Pathfinder Kingmaker

Deep undercover
really deep

Zion brings the kings together in the meeting room with the table to show the others the letter he received from the Queen. When they have all taken their seats, he begins by tossing the parchment on the table within easy reach of Pik who he knows would be the most curious.

“My Fellow Kings, and friends. The queen has left us. She has undertaken what we have already discussed she should not do alone, which is find, and confront this ‘Caretaker’. In her arrogance, She believes she is the only one qualified to deal with it. Yet one more reason why she never should have been elevated to the status we share. She claims she is doing it for the people but it is NOT up to her to decide what is best for them. Our people come to us because of how we govern our people.

“She is unhinged. I believe we need to craft a defense if she is to return.”

Pik reaches out and takes the letter, reading it aloud.

Dread Zion,

I have chosen to share my decision with you first, that you would then pass it along to the rest of the kings. Perhaps by entrusting you with this information you will be able to discern my true intent and loyalty.

I am greatly concerned with this Caretaker, and its place in the realm. I wish to learn more about it. To find it and speak with it, whatever it is. I believe that I, with my deep history in and knowledge of the lands and world and people am uniquely positioned to take on this mission. I will find the Caretaker and determine the Caretaker’s real intentions, so that we can act on them.

It is a sad thing indeed that you have so arranged yourself against me these years, never trusting nor accepting my person or position. If only you could know my heart in full you would know that you have nothing to fear from me; and, in fact, everything to gain from me. From me. But that is all in the past now, and only our work today and tomorrow will determine what the future may bring. Perhaps a piece of my heart still holds out hope, but that is for another day, and maybe another world entirely.

I do not know when you will hear from me again; and if my mission fails, if you ever will again. Believe me when I say that I am looking out for the realm and its people, and will keep these ever-forward in my heart and mind as I delve into the Caretaker’s secrets.

Yours, forever and affectionately,

Tessara

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A Month of Work
do not mistake activity for progress

Meta
This is a summary of plans put into action over the weeks following the attempt on Pik’s life and Tessara being called on the carpet by the other kings.

Light is being brought to the neighborhoods that skirt the slums near the old waterfront (that is, the first set of docks built). Progress is slow, due to the unique nature of the work, the fact that it requires coordination between disparate groups not used to work with one another, and the matter of red tape related to existing zoning ordnances, some of which needed to be changed. The bureaucracy of Misthaven isn’t that big – and that’s part of the problem, as there aren’t enough pencil-pushers, accountants, survey crews, and other public works folks to get the job(s) done in a timely manner. That said, the first posts are up and the process is being ironed out. The entire project should be done in about two months.

A few groups of Mistborn Rangers have been quietly brought into town to help support the local constabulary as Sir Akiros shifts manpower and resources to prepare for the big push into the slums, which he says he’ll be able to conduct in about a month.

Pik and Boldrick “The Boulder” Ballbearing spent about a week working on the assassin, trying to get him to see the light, change his evil ways, and overall embrace niceness. The guy, however, turned out to be a jerk, refusing offers, not taking the men seriously, and being abrasive and rude at every turn. He demonstrated a noteworthy tolerance for beatings and other forms of coercion, including sleep depravation, high and low temperatures, and bad food. Basically, the guy’s a tough, stubborn jerk who really doesn’t care what happens to him, having long since resigned himself to being executed for attempted regicide. Do with him as you will.

As for gathering intel on the criminal underworld of Misthaven and the kingdom at large, you’ve turned first to digging through existing records and sources in order to see if anything’s been missed. The lack of a Spymaster has really hampered your ability to conduct this sort of internal intelligence-gathering, and it’s entirely possible that different cities’ constabularies have information that could help…but you’ve no idea if they do since no one is running the show. Essentially, law enforcement in the kingdom above the local level is a disjointed hodge-podge, much like an incomplete symphony with no conductor or sheet music. Expanding spy operations within the city or kingdom will depend on what local law enforcement can muster, meaning that such operations are going to be as uneven as are your different cities’ constabularies.

What are the kings up to during all of this?

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Putting plans into action
the short and the long-term

Over a period of days initial contracts were signed with local mages, carpenters, and blacksmiths. A reasonable number of light posts could be completed within a fortnight and installed. Akiros decided that the project would be kept secret and that the posts would be deployed all at once, on the same day, hopefully bringing light to those poorer neighborhoods on the corona of the slums on the same evening.

