The Extortion Ring

While the orphanage was mostly empty, Romon received a visit from a badly shaken up Rabat; sporting a significant bruise on his upper cheek. He needed help and didn’t know who to turn to, though he made Romon promise not to talk to the masters of the orphanage before revealing what had transpired.

Two mornings previously, Rabat had overheard a heated argument between Lomren the Toolmaker and an unknown man. He was unable to hear the whole of the conversation but came to the conclusion that his master was being extorted by this unknown man, though he distinctly heard him threaten that “if you don’t make true on your promise, we will burn it all down and send all your apprentices into slavery” – though it’s possible Rabat was paraphrasing.

Rabat had done his own digging yesterday, discovering that four other premises nearby were also being extorted by the man and some associates. However, when he discussed what he had heard with Lomren, and threatened to go to the city guard, or the orphanage for help, Lomren forbade him, and when an argument ensued, he grew irate and struck him.

But last night Rabat’s twin brother Turmal did not return.

Romon immediately enlisted his friends Ninimdor and Thenchanar, and – after pilfering some weapons and breastplates from the orphanage armory (it’s fine – they left a note) – they made some enquiries of their own.

Remembering that one of the extorted businesses mentioned had also adopted a capable craftsman by the name of Jak from Carohin a couple of years previously. Originally being good friends with Thenchanar, he was approached at work at the shoemakers at lunchtime. Jak confirmed the extortion was in progress, and also that most of the shopowners simply pay up and keep quiet about it – he was able to describe three men who acted as weekly collectors for the gang, and a taller man who might be more in charge. Jak also mentioned a fifth property – an apothecary – on the same street, that had been burned some weeks ago.

Rabat met the investigators later in the afternoon as he had promised to. He had new information, having returned to the Toolmakers’ earlier in the day and recognised the voice of a tall man visiting the toolmaker, who previously asked about delivery of a large shallow steel bath. Rabat was not sure, but seemed convinced that the item had been sent to the old harbourmaster’s offices in Harlond, about the time he joined his twin brother at the business.

The investigation continued in the Toolmakers shop and residence – where, curiously, the shop had been closed all day; yet the rear door to the kitchen had been left carelessly unlocked. Seeing the opportunity, Ninimdor was able to peruse the few documents that Lomren had bothered to keep – there was no mention of the bath, or anything of quite the same size as it.

After a short while, Lomren returned. Though the three orphans were still upstairs, Rabat managed to distract him for a moment, but then Lomren discovered his purse was missing (and that the rear door was unlocked!) and blamed Rabat, chasing him from the premises. Romon, Thenchanar and Ninimdor used the opportunity to make a discrete exit.

Ninimdor used some of the contacts he knew that evening to try to discover more of the gang, and their possible position in the underworld, but somehow made an erroneous contact and had a night he would rather forget. The trio reconvened at the orphanage, and resolved to go to Harlond to investigate the former harbourmaster’s office before dawn.

In the small hours, the trio snuck out from the orphanage. First making for a known sewage culvert to the south-east of the built-up area of Caras Fain, but rejecting it as it was barred. Under cover of the cold fog coming off the river, they scaled the two-storey wall and made their way to the old port.

This part of Harlond is quite disused, and sparsely populated. The party cautiously approached along the riverside road, passing a number of shells of buildings in amongst other delapidated (though likely occupied) homes and warehouses. The harbourmaster’s office building materialised out of the fog before them – distinct and unusual as it was one of only very few buildings built between the road and the river.

Old Harbormaster's Building, Harlond

A three storey building, with the lower ground floor at the riverbank and access to the overgrown road on the level above, the harbourmaster’s office was a wooden building with a significant brick-built chimney stack, with pitched L-shaped rooves covered in aging slate tiles. Two windows on the road-side, and two windows on the river-side – with a doorway at the eastern side on to the road, and a double doorway (old, and bolted and barred from the inside on the riverside, opening out on to a simple square jetty. Above a large window on the top floor above the jetty was a hoisting beam – its hook removed.

In the thick fog, it was deathly quiet and no light came from the building. Though even this late in the night there was a faint warmth on the outside of the chimneystack – it was presumed a fire had burned there earlier in the night. It was hard to make out any distinct impressions or tracks, but it was evident that several people had used the door to the roadside recently. Stacked against the windows inside were bales of firewood.

The door unlocked easily, but triggered a simple wire trap connected to a crossbow. As the trio cautiously entered the first floor, it transpired that the crossbow was aimed at a captive, tied securely to a supporting beam. The wound was fatal, but the young lad had time to indicate the presence of people above, and gestured below. They noticed an acrid smell in the air, liked singed skin and hair.

