The next week brought no sign nor word of Adrian.
After returning from the tunnels of Drechton, Heath put the word out that Adrian had fled the city, but that he still had a remaining interest and unfinished business with the man. From his mercenary compatriots, to his lowlife contacts, Heath made it known that if Adrian showed his face in Aleria, he wanted to know about it.
More than his word as a professional, Heath made it personal. He made sure everyone, criminal and mercenary alike, knew that Adrian was involved in smuggling and trafficking of mages and children no less. Everyone knew that whoever Adrian might present himself to be, he was actively working to exploit anyone with power for his own personal gain. He wanted it known by anyone who Adrian might try to contract that he had crossed a line. And luckily, Heath’s words carried weight. Benefits of having a reputation.
The mercenaries from Guild #237 said they were having their contacts and allies looking out for Adrian as well. He had presented himself as nobility, or at least from wealth, so perhaps some of their connections through the upper city might turn up something useful. Heath was less than optimistic, but it never hurt to explore every option. Just to be sure, he made his own investigations and inquiries independent of the Guild. Sometimes it made sense to keep an alternate method of interest separate, especially when one was constrained to the official methods of a licensed guild.
As he was actively spreading word regarding Adrian’s disappearance, Heath returned to the tower safehouse on the edge of Drechton. Following the fight with the mage, the group had traveled along the outside of the city walls rather than back through the tunnels after realizing their quarry had slipped through their fingers. Heath and Nambu had scoured the ground for any signs of tracks or hint of a trail, but they found no leads. Westro and Iden had scavenged some of the armor that the mage had animated, suggesting that one of the fellow guild members might have use for it.
Returning to the tower a day later, Heath found it unchanged, right down to the body of the mage and the remains of the construct. Watching for danger, he carefully made his way across the lower chamber, through the splintered door, and down into the spiral staircase.
Descending into the subterranean network of tunnels, Heath found the large door open and the passage dark. The soft ground was turned up with dozens of sets of small footprints, and when he checked, the barrel where he had left Nybarg was empty.
So they weren’t brave enough to go up and check, Heath thought with amusement. Most of the crates and supplies had been removed as well. Heath took the remaining pieces of timber and used them to bar the door from the tower side, closing it to the tunnels.
Over the next several days, Heath’s mornings were spent cleaning up the tower chamber, repairing the shattered door, and reinforcing the large barricade to the tunnels. His carpentry skills continued to come in handy, decades later. Alyssa’s father would have been proud. At least, Heath liked to think he would have been.
He reached out to a dwarven blacksmith that had done some contracting for Heath before. As far as he was concerned, he made the best locks in Aleria. Heath paid him for his work and his discretion, and had both the locks on the door to the exterior of the wall and the door below ground replaced. He also had the lock on the chain on the tunnel door reinforced.
Before closing the door to the goblin tunnels the last time, Heath took a bucket of blood he had purchased from a butcher, and wrote a message on the wood of the door. Goblins had no script for their language, and used Dwarvish runes instead, but Heath had learned both languages in his years of travel. The translation from Goblin through runes into Common was rough, but the essence of his message was a warning to the goblins to never return to that part of the tunnels. Someone else held sway over that tower now. The message in blood and his parting threat to Nybarg should ensure some time of healthy fear from the Rats beneath Drechton.
The tower became a safehouse, something for personal use at a future time. Heath had been around long enough to know that having more than one safehouse was always better. Drechton was all but lawless, but having the means to access a safehouse from the city walls, and have a direct line to the network of catacombs beneath the district, it was too much to pass up.
While his mornings were spent down at the edges of Drechton, Heath’s afternoons and evenings often found him at the main hall of Guild #237 between his own investigations. They all settled in to await word of Adrian, from any source. Heath sought no other work, he was too intent on dealing with Adrian to think about it. They obliged him, allowing him access to any information that came their way, little as it was, as well as the hospitality of their hall.
Most of his evenings found him sitting in front of the large fireplace in the main hall speaking with Mars. Despite their drastically different appearances, Heath found him the one he was able to relate with the most. Of course, they were very different individuals, and they found out quickly that they held very different views of the world. Yet they had a similar lived experience.
Both men were older than many of the members of Guild #237, Mars was into his 40s and Heath less than a decade younger than him. They each had a craft that was founded in violence, yet neither man craved it. Mars had been a soldier in his youth and became a professional gladiator who had only recently begun to work as a mercenary. Heath was a bounty hunter, often known for his dangerous targets, hunting both monsters and people. Without regrets, they were content with their means of simple living, not worried about the rest of the world. They lived their lives on their terms. At least, that’s how they both told it. To a point, they each believed it.
Mars worked as the charismatic and welcoming introduction for Heath to the rest of the Guild. Most of them he had met, though over the course of the week and various conversations, he learned more about them than what weapons they fought with.
