It only takes Sagishi a moment to isolate Fhiess's familiar scent from the surroundings of the city. Still in fox form he darts around a corner into a dark alley only to find the bard seemingly being threatened by a hooded figure.
With two more leaps he is behind the man and as he turns himself back into a human and draws his crossbow pointing it at the would be attacker.
"Let go of my friend and things don't have to get ugly."
When the man's grip and his blade relax, so does he somewhat. But his breathing still remains heavy and he can only risk wiping an eye. After being asked if he is one of Skullcrusher's men, he quickly avoids the question to slightly mewl one of his own from his stress, "Crullus.. is- is there something about him that we must know that he would not tell us? He practically asked for our permission to secure the free settlements, after all."
After a figure rises in the shadows to ambush Ryder at bow-point, Fhiess' sudden movements threaten to slice at his throat with the blade as he yelps and reaches out in protest, "Wait..! He won't hurt me!"
When Sagishi appears seemingly from nowhere, Ryder slowly raises his hands and releases Fhiess from his grip. Once it has been determined that he is not an active threat and the threatening crossbow is lowered, Ryder’s dagger vanishes in a flourish of the hand that even Sagishi finds difficult to track. He raises his eye in question at Sagishi’s comment on the similarity of his features with Fhiess’s, but lets it pass without response.
“I had—well, “asset” is too strong a word for it, but I had a friend inside Stonegate’s administrative organization, a scribe who would share information with me from time to time. He sent word to me that he needed to speak with me regarding something that he found in the documents he had been handling that he couldn’t trust to messenger and must relay in person, but he never arrived at the rendezvous point. And now he’s missing.
“I contrived a reason to call upon Crullus today in the hopes that I might discover more, but I could not outright ask after the fate of my friend, and I wasn’t able to sneak away unobserved to investigate on my own beyond finding that Crullus has recently taken to locking the doors to the administrative chambers when he is not present.”
Releasing a sigh of exhaustion, Ryder slumps visibly and rubs his eyes. “Crullus has always been a good, honorable man in all my dealings with him. I confess I am having difficulties reconciling the man I know with the fate I suspect has befallen my friend, but it is clear something has happened. Either Crullus has a viper near his breast unbeknownst to him, or the man has unseen fangs himself.”
Fhiess coughs a bit and takes a moment to catch his breath now that he is freed from the grip. "Crullus is not acting as if he is under control," he states in a matter of fact way, "If he is plotting something in secret there must be some motivation. As for your friend from Stonekeep, I don't recall seeing anyone like that, but I suppose I would not have known to make acquaintances with a scribe delivering documents."
A thought sparks in Fhiess' mind that startles him, "Ryder! Would the scribe you mentioned had followed Skullcrusher to make his way to this city? What if those rocks that had fallen and killed dozens were an attempt on his life?! We had never found out who or what had done that since then."
Ryder shakes his head. "He's a Stonegate native, I don't think he's ever set so much as set foot into the pass through the Pillars of the Sky. If he had fled that way, I'd think surely you'd have come across him in your own travels."
As it becomes clear that the man poses no thread, Sagishi puts away his crossbow for good and listens to Ryder's story.
"This wouldn't be the first time we'd come across someone who's mind had been manipulated over the course of our journey."
After giving a brief recollection of the events involving the dwarf in Hammerfall and the half orc chieftain, he continues.
"Wether or not something similar is the case here we can't know, but it might be wise to at least work under the assumption. I'm not gonna lie, I found it strange that a man apparently so married to the concept of honor would turn away suffering people in such a time an more than that be willing to send them back into danger to exploit their work for nothing but a feeble promise of protection in return."
He shakes his head.
"There are simply too many unanswered questions."
The seriousness vanishes from his face and is replaced by his usual good-natured smile.
"Lucky for you, if you think that some answers may lie inside the locked administration chambers..."
His hand appears from his cloak holding his tools, twirling them around.
"You couldn't have come to a better place to ask for help."
<Darn my confusion, I got the towns switched up and I ended up making a big fuss over it>
Fhiess' face becomes red when he realizes that he had the towns confused, "Ah, you're right.. Rendormo had become so unrecognizable as of late I had forgotten where we had came from. Then that would mean this scribe might still be in the town somewhere."
Hearing Sagishi's outspoken thoughts on Crullus' half-placed honor, Fhiess responds, "It is as Hogan once said, most men of honor find a home to put it and don't welcome every guest.. And we both know where Hogan had made his home for his values." He shakes his head. He then smiles and nods at Sagishi's plan.
The nod from Fhiess is all that is needed for Sagishi to spring into action. He turns to Ryder.
"I'm going to need all the information you can give me. Starting with the most obvious one. Where exactly are those chambers located? Are there guards? How many people have access to them? What is the likelyhood of there being magical security measures? You said you already tried sniffing around in your own, what exactly was it that hindered you? Just the lock?
