05

The Veiled Society


THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE AND COMPLETELY ACCURATE HISTORY OF OUR JOURNEY THROUGH THE WESTLANDS OF THE REALM

Written by Paddi Whisperleaf

…brought to light by Glen Sprigg

 

Day 10

We arrived at Specularum today, the biggest den of thieves in the Realm. When we approached the gates, Caelisar remarked that I would feel right at home here, which I don't think was a very nice thing to say. I suppose she's still mad at me because during the night some of her money went missing. Then, just because I had more than she did, she said I had stolen it! Just because she couldn't count her money properly when we divided it up. So maybe I had more than she did. I did most of the work, didn't I? If it wasn't for me, we wouldn't have found all that money in the chest. None of them could have opened it, that's for sure.

Anyway, the city was all buzzing about the upcoming Festival of Lucor, making the streets even more crowded than usual. I honestly don't know how all these people fit inside the walls. If they let too many more people in, the walls will collapse.

The gate guards were pretty bored about the whole thing; they gave us the same speech they had given everyone for the past several days. The only part that interested them was when they explained what happened to traitors. Since we're not actually citizens of the city, treason is hard to define for us. But since I don't want to be tortured, drawn and quartered because of a split legal hair, I'll just stay out of trouble. I think the others agree that that would be a good idea.

Well, the festival is certainly exciting! The instant we walked through the gates we were surrounded by people, dancers, minstrels, fortune-tellers, and even dancing animals! The bear was particularly interesting. I also noticed a young pickpocket getting overly curious about Edward's purse. Tapping him on the shoulder, I pointed out that stealing is against the law, and since Edward is a paladin, he'd be obliged to turn the young boy over to the authorities, with unpleasant consequences. He agreed with me, and left to find someone else to rob. After he left, I was a bit disappointed to find that he had only been carrying a few coppers on him. Oh, well. It's always good to keep in practice.

Then the procession began. A group of priests marched through the street, carrying a large statue. Edward asked a young boy about the procession, and he explained that it was in honor of Lucor, a famous priest. The procession would go down to the wharfs, and the statue would be floated down the river. Call me crazy, but the next stone statue I find that floats will be the first. Leading the procession was a pretty young woman, whom the young boy identified as Lady Magda of the Torenescu clan.

But the procession was interrupted by an argument between a couple of men and the lead bearer. It seemed to be a discussion of the rights of people to walk the streets. Considering the crowded conditions, complaining about a parade that was supposed to happen anyway seemed silly to me.

But then the argument got physical, and suddenly the crowd was getting angry. Edward was about to rush forward into the mess, but Branden held him back. "We don't know enough to choose sides, cousin. Watch and learn." Sensible advice. Never jump into a scene when you don't have a clue what's going on.

A couple of guards showed up and broke up the scene, pushing the antagonists apart. The parade continued on, and people resumed their amusements. After the parade had passed by, we began exploring the city.

Specularum is a very big city, and there is a lot to see. We decided to split up, meeting back at the city gates by nightfall. I had an amusing time trying to determine which festival goers were really poor and which ones were pretending to be so to avoid attracting the attention of pickpockets. I'm very good at that game, and I have the coins to prove it. I also visited a shopkeeper in town who recognized my special talents right away. I spent most of the day there, because as talented as I am, I recognize a master when I see one. He showed me a few tricks he had picked up, and I told him about our trip to the Rock. When I left, I thanked him for his time and made a generous donation to his shop, as is customary in our specialized profession.

I also spent some time in the taverns of Specularum. Not to drink, of course. I was mostly listening to the city gossip. Apparently there is some bad blood between the Torenescu clan and the Radu clan. The incident during the procession of Lucor is the main topic of conversation right now. We'll have to watch our step if we don't want to get mixed up in a blood feud of some sort.

When night fell, we met back at the city gates, and actually found a room at an inn. Before we could go in, a drunken man came walking by us. Suddenly, three ruffians came out of an alley, and the drunk sobered up quickly.

