Nether Hallow

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 {Productivity}

Lusparish landscape is long flat and featureless under winter waste. Cottages sparsely dotting an endless sea of white and it appeared that what little sunlight that has broken free from clouds was engulfed by plumes of chimney smoke. The trip that normally would take just a few days by carriage had taken a full a week. The new group had much time to further get to know each other, and put together a plan. They knew that there would be spies from Bannist that could not learn of their presence. The other piece of concern was the two demihumans that were part of the group. Ritter was right, outside of their native lands demies were almost completely hated, especially elves. The plan was loose but simple. First the humans would stay in one safe house, the demies in the second, using the third for emergency meetings. Next they would investigate the address of the first group Sallot provided them with for any clues.

They finally arrived to West Nulpent just before it was getting dark; separating briefly to settle into their individual ‘safe’ houses. The houses were lightly furnished, and the pantry stocked with dry goods that could last a winter, and much to please the dwarf each house has a keg of ale. The homes were all in normal residential parts of this small city, very plain they did not stand out from the others around them. That was good because this small city had lots to offer and distract someone’s attention from the normal. It was bustling for its size, and one of the few universities of Luspar was located here. It was named after the man that funded its creation a century and a half ago, Lord Glenester Crowzig University. This is mostly a scholarly city full of doctors and teachers, there is even a fair amount of mages that keep to this city in public view offering services and taking on apprentices. Trade was good because it is so close to the capital, but items are slightly overpriced catering to a wealthy demand. There were several temples to gods, a large library, and plenty of taverns and entertainment.

After meeting at a local establishment and gaining some liquid encouragement they all set off to the first group’s house. It was like the houses they had now, featureless against the backdrop of houses around them. This was in a slightly better part of the city set back several yards from the street, a chest high cast iron fence casually blocking entry to the front lawn. The elf which the party has begun to notice was overly paranoid decided he would sneak to the house and make sure it was safe before everyone trekked up the front stairs. Stanford agreed that this was a good idea and he would be useful so he also went, the rest waited across the street in the dark. They noticed it on the approach; nobody had been up this walkway for days evidence of the undisturbed snow. Adding to the overly paranoid elf’s paranoia no lights or signs of life could be seen either. The hopped the fence and walked the perimeter entering from the back door with the aid of Stanford’s ability to “fix” a lock. The door opened into the kitchen, the dry goods have been partial consumed and the keg tapped. The first floor was what was to be expected, lite furnishings, several wooden bowls, the fireplace had been used and it’s ashes laid there in a pile to prove it. It was the front foyer that had the first unique misplaced item. There was a black statue, well over nine feet tall, and wide. It was a likeness of a jackal’s head on the body of a well featured man. They opened the front door and waved in the rest of the group. Inside several candles were lit so the humans could see.

To quickly cover more ground the group split up. Ibrahm stayed with the statue to investigate it with the aid of Harren. Pierre and Stanford went upstairs and Justen rechecked the first floor. It was at the top of the stairs Pierre first smelt it, he smelt it before on the battlefield and prison camp, there was a dead body here. They began to check the rooms of the second floor before going up to the third. Slowly and cautiously listening at every door before opening them, when they found the mess they called down to the group.

Ibrahm became obsessed with the statue; he knew there was something to it. The statue itself was Bannist by style, and this could be one of their desert gods for all he knew. They worshiped strange things, they have a living god king with three goddess concubine wives, he figured it was not above them to worship dog faced people. With the aid of Harren they were able to slightly prop the giant statue to the side revealing a recently opened hollow interior. The other astonishing thing about the statue was it is made completely of plaster. Justen searched over the first floor again but nothing new came from his search. When the call came from upstairs both he and Harren quickly followed it’s beckoning. This left Ibrahm alone with the plaster jackal headed statue. He immediately began to get to work.

Upstairs Pierre and Stanford had discovered bedrooms that looked ransacked, papers tossed about the rooms, mattresses cut open, items thrown about the place. Someone was looking for something. It was in the wash closet as the search continued something else raised a question. The claw foot porcelain tub was full of something. It looked like a red coppery substance had settled at the bottom and water was at the top of it. It was hard to tell with the thin sheet of ice created from this cold house, more evidence they had not been here for some time.