Akiros also wanted to be ready for a big move into those slums on that very night. He turned to Tessara, still the Lead Ranger of the realm, and arranged to have some ranger patrols diverted to Misthaven to provide additional manpower, and prepared to call up some of his own constabulary reserves to back-fill patrol positions elsewhere in the city. He wanted his top officers on the job for what he had dubbed “the push.”

There needed to be a balance between broadcasting an air of ‘business as usual’ and preparing behind the scenes for the push. In particular, Akiros needed information about gang leaders, safehouses, storage facilities – he needed to know where to hit on that night.

Tessara promised the support of the rangers, and agreed to dig around as much as she could to find more information about the Caretaker and through him/her/it possibly find the other information Akiros needed.

And the kings…what would they do during this time? What would be done with the assassin? Zion wants to deputize him; Reg wants to beat him; and Anton wants to give him to Pik on a platter. You only have one assassin, and therefore you must choose.

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Akiros' Report to the Upper Council
in the small hours

Akiros’ briefing took about 30 minutes, in keeping with his concise, focused manner of speaking. There were few questions during, as he had anticipated many of those he might might be asked for clarification, and on related side issues, too. Open questions & discussion carried on for more than an hour after he finished his formal presentation.

An observer would carry away the following key points:

  1. The area around the old docks – the ones built early in Misthaven’s history and now a sideshow to the active waterfront – were slums, and riddled through with crime. Akiros believed that the number of vacant buildings and confused, twisting streets and alleys provided a great deal of concealment for criminal activity. There was circumstantial as well as actual evidence that some gangs called this area home, and that a variety of illegal goods and services could be purchased or arranged for in this relatively small corner of the city.
  2. The construction camps around the waterfront, still very much under (re)construction after having been blown up during the war, had been consistent sources of petty crime: prostitution, drugs, gambling, and the occasional fight that got out of hand. If there were gangs running those sorts of activities in the city, it was certain that they’d have contacts in those areas. Saul was known to operate in that area, according to Akiros’ intelligence.
  3. The drug trade is a problem in Misthaven – there’s no mistaking or hiding from it. What started out a few years ago as the typical sale of various mushrooms and weeds and roots and other esoteric items from the Narlmarches has transitioned away from less harmful substances to highly addictive narcotics. Akiros has shut down a few brothels that were fronts for such sales, and has been trying for some time to penetrate the groups that are responsible for the worst of it. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to do so, and has lost a few potential informants over the last several months, and with them trails of clues. His hunch is that there is a very sophisticated, organized operation at the core of it, and they know how to stay hidden.
  4. Two months ago a small temple to Gyronna was discovered, and the small coven of worshipers broken up. Followers of the ‘Angry Hag’ are never a good sign, and, like other vermin often come in far larger numbers than is obvious. He’s been trying to see if there are others since, but has not uncovered anything definite to date.

In a nutshell, Akiros’ constables are reliable, capable, and good at typical local law enforcement. He does not have the manpower – especially since the mandatory domestic spending cuts kicked in during the war – to carry on complex investigations. He has a few solid trackers and would-be detectives, but beyond that he’s pretty limited in what he can do. He’s advocated for more funding for more officers, more surveillance, and better, ongoing training; however, since crime in Misthaven hasn’t been a problem to date he’s not had much luck. It’s clear that he understands why the Upper Council didn’t fund his every request, and yet he’s still disappointed that it’s taken such seemingly dire circumstances to bring light to the fallout.

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The Queen Speaks

“The Caretaker is…not the evil you think it is,” Tessara said in a near-whisper, in response to Pik’s question.

“He, or she – I’m not sure – has been in this region for some time, predating this realm,” she continued, “and always a force for balance, I think.”

The kings and others present listened intently as she spoke.

“These woods, and these steppes…these lands…are ancient, and have seen many rulers, wars, and peoples come and go, and yet there has always been nature, and through its normal course, balance.

“The Caretaker, I believe is a force of or a being aligned with the natural world, unfettered by civilization and artificial laws, rules, and structures. I don’t think the Caretaker is at war with what has been built here, and what the realm represents; however, I do think the Caretaker seeks to act as a balance against what the Mistmarches seeks to impose on these lands.

