To anyone listening to this, let me cut to the chase. My name is Tamn. My friends are dead. I am at the bottom of a well, and I am surrounded by bandits. Hell, scratch that.
My name is Tamn. My friends are dead. I am now a bandit…Yeah, that sounds better. All hail Lord Noriss the Grey and all that…
Now, that that is out of the way, let me back up.
After a few days spent enjoying the fruits of their previous victory, Tamn, Hazel, Martha, and Ada the Simple decided to take a foray into the Slums as a first step to see if Martha could actually hold her own, pull her weight, and all that…
Hazel had posted a notice at the Training Hall, trying to pawn some of the magic items we collected from Sokol Keep. Given how pricey the Training Hall is, we were actually pretty surprised when someone showed up at the Bitter Blade asking about the notice. Turns out the berk wasn’t looking to buy. No, he told us he was impressed by the tally of arcane relics we were willing to part with. Said any cutter who could find so much and then give it up was exactly the kind he was looking for.
The berk’s name was Damien Nuren. Neat fellow—human, maybe 40 years, long black hair, claimed he was a gentleman, alchemist, and doctor of philosophy—the kindof berk who would have owned a good many of my fellows back in Hillsfar. Said he was looking for a very particular book called the and that the last known copy was supposed to have been owned by a sage who lived in Phlan in the old days. So, he wasn’t buying, he was hiring.
The berk gave us a magic cube which he said was good for helping find things and told us we should start looking roundabout the plaza near Kuto’s Well, which is the far side of the slums before the real ruins start these days. Seemed strait-forward enough, and he offered us a thousand gill each. Seemed like I was right about him being the kindof berk who could buy a whole clan worth of my kin.
Martha, bright lass, asked why, if he knew where to look and had his magic box, he didn’t just go fetch the book himself. Bright, but maybe insufficiently mercenary, since there was a THOUSAND GOLD in the deal for her. Anyways, Nuren said flat-out that he was a coward and that monsters and beggars and thieves and old ruins wasn’t his thing, so he was willing to pay well to get what he wanted without sticking his own neck out. Very sensible like.
Martha, again the bright lass, pointed out that all the slums-folk avoided Kuto’s Well out of course. Said that the bandit Noriss the Grey and his gang of toughs tended to lurk about the area, and that people who went to the well looking for a drink more often as not never came back.
We took the job anyways, because, seriously, a thousand gold a head is nothing to sneeze at.
Let me say, again, that Martha was a bright lass, and that she was right, Lord Noriss and his gang were definitely down the well way. Now, I don’t know if that berk Damien was a lying sack of shit or just misinformed, but we didn’t find any book, and that box of his did not work as advertised.
Now, I’ve lived in squalor, been beaten, been kicked, been thrown in the Arena, spent a few nights on the Isle of Lepers, and generally lived under the most wretched and unjust regime in the world, but Hillsfar’s worst was nothing compared to Phlan’s slums. I’d been there a few times over the past couple days, even dropped a pile of coins at the soup kitchen near the market, but the northeast side was basically three solid blocks of wading through shit—literal shit and figurative shit. Most of the beggars were the kind with missing limbs, the streets were wall-to-wall trash heaps cobbled with a carpet of barely concealed bones, the the buildings, if they could even be called that any more, were crumbling wrecks overgrown with plants just as dead as those on Thorn Island.
We tangled with a couple of orcs and a gnoll early on—the cutters said they wanted ‘tribute’ for walking through their turf—but Hazel and Ada’s blades made short work of them. Man, that Ada chick was kindof creepy, with the not talking and the beating things to a bloody pulp with her spikey elbows. I think I’ll miss her.
And rats, my god the rats. Big as ponies. We killed them too, without much trouble, mostly thanks to Martha’s sharp eyes. She saw them coming a mile away.
After that filth, the plaza around the well was actually pretty nice. I guess the threat of real danger was enough to keep most berks, and their trash, away from the place. Now, don’t get me wrong, the square, like the rest of the city, is littered with scattered stonework, blown leaves, and detritus, but none of the rotting food scraps, dead bodies, and excrement you see in the deep slums.
We got to the well plaza and Hazel tapped the shiny side of the cube, like the berk told us. She immediately dropped the thing and let out an uncharacteristic yelp, like she’d been shocked or something. The cube flew from her hand and rolled to a stop right beside the well. All of a sudden a big, black globe grew up around us—cold and dark as a winter night. We could still see, but not much.
Can I get a what the fuck? Like I said, either that Damien berk set us up, or he was an idiot, or whoever sold him the cube set him up.
Dim shapes moved within the cloud, which swirled and roiled with murk. We tried to move away from the well and the shadowy shapes followed us, circled us, flanked us. They weren’t quite substantial, just all darkness and fluff. Like shadows. I wailed at one with my swords and hit nothing but air, but when it swung at me I felt only a brush, but it was like all the strength was just sucked out of me. My arms felt weak and shaky, and cold, so cold.
Hazel rushed over and tore it a new one with her sword Blackflame, which, come to think of it, looks an awful lot like those creatures when it wakes up.
But then there were more of them. Hazel’s swords worked, and Ada’s elbow spikes, but my weapons were no good at all. And the things were fast. Freaky fast.
Hazel whirled and hacked and whirled some more, hitting the things a buch, but they kept landing hits too, and every one made her look weaker and weaker. Even when she flipped the fuck out, like she does, they kept swinging too.
I kept dodging and moving away, looking for an opening to run, but found my back to the well wall.
The shadowy things kept wacking at Hazel and Ada, and they kept fighting back. It was hard to tell how many there were, or who was winning, or whether we had really killed any at all. It was all too dark and they were too flimsy to really see.
Martha, also in the thick of it, had a few spells up her sleeve, and the magic mace, but was the first to fall. There just really wasn’t anything I could do, or so I keep telling myself.
Worse though, than seeing her slump to the ground with those wispy black claws digging at her, was seeing her get back up. Or something like her. It was like one of those black things tore itself out of her chest, but without any actual tearing. Or maybe the one that killed her split in two. Whatever the case, there was one more of the cutters.
That was it for me. We were surrounded, I couldn’t hurt the buggers, and my back was to a wall. I took the wall.
I dove into the well, which, it turns out, didn’t have much water in it. It was a long way down and it hurt.
I heard another scream from above and Hazel’s mad howls and angry curses stopped. Dead. Just like that. I can only assume that they got Ada not long after that, for things got mighty quiet and I didn’t hear any footsteps getting away.
I, on the other hand, had my own problems to deal with.
You see, I was lying at the bottom of a well with some twenty swords pointed my way, one of which was in the hand of Lord Noriss. But at least the shadow things seemed disinclined to come down the well.
Like I said. My friends are dead. I am now a bandit…All hail Lord Noriss the Grey and all that…