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June 24th
Idle Champions: Peril at the Greenhow, Part One 
Posted in Idle Champions.

Check out the other parts of Peril at the Greenhow:

Peril at the Greenhow, Part One

Umberto

Umberto Thornheart had picked the perfect spot for his picnic for one. He had heard stories around the village of the dangers that lurked within the forest, but the druid had found a calming peace just within its tree line. There, squirrels harvested nuts, deer grazed, and birds chirped in the early morning light. It was the sort of place that always calmed his mind.

It didn’t calm it as much as a case, but he wasn’t taking on any of those right now.

Umberto sat on a freshly cleaned blanket, his pack and staff, beehive hanging from the crook of the staff, resting against a nearby tree. He opened the overly-stuffed basket, salivating as the mixture of tantalizing aromas filled his nostrils - a few hairs of his impressive mustache rising as he breathed them in. This is what I needed, he thought as he began taking out the various dishes. He placed bags of nuts and berries on the edge of the blanket. While he intended to enjoy this picnic by himself, it didn’t mean he was opposed to any of the animals joining.

After all, none of them would ask him when he was getting back to work; they were sure to not break his peace.

“There you are,” came a voice, breaking his peace.

Umberto turned to find his mentor and teacher, Brenton Lonefire, silently walking along the tree line. Brenton was an old dwarf, but his years as a ranger and detective stayed with him - no matter how much gray was in his beard. Shadows made more noise than Brenton in the forest.

“Walsh said he’d seen you heading out early this morning. Mind if I join you?”

Umberto opened his mouth, but decided that saying he did in fact mind was too rude. “Errr, please, have a seat. Would you like one of the pies?”

“You know me too well,” Brenton said as he flopped onto the blanket and picked up the blackberry pie.

“Forgive my confusion,” Umberto said as he watched his mentor dig into the pie he had been looking forward to. “But, I thought you were leaving for Waterdeep today?”

Brenton wiped some blackberry juice out of his beard. “I was, but then I had a thought.” He dug into the pie again instead of continuing.

“Errr, which was?”

Brenton finished the first half of the pie, wiped his face, and smiled. “You should go in my place.”

“Oh, I’m not up for-“

“Umberto,” Brenton cut him off, leveling a stern look at him. Umberto knew that look well. “It’s been six months. You’re wasting your precious gray matter hiding away out here.”

“I am not hid-“ Umberto started, but stopped with another look. He held his mentor’s gaze for a moment, then let his shoulders drop and sighed. “I still feel the loss like a thorny vine around my heart.”

In his mind, Umberto was back on that cliff, the sky dark, the sea roaring. He could still remember every stitch in the skin of the massive undead ogre, that clutched his sister, Sliver, in its massive hand. She locked eyes with Umberto and for the first time since they were children he really saw the sister he loved - not the master thief of the Zhentarim. A moment later, the ogre threw Sliver like a rag doll over the cliff’s edge and into the dark, crashing waves of the ocean below.

Umberto felt Brenton’s hand on his shoulder, bringing him back to the present.

“And you always will,” his mentor said. “But you can’t let that prevent you from doing what the world needs you to do.”

Every excuse ran through Umberto’s mind. But as he looked into his mentor’s eyes, he knew none of them would suffice for the old dwarf. He drew in a deep breath.

“What is the problem in Waterdeep and how can I help?”

A wide smile of teeth cut through Brenton’s thick beard. “That’s my boy!” He set what was left of the pie down and straightened up. “An old friend of mine, Rickard Harlow - formerly the aumarr of the Waterdhavian Guard - wants someone to help his son, the current aumarr, with a string of murders in the city. Rickard doesn’t think his son will be able to solve the case.”

“He does not believe in his own son?”

“It’s a long story, but let’s just say his son, Alister, didn’t reach that rank on his own merits. Though, I should tell you, his one claim to fame was apprehending your sister years ago.” The thorny vine tightened, but Umberto did his best not to show it. Brenton seemed to acknowledge this and continued. “Rickard has already told Alister to expect me, which he begrudgingly accepted.”