I didn't like him much, and his eyes had a dangerous glint to them. He suggested that we might be looking for work. He tossed us a small bag of gold, then he and the ruffians left. The guards nearby obviously didn't approve, though they looked away from us. Edward picked up the money, but he didn't look any happier about the encounter than I did. At least he has some sense underneath all that nobility. There are thieves, and there are thieves. These men just stank of nastiness. I hope they forget to come back tomorrow. But it's not likely.

When we finally got into the inn, a man sitting in the corner called out to us, also offering us work. Job opportunities are springing up all over, it seems. At least this man gave us his name: Theosius. Edward looked him over for a moment, then sat down at the table with Theosius.

Theosius was about as vague as the man from outside, but he promised that we wouldn't be asked to do anything illegal. Edward was noncommittal, but Theosius took it as agreement. He paid us a small amount of money, then left. Finally we got to our rooms. We'll be up early tomorrow; there's quite a bit more to see in Specularum. And we'll try to avoid that evil-looking man, if we can. I have a really bad feeling about this city.

 



 

Day 11

Today was a busy day, but we didn't get to do very much exploring in Specularum. Breakfast was delayed this morning as we sat down to eat only to be interrupted by an elderly woman running into the inn, screaming about demons below her house. The innkeeper tried to calm her down, and Edward told her that we'd be happy to investigate for her. I felt that this was more a job for the city constables, since that's what they get paid to do anyway. But Edward has this annoying habit of volunteering to do helpful things. I'm going to have to work on him a bit.

The woman, goodwife Thanato, led us through the streets to her home. The crowd hadn't had time to fill the streets yet, which meant we could actually walk without stepping on toes every other step. After yesterday's chaos, I was very grateful for the freedom to move. When we got to her home, she opened the trap door to the root cellar and told us the demons were down there. This to me was a good reason not to go down, but just try talking sense into a heroic paladin.

I was really not in the mood to run into demons, but I had to admit it wasn't likely that there would be any real demons in the cellar anyway. And Edward had Everbright, which gave him quite a bit of confidence. Maybe too much. But paladins never seem to understand the value of living to fight another day.

We went down the ladder into the cellar. It wa a typical cellar, musty and unpleasant. The only noise I heard was a rat. Then Edward saw a shadow. At least, he thought he did. None of us saw anything, but he was insistent.

A careful search of the cellar revealed a passage hidden behind a sack of grain. As we moved the sack, we all heard some clattering noises. Where they came from, we had no idea. I ruled out demons as being what was scaring the goodwife, but ghosts were definitely not out of the question.

We continued looking around, and Caelisar discovered a cellar wall that was actually a door. We discussed the options, and Edward decided we would go through the secret door first. Later we could come back to explore the other passage.

We explored a tunnel network for a while, then found another door that led to a collapsed cellar. I really wish Edward hadn't opened that door! It was cold, far colder than it should have been at this time of year. And there was something floating in the air. It was a ghost, no question about it. At this point I announced that I was more than ready to leave Specularum behind. But the others insisted on investigating further. Curiosity is wonderful, and I've been known to peek behind locked doors on occasion, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

So we looked around; the ghost disappeared, leaving us alone in the cold cellar. We did find something worthy of our attention: a box of old jewels! Well, this was more like it! I decided that staying down here wasn't so bad after all. Then the zombies attacked.

Have you ever tried to chop a dead body apart when it's moving? Believe me, it's not at all fun. The stench was absolutely horrid, and the sight of these corpses still attacking as Edward and the warriors chopped limbs and heads off was enough to make me sick. But Everbright was glowing brightly, and the zombies didn't last long against the strength of the warriors.

After this, I was even less interested in staying in this cellar. But Edward made a little speech about 'perservering in the face of death,' and we stayed down here. He's taking this whole leader thing a bit too seriously in my opinion. But the others are just as bad; they're following him. I stayed with them, since without me they'd get into far too much trouble.

We continued exploring, until we came to a cavern in which a small horde of kobolds were trying to shore up a ceiling. Now, I'm not a bloodthirsty gnome by any means, but kobolds are The Enemy. The only good kobold is not a dead kobold, but one that has been hacked into gory bits small enough to feed to a mouse.

