After some time the sounds of brawling in the common room below died down. Shortly thereafter, our human friend, Adralat Na-Keth, appeared looking none the worse for wear, with our mighty warrior-slave Myluk behind him.
“Gents,” Adralat said in his vaguely alien accent, “I just enjoyed an absolutely wonderful game of cards downstairs. And I learned a few things about that most disturbing fellow, the Pan Tangian sorcerer ‘Malagan,’ as well. Most disturbing things…”
I impatiently interrupted the odd fellow. “Yes, yes, that can wait for later, Adralat! We have an urgent matter to decide this moment. The important Pan Tangian official whom we saw earlier at the slave market is here. In this inn. The one called ‘Nhagren.’ Apparently he is the right-hand man of that massive ball of blubber, Governor Boorg. To our good fortune, this Nhagren is with a lady of the night at the moment, satiating his vile animalistic urges. I propose that we waylay him outside of this inn. By deploying my sorcerous skills, I can compel him to reveal truthfully the information we need, namely, the location of Lord Salamir and his daughter, as well as the necessary means for their liberation. What say you, friend, should we not seize this opportunity?”
Bōdric’s visage was a portrait of uncertainty as I spoke. Clearly he saw the wisdom of my proposal, but it conflicted with his naturally cautious nature.
Nervously jingling his newly acquired coins in his pocket, Adralat sighed and eventually nodded. “Yes, that does make sense, Edvund. We could sit on our hands forever, debating the pros and cons of various courses of action. But at a certain point one has to roll the die and cross the bloody Rubicon! I agree that we should act tonight.”
Although I did not understand Adralat’s reference to a ‘Rubicon’, the deciding vote clearly had been cast. Our course of action had been determined.
We quickly positioned ourselves in an alleyway between the Frozen Gem and what looked to be a disused warehouse. Preparing our weapons, we waited for our prey in the shadows, either unnoticed or ignored by the drunken louts that wandered about the docks late that night.
We waited. And waited.
Hours passed. I began to marvel at the Pan Tangian’s stamina. When would our prey pass by? Was he going to spend the entire night with his fire-haired vixen? Did we prepare our ambush in the wrong location? I was quite certain that he would pass by this alleyway en route to the Black Citadel. But perhaps not?
Self-doubt began to assault my mind and nerves like a persistent, pestilent beggar from Nadsokor. But still we waited. Hours passed. Countless drunken sailors and less reputable folk staggered by. Night became pre-dawn.
At last, much to my profound relief, our patience was rewarded! The ectomorphic Pan Tangian and his two bulky guards finally appeared in our sights. A surge of adrenaline suddenly surged through my weary body.
With remarkable precision, a bullet from my sling penetrated Nhagren’s right leg, in the back of his kneecap. With a scream of pain, the Pan Tangian crumpled to the dirty stones of the street. Myluk, Bōdric, and Adralat engaged with the two guards, first using their bows, and them engaging them with swordplay. In the meantime, the loathsome Pan Tangian whom I had crippled howled with pain. Worried that his shrill screams might attract unwanted attention, I ran up to him and uttered a rune of Sleep. Placing my hand on his prone body, Nhagren immediately fell into a sorcerous slumber.
My colleagues dispatched the two guards with nary a scratch to themselves. We immediately dragged the two corpses and the sleeping Pan Tangian into the adjoining warehouse.
The warehouse was divided into two parts. The room that we had entered looked unused. We deposited the bodies on the floor, and stripped the deceased guards of their armour and livery, planning to use them later if necessary. Nhagren snored on.
The adjoining room reeked of slop and animals. Within it was a pen filled with muck and a number of large, squeaky pigs. Cautiously closing the door, we immediately determined a convenient way of disposing of the two bodies.
With remarkable efficiency – and slightly disturbing enthusiasm – Myluk dismembered the Pan Tangian bodies and disappeared into the second room. Squeals and grunts of delight could be heard, as the pigs were delivered their unexpected feast.
Regaining consciousness, Nhagren witnessed Myluk’s dissection of the guards with obvious horror. The Pan Tangian turned pale, his lower lip trembling. Swallowing hard, our captive regained his composure. In as cool a voice he could muster, he informed us, “Those are Zheren’s pigs, you know.”
“Thank you for that information – I’ll be sure not to eat the pork at the Frozen Gem in the future,” I replied dryly, looking at the Pan Tangian as menacingly as possible.
“And now, time for some sorcery!”
I began to utter my rune of Truth, the contorted eldritch High Melnibonéan words issuing from my lips in an unworldly chant. Alas, I must confess that an impish smile conquered my face as I looked at Nhagren’s deliciously frightened face!
Successfully completing the rune after only three attempts – I made a point of concealing my failures with imperious glances at my victim – eldritch energies seized the mind of Nhagren, bending his will to my control.
I interrogated the Pan Tangian with my sorcery, learning what I could from him, confident that my newly acquired knowledge had to be true – or at least the truth as Nhagren believed it.
From Nhagren I learned that Lord Salamir was being kept by Governor Boorg to be used in his gladiatorial games. The vile sorcerer Malagan, on the other hand, held Cora-Dru in his quarters, for reasons unknown. It became clear to my colleagues and myself that liberating either captive would be most difficult.
(We also learned, quite gratuitously, that Malagan is obsessed with a maiden named ‘El-Nassa’, apparently the daughter of some barbarian chieftain in Ryfel now for the slave market.)
Interestingly, the Pan Tangian made us an offer. He would use the forthcoming tribute procession – during which the wealth and plunder of Ryfel would be transferred to a great black ship to be taken to Pan Tang – to mask the smuggling of Lord Salamir and Cora-Dru onto a ship under our control. In return, we would help Nhagren in his bid for power by somehow eliminating Governor Boorg and Malagan. Apparently the Pan Tangian was quite impressed with my magical talents!
As a result of our discussion, we agreed – much to our surprise – to make a deal with Nhagren. The first part of our agreement involved the transfer of the courtesan Aneera to Nhagren’s possession. Apparently Aneera is a slave of the innkeeper Zheren, who delights in having this form of control over Nhagren. So we must figure out a way to liberate Aneera from Zheeren, and deposit her at Nhagren’s residency in a green gabled house in the ‘Old Side’ of Ryfel.
As we shook hands in order to seal our agreement, Nhagren asked us for our names. Naturally, I used my cunning pseudonym, ‘Ilkyn Blackviper.” Adralat employed the rather strange name ‘Conan of Cimmeria,’ whereas my brother foolishly blurted out his actual name.
And so we let the Pan Tangian go, our secret pact binding us all to various acts of skulduggery over the next few days.
It was early dawn when we returned to the Frozen Gem. As we climbed the stairs past the second floor, Adralat reported that he sensed someone suffering a potent dream.
“My friends, someone near here is dreaming of blue veils floating across an azure landscape, with a vast blue moon in the background,” our human colleague whispered urgently, “It is a most intriguing scene!”
“Yes, yes, Adralat. I think it is time for us to do some dreaming now,” replied Bōdric, obviously exhausted and irritated.
“To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub,” mumbled Adralat quietly to himself…