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The Silver Raven Chronicles Part One: Devil's Night

A Hell's Rebels Retelling

By Neal LitherlandPublished 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 15 min read

There was no moon, and the flickering lights of Old Kintargo did little to hold the night at bay. Smoky street lamps leaked tallow tears, revealing barely more than a few steps in any direction before the darkness and the thick night fog closed in once more. Ships swayed in the currents of the Yolubilis River; bulky shapes looming out of the mist like mountains in a dream. Dark figures paced the decks, illumined by the storm lanterns, their heavy coats and high collars making them look like phantoms in the cold night air.

Several shadows stood in an alleyway, watching a low, dirty building. They were silent and still in the chill night; hunters waiting the perfect moment to strike. Across the street, lanterns lit the building’s cloudy windows from within, distorting the shadows of those inside until they looked like cavorting devils, their voices lifted to belt out raw, raspy ballads between lifting their drinks. No sign hung out front, but for those who knew what they sought none was needed. Half lost in the fog was a single, wooden post that boasted a handful of iron nails and several wolf’s teeth. Something moved in the darkness, and one of the shadows reached beneath its cloak, snatching at the grip of their truncheon. A man stumbled past, murmuring to himself and lifting a cloudy bottle. He coughed, wiping at his mouth before continuing on, lost in the fog again.

“Jumpy, aren’t we?” Pavo whispered from the darkness, his voice slick with something just shy of contempt. “Worried the ghost is going to come for you, dottari?”

“There are plenty of dangers here,” Pontia said, forcing herself to let go of her bludgeon. "You would know that if you wore a uniform.”

Pavo sucked in a breath to respond, but Aspexia clicked her teeth. That single sound made the knifeman with the greasy hair and sallow skin swallow whatever he’d been about to say, lapsing into a sulky silence. Pontia kept her eyes forward, and her focus on the door.

Pavo's jab had given away more than he'd intended. For months now the dottari had been keeping a lid on the happenings in Old Kintargo. Street toughs beaten bloody and hung upside down like sides of meat, children rescued from the fists of drunken fathers, and low-end flesh mongers broken and left beneath the street lamps like a warning to others; all of them spoke of a ghost in black armor, with a voice like the grave. The city's watchers hadn't thought much of it at first... until this so-called ghost had laid its hands on the dottari as well. They'd stepped up patrols, and increased their numbers in a show of force. At first they'd thought it had worked... but night after night it came for them. Some refused to return, resigning their commissions rather than go back to Old Kintargo. Some walked back in, but had to be carried out. Pontia was one of the last of the neighborhood's old guard, and even she didn't want to be there at night. The fact that her Captain had to assign her three "volunteers" from one of the citizen's brigades instead of trained and experienced dottari didn't sit well with her.

“How much longer?” Rutilus grunted. It was the first sound the big man had made in hours, other than the creak of his black leather when he shifted his weight.

“It could be a while,” Pontia said, swallowing hard. She tucked her hands into her armpits beneath her cloak, trying not to show how uncomfortable she was in the night’s chill. She did her best not to turn her head to look at the scarred man with the morning star at his hip. “There’s no telling how long she’ll keep the place open, or how many people are in there.”

Rutilus grunted, lapsing back into silence. Pavo shifted from where he leaned against the wall, his arms crossed but his hands never very far from the twin blades that dangled from his hips. Pontia didn’t turn around, but she could feel the weight of Aspexia’s gaze on her back. If the two enforcers from the Chelish Citizens Group assigned to her for this night's duty were hunting hounds wearing the skin of men (and the black and red colors of Cheliax) then the tall, sharp-featured woman was the mistress of their hunt. And while the two hounds were dangerous in their own right, it was Aspexia with her dark eyes and thin smile that scared Pontia. Not an easy thing to do to a dottari assigned to this quarter, but the truth was the truth.

“Your man has three pipes,” Aspexia said, her voice like iron coated in velvet. The implication in her tone was enough to make Pontia’s stomach clench.

The four of them stood in the darkness, and Pontia counted the seconds in her mind. Just as Aspexia drew breath to give an order to her men, the door opened. A figure stumbled outside, leaning against the post for a minute like a runner trying to catch his breath after the race was finally done. A moment later the man straightened, and began deliberately walking toward the nearby corner where a lamp still burned. Pontia let out a stale breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, slipping out of the alley and moving quietly down the street.

