At last we have left the barbarian tribes and their wastes and made our way to the city of Amolarr. The cold in this region seems to chill the hearts of those who make their lives here, which makes it difficult for outsiders to establish relations with them. Even I found it challenging to convince the guard to open the city gates to us. In the end, however, the name of the southern dragons strikes fear into even the most obstinate hearts and we were allowed passage.
A cursory appraisal of the city’s interior was enough to lay bare the nature of its inhabitants. This was a city built on the backs of the impoverished, fueled by their skills, and managed by a cunning nobility. This much was certain based on the rows of tidy shops that lined the streets. They featured finely crafted items in their windows, but further inside there was no workbench, no smelting fire, no sign at all of the sort of mess that real crafting entails. If I had to have guessed I would say the goods were bought cheaper elsewhere. Those who shopped in this district did so because if they ever met the real masters, they would gasp at the horror of associating with one so below their status.
A few gossiping aristocrats confirmed my suspicions, “…prices in the dwarven district are ruining…”
Ah yes, dwarves, that would do it: a race so skilled at crafting and architecture, but so poor with words and no patience for politics. They basically cried out for mistreatment by their very nature. The supplies we needed would be cheapest in the dwarven district, so I suggested we pay it a visit. It was an inconvenient walk, far from the main gates. We rounded several corners, finding less glamor and more filth the farther we went, until we came upon a smaller square packed with twice the shops of the main district. We found a potion shop first and packed ourselves inside.
The shop was built for dwarves, and by consequence the ceilings were low and most of the room’s meager space was occupied by a working cauldron and a wall-length shelf of spell components. The floor was littered with dust and little pieces of herbs. These were the marks of a true craftsman, and I was glad to have come to the right place.
A cheery, red faced dwarf welcomed us from behind the counter, “Good day to ya’ lads ‘n lassie. What c’n I do for yeh?”
“We’re looking for healing potions” the barbarian, Malakar, answered.
“Aye then, I got all the healing potions yeh could ever want” the dwarf bellowed as he produced from behind him an array of potion bottles of differing hues, “now here yeh got yer cure lights, your cure moderates, yer cure serious and for the really tough wounds, yer cure criticals.” He pointed to each bottle in turn.
“How much for cure light?” Malakar asked.
“70 gold, lad, or 10 for 600” He offered.
I frowned. He was bumping the price up because he thought we were
nobility. I wondered what prices he sold wholesale to the fools in the main district. Probably more. I was in no mood to part with that much gold, though, so I worked a charm on him and asked him again.
“How about 40 for one?” I offered politely as the spell took hold, forcing the dwarf to regard me as an old friend.
“O' course, lass, that sounds fair.” He replied affectionately “or 10 for 350.”
We made the deal, absconding with 10 potions each before the spell wore off. We headed for the nearest tavern to stay the night. I was looking forward to a hot meal and a comfortable bed when the nearest tavern found us, in the form of a drunken dwarf being hurled out of a window into the snow before us. Warm light and hearty laughter flowed from within, along with shouts of “take yer preachin elsewhere yer holiness!”
Malakar lent the dwarf a hand and dragged him out of the snow, displaying his oft unnoticed barbarian strength. The stranger was tall for a dwarf with a bright red beard the likes of which one would expect and a smile to match. He thanked us for our help and against my wishes the business of introductions was initiated.
“I am Bronn” the dwarf mustered, “servant of Torag.”
“Kepesk of the southern dragons” I replied dutifully, though making the acquaintance of a paladin was not something I wanted or needed.
Just as I was hoping this holy warrior wasn’t the prying sort, the damned fool muttered an almost inaudible prayer and I knew my secret was out. I extrapolated from the shock on his face that his detect evil spell had yielded results. I imagined overwhelmingly powerful evil woven through my very blood, originating from a tattoo on my clavicle. My own allegiance would probably be undetectable in comparison, but I still had some explaining to do. I prepared mentally to play at ignorance. If I had to, perhaps a misleading truth about the nature of sorcery. Some admission of the evil dragons I once served. If it came down to it, a threat. Anything but the truth.
“By asmodeous left testicle!” the paladin shouted, “Lass! What is WRONG with your shoulder?”
I donned my most innocent and confused face, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, friend.”
“Well we have to get you to a temple straight away!” He uttered, taking my hand.
“I don’t think so” I said sharply, pulling my hand away, “I think you might be drunk.”
My companions were eyeing me skeptically, which made me more uncomfortable. These fools should trust me completely, but I knew they had their doubts ever since we had joined the Brotherhood. Dragging them into my infiltration of a secret society had been necessary, but it had also put a strain on our working relationship as I kept more and more information from them. I opted to disengage, walking away from the group purposefully into the tavern.