It was on the third floor the pungent smell of death was noticed by the others. Following their noses they passed through the attic study to a door. This was the first time Pierre had seen a pistol, let alone how powerful they could be. The man had a gaping hole on the side of his head; he was half lying on the bed holding the firearm. Though this room was also a mess it had not been turned apart like the others below him. Sheets of papers in small stacks tiled the floor. There was a holy book to the goddess Riula with a strange key placed on top of it next to the body. Justen went to the holy book first, it felt lite. The binding had also been ruined from the careless removal of pages. Inspecting it the gold leaf book had been defaced in an unintentional way, lines had been crossed out, words have been circled, some circled then crossed out, the words yes, no, maybe, and question marks were abundant on every page. Sanford began to thumb through the piles of papers on the floor. They were all pages from the book Justen held. Many had big black "x"s on them. There were several pieces of parchment with the words “Hidden within the words of Riula’s last goodbye” scribbled in different sizes over and over. They quickly searched the attic study outside the dead man’s room. On the table was an almost complete volume of the same books Sallot had sent them out with. Next to them was a recently handwritten family tree of the Crowzig family, many names have been crossed off. The tree rooted back seven generations to Glenester Crowzig himself. They gathered and took all the books and paperwork with them.

Before they could reach the bottom of the stairs Ibrahm excitedly burst out “I found something!” They quickly surrounded the jackal headed statue that towered in front of him. “What, what in the nine hells did you do to it man!” The dwarf said astonished. “Like I said, I found something.” They were staring at a big hole Ibrahm had apparently melted into the chest of the large statue. He pointed into the darkness of the hole expecting a reaction of awe, or at least a reaction. The dwarf started again “ok, please do more than point we do not have time for this.” Ibrahm took a deep breath. “Well looks like I just may be the brains of this outfit after all. Well there is this goop. And it goes into the fruit cellar through the floor, burnt right through it, …most likely. Watch, look.” They all squeezed down the tight stairs into the cellar. Harren noticed it first. Small smooth rounded tracks, starting under the floor where the statue is, running up the stairs across the dining area and to the chimney. From there it looks to of gone straight up. “Well I’ll be damned” Justen blurted out.

They had decided to call it a night after inspecting the roof and awaking a neighborhood dog. Harren was upset that these added delays would keep him from the capital Burgenbees; this was his new site he longed to see, he had just decided laying there in his cold dark room. Every corner of this medium sized human city fascinated him and wanted to see what exactly a metropolis amounted to in person. He felt all the stereotypes of humans hating dwarves was completely fake, no one had even given him a dirty look. He did notice the hate in people’s eyes when his elf friend was walking about though. His personal plan was to assist in the task Sallot sent them out to do, make sure the first group was safe, capture the spies, expose any ill bearing plans, and see all the human sites he could, it was going to be that simple. After all this was much more exciting than the court he worked in, there was even a dead body. He knew he needed to not focus on all the distractions. It was hard to remind himself that a man was dead; this was not hearing it in the court, or from his father. He had seen him, he had discovered him, and he was going to be the law-bringer responsible to bring this atrocity to light. Whatever the atrocity would turn out to be, he knew the excitement of the events was starting to cloud his judgment, but who can fault a dwarf for dreaming about his first big investigation. It took a minute for him to blame something else for his inability to sleep. “Tomorrow we at least lite a fire to get the draft out of the house.” That sounded good to him, especially when he saw his words mock him as they left, his focus was now on the cold, and over paranoid elven roommate. The trip they took to get to the house must have been increased by two miles, twisting down all these roads to fool anyone trailing us. Then placing a trap on our front door to catch any smart enough to trail us. He is clearly insane. It was then Harren knew he would get no sleep tonight.

They had decided to meet at the library in the afternoon. There was some connection to the dead man and the holy book of Riula he obsessed over. Riula was a goddess of death, but by natural means. She also looked over newborns, as well as the sick. Suicide was looked down on by any followers of the faith; the dead man clearly was not a believer. The phrase they had found written many times around the room he was in had to be important. They just needed to find out what was “Hidden within the words of Riula’s last goodbye.” After a day of research they had nothing to show for it. One break they did catch was almost completely by accident. Sanford had noticed a small section of the library that had books about the desert country of Bannist. He spent some time looking for the jackal headed man statue. It was discovered that it is the devourer of the dead, and a gate keeper to the afterlife. A young man, most likely a student of the university, not minding his own business was noticed by Sanford to be minding his. The student approached Sanford. “They still haven’t found it, the statue. It’s amazing actually taken right out of the roof; rumor has it there is a big hole.” Sanford was able to fish out a little more of the rumor from this student without causing suspicion. This would be their next stop.