The man who emerged from the darkness was too old to be young, but not so old that his poor decisions showed on his face just yet. He was dark-haired, with stubble that had nearly become a beard, and his physique was somewhere between robust and rotund. His clothes were well-tailored and finely-cut, but made of common material… a perfect metaphor for the man himself. Pellius smiled, and while the expression was warm enough, it was bent around the corners; the fear peeking out around the pleasant mask he wore.

“Dottari,” Pellius said, inclining his head in a respectful nod that wasn’t quite a bow. He winced, pressing his fingers against his temple. “Fancy meeting you here, it is good to-”

“We don’t have time for false pleasantries, Pellius,” Pontia hissed between her teeth. “Just tell me what I sent you in there for.”

Pellius’s lips flapped for a moment as he tried to regain his equilibrium. His breath told Pontia he’d had far more to drink than usual on an assignment like this. He swallowed, cleared his throat, and then nodded decisively.

“There’s maybe a handful left in their tankards,” he said. “Mostly old salts. Jerrick, Citrine, one or two others. Nobody who’ll make trouble.”

“Who is running the bar?” Pontia asked. She could feel the pressure of Aspexia’s eyes from the shadows digging into her, and she knew her window of opportunity was closing. “Filas?”

Pellius snorted. “Filas is there, course. Where else would he go? Setrona is behind the bar. The fumble-fingered fool would likely burn the place down without someone to watch over his shoulder.”

“Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen,” Pontia said, taking Pellius’s hand and pressing a silver queenshead into his palm. “Get off the street. Go home if you can, go somewhere else if you can’t. Now.”

Pellius looked down at the coin, and blinked. He glanced around quickly, as if worried he was about to be set upon. He tucked the coin into a belt pouch, and touched his fist to his chest in salute. Then he was moving, his stumbling walk not quite a run as he moved down the darkened street. Pontia put him out of mind before he’d gone half a dozen steps, already moving back toward the others.

“Well?” Aspexia asked. Her eyes were focused on the tavern’s door, but Pontia had no doubt the woman heard and saw everything going on around her.

“She’s in there, along with the man I told you about,” Pontia said. Her mouth was dry, and her throat clicked when she tried to clear it. She reminded herself that she was the one placed in charge of this assignment, not Aspexia. “A bare handful of patrons are left. Most of them drunk, none of them a real danger.”

“Everyone is a danger, if they take it into their head to be,” Aspexia said. She smiled when she said it, and Pontia repressed a shiver that had nothing to do with the night’s chill. The woman’s imposing frown was nothing compared to that smile, and the cold light it brought to her dark eyes. “Rutilus, I want you at the rear door. Give me the signal when you’re in place, and we’ll either take her ourselves, or drive her to you.”

Rutilus nodded, stepping into the street. He moved quickly for a man of his size, and he vanished into the mist with barely a sound. Pontia let her hand drop to her weapons belt, feeling for her truncheon. Her fingers grazed her silver whistle, and for a mad moment she thought about raising it to her lips and blowing it. Blowing it so loudly that even the drunks and the dregs would step out into the cold to see what the fuss was. She had no illusions about what would happen then, however. At best she’d be dismissed from her post, and likely put in a bond collar to serve out a harsh sentence; something that rarely went well for dottari dismissed from service. At worst Aspexia would handle the matter herself then and there, rank and privilege be damned. So Pontia gripped her stick, and took short, shallow breaths as she waited for whatever signal Rutilus was supposed to give.

The seconds dragged, and built into minutes. A damp wind blew through the street, making the mist eddy and swirl. A shutter creaked somewhere. Shadows danced as the light within a cracked lamp fluttered, but didn’t quite go out. Pontia ran her dry tongue over her drier lips, and snuck a glance as Aspexia out of the corner of her eye. The woman’s smile was gone. Her eyes were narrowed, and her forehead creased with an emotion somewhere between displeasure and worry.

“Go see what’s taking the fool so long,” Aspexia snapped. Pontia jumped, but before she could decide whether or not to comply with the command Pavo was stalking past her. His cloak swirled, and Pontia heard the shush of steel clearing leather before he disappeared from sight.

