Donovan was startled awake early by a man in polished bronze armor. It was still morning twilight. The sky out the window was a streaked with clouds, the morning light bleeding across the sky in vivid purples and blues. The town was coming back to life with the sound of wagons and chatter. Donovan sat up in the oversized bed, yawned, and then blinked up at the man.
"Captain Tavish needs to see you. I'm to take you to the castle." the stranger said quietly.
Donovan nodded sleepily. He muttered his acquiescence as the man stepped out into the hallway. Donovan dressed in silence and then stepped out of his room. The stranger was leaning against a wall. He tossed Donovan a bread roll, who missed the catch- juggled it around before snagging it in a clumsy grasp.
They set off in silence. Donovan didn't feel awake until the Eyes were staring down on him. Once he felt as though he was in control of his faculties he began speaking with the guard.
"What does Captain need with me when he has you?" Donovan asked, his eyes absent mindedly scanning the crowd.
"I don't know and I don't care. He is speaking to city officials though. You a noble born?"
"Far from it." Donovan replied, thinking about the brass key pinned inside his lapel. "Although I am a qualified speaker."
The man grunted in response. They walked in silence again. The crowds were still thin this early in the morning, but it would be bustling as it neared lunchtime. Right now men and women were roaming the markets and the docks buying up fresh produce, meat, and fish. It was strange to think that any of these people could be a killer. A devil in human clothing. You get too used to strangers being strangers. When they are faceless they seem so harmless. Donovan kept involuntarily scratching his chest where the knife had imbedded itself. He wondered what Yohan was doing before he was killed. Was he also just walking through town when he suddenly looked down and saw the shaft and fletching of an arrow sticking out of him?
The armored stranger put a hand on Donovans shoulder. The halfling looked up and realized they were at the castle. There was a line of people waiting for entry to the keep. A man in a gate house was taking down names and grievances. Donovan couldn't help but grin when the armored man walked Donovan right past the entire line, receiving annoyed and sometimes outraged glances from waiting townsfolk.
Captain Tavish was waiting across a courtyard just inside the wall. He was standing outside a modest building attached to the keep at large. The armored man patted Donovan on the shoulder and walked back the way they came. Donovan was too excited about being summoned by his old Captain. His walk turned into a light jog as he approached.
"Donovan, thanks for being here. I need your help. A group of adventurers have been falsely accused of the murders happening in town. They are part of the group that Ares is with."
"We stopped one of the killers just last night. Ares burned him to death." Donovan said, he reached into his bag and pulled out an obsidian colored mask. "See?"
"Put that away." Captain Tavish snapped. He looked around, knelt, and pushed the mask back into Donovan's small pack. "This is what I need you for. They are going to release part of the group, but two of them are still being held. Find the evidence needed to free them."
"Where do I start? Isn't that what everyone is trying to do?"
"You only need to prove their innocence, not solve the mystery. I have too much to do and I'm far too conspicuous. You are still mostly outside this whole mess, so you are the one that makes sense. You can do it." Captain Tavish said. "Get going. If they finally getting around to charging them they might be executed."
Captain Tavish stood up and brushed himself off. He nodded at Donovan and set off for the nearby gate. Donovan stood alone for a moment before puffing himself up and stepping into the jail.
The man inside was at attention and seemed to be expecting him. He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. Most of the cells were empty but he finally found the two he was looking for. One man was a gargantuan human. He seemed quite dour. There was also a short, beautiful red-headed gnome.
Donovan lost his nerve when he made to speak to the human. He had a look in his eye like he was contemplating turning Donovan into a chuck roast. Instead, Donovan spoke to the gnome.
"Hi." Donovan said, suddenly bashful. "I'm Donovan."
"I know. When can we leave?"
"That's what I'm here to find out. They want to keep holding you, but I'll try and get you out quick." Donovan said, crossing his arms. "Got any leads?"
"That's why we came here. To find the killer. Uh." Nixie seemed to wrack her brain. "They really like poisons. Maybe they buy it here in town? There was poison on the bolt they fired at their own man-"
"They tried to kill their own man?" Donovan asked. "When?"