The Crowzig estate has been around even before the famous Glenester lived in it, this family has always had money. They did build this town in their interest, and took a huge plot of land just outside the city proper to make theirs. Still quite a long walk, but for a house of this manner, with all the wheat fields, windmills, and people with feudal ties one would expect to find this in the deep country miles out. They approached at night. Pierre and Sanford went first making a wide loop looking for any way to keep any tracts from tainting the snow. They followed a row of trees a distance out that lead straight to the manor’s side, this would be perfect. Once at the side of the house they flagged the rest of the group over. From there they assisted each other in climbing up the side of the house to the roof. It was hard to see just how big the estate was when they approached, now three stories up on the snow covered roof the rest of the world disappeared and they were left on this steep floating island. Carefully and cautiously they were able to access the tarp covered roof repair still in process. Below the tarp was a large hole that dropped into the attic. Taking their time they quietly lowered themselves in and began to search. This collection of artwork, family heirlooms, sculptures, and historical finds could take days to sift through. The Crowzig family had always had a knack for the items that filled museums, and this was the prime example to that rumor. Ibrahm and Justen both used magical means to detect magic auras attempting to quickly spot anything from the ordinary. They were successful in finding a magic rock the size of a rough cobblestone. The other item they found was a golden scarab beetle, with strange markings on its back. Not content with what they were finding in the attic Pierre and Sanford decided maybe they should inspect the house. They knew lots of the family lived on the estate and to proceed with caution. They went slowly about the main body of the manor avoiding the east and west wings that were primarily the living areas. With ease they were able to navigate the house and managed to find their way into a large study. The walls were lined with all manner of books, scrolls, and expensive collectables. Everything kept neatly on hard wood shelves reaching up to the ceiling requiring ladders to access midway up the walls. It was in the shelf they found something amazing. Carefully hidden was a pair of hinges that would allow a section of the shelf to move, possibly open to a space behind. Sanford was able to bypass what he felt was a particular deadly trap without breaking a sweat. With the trap disabled the entire shelf silently swung open like a great barn door. There to reveal a large vault. “Does it ever end?” mumbled Sanford. It took him several minutes to fix this lock; during that time Pierre discovered another space under the desk that looked suspicious. He did not have time to get too involved with the new find when Sanford opened the vault. Pierre watched Sanford’s jaw drop before the shimmer of gold bounced from his reflection. “There is so much…” Sanford’s words hung waiting for Pierre to say anything, he did not. They both stood there for a moment staring at a pile of gold bricks tightly stacked inside the vault. “How much do you think it is?” Sanford said as his trembling hand reached out just to touch the mass fortune. The elf replied “Is it just gold? We cannot take it, not even a little.” “I know, didn’t think we would I just need to touch it a little, this is one of those dreams I have had before, just a little.” Pierre pointed to the area he discovered under the desk motioning that Sanford tackle that and stop drooling. He was able to find a small trap door that blended flawlessly in with the hard wood flooring; it was difficult to open with the coats of lacquer that sealed it shut. When it was opened there was a long flat metal box sitting between the floor boards looking up at them. Sanford felt confident there were no traps or alarms that would sound if the box was removed. However when Sanford reached in and pulled the box from its hiding place it became very hot very quickly. Smoke poured out from the lid as well as a small red flame whatever was inside was being burnt quickly. Pierre formed an opaque magic knife out of thin air and quickly pried open the box. Another flame jet shot up from the box striking him square in the chest throwing him back toward the gold filled open vault, he landed silently like a cat. Sanford was patting the contents with his cloak hoping to extinguish the growing flame. When the flames stopped not only was Sanford’s cloak ruined but so was whatever book this was. The book had the top half heavily burnt and damaged, inside was a language neither one of them had seen before. They pocketed the book and placed everything back the way it was before disturbing it, including the bars of gold. They carefully retreated back to the attic.