Umberto shifted, trying to get away from the pain in his heart. “And this Alister Harlow is expecting you today?”

“Indeed! There was another murder just last night. Which is why you must be on your way.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now - there’s a wagon down the road waiting to take you to New Velar where I’ve arranged for teleportation to one of Waterdeep’s circles.”

Umberto looked solemnly at the spread of food. “Very well,” he said with a sigh and got up. He retrieved his pack and staff. The beehive that hung from the staff swayed softly. A few bees hurriedly flew back the hive, knowing it was time to leave.

He moved to head towards the road but found his feet unresponsive. As if stuck in the thickest of mud. He looked out into the distance. “Errr, and what if I get there and find I cannot properly solve this case? What if I cannot function?”

Brenton walked over and held out the other pie - this one apple. “You won’t.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because this is what you do.” The dwarf smiled. “Have fun. Enjoy it!”

Umberto took the pie. It was cold now, but at least it would be something on his way to Waterdeep. He felt the excuses piling up again. The mud tightened around his feet. He saw his sister’s face as she vanished over the cliff.

And then Brenton gave him a pat on the back and he was walking. Walking towards a road of uncertainty, a city of murder, and away from the comfort of hiding.



Aeon

Aeon, spymaster of Waterdeep, was beginning her day in the way she most enjoyed; scrubbing the bar of the Greenhow tavern. Sure, she could command any one of the service automatons she’d made to work the bar do it. In fact, there were so many things she had them do she could barely remember the list. But, scrubbing the bar each morning grounded her. It, for the small bit of time it took, brought her back to days long gone by. Before she was a spymaster. Before she came to Waterdeep. When her name was -

A mechanical monkey dropped from the ceiling, crashing into a bucket of soapy water, which spilled down the bar she had just wiped down.

Luckily, none of it had gotten on her gown. It was a custom piece - made of black and red fabrics with hints of gold trim. She’d fashioned a leather corset with gold gears that glowed with magic blue light to tie the whole look together with her enchanted top hat. But just because she was wearing all that while scrubbing the bar didn’t mean she wanted any of it to get ruined.

Aeon drew in a breath and narrowed her eyes at her steel defender. “Deuce. Really?”

Deuce’s gold face peeked up from behind the overturned bucket, the blue orbs of magical energy he had for eyes looking it over. He gave a shrug that said, “I didn’t mean to.”

Aeon rolled her eyes. “Well, you’re cleaning it up.” She tossed a towel on Deuce’s head and moved to the other end of the bar that wasn’t covered with soapy water. She watched the other automatons move throughout the tavern. Some of the smaller ones popped in and out of small brass doors set into the walls and ceiling - cleaning up messes, then taking the waste back to their tunnels to dispose of outside. The larger ones - these the size of an average human - rolled around on wheels and set things up for opening later that day. Some of them set up tables and positioned chairs, others cleaned the various lights, while some in the back got the kitchen ready.

Things were going pretty well. Which could only mean -

Three heavy knocks came from the front door.

Aeon smirked. “Like clockwork,” she said under her breath. “We’re closed!”

“City Guard business,” came a stern voice from the other side. “Open up.”

“Lovely.” She hit a button under the bar and the lock on the door clicked. A moment later the door swung open revealing Alister Harlow, Aumarr of the Waterdhavian Guard, his fist still up and ready to knock.

He furrowed his brow at Aeon as he lowered his hand. “Thank you.” He stepped inside, but not alone.

An older, human man with a short white beard followed Harlow. He was dressed in black robes with a high collar. The collar was trimmed with gold and had a matching design worked around it, marking him as a magister - the walking judges of Waterdeep.

Intimidation, Aeon noted. Harlow wants to make a statement.

She ignored the magister and put on her the-fool-with-the-coin-knows-best smile. “Aumarr Harlow, what can I do for you at this early hour?”

Harlow raised a brow as he approached the bar. “It’s nearly highsun.”

“And highsun is early for a tavern.”

“Only your tavern.” He gave a look over his shoulder to the magister who did not make any visible movement to respond. Subtle, but Aeon knew this meant the magister was fully paying attention. What did Harlow think he had on her?

Harlow glanced around the Greenhow. “Busy night last night?”

“Every night is a busy night at the Greenhow.”

He let out a chuckle that was more of a scoff. “I’m sure. Any problems with any of the patrons?”

Aeon held his gaze for a moment, taking in his tone, his posture, his expression - everything she could about him. His confidence was a mask. He was not holding all of the cards, but he might think he could change that if he was brash enough. Was he after someone that was in the tavern last night? No - his tone was an accusation. What was he playing at?

“No more than usual,” she said after a moment. “Why, should I have been watching out for someone? Are the Bregan D'aerthe back or something? Because I told you last time - they just liked my tavern, they weren’t-“

Harlow set a music box down on the bar. It was ornate enough. Polished dark wood, brass clasps and adornments. It was obviously made by someone with refined taste and skill.

The captain gestured to the music box. “You make these, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said, picking it up. It had seen better days. She sold several of these every night - either to folks looking for a cute gift for their partner or patrons too drunk to realize they’re buying something. She always made sure they shined in just the right way that made you want to buy one. This one, however, looked like it had been kicked down the street. Some loose gears and springs rattled around inside when she shifted it.

It was also much lighter than it was supposed to be.

“One might assume,” Harlow continued, “that if someone were walking around with one of these they most likely had visited your tavern recently.”

Aeon stole a glance at the magister. His expression had not changed. “I would agree that most folks don’t walk around the city with a music box on them, yes. Who did you find this one on?”

“A murder victim,” Harlow said, raising his chin.

Aeon set the music box back on the bar. “That’s dreadful. Who did it?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

“Well,” she said, eyeing the magister again. “Why don’t you just have a cleric bring the poor soul back and ask them who killed them?”

“That’s hard to do when the victim’s soul was destroyed.”

Now that was interesting. It meant the killer didn’t have to be careful. They could have come face to face with their victim, talked to them even, and it wouldn’t have mattered. It was hard to get away with looking someone in the eye when you killed them in a world where they could easily be brought back to accuse you.

“Are you going to accuse me of the murder?”

Harlow’s eyes went wide, and his mouth hung open a moment before speaking. “What? No.”

“Then I think we’re done here.” She started to walk away.

Harlow slammed a fist on the bar, bringing Aeon to a halt. “I want a list of every person that was in here last night. And don’t pretend that you have no way of knowing that. You may think you’re clever with your little machines and trinkets - but we know what you really are, Aeon.”

She let a moment pass. Then another. Finally, she turned around and walked back, standing directly across from Harlow. She put on a mocking smile, looking him in the eye.

“Darling, I don’t know what taverns you frequent - but I couldn’t possibly keep track of the number of people who come through here each night.” She paused and let her smile widen. “Even with all my little machines and trinkets.”

Harlow held her gaze, fire burning in his eyes. “I will return tonight. I will be expecting that list when I arrive. Is that understood?”

She didn’t make a move to confirm or deny. She just held her smile.

“I will bring every guard in the North Ward here if I have to. They’ll search every corner of this-“

“Understood,” she said. She maintained the cocky demeanor, but knew he could do it. This man may have been a buffoon, but he was aumarr of the City Guard. A deadly and unpredictable combination.

A heartbeat passed. Harlow swiped the music box off the bar and marched out the way he had come in. The magister hung back for a moment, looking Aeon over. Then, without a word or sound, he turned and followed Harlow out and into the streets of Waterdeep.

Aeon pressed the button under the bar again and the door slammed shut, locking with a click.

The magister hadn’t been here to pass judgment. Harlow came expecting to threaten her and brought the magister to prove it wasn’t a bluff. If Harlow had said anything out of turn the magister would have done something. Which meant the aumarr was well within his power to flood the Greenhow with as many guards as he wanted if she gave him the chance.

Her eyes fell to where the music box had been. “I’d say today couldn’t get any worse,” she said to Deuce. “But I think it already has.”



Umberto

The city of Waterdeep materialized around Umberto. The smell hit him first - a combination of all the things that come with city life that most people eventually stop noticing. This was quickly followed by the noise. Even on a quiet day, any city street was deafening compared to the forest, or even Brenton’s small village in Harrowdale. Anxiety rose in Umberto as the sights, smells, and sounds of the city washed over him.

You’ve been away for a while, he told himself. This will pass. That last part was more of a hope than a promise.

The teleportation circle was on the corner of a non-main street. A few stone stairs led down from the dais that Umberto now found himself standing on. Nearby were two cloaked members of the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors - people with the ability to use arcane magic who watched over the teleportation circle and made sure it was functioning properly. One of them, an aarakocra with brown feathers, nodded to him.

“Welcome to Waterdeep,” they said in a friendly tone. “Please descend the steps so the next transport can arrive.”

“Errr, apologies, of course.” Umberto hefted his pack and made his way down the stairs.

The buildings of the North Ward district of the city were taller than he remembered. They loomed over him, the dark windows feeling like eyes of predators watching his every move. Between that, the worked stone under his feet, and not being able to see one hint of trees or bushes - Umberto found himself wondering how he had ever managed to live in a city for any length of time.

“Are you Brenton Lonefire?”

The voice snapped Umberto out of his drifting thoughts. “Errr, no,” he said, turning to face the man that had spoken. “I am here in his place.”

The man must have been Alister Harlow. He was dressed in shining armor that looked as if it had never seen battle. A red cape with gold trim was fastened to the pauldrons and draped behind him. This marked him as a captain, or aumarr as they were referred to in Waterdeep. He was human, like Umberto, and the two men came to about the same height. He had slicked back brown hair, which wasn’t what Umberto would have suggested, but the style fit him well enough.

With a cocky smile, sharp jawline, and sparkling blue eyes it was no wonder Alister Harlow had charmed his way up the ranks. He was an attractive man, but not Umberto’s type.

“Ah,” Alister said. “Well, I’m Alister Harlow, aumarr of the City Guard. Brenton Lonefire came highly recommended by my father. I’m sure if Brenton thinks highly enough of you to send in his place, then we are in good hands.” He held out a hand. “You are?”

Umberto shook the outstretched hand. “Umberto Thornheart.”

Alister’s grip tightened and a paleness ran through his face.

Umberto raised a brow. “Is something wrong, Aumarr? You look like a deer that has spotted a bear.”

Alister released his hand. “Apologies. It’s just… Stlarn - forgive my language. It’s just, I once put your sister behind bars.” Umberto felt that vine tighten. “We tracked her for months, but I was the one that finally caught her.”

Umberto did his best to put on a smile, though it was still hidden behind his mustache. “Yes, Brenton told me about that. You must be quite an opponent.”

The aumarr smiled back. “Well, I don’t know about that. But thank you for the compliment.” He shifted, as if putting back on the role of aumarr. “You must be tired from your trip, I-“

Umberto swung his pack around, and Alister caught it with a small gasp. “Indeed. The wagon broke down outside of New Velar. I would appreciate the reprieve from the weight of my pack. Don’t mind the salmon. It’s fresh, but dead. I couldn’t say no to the fisherman in the New Velar market.”

“Uh,” Alister said, putting one strap over his shoulder. “Of course. Well, I’ve arranged for a nice room for you while you’re here. If you’ll follow me I’ll take you there and-”

“Are we not going to the scene of last night’s murder?”