"Just the other day. On the large bridge that crosses the river near the temple. The assassin tried to kill their man by shooting him from a distant rooftop." Nixie said, getting quieter the longer she spoke. "Our friend caught the arrow."
Donovan inferred that they meant the metal man named Acolyte. Still a mystery, that one- but they all thought of the thing as a person.
"I'll start there. Hopefully I'll get you out before the day is over."
Nixie simply nodded. The large man was still quiet.
Donovan stood on the bridge. The breeze was nice. His hair fluttered delicately, and his coat swayed with each gust. Donovan had turned in a few circles; regarding the surroundings. There were three buildings that were tall enough to give them an open vantage of the bridge.
There was a square building that was close but seemed too close for a fast getaway. If the metal man was as fast as they said the assassin definitely would have been followed. The building was some sort of a theater as well. Too many eyes with that performing troupe of actors in Kirtholde.
Another building spanned the river proper. It was a temple to Joquilic. Donovan had wandered in there a couple times getting blessings for boats. The acolytes lived on site. He wasn't even sure there was access to the roof. It had so many domed peaks it seemed unlikely the assassin would bother trying to shoot a man, prepare to run, and balance themselves on a sloped roof.
The last was a church tower, but it seemed absurdly far away. The tower was flat topped and would be upwind from the bridge. That meant the assassin would have been firing with the wind. It would be a hell of a shot, but not impossible, Donovan supposed.
It was painfully hot. It looked like the breeze was pulling in clouds; it would be cooling soon. Donovan glanced around at the milling crowds again. Normal people doing normal things in a normal routine. And one of them was a killer. The killer who might've killed Yohan. The killer who might have killed the metal man.
Donovan made his way to the distant church. As he approached it the clouds had finally overcome the Eyes, but the white hot glare still gloweredd from behind them. Donovan put his hands in his pockets as he walked up the promenade. He wasn't a huge fan of church and faith. His grandma was all he had needed. It never seemed as though a god had even paid him a glance.
If a god had looked at him, it had been only to take but not to give. Only devils grant boons, gods administer tests.
The massive front doors were unlocked. If it was consecrated to a god, Donovan didn't recognize any signs. He closed the door behind him. The church was old and made of some rich, dark wood. There were no torches, making every doorway a dark portal, and every parapet cast deep shadows. Soft, white light was beaming through the windows, brushing white strokes across the aisle. A massive, circular stained glassed window played colorful shards of red light across the walls and floor. Dust hung in the air, slowly dancing errant paths to the floor.
Donovan walked up the aisle. He called out a couple times, but no one answered. His footsteps seemed so loud, even with the breeze outside rushing past the walls in a muted, pulsing whisper.
A soft, sifting of dust was all the warning Donovan got as a human man descending upon him from the rafters. Donovan lunged forward and tumbled towards the alter as two knives stuck in the ground where he had been standing. He stood and drew his rapier with a flourish.
A black cloaked man wearing a mask landed in the aisle, blocking the path to the door. The stained glass window splayed light all over the room. Red shards of light drew across the assassin as he slowly made his way towards Donovan. When he stopped, one red slash was across their face. The halfling could see the light glittering in the mans eyes behind that mask.
Donovan squared off against the man. Sometimes Donovan wished he wasn't so small, and this was one of those times.
"I've seen you before." the assassin said. "You were with that blond man Ares."
"Never heard of him." Donovan lied, tightening his grip on his rapier. He couldn't help but imagine another dagger sticking out of his chest. "Sounds like you have taken a fancy to someone, though."
"You are just a small man in a big city. Time to go home to your mother, halfling." the assassin chided. He hadn't moved, standing there like a black specter.
"I never knew my mother. But you can go join her since you have something in common." Donovan responded coolly. His heart was pounding. "Neither of you matter, and soon you'll be behind me. Just another waste of my time."