While they were waiting for the scouting team to return from the floors below the rest of the group continued to search the contents of the attic. It was slow going; everything was covered with drop clothes to keep the dust away. Just about anything one could imagine was located in the attic. A grand Piano, taxidermy brown bears, antiques, paintings, furniture, tools, and even trunks stuffed with clothing. They knew it would take days, maybe weeks to go through everything up here. Justen sat under the large hole looking at the saw dust and snow that had been there before they arrived. Unfortunately the repairs had already started and the damaged wood had been removed leaving him with no way to identify how the roof was opened. The hole was as wide as the black statue they encountered yesterday in the first group’s safe house, and the drop cloth next to it suggests the correct size. Justen gave a quite whistle to gather the remaining group pointing out the evidence he just discovered. “How do you think they got it out?” That was the question they pondered until the scouting party returned, it left them clueless.

The elf entered grasping at his charred ribs, he smelled of burnt meat. Justen quickly went to him offering his services as a follower of the god of magic. He did a few somatic gestures and pulled out the charm from inside his shirt when he touched the elves skin the burnt smell did not dissipate but his ribs reset and the flesh was healed. The elf gave an accepting nod and handed Justen the half book they recovered. He curiously opened it not knowing what to expect. It took him a minute to realize what he was looking at but when he did his face became alive with excitement. “Do you know what this is! It is an original book written in code by Crowzig! He always wrote in code out of fear of being sentenced as a witch or devil worshipper. If we can figure out if this book is one we have we can make a cypher! Excellent work, excellent indeed!” It may have been several things, the little noise they made opening the vault, quietly rummaging through the attic, or even Justen’s quite gitty little outburst, the fact was someone was downstairs looking around. Quickly they hid until the person below passed then decided that it was time to depart. Carefully leaving from the roof in which they came and back to their individual houses deciding to meet up midday.
The tavern they met at was full of college students getting their afternoon meal and drink. It was very hard to talk over the crowd but they managed. Justen had decided that they should ask a follower of Riula at the temple about the dead man’s riddle and everyone agreed that was a good idea. The party however was spilt between walking straight in and asking outright and making an elaborate scheme to get entry. This debate went on for some time all manner angels were covered. It was when Ibrahm said “How about someone stabs me in the thigh and I go get it bandaged.” Before anyone had time to agree or disagree the elf formed a shimmering opaque knife out of thin air and plunged it into Ibrahm’s thigh. Everyone paused including Ibrahm, he was also to end the group’s silence. “Am I bleeding? Is it deep? Alright let us get moving.” They all helped Ibrahm limp to the temple to receive services. The temple was a long two story structure with many rooms for any patients. There was a section of the temple for expecting mothers and new born children, one for the generally sick, another for the elderly that would be passing on soon, and in Ibrahm’s case an area for the injured. Immediately one of the sisters came to the limping man’s aid, “Oh that looks bad, let us get you stitched up quick.” Ibrahm went into the joining room where he got his stiches, no one in the group had thought past this point and did not know what to do. Another sister came into the entrance foyer where they all stood, “May I help you?” They had no immediate answer for her, the sister walked to the group with a lite smile on her face. Sanford was getting extremely uncomfortable with the black robed figure walking toward him; he noticed she looked like one of those flightless sea birds, a penguin; he chuckled thinking of her sitting on an egg. The sister’s smile perked up seeing Sanford’s chuckle, “What is so funny?” Sanford quickly replied, “Umm, we are here to look around.” Sanford saw from the corner of his eye the looks the group was giving him, they were not good. “I see “ her tone dropped from cheerful to monotone, “If you could spare any coin for our coffers it would be much appreciated.” Like clockwork everyone was reaching for their coin purses. In her monotone voice she started again “Thank you. This temple was constructed over one hundred and twenty years ago using all the new achievements in engineering of what is now known as the gothic style. It can be seen from the foyer, notice the high vaulted ceilings, arch, and dome. These were all new styles…” she continued on and began to walk away talking. Apparently the group had just paid for a tour of the temple’s architecture. They followed the sister and paid attention, expecting to have to answer questions at the end. It was midway through the tour in the funerary room Harren noticed the stone relief above the preparation area. “Though the body dies, the soul lives on, say farewell to this mortal life, and embrace an eternity of peace”. Harren jabbed at the elf’s side and pointed to the stone relief giving him a nod. “Excuse me, Sister what is that inscription