I was about to give them a pointed lesson in why kobolds should leave gnomes alone when the ceiling started to become unstable. One of the kobolds spoke to us in the common tongue, pleading for help so they wouldn't be crushed by the ceiling. And that idiot paladin actually sheathed his sword! He stepped forward to help them, and the grateful kobolds let go of the beam. We barely avoided getting squashed by the falling dirt and rocks, and then the kobolds attacked us. Well, Edward didn't appreciate their lack of gratitude any more than I did, and we laid waste to them in a hurry. I wasn't bothering to take prisoners. Ten kobolds, ten slit throats. Except for the one Warren beheaded with his axe; he did a fine job, and I didn't need to make sure. So I stabbed that one in the heart instead. It felt good.

After we took care of the vermin, I felt much better about this whole exploration thing. Any day when I can help rid the world of those vile creatures is a good day. And it was becoming clear to us that these cellars were the site of some strange business. We didn't know exactly what, but I knew we'd figure it out.

Some time later we found another cellar with a hidden door. Someone was using these tunnels for a specific purpose, and I don't think it was ghosts. Except for the one that we saw, but it didn't do anything.

Someone was coming down through a trapdoor in the ceiling. We got out of sight and watched. It was a hooded man carrying a candle. We watched him go down one of the hallways, and followed him. I took the lead; he wasn't going to see me behind him. The others followed at a discreet distance, keeping me in sight.

He led us through the tunnels, occasionally glancing over his shoulder. I ducked out of sight, keeping my head down as much as possible. But it wasn't enough, because he stopped before another hidden door, then suddenly turned and charged at me! The nerve of him, pretending he hadn't seen me! Very bad manners.

I ducked to the side, and my friends were there with me before he could realize his mistake. Six-to-one odds are never good for the one, and he didn't last long. I checked out the door he had been approaching, but it seemed clean. Opening it quietly, we found another cellar, this one apparently beneath a butcher shop. Meats hung from hooks in the cool air, preserved for later need. But the cellar was occupied by two hooded men who were attempting to bury a large bundle. One look at the bundle told me it wasn't treasure they were burying, but something much more unpleasant. I ducked back into the hall where the others were waiting and told them what I had seen. Edward didn't even stop to think, which is a bad quality in a leader. He stormed into the cellar and drew Everbright, challenging them. They turned as if to flee, then changed their minds and advanced on the paladin. Then they saw that he had friends, as Warren and Caelisar flanked Edward. The rest of us weren't far behind. They were almost as surprised as the one who had led us here, and just as incompetent in a fight.

After we had dealt with the two, we examined the bundle. I wasn't at all surprised to see a young woman's body. Branden said a prayer for the dead, a courtesy he hadn't given to her murderers. Not that I blamed him. They were scum. Alyssa looked the body over, and said that she had been strangled to death.

Warren again spoke to us, concerned that we might be accused of the crime, especially since we were outsiders. While Edward and Branden tried to calm his fears, I did a more thorough examination of the body. In her hand was a bloody knife; she hadn't died without a struggle. In a city this size, it would be difficult to find a man (or woman) who had been cut with a knife, but at least we had something to work with.

Branden wanted to give her a proper burial, but I told him we would have to report the crime to the constable. I pointed out the strands of red hair underneath her fingernails. Now we had another clue to work with.

Edward then went way ahead of my thinking and announced that we would solve this crime ourselves. That seemed a bit far-fetched to me, considering we were strangers in Specularum. But Edward was insistent; injustice doesn't sit well with him. We agreed to report the crime, but beyond that we would have to see what happened.

Then Warren surprised us again. He pointed out that there was another liquid among the blood stains, a red wine. Now we had three clues; the bloody knife, the red hair, and the wine. Another secret door out of the cellar led to another passageway, at the end of which we found another door. On the other side we found three men in chains, being forced to dig under the supervision of three burly hobgoblins. One of the men saw us and rushed toward us, and the hobgoblins snarled at us and attacked. They were no match for us, though, and the slaves were free. They thanked us profusely, telling us about the horrors of their enslavement. Hobgoblins aren't as nasty and vile as kobolds, but I didn't mind performing this little public service.