Inside I sat at the bar and ordered a meal. The paladin and my companions entered after, but only the paladin approached me again. Fortunately he was stopped by the barkeep who told him to leave before his in had to deal with another broken window. As they argued I picked up some chatter from the rest of the room.
“Who does that paladin think he is, preaching to us while our families starve.” Said one.
“Torag can’t help us now, we’re on our own” muttered another.
“If he don’t leave I’ll slit the bastards throat meself” wheezed the man beside me.
The consensus was clear, and added another feature to my understanding of this city. Among these dwarves, religion was not welcome. Their living conditions were so dismal, this usually noble race had turned its back on their gods, on their hope, and to some extend their heritage. These were desperate, violent people, propping up the entire city with their blood. They were realizing they had nothing to lose and they were ready to do something about it.
It was during these musings that a familiar glint caught my eye. A man at the opposite end of the bar tipped his hat to me, revealing a silver amulet in the shape of a wolf’s head. I pulled back my sleeve to reveal my own. He wanted to speak with me, and in this I knew I would have the barbarian’s support. I found him in the crowd, flashed my amulet, and motioned for him to come distract the nosey paladin. He did as he was bid and I was able to approach the agent.
“Evening brother” I spoke softly to the man, “what can I do for you?”
“Sit, sister” he answered, “as it happens, it seems we have a revolution on our hands.”
The agent explained the situation in the city as I had suspected. The seeds of revolution had been planted years ago with high taxes on crafted goods, laws restricting entrance to the city to outsiders, and an underlying racism that kept the dwarven population oppressed. However, an opening in the city council had sparked many dwarves to action. One candidate, an old scholar named Soluth, advocated better working conditions for dwarves within the city, strengthening trade with the barbarian tribes, and a more lenient policy to allow outsiders access to the city. The other, Kathull, was a younger man from a noble family who called for a crackdown on dwarven weapon smithing and cutting ties with the barbarian tribes.
“I fear that if the council does not make this decision soon, this entire area could become destabilized” the agent finished, “it doesn’t matter who wins, but one or the other must be elected soon or we will have bloodshed on our hands.”
“We’ll take care of it” I promised.
I was glad to have some common ground with the barbarian again. I explained the situation to him, playing up the fate of his precious tribes in the mix. It was decided that tomorrow we would endeavor to campaign for the right candidate and stabilize the city. I paid for our rooms and one by one we turned in for the night.
I was so glad to lay in a real bed again that I fell asleep almost instantly. I slept comfortably, but it could not last. After a few hours I felt a familiar presence in my mind.
“Kepesk” the voice of a man prodded gently, “it has been thirty days, what have you to report?” Through the fog of my dreams the image of my employer came into focus. It was the first time I had ever seen him without the half mask he wore in front of enemies. His face was strong and serious. He wore black robes, but his dark red hair was exposed. I nearly didn’t recognize him.
“I have had little contact with the brotherhood before today” I began my report. I informed him of my movements and the movements of my group since my last report. I listed the cities we had visited where we had found no agent of the brotherhood stationed, I told what I had gathered of barbarian customs from our time in the wastes, and I gave a detailed assessment of this city’s gathering revolution and the brotherhood’s intentions to stabilize the situation.
“You have done well, agent” the man in black said, “this city’s instability pleases me. If these godless dwarves need a savior, they might be more inclined to join me. Do as the brotherhood asks with these councilors, but insure that their stability does not last long.”
“Are you sure, sir?” I managed, “if you want the brotherhood to trust me, I ultimately will have to help them in some ways. This might be a good time to build that.” The man in black usually respected my ideas when we disagreed, a quality that insured my loyalty almost as much as his vision.
“You are correct” he conceded, “but I feel there is an obvious choice that will lead this city to ruin much more quickly than the brotherhood realizes. This man, Kathull, you must support him.”
“Of course, sir, it will be done.” I told him, knowing this was not going to win me favor with the barbarian or the paladin who seemed insistent on following us around. That was my problem, though, not the man in black’s.
He nodded solemnly and for a moment I saw the strain of battle on his face, “I will need strong reinforcements within the year. Set this city on a path to destruction as quickly as you can and report to me any developments. As always, I will be watching.”
Then he was gone, as I sunk back into my dreams I felt a growing excitement that tomorrow would be far more challenging than I had planned. I could easily stabilize a government, but it was so much more fun to knock out the foundation and watch it fall.