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June 25th
Idle Champions: Peril at the Greenhow, Part Two 
Posted in Idle Champions.

Check out the other parts of Peril at the Greenhow:

Peril at the Greenhow, Part Two

Umberto

The crowd was beginning to disperse when Umberto and Harlow arrived at the crime scene. The City Guard had blocked off both ends of the alleyway from onlookers, but that hadn’t stopped several people who had rooms in the inn above the scene from taking a peek. Tall buildings crowded the alley, with about fifteen feet of space from wall to wall. Overflow from the various businesses and inn were haphazardly placed throughout the alleyway, most notably a large stack of crates and barrels near what Umberto assumed was the back door to the inn’s kitchen.

Aumarr Harlow told him that the clerics had asked to check the body themselves before moving it to make sure there weren’t any curses or arcane traps around it. Unfortunately, the clerics were not able to get to the crime scene for some time, which seemed to irritate Harlow. Umberto found this to be in his favor. The scene may have been cold, as some liked to say, but at least it wasn’t completely cleared and contaminated yet.

A wagon waited nearby, and the small crowd was beginning to part. Two clerics dressed in white and gold robes moved through the crowd carrying a stretcher between them. On it, covered in a tan sheet, was the body of the victim.

“Errr, one moment,” Umberto said, pushing past Harlow and through a group of onlookers. “I would like to take a look at the corpse.”

The cleric, a tabaxi woman with green eyes, gave Umberto an offended look. “It’s fine,” Harlow said from behind him. “Let him look.” She gave Umberto a once over, then looked away.

Umberto reached for the head of the sheet, then stopped and looked around at the civilians. “This will not be a view of sunshine and flowers. I would recommend those with a poor constitution look away. Just in case.” Several people did so.

Under the sheet was a tiefling man with red skin, purple hair, and black horns that protruded from the top of his forehead and curled like a ram. His eyes had been closed, most likely by the clerics, but fear and confusion could still be read in the stiffened muscles of his face. He must have been lying in the alley for some time for the muscles to have frozen like that.

Umberto pulled the sheet down further, and a few gasps came from the crowd. Just where the man’s heart would have been was a jagged, black cavity. It looked like a fissure that had split open the man’s chest, burning away bone, muscle, flesh, and even his leather armor. Umberto leaned closer. The insides were cauterized and nearly unrecognizable.

“Thank you,” Umberto said, replacing the sheet and stepping back. The clerics nodded, then continued on to the wagon. Umberto didn’t take his eyes off the stretcher as Harlow into view.

“Find anything?”

“No,” Umberto said. “Which is why magical weapons are such an annoyance. They are the weeds in a detective’s garden. Come, I want to look at the alley.”

Guards moved the wooden barricades aside at Harlow’s command. He also handed off Umberto’s pack and told the guard to take it to the inn. The guard offered to take his staff as well, but Umberto waved him off.

Watching where he stepped, Umberto moved into the alleyway, taking in everything that he saw, as if painting the image on a canvas in his mind. All sounds of the city were cut off as he imagined possible scenarios playing out. Moment after moment, he watched the tiefling die in different ways, noting with each what was wrong and what might have been right.

“We believe,” Harlow said, snapping him out of his analysis. “The attacker was waiting on the rooftop and got the drop on our victim, Xev Karshar. Xev tried to get his dagger out, but the murderer was too fast and-”

“No,” Umberto interrupted.

You’re doing it again, he said to himself, but pushed the thought aside for a moment. The fire was beginning to grow and he didn’t want anything to stop it.

Harlow stared at him for a moment. “I’m sorry?”

“That is not what happened.” Umberto moved to another part of the alley and crouched over the dirt. “Our victim dropped something. A bag with some items in it. Did you recover it?”

“Yes,” Harlow said, not hiding his annoyance. He took out a notepad and cleared his throat. “Leather satchel. Contained one sheathed dagger, rations, fifty feet of hempen rope, and a bag containing six gold, one electrum, and forty silver. Also nearby were six caltrops, a handkerchief with a small Xanathar Guild sigil, and a broken music box.”

Umberto’s brow furrowed as he looked up at Harlow. “He was just carrying something with the Xanathar Guild sigil on it?”

“It’s one of their recent calling cards. We’ve found them at several robberies they wanted to take credit for. Our victim was no doubt on his way to his next robbery.”

“The victims of the other murders,” Umberto said, looking at where the tiefling had been found. “Did they have any underworld ties as well?”

Harlow nodded. “All of them, we believe, were members of the Xanathar Guild.”

Umberto stood, brow raised as he took in the scene again.