Alister was still getting the burdensome pack situated on his back. “I’ve made plans for that tomorrow. As well as a visit with the clerics who are seeing to the body. The alleyway has been blocked off and will not be tampered with I can assure-”

“That is a waste of time,” Umberto said, feeling the irritation on his words. “If I am not allowed to see the crime scene as soon as possible there was no point in having myself or Brenton make the trip here. Evidence can be lost, weather could hide a trail, and our murderer could be choosing their next victim.”

The aumarr’s brow furrowed. “I promise you, the guards of this city would not let-“

Umberto scoffed. “It is a wonder you were able to catch my sister.”

“That is not-“

Umberto, for the first time, looked the aumarr in the eye. “I appreciate and understand the rank you hold and that this is your investigation. But, I have solved more cases than you have years in this world, I have faced more villains than you could dream of, and I am here to find this murderer and stop them before they kill again.”

Alister held his gaze for a moment. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped himself. Hefting the pack, he gave a nod. “Very well.”

“Thank you,” Umberto said, then added, ”apologies for being terse. I.. Errr, don’t like to waste time with an investigation.” This isn’t like you, he said to himself. That time hiding away changed you more than you thought. He tried to put on a smile. “I won’t let it happen again.”

“Apology accepted,” Harlow said. “Follow me to the crime scene.”

Umberto followed the aumarr. It finally registered with him that he was on a case again. The thrill of an investigation lit a fire in his chest that hadn’t been there for a long time. He just hoped his skills hadn’t dimmed enough to snuff that flame out.



Aeon

Aeon didn’t become one of Waterdeep’s greatest spymasters overnight. It took her years to get where she was now, and a few decades before that to even get to Waterdeep. Mastery required skill, and skill required patience and training. Whenever she would spend time working on an invention or deceiving folks in the local tavern, she thought of it as praying at the Temple of Knowledge. And she was a frequent attendant.

Now, so many years after honing this mastery, Aeon gazed at a wall of over one hundred sending stones set into small shelves, looking for the one that heard a man being murdered. Each shelf had a small brass plate with a number on it and the sending stones had a matching number carved into them. Each box that was sold was recorded with that number.

She had sold a few music boxes that night before, but luckily enough, only one that contained a sending stone. Not everyone that was interested in a music box was going to have information she could sell. They all had the compartment, however, so if she later learned someone did have some lucrative knowledge she could send Deuce to install one. However, there was a small, barely noticeable difference between boxes that had stones and those that didn’t.

The one that Harlow had foolishly let her hold was one that was supposed to have a sending stone in it. She had made sure that an agent of the Xanathar Guild, a tiefling named Xev Karshar, went home with it. He had been more drunk than he’d meant to be, which Aeon had also made sure of, and was therefore easily convinced into buying one. And apparently, sometime after he left with a friend, he was killed in an alleyway with a weapon that destroyed his soul.

Usually, that’s not really something she would care about. The Xanathar Guild and Zhentarim had been fighting for years and offed each other regularly. There wasn’t really anything in it for her to hear what happened, save for one small problem.

The music box was lighter than it should have been. Which meant the sending stone had not only been found, but taken.

“There,” she said to Deuce. The little gold monkey scurried up the shelves and retrieved the stone. He landed on her shoulder just before she passed through the doorway to the next room.

It hadn’t been easy constructing an entire spy network headquarters under the Greenhow. Several different contractors had to be used, some of which were just to confuse anyone looking into what she was doing. It had started as just a small hidden room below the basement, but now spread out like a spiderweb under the streets of the North Ward.

After a few rooms and hallways she stepped into a dimly lit den with carved stone walls. Lanterns hung from sconces giving off enough light to read and write, but not disturb the kenku who were trying to focus. There were six of them, five of whom sat in stations with comfortable armchairs. Around each of their heads was a contraption that dangled up to six sending stones a few inches from them. Each station also had an unseen barrier of a modified Silence spell. No sound passed beyond a few feet from them and nothing from the outside came in.