"And once we are inside. What should we be looking for? You said your acquaintance was a scribe do you have at least a suspicion what his finding might have involved or more important where and how he might have hidden such information? Of course we can't rule out the possibility that if his disappearance is linked to his discovery all evidence that he might have unearthed was eliminated with him. In that case any further information you can give us that might lead us to reconstruct his last days could also be vital. Did he have any family, friends, maybe a bar he frequented? Really, anything, as insignificant as it might seem now, you'll never know."
Once he finished he looks at the half elf expectantly.
Ryder initially seems dubious of Sagishi's offer, but it doesn't take long to see that he doesn't have a bevy of options to choose from or the luxury of turning down help when offered. "What the hells," he says, "any port in a storm."
He provides the following information:
The location of the adminstrative chambers: It's on the second floor set into the back of the fort, meaning that the chamber itself is either flush against the mountain face or actually carved into the stone.
The security: There is a lock, but nothing magical. The room was probably never intended to be impenetrable. A member of the Shining Guard is stationed outside the door, day and night.
What you're looking for: Ryder has no idea. But given the nature of the business conducted in the chambers, maybe some sort of incriminating correspondance or something?
The scribe: Early 20's, kind of scrawny, very much an introvert. If he had any friends or hangouts, he never spoke of them with Ryder. Anytime Ryder took him out drinking, he seemed decidedly uncomfortable with his surroundings.
Fhiess chimes in, "Perhaps I'm not needed to speak with Crullus as a distraction. For the best, I wouldn't know what to discuss with him. What I can do is think of places where a scribe might be. After all I've seen scholars in well hidden places already."
He thinks of Scalid and the mountain of tomes and preserved documents in a practically underground storage.
"The scribe might've found a place at a school or library to reside at.. or maybe a family member's residence, but that would be the first place the guards would look." He looks to Ryder, "I wonder, is there anywhere someone might go to find solitude among the free people?"
"Among the Free Peoples? Certain, we've a whole forest valley to partake of. My people are never more than two paces from solitude. But my friend--Chase is his name, incidentally--was a city boy, through and through." Ryder rubs his chin and looks skyward in thought. "It's not impossible he might have gone somewhere in the woods, I suppose. But I can't imagine him doing so outside of extreme fear of immediate peril of his life, especially with the woods being as hazardous as they've been recently.
"Stonegate doesn't have much in the way of an academic tradition, so there aren't any schools or libraries of consequence that I know of. I believe there is one scholar in the fortress at the moment, but he's only around to take some measurements or readings or experiments on some greater study or something. It's not inconceivable that he knew Chase in passing."
Sagishi nods along with the explanations. The information Ryder has given them is sparce but at least the task at hand seems to be mostly straight forward.
He turns to Fhiess.
"I think we best meet up with the rest and discuss this in detail." Towards Ryder he says. "If you want to tag along you are more than welcome. Especially since you probably be able to identify whatever it is we are looking for more easily."
((Whatever Ryder's answer will be. I guess Fhiess and will return to the rest and fill them in on what they have learned. Time for everybody to make suggestions for the next steps.))
Ryder seems pretty wary at the suggestion that he tag along. "I need to maintain plausible deniability," he says. "Right now it'd be difficult to explain my presence there at all, let alone if I'm caught in the middle of an espionage operation."
"Those are some understanable concerns. In that case maybe you want to provide us with a means of getting in contact with you once we found something?"
He stops, suddenly as another thought hit him.
"Do you per chance still possess the note he send you? I could... It might be useful to track him down. Anything that was in contact with him, really."
Once they are back in the quarters. Sagishi presents the case of the missing scribe to the others.
"I know that we don't have a reason to mistrust Crullus, but we also can't dismiss the possibility that he is somehow being influenced. The change in habit of locking the doors to administration offices I think is suspicious enough. Luckily it doesn't seem to be especially heavily guarded, but even that solitary guard obviously needs dealing with. Some sort of distraction might be the easiest way, so that a couple of us can sneak in.
"Furthermore there is obviously the fact that we don't really know what we are looking for. Political espionage is far from expertise. I need someone a bit more knowledgeable about these things to come with me, since I probably wouldn't understand what I was looking at with half these documents."
"I suppose he might frequent the general store?" Ryder says in answer to Fhiess's question. "Books, paper, ink, that sort of thing. Or it may be that the fort has a requisition process of some kind. It never came up in any of our conversations, I fear."
To Sagishi he says, "Unfortunately, I do not have the message he sent. I destroyed it immediately after receiving it for operational security purposes. I don't have any other possessions of his either."
With a sheepish smile, he adds, "You two are making me question just how good a friend to Chase I really was."
Back at the quarters as well, Fhiess relays the information he learned about how the tower is bringing large spiders from the Underdark. "I'm not sure that is all that is out there," he points out, "The spiders may simply be the first of the horrors in the forest has that is scaring away its inhabitants."
"I plan on looking for Ryder's friend in the meantime. From what it sounds like, Chase the scholar has a perspective that even Ryder isn't sure of. Plus I think I can find a scholar, having spent much of my life around them."
"As agreeable as the Governor seemed at dinner, I cannot deny that there are certain unexplainable inconsistencies in his countenance," says Keranos. "I agree with Sagishi: if there is a chance that he is under some foul influence, then it must be investigated. And while I would not be of much help in deciphering whatever might be found in this secret room, I will readily lend whatever talents I can."
