions did, anyway), Spider told us of some of the happenings in town. Exatorus, the wizard from the Redstone Canyons, was in the city, working on his books again. The strange person looking for Luna was still in the city somewhere, but Spider had no new information on that. And finally, a fishing vessel had been found adrift in the gulf, its deck stained with blood.
Hebo sent a panicked message to Cloud and was relieved when Cloud responded that he and his sisters were well.
I stood up from the table and suggested that we leave. I meant to say that we should leave Everdusk, but my companions mistook this to mean that our lunch was concluded. Ezio stayed behind to speak with his Watcher.
As I moved through the tunnels to escape Darktown, my mind was racing. Zero must have escaped the island. After my companions freed him, of course. And I failed to stop him, yet again.
I must leave Everdusk. This city is not safe. My friends are not safe.
My friend, I wish you were still here. You would know what to do.