Episode 70: The Truth, Or Something Like It
Returned to Telisar by the Mad Mage as abruptly as they were taken, the party found themselves meeting the dawn of a new day at Whisper’s tower – all but Whisper herself, who was returned to the streets of Uman. She hastened to leave the city but was stopped at the gate by an Uman City Watch captain, who placed her under arrest for the murder of Madame Elethi and 47 other Umani citizens.
At around the same time, the rest of the party was met with Bartok and a cohort of his elite guard at the tower and likewise taken into custody. Sirlius and Keen, who happened to be on the 3rd floor of the tower, leapt from the battlements in an attempt to escape. Sirlius’s painful cry upon hitting the ground 60 feet below alerted Bartok, who sent guards to fetch them.
Bartok led them to prison cells deep in the Brescht compound on the 2nd Tier to await “the Tribunal,” a gathering of the city’s ruling merchant houses called to discuss the murder of “prominent citizen” Madame Elethi, and the 47 others killed by Elethi’s rampaging vampire spawn just days ago. When some hours later they were escorted through a teleportation circle to the Hall of Merchants on the 1st Tier, the companions had settled on a sort of defense: Madame Elethi attacked first, and they were defending themselves. They resolved not to mention the ledger or the reasons why they were in Elethi’s tower to begin with.
The Tribunal was attended by the heads of five of the seven houses: Elouise Pashtum, Kirshen Myrndottir, Panaver Knacklebun, Selarine Simbali, and Bartok himself representing House Brescht. It quickly became clear that the Tribunal was forced by Elouise herself, who demanded the immediate execution of the party; Kirshen agreed. Panaver, the balding, mustachioed gnome, was inclined to also support execution, but given the party had rescued his son from the Community some span earlier and had defended the city from demons on the 1st of the Fox (and perhaps just to irritate Elouise), asked the party to account for their actions.
Yuna, speaking for the party, related as much of the truth as she thought would be wise to share; not wanting to reveal the existence of Madame Elethi’s ledger or the contents thereof. This was made more difficult by two witnesses: the guard who first caught Ara sneaking into the tower and established that the party was trespassing, and Reva Soonrop, the deserter city watchman who had befriended the party. To their surprise and dismay Reva’s story portrayed the party as bloodthirsty criminals who kidnapped him, tormented him, and repeatedly threatened him with death. This appeared to sway Panaver, who declared that any good the party had done for Uman appeared to be incidental and motivated only by self-interest.
Hearing this, Magnus asked the tribunal to cast Zone of Truth and hear an honest accounting of the facts. Bartok rejoined that for security purposes, any magic cast within the Hall would be ineffective, and that all parties brought before the Tribunal are expected to speak truthfully of their own accord. Throughout the discussion Bartok appeared surprisingly reserved, almost neutral. He repeatedly encouraged Yuna to provide evidence of the party’s character, and pointed out that while the facts certainly suggested their guilt, the fact remained that Elethi was evil, a blight upon the city Uman was better off without.
The aging, corpulent elf Selarine Simbali mostly observed the proceedings with undisguised mirth and seemed if not interested in the outcome certainly entertained. At one point as an alternative to execution Simbali suggested the party be placed in his custody; he promised to find “suitable employment” for them that would preclude further trouble for the city. This further irritated Elouise, who demanded again the party be put to death.
Using a message spell, Bartok told Yuna to reveal the existence of Madame Elethi’s journal to the Tribunal. Yuna did so only with great reservation, and Sirlius began to threaten to reveal all they had learned about the seven Merchant Houses of Uman. Yuna restrained him, but the threat was made clear: the party knew what Elethi knew, and Elethi knew everything about the Houses. This seemed to focus the attention of the entire Tribunal with the exception of Selarine Simbali, who seemed entirely unthreatened by the existence of Elethi’s private journals.
The Tribunal voted: Elouise voted for execution; Kirshen also; Bartok declared the party guilty, but moved to exonerate based on their service to the city; Panaver agreed. The tie-breaking vote fell to Simbali, who openly considered whether he should side with Elouise or Bartok, treating it as a game. Finally, Simbali abstained. With the Tribunal deadlocked, the tie-breaking vote fell to the Captain-General of the City Watch: Bartok. He declared the party absolved of all charges and free citizens of the city of Uman.
The party was escorted from the Hall by Brecht’s elite guards, to the retreating sounds of the heads of Uman’s Merchant Houses arguing and shouting over one another. The guard captain returned their belongings, and quietly emphasized that while legally free, the party had just earned the enmity of several of the Merchant Houses and they would be wise to leave the city for a while. Exhausted, bewildered and still bloodied from their recent encounters, the party resolved to do just that, but not before a chance to rest and bind their wounds. Not wanting to return to their manor home on the 7th, they instead petitioned the Temple of Mimir on the 6th for a place to stay. After making a series of suitable donations they were welcomed in, and bedded down in a large hall with several groups of the city’s homeless and downtrodden.
As the party slept, Whisper kept watch, alert for any danger, but despite her vigilance she was surprised by Reva Soonrop appearing next to her in the shadows. Reva explained that he had been working for Bartok all along; the Captain-General wanted to be sure of the party’s movements, and sent Reva to keep an eye on them. When Whisper angrily asked why Reva lied at the Tribunal, he apologized and explained that this too was Bartok’s plan.
According to Reva, Bartok knew Elouise Pashtum would force a Tribunal; her paranoia had led her to mistake the party’s movements in the city as a grab for power and the tribunal was a convenient way to legally, transparently outmaneuver them, but by painting the party as murderous psychopaths with damaging information about the Houses Bartok positioned the party as too dangerous to move against directly. The gambit paid off and forced Knacklebun to side with Bartok against Elouise. The party’s lives then hinged on the unpredictable, inscrutable Simbali, but it was the most Bartok could do on their behalf.
Whisper listened to this with open suspicion, and asked Reva why she should believe him now. In response, he dropped his Seeming spell and revealed himself to be not a jittery, adolescent human but a half-orc with striking features bearing a significant family resemblance to Bartok himself. He winked at the startled Kenku, smiled, and disappeared behind an Invisibility spell.
NPCs In One Scene: Too Many
Lies Told: Several?
Lies Told By Bartok: 1
RP Rating: Awesome!