“This may bring the Caretaker into some forms of conflict with the realm, and sometimes to its aide – or, rather, to the aide of the people. I believe that we have put too much emphasis on the Caretaker as both an individual and as an opponent, when we should be looking at these criminal activities and gangs as the real source of destructive power. And whether the Caretaker is a man, woman, or something else matters not…the Caretaker is a force of the natural world, seeking to promote and maintain balance.”

Tessara droned on in a low voice, almost dead-pan, as the others watched and listened.

“As for the Caretaker’s actual identity in the conventional sense, I…do not know it.”

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What's with the queen?
Nuts, lying, or something else?

The kings prepared for a fight, and conducted their questioning of the queen, relying on wit, facts, and magic to try to ensure that they were getting the whole truth.

Tessara was certain that this ‘Caretaker,’ while potentially causing some problems, was not the real source of the realm’s troubles. In fact, this shadowy figure may well have even predated the kingdom itself, as she provided examples and proof of benevolent acts by this individual at points in the recent past. Apparently he/she even acted as something of a counter-balance to the depredations of the Stag Lord, years ago. The queen, while accepting that the Caretaker was certainly a force for chaos, at least compared against the law of the realm, he/she/it was not, she asserted, evil or inherently dangerous.

Something was behind these problems, including the assassination attempt, that was greater than the Caretaker and decidedly evil, destructive, and scheming.

Of these things she was sure.

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"This is what I know..."
the queen presents her case

Tessara continued on for the better part of an hour as the kings listened, interrupting periodically to ask questions, seek clarification, and unravel the complex tapestry of conspiracy that the queen’s story described.

If she was to be believed, Misthaven was shot through with drug-dealing gangs, thieves’ guilds that conspired to divide the city into manageable segments, and a criminal underground with at least as much policing power as the actual authorities. Behind them all lurked the shadowy, all-knowing Caretaker, a mysterious figure whose origins were unknown, motives unclear, and power seemingly undeniable.

The queen had discovered evidence of these extensive criminal operations during her travels across the realm, where she first found indications of well-organized smuggling into the kingdom and between its cities. Misthaven was the hub, for sure, although there were similar structures and goings-on in the other cities and towns. She’d spent the last few months in an admittedly obsessive hunt for clues to help her get to the bottom of things.

She begged forgiveness for not informing the other monarchs, citing what she believed was a need for secrecy, due to the many unknowns and at least some reliable evidence that there was also corruption in the goverment – not to mention her initial lack of hard proof.

She now had Saul, however, whom she stated was the leader of the most powerful thieves’ guild in Misthaven, and arguably the plenipotentiary for the Caretaker here in Misthaven. It was he, she asserted, who’d helped provided the assassin with information about Pik – this she had determined in her own interrogation of the young crook.

Tessara was emphatic about two things: the kingdom was in dire peril from within; and she would stand alongside her fellow soveriegns in rooting out the sources of this “rot,” a word she used repeatedly.

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Secret Combinations
...and invisible hands.

Time had been lost and with it opportunity. The hollowed room inside the great oak stood empty of motion. Shards of moon light split the darkness as dusty milky waves bent towards the light source, small crevices in-between the branching veins of the mighty oak. The shafts reflected upon the silver dais made for meditation. They bounced against an immaculate desk holding strange scripts in dead tongues. Resting in the corner, a large beast laid, its heartbeat filling the chamber with a steady dull thump. The oak room seemed a calm from the secret combinations outside, save the slender shape beginning to take effect on an inside wall. Split between hiss and crackle of wood breaking through stone, the shape slowly manifested. First a leg then arms outstretched swimming through the air. The wooden being became flesh and gasped into life once more. The large feline awoke to the sound and loyally arose to greet the woman. She acknowledges the furry creature with a soft rub underneath the chin and hug. It was good to be home. But she was too preoccupied with events at hand.

She felt lost and defeated in her attempt for revenge. Her time spent in the forest proved fruitless. It is as if she had disappeared from existence. But as she searched she found only more secrets. She heard the stories. The object of her revenge only became crueler after time, after her fleeing. What can only be said as some magic taking hold to her, some insidious deterioration of the soul from the inside? Now fey beasts and strangers began feeding from the depths of the Narlmarches. What sort of machination was set in motion here. The Norn, protector of all that was once good, that had once banished her, tried to kill her, was no more than a shadow to time. And in her place, vengeance that will never be quelled and a hole in the world where there should not be one.

