Urban Adventuring - The Tale of Ujin Tohl the Viridescent part 3
In this installment I realized I needed allies to complete my task, so I went in search of some...
Ujin woke the next day and found himself troubled over his decision to go back to the Broken Sword tavern. He needed to clear his head.
He dressed as minimally as he could to avoid making the early morning heat any worse than it already was. He had his magical cloak, two daggers and a sling, and he memorized color spray and hypnotism just to be safe. He left the Inn and walked west with the warm sun on his back.
Even at this early hour the city was awake and active, grocers opening their stores and stocking produce, merchants arranging their wares and dusting off their stoops, early rising Ward patrols walking by while surveying the crowds for trouble.
The city was alive, always alive, and its life flowed around the phantasmist. He lost himself in it.
After a short time Ujin passed a shop advertising mounts for use both inside and outside of the city. For some reason it caught his eye and he stopped and looked at it again. The “store” was a sign outside of a set of pens, each pen containing one or two of the relevant mount, except for the giant lizard and giant frog pens, they each had more than a dozen of their respective mounts. A small horde of boys and girls, all likely between 5 and 10, buzzed around the area like flies on a dead animal, cleaning the pens, filling the troughs with water and throwing live food to the mounts in question (or vegetables, depending on the mount type).
Ujin wandered along the path that wound through the pens. Giant lizards, giant frogs, giant spiders, ankhegs, water buffalo, and giant snakes were all in pens and on offer. He couldn’t even contemplate the ankhegs or giant snakes, both seemed like mad choices, but for some reason he was drawn to the giant spider. As big as a horse, black striped with red, it was strangely compelling. Perhaps its many eyes hypnotized you when you looked at it?
One of the proprietors arrived, eager to convince Ujin to buy something.
“Most of our customers avoid the spiders and snakes, but I see you have a good eye.”
Ujin had flim flamed enough people to know when he was being worked, but if anything it provided the opportunity to pick up some tips, so he kept quiet.
“The spiders have been carefully bred here by a certain unnamed Warlock, they spin no webs but they can jump almost 40 feet forward, or 20 feet straight up or back at any time.”
Ujin nodded as his interlocutor pressed on.
“But the truly amazing part is this”, he pointed to a dark red circle at the base of the creatures’s neck, “if you put a drop of your blood on that circle, the spider will obey you in almost all matters.”
Ujin was doubly impressed by this. He dreaded the weeks one normally spent trying to train on a mount, if this method worked, he could save all that.
The man reached into a nearby bucket and threw a chunk of meat into the spider’s pen.
The beast skittered over and devoured it almost instantly.
The proprietor smiled, “You do have to feed them regularly though.”
Ujin nodded in agreement.
The two men haggled for several minutes and agreed upon a price of 10gp for the day, Ujin paid the fee, as well as a deposit of 100gp returnable when the beast was returned “unmolested”, and took out his knife, pricking his finger and allowing a drop to fall on to the small circle the man had pointed out.
The spider shuddered as if overwhelmed by a wave of pleasure.
Ujin found this disquieting, but he climbed into the saddle nonetheless. The saddle itself had a large seat back and stirrups, and was quite comfortable.
The handler gave some advice on steering, suggestions for how to avoid being bucked off (“never hit the beast, always feed it regularly – fresh food is best – and avoid the cold, it hates the cold. Oh, and avoid loitering near small creatures or it will try to eat them) how to mount and dismount the beast (“never exit over the head, it will spook the beast and it will eat you”), and the importance of using the reins, stirrups and such when the spider leapt.
Ujin smiled and the beast left into the street with the phantasmist on his back.
He found very quickly that he could just point the spider in a particular direction and it would avoid obstacles and keep the line. Once he realized this Ujin could concentrate and think about his problem.
He had been avoiding this thought process since he arrived at the Inn last night, but he woke to the realization that he was outclassed.
