Saturday, 21 May 2022

2 Klarmont - A mystery solved ... sort of

 When Broneslav announced himself at the Watch, the Tribune was relatively quick to see him. She took charge of the additional evidence that he had brought with him and listened to his story. It was clear that she was taking this seriously.

"So," began Broneslav, "I think we have a conspiracy to frame my relative for the death of Lucia Vorloi. I'm not sure why they were burying her in the basement though. That bit does not make sense to me. This group, The Veiled Society, wishes to stir up trouble for some reason and thinks that embroiling the Torenescu's in a feud with the Vorloi's will help achieve that end. All this digging tunnels just seems weird though. I don't get that."

"Yes," confirmed the Tribune, "That is what we have learnt from the man you caught, and the prisoners you rescued confirmed it too once we checked with them. We need to investigate this because it seems like a threat to the Grand Duchy and we cannot allow that. I can tell you that the man you captured is a dock worker, who was hired to kill Lucia Vorloi, but that he claims to have little idea of who hired him or why. It was just a job to earn some easy money as far as he was concerned. Thank you for your efforts. If you come across anything new, please report it. In the meantime, do try to stay out of trouble."

Connecting the dots, Broneslav now understood why there was pitch on the ladder and that also explained the connection to the wine he had found in Turano's guesthouse. His knowledge of trade in the city told him that it was sold only to a few waterfront taverns. With any luck, he might find the other man in one of those taverns, and that might be a lead to the bosses behind this murder. As someone without an official warrant, he reckoned he might pass for a civilian and mostly harmless, where the watch would just put others' backs up simply by being there. Time for a drink.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

2 Klarmont - Under Turano's Guesthouse

 Broneslav pushed on through the tunnels and finally reached the end of them. They terminated suddenly with two incomplete passages that led from a last cellar. A large pile of dirt along the southern wall of this cellar showed that work had been ongoing until interrupted by the city's and Broneslav's investigations. Digging tools and wheelbarrows provided further evidence for the activity. They looked like they had been hastily abandoned. Perhaps the diggers had fled when they heard the guards coming, and had not returned. In the south-east corner of the room, there was a ladder leading up to a trapdoor.

With his investigation of the tunnel complete, Broneslav decided to try the trapdoor. This looked like the most likely place for a point of entry, compared to all the other cellars he had found, so there might be clues up above.

As silently as he could, Broneslav climbed the ladder and edged the trapdoor open a crack to spy out the area above. He heard nothing and could see no one. Flinging the trapdoor wide open, he leapt through the gap and rolled into the room, ready for a fight. There was no one there and he felt rather silly.

Looking around, Broneslav realised that he was in a one one-room cottage. The single room contained a bed, a chair and a desk. All had seen better days. Muddy tracks on the floor led from the door to the trapdoor.

He searched the room. A bottle of wine from the Trouscan Estates stood on the desk. It was half empty, or half full, depending upon your level of optimism. There was a black hood in the desk, of a type he recognised from his encounter with the two men from the Veiled Society. A few red hairs clung to its inside. The desk also contained a map of this area of the city. Several houses were marked on it: Fortunato's house, The Rattlebone Inn, Zweis Radu's house, and Baron Vorloi's guest house. Curiously, the house he stood in was not labeled. This suggested it was a base, and not a target, to Broneslav's suspicious mind.

Gathering the evidence together, Broneslav left the cottage. As he left, he found himself in town plot. The cottage lay behind a larger house in the plot. A man of substantial girth was butchering a pig in a workshop in one corner of the plot. Broneslav approached him.

"Excuse me. Is this your house?"

The man looked up suspiciously.

"Who are you, and what are you doing here? This is private property!"

"So, it's your house then. Who are you?"

"Whaddya mean, who am I? I'm Turano the Butcher. Everyone round here knows me. Who are you and what are you doing on my property?"

Turano waved the butchering knife threateningly at Broneslav, but not too threateningly, because he recognised the disadvantage that his lack of armour gave him.

Broneslav introduced himself, and his surname had an instant effect. Turano calmed down a lot. Broneslav then explained about the tunnels. Turano was clearly annoyed and shocked but he took it well when Broneslav told him that he needed to report this to the Watch and that they would almost certainly be round to check it out.

"Must have been that travelling blacksmith, Skevlos," Turano declared, "I rented the house to him, but he left yesterday. I don't know what's going on here, but I hope you manage to get to the bottom of it. I don't need that sort of trouble in my guest house."

Broneslav took his leave and headed for the Watch office. Perhaps they had further news from the man he had captured and this evidence would solve the mystery.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

2 Klarmont - Underground again

 Considering his options, Broneslav decided that further investigation could wait while he visited Theosius the craftsman to find out what was needed. Then he would return and see if he could find out anything more.

