[The story so far]
Session 16 - Back in Corcelle
Shaken and mildly paranoid, as well as still grieving for their comrades, Aurelius, Dumnorix, Hubert and Henri made a good start on the beer as if they intended to drink the Gryphon dry. Jacques leaned across, engaged them in traditional bartender banter and then introduced them to two large men at the other end of the bar. One of them was even more well-built than Dumnorix, and the other had a flaming sword tattooed on the inside of each forearm; a prize-fighter (Montagne) and a cleric of Nikitas (Oiseau Nourriture). "You could do with some more muscle, I reckon, 'cos you seem to have a knack for getting into trouble..."
Almost impossibly not nursing hangovers (the Gryphon is legendary for that - some say Jacques' beer is ever-so-slightly magical), the party tucked into a hearty breakfast and regarded their new companions with caution.
After eating, the party decided they needed to stock up on equipment so they set off into the busy streets and spent gold on weaponry, including the two clerics commissioning shields proudly painted with the iconography of their faiths, before returning to their base at the Wounded Gryphon to decide what to do next. On the walk back there was considerable hilarity at the profligacy of Aurelius in scattering gold among street urchins and sending them off to bring him any news about the Vespertine guard and how they respond to magic-users.
They decided that the best plan was to split the party. The clerics Dumnorix and Oiseau, and the halfling Tybalt decided to head to the Temple of Alathea, while Aurelius and Jean set off for the King's Gate to try and track down Hugo Langfort (guard captain who was disgruntled at the sudden appearance and power of the Vespertine Guard who now jointly patrol with the City Watch), and Montagne kept a table for them at the Gryphon.
The search for Langfort proved initially fruitless, but they were told he normally ate at the Gryphon so they returned there to wait. Meanwhile, the clerics and halfling were stopped by a patrol and told they couldn't openly wear armour and bear arms within the city walls. Oiseau agreed to return his to the Gryphon, Tybalt claimed he was unarmed and successfully his hid throwing daggers within his short cloak, and Dumnorix managed to persuade them he was on his way to his lodgings at the Temple. Suitably disarmed, Oiseau caught up with the other two and they continued on towards the Temple.
As they approached the temple they saw that the streets immediately surrounding it had been closed off by groups of Vespertines who were turning back pilgrims keen to make devotions or even set up camp ahead of the great Spring Festival which would start at dawn on the third morning from now. Keen to find out what was going on for themselves, Dumnorix decided to brazen it out and told the Vespertines that they had an appointment with the high priest, Alaric, and just about managed to get through the cordon of armed men. As they passed, though, Oiseau turned and, raising a hand in benediction, called out "Seven blessings upon you"
[the other players reacted with near horror to this - "What the hell do you think you're doing? If they're with Aractheon they're going to be mad at that!" "Exactly!" came the self-satisfied explanation, "I reckon they must be into secret greetings and stuff. This will smoke them out if they're spider worshippers. We have to know soon or that eighth day will have happened and it will be too late."]
One of the guards automatically replied "And the eighth give you power" before he snapped his head round in surprise when he heard this unexpected greeting from a cleric of Nikitas; eyes wide, he hurried to his captain and pointed at the trio.
["Holy ****! They are! The Vespertines are Aractheon's" "Told you - now was I right to do that or what?" "This is awesome!" "I will smite the vile creatures in the name of Alathea" "Not here where everyone can see, let's get inside the temple..."]
Meanwhile, back in the Wounded Gryphon... ["What! You can't scene-switch now!" "Watch me."]
Hugo Langfort strolled into the bar, called a greeting to 'Black' Jacques, and made his way to what was obviously his usual chair - a serving girl already hurrying over with a flagon of ale and a plate of bread and roast meat in gravy. Quickly introduced, Jacques left Aurelius and co. to take the hint and pay for Hugo's vittles in return for a chat with him. His feelings on the Vespertines were clear and negative "Most of them are little better than thugs, the sort I wouldn't recruit into the Watch. Makes a mockery of the name - back in the days of the Twelve, the Vespertines were the bravest and noblest warrior-clerics, bearing the brunt of the defence. This lot? I swear half of them used to be strutting around in Henri du Frith's livery until a week or two back. And I hear they've been snatching magicians who then disappear - not in my quarter, though!"
Deciding there just wasn't time to pussy-foot around, Aurelius laid their suspicions and concerns bare. "Whoever the Vespertines really are, we think they're responsible for the murder of Guisarme fitzHeron and are working for or with the people who desecrated Alathea's temple."
Langfort chewed the last of his gravy-soaked crust thoughtfully before nodding slowly in agreement and grunting with a bitter lack of susprise. "I'll be back here at nightfall. Be here." He pushed his chair back and stood to leave, ignoring the pair of street kids who scampered up to Aurelius and gave the lawman a wide berth.
A small group of Vespertines stepped away from the huddled conference and began to walk after the two clerics and halfling, spreading out into a rough arc as they did so. Dumnorix drew the attention of his colleagues to this, while Tybalt pointed out the scorch marks stretching over a ten-foot rough circle of flagstones, as well as on nearby columns - "Magic!" he hissed. The Vespertines started to close the gap...
Reaching the shade of the columned portico around the central worship area of the temple, Tybalt ducked into the deeper shadows behind a pillar while Dumnorix and Oiseau strode on into the courtyard and saw three or four robed figures on their knees, painting a thick black paint or pitch over the beautiful and holy sunrise tiles around Alathea's perpetual flame. With a cry of anguish, Dumnorix started forward... and that's when the Vespertines struck!
Chucking a mace to the unarmed Oiseau, Dumnorix howled his challenge and swung his pollhammer at those who befouled the temple of his goddess. Not to be outdone, the cleric of the Nikitas laid into the nearest Vespertine with his borrowed weapon. Creeping from his hiding place, Tybalt fell back on the cutpurse skills of his misspent youth and stabbed one of the guards in the back - but almost totally ineffectually; his target spun round and felled him with one blow his sword. The clerics fared much better, however, and soon three of the four Vespertines lay dead on the temple floor. Still incensed with unslaked rage, Dumnorix grabbed the injured fourth guard and forced his head into one of the buckets of black paint, holding it under until his struggles ceased and his arms and legs stopped drumming their fatal tattoo on the temple floor.
["Dude! That was a bit brutal! You're a cleric for goodness sake!" "Can clerics do that?" "C'mon, we just busted the melons of the other three, and they want to raise some spider demon god to destroy the world, and they messed up Alathea's temple - it's called righteous fury, ok? Alathea won't mind, she'll probably be pretty happy that we're fighting the good fight."]
As if to prove the acceptability of his actions Dumnorix hurried to the side of the fallen halfling, laid a hand on his head and called on Alathea. Tybalt's body convulsed as though electricity was surging through him before, coughing and spluttering, his eyes jerked open and he leaped to his feet as though to ward off the sword blow which had felled him. He barely managed to open his mouth to ask what on earth was happening when Oiseau, who had been inspecting the manacles which had been newly attached to the brazier that held Alathea's sacred flame, shouted "Run!" More guards were arriving at the run, and the painters who had scattered were also returning, now armed with a variety of weapons.