The Eight Crimes of The Iconodules

Kelling

In their more lucid moments, the paladins would sometimes consider the past.

The word ‘paladin’ had died ages ago, of course. The advent of the Idols and the Edge ensured that. They did not agree, among their imperfect memories, which had come first. Kelling was adamant that the Idols had come first, but Percival simply did not remember a world that only contained one or the other. They were old souls, whose careers had been consumed by suspicion, turned too frequently to their own kin for trust to come easy. There was a silence that fell over a spirit, once the twin chains of ethics and evidence led them inexorably to those they had once called ‘friend’. Perhaps in an ancient forest or city these men had been hopeful, kind, servants of their societies whose humility and tenacity were inspirational. Maybe once they did not watch people the same way they did now, with flickering gaze that sought out wrongdoing, interpreted cruel actions as nature and not circumstance, and judged every step of the way, looking for that final piece of truth that would demand action. It was exhausting, but a soul could learn to endure anything, even the impossible dream that it demanded of itself.

That was what had drawn them together. Try as hard as they could to judge, minds locked in endless inquisition, they saw nothing in each other that was worth punishing, and in that found something unique, and worth preserving.

Kelling had come through the chaos of the Exodus, those camps and wagons that spread out across the plains outside of The City, before the walls were sealed entirely. It was suspicion, of course, that had drawn them to watch each other. The human was tall, but lanky, his expression carefully neutral rather than the desperate greed of the rest of his kind that moved among the Exodus’ camps. Where they sold trinkets, asked the elves to deliver letters to the world outside, offered aid or gouged prices for food, Kelling merely wandered among the camp, avoiding blocking anyone’s path, his chin set behind the strap of hair that circled it. When they noticed each other, the armor was most apparent. When was a paladin without their plate? It wasn’t long before they spoke, and it was not long before conversation turned to commiseration. Surprise was the first response. “I had not expected to find another.” they said. “Are we the last?”

Whatever disagreements they had, concerning Revenance, appropriate force or culture were set aside. It was good to have someone to not be suspicious of.

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Value and Complexity

Vellius had been trained with the long, hooked staff that he carried. Through a series of instructions, holistic exercise and repetitive practice, he actually was somewhat skilled in its handling, able to roll the smooth oak across his body and catch it anywhere on his form with a snap of motion. The suddenness of such a violent maneuver was intentional, of course, serving to strike at hands and hilts, twisting wrists and breaking fingers to disarm anyone that may threaten him. Ostensibly, according to his teacher, the entire affair was part of some “Soaring Winds” school, an ancient discipline that only the most dedicated could master. When Vellius, remembering his oath, was recalcitrant about learning how to shatter sternums and stop a man’s heart with one motion, the training had ended. “Limitations are only in your mind.” spoke the half-mystic teacher on the day Vellius abandoned the training outright. It was a strange sentiment when the limitation was a self-imposed ethical imperative, Vellius thought.

Still, the limitation was there, and Mintay had been adamant that Vellius had become too valuable to lose to simple violence, and so therefore must learn to defend himself. The fewer resources spent watching and defending his apprentice and therefore investment, the more resources could be devoted elsewhere, helping others. Again, remembering his oath, Vellius agreed. Still, defense and disarmament was all he would tolerate. The city, Vellius argued back, did not need more people with the ability to kill.

“Quite right.” had been the master’s response.

Perhaps his favorite part of the instruction he had received was the staff he was allowed to keep, a gift from Mintay. Formed of Valan wood (Chestnut!), straight and smooth with a careful polish, a relic hand-worked by someone who had love of beauty and the feel of a solid tool, one that spoke to the owner of sturdiness and reliability, the sort of thing that one would pass to their descendants.

It was for this reason that, when the man burst through the doors to Mintay’s office, Vellius found himself confident in brandishing his staff from a nearby table. The man was screaming, had already worked his way past the guardians downstairs (that terrifying one-eyed monster included), and was armed, a long, cobalt blue rapier cutting a strange, soapy path through the air as it was raised against Vellius’ master. Perhaps the young man’s plan had been to save Master Mintay from an early grave with an act of heroism. The sturdy staff in his hand, he brought it up to intercept the man’s blade with some force, to push it back and into a position where it would threaten nobody.

It was heartbreaking to see the blade flicker away from his strike and bury itself in the hard wood of his heirloom. It was worse, even, to see the way its polish was ruined by the sudden cracks that ran through its beautiful, chestnut surface as the rapier split Vellius’ weapon in two. Vellius was not composed in the face of this, his mouth opening in disbelief. Luckily, a quick death by the same weapon was not forthcoming, as Vellius staggered backward away from his melting, broken treasure.