Cassian and Svrcina Romero were born outside the kingdom and were recent arrivals to Aleria, along with Iden. Iden hailed from another kingdom across the sea, but he didn’t speak much about his home or what caused him to leave it behind. Mars explained that he was a follower of Heironeous, who was known as the Archpaladin, and whenever he wasn’t working with the mercenaries of the Guild, he was at the temple in prayer or study.
Cassian had been a soldier during the War for Vengeance, and while he didn’t speak much about it, it had changed him. Sometime after the end of the conflict, he and Svrcina had arrived in Aleria. He was highly protective of her, and she was devoted to him. She also spent time in the Temple District of Aleria, much of it around the ruined temple to Lunafreya, a deceased god whose faith remained only among the few devout.
Nambu was another who had served during the War for Vengeance, though he spoke about it even less than Cassian did, according to Mars. The gladiator thought he might have been a scout or outrider, given his talent for tracking and moving unseen. He came to Aleria far more recently, within the last year, though he was considered a senior member of the guild. He had a good mind for strategy and planning, and he often oversaw a lot of the affairs of the guild. He made sure he reviewed the contracts that came their way before signing.
The other senior member that Heath had met was Kriv, the slippery black-scaled dragonborn. Kriv had lived his entire life in Aleria, though much of his story was a mystery to Mars. It had been apparent from the onset that Kriv didn’t trust Heath, so naturally he began to dig into the legacy of the dragonborn. His search took him into the criminal layer of Aleria, and while he uncovered far more than he expected, he trusted the slippery figure far more than when he first met him.
Westro fit into the company somewhere between a cook and a jack of all trades. He was talented at nearly everything he tried, was well-mannered, and everyone seemed to enjoy being around him. He had the twin gifts of loving to cook and being a very talented cook. Heath had been cautious the first time he offered him a meal, remembering his choices in Drechton and the street meat vender, but quickly came to understand how wonderful a chef he was.
Lilith and Adrie were two of the most unpredictable members of the guild, but for completely different reasons. Lilith, who still slightly unnerved Heath, was often content to be by herself, remaining in her room and speaking to herself. Mars said she had a doll that she spoke to, and Heath immediately raised his hand, cutting him off. He had been hired to deal with enough ghost stories, the last thing he wanted was to think about another one. They made his skin crawl and made him feel like he was being watched.
Adrie, on the other hand, was the most out-of-place member of the motley crew that made up Guild #237. She was a tall, slender elf with pale skin and hair nearly as dark as midnight. She towered over Heath, standing well over six feet tall. She was clearly noble, evident by both her regal bearing and her fine dress. She often wore dark clothes, elegant and finely made, but very functional and form-fitting. Mars said he knew she had some relations with the nobility of Aleria and was likely where she went when she disappeared, but nothing more than that. She had a spark of the arcane and a talent for illusions, but her skill was manifested in the elegant, curved bow she carried across her back. Made of a sleek, dark ash wood, it was a thing of deadly beauty. Heath was equally as interested to see her shoot as he was to know what it was that drew her away from a life of privilege to be a mercenary.
The final member of the group was the third senior member of the guild. Orsic was a stocky, muscular dwarf who spent most of his day down in the forge built into the basement of the guildhall. He had helped found the guild months earlier, and his standing as a cleric of Moradin, the dwarven deity of creation, helped lend credence to their efforts. Expecting a heavily seasoned older dwarf, Heath was surprised then, when he first met him, that he was younger than expected. Early into his adult years by dwarven standards, he had short hair and a tightly braided beard that could be tucked away while smithing. Heath’s keen eyes found no markings or tattoos on his hands or arms signifying his clan or family, nor any other type of marking. He was stern and serious, though his greeting was genuine. He offered Heath the warmest of hospitality, as was fitting of dwarves, and was mildly surprised when the ranger gratefully accepted in Orsic’s native tongue.
And that is how it went. From his labor in the tower, to getting to know the men and women of Guild #237, Heath found himself more than satisfied most nights when he collapsed into his bed at the Black Crow Tavern.
One evening Heath was speaking with Mars after most of the others had retired for the night. Nearly all of them resided in their own quarters in the wing of the Guildhall. Heath took a long pull on his pipe as he gazed into the slowly dying embers of the fire as the massive gladiator was telling the story of how the guild had become entangled in a plot regarding Cassian and Svrcina and a fiend from the Nine Hells.
“So it doesn’t bother you that you don’t really know much about them?” Heath asked.
Mars gave him a puzzled look. “Sure I do, they told me everything I need to know.”
“No, beyond what they’ve told you.” Heath struggled for the words he was searching for. “Sure they’ve told you that they’re from far away. Cassian shared that he was in the army, but he doesn’t really talk about it. What caused them to leave their home? And a devil?”