We took them with us back to the goodwife's cellar, and we all left the dingy tunnels. Goodwife Thanato was pleased to know she wasn't insane, and suggested we report the crime to the constabulary. Which we were going to do anyway. She also mentioned a secret band of cutthroats calling themselves the Veiled Society. That certainly sounded plausible, considering who we had found burying the corpse.

We went to the constabulary, and our story was checked by a priestess who admitted we weren't the vicious murderers the constable seemed to hope we were. I suppose he was irritated because he'd actually have to do some work instead of just throwing us in prison. We were accompanied to the Vorloi house; apparently the young woman was a member of that family.

Some questioning of the tribune that accompanied us revealed that there were three rival families, the Vorloi, the Torenescu and the Radu. He described some of the politics that infested the city, mostly intrigue involving these three families. And now a young girl had been murdered inher home.

Along with the tribune, we investigated the house, which was empty. In the kitchen we found a blood trail that led to the cellars. Down there we found a bloodstained piece of rope. In the corner I spotted a ring. Before I could examine it more closely the tribune took it, saying it bore the symbol of the Torenescu clan. That of course made them the logical suspects in this crime. But something was nagging at the back of my mind. Who leaves such an obvious clue, other than an idiot...or someone who wants to shift the blame? I know a bit about this sort of thing; the solution is rarely so obvious.

We went down into the deeper cellar where we had found the body. The dead men we had left here were gone; I just hope it wasn't under their own power. But the girl's body was still here, and she was still dead. I was actually mildly surprised, considering the walking dead we'd seen down here earlier.

As the priests finished their examination, I noticed that some of the bloodstains formed the shapes of letters. They were hard to make out, but it looked as though they spelled out 'BAD.' We went back up the stairs, and I spotted something unusual on the ladder: bits of pitch. What was that doing there?

After we were finished with assisting the tribune, the constable allowed us to go free. We returned to the inn, exhausted by the day's events. I wonder how all this will affect the Festival. And I wonder how much more trouble Edward is going to get us in.

 



 

Day 12

After a good night's sleep, everyone was ready to face whatever today brought. Little did we know just what today was going to bring. If I had known what we were going to go through today, I would have stayed in bed. I'm tempted to do so tomorrow, but I don't think the others will let me. I think that's quite inconsiderate of them. But they would get into so much trouble without me. So I'd better keep an eye out for them.

As we walked through the streets this morning, there was a lot of angry talk about the Torenescu clan. They were being blamed for the murder, which didn't sit well with me. If I were to steal a large diamond, not that I would do anything of the sort, I wouldn't leave one of my shoes behind. I might leave someone else's behind, hoping the authorities would be stupid enough to fall for such an obvious ploy. And the authorities seemed to be doing just that.

So were the citizens of Specularum. We overheard that someone was in the eastern market, stirring up the crowd against the Torenescu. Alyssa, who agreed with my conclusions about the ring, suggested we go to the market and listen. Caelisar thought this was a bad idea, but Edward took Alyssa's side. So off we went.

We weren't the only ones; the market was filled with people. On the central fountain, a man shouted nasty things about the Torenescu. The crowd was rumbling with agreement, and Edward began to listen to Caelisar's objections to being here. Before we could get out of there, though, thirty of the duke's horsemen rode up, silencing the crowd. "Good," said Edward. "Now these people will let the authorities deal with this crime.'

A sweet boy, Edward is, but he has an annoying tendency to be wrong. The crowd, rather than leaving the marketplace, decided to fight the soldiers! We got caught up in the swarms of people, and found ourselves in the middle of a vicious street riot!

We didn't have much choice; the soldiers thought we were part of the crowd, and attacked us despite Edward's attempt to explain. Fortunately he didn't waste too much time talking, and we found ourselves fighting a troop of mounted horsemen. The peasants overwhelmed the horsemen, and we escaped from the riot before we could be acclaimed as the leaders of the revolution. We saw the orator who had started this whole thing ducking down an alley, and I sprinted after him, the others hot on my heels. He ducked into a small hovel, but the door was so much kindling when Edward and Warren smashed through it. Having strong warriors around can be really useful.