Getting to a powerful thief like Shinn in his home was a mighty challenge. On his own the challenge was magnified a hundredfold. Yes, he might be able to sneak in, and yes, he might be able to steal the ring, but the consequences for failure were extremely high, he did not want to be fodder for those dogs and their many hungry heads, and the odds of success were fairly low in Imiran Shinn’s home.
Ujin had ran with an adventuring company for a while, Ginnis Ulintal the Cirradin, warlock without peer, Mahl Parlon the Imperious – a finer warrior Ujin had never known, even Binsarn Worlas the priest of Quetzalcoatl, with his bizarre snake rituals and strange diet of bugs were all worthy adventuring companions, and all would have been useful here.
Alas, all were dead after that disastrous encounter with the umber hulk, Ujin could still recall the glazed and empty look in Ginnis’s eyes when the beast grabbed her head and crushed it like a grape.
Ujin realized what he needed, an alliance.
Where to find allies in a new place?
Ujin’s spider had wandered its way to the canal, as the emerged from a side street Ujin had to pull back on the reins as a swarm of flightless green and orange birds carved a swath through the road, squawking and keening as they went. Ujin watched as his giant spider quickly snatched a passing flightless bird with its mandible and consumed it in about five heartbeats. While he was doing this the rest of the birds distanced themselves.
Ujin tightened his grip on the reins and they moved along the canal away from the birds.
Suddenly Ujin figured it out.
Every thief, particularly one as influential as Imiran Shinn, the “Basilisk”, would have sworn enemies. He just needed to find one and see if he could convince them to ally with him.
Who to ask?
His local contact? No, he would likely not know, but even if he did, there were a few days left before meeting.
The Temple of Yama? Ujin was tempted, but one visit for a favor was probably enough. Why tempt the gods?
The giant spider lurched to the side to avoid a fast passing cart and scampered up the side of a low lying building to the roof. At this point the spider took off fairly quickly, and the two of them skirted across rooftops, using the canopy of plants between them to cross roads. Many of the rooftops had gardens, the spider navigated around them.
It was exhilarating.
They moved along the rooftops and Ujin spotted towers in the distance from this vantage point, dozens of them could be seen from here, this city was teeming with warlocks!
Who could tell him what he needed to know, without him being too obvious about asking?
Ujin looked around and he had an epiphany.
Qwil Wohn, the man who managed betting on the fights at the Basilisk’s tavern would likely know, if Ujin could hypnotize him and ask, it would likely work. Asking straight out was too suspicious, he could use the spell to get the answers instead.
Ujin was satisfied that this was the best course of action. It would give him crucial information and a possible ally, he just needed to visit the tavern tonight and hope Shinn was not “in house.”
He and the giant spider spent another hour exploring the city, staying on the rooftops for the first while then returning to the street. A group of minstrels attempted to serenade the giant spider, it jumped over them and continued on. A group of fire eaters and gymnasts took over one of the squares as he rode through. They were running at each other then each would grab the other and flip past each other, form pyramids, support each other on their feet, they were very talented. The spider pretty clearly wanted to eat one, but Ujin’s firm pull on the reigns convinced it otherwise.
Ujin tethered his spider behind the inn in an outdoor stable, throwing some fresh meat in its direction.
Ujin didn’t watch the beast eat, that was just too much.
He then retired to sleep off the hottest part of the day, and when he woke he would memorize spells.
Ujin awoke after dinner time when the sun was sunken in the sky. As the darkness spread he dressed in one of several outfits he had bought yesterday. This time it was a red jacket over a black pants and shirt, a brass ring on each finger and hair pulled back tightly and tucked under a leather skullcap.
It would be hot, but his hair would be hidden, he did not want to leave any more distinguishing signs than he had to.
He took his magical cloak, four daggers and his sling (concealed in his jacket) and he memorized change self, chromatic orb, color spray and hypnotism, blindness, hypnotic pattern, improved phantasmal force and paralyzation.
