As we frantically searched for anything to use as evidence of Hiyark’s treachery with the strangely docile slaves, the guard arrived in force. Having heard the sounds of pitched battle, and then seen the carnage our group had wrought in our bid to free the captives, they promptly detained all present in order to determine what, exactly, had happened. As we were apprehended, we took one last look at these slaves we had exhorted to escape. None of the assorted humans, dwarves or elves seemed interested in escaping, though we noted a heavily tattooed ork in the group. Our instinct for adventure could spot a potential fellow adept, though if this investigation went poorly, we’d never get the chance to follow up on this curious thread.
Hiyark was taken into the personal custody of mayor Orin, while all of the town’s outsiders – including the Silver Linings Trading Company and Enlightened Materials – were put into a communal cell. Strangely, we were not stripped of our belongings, even our weapons. With little to do that evening, Lokan and Tala took to the puzzle box we still possessed with gusto, though after repeated attempts they had no success. As a group we had determined that it was not magical, merely finely crafted, and the need to examine the curio further stayed in the back of my mind for some time, perhaps to take my mind off of the very real danger of execution.
I had turned my attention to Enlightened Materials, seeking some wisdom from Melison on how magical compulsions could possibly cause Hiyark’s captives to refrain from even risking the mark of a blood betrayer to expose his sordid operation; unfortunately, her and her group’s moods somewhat dampened by our surroundings, she had little to offer beyond the theoretical. With little else to do, we retired for the night.
The following morning, Perel woke everyone present, taking our group to a separate meeting room to discuss the multiple charges being leveled against us, including several of murder. She impressed upon us that should we be unable to uncover something, anything, that would compel the guard to continue their investigation, we would likely be sentenced to death promptly. We were given the day to reach out to our contacts and find some further evidence.
We asked a guard to deliver our audience request to the Questor Rish and the shifty merchant Gee, but were surprised to find our first visitor was the tattooed ork we had seen among the slaves before. He introduced himself as Koho. Though he spoke to us of his origins as a High Plains tribesman from a group to the far west, he was clearly unable to speak of many circumstances related to Hiyark; in fact, he seemed compelled by some greater force to speak only kind words of Bonesetter. This became rather conspicuous when he heavily complimented a ring Melison wore, providing some leading comments that led Lokan to remember the dwarf sporting a very fine ring that could likely have been a thread item. Even ensnared in some foul compulsion, our new ork comrade was providing aid to our investigation!
Our ceaseless questioning of Koho was interrupted when Rish visited, immediately requesting news of the puzzle box. We relinquished the oddity, and Rish easily opened it, revealing a note inside. This note appeared to be a page ripped out of a diary, and indeed, as Rish read, it was from the personal records of the former Questor of Gahbi in Alnadotzli.
This intrepid individual had been investigating Hiyark as well, and had discovered a group forged by the dwarf and his men by blood oath. Though he had yet to uncover the name of this group, they sank a large cage into the river after swearing oaths to one another. The questor also expressed frustration that no slaves would be willing to betray whatever blood oath they were compelled to swear to Hiyark, and knew there must have been more to the story. The note ended with the questor committing to go beneath the waves and discover what Hiyark and his companions had sunk. Rish noted that according to town officials, the elderly questor had died of old age in bed, clearly a cover for more nefarious deeds.
Perel visited us once more, and we revealed our discovery of the cage in the river and the inconsistencies between the old questor’s own account and the official word on his passing. This provided enough to warrant further investigation, and Perel left us to continue whatever work we could from within our cell. At this time, Gee visited us, and after an intense discussion with Lokan about rare inks and how to produce facsimiles of such materials, they haggled and he agreed to provide our companion with some strange ingredients that could, in the wrong hands, be used to create false Kintani citizenship papers for an individual. Not that Lokan had any such plans, of course.
As the shopkeeper returned with the materials, Koho had decided to explore Hiyark’s chambers while the dwarf was still in custody; as an oath-bound slave, his presence would not be overly suspicious. We hoped fervently nothing would happen to this brave ork, so clearly seizing the opportunity to attain freedom, all the while mindful of the blood-deep bonds that kept him chained to the fiend Hiyark.
Koho headed back to Hiyark’s warehouse, and walked right in without issue. Finding the slave-master’s office locked, he forced his way in, and after a brief but thorough search found a small leather tome, some silver, and a fancy set of clothes in a chest of drawers. Inside the front cover of the tome was a hand-drawn chalice and a list of 12 names underneath it, several of which were guards in Hiyark’s employ. The book also appeared to be a ledger of where Hiyark had acquired his captives, and we surmised that this information would not line up with the public ledger kept in his warehouse. Koho left quickly with this potential lead and returned to the prison to hand it back to us.
We gave Perel the book as further evidence, noting the chalice connection and the list of 12 names as a further lead, and after a few hours the guard captain returned that enough evidence had been gathered to continue the investigation. She would allow three of our number to investigate the cage in the riverbed, an agreement that Lokan was able to negotiate up to four individuals. Knowing that En’kik’s innate swimming ability would serve our investigation far better than my own talents, I agreed to stay in the cell and let the t’skrang out for this investigation. The four set out, under heavy guard escort, to the docks.
En’kik dove directly into the water and searched around, finding the overgrown cage. Using a hookaxe and some rope, our group managed to hoist out a cage with a big wooden chest suspended in it. Lokan and Dave found neither astral signature nor trap on the chest, and when it was unlocked and opened, the watertight container held a golden chalice, the spitting image of the one in the tome we had discovered. We debated on whether to destroy this pattern item or to tie threads to it to better our ability against members of the group, deciding on destroying it, which Koho seemed rather agreeable to.
The moment the chalice was melted down, Koho admitted he was made a slave against his will, his grimace of pain indicating that he had indeed taken a blood wound. He explained that the chalice was a group pattern item, and Hiyark’s ring allowed any blood oath sworn to him to be sworn to this group. With a dozen individuals as part of this group, any oathbreaker would find themselves erupting in a torrent of blood, dead from a dozen blood wounds. This kept the unlawfully obtained slaves docile, unable to speak out against their treatment for fear of immediate and painful death.
The new testimony was enough for Hiyark to be imprisoned and put to death for his crimes, and for the slaves to be released. Perel provided official notice of our involvement in this investigation, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief that it would not be our own heads on the chopping block.
The remaining days before the t’skrang families’ riverboats would first dock in town were uneventful, with the Silver Linings Trading Company training and preparing for the next leg of our journey. We extended an offer to our friend Koho to join us, at least for the next leg of our journey, and he graciously accepted (and in the meantime, it seems, had befriended a riding horse). Indeed, we learned a bit more of our friend’s history as former fire-keeper of his tribe, though there were still wounds there from a disaster that had befallen his people, and we dared not pry. The chance to befriend a new adept helped take some of the sting out of the departure of Gen. As I mentioned in my previous missive, our dear friend had learned of a plot against his sister that Great Adventure had become entangled in, as they were on their way to assassinate her for daring to rise up against brutal Maricaash slave-masters.
We had survived our first brush with a settlement tied into the tangled web of Nemahay politics without our Ahtenko connections to shield us, but it would only get more difficult from here. Hopefully our beastmaster friend, as well-traveled as he was, would provide us with more aid as we traversed further into the unknown.