Theosius, it turned out, did not need him immediately.

"Rum do, all this wit' murder o' Vorloi's niece," Theosius stated, "An' tryin' ta mix his lordship into it too. Not good. Now I've checked ye out, I'll send ye a message when I need ye. We've a bunch o' small jobs as might suit someone of your talents. Might just be lifting and carrying, Might be summat a bit more active. We'll see 'ow things fare."

Nodding his agreement to this, Broneslav left Theosius and returned to Goodwife Thanato's house, from where he entered the cellar and made his way back to Vorloi's basement. Thence, into Vorloi's house to search around again. He found nothing more in the house, but climbing back down the ladder into the cellar, he put his hand in something sticky. Checking it, it turned out to be pitch or something very similar. Clearly, one of the murderers had left traces of it on the ladder. But where had he got it on him? Broneslav's brain failed him (bloody dice!) and he could think of nowhere to start investigating that, so he decided to check the extent of the tunnels. There might be more clues there.

As he followed the tunnels, he realised that here was a group determined to literally undermine Specularum. His explorations found further cellars and more tunnels, but no more people. There were signs of people having been there, hastily abandoned shovels and wheelbarrows, but the people had clearly been disturbed by the guards' own investigations in the Vorloi cellar.

Broneslav quickly realised that these tunnels were limited to just this area. It made him wonder whether others existed around the city and why the Veiled Society was bothering. It was a lot of effort to go to for no clear purpose. Villains, eh? All grand schemes and no thought for efficiency!

His musings were interrupted by a chuckling sound as he entered a larger chamber covered in debris. It had once been the cellar of a house, but now it was filled with burnt out beams and was choked with rubble and dirt. A glowing, person-shaped light floated through the room. The sounds seemed to come from it. Broneslav paused warily, sword drawn, but the light ignored him and passed form the cellar. With it the sound disappeared too. He wondered who the ghost had been, but his ponderings were suddenly interrupted.

Something had grabbed his leg! Looking down, he saw it was a hand, and then several others thrust out of the ground, followed shortly by the rotting bodies they belonged to. The scent of the grave wafted to his nostrils as he felt himself being pulled down. He swung his sword hard. The zombie's head flew from its shoulders and the body slumped back to the floor. A second blow removed an arm from a second zombie. This zombie used the piece of floorboard in its other hand to smash Broneslav in the side. He grunted in pain as it hit with maximum force (4 DAM) but still dodged around the other zombie and avoided its attack. With a muttered curse, Broneslav swung high and his sword cleaved the injured zombie's head. It fell, twitching, to the floor. Then he stepped in close to the last zombie and removed its head too.

Spitting blood, he surveyed the room for more threats before bandaging his wound and preparing to continue his investigation.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

2 Klarmont - Lore and Order

 Broneslav's discoveries caused uproar and Goodwife Thanato's house was soon packed with Watchmen, several of whom were sent into the cellar to investigate the tunnels.

Broneslav and his captive were taken to the Watchhouse to be questioned. Seated on a rough wooden chair behind a rough wooden table, Broneslav felt nervous, like he was the criminal here. He knew his family connections would prevent any miscarriage of justice, but it still felt more nervewracking than his first serious sword fight.

However, it turned out not to be that bad. The Watch had a priest of the Church of Karameikos present who vouched for Broneslav's version of events after communing with the gods. With that done, the Watch asked Broneslav to accompany a Tribune of the Watch to the scene of the crime, there to relate what he had seen and show how events had occurred. Two priests accompanied the Tribune, presumably to bear witness.

The Tribune

The Tribune led them to a house near Goodwife Thanato's. It was clearly the home of a well-to-do merchant or similar. Upon hearing that this was a the home of Fortunato Vorloi, Broneslav immediately recognised the name and guessed that the woman in the cellar was probably his daughter Lucia. More importantly, she was also the niece of Baron Vorloi. That did not clear up what was going on here, but it at least showed that there might be political motivation behind it. The involvement of the The Veiled Society, which he had previously been unaware of, suggested some kind of underground power struggle in progress.

As they entered Vorloi's house, they saw signs of struggle. Furniture was turned over and scattered on the floor. A search of the house found the entrance to the cellar in the kitchen. A signet ring lay on the floor near the cellar entrance, near a short length of bloodstained rope. Examining the ring, Broneslav noted that it was a Torenescu signet ring. He struggled to comprehend that any in his family could have acted in this extreme fashion. Even the vain Stephanos, whose advances Lucia had recently spurned, did not strike him as a man to resort to physical violence like this. His revenge would be more political.

The young warrior pondered for a moment. It seemed that no one had seen him pick up the ring, so he could hide it if he wished. His conscience got the better of him.