from?” Harren was pointing at the stone relief. She took a second to collect her thoughts as if someone had shaken her awake from sleepwalking, everyone could tell this lady had done this tour too many times and was most likely daydreaming. “That is a prayer for the departed, it is the last goodbye. Any other questions?” Harren stepped up and began to converse with the sister about the particular architecture of the stairways making her lead the way. Sanford and Pierre stayed behind to investigate the stone relief. It was a large giant sheet of stone mortared into place well over their heads. They pulled a funerary table over to access it, they were still to short but they could reach the stone lip to remove it. Sanford quickly produced a pry bar which the elf gave an odd look at, Sanford quickly replied “You make magic knives, I carry a crowbar.” Pierre was content with that explanation and they began to work. Sanford was able to move out of the way from the falling stone sheet, luckily the elf was strong enough to catch it himself. Looking at the large sheet of stone the elf held they knew there was no replacing it to the wall. Sanford quickly lifted himself up so he could peek into the hole, he turned back wide eyed with a stupid grin on his face, “More gold bars!” They pulled out the ten gold bars, they were heavy each weighing at least thirty pounds, they also recovered a large sack of silver, and a white tube made of a brittle substance neither of them had seen before. They flagged Justen into the room to help carry out what they had found. Each of them had weighed themselves down with all they could possibly carry, exiting the room going the opposite way of the tour. They were able to leave the temple unnoticed and returned to the extra house. Meanwhile the dwarf had exhausted all the knowledge of stone work he could muster up, he was reciting things he heard his brothers talk about without knowing the technical aspects of them, he was getting very embarrassed having a human female outsmart him. The tour ended with just the two of them in the front foyer it began, she began asking what happened to the rest of the group angrily. Harren simply responded “They do not associate themselves with me because I am a dwarf.” He said thank you and left leaving her a silver coin for the tour. She began to retrace her steps for her wayward audience, Harren quickly retreated to his house.
Eventually Pierre went to get Harren after he had retrieved Ibrahm from his house. The items were already spread out across the table being inspected when the trio arrived. There was a large pile of ten unstamped gold bricks, flawless, crisp sharp corners with slightly angled bottom to top, the craftsmanship alone made them into a piece of art. There was the large heavy sack of silver pieces, they were Lusprian minted, roughly made, these were old coins. Lastly was the thin white tube, it felt like it was made out of thin glass, another object of master craftsmanship. This was the object of most attention, if held up to a bright light protective wards could be seen etched on the inside of the opaque glass. They seemed to be a collection of various magical protective wards, the combination of them together made no sense. It had two brass prongs on each end with a slight discoloration of blue, as if lightning had struck it. Luckily the tube was just the right size to fit into a scroll case Ibrahm forfeited to the group. No one had any idea on where to proceed, Justen got up and put his collection of heavy coats on turned to the group “I need a drink I will be right back.”
Justen walked the snowy roads looking at drinking establishments and the people that were exiting. After a good long walk he found what he was looking for, “The Stone Rose”. Older scholarly types were inside huddled around tables, smoking pipes or a cigar, sipping from glasses of what he assumed was expensive liquor. He entered the establishment, checked his coats, and secured a table near a group of gentlemen having an animated debate. It did not take long before Justen was knee deep in the debate and invited to the neighboring table. He was there until almost closing, he wished his new friends a goodnight and returned home. “Productivity” he thought, during the course of the numerous debates the cities news was talked about, Justen had plenty to tell the group, and they now had lots to do.
Sanford greeted him outside the establishment, “We have been taking turns watching you making sure everyone is safe.” Justen’s reply was “Well then who was watching you?” Sanford looked confused saying, “I did not think about that.” They were quite the rest of the walk to the safe house, listening to the distant ambient sounds that a city makes at this time of night, it was peaceful. The rest of the group had been waiting for him and any information he would bring. He told them of the several oddities that have happened in this city over the last couple of weeks. The fire at the Museum of Natural History, the prison break of some very deadly criminals and the orphanage abduction they are accused of, the search revealed they used the sewer to get out of the city, there was a large amount of missing people from the country side, and lastly that the temple of Riula is looking for a dwarf they believed defiled a piece of the temple. He gave this last bit of information in a snooty funny voice, the group then realized he had done a good job but he was completely drunk.

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