All at once the man was upon Donovan. He covered the distance in a blur. The red lights glinted viciously as he threw two more daggers. Donovan flourished his rapier, fouling the path of one dagger as the other embedded itself in his shoulder. He gasped in pain.
Donovan reflexively tumbled forward, attempting to trip the assassin as he made his next attack. The assassin jumped, landing on the stairs to the alter. Donovan regained his feet. As he stood though, the assassin spun around and lashed out, a sharp blade dragging itself across the bridge of his nose and cheek, the slash almost reaching his left ear. Donovan fell backward, yelling in pain, and worse yet- dropped his rapier. Hot blood poured down his face and into his mouth, making him cough.
The assassin picked up the rapier and deftly snapped the blade from the hilt. He tossed both away as he glowered down at the halfling. Donovan was gasping in pain, one hand wiping blood from his eyes, the other trying to pull the dagger from his shoulder.
Donovan stood up and started to step back up the aisle. The assassin stomped down the stairs, springing forward and lashing out with yet another blade. The knife, however, found no purchase as Donovan threw his hurt shoulder into the path, using the protruding hilt as a guard. The halfling unsheathed his parrying dagger and sunk it deep into the assassins torso. Donovan hadn't the strength to pull the dagger back out. But as the assassin bent forward over Donovan's thrust, he saw another knife sheathed inside the black robe. Donovan pulled it out and then kicked the man away.
Both men backed away from one another. A halfling with a knife in his shoulder. A human with a knife in his torso. Donovan struggled to watch the assassin as he backed up towards the alter and the rose window. His form becoming a mere silhouette in the crimson light.
The assassin stared at Donovan- a hapless halfling bathed in the white light cast by the peaked, wrought iron windows. He could see the pain in the halflings eyes, but there was something more. The halfling was smiling to himself.
Donovan watched as the assassin stumbled backwards before finding his stride, and ran from the building towards a back hallway. He tried to give chase, but the pain in his body was stopping him. He stumbled down a hallway toward an open door. A blindingly bright portal to the outside. The assassin was no where to be seen, but perfectly framed by the opening- Highwater Keep.
Donovan sat down in the quiet hallway. He leaned against a wall, sweat beading down his forehead. He gasped when he touched the wound on his face. The hot blood still spilling down onto his shirt. He looked at the dagger he had taken- and all at once he knew how to free Nixie and her large partner.
The city guard was bored. He had been posted at this boring, do nothing counter for cheating at cards. Like those good for nothings never cheated. He wished something interesting would happen.
He immediately swallowed his wishes when the halfling from before stumbled in. He had a grievous cut across his face, and a massive puncture hole in his shoulder. It leaked blood slowly down his arm. He was dragging a fine looking red coat behind him.
"Just- just sit down I'll call for a healer!" the guardsman shouted.
But the halfling held up a hand. He pulled a black dagger from the sheath at his hip. Down the length of the blade it had runes.
"Take this to the prisoners and ask them to cut themselves on the blade. If the runes begin to glow, it means they were targets for assassination." the halfling said quietly. The guardsman did recognize the the blade. That blond man was attacked with one. It was enchanted or something. Needed specific blood to act as proof of the hit.
"You're hurt. We need to-"
"I already got something for this at the lower market. Just take me to the prisoners." the halfling said again, weakly. He pulled a small vial out of his pocket. It was filled with a thick, red liquid. "She said it needed a couple hours to reach full potency."
The guard escorted the halfling back to the cage. The gnome and the human were still in their cell, looking bored. The large man always gave you that look that said: I let you keep me here.
"Take this blade and cut your arm with it." he handed it through the bars. "Its just like the one-"
"Just like the one for Ares." the gnome said. She took a deep breath and dragged the point down the side of her forearm. She the smeared the blade in the blood and held it up. It seemed that several of the runes began to glow.
The big man took it brusquely and repeated the process- perhaps a little impatiently. More runes began to glow.
"Can they go now?" the halfling said.
"Uh, yes. Certainly. I need to speak with the lieutenant. What happened to you?"
"Come to the tavern sometime, and I'll tell you a story." he said, smiling inwardly.