"I found this ring near the trapdoor," he announced as he handed it to the Tribune, who also took charge of the rope. The Tribune gave Broneslav a funny look. Was she not used to people being honest?

Further searching of the house found a bloody dagger. The Tribune spotted some red hairs dried in the blood. Bloodstains on the floor were intermingled with another brownish liquid.

"Interesting," mused Broneslav, "The man I captured has red hair. And, look here! The bloodstains have been smeared and rubbed away a bit. It looks like the victim tried to write something in her own blood ... BAD ... BAO ... RAD ... RAO? Hmm, hard to see what it is meant to say. No doubt all will become clear in due time."

"We have the information we need from here. I shall return the evidence to the Watchhouse," declared the Tribune, "Don't leave town, Torenescu. This ring suggests one of your kith or kin was involved, though we have cleared you personally, and we shall need to speak to you again."

The Tribune ushered Broneslav out of the house and locked the door behind her. Broneslav stood on the street and considered his options. Should he go late to his appointment, or dared he take time to investigate further first?

Saturday, 23 April 2022

2 Klarmont - Mud, glorious mud

 Broneslav considered his options and decided to explore further before delivering his prisoner to the Watch. The man's companion could be waiting upstairs to kill him as he climbed through the trapdoor. Moreover, the Watch would be all over this place once he reported the body, so he would not be able to explore further. Better then to explore further and find an alternative exit where he could backtrack to the house and perhaps surprise the other murderer.

Broneslav pushed the man ahead of him into the tunnel.

"Try to run," he declared, "and it will be the last thing you ever do."

He was relying on the man's bound hands and a measure of fear to keep the man slow and in order. That and the small tunnel should make life easier.

The winding tunnel opened out once more into a rather larger chamber filled with ankle-deep mud. The roof was shored up with beams and planks but mud still seeped between the gaps and dripped on those in the chamber. Three half naked, wretched looking men were shoveling while three armoured Hobgoblins kept guard. Suddenly, one of the men saw Broneslav and his captive. He dropped his shovel and waded across the chamber as fast as he could.

"Help us! Please help us!"

The foul guards immediately drew their weapons and charged. Broneslav quickly unslung his shield and kicked his captive into the middle of the room as the Hobgoblins neared him. His sword sliced through the air and in three swift strokes he had killed all three Hobgoblins, their lifeblood staining the mud red.

The prisoners fell to their knees in the mud.

"Thank you, thank you. We have been kept digging here against our will for ages. We have not seen the sun since we were captured! Will you help us to safety?"

Broneslav gave the men the Hobgoblins' swords and instructed them to guard his prisoner as he led the way back to the surface.

The group made their back to Goodwife Thanato's cellar where Broneslav directed them all up into the old woman's house.

"I have found the cause of the noises you heard, Goodwife Thanato," he announced, "It was not ghosts but evil-doers whose purposes I am unclear about. This man is one of them. He and his accomplice were set to bury a young woman under a house north of yours. Be so good as to call the Watch while I guard this man and learn what I can of these others whom I rescued."

The old woman scuttled off after the Watch and returned shortly with two Watchmen in tow. Broneslav explained his errand into the cellar, and the events he had borne witness to. He told of the body in the cellar and how he had found his captive burying it. Throughout all this, the captive was much less voluble and threatening, but there was still a calculating look in his eyes. Perhaps these Watchmen had not been bribed, but it seemed certain that others would have been. The man was maybe waiting for one of these.

Upon hearing Broneslav's tale, the Watchmen agreed that one of them should fetch a superior officer. There was much to investigate here. One of the Watchmen left and ordered Broneslav to wait until the officer had returned.

Keeping his lunchtime appointment in mind, Broneslav asked that a message be sent to his father and to Theosius the craftsman about what was going on. It seemed unlikely that he would make the appointment yet, now that the Watch was involved.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

2 Klarmont - Under the floors

 With nothing to indicate which direction he should choose, Broneslav headed north. The passage was very low, barely four feet high, so he wound up crouching and crawling along it. As he progressed, the odour of ordure became stronger and stronger. It was enough to turn a person's stomach. He soon found the cause. Down a small side passage, the floor of a cistern had collapsed and the small room at the end of the passage was now a stinking mass of rotting, runny sewage.

Broneslav backed up quickly and continued northwards. At a Y-junction in the passage, he turned left, but then had to back up again when he reached a dead end. The passage to the right led to another junction. He could either climb down the ladder there to a passage heading south or continue north. He headed north once more. Ahead, he could see light filtering through gaps in the crates stacked against the exit from the passage. He stopped at the entrance and tried to peer through the gaps. He could hear the sound of digging and voices.

"Come on. I think this is deep enough. Let's get it buried and go." A man's voice.

Another man, "No, I want to make it a bit deeper. Nobody must ever find this but us."