“We don’t gamble with irreplaceable things, Mintay!” the man screamed. It was a poised, composed fury. One that spoke of the fury as a weapon smoldering in the intent spoken by the tip of that weapon where it hovered in slow circles pointed at the master’s breast. That strange film floated in the air in its wake, a field of slick iridescence, like an oil spill on stone.

Master Mintay was, as always, unfazed. Many times, his certainty had surprised Vellius, comforting him in the case of decisions that perhaps didn’t seem to make sense at the time. Now, though, with an ostensible armed assassin in the room, it seemed almost insane to be so blasé. “Vellius, this is Navion Dran’amir , the ruler of this City and I do not believe a threat to your or my life, before you attempt anything else. Navion, do you mind sparing this talk for someplace else? The boy is quite innocent.” Mintay said, dropping the tools with which he did…well, whatever it was he did with colored sand every morning. Not all his master’s habits were transparent to Vellius. Still, ‘innocent’? That was a new descriptor. And ruler?

“Don’t patronize me for once, Ondras. I don’t care what secrets you’re keeping from him. Nobody in your company-…” the ruler began, then his reproach faded as he inspected the end of his own weapon, still dancing in air. In one fluid motion it was sheathed. Anger shifted to impatience in the man. He looked so young for a leader! How did one come by the position, anyway? That question paused Vellius, and as he worked at it he paid half an ear to what was implied to be a private conversation. One of many that Mintay would hint that he should forget, no doubt.

The two men came together in the floor, arms folded in mirror of each other. Master Mintay looked so much older than the man he ostensibly served, the stark, minimalist black of his dress contrasting sharply with Dran’amir’s embroidered white and gold. “It was a strategic move, Nav. There’s little to nothing left to threaten the stability of this city on a strategic scale beyond her. Things aren’t stable, but short her collection of indoctrinators, nothing is going to ruin the big picture.”

“Why this way? Why didn’t you tell me?” Navion returned, his stance implying that he intended to loom. It may have worked, too, if Master Mintay didn’t have a full two inches on the shorter man. His ears…elf blood? Strange that he didn’t partake of the Exodus like the rest.

“You would have interfered.” came Ondras’ clipped response. Not many people spoke the master’s name. Familiarity with the man was not something that Vellius had seen before, and they slept only a wall apart most nights.

“Of course I would have. You could have made some other sacrifice for this plan.” Vellius was running down the list of cues he had been taught to look for as Dran’ammir spoke. Tightening lips, the briefest of tics in the brow, the way his hands lingered towards his weapons. Why in the world did the master feel safe?

“Nav, I am sorry. If you had known you would have stopped me. It had to be a prize big enough that she would risk for it. Risk trusting one of us again, but a prize we could afford to lose. That means you, me, the madman, we’re all irreplaceable. You said it yourself, you know the answer, knew it when you walked in the door. ‘We don’t gamble with irreplaceable things.’ We agreed on that, and I acted on it. I don’t like it either, but this is the best way to get close. She won’t trust anyone else. We’ve tried too many times.”

The Dreamer’s tongue ran over his teeth as he considered that, then his back straightened, his arms unfolded, tossed wide. “Fine.” was all he said. Then, “Let me tell you something too, Mintay.”

“I have given everything I can for this city. I field a thousand complaints and the begging of powerful minds with weak morals. I am in three districts a day trying to assuage the hundreds that think they should rule just to hide from them the fact that there is no throne. We don’t eat. We don’t sleep. I am as propped up by magic-…” the word came with the Dreamer holding up his left hand, upon which sat a ceramic, orange ring, presented to Ondras’ unmoved gaze. “…as I can be. There is little happiness left to find in this City we’ve made. It helped, I will tell you, to know that somewhere off in the world, she still lived and prospered doing the work she once loved. Now that’s all been given up, so we have a chance at killing the one person that could bring her back. That, Ondras, is a high price.”

“The price is worth it. The world is ending.”

Vellius saw the ruler of the city, the man named Navion turn and show his back to Master Mintay. He was, admittedly, somewhat stunned. A candid exchange like this one was not frequent in Master Mintay’s presence, but for the moment the two men seemed to have forgotten he was here. Crunching through the remains of Vellius’ staff, Navion spoke his parting words without turning.

“I suppose we keep dreaming, then.”

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The Periad Temple

Fresh off their (ostensible) victory at Adigan Alley, the Periad Inspectors had time to attend to the business of their own district. Unfortunately, Southwest Periad had grown desperate with the loss of a food shipment that had gone missing in the adjacent district of Kelasho. Because of this loss, the Eight Hand Hall entered into rationing, which lead quickly to a violent altercation between the proprietor, Veld, and a man who was apparently late to the distribution due to overwork. The Inspectors managed to keep the peace, but only just, as with the lack of resources more than a few citizens seemed on edge.

