Echoes of Invasion: There’ll Be Heledd to Pay | Scene 6

Once Mate is gone, Tric goes downstairs to see what all the commotion is about. There is not much activity, just quiet voices coming from the kitchen area and snores of lodgers still asleep in the common room. Tric heads over toward the curtains behind the bar, but as he approaches them, they are thrown open from the other side by Alric. He is sloppily dressed in breeches and an untucked blouse splattered here and there with blood. A bandolier of small knives crosses his chest. Tric’s eyebrows shoot up, but he decides not to comment on that for now. “Everything all right? I sent Mate to get Terwaen.” Alric frowns a bit, and Tric continues, “Heppa was supposed to meet her this morning so I didn’t want— What?”

Alric has some idea of what Heledd was up to last night, and having a knight of the realm on hand during the fallout could make things more difficult. “That was thoughtful of you,” he tells Tric, “but maybe not so very helpful.”

“I really just wanted to let her know… Is there anything I can get? Do you want me to run to the House of Light or something?” Tric offers.

“No. If you want to be helpful and are able to assist Hepalonia with her medical work, you could do that. I need to go see if there’s any evidence left of what happened.”

Tric would be happy to help either party, but he has no particular gift for healing. He is, however, building a legend for himself as an expert tracker. “Tracking I can do,” he tells Alric. The barkeep nods in acceptance and asks if he has a weapon. “Always,” Tric replies, cracking his knuckles. “But let me run and grab my bow and knife.”

After charging up and down two flights of stairs, Tric meets Alric at the door. The barkeep hooks his left arm through a lantern to bring along, carrying it at his elbow. Once they are outside, he whistles a call with a long, descending note and then runs down the street. Tric follows, expecting to see a falcon any moment now. Probably good that Mate isn’t here to embarrass me, Tric thinks. Or to get eaten.

Retracing the drag marks of Heledd’s boots to where Heppa found her is easy enough. This will all make a great story some day, Tric is sure, and he cannot help but begin composing it as he examines the ground with the aid of Alric’s lamp. It looks like Heledd collapsed just at the end of an alley, and Tric’s search for tracks indicates that is the direction she came stumbling from. Around the imprint her body left in the muck of the street there are stains of blood but also footprints too large to belong to her or Heppa. “Moss below,” Tric breathes. “Signs of struggle.” He examines the prints more closely and determines that whoever it was caught up to Heledd after she collapsed. It looks like both Heledd and her follower were already bleeding when they came down the alley, so the fight must have been elsewhere. Tric points out the movement of the prints to Alric. “Somebody did something to her here… Or something was taken from her.”

“Rats!” Alric growls under his breath.

“No, I don’t think she had any rats on her,” Tric says in jest.

“No, the Rats,” Alric clarifies.

“The rats?” Tric repeats, bemused. “Wait, is this a gang? Or are rats just a big problem here?” Tric marvels that a criminal group would name themselves that. Then his rampant imagination begins developing the idea of an entire undercity teeming with giant rats and the stories that could accompany that. 

Tric’s attention is drawn back to the present circumstances when the light lurches wildly. There is a loud flapping, and Tric sees that Alric has thrust out his left forearm to catch a falcon. In his haste this morning, he did not don his leather arm guard, and the bird’s talons pierce the blouse sleeve and the flesh below. Alric grimaces but brings the bird in closer, looking her in the eye. “Aderyn,” he says, catching the falcon’s attention. When she is calm, he intones, “Damal. I need you to get Damal.” Alric and Aderyn continue to look at each other for a moment, totally still, and then Alric repeats, “Damal,” and throws his arm up. The bird takes wing, leaving blood behind on the man’s arm.

Tric watches closely, trying to figure out how this works. He has his doubts about whether Mate will do what he requested. Then it sinks in that the falcon was Aderyn. I thought she was supposed to be off delivering messages. Is she back already? Interesting. I guess these birds can fly pretty fast and far.

Alric steadies the lamp and turns to Tric. “Yes, they’re a gang. They hang out in the sewers. That’s probably why they chose the name.”

“What would they want with Heledd? Did she used to run with them? Was she in a rival gang?”

“I don’t know what they wanted this badly here,” Alric replies, gesturing at the tracks and blood with his right hand. “She wouldn’t run with them, and I think they didn’t really like that.”

“Would she—and maybe I’m going to step out of bounds here—would she have taken something from them?” Alric purses his lips in thought, but whether it is because he is evaluating the question or the asker, Tric cannot tell. “Why don’t we follