Darnan halts in his tracks as three bodyguards appear behind Rosewood, and two more in the corridor through which the party entered the chamber. The pair in the corridor are armed with crossbows, cocked and loaded. Of the three who materialized in the chamber, standing over the crates of mining explosives, two wear daggers at their sides. The third is a woman Caladh recognizes as Daniela, seemingly unarmed.
Rosewood calmly declares that anybody who takes another step will be shot. Kael brashly saunters forward a few paces, and the bodyguards burst into motion. The two in the corridor open fire on Caladh and Max, landing painful blows that bleed freely. The three in the chamber move to hurl the crates clear of Rosewood, landing two of the crates just before Darnan’s feet. Daniela kicks her crate to the side, and casts an encumbering spell that slows Darnan.
Krobach roars his challenge and charges the sorceress, tackling her and hindering her ability to cast. She manages to cast a grease spell from within his grasp, and slips free. Rosewood steps forward to engage Kael, followed by two dagger-wielding men, while the crossbowmen continue to fire into the party.
Max hurls a bomb toward the crates on the floor, which are placed in such a way that the explosion blasts a hole through the weak spot in the chamber’s floor. Darnan is caught in some of the ensuing flames, but manages to avoid dropping into the river below. The dwarf, displeased by the shape this fight is taking, calls on divine power to guide his hands even as he nocks and draws. He calls out to the room, “Mr. Rosewood, your left ear.” When he looses, the arrow finds its mark, and Darnan calmly intones, “Tell your men to stand down, or the next will find your left eye.” Kael takes the opportunity to sweep Rosewood’s legs out from under him, rendering him totally vulnerable at the edge of the newly excavated hole. Rosewood pulls himself gingerly to his feet, and raises a hand to signal his men to cease fire. His guards lower their weapons.
Darnan directs the guards to jump down into the river below, offering his word as surety of their safety. They jump, reluctantly, at Rosewood’s word; Daniela stays at Rosewood’s insistence. She begins to bind his wound when Max intervenes with an elixir that closes it magically.
The ensuing interview is much politer and much less dramatic than Rosewood’s particular mystique might have suggested. The underworld boss is gracious in defeat and, to all appearances, perfectly willing to tell as much as he knows once it’s clear that this is the price of his life. Rosewoods account corroborates some of what the party had already known, some of what the party had reason to suspect, and introduces some information that casts a new light on it all.
The Cormyrian had entered Blakholm seeking an audience with Fitzwater, and had been diverted to Rosewood instead. Rosewood had gotten wind of the Cormyrian’s intention to reactivate the Black Water agents. The underworld boss’s response had been to arrange to have the agents killed. Rosewood had nothing personal against the Black Water agents, but feared the implications the reactivation of this cell had for Blakholm and the greater implications an active Black Water would have for the Sword Coast at large.
The “Butcher” he’d hired to kill the agents was a former Cormyrian soldier and patriot [whose name I’ve forgotten and neglected to write down] presently working as a miner. The hammer he was to use for the jobs was in fact given to him by the Cormyrian, though Rosewood did not reveal the details of that particular exchange.
Lastly, the Black Water agents and Baldrin Springland were in possession of a secret of considerable value; Springland had killed to keep it, and the Cormyrian had come to Blakholm for it. Rosewood claimed not to know what it was, but presumably the Cormyrian now had access to it and anything else the agents had learned.
After revealing all this, Rosewood suggested that the agents had likely fled, and would never make contact with the party again. The party had released this cell upon the world. Rosewood expressed his contempt for the “heroic” impulses that had led the party to save the agents’ lives in complete ignorance of the potential future cost of their actions.
Having exhausted this line of inquiry, Darnan asked after the druids he’d been seeking, and what business they’d had with Fitzwater. Rosewood claimed that that was entirely Fitzwater’s business, about which he knew nothing. Caladh asked how they might meet with the Cormyrian, and Rosewood referred the group to Falcon, at the Blind Herald.
The interview concluded, Rosewood and Daniela prepared to depart. Maxwell entrusted to Rosewood a letter meant for the eyes of Lady Ansferl, which he agreed to deliver. Rosewood gingerly expressed a desire to avoid preceding the party out of the mines and a desire to see to the welfare of his men. He and Daniela began their descent into the underground river, one much slower and gentler than that of the men who preceded them. As Daniela’s sorcery guided their departure, Caladh called out to her, expressing his satisfaction at knowing there was more to her then met the eye in the Blood-Eagle. Her response was smiling.
. * * * * * .
Leaving the mines, Caladh led the party directly to the home of the now-never-to-be Butcher. Max had some familiarity with the man, had even drunk with him on occasion, and exploited this to get his foot in the door. Caladh and the others used the opening to march into the small home. He was a big man, and a powerful one, too muscular, even for a miner. He seemed startled and intimidated, though, by the presence of five armed men in his home. He seemed more startled still that they knew the details of his assignment, and utterly confounded by their claim that Rosewood knew their errand and had not seen fit to stop them. A few pointed questions and a few pointed threats were sufficient to claim the Cormyrian’s hammer, along with some surly curses and insults. The patriot denounced the party as traitors and conspirators acting to benefit Thay, and insisted that the lives they saved would have dire consequences. Caladh quietly replied told the man that his own life had been among those saved by the party. The patriot sneered that he would have gladly given his life for his country.
. * * * * * .
The last appointment for the evening took them to call upon Falcon, an ugly man who worked as a cook in the Blind Herald, an establishment known for decent wine, better food, and undistinguished beers. The hostess seemed a bit taken aback but not unduly surprised or distressed when the party asked for Falcon by “name”. The man was gruff but not impolite, and seemed curious to know what the party wanted.
Upon being asked about the druids, he replied that he knew only a little. They’d come to see Fitzwater and had departed shortly thereafter, heading west and north to investigate some abandoned laboratories where animals what had been tortured and experimented upon once. Upon hearing that they’d had quite a number of wolves with them, Darnan considered for a moment and dismissed them as the wrong group of druids.
Upon being asked to arrange a meeting with the Cormyrian, Falcon hesitated, saying it would take some work to do. He told them to wait for word at whatever place they happened to be staying. Satisfied for now with the answers they’d received, the party departed to rest after what had certainly felt like the longest night of their lives.
. * * * * * .
The next day, a messenger arrived, carrying a note written in Dwarvish. It was an invitation to dine at the Springland estate at the ninth hour after noon. Given the suspicious coincidence of time and place, everybody was wary, but there seemed to be nothing to do but to go and see what happened.
During the day, Kael, Caladh, and Darnan ventured to a safehouse outside the city limits, an abandoned farm that the Black Water agents had repaired to while the party stalked Rosewood. As Rosewood had guessed, the agents were nowhere to be found, off to parts unknown. However, a note reading, “Black Water owes you a debt” was fixed to the door with a small cold iron dagger bearing the emblem of the Thayan spy ring, the polished silver disc.
Darnan pocketed the dagger and discarded the note. On the way back to Blakholm, Kael surreptitiously stole the dagger from the dwarf.
. * * * * * .
Max, meanwhile, spent much of the day in conversation with the Lady Ansferl. The lady had sent him a summons through the foreman that he worked with, and Max was only too glad for the chance to ply his trade. She’d received his letter and taken seriously the urgency Max had ascribed to his discoveries and their implications. At the beginning of their conversation, she admitted that she’d simply inherited her father’s holdings and interests in the mines, and was not versed in their management. Further conversation revealed that she’d relied heavily on the experience of Baldrin Springland, deferring to his experience. This trust may not have been warranted, as it seemed Springland had kept at least some important details to himself in their discussions of the mines.
In any case, Max delivered various warnings regarding the blackrock that he’d found. Firstly, the brittle rock’s tendency to crumble or fracture warranted much greater caution in securing the structural integrity of the mine’s various shafts. The precise nature of the dangers posed by this weakness are unpredictable but definitely present, possibly the most difficult for a profit-minded venture to deal with. Secondly, the rock’s tendency to crumble created a dust that was hazardous to the miners’ health, especially as they inhaled larger quantities of the dust for longer periods of time. This problem is much more tractable, requiring only that miners wear we cloths over their mouths and noses any time they were boring through blackrock. Thirdly, the rock’s curious flammability posed a huge danger, precluding the use of open flames of any kind in the mines. For this, Max suggested that all lights in the mines be replaced with everburning torches, with the expense of the costly devices defrayed by sale of the blackrock as fuel. Lady Ansferl seemed hesitant at this, but seemed willing to at least consider the feasibility of such a practice.
In any case, the interview continued successfully, and it seemed that Ansferl was at least a little impressed with Max’s expertise and initiative. Their business concluded, Max left in good spirits, leaving word with the Lady as to how he might be reached in future.
. * * * * * .
Krobach, having little interest in the Black Water agents and even less in the black rock, spent part of the day shaping steel over his small anvil, before going to reconnoiter the Springland estate several hours before the appointed time. He found the estate quiet, and was stealthy enough to climb the wall and actually enter Springland’s study without being detected. There, he found nothing untoward, though the household was eerily quiet. He briefly rifled through the desk, pilfering a banknote, which Krobach recognized as some form of money, though he didn’t understand the specifics.
. * * * * * .
A confused gate-guard informed the arriving party that they could not possibly have an invitation to dine at the Springland estate, as the lord had left for Suzail early in the morning. Confused, but determined, the party decided to wait for the appointed hour. The guard seemed bemused, but willing to leave them be if all they wanted to do was stand outside the gates.
Quite soon, Falcon, dressed as a courtier rather than a cook, but still ugly as ever, ambled up the street toward them. When asked about meeting the Cormyrian, he seemed genuinely apologetic but not at all regretful to inform them that the meeting could not be arranged. In fact, he had deceived them to insure that the meeting would not happen. The Cormyrian had left the city in pursuit of Springland that morning. He declined to reveal on whose behalf he’d performed this deception, saying only that there were higher authorities than Rosewood’s in play.
Krobach responded by grabbing Falcon and bending back one of his fingers. It was already well on its way to its breaking point when the gate guard attempted to intervene, menacing the group and declaring that the gaurd could not allow them to assault a citizen of Blakholm. Krobach seemed perfectly willing to start a brawl in the street, so Falcon relented. He seemed a bit offended, and a bit surprised, but not as terrified as one might expect. He simply declared that the deception was Rosewood’s doing, brushed himself off, and wished the party a good day.
Stymied, the group considered what to do next. Max’s alchemical interest had been piqued at the mention of abandoned laboratories, and he tried to convince the group to turn there attention there. Caladh, however, was adamant that the Cormyrian still had answers they needed regarding the warping of time that all five of them had experienced. His words swayed the wavering Darnan, and the rest seemed content to set their sights on Suzail and whatever awaited them there.
The group waited till late in the night to leave, hoping to see whatever it was the Dahabi had prophesied. But the night was utterly uneventful. Whatever it was that had been foretold, the prophecy was either simply wrong, or defeated by whatever it was that had passed since the prediction was made.
. * * * * * .
The five travelers rode hard for the Cormyrian border, taking advantage of the Waterdhavian posts, and likely earning the enmity of no small number of grooms at their harsh treatment of the posthorses. The horses were lathered and weak-kneed as the fatigued riders stopped at the last post, just shy of the border itself.
Even at the outermost reaches of their territory, the might of Cormyr made itself felt in every sight. The outpost was manned by polished troops in polished armor, moving with the grace and gravity of warriors long suited to their immaculate armaments, standing in their full regalia as an honor guard to the integrity of their nation. The road itself was flagged in interlocking stones, kept unnaturally pristine by who knows what means. As the five walked onward, they approached the mouth of a tremendous tunnel leading into the mountainside. Here, the silver tracery that arced over the mouth of the tunnel revealed itself to be part of a magical device of extraordinary power, screening all who passed through the tunnel for evil intentions against the state of Cormyr and the means to enact them. The power of the enchantment was immense, strong enough to tickle at the intuitions of even those unattuned to the workings of magic.
The tunnel led into the mountain, and a short distance in, it became clear that the tunnel was no simple tunnel through the intervening mountain range(which would have been impressive enough on its own), but rather an artificial chamber leading to a portal, capable of transporting travelers magically to a complementary chamber on the other side of the mountains.
The Cormyrian side of this portal revealed the nation to grow ever more impressive in its own fashion as one approached the heartlands. The show of power at the border was not merely show, but rather an artifact of the greater military might found within. Troops in drill or at rest were visible from many points along the road, seeming utterly indomitable, deliberately composed, especially to the now-wearied travelers.
They had ridden, then walked, well through the night, pushing themselves through a forced march in an effort to catch up to the Cormyrian. Max, who had not weathered the march particularly well, was by this time utterly discomposed, desiring nothing more than to fall where he stood, coming to rest in the nearest alcoholic oasis he could find.
However, the group was determined to at least clear the gates of Suzail before stopping, so he continued, grumbling as he walked. Max’s respite was in site, and the party stood before the gates themselves when the impressive sight of the white-walled city was troubled by a sign of unexpected disorder.
A distant humming, buzzing noise, not unlike a swarm of locusts was heard in the distance. As with a swarm, the sound gave the impression of being loud enough to call a roar, and quiet only by virtue of distance. At the same time, shadows among the clouds were seen to move, floating like clouds, but moving faster than any storm front, and against the wind. As the mass approached at furious speed, the sound grew ever louder. Krobach, indifferent to a phenomenon he could do nothing about, continued his march into the city. Max, caring for nothing other than the nearness of rest, hurried into the city as well, clapping his hands over his ear protectors in an effort to shut out the furious buzzing.
The others stood in the path of the approaching shadows, uncertain and helpless to intervene, but rapt upon the unfolding spectacle. The Cormyrian troops seemed at first to be utterly taken aback, occupying a position too-long secure against attack to truly be ready to respond. However, this impression was very quickly replaced by evidence that at the very least suggested this long security was well-deserved, well-earned, and not yet breached. The scurrying and running about of men at arms resolved itself into messengers and runners organizing the movements of the troops, first withdrawing soldiers and civilians into the city, and then arraying troops on battlements to face the approaching threat.
By now, the approaching clouds that were not clouds revealed themselves to be great ships, built of steel and copper and wood, but sailing the skies as no ships ever had before. The fleet was led by a behemoth, larger than any ship had reason to be, its several masts and decks bearing strange devices as well as familiar objects that could only be sails. Dozens of ships, flying in formation approached the walls of the city, setting down just before the west gate. The three lone figures standing outside the city scattered before the ground-shaking impact.
Almost as soon as the ships were set firmly on the ground, the sounds of men shouting and calling to each other was heard from the ships, as swaths of steel were either extended from or placed across the decks, turning the grounded ships into the heart of a rapidly deployed fortification. From the prow of this flagship-cum-fortress, a young man wearing the red and black that adorned his ships studied the walls of the city before him.
Facing him from the ramparts of Suzail stood a heavily armored paladin wielding an impressively large warhammer. The man on the ship drew his rapier, and aimed its point directly to the paladin marshaling the defenses. In response, the older man brandished his battle-axe.
Into this tableau, the airman spoke, announcing himself as Admiral Oskar Glass of the Venze Shaar Armada, Emissary of Dal Khazan.