Though the outcome at Eight-Hand was hardly ideal, the Inspectors didn’t have much time for reprieve. News quickly traveled to them of a woman claiming her daughter was kidnapped by an Idol. Worse still, the Idol in question turned out to be the healer Galin. Inspectors Leroux and Voke, though unpracticed with dealing with the public Idol, immediately made their way to her compound, where they found the distraught mother outside. Her daughter, she claimed, entered the compound earlier that day but had not returned, and as the curfew was coming up, she was terrified that she would be caught on the streets. The Inspectors were surprised to find the gate to Galin’s compound was closed, as in all other instances they had passed by it had been open and welcoming. Exercising executive privilege and entering the compound, the Inspectors rapidly found that the compound was bustling, as volunteers (well, Voke wouldn’t call them volunteers) were busy filling barrels with some sort of bluish paste. A brief conversation with Galin found the Idol more than willing to relinquish the assistance of the woman’s daughter, as Galin did not want to be known for keeping anyone against their will. Questioning the Idol, the Inspectors also determined that the substance she was hoarding was manna, an otherworldly foodstuff that Idols are known to occasionally produce. It occurred to the Inspectors that in the light of rising concerns over food, citizens were likely to flock to the Idol, but they took no action against her for now. The mother was happy to be reunited with her daughter for the evening. The daughter less so.

Finally, the Inspectors were summoned to Central Periad and briefly interrogated by Inspector-General Gammond to determine if they had any involvement in the murder of Tychen while in custody. Determining they were not involved, the Inspector-General tasked the party with determining the truth of that murder. Briefly encountering the blowhard Inspector Bold on their way to the basement, Inspectors Flint and Leroux rapidly determined there was some manner of tunnel operating under the garrison. Relaying this information, the Inspectors were given the objective of investigating the tunnels, eliminating the Aniconists inside and retrieving an object they were using to move through the district. The Inspector-General seemed to have a considerable amount of understanding of exactly how the Aniconists were operating, but was unwilling to share. When Flint pressed the point, she found herself berated for operating out of her jurisdiction, placing the Southwest Inspectors on thin ice.

In the sewers beneath Central, the Inspectors eventually found a concealed passage that lead to a magically-formed stone temple, rife with spectral lights and, though at one point occupied, now abandoned. Pressing into the temple, however, they found it to still have active guardians, both otherworldly and undead. The temple presented the Inspectors with trials (likely not meant for them), but also stories-in-writing, carved into the walls, which hinted at things long past. In the depths of the temple, however, the Inspectors found the strangest thing yet: a statue of a bloated woman, carved of solid stone, with one green eye. Worse, the Aniconists themselves.

Though not denying their crimes, the Aniconist leader, Stell, made impassioned argument to the Inspectors that the city was inherently corrupt, that its existence is abominable, practiced on the uncomprehending. Claiming it was within the Aniconists’ power to bring back the Old World, but unwilling to expound on the plan beyond it involving the destruction of Idols. Some of the Inspectors seemed swayed by his arguments, especially where they intersected with the laws of the city, which were themselves arguably unjust. Without asking for any violent intervention on their part, the Aniconist offered an opportunity to align themselves with his cause, delivering a fake gemstone to Inspector-General Gammond, claiming it is the Mital. This, he claimed, would allow the Inspectors to interact with the Aniconists again peacefully. While considering the offer, Inspector Voke made the decision for the others, trying to gain some measure of control over the cultists. Disappointed, the Aniconists fled, but not before leaving their fake Mital, and summoning some sort of spirit into the giant statue of the temple, with the express intent of killing Inspector Voke.

Luckily, Inspector Shiel was having none of that, using her prodigious strength and considerable endurance to pin (and later survive the crushing attacks of) the statue. This bought the other Inspectors time to destroy decorative stones powering the statue’s magic and destroy it with physical attacks. Left covered in dirt and holding only a small, fake gemstone for all their effort, the Inspectors were forced to decide how to proceed. It turns out they chose honesty, telling the Inspector-General exactly what happened, though leaving out their serious consideration of the Aniconists’ offer. Still, their failure riled the Inspector-General, who passed the fake gemstone off to Velius, a young man representing Brise in the matter, and proceeded to pull the Inspectors’ jurisdiction back to only Southwest Periad for now.

Not that, given what they now knew, the Inspectors were likely to listen.