“We suspect,” Harlow continued, “that this has been the work of the Zhentarim. That the two factions may be at war and it’s now spilling into the streets. Let the tluining bastards destroy each other, I say,” he said with disgust. “Oh, apologies for the language again.”

“Forgive me,” Umberto started. “But I do not believe your suspicions to be correct.” Harlow opened his mouth to say something, but Umberto didn’t give him a chance. “The attacker was at the other end of the alleyway when Xev and his friend entered from this side. The friend-“

Harlow waved a hand. “Friend? What friend?”

Umberto pointed to a spot near the mouth of the alleyway. “The friend that got away and who your guards did a fantastic job of nearly covering up with their own tracks. As I was saying - the friend got away. Our victim stood his ground, possibly thinking he could delay the attacker. Perhaps they had something Xev thought the attacker was after - it is difficult to know.

“The murderer rushed him, closing the distance with as few footsteps as possible.” Umberto moved further into the alley. “The murderer cleared their tracks here. They did their best to make it look like dirt had already been there, but see here? They covered it with dirt from this side of the alley, which contains pieces of the red brick of that wall. There are more bits of red there than there should be for just normal foot traffic. And that continues all the way to the other end of the alley.”

Harlow stared, brow raised and mouth slightly open. When he seemed to catch his breath he shook his head. “Is there anything else we’ve missed?”

“Indeed,” Umberto said flatly, then marched back to where the victim had been murdered. That sparking flame in his chest was becoming a roaring fire. He approached the stack of crates next to the inn, but specifically one of the barrels. “These were a night time delivery?” He unsheathed his skinning knife.

“Yes,” Harlow said, catching up to him. “The owner of the inn has been begging us to let him bring these in all morning.”

Umberto made quick, arcane gestures with his open hand as he whispered words to the Weave, casting Detect Magic on one of the barrels. When nothing came up, he continued.

“Well,” he said, sticking the tip of the knife under the lid. “It’s a good thing you didn’t.” With a quick flick the lid popped off and he tossed it to the ground. Pickles bobbed in a thick brine, the stench of which was overpowering. Still, Umberto couldn’t help but smile. “These have been opened already.” He ran his hand over the edge of the barrel where the seal had already been cut. Then, without another word, Umberto took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeve, and stuck his arm in the barrel of pickles.

Harlow watched with a confused expression. “What are you-“

“Ah,” Umberto said when he found something that was not a pickle. He pulled out his arm and put half of a sending stone in Harlow’s hand. “Here,” he said, then stuck his hand in again. After a few more moments he retrieved the other half. He handed it to Harlow. “You there,” he called to a guard. “Tell the innkeeper they can collect their shipment now.”

Harlow looked down at the two halves of the sending stone he held in his hands. The man looked shocked, more so than Umberto was expecting. He noted that, but before he could say anything Harlow began digging through his satchel. After a moment he retrieved a scuffed-up music box. He handed the sending stone pieces to Umberto

“Errr,” Umberto started. It was his turn to be surprised. “Why do you have that on you?”

“I was following up on a lead earlier,” he said as he examined the music box. He seemed to find something and pressed in on one of the sides. A hidden compartment opened. “I knew it.” He took the pieces back from Umberto and slotted them into the compartment.

“Care to explain, Aumarr?”

Harlow smiled. “Time to bring in a suspect.”

Aeon

Aeon stood on a rooftop overlooking one of the open markets of Waterdeep. This area was called the Court of the White Bull, though she wasn’t sure why. Caravans who had recently come through the River Gate usually made a stop here to quickly sell some wares before finding a place to settle for the night. It was also common for livestock to be sold there, which was treating her to a lovely aroma she was eager to get away from.

Also common here were Xanathar Guild thieves looking for easy targets - whether they be customers or vendors.

An hour earlier, she had instructed a few of her agents at the River Gate to place a few modified sending stones in some of the caravan carts as they came through. These were part of a new invention she had been working on. The modified sending stones were magically connected to a spyglass and earpiece that all together made it so she could look in the direction of a sending stone and hear only what was being said around that stone.

With the ones placed by the agents, and a few scattered around by Deuce, Aeon would be able to perfectly track a Xanathar Guild agent. Now, she just needed one to slip up enough to out themselves.

“I can’t go lower than twenty gold,” said a merchant she had her spyglass on.

She groaned and lowered the spyglass. “Everyday life is just so boring,” she said to Deuce, who was doing a handstand on the edge of the roof. He had been getting restless for the last half-hour. She couldn’t blame him. It had been a while since she had done her own work like this. That’s what she had agents for. But still, there was a charm to spy work like this that gave her a thrill.

She smiled at the mechanical monkey. “Bored?”