Still rubbing the felines belly she became aware of her meditations and awoke. Taking quick survey of the room, she instantly spotted the letter from the Mistborn rangers. Typical was their correspondence spent this way, transporting in through the bare patch of earth that was available to leave messages on whereabouts and the sort. It was peculiar today. It was written in druidic. She quietly open the note. An unexpected gasp, regret, and fear filled her with its words. These were the mechanizations coming too close to home. She knew who she had to see. The note dropped from her hand and quickly grabbed her companion as they vanished into oaken wall through a splash of magic and bending wood.

+++++++++++

Standing at a distance, he could see the festering wounds Misthaven beginning to take shape. Two shadows, too afraid of the light, silently locked up the warehouse door and took flight into the shrouded fog banks of the ports. He waited sometime after they had left. Deftly he moved across the street and through the broken window into the warehouse. Damp and dark, he could see the mold as much as smell it across the wooden trusses. Dropping down to the floor, he strode quietly across the large room to the staircase down. Below and between the creak of the steps he could hear the sniffling of some poor creature through a door. Knowing who it was, he held no compassion as he advanced in blurred speed, hushing the only light in the room, to strike the young man.

A loud and broken cry ensued as the young man was snapped back into his nightmare. “Trust is a fragile thing, once broken you are never the same. I am never the same!” exclaimed the Caretaker at the restrained Saul of Mistmarch. A wet sniffle, a silent plea escaped the beaten man. “We are all weak Saul but we do not give in to that weakness with the empty promises of those who would destroy us,” his large paws upon the captive’s chest, pressing down with immense pressure. Saul could not breath, his lungs burned under the pressure for air, if he could just speak. “I know you understand what has happened. I know you will know one day what risk you have placed upon those you once claimed to love. I know you think you can escape this but the secrets are already breaking. They will know you were the source. I have made plans already and there will be a new master.” Releasing the pressure, the Caretaker turned to go. Struggling for words, “Wait… no… do not leave… me!” Saul laid his last desperate cry for forgiveness. Half turning the Caretaker simply said, “We shall kill no one.” And as fast as he was at Saul’s throat, the large creature was gone leaving the human to his thoughts of pain, shame, and hopelessness.

As he was held in straps, too weak to escape or pick at the locks, Saul felt the dreams he had at ambition slip into the shards of tears upon his wounds. There truly was no one to help as his withdrawal took him deeper into delirium. He could feel the soft touch of a dog, once like when he was young, approach his hand and face to comfort and lick the dried blood away. The last smile of youth flashed across his face before the darkness in his soul. Suddenly the dog was startled and fled. Or so he thought, as a large tiger, snarling approached him in the bleakness of the warehouse. “The nightmare had come to stay,” he thought to himself. As his mouth stood agape is silent scream and his body twisted. His last thoughts coursing through his body, the vision of a woman came to stand before him and hold him. Once like his mother did before she died. Once like an angel spirit had watched over him all this time.

+++++++++++

Entering into the great hall with the half dead Saul upon Lupo’s back, Tessara stepped forward to the Kings with a newfound purpose to bring things out of the dark and into the light.

“I know how they found Pik. I led them there. I told the Caretaker to keep him safe and we both failed in trusting this urchin of a master thief.” Tessara pointed to the limp body upon the tiger’s back. “We should forgive him for being weak to his addictions.” “I believed we could keep the city safe from these things but no.”

Striking her staff on the hard stone floor, commanding the attention of the kings, “I know we have been reactive to these threats every time. We have been dancing with kingdom trivialities too long. Now we are told to attack each other with no thought to truly why. It is not Pitax but we are dancing again to someone else’s game. Dancing to who’s music? We are being played for fools!”_

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I do not tolerate failure
so what now?

The small female struck the young man across the face again, sending spittle flying. Her rage was barely controlled, and his fear was similarly about to take over.

“How could he fail?” she shrieked. The young man quivered in fear.

“You said he was the best! That he had a perfect record! He could not fail you said! And we paid! she ranted, stomping around the small room.

The young man was starting to shake, but this didn’t come from fear. Rather, it came from the fact that he hadn’t had any time with his pipe in two days, and he was starting to ache for it. The growing sense of hunger and ensuing desperation didn’t marry well with the ass-chewing he was getting. He glanced around the room, taking in his surroundings yet again, looking for an out, or at least a distraction. The woman was there with her bodyguard, the room had some storage boxes in it, no window, and only one door, to the rest of the cellar. It was deep enough underground, and positioned under the building such that no sound would escape from it – a perfect place for meetings where secrets were discussed.