When Ujin arrived at the Broken Sword Tavern Imiran Shinn was not there, at least not on his throne. Ujin settled in and began to eat and drink, waiting for Shinn's assistant, Qwil Wohn to appear. The tavern was fairly busy, there were perhaps 150 patrons inside.
He made small talk with several merchants out for a drink, they were vexed over a city tax that targeted luxury items, Ujin feigned disgust and concern.
After a half hour or so Whon appeared in the tavern. His face was drawn thin and he was looking over the daily take, checking the supplies of alcohol, tracking what was used and what was not. After twenty minutes or so he sat and started tallying on a long sheet.
As the man sat tallying numbers Ujin walked to the bar to order a drink and stood beside him.
"I notice you are tallying wine and beer costs", Ujin said casually.
Whon looked up and squinted at Ujin.
"And your interest in this is...?"
Ujin bowed his head slightly, "My apologies, I'm a brewer and I was hoping to secure business here in the city, but no one seems interested."
Whon shook his head, "No wonder, you brewers want exclusive business, bulk sales, those are not for everyone."
Ujin smiled and nodded, "I could not agree more, my brewery is small and specialized, we don't do bulk orders or demand exclusive business."
Ujin had learned that a good illusionist watched, and a good thief listened. Last year he had shared a several hour long caravan ride with a brewer, Ujin let him talk his ear off about the business, and he drew liberally from that knowledge to create the illusion that he was who he was not. Fleecing a mark required plausibility, it allowed the thief to manipulate the conversation. A good thief was like the cunning fox, who knew a little bit about a lot of different things.
Ujin added, "Mazany Lisak, pleased to make your acquaintance."
A good thief also had many aliases.
The man responded in a slightly dry tone, "Qwil Wohn."
Ujin waved at the bartender and pointed at his almost finished beer. He looked up and down the bar and they were somewhat alone, Whon had picked the most isolated section of the bar to work in. With the ambient noise their conversation was likely unheard.
"Perhaps you could answer another question."
Whon kept looking at his sheets but nodded distractedly, "Yes."
"I'm from quite a distance from here and when I was in the square yesterday I heard a minstrel singing a dark, somber tune, and it had been playing in my mind ever since. If I hum it, and sing a few words could you tell me it's name?"
Whon chuckled while keeping his eyes on his work, "I have been working here for three years, I have heard every drunken minstrel sing every drunken tune ever written, hum away."
Ujin smiled then began to chant a droning incantation.
"Jsem válcování hrom, Já vytí déšť, Jdu na jako hurikán."
He repeated this incantation three times, enough to satisfy the magic, and then he spoke his suggestion.
"I would do a favor for your master to gain his business, so I have a question. I was here several weeks ago and men fought in that pit. I can imagine your master must have made many enemies from the fights there. My family has connections to a minor Lord from a major city House, tell me all you know about your master's greatest enemy and I can have him rounded up and taught a lesson."
Ujin waited for a moment, and smiled as Whon started talking.
"Well, the master's greatest enemy didn't come from that pit, and that is a slightly longer story. The city Lords and the saan, currently united under the banner of Gossarak the Targg, Shaman-Chief of the reigning Kur-Targg tribe, have had good relations for years.
However, there is one who disputes the rule of Gossarak, a saan shaman known to his followers as “Jal Bhains", literally, the Water Buffalo, he is devoted to Yama, god of death. He and his followers, known as “the Horde of Yama”, blaspheme in the eyes of the rest of the tribes united under Gossarak, who worship the swamp and nature, sometimes pictured as a Naga, but do not believe in “gods”, certainly not human gods."
Ujin nodded and listened intently as Whon continued.