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Leix

As she was, sunken in cushions, draped over the side of her overlook, eyes half-lidded, it could be said that Leix was not keeping good track of her small legion of alchemists. Since the last accident had resulted in punitive measures, the goblins had not been making the same punitive mistakes. She had not touched them, of course. There were laws against that, and a good business-entity won by playing by the rules. Resorting to illegal measures was the mark of evil, or worse: bad business. No, Leix chose to run her business according to the laws of Periad. Though, as she thought on the contents of the basement, she had to admit that she occupied certain grey areas.

In business there was “perfectly legal” and then there was competitive.

A shattering of glass and flash among the cubicles that populated her emporium’s second-floor work-space drew the Yuan-ti out of her reverie. With a sigh her arms unfolded from opposite sleeves of her green blouse. Uncurling along her long body, the snake-woman raised to her full, prodigious height of nearly eleven feet on her coiled tail and spotted the flickering motion that flames made among the work-space.

By the time Leix arrived, the goblin had already put out the flames, to his credit, and was working on cleaning up glass shards with a speed that only suggested that she wanted to be done before the master alchemist appeared. Unsuccessful though this hopeful plan was, Leix said nothing for those first few terrified moments as the smaller creature stood before her, trembling, her apron full of glass and uncertainty stretched across her features. Leix smiled. What in the world was the point of hitting people to make your point?

She had not become a master alchemist for having a poor memory, and Leix quite thought that it intimidated the goblins further to hear their names spoken aloud. “Do not worry too much, Gazre.” she said, slipping into the cubicle briefly so that it filled with bright green scale and dangerous muscle, leaving her employee flat against the wall lest one of them unintentionally break the law. Leix gave the bench the briefest of glances. She spoke slowly as her hands flickered over the remaining glass and boiling compounds: “Working on alchemist’s fire, aren’t you? Trying to replenish our stock after our big sale? Good, good.”

It was entirely a dance. The goblin was mesmerized by having her employer so close, and every motion was threat. Grey areas. It was not Leix that had started the rumor that she had unhinged her jaw and eaten an entire goblin out of raw fury, but it certainly didn’t hurt. “It is very difficult for Alchemist’s Fire to burn down a building, Gazre. You will not ruin my business with such weak mixtures. There are compounds remaining in this world that could do such a thing, but they are locked away safely in hands steadier than yours.” The master alchemist’s lightly scaled hands had no problem resetting the retort, pouring out the congealed liquid inside with only a little assistance from her Mage Hand. She began to reset the entire workbench, speaking all the while. “Alchemist’s Fire does not burn too hotly, barely as hot as a wood stove, and only rarely does such a stove set fire to a home. No, to get a conflagration one can only use Alchemist’s Fire as a catalyst. Even in great quantity, it burns its fuel too quickly, at temperatures too low to be dangerous to well-constructed buildings. Or,” she said, knocking on the table “well-constructed furniture.” There was little to indicate the accident had even happened except for a discolored mark on the desk. Alchemists had long since referred to those marks as ‘progress’.

“As you were, Gazre.” Leix said, letting the trailing end of her long tail linger in the goblin’s cubicle as she removed herself from it. As the coils slid out the door, becoming narrower as they went, the terrified creature could only stare at the very tip of Leix’s tail, waiting in silence until it, too, slipped out of the cubicle and left Gazre alone.

Then, at last, she could let out her breath.

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The Adigan Alley Run

Having managed to apprehend Vendel Shritez and put an end to his smuggling, the Periad Inspectors found themselves tasked with an interrogation. Several questions remained unanswered: What was Vendel’s relationship with the Aniconists? With Luciva? With this rebel, Tychen? Why was he working for any of them? The Inspectors, unpracticed with interrogation (and, for that matter, taking people alive), had some difficulty working themselves into the smuggler’s confidence. Eventually they saw success by offering to export him to Vale, but once they did he managed to provide a few leads.

Vendel, it turns out, had little to do with the Aniconists, and actually suffered from an antagonistic relationship with them, one rife with extortion and threat. Ostensibly they had found their way into his home or place of business on a regular basis, appearing when he would least expect it to prove how easily they could kill him. Vendel, in some attempt to defend himself, hired the assassin Luciva for personal defense, but was terrified to find that, upon ordering her to kill his harassers one evening, she had already entered into some sort of deal with the strange masked cult.

It was not, however, solely Vendel who had been in contact with this cult, the Inspectors would go on to learn. Vendel revealed that the man the weapons he was smuggling were destined for was named Tychen, and he had his own designs in Periad. Ostensibly the cult had forced Vendel to assist Tychen’s attempt to stir up rebellion in Northeast Periad. It seemed, at that point, that all leads were pointing to Tychen and his oft-mentioned rebellion. With a summons from Inspector-General Gammond on the table, the Inspectors chose to seek her out for permission to operate in that corner of the district.