Ninimdor kept guard on the upstairs while Romon ad Thenchanar investigated below. Quickly discovering that every sixth step down the staircase was avoided by people using it (and assumed trapped) they found a ceremonial setup in the basement. simple benches arranged facing the fireplace; before it the large shallow bath Lomren had made. A stained metal sheet stood directly in front of the fire, a large symbol of the lidless eye etched through it. The fireplace contained mounds of ash, signs that a large fire had been set previously. The shallow bath contained charred human remains.

Returning to the first floor to relate their grizzly discovery, movement was heard upstairs. Ninimdor had covered lower steps with lamp oil found on the premises. They lay in wait.

Four assailants attacked with a cry that sounded like Da-Ga-Da-Ga-Dakk. One assailant burst through the door, having sneakily slipped out of the upper storey window. The first to rush down the stairs fell afoul of the slippery oil and fell awkwardly onto a torch they had thrown down for light. The second and third engaged the fighters, while Ninimdor expertly shot the fourth through the neck.

The battle was swift, and bloody. The cultist fighters were all killed swiftly by blade and fire; Thenchanar sustained a nasty wound to the leg which took some time to dress. A search of the upper storey yielded no further clues except several large black robes, minimal personal effects and only basic weaponry.

Realising they had somehow stumbled into something much bigger than they had expected, and with a comrade wounded, they took one set of the robes, and made their way home. Replacing what they had borrowed from the armory (the note had gone) they cleaned up; Thenchanar retired to rest.

After some discussion, Ninimdor and Romon related the evening’s events to the Carohin Elder, who consoled them, agreeing that their urge to aid their former brothers had been strong, but he questioned why they had not come to him sooner, and had put themselves recklessly in so much danger. Elder Bergil advised they talk to Renmir, and dispatched some messengers to his contacts.

Everything was now in motion; the lads spent most of the rest of the day waiting for the dressing-down to come. Ninimdor noticed brown/purple stains on his hands where he had handled the armory lock, and they didn’t wash or scrub off. He wore gloves.

Renmir was furious – again; and ready to kick the three out into the street. It seemed unfair to be the recipients of such fury; but the message was clear – Carohin stands as one, and the heroes had been brought up better than that – not to consider the resources of Carohin as theirs to do with as they please, and the dangers of branching out on their own. It was unclear at the time that he was even aware of the solidarity they had shown with their former brothers.

Master Tommin intervened, and Renmir acquiesced slightly. Tommin wasn’t too pleased either – some personal contacts had been taken advantage of; though he re-iterated that the teenagers should not have dived into the escapade without assistance or knowledge, regardless of the seriousness of the events as they turned out. He may have been overstating it to diffuse the situation with Renmir.

Renmir left it to the three, leading them – in just the clothes they wear – outside the orphanage door. You would be welcome to walk away from us with what you came, or you can decide to stay, showing a new respect for the brotherhood. And he disappeared to arrange matters with the city guard.

It was becoming a very cold evening. The three shivered as they discussed their predicament, and the unfairness of it all. The events of the day seemed far more important than the trivialities of taking a few liberties with the Carohin resources.

After some time, Woden appeared with a “warming soup”, that he indicated would shield them against the freezing temperatures – though he did admit that it also had a few “additives.” Apologetic for not being around to defend their actions against Renmir, he nevertheless repeated the need for them to consider their actions’ effect on the orphanage. He muddled through some parable about stealing, that he claimed to have picked up in a faraway southern land, and eventually left them to it – mumbling that he really would miss them.

Tommin also came back to urge them to stay; and particularly to Ninimdor that if he indeed decided to stay, then they should talk. There are better ways of doing things, and better reasons for doing them, he said. He embraced Ninimdor when parting.

After a while, they had decided. But as they made to re-enter the building, a lump of clothes, some 100 yards away in the square caught their attention. At first thinking it was a large dead dog, they cautiously investigated with Master Findebras to find the bloodied body of former brother Rabat – a crude symbol of the lidless eye carved into his forehead. It was clear he had been killed and dumped here, in full view of the orphanage. Was it a message?

Immediately, the city guard and the orphanage needed to be alerted. But just as they made their first steps away, a commotion caught their attention further south in the square. Turning, the orange glow of fire could be made out several streets beyond. It was a moment before they realised it was the street of Lomren the Toolmaker’s shop.