Deuce nodded, still doing a handstand.

“Why don’t you go fetch me a shiny red apple from down there? Just don’t get caught.”

Deuce flipped right side up, nodding quickly. He didn’t have the ability to smile, but she could tell he was happy.

“Off you go,” she said with a wave, and the steel defender was off. He slid down a slant of the roof, then bounced off and landed on one of the awnings of a vendor. From there Aeon watched Deuce through the spyglass as he hopped from stall to stall.

“-they entered Skullport this morning,” said a voice that snapped Aeon’s attention away from Deuce.

She brought the spyglass back down to a small gap between stalls.

“Are you kidding,” said the same voice. “Xana-“

Another voice hushed the first, which helped Aeon find the two people talking.

They were dressed in nondescript clothing - no armor or weapons that Aeon could see, but she was sure was there.

“I know you’re new at this,” said the human in a long coat. “But you can’t just go around talking about guild business like no one is listening.” They each looked around at the flow of people around them. “Someone is always listening.”

Aeon smiled.

“Sorry,” said the other. He turned to look behind them and Aeon caught a pointed ear under his neck length amber hair.

“Come on,” said the human. “Let’s get out of here. We can hit one of the other markets.”

The two men began making their way through the crowds of people. Fairly quickly Aeon put together which direction they were heading towards. There was an alleyway in the direction they were heading, which gave Aeon a perfect place to intercept.

“Uh,” said the elf. “Do you feel like we’re being-“

Aeon fell like a feather, landing toes first on the dirt of the alleyway. The two men started, hands each going for their hidden weapons.

“That won’t be necessary,” she said, raising a hand. As a goliath, she towered over the two thieves - a fact that did not seem lost on them as they froze in place. “I’m not here to hurt you. In fact I want you to leave happy and healthy.”

The human’s eyes shifted, looking for a way out, then came back to Aeon. “Why?”

“Because I want you to take a message to your boss and arrange a meeting with him.”

The human’s hand went fully for his weapon, but did not draw it. “And what makes you think I would do that?”

“Because,” Aeon said as Deuce jumped onto her shoulder and handed her a very shiny red apple. “I know who killed Xev Karshar.” She took a big, loud bite of the apple.

Umberto

Harlow wouldn’t say more about who the suspect was and insisted Umberto wait for him at the inn. Umberto was going to protest, but felt he had already pushed the aumarr enough already.

Umberto’s pack was waiting for him in the room when the City Guardsmen opened the door for him. The guardsmen had escorted him the entire way from the crime scene to the door - which Umberto felt was unnecessary. He was sure Harlow had given the direct order to make sure Umberto didn’t run off to investigate further. The druid was only mildly offended, since Harlow wasn’t wrong in his assumption.

The guard gave him a nod, then closed the door, giving Umberto the closest he’d come to silence since arriving in the city.

The inn, named the Galloping Minotaur, was probably a magnificent inn at one time. The decor and furnishings were nearly two decades out of date and looked as if there had been very little upkeep. Perhaps the owners assumed what worked once would always work. Luckily, this wasn’t something that really bothered Umberto outside of noticing it. As long as he had a warm bed and a roof over his head, Umberto was happy.

The room was the perfect size for a single person. There was a bed, a wardrobe, and a nice desk with a cushioned chair. A window on the opposite side of the room looked out onto Copper Street.

He set his pack on the bed and moved to the window. The city was alive on the street below, people coming and going - moving about their day. It was moments like these during the early parts of a case that he couldn’t help but wonder if one of them was the killer. Or the next victim.

A sigh escaped him and he turned his back on the window.

Rummaging through his pack, being sure to not let the salmon touch the blankets, he found his notebook and emerald pen. Both had been a gift from a special someone nearly a decade before and both served him well still. The notebook was able to be refilled with fresh paper and the full ones placed neatly on a shelf back home. There was nothing magical about that, but the pen itself was the real key.

Anyone who looked through his notebook would simply find blank pages. But, when Umberto spoke a key phrase the dark green ink of the pen would slowly seep into the paper. This made it so he was never worried about what he could write in its pages about a case. The information was safe.

He took a seat at the desk and opened the notebook to a fresh page. It had been over six months since he had written in the notebook, let alone opened it. This gave him pause for a moment. But, he felt that thrill of the case inside him once more. He smiled, leaned forward to write the first note, and a crossbow bolt struck the wall next to his head.

It took a moment for him to register that he’d heard the sound of glass shattering an instant before the bolt hit the wall. His head swung to look at the window and the jagged hole punched in one of the panes. His eyes focused on the broken glass, then past it, across the street, and to the hooded figure lowering a crossbow on the opposing rooftop.