It turns out that permission was not difficult to gain, as the Inspector-General had already sent the Northeast Periad Inspector contingent into the dangerous Adigan Alley, which was serving as Tychen’s base of operations. Unfortunately, with the help of a lieutenant and Idol named Ashren, the Northeast Periad Inspectors had nearly been wiped out. Impressed that the Inspectors had already deduced their next move on their own, the Inspector-General not only gave them permission to hunt down Tychen, but with one stipulation: if they were to encounter Ashren, they were to kill her.

Their jurisdiction expanded, the Inspectors made their way briefly to Adigan Alley, though their approach was apparently marked, because on their appearance both Tychen and Ashren confronted them in the streets. Tychen tried to convince the Inspectors that they didn’t know what they were doing, and that besieging the alley was not the right thing to do. Ashren spent most of her time trying to get the Inspectors to willingly split their own party. Neither saw much success, and the pair of rebels escaped into the alley to prepare for the Inspectors’ advance.

Skirmishing with ambushes in the alley’s narrow streets, it wasn’t long before Inspectors Highmarch, Voke, Shiel, Flint, Shor and Kallen came to face Ashren. The Idol began her stand by shattering the walkway of a large glass factory. She made cursory attempt at getting the Inspectors to admit that the city’s Laws were questionable at the very least, despite their appearances on the surface. The Inspectors, perhaps inspired by her flagrant lack of empathy for the other Inspectors she had killed were not swayed, and engaged the Idol in a single brutal fight for control of the alley, pulling out ahead by a slim margin. Wounded, but pushing on with the primary danger of the alley neutralized, the Inspectors dodged a collapsing street trap in order to drive for Tychen himself.

Tychen seemed unsurprised, almost depressed by their appearance at the doorstep of the warehouse where he had been hoarding the weapons and stolen food that would ostensibly. By way of salvaging something from a losing situation he offered the Inspectors a letter containing correspondence between Inspector-General Gammond and a city administrator who only goes by Master Mintay. The contents of the letter seemed to give pause to some of the Inspectors, but they couldn’t reason their way out of returning to Gammond with the rebel intact. Instead, making the offer to release his cohorts in order to salvage the warehouse’s food, the Southwest Periad Inspectors willingly let criminals go for the sake of some higher justice, with intent to conceal their actions from their command.

It was a strange moment to say the least.

Instead of returning Tychen immediately to Gammond’s care, the Inspectors took some time to interrogate the compliant man. He told them predominantly of how the letter had sparked his desire for rebellion, and how he had received it from Stell, the leader of the same Aniconists that had been influencing Vendel Shritez.

Their target now clear, the Inspectors only had to figure out how to locate the nigh-invisible Aniconists in their district. All this, it seemed, had begun with Stell.

Though they were unlikely content to remain hidden forever.

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Tychen

Tychen, from where he stood, arms dangling absently through the bars of his cell, could not bring it upon himself to be surprised when the earth began to shake beneath his feet.

It was not like the ancient tremors that were rumored to plague the city when the walls first came to be. The stone of the ceiling and floor did not crack and crumble. Tychen managed to retain his footing, though he would admit that holding onto the bars of his cage certainly helped with that. When he turned he knew what he would see. The green cloaks, the black wood of their masks, that glittering thing that Stell held in his-…

The tallest of the three Aniconists had little patience for Tychen’s curiosity, apparently, as his leather gloved hand closed around whatever the thing was, instantly placing the object inside his cloak as the floor sealed up in his wake. “It is a failing of The City’s slaves that they house their ‘criminals’ underground, Tychen.” The horned mask stepped forward briskly, his hand coming to rest on Tychen’s shoulder, gripping it firmly, more brotherly than threatening. “Their weakness, our strength.” The wood of the mask smiled at him. Tychen did his best to not flinch.

“I did everything you said.” Tychen offered. He had meant the words to sound capable, businesslike, the end of a transaction that he hadn’t wanted to make. Tychen knew that if they were here, though, they were not done with him. For all his rhetoric, he had not known these three to behave wholly altruistically.

“Indeed he did, Stell.” spoke the beak. Tychen was again left with the impression that the two that accompanied Stell were young, terribly so. Why did she speak? She seemed to be cautioning the older man.

“We saw, Tychen. You did as much as you could given the circumstances.”

“Ashren is dead.”

The mask ceased to smile. “We are sorry for that, Tychen. I am sure she was brave.”