Mars shrugged and took a drink from his flagon. “Guess I never really thought about it. We all have our secrets, parts of our story we aren’t ready to share, or pieces we’d rather forget. Whenever something concerns the whole guild, folk are good about speaking up. Until then, everyone’s business is their own as far as I’m concerned.”
“Seems like a good way to let history catch up with you,” Heath said darkly. He shook his head. “All I’m saying is that it seems like you all trust one another. At least well enough to watch each others’ backs. But there are far too many questions that I worry might hold unsavory answers. And not just from those two. Iden is from another kingdom. Nambu served in the war, but no one knows anything about it. No one seems to worry when Adrie or Kriv disappear without a word.”
Mars chuckled. “You think we should have everyone divulge every one of their secrets before they sign up with us? Get Cassian’s full military record? Send a letter to whatever temple Iden served at across the sea? We made sure everyone is checked out before they join, we do things right. Besides, do you think we should have made you share every dark little secret before we invited you along with us?” The big man’s laughter echoed into his mug as he took another drink.
“Aye, that was my first sign I should be worried,” Heath said quietly with a sigh. They had welcomed him too easily, too quickly. Maybe good people were just less likely to think the worst of everyone. He chewed on the end of his pipe, thinking before changing the subject.
“Is it strange having two of them in a relationship?”
Mars paused and glanced over at him with a smirk. “Eh? And which two did you pick up on are in a relationship?”
Heath frowned. “Cassian and Svrcina. I’m not an idiot, they have the same family name. They go everywhere together, you see how they look at each other. They even moved to Aleria together after Cassian returned from the war. That’s nearly storybook.”
Mars guwaffed and roared with laughter. Heath stared at him befuddled, and after a moment to control himself, the big man wiped away the tears streaming down his face.
“Mate,” he began, chuckling through his words, “I wish to all the gods you had asked that with them here. Hah, those two aren’t in a relationship. They’re brother and sister.”
Heath blinked at him, his brains trying to make sense of what Mars had said. “But he-” Heath began. “And she- She has the…” He raised his hands to his head, mimicking the curved horns of the tiefling. “How?”
Mars shrugged. “Dunno, but by Pelor himself, those two are siblings. Something maybe to do with that mess with the devil, but he was born human and she came out with blue skin and horns.”
Still shocked, Heath settled back into his chair trying to make sense of what he had just learned while Mars just chuckled to himself.
The more time he spent with them, the more Heath begrudgingly realized that he liked these folks. They had something special in their found family of sorts. They really didn’t know what they were doing, but they were trying. Most of them were welcoming, and a few even invited him to continue to work with them even if it didn’t involve the Magebreaker. Nambu had been impressed with him in the tunnels beneath Drechton, and the others had vouched for his conduct during the escort to Grenich.
Heath had begun to convince himself that he was spending time with them to have more time in the upper portions of the city. Halfheartedly, he knew that it might help attract better paying clients, or at least expose him to different kinds of contracts. At least, that’s how he justified it.
When they formally asked him if he wanted to continue with them, even offering probationary membership to the guild pending certification, Heath forced himself to look at his motivations.
Part of him, surprisingly, wanted to say yes. It had been a very long time since he had felt like he had belonged to anything. It had been a long time since he had been able to call anyone a friend. There had been a time where he had traded in loyalty, felt like he belonged to a greater family. It wasn’t their fault the way it had ended. All the same, he couldn’t help but feel resentment and some regret. He had to learn to trust again. He had to believe that trust could come without the acceptance that it wouldn’t last.
Heath told them that he would stay, at least until they learned more about Adrian and the Magebreaker. His main priority had shifted to trying to understand, to know what they were planning. It was more than a purge of mages, they had a purpose. Better than anyone, Heath knew that questionable actions tended to lead down darker paths.
He made the amendment that while he would not join as a member of Guild #237, he would sign as a contractor alongside them. When contracts came, he would be offered the opportunity to contract with the guild, but he would be under no obligation to join, nor would they be forced to include him. Officially, that would leave him free to come and go as he pleased, and the opportunity to take other work. It would also protect them from any complications from his area of expertise, and the unpleasantness that accompanies it.
Personally, Heath wanted to keep as much professional distance from these people as he could. His concerns he had vocalized to Mars had been all too real, but instead of their own, he worried about himself. He knew the demons that crept in the shadows he cast. He knew that one day they might reach out and try to drag him back down into the abyss. Heath’s soul was laden with too many, but if he could keep it from these people, he would. These few might not tip the scales, but he wouldn’t be the instrument of their torment, now would he have them become an instrument of his.
Thus Heath Longsight joined with Guild #237 as they all awaited word of the disappeared Adrian. It was one such morning in the guildhall as they conversed over breakfast that Nambu came through the doors holding a contract.