They were dressed completely in black leathers with a matching block cloak, the hood pulled far enough that Umberto couldn’t get a good look at them. Despite that, it was obvious they knew their attack had missed, spinning quickly and vanishing over the slanted roof.

Umberto flew out of the chair, a plan forming in his mind. A few quick calculations and he was moving towards the window. Arcane words flowed out of him, connecting with the gestures his hands made, and a grasshopper’s hind leg that was tucked into his components pouch. He picked up speed as he finished casting the Jump spell and let the bear start to take over.

A druid’s wildshape varied from druid to druid. Some moved in and out of shapes - changing what type of animal they became based on the situation. Others, like Umberto, had a preferred shape. Some said they just had a particular connection to that animal. Others were just more comfortable in that form. For Umberto, however, it felt more like it was a form that had always existed inside him. One that needed to come out, especially in times of anger.

And after an attempted assassination, Umberto didn’t think he’d be able to stop the bear from coming out even if he’d tried to.

Umberto’s skin and clothes morphed, moving as if seen through a murky glass, then refocused into the brown fur of a bear. He leapt, arms up and shielding his face, as he crashed through the window - the power of his spell propelling him forward. By the time he’d reached the zenith of his jump he was in full bear form, roaring as he hit the roof of the opposing building.

The bear scrambled for a moment until it was able to get its claws into the tiles of the roof. Once stable, it pulled itself up and over the top of the roof. Its eyes instantly landed on the cloaked assassin, running down the line of rooftops on the other side. The bear let out another roar and flung itself forward, landing in a full, four-legged charge.

Crossing three buildings and a small leap across an alleyway, the bear was gaining speed on the assassin. In its head it was making plans for what it was going to do to the assassin when it caught up, but Umberto held those thoughts at bay.

One thing at a time, Umberto told the bear.

For a moment, the bear lost sight of the assassin as they dipped down below a rooftop. As it sped closer, the assassin appeared again as they leapt high into the air, crossing another street. The bear grinned, sure it could make that jump again, but Umberto was unsure if the spell would still be active.

The assassin landed just as the bear reached the last rooftop. They stood, turned to look back, and the wind caught their hood, sweeping it off their head.

Sliver Thornheart locked eyes with the bear as it was about to leap. Umberto’s heart jumped into the bear’s throat, throwing off its stride and positioning - its hind paws slipping on the edge of the roof. The bear fell with a roar, breaking a set of window shutters, tumbling over the banister of a balcony, and crashing through an awning onto the pavement below.

The bear receded, leaving Umberto overcome with pain and confusion. People on the street rushed to his aid, but all of their voices were drowned out in his mind. He looked up, through the hole in the awning, at where his sister had stood moments before.

“Impossible.”

Aeon

“And why are you so willing to freely give this information to the mighty Xanathar?” The mighty Xanathar said, all eleven eyes on Aeon.

Aeon had never been up close with Xanathar before. Any dealings they had in the past were done through intermediaries - whether that be agents talking to each other, or messengers between them. She had also never been up close to a beholder before. Both of these facts together made her slightly uneasy as she stood in the audience chamber of the Xanathar Guild.

Xanathar was a blue beholder with tan, rough skin around its mouth of pointed teeth. Aeon estimated that its ball-like body was about ten feet in diameter, which was mostly taken up by its large mouth and massive, central gold eye. The top of its head/body were ten wiry eyestalks, each ending in an eye with a gold globe and either a red or green iris. Occasionally, these eyes flicked to other parts of the large room, or to Deuce on her shoulder, or to Beaky standing beside her. The central eye, the one that dispelled all of the magic Aeon had on her, stayed fixed on her.

Next to Xanathar was a large, ornate fish bowl on a pedestal. Inside the bowl swam a goldfish. Xanathar’s prized pet, Sylgar.

Aeon stood a little straighter. “I didn’t say I was giving the information freely.”

There was something about the way Xanathar bobbed as it floated in the air that denoted annoyance. Its single brow moved in a way that, if he’d had two eyes, would have had one brow higher than the other. “How much do you want?” It then adjusted so that the way it floated to hold up its chin towards her. “The mighty Xanathar is rich, but I have my limits.”

“I don’t want money,” Aeon said. “I want protection.”

All eleven eyes refocused on her. “Protection?”

“From the murderer,” she said, shifting a little. “The murderer knows someone was listening and I don’t think it will take them long to figure out who. In exchange for the information I want you to assign some of your agents to watch out for me. If an attempt is made on my life, they step in and defend me to the best of their abilities.”