Pontia hunched against the alley wall, trying to make herself as small as she could. The tavern’s door opened, and two figures came through. One was large, with a graying beard and the shoulders of a dock worker. The other was slender, wrapped in a plain, brown cloak they held shut against the night. They walked off together, neither sparing Pontia’s alley so much as a glance. A bell rang on a ship somewhere; a single, clear note that drowned in the darkness before it could echo off the water. In one of the tenements above them, an argument started. It wasn’t loud enough for Pontia to make out the words themselves, but she could decipher their tone easily enough. Aspexia clicked her teeth in annoyance, and stepped out of the alley.

“Where are you going?” Pontia hissed.

“Come with if you have any sense of duty,” Aspexia growled at her. “Or stay here and cower if you don’t have the stomach to do what needs to be done.”

For a moment Pontia just stood there. She glanced at the door to the Tooth and Nail, and considered walking in bold as brass. To just take one of the creaking stools at the bar, lay down a coin, and drink something warm and mulled until the chill left her bones. To wait until there was no one left but her and Setrona, and she could handle the night's task as bloodlessly as possible. The moment passed, and Pontia snarled under her breath as she followed Aspexia.

Pontia found the alley leading to the rear of the Tooth and Nail. It was dark, and had the dank, salty smell most places in Old Kintargo boasted after centuries of brining in the sea air. A lamp burned above the back door of the tavern, a flickering flame dancing behind smoky glass. The light revealed empty wooden crates, bins of garbage, and two bodies stretched out on the stones. Aspexia knelt over one of them, her fingers pressed against his neck. Pontia noted that Aspexia had drawn her blade. The cold steel glimmered in the light. As Pontia drew closer she saw the bodies were indeed Rutilus and Pavo. Rutilus’s nose had been broken, giving him a beard of blood. One eye was swollen shut, and one arm was twisted at an unnatural angle. Pavo’s jaw was broken, and several teeth had been splintered. He looked like a forgotten doll, left out in the rain by a spiteful child.

“They’re alive,” Aspexia snarled. She stood swiftly, and turned to face Pontia. Pontia flinched back a step, half-expecting a blow. “What is this?”

Aspexia was holding a flower. It was a white rose in full bloom, the dark green stem bearing long, elegant thorns. Small spots of red dotted the petals. Pontia’s stomach went loose, and the blood drained from her face. No merchant in the whole of the city sold roses like that. They were funeral blooms that had fallen out of favor, and no one had seen them in the city in years. Not until recently.

“We have to get out of here,” she said, taking another step back. “Now, before it-”

Aspexia snatched Pontia by the collar of her leathers, and pulled her forward with surprising strength. She raised her sword, but not her voice. “Who did this to my men?”

Before Pontia could answer, steps rang from the stones leading down the alley. They were sharp, and deliberate, like a parade ground march. A shadow detached itself from the darkness, and stood at attention at the edge of the light. It was difficult to make out details, as the figure seemed to shift and change subtly whenever Pontia’s eyes attempted to bring it into clear focus. It wore some sort of uniform, but it seemed old. Archaic, even; the sort of thing worn only by statues from before the rise of House Thrune. The figure wore a shield on one arm, as well. It was old and hard-used, but it bore a single heraldric device; a white rose.

For just a moment the three of them stood there, frozen in a tableau. Then everything exploded into action. Aspexia shoved Pontia into rear wall of the tavern, wheeling on the shadowy figure with a snarl. Her blade crashed against the shield with the dull thunk of an ax hitting wood. She thrust at the shadow, but her blade seemed to slip through, hitting nothing but empty air. It was as she brought the blade down for a splitting cut, both hands wrapped around the grip, that the shadow lashed out. It batted the blade aside with a clang of steel on steel, and in the half second Aspexia was off-balance it stepped forward, driving its fist into the side of her face. The blow snapped her head to one side, and Aspexia stumbled. She stood for a moment, slumped, her arms at her sides as she clung to consciousness with little more than stubborn will. She snarled and brought her sword back up again. It was like she was moving through water, now, most of her strength sapped away by the ringing blow. The black-garbed figure stepped aside, and when she attempted to slash once more it snatched her wrist.