The kenku who worked for Aeon had near perfect memory. This wasn’t a unique skill to these kenku - plenty of other people in the world could recall conversations and things they have seen with crystal clarity. What was unique for kenku, however, was that they could perfectly mimic sounds and voices they heard with their raven-like ability.

Aeon approached the sixth kenku, Cricket, who was sitting behind a desk nearby and kept track of the kenku and the sending stones. Deuce handed her the sending stone and she in turn showed it to Cricket. “I need to speak with the one that was listening to this stone last night.”

Cricket checked the number against his notes, nodded, then hopped off his chair and led her into the next room. It was full of small beds, which the kenku slept in between shifts. Several of these were taken and Cricket led her to one which was occupied by a kenku with stark white feathers.

“Beaky,” Cricket mimicked in one voice. “Boss wants to talk to you,” he said in another.

Beaky opened his red eyes with a start and shot up in the bed. He looked as if he were going to run at first, but then seemed to realize where he was and calmed down. He nodded to Cricket, then to Aeon.

“Uh,” he said. “What can I do for you, boss?” He moved between three or four voices as he spoke.

Aeon handed him the sending stone. “You heard a murder last night.”

Beaky looked at the sending stone number, then nodded.

“I want to hear what happened just leading up to and then all the way through what transpired.”

Beaky thought for a moment, pulling up the memory, then started moving his beak.

“I’m telling you,” said a very drunk man, the sounds of his feet shuffling on the pavement somehow coming from the kenku. “Sylgar is really the brains of this operation.”

Another voice laughed. “I think you’ve had one too many. Maybe even four too many.”

“I’m telling you,” the first voice repeated. Aeon recognized Xev’s voice. “Sylgar is a fiend in disguise and its running this entire city!”

“Gods,” the other voice said. This must have been the halfling that had been with Xev. “You really need to stop saying that before we get back to-”

The halfling cutoff followed by the sound of boots shuffling to a stop.

“Who the hells is that?” Xev said.

“I don’t know,” the halfling said. “But, I don’t think people that stand ominously at the end of alleyways mean well.”

“Hrast,” Xev swore with a sobering tone. “They’re probably after the delivery. Here, take it.” There was a sound of rummaging in a bag.

“I thought you said you’d already taken care of that!”

“Well, I lied!” By the sound of his voice, Xev was sobering up with every passing second. “Just take it and run. Get to the hideout. I’ll hold them off and meet up with you later.”

“But-”

“Go!”

There was a pause, then the sound of boots on pavement quickly moving away.

“All right,” Xev said. “It’s just you and me you tluining-”

Boots on pavement again, but this time much faster and growing louder. Xev roared just before the sound of weapons clanging flooded from Beaky. Aeon couldn’t be sure, but it sounded to her like daggers.

Xev groaned alongside a scuffling sound like the two opponents were grappling one another. A moment later Xev screamed and a dagger clattered on the pavement. Next came stumbling and a crash. This must have been when the music box fell out of the bag, and possibly the sending stone out of its casing.

“Who,” Xev gasped. “Who the hells are-“ he cut off with another scream. He panted through whatever pain he was in. “That can’t be. You’re Sliver Thornheart - that’s impossible! You’re-“

The distinct sound of a dagger plunging into Xev’s chest was barely covered up by the air escaping the tiefling’s lungs. This was quickly followed by a sparking, swirling sound that lasted a few seconds. Aeon assumed this was the sound of the man’s soul being destroyed.

After a few moments there was soft shuffling - the murderer getting to their feet. They sheathed their weapon, then paused.

“Stlarn,” cursed a feminine voice. Next came shuffling sounds as the stone was picked up. “You’re next.”

Beaky mimicked the sound of what Aeon assumed was the stone being broken. “That was where it ended.”

Aeon sat unblinking for several moments, then let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Well, I didn’t have catching a murderer on my to-do list today, but I guess I can make room.”



Will the killer be found before they can strike again?
Continue on to Part 2!


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