He suppresses a shudder at Fhiess's mention of spiders. "I ought to warn you all that I seem to have an unnatural fear of spiders, and this could affect my battle readiness in the event that we encounter them. As always I shall perform to the best of my ability, but.... well.... it seems like something that you all should know, as my brothers in arms."
After hearing Keranos warn everyone of his fear, Fhiess audaciously cheers with a smile and enthusiasm, "Our strength will overcome doubt. We've already faced mythical dragons and impervious mechanizations, and are spiders really anything more than the giant scorpions we've already encountered?"
He hrms and scratches his cheek with his eyes drifting away in thought. He looks to Thosar and asks, "Do spiders, erhm.. have ears?"
(Nature roll: 17)
Thosar mulls over the question, regardless of his understanding. "No, I believe spiders do not, in fact, have ears at all like most arthropods. That's why I was a bit dubious about your using that flute from earlier."
((There we go: Battle-ready jaguars for all. Noisy Ninj4 , I think I saw you roll for spider knowledge. Is this the case?))
"This is an interesting case," Galen muses regarding the missing scribe, "and certainly worth an investigation; we must be certain of our host's intentions, good or ill. It is possible we must depart early, and without his knowledge, should we be unable to guarantee his trustworthiness. And it is for the best that he can be trusted.
"The spiders, and whatever else foul creature skitters within this wood, may well require preparation. That is our advantage: we have some idea what we are up against."
<While waiting on Ludwig, I just figure I'd mention here that I'm debating getting a Mortals' Studded Leather Armor for 545 gold (and also being talked out of getting it). I think it's assumed the haunted instrument got sold too and now that's part of our budget?>
((My bad on the delay! I hadn't got any thread notifications in a few weeks. Era must have wanted me to not post for a bit :p ))
Ludwig hrms and nods. "I'm good for some spider crushing. A little poison' something I can handle if it comes up.
He seems interested at the talk of a possible corruptor. "Can't say I'm surprised, people always seek to compromise government officials. Only way around it is to not have officials to corrupt. Now, I'm obviously... unsuited to anything heist related, but if need be, I can cause a noisy distraction. I haven' the got to pull the ole unaatisfied foreigner who got scammed and is looking for the better business bureau in all the wrong places routine in a while."
"I agree that it would be best to at least get an unvarnished look at the workings here. I can provide Invisibility for at least two of us and could my familiar with one of you to read through any papers of interest. I'll just need an hour to change her shape."
((I thought as much, but just decided I should make absolutely sure before it was used.))
Galen smiles at Fhiess. "Planting thoughts or desires in someones mind, perhaps. If that is within our capability, a single guard should not be too difficult to circumvent. But I am sure we can figure something else out."
Sagishi nods along as suggestions start coming in and considers the possibilities.
"I think either means of distraction seems equally likely to be a success, but no matter which route we choose eventually it wouldn't hurt to have the other option at hand for a back up."
He turns to Fhiess.
"I know you want to look for Chase, but if we find something in that office that we can link to him, I might be able to pick up his scent. This way I can assist you in the search later."
"It's actually a good thing people see you running around with Fawkes all the time. You're the guy with the fox. No one will pay any attention if the fox just looks a little bit different. That saves me quite some hassle, actually."
He turns to Keranos.
"You know, that spying ahead trick you do, could come in really handy. The more we can avoid being seen, the better."
He remembers the kid stumbling about in the too big armor.
"Maybe change first though."
"I can provide my own invisibility, but since an extra pair of eyes won't hurt. I suggest you and Galen come along and help with the search."
Fhiess takes a moment to think. He shakes his head, "Erm.. not really. I imagine it would be easy to bypass the guard. I suppose I might have to come up with something should something unexpected should happen."
"I'll be honest, Ludwig is probably our most capable distractor. If Fheiss can provide him some magical enhancement and a choice word or or two of advise from his old mentor, it should bolster his chances enough that we probably won't need to use a backup plan. That said, if we can have a surprise smoke stick involved, especially a "mistakenly" used one, it would be quite useful to cover our entrance." Thosar leans back before continuing. "Those shouldn't be hard to procure, so I leave that detail for you if you want to procure some. I will need some time reforming my familiar.
"I can surveil the outside of the door remotely, but the nature of my abilities prevents me from seeing inside the door until it's already opened. But that may be enough for you to safely pick the lock on the door, and I can provide an early warning if someone approaches from around a corner."
To Keranos he says, "That should be helpful enough. My biggest concern is arousing suspicion about being even near the office. Your little trick should hopefully provide us with a means of getting there without running into too many people."
"If Ludwig is making a show about a defective... flash ball?" Galen offers, "perhaps he could take it a step further and claim he's been conned? Sold something that simply doesn't work." He suddenly snaps his fingers. "And what if the door never opens?"
“Oh, no, no,” Galen reassures Sagishi, “I don’t mean the door not opening in that way.” In clarification, he adds, “If it opens into the room it guards, we may be able to hide the door’s opening with an illusion. Hide our activity further.”