The shadow held Aspexia there for the space of a heartbeat. Then it stepped closer, bending her arm back. Aspexia struggled, clawing at the grip with her other hand. She attempted to strike at the figure, but her blows had no effect. The creature's grip was inexorable, pushing until Aspexia’s breath came hard, and lines of pain cut deeply across her face. Finally there was a sickening pop, and she screamed as her arm left its socket. Her sword clattered to the ground, dropped from nerveless fingers. The shadow struck once more, and Aspexia fell to the ground like a poleaxed steer.

The dark shape turned toward Pontia, and the strength went out of her legs. She fell back against the wall, scrabbling to stay upright. She tried to speak, but all that came out of her was a low, whining sound. The shadow came closer, its shroud billowing and its steps like a fist knocking on the underside of a coffin lid. It was like the light from the lantern refused to touch it, leaving its face swathed in darkness. From between the folds of rippling shadows, though, Pontia caught sight of another symbol; a silver eye on the breast of the figure's armor. The Eye of Aroden. Gone long before her time, the gaze of the dead god still stared unblinking at Cheliax from monuments and graves, and watched from abandoned temples and crumbling sanctuaries. A blackened steel gauntlet reached down, and gripped the front of Pontia’s leathers. The thing wearing the symbol of a time long passed lifted her as if she weighed no more than a child, setting her on her feet. It didn’t release her, but it didn’t harm her.

“Know this, dottari,” the shadow said in a low, rumbling voice that seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere. “A reckoning draws nigh with the Thrice-Damned House of Thrune. Their servants and agents are no longer welcome in Kintargo. Tell the others what you have seen this night.”

The creature opened its hand, and Pontia’s heels hit the stone hard enough to jar her teeth. She swallowed. She managed to stay standing, staring as the shadow turned on its heel, and left the way it had come. A dozen steps down the alley, and its footfalls disappeared entirely. One of the bodies on the ground groaned, slowly coming back to consciousness. Pavo rolled on his side, vomiting in pain. Rutilus made a sound like a wounded bear, weakly pawing at the ground as he groped for his fallen weapon. Pontia ran down the alley, arms pumping. She burst onto the street, whipping her gaze back and forth. The street was deserted. The shadowy figure was gone, as if it had never been there at all.

Before another thought could go through Pontia’s mind, a bell started clanging. She turned her gaze north, and that was when she saw it; the orange glow of flame. As she watched, another burning brand joined the first, and then another. More bells rang, and they were joined by shouts from the waterfront as a dozen more fires lit up the night across the river. She glanced up at the looming bulk of the Tooth and Nail, then pulled her cloak around her shoulders. She took a deep breath, then turned her steps toward the main thoroughfare, and started walking home.

Kintargo was haunted, and the city didn’t pay her anywhere near enough crowns to argue with the dead.

Next Time on Table Talk!

As I said in my last Table Talk installment, I'm trying something a little different with my group's run through the Hell's Rebels adventure path. Rather than going through a roll-by-roll break down of each session, I'll be putting together snacky, pulpy stories that bring readers on the adventure with me. And if you enjoyed this first chapter, check out what comes next!

- Part One: Devil's Night

-Part Two: From The Ashes

- Part Three: The Raven's Nest

- Part Four: Circles in Salt

If you want to see more, make sure you share this story on your social media feeds so I can keep the campaign going! And if you're looking for some additional reading in the mean time don't forget to check out my full Vocal archive, as well as some of my other stories linked below!

- The Irregulars: My official contribution to the Pathfinder Tales, The Irregulars follows an Andoran unit as they throw a wrench into the gears of Molthune's war machine.

- Waking Dogs- A World Eaters Tale: For my fans of Warhammer 40K, this is a story I felt compelled to tell about one of the infamous World Eaters remembering who he once was. It was also dramatized by the channel A Vox in The Void, for those who enjoy audio renditions.

- Crier's Knife: My sword and sorcery novel, we follow Dirk Crier as he sets out to collect his wayward cousin from parts unknown. Dark tidings lie ahead, but those who stand in his way will learn why the mountain folk say only a dead man crosses a Crier.

- Marked Territory and Painted Cats: Join Leo as he gets roped into other people's problems on the mean streets of NYC. A Maine coon with a bad habit of getting curious, explore the world of street beasts in these nasty little noir mysteries!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

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About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

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Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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