Tychen had intended to lead a rebellion. His presence here was not accidental. Nor was Ashren’s. She had believed too. He had not, however, become the leader of those men and women because of coincidence. Tychen still had some instincts, awoken in him when he was young, which let him sort charity from predatory empathy. The instincts that taught him when a lie was told merely out of confusion…and when it was masking something else. Those instincts screamed at him over the whispers in the cell. A strange part of Tychen’s brain wondered if those Inspectors were still nearby…

“You knew she wouldn’t be able to kill them. Or you suspected it.” Tychen said. The accusation only added to the relative silence. Stell’s two companions shifted uneasily. The Horns only nodded, the smile still missing from his mask.

“We tend the gardens that the City tries to choke to death, Tychen. We are the only ones trying to teach the plant to grow free of its pot. Sometimes the plant cannot grow free and we must start over all again…” Stell said. His voice was almost hypnotic now, his mask no longer black, it had gone chalk white. The exaggerated human features seemed to twist menacingly as Stell stepped back. So fixed on it, Tychen barely saw the glint of steel as the tusked mask drew his thin blade, but he certainly felt the blossom of pain and wetness that burst from his abdomen in the next few instants. Stell tried to speak, but the beak had her hand on his throat, choking the air from him as he tried to form the words. He wasn’t sure if the hissing air in his ears was her hushing him, or his own last breath.

“I am sorry that the seed of doubt could not flourish in your care, Tychen. Thank you for planting it anew. Your spirit will not go far. When we see you again, we will apologize.” spoke the horns as his smaller companions settled in behind him, leaving Tychen in a ball on the floor of the Central Periad jails. When the earth shifted underneath them and they sank, as one, into the earth, Tychen still couldn’t bring it upon himself to be surprised.

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Aviary and Armory

After the confrontation at the Vendel Feasthall, the Inspectors were left with several threads to follow. In an effort to do so, Inspectors Kallen, Voke, Highmarch and Shiel chose to pursue the strange Rakshasa who had confronted them atop the Feasthall. Recognizing that a giant owl was relatively difficult to hide, the Inspectors took little time to find the aviary in Central Periad that she was using as a base of operations. Intend on finding more about their quarry, the Inspectors worked through several floors of the tower-like Aviary. They found tapestries depicting some other world or time, a great collection of brass spires and open skies. They found immaculate, obsessively crafted leather-working for saddles and armor. It was on the third floor of the tower, however, that the Inspectors learned from a riddle posed by the tower’s owner that she knew something about the world before The Edge. The picture that emerged from their investigation was incomplete. Here was a creature that killed. An assassin whose legacy was ostensibly ancient, but whose purpose was unknown. She rarely slept, kept brisk correspondence with third parties and possessed (but rarely used) great wealth. After a brief altercation with the Rakshasa’s massive mount, the Inspectors learned from her correspondence that she is privy to more than a few of the illegal activities in the district. Finding her would prove to be a valuable but difficult priority, as the creature’s meticulous nature left few hints as to her whereabouts.

What it did leave, however, was some indication as to where Vendel Shritez’ massive smuggling operation was taking place. Choosing to abandon the Aviary for the moment, the Inspectors brought in reinforcements in the form of Inspectors Flint and Tamaracks and made to confront Vendel at his warehouse in the Coarse Block of Central Periad. With a brilliant infiltration by Inspector Voke, they managed to quickly subdue the criminal workers in the warehouse, revealing a stockpile of weapons meant for sale to a man named Tychen. Adding ownership of a private jail (an incomprehensibly illegal action) to the list of Vendel’s crimes and liberating the Kelasho-born halfling known as Vee in the process, the Inspectors finally confronted the man themselves. Making some effort to negotiate (though a half-hearted one), the Inspectors learned that Vendel was merely operating on threats (or orders) from a third party, revealed to be an Aniconist sect. With Voke understandably incensed, the party subdued Vendel and made to chase the Aniconists that were in the building, but were inconvenienced by the sudden collapse of the tunnel the criminals were using to transport goods under the district.

Seperated from their quarry once again, the Inspectors were at least partially comforted by their capture of Vendel Shritez and the opportunity to interrogate him.

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Tunnel

It took a moment for light to appear in the tunnel.

When it came, it was eerie, a glowing white mask, whose curling horns reached out and above from the tallest of the three figures gathered there in the sudden light. Three masks. Two black, one glowing white. The horns, the beak, the tusks.

“A waste to let the Hunter escape, brother.” said the tusks, the smallest of the three, its voice echoing anger and impatience.

“You saw what was coming for us. Monsters and False Idols, twisted things warped by the Cage.” spoke the beak, its voice quiet and feminine.

“They are guiltless.” offered the glowing horns, “Slaves to The City. It is a shame if they should die, like any of the innocent.”

“Certainly the Idols are not innocent?” questioned the Tusks with a hint of incredulity.