The digging noises continued.

"Well," thought Broneslav, "That sounds shady as the depths of Limbo."

With that thought, he leapt into action. Thrusting powerfully through the crates that blocked the passage, he charged into the room. The cellar he was now in was lit by a lantern and filled with cured meats hanging from the ceiling as well as crates and sacks along the walls. As well as the tunnel he had entered by, there was another tunnel leading out of the cellar to the north-east.

Two hooded men stood with shovels in hand and a suspiciously corpse-like bundle beside them. Broneslav punched one of the men in the face, knocking him backwards. The other man sprang for the ladder to the trapdoor above and scuttled up it like the hounds of Hel were chasing him. His companion followed. Broneslav leapt after him. He grabbed the man's leg and pulled hard. The man lost his grip on the ladder and fell heavily to the floor. He did not move after that.

Climbing the ladder with the other man possibly waiting at the top seemed risky, so Broneslav chose to investigate this cellar. He checked the man first and found that he was merely unconscious. This hooded stranger would have a large lump on his head when he awoke. His nose was also bloody where Broneslav had punched him. Seeing that he was still alive, Broneslav hogtied the man and turned to the bundle the two men were burying. It contained the corpse of a young woman. Fresh. This boded ill.

A groan caught his attention. The man he had captured was coming to. Broneslav squatted next to the hogtied man.

"Who is this and what are you up to?"

The man spat blood and looked him in the eye, "You'd better let me go, or it will go the worse for you."

"Yeah, I don't think so."

"Seriously, kid, let me go or the Veiled Society will give you a good seeing to. Your pappa may have bought you the fancy kit, but you ain't nothing compared to us."

"Really, you think I'm afraid of a bunch of lurkers in the shadow who murder young women?"

"I'm warning you, kid!"

"Fine," Broneslav concluded, "Maybe if you won't talk to me, you'll talk to the authorities instead."

The man continued to threaten him, but Broneslav paid no heed. His only concern was whether he should finish checking out these tunnels or take the man to the authorities immediately.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

2 Klarmont - A task

 The next day, a letter was delivered to Broneslav's house.

"Son, there is a letter for you from Aleksandar Torenescu," announced his father as if Broneslav had not seen the messenger arrive and announce just this same thing. The look on his father's face was one of pride. It had never been likely that his own son would come to the notice of the leader of the Torenescu clan. And certainly not at such a young age!

The letter, written by a functionary and not the great man himself, commended Broneslav for his actions the day before and offered him some employment with the clan. He was to report to a local craftsman and woodworker called Theosius this day. Theosius would have tasks for him that would benefit all of them. The appointment was fixed for lunchtime.

"Looks like I have some work to do here, father," Broneslav told him and handed the letter over for his father to read.

At the same time as he did that, there was a commotion at the door. An elderly lady was frantically trying to get past the door guard and yelling something about ghosts in her cellar. The guards were holding her back but she was clearly in a terrible state. Recognising her as one of the family's clients, a poor old woman called Goodwife Thanato, who had previously worked for Broneslav's family in some function or another that he could not remember, Broneslav went to find out what was going on. Dealing with the family's clients was the sort of job that usually fell to the youngest adult, so he was making a virtue of necessity by actively looking into this, and he might earn credit with the family for doing so instead of waiting to be told to do it.

"Sir, there are ghosts in my cellar. Please do something. I fear for my life!" She cried when she saw him.

Musing that it would be a poor thing if the family left its clients to fend for themselves with the lack of resources they all had, Broneslav reassured the woman that he would investigate. He asked her to wait while he gathered what he might need for the job. With any luck, it would be just rats and he could employ a ratcatcher to sort them out, but recent experience had taught him that things were not always that simple.

As they walked back to her hovel, Goodwife Thanato explained between sobs that she had heard voices from her cellar. They were muffled but distinctly human or humanoid.

"I fear they are demons wishing to take me to their infernal lairs, good sir."

When they arrived, Broneslav promptly climbed down the rickety ladder into Goodwife Thanato's cellar. Removing the cover from his shield, he was able to see clearly by its light. He was standing in a dirt cellar. It was dry and smelled earthy, funnily enough. A rat, disturbed by his entrance, scuttled to the south-west corner and disappeared from sight behind one of the many sacks piled along the walls.

There was no way the rat's scuttling and sqeaking could sound human, so he began a thorough check of the cellar. His sharp eyes quickly noticed that two areas of the cellar showed unusual wear. Although the hard-packed floor did not yield signs of footprints, the dust and dirt had been disturbed in an odd pattern in the north-west corner and towards the centre of the south side. Pulling sacks away from the wall at these points revealed small passages leading away into the dark. These were no rat runs. So, there really was a mystery to solve here. The question was, which direction should he try first?