"Jal Bhains had a prophetic dream several years ago, and in it he saw the saan tribes united under him, and an alliance with the bandits and mercenaries from beyond the jungle against the city. Like any partnership, the cooperation between the city and the saan tribes had good and bad periods, but most were satisfied that both sides were getting what they wanted. Jal Bhains has found the disaffected, the exiled, the violent, those who were sent out of other tribes, drifters, and those who simply never liked partnership with humans.
Then he started attacking caravans to disrupt city trade. One of the caravans under my master's protection was ambushed by Bains, many of his men killed, this was a huge loss of people, gold and valuable reputation that has hurt him much since. He then called on the guild for support but they were not interested, anything that caused disruption distracted the authorities from their work. So he spent thousands of gold on mercenaries and struck back, killing dozens of Bains' men, killing two of his dragons and dozens of his giant lizards, destroying one of his bases and most galling, killing one of his closest lieutenants. Bains loathes my master, and my master wants him dead more than any."
Whon stopped talking and stared ahead, somewhat blankly, looking a bit confused. Ujin jumped in right away.
"I'm afraid that is beyond the meager resources that I command, I won't be able to help out as I had hoped."
Ujin rose, threw a silver coin on the bar to pay for his drinks, and left before Whon realized he had been ensorcelled.
He now knew where to go, he had to find this Jal Bains and see if his hatred had a price.
Ujin spent the next day gathering information on Jal Bhains, and it was not hard to find. The saan holy man was well known to many in the city. Those who had grievances with the city admired his rebellion, though few would openly support it. Those who had grievances with the saan liked him as he challenged their current leadership. Worshippers of Yama had mixed feelings, but for the most part supported his campaign, at least at a distance.
It was also surprisingly easy to discover where he was. Bhains had set up camp in the swamp about 3 miles from the city. The city troops knew where he was, and periodic delegations were sent to the camp to negotiate or intimidate. Bhains and his saan could move in a heartbeat and set up anywhere in the swamp, so they felt safe in one place for a time.
So Ujin even knew where to go.
What he didn't know was how to approach him. What would sway him to help, what would give Ujin leverage over him? Warlocks here were not like others further north, warlocks in Bhavisyavani were... bold, aggressive and confident. They cultivated public personas the way gladiators did.
So a meek approach was out of the question, Bhains was used to powerful, demanding warlocks, so Ujin would have to give him one.
Ujin dressed in his full adventuring kit, leather armor, magical cloak and sword, sling and daggers and magical scroll. This would not be a stealth mission so he memorized color spray, chromatic orb, detect invisibility, wall of fog, hypnotic pattern, and improved phantasmal force (twice).
He vacillated on his last spell.
Paralyzation was his most powerful spell for combat, it had saved him countless times before. But this was about show, impression, mana...
Phantom steed was the last spell to be memorized.
He waited until sundown to leave as he wanted the advantage of low light or darkness. Ujin headed to the dock lands Ward and visited a tavern or two until he found a mercenary who claimed to know the site of Bhains' camp. It was located on an island in a branch of the river that surrounded Bhavisyavani. It was really just a matter of following the river, more or less. The man had made the trip a few times and was willing to drop Ujin there and leave. There was a land bridge that reached the island, easily defended by the witch doctor's troops. He would get Ujin that far.
They haggled over price and agreed on 50gp. If he saw action, the price tripled.
Ujin sized up the man well, he looked more than capable.
It was agreed.
The mercenary, one Joven Castlebraw, was dressed in leather armor and carried a crossbow, broadsword and battleaxe. He wore no house crest, and looked like a northerner from his dress and the cut of his beard, but Ujin recognized a Bhavisyavani thieves guild tattoo, a brass blade silhouetted by the blood red moon, barely concealed on his upper arm.
The guild down here recruited them big.
The two of them found mounts, Ujin his giant spider and Joven rode a giant lizard. It's head and shoulders were black and they faded to grey then to green on its back half. It had blood red eyes and answered to "Zond".
The two men left the city gates and headed northeast past the shantytowns and the Garudin towers, under the light of a spirited half moon.