Xanathar furrowed its single brow. “Why not just have some of your agents protect you?”

“My agents are spies,” Aeon said. “They’re trained in how to stay out of sight and escape without being seen. Fighting a murderer isn’t something I look for when I hire people.”

Xanathar smiled. “Maybe you should have thought about that ahead of time, like the Mighty Xanathar did. The mighty Xanathar’s agents are the best in Waterdeep!”

“I have no doubt,” she said, placating the beholder. “Which is why I would feel so much safer knowing the mighty Xanathar’s very best had my back.”

“You would be the safest!” It took its main eye off Aeon as it struck a pose and she could instantly feel her magic rush back to her. A moment later it looked back with a wicked grin. Besides the dread of feeling her magic cut off again, the grin gave her a sinking feeling. “But, the mighty Xanathar wants more than just this information.”

Aron raised a brow. “What else do you want?”

“How long do you want protection?”

“Until the murderer is caught or killed.”

Xanathar thought for a moment. Then it straightened up, floating just a little bit higher. “The mighty Xanathar wants any information you have on the Zhentarim as well as any new information you gather until the murderer is caught or killed.”

Aeon held her composure. It took everything in her not to react in some way, but she’d trained too much to let her body betray her like that. She had a lot of information about the Zhentarim. And that information was supposed to make her quite a bit of money from more than one source - the most lucrative being the Xanathar Guild. She ran a few calculations in her head as the beholder turned to its goldfish.

“Are you doing all right in there, Sylgar?” It had all, but three eyes on the fish - the other three still on Aeon. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you fed and back in your bigger bowl soon.”

“All right,” Aeon said. “I’ll arrange for an agent to bring the information I have later tonight.” She drew in a long breath. “Anything else I turn up during this time will be reported to you immediately.”

It was just information. It was just money. She could deal with losing both. What she couldn’t deal with was her soul being destroyed by some murderer named Sliver Thornheart.

Xanathar’s large mouth split into a pointed tooth smile. “You are very wise to take the mighty Xanathar’s deal! Now,” it said, floating down a little closer. “Who is killing my agents?”

Aeon turned to Beaky. “I think it’s better that you hear it. Come on, Beaky.”

The kenku wrung his hands. He’d told her he was very, very nervous about going with her to see Xanathar. He barely left the hideout as it was. She’d made it worth his while with a big sack of gold and the promise of a more comfortable bed and armchair in the hideout. Still, she could see the regret on his face for taking the deal.

Beaky stepped forward and Xanathar narrowed its central eye.

“This tiny bird saw the murder?”

“No,” Aeon said, moving Beaky in front of her and putting her hands on his shoulders. She saw a mother do that with her child once to calm him down and hoped it had the same effect for the kenku. “He heard it.” She looked down at Beaky. “Repeat for him what you repeated for me.”

Beaky nodded, sheepishly. He then turned to look up at the floating beholder, straightened up a little, then started mimicking the sounds of the murder. Xanathar seemed surprised at first to hear the accurate sounds of its agents and the alleyway - even looking around at one point with its eyestalks as if expecting to see them in the room.

After the initial surprise, Xanathar listened intently to what Beaky was mimicking. As the scene played out, it even began to float a little closer, turning its large, ball-like form as if to hear it better.

“Sliver Thornheart,” mimicked Beaky.

Xanathar pulled back suddenly, a look of disgust on its face. It opened its mouth to say something, but Aeon held up a hand to let the kenku continue. The scene played out, the sound of the murder, the discovery of the sending stone, and the voice saying, “You’re next.”

Xanathar’s face turned to a sneer. “You’re little bird friend is wrong,” it said. “Or Xev wasn’t seeing things correctly.”

Aeon raised a brow. “You know who this Sliver Thornheart is?”

Xanathar nodded, which for him moved its whole form. “She was a Zhentarim agent.” The name of the rival faction was thick with disdain.

Aeon took her hands off of Beaky’s shoulders and the kenku rushed to get behind her. “I’ve never heard of her.”

“She left Waterdeep a year before you arrived. They had her doing all sorts of secret missions around the Sword Coast. But not so secret that the mighty Xanathar didn’t know about it.” It raised himself up a little higher again. “It is believed that she died several months ago outside of Luskan.”

Aeon thought this over for a moment. “She could have been revived somehow. Unless something happened to her soul, like Xev.”

Xanathar shook its form as if shaking its head. “She’s not dead,” it said with a knowing smile.

“Then why are you so sure it wasn’t her?”

“Because,” it said, smile growing. “She’s been my prisoner in Icewind Dale for the last four months. And I know for a fact she’s there right now.”


Continue on to Part 3!

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