Nightfall in Brelindia

54 - Pursuing the Assassin

The slayers receive an unwelcome visitor, and return the favor to the Rat-Queen Gwenverin.

The search for a safe resting point leads to the Rare Feast, an upscale inn in the Three Towers district. The group’s coin assists them in earning a place even at the very odd hours. They take a pair of rooms and try to rest.

Baden wakes a few hours later, roused by the faint sound of a rat gnawing at the catch to his room’s window. He wakes Abbron quietly, and the two of them wait in silence. After long minutes, the rat finishes its chewing at the window. It shifts into a human form, and using its cloak to block out any cold draft from the outside, opens the window.

Abbron invokes a winter storm to suck the visitor into the room. He and Baden pin the intruder down, and a crash of thunder and a shout of “RATS!” brings Honora and Bralta from the next room. The would-be murderer shifts to rat form and tries to escape, but Honora catches him with the chain-axe taken from the Beast of Grinthorn. His avenue of retreat cut off, the intruder is swiftly subdued.

They interrogate their captive upon his return to human form and consciousness. He tells them that “Queen Gwenviren” has visited their warren, but he can’t tell where the warren is or where she moves “or she’ll call it back.” They quickly deduce that he means the rat in his chest where his heart should be. Unfortunately, none of them can name a way to undo the transformation and give him back a proper heart. “I am sorry,” says Honora. “I would help you if I knew how.”

The captive rat-shifter struggles more ferociously when it becomes evident that they mean to execute him. He slips free — though they keep his cloak — and makes for the window. Abbron hurls a lightning bolt after him, but misses deliberately. The intruder vanishes, and all that’s left to do is to reassure the guard patrol investigating the disturbance. They successfully pacify the watchmen, and then finally manage to earn some sleep.

In the morning, the group visits Valgant, houndmaster to Countess Vainharte. They borrow one of his best tracking hounds, a big grey dog named Griff. Taking Griff and the intruder’s cloak, they begin their search. Along the way, they gain the news that an herbalist in Broadrows was killed during the night.

The intruder’s trail leads to the Lakeside district. Griff points to a gambling house that turns out to have been converted into one of the Rat Queen’s warrens. Two of her rat-hearted converts and a number of unconverted loyalists have taken up in the warren. Without the element of surprise or allies from the Stoic Man’s workshops, the killers are little match for the slayers. The group puts down the rat-hearts, and drives off the other ne’er-do-wells to find safety somewhere else in Lanthorn.

Following another scent, Griff leads them to the Broadrows district. There they narrow it down to a block where a previous murder had taken place — Doctor Gollfew, a physician who lived above his office. They leave Griff with the houndmaster’s handler, and move quietly to scour Gollfew’s domicile for more clues.

The lower portion of the building, with its medical supplies and tools, seems relatively undisturbed. The investigation moves upstairs — and they learn someone is home. Upon entering the upper room, they’re greeted by a powerful pepper bomb. They fight past the temporary blindness, and when their vision clears they look from the window and see a slender form dashing down an alley. They give chase, following the assassin down a well and into a cistern below Lanthorn.

The rat queen is very swift when she takes human form, faster even than Baden. She leads them a merry chase, taking wounds as she goes that fail to slow her down. Baden is almost able to keep pace with her, exerting himself immensely, before she dashes into a gallery of more clear dwarven construction. As the group looks around, they see signs of her on an upper balcony, concealing herself — and they hear a muffled pounding growing closer.

Then the golem smashes through the wall.

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Barastrondo

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