As they rode the mercenary asked questions.
Ujin looked over, "Why what?"
"Why are you going to Bhains, he's dangerous."
Ujin nodded, "I have business, it's not a choice."
Ujin looked over at Joven, who nodded in understanding.
Ujin asked, "Do you think Bhains is strong enough to win his fight?"
Joven chuckled, "Bhains is still breathing as he hasn't made himself too much of a nuisance. And his attacks give House Lords something to fight outside the arena. They will take him down when they are ready."
Ujin reminded himself that these Bhavisyavanians were an uncharacteristically blunt lot, they said what the thought. He found the mercenaries views fascinating, particularly as he was a guild member.
"He has dragons, yes?"
Joven spit, "Yas, they have dragons, marsh dragons, they breathe gas on you that knocks out half your men, then they spark it with their incisor teeth and it ignites. Hurts like a bitch."
"You have experienced it?"
"Find me a merc living here for more than one season that hasn't watched their friends choke then burn", he paused and took out a rough piece of something from his tunic, it looked like metal.
Joven struck the object against a metal strip on his gauntlet and sparks flew.
"Handy flint stone."
They rode like this for about half an hour, following a branch of the main river while discussing the city. They had to stray in a few places as the ground near the river was too wet, but otherwise it was uneventful.
Finally the men reached a cluster of gossombyre trees, their trunks consisted of a column of densely packed dark green leaves encasing a solid core, white branches grew out from the leaf trunk and ended in fine iridescent roots that swayed in the breeze and sucked moisture out of the air.
Joven pointed to the tree, "Don't tie your spider to that, it'll suck it dry and kill it overnight. Great way to dry off if your wet though, from soaked to dry in an hour, just drink a bit extra."
Ujin smiled, he could smell the smoke carried by the wind from the distant camp, and he could see the glow of the fires, out here the darkness was total so the camp was easy to spot. Sound carried fairly well though, he couldn't hear words but he could make out voices, even from this distance, so they would have to be quiet. He dismounted and walked to the copse of trees, peering out from behind iridescent roots that did not change color in the darkness.
Joven walked up behind him.
Ujin tried to make out details of the camp from a distance, but it was too dark to see very much.
"Thank you for bringing me", Ujin said, "hopefully I will live through this and be able to tell you a rousing tale later."
Ujin heard something odd, a scraping noise from behind him. Like the sound of Joven's axe being drawn out of its leather strap. Odd, Ujin thought, he had a crossbow, why take out his axe? Ujin immediately felt that something was strange. He heard the creak of the mercenaries armor as if an arm was being pulled back...
He turned just in time to see an axe blade slicing towards his neck. Ujin dodged at the last second and Joven's axe buried itself in the trunk of the gossombyre tree.
Ujin bolted away from the mercenary past the edge of the trees, he heard Joven pulling his axe out of the tree trunk and turning to follow. Fortunately once Ujin had moved out of sight he drew his weapons and stopped, his magical cloak blended him effortlessly with the shadows.
Joven freed the axe and bounded around the corner looking for the phantasmist.
Ujin waited until Joven passed by his hiding spot and went around the side of the copse and then he moved out into the almost total darkness of the night. Ujin found a spot near the copse and waited silently.
Joven stopped, standing about a dozen feet from the trees.
"Bhains will kill you anyway ajanabee, he doesn't like headstripes any more than Lords. Better to die by my sword than be torn apart and fed to his dragons!"
Ujin considered waiting it out, perhaps the mercenary would just leave.
No such luck.
Now Ujin worried, sound carried well here and he did not want to be announced this way. He reached down and felt around for a stone, when he found one he tossed it into the grass a short distance from his position.
The mercenary turned and immediately moved in the direction of the sound, both hands wrapped tightly around his axe.
As he passed by Ujin leapt out and struck Joven's back twice, once high with his dagger and a second time low with his sword. Ujin held the sword and dagger in Joven's body and felt the life flowing out of him.