Smack! went his cheek. “You’re not listening to me!” the woman shrieked again. “You will, dammit! You will! Take a few days down here and think about what failure brings, boy!” she raved ash she turned and pulled at the door handle, which stuck for a moment, provoking her to kick the door and shriek some more. Finally, it opened and she and her thug left, locking the young man in alone, with only a small lantern for light.

“What can I do to fix this? What am I supposed to do down here to make things right?” he called out, suddenly coming to terms with the possibility of being locked in there with limited…supplies.

A moment passed before he heard a distant voice shriek once more: “suffer!”

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Mollarnam's Confession
of the forced sort

“What will you do with me?” asked the recently-resurrected assassin. His tone was grim, and his eyes betrayed the small amount of fear he was grappling with internally as he considered his situation. Tied to a table, naked, cold, and aching in ways and places he’d never thought possible, he tried to think clearly through a pounding headache, and see the room and people around him through blurred vision. Coming back to life was no picnic.

The gnome spoke.

“We will determine that, and our decision will be based mostly on your behavior over the next few minutes. Death would be an easy release, it seems, as you tried to show me.” The others – kings Anton, Zion, and Reg, stood around the table and looked down on the elf. Anton’s jaw was clenched, his brow furrowed, righteous rage burning in his eyes, his chin turned down somewhat. Zion wore a quizzical and serious look, one eyebrow arched, his head back slightly and turned, considering the elf as if he were some sort of lab experiment. Reg flexed, cracked his knuckles, and generally looked very threatening, feeling once again like his old self: a strong man with a clear mandate for action.

Chair


“So we’ll see, won’t we?” the gnome stated flatly. The utter lack of emotion or tone in his voice unnerved the elf more than anger or shouting could have. “Who sent you?”

The elf hesitated for a moment, and Reg, noting the delay, stepped forward, casually slamming his right fist into the man’s abdomen, knocking the air out of him. The half-orc followed this swiftly with a gloved left to the junk. Pik motioned him away after the second blow, and stepping close to the prisoner’s ear said, “I think you should start talking.” The elf could not seen Pik’s hands under the table as they held the king’s holy symbol.

“I don’t know exactly who hired me, but I was contracted out of Daggermark through a broker I know. He’s very discrete…only gives me the name of the target and the details of timing and such. I never meet with my clients. It’s better that way.”

“Not good enough,” Pik stated, shaking his head ruefully. Reg again stepped forward and went to work, looking for ways to motivate the elf into providing more details.

Some time later, the elf lay bruised and slightly bloody, and Pik began his questions again. This time, the elf provided more clarity.

Although he was obviously a professional, and took his job very seriously, he’d decided to break with his typical methods in this job by doing a little intelligence-gathering on his client, given that the target seemed so powerful. He’d been told that he was to kill a snooper who used disguise and magic to look in places he wasn’t supposed to. He was told what sorts of magic and other powers this individual had, and the different disguises he was apt to use. He was told where this individual could be found snooping, and around which specific individuals. He was not told his target’s actual identity, however, and while he charged extra for that level of secrecy, it concerned him, and so he himself snooped a bit upon arriving in Misthaven.

It was a rampant and well-organized drug trade that his client wanted shielded from this spy, and the types who ran it were exceptionally low, even by his standards: apparently cultists, or at least a priestess, of Gyronna, were involved, along with a local underworld leader, name of Saul. Given the power and secrecy of the clients, and the stated abilities of the target, this individual was either a powerful criminal or someone in government. Mollarnam was able to eliminate the former – he knew of the most powerful leaders in the crime world throughout most of the River Kingdoms, and although these Mistmarches were new and a little wild, there was no one that high on the totem pole around here, aside from this shadowy ‘Caretaker’ person, and the description of his target didn’t match that one.

And so, he reasoned, it was someone from the other side of the fence. Taking what he knew of the local leaders, he quickly eliminated Sir Akiros and others, and settled on the gnome king – it had to be! And genuinely interested in the notion of regicide, he went after his target, and unfortunately failed. It was clear that Mollarnam was frustrated that he’d failed, and a little irritated at his clients for not giving him more useful information in advance. Still, he accepted that he’d failed. He was, after all, a professional.

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