The horns did not take time to think on this. “No,” they said, “not the idols.”

Turning in place, the horns raised one hand, in it was clutched tightly a stone which vibrated at being raised. Even hidden as they were behind their masks, the figures in the tunnel nearly vibrated with their own anticipation. “Miracle” was not a word they were able to use often, but if ever a time were appropriate, the younger two would use it now.

The packed earth and stone of the tunnel wall caved inward, ripples of dirt flowing like disturbed water in a perfect circle before the funneling movement began to gave way to a tunnel, identical to the one in which they stood. At the end of the tunnel most distant, dirt still roiled in constant motion, flowing from the edges of the tunnel towards an invisible point in its center. They all followed the horns into this bubble of dirt, and the tunnel wall closed behind them, no hint of their passage remaining.

In this glowing tunnel of shifting dirt, lit by the white mask, the passage growing before them and collapsing behind them, they walked. In the mind of the tusks, thoughts were on war, righteous death brought to the slaves of the city, Hunters brought low by his blade. The mind of the beak was lost in the rippling pattern of stone, the beauty of the power their leader held in his hand. The horns thought on his Trio, on his task, and on Idols.

When they reached the basement wall that they had called home for the last twelve hours, the Aniconists stripped their cloaks, their clothing, their masks, and donned new clothing, bundling their secret costume and its secret purposes into simple packs. When they left their temporary home, they did so separately, over the course of several hours.

Nobody saw them together, so nobody knew.

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Feasthall

Fresh off their victory over Marach in their own corner of Periad, the Southwest Inspectors Contingent was quickly drafted into the direct service of Inspector-General Gammond. They barely had time to even finish their own investigation into the Idol that was working with Marach, revealed to be a woman named Galin. Though confessing to everything the Inspectors accused her of, including aiding Marach by divulging the location of one of the district’s food stores, the Idol was not combative. In fact, she seemed ready to accept whatever punishment the Inspectors thought appropriate. Faced with such a calm opponent, the Inspectors backed down with little real investigation into the enigma or her motives.

Gammond, however, had a task that she suspected the Inspectors would handle much better. A man named Vendel Shritez in the district owned a feasthall, apparently the center of some amount of food smuggling and a considerable amount of illegal activity, at least according to Gammond. On the pretense of seeking curfew-breakers, Inspectors Leroux, Kallen, Shiel, Shor, Voke and Flint were told to enter the Feasthall and clear it of anyone that resisted, all the while searching for evidence of illegal activity to justify the raid itself.

The Inspectors agreed instantly. Maybe it was because Leroux was absent when they accepted the assignment. They complied to the letter.

Arriving at dusk, the Inspectors entered the Feasthall by the front door after marking armed targets inside. Their initial order for citizens inside to retreat to their own residences was met with violence from some of the employees of the establishment, and nearly a dozen men lay dead by the end of the confrontation. They immediately began marking infractions, such as wood-burning and weapon possession, to use as evidence.

The Inspectors’ attempt to take the second floor of the building was met with ambush, lead unexpectedly by the Criminal Boro, who had sequestered himself with a hostage in one corner of the floor. Fighting through the ambush, the Inspectors made absolutely no attempt to negotiate for the safety of the hostage, unwilling to compromise the principle of killing anyone and everyone that stands against them. As the physical incarnation of this principle, Inspector Shiel ended up hurling Boro out of a window, narrowly rescuing the hostage through the brutal, unexpected action. Boro, in his tenacious way, managed to survive the fall from the second floor, limping off into the dark streets of Periad. Inspector Leroux ordered two of the Central Periad Inspectors to escort the hostage somewhere safe.

The building mostly secured, there was only the third, and smallest, floor left to secure. There, they found Deals Mcrasin consorting with Vendel Shritez himself, as well as a series of Shritez’ bodyguards and a strange Third Party . Vendel took the opportunity to tell Mcrasin to clean up his mess, while retreating to the roof with his cohort. Splitting the party, Inspectors Flint, Leroux, Shor and Voke stood down Mcrasin and his guards while Kallen and Shiel chased after Vendel on the roof. Unfortunately, with a pair of powerfully built wrestlers among Mcrasin’s thugs, it seemed that there was little hope for the fight in Vendel’s office.

Meanwhile, on the roof, Kallen and Refay tried to engage Vendel and his cohort in combat, but the black Rakshasa had no time nor inclination to tolerate their attacks. She seemed unaffected by Kallen’s bolts and only Refay’s prodigious rage managed to draw a thin line of blood on her face. In frustration at being wounded, she hurled Refay through the roof, and later, off of it. Kallen, exercising discretion, merely fired one of his anise-scented oil bolts into the undefended Vendel and resolved to hunt him later.

With Kallen’s reintroduction to the fight in the offices, along with prodigious performances from all the Inspectors there, they managed to turn around their confrontation with Mcrasin, but in the desperation of the encounter, Inspector Flint managed to kill the man. In an attempt to apprehend Vendel, the Inspectors rushed to the roof in time to see their quarry escape on a giant owl. Brief thoughts of pursuit were crushed by the onset of night.

Though Mcrasin was criminal, losing a valuable source of information was a considerable loss to the Inspectors, a thorough search of the room managed to recoup that loss fairly well. The party found themselves with access to some of Vendel’s personal papers, identifying three leads that could lead them to the man.

He seems to be in a racket with two organizations. One is a political group lead by someone branding themselves a rebel, named “Tychen”, who seems to be operating out of Northeast Periad. The second, who is ordering him to aid Tychen, is someone named “Stell”. With this three-strong ring of conspirators, it seems Periad is in more trouble than it originally believed. The most solid lead available is the reference to a tunnel under the Coarse block, a portion of Central Periad known for mass production and waste issues.

Finally, the Inspectors were recalled briefly to deal with a body found in their own district. The corpse belonging to someone that Percival knew too well.

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Split

Vellius considered it bizarre the way his master could split his attention. Bizarre and impressive. Sometimes Master Mintay could lecture while drawing in those large, geometric circles that his servants erased every morning. Often he would eat, walk and perform such intricate geometries, usually one-handed. Most startling, however, was when he would sedately read an open book or report, and at the same time ask Vellius to read aloud to him from a second set of reports, picking out the little bits that were most important without missing the thread of either. This was the practice they were engaged in together at the moment. Vellius just serving as a secondary thought process to his master’s mind, lost somewhere in a structure that he rarely divulged even pieces of.

“Stop.” Master Mintay said. Vellius stopped.

“Which part?” he asked, skimming the last page he had been reading, trying to figure out the puzzle of what was significant before it was ruined for him. He was, unfortunately, never faster than his master. It was actually quite disheartening. His youth should be worth something. Master Mintay didn’t answer his question, though (did he ever?), instead merely beckoning for the sheaf that his apprentice had been reading from, speaking aloud in that questioning way he does when he is thinking of other things.

Absolutely frustrating.

“Do you have any idea how many projects this city has going at one time? I mean supported initiatives. Researchers, Law Enforcement, the Meat Wagons?” the older man asked, briskly skimming the paper that had been given to him.

Vellius, meanwhile, struggled to think of what he had just read. So much acronym, so much code. Why did bureaucrats feel the need to obfuscate everything? He also had to continue the conversation with Master Mintay, though. A brief curse came along with the realization he couldn’t split his own attention so neatly. “I do not, Master Mintay.”

“Guess.”

“Well over a hundred, I suppose.”

“Ten.”

Vellius blinked. That didn’t seem right. Luckily, Master Mintay kept going. “Major projects, Vellius. Initiatives with people of resolve and skill and purpose behind them. The City has remarkably few people like that.” Looking up from what he was reading, the Master seemed quite suddenly old, exhausted, unhappy. “We need more people like that.” He said, then the moment passed, and it was all flat-browed irony in his gaze once more.

“I suppose that’s what you have me for, Master Mintay.” It was a risk, admittedly, to gamble on his good humor, but apparently it paid off, and Vellius was rewarded with a brief smile from the old man.

“I have the talent of an entire city to pull from, Mister Brelion. Why would you think yourself so significant?” It was a challenge, of course, offered just to see how he would overcome it. The cornerstone of their relationship, after all. Master Mintay was all about creating problems for his servants. Probably a way to relieve stress.

“They are not here.”

“Quite so. How is your friend?”

Sudden questions caught Vellius off guard far more than the sudden challenges. He could prepare himself for the challenges, but the questions were always…pointed. Purposeful. Dangerous, somehow. “Tanner is well, last I heard.” Vellius answered. “One of the Inspectors in Periad, by my last missive. I have not contacted him in some time. I am kept busy.” It wasn’t a complaint, not really, but he realized it could be taken that way and immediately regretted the words.

“Well, far be it from me to keep you from your other allies.” Master Mintay said. The last word had a strange emphasis on it, dragged out with deliberate slowness. “Take the time to stay in touch.” Master Mintay offered the sheaf of paper back to Vellius, who accepted and prepared to start reading again, but was interrupted almost immediately. “Savor contact with anyone that still loves you, Vellius.”

Vellius’ face betrayed him briefly by scrunching up in confusion. “Well;” he thought, moments before he began reading again, “That was dark.”

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