While his body bucked on the blades Ujin whispered in his ear, "Were you hired to kill me?"
Joven coughed blood, laughed a terrified laugh, choked and gargled, his life was ending in front of Ujin’s eyes..
"No… you were, easy mark, no one around..."
Ujin pulled out his dagger and slit Joven's throat to keep him quiet, then he removed the sword.
The mercenary's body crumpled to the ground, he twitched, shook and died.
Ujin immediately looked around to see if there were any other men around, perhaps this was an ambush.
He was alone.
So this was likely just what the mercenary said it was, a foreigner with gold in a remote place where no one would find the body. Ujin cursed himself for being too absorbed in his task to see it, this was the oldest con in the books.
He rifled through Joven's belongings, he found the gold he had given him, a small pouch of jewels, a potion bottle and, of all things, a scroll. He kept the scroll unopened for now, and considered the potion. He had secured a potion from the first group of soldiers he fought days ago and tasted a small sample, it was a potion that transformed polluted water into drinkable water. He had left that potion behind.
He sipped this new potion and for a moment he felt the presence of the gossombyre tree in his head, as if it was somehow aware of him.
Ujin noted this for future reference and stored the potion.
He walked back to Joven's mount and went to cut it loose. Then he paused with an idea. He went back to Joven's limp body and uttered a short prayer to Yama. He then dragged it over to his lizard mount, taking a moment to secure it, upright, to the saddle.
Ujin found a more agreeable area to tie off his spider and then returned to the copse of gossombyre trees and the dead mercenary. He took out a pair of opal gemstones, one milky white and the other jet black. He sat cross legged for ten minutes, feeling the stones in his hands and envisioning the spell.
He held one in each hand and waved them in an intersecting circular pattern while speaking the words "přízrak oř" several times over. He then motioned upwards with both hands parallel to the ground, fingers pointing up like he was a conductor in front of an unseen orchestra.
As he did a spectral head emerged from the ground, ebon with a grey mane and milky white eyes, then a neck, then an ebon leg with a smoky grey hoof. The leg pulled upwards and the barrel of its chest appeared, the phantom steed seemed to crawl out of the ground as if emerging from the womb.
Ujin mounted the horse and rode towards Joven's giant lizard, standing behind the beast on the side away from the land bridge. The creature looked at the phantom steed and shook its head, pulling away. Ujin took out his sword and struck the rope holding the lizard and it bolted towards the land bridge and the camp, Joven's body jerking in the saddle as it galloped.
"Perfect", Ujin whispered.
He followed the beast and moved towards the land bridge that led to the island. Bhains’ soldiers were shouting and pointing in his direction.
Time to put on a show…
Before he reached the bridge Ujin slowed and took out a small piece of fleece from his component pouch and held it in one hand while covering one eye with the other hand and spoke the words, "Vaše oči vidět, co sním".
Ujin called up a memory of a large flock of crows he had seen in a farmers field, the huge mass of birds had swarmed tightly together in perfect syncopation, swooping up and down en masse, at the time he had found it strangely beautiful. How did they not collide with each other, how did they all know how to turn at once?
He now channeled that memory and created the illusion of a flock of crows, flying in a dense pack, dozens strong. He made the flock swoop behind him and then circle around in a large loop, almost touching the ground and then flying up again. He then had them all pull back and appear to hover in place for a short time, then fly around again. They all cawed as crows do, the sound brought to mind an army of lost souls crying for succor.
With this Ujin galloped forward on his illusory mount, smoky hooves floating just above the muddy land bridge, open and unconcealed, while the illusory murder of crows swirled around him in a mass of dull black wings and shiny back beaks.
Jal Bhains would see his offering of death, and see him coming. Ujin would then discover quickly if his bold plan would send him to meet his god or give him the advantage he needed over Imiran Shinn.
Either outcome would end in deaths and would appease Yama...