The orator wasn't in the room, but there was a trapdoor. We scurried down the ladder, and saw a bobbing light ahead. We followed the light through a tunnel, and came to another trap door. Climbing, we found ourselves in a similar hovel to the one we had entered the tunnel from. Very unimaginative architecture. Humans really need to learn the concept of variety.

The talkative man was trying to block the trapdoor, but we shoved it open and grabbed him before he could cover it and make good his escape. He drew his sword, but that was about as useful as carrying water with a sock. Edward disarmed him with Everbright, shattering the man's sword with one blow. At this point his magnificent oratory skills deserted him, and he babbled out a plea for mercy. With Warren's battle axe in plain sight, the man confessed that he had been told by the Veiled Society to stir up trouble against the Torenescu. He didn't know who actually ran the Veiled Society, but he knew who had murdered the girl, and he knew where we could find them.

Edward gave him a stern warning never to return to Specularum, and the man nodded gratefully, running out as soon as Edward released him. He was in such a hurry that he didn't even miss his purse. I doubt he'll be coming back for it anyway. But he was certainly paid well enough for his troublemaking.

We emerged from the house to find ourselves on the waterfront. Before we could act on the information we had learned, a dagger suddenly sprouted from the wall next to us. Attached to the dagger was a note, telling us to be at a certain shop tonight. Edward vowed in no uncertain terms that we would do nothing of the kind. I had to agree, although I wish he'd do his vowing more quietly. No wonder paladins have a short life expectancy.

On the waterfront, we spoke to a shipbuilder. When we asked him about the pitch we had found, he admitted that he had sold pitch to several red-haired men, mostly men who worked on the sea and river. We went back into the main part of the city, but the rioting was getting worse. There were fires burning in the marketplace, and more and more soldiers coming to quell the riots. I wished them luck, but I wasn't too hopeful. That orator had done his job far too well. We returned to the inn, hoping to avoid the worst of the fighting.

When we got there, a message arrived from Theosius. He wanted us to pick up a package at the waterfront and take it to a senator's house. So instead of a good night's sleep, we went back out into the streets.

We arrived at the waterfront, and found the ship where the package was coming from. The 'package' turned out to be a man, a member of the Torenescu clan. Simion was his name, and he was supposed to be meeting a senator to try and resolve the problems that were plaguing the city. We had been asked to accompany him because of our anonymity. Somehow I didn't think the Veiled Society has no clue who we are, especially considering they were probably the ones trying to hire us for some job of their own.

And then, to make things more interesting, a ragged group of beggars showed up, announcing that they had been sent by the Prince of Beggars to escort Simion. Now, if this was such a secret meeting, why did a pack of beggars know about it? But Simion just laughed and invited them along. So off we went. I spent more time watching the hired help than I did watching where we were going, and it almost cost me my life.

We reached Vintner's Lane, which just happened to be where we had been told to go by the dagger-note, and a group of masked thugs leapt out from the shadows and attacked. I barely avoided getting my head sliced off; if I wasn't already short, I would have been shortened for sure. Not a pleasant way to die. But then, I can't really think of any ways to die that are pleasant. I suppose there must be some, but none spring to mind.

We fought them off, and the beggars were actually helpful, even though we did most of the work. The hooded men refused to be taken alive, so we had to kill them all. Not that we were really bothered by that; with all the trouble this Veiled Society has caused us, it was about time they learned that we weren't the pushovers they thought we were. At least, I hope we're not. They didn't have any money, but Caelisar picked up a nice pair of gauntlets from one of them. They fit her quite well, and they will protect her hands better than the gloves she was using before.

Simion thanked us for saving his life, and we got out of there in a hurry and headed to the Senator's house. Simion was properly grateful, giving us a lot of money for our efforts. Well, at least someone around here appreciates us! We headed back to the inn, finally getting some well-deserved rest. I still think we should stay in bed tomorrow.

 



 

Day 13

We didn't get much sleep last night; the city guard were still quelling the riots, keeping us awake for much of the night. When we did leave, we had only take a couple of steps out of the inn when a crossbow bolt appeared about a foot away from Alyssa's head. Turning, we saw a hooded man with a crossbow running for his life. Smart thinking, considering Edward and Warren were already on his tail. We chased him down an alley, when suddenly three archers jumped up and fired at us. We barely slowed down, as Caelisar and Warren showed them what archery was all about. They made nice pincushions. We kept after the crossbowman, and his delaying tactics only made us more angry.

But finally we ran into a crowd that was surrounding a group of mounted soldiers. Another riot! I thought with apprehension. But nothing actually happened. Caelisar still had her eye on the crossbowman, who by now had tossed the crossbow and his hood aside. He shoved people aside, and we pushed our way through the crowd in pursuit. At one point, he shoved a fishmonger's cart down at us. Caelisar stunned us all by stopping the cart herself, turning it aside so it wouldn't roll down into the crowd. Not even Warren is that strong! Before we could even ask how this slim elven archer had done that, she urged us to continue after the fleeing crossbowman.

We chased him down an alley, but he somehow disappeared. In his place was a huge warrior with a gigantic sword. He came at us, but Caelisar struck a tremendous blow with her sword, nearly killing him with one stroke. I really have to know where she got this sudden strength from. The warrior didn't put up much of a fight after that, and we searched the alley for clues as to where the crossbowman had gone.

It was Edward who discovered the secret catch. We found a narrow alleyway between some shops, and cautiously proceeded. The alley was empty, and a dead end, but since there was no sign of the crossbowman, we knew there had to be another secret entrance. I spotted the catch, which was lower to the ground. Being short has its advantages, despite what humans think. Through the door we went.

What we saw stunned us all. There was a great meeting room, with a bronze gong along one wall. We found ourselves watching a meeting of about twenty hooded men; the Veiled Society! Their leader wore even more ornately decorated robes, and he announced that the Society's enemies would soon be destroyed. I really hoped he wasn't talking about us. But they were talking about someone else, one of their own. We watched in horror as one of the men was then dragged to the ground by his fellows, and killed on the spot for having murdered the girl. Edward was ready to jump in and attack them, but Branden held him back. We were badly outnumbered, and leaping in among a group of fanatics was not the best idea in the world. I watched the leader leave, going behind the gong. After the 'execution,' we waited for the Veiled Society members to leave. Then we slipped behind the gong ourselves and followed the leader.

We came to another alley, at the end of which was a door. But before anyone could open it, I saw something odd on the opposite wall. The floor was slightly scraped, as if by a door. Feeling around, I found another catch. These Veiled Society people certainly like secret doors!

We opened the door and found ourselves at the scene of yet another murder. An old man lay on the floor in a pool of blood, with two others standing over him. The younger one shouted that the other had murdered their father. The older man sneered at us, and drew his sword. He was a very good fighter, but he was also outnumbered seven-to-one. But he held the others off very well...until I snuck up behind him and slipped my sword into his back. I don't like murderers at all. They give the rest of us a bad name.

As we caught our breath, the younger man thanked us for our help, and then offered us positions of power in the Veiled Society! Thanks to us, he was now in charge of that murderous organization! Well, you can just imagine how Edward felt about that little idea. And so we had another fight on our hands. This young man, though obviously outmatched, swore we would not take him alive. And we didn't.

Searching the desk, we found papers that identified the true power behind the Veiled Society. We were acclaimed as heroes, and the constable was generous enough to allow us to keep what treasure we found in the Society's headquarters. The Society was broken, perhaps forever, and Specularum would hopefully become a more peaceful city. The riots dissipated when the news of the truth about the murders was circulated, and the city quieted down in a hurry.

We decided not to stay in Specularum any longer; we had accomplished quite a bit, and there were still members of the Veiled Society running free. I didn't want to find any daggers lodged in my back, and neither did the rest. So we left Specularum, in search of the next grand adventure. I'll miss the city, I think; there are so many opportunities for a clever gnome in a city like Specularum. But there are other cities, and other adventures. And after all, what is life but the grandest adventure of all?

 

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All of the preceding modules and game worlds are trademarked property of TSR Inc, which is now the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. I take no credit for the stories or ideas presented here, save for the six characters created as a vehicle through the adventures, I merely converted them to a playable format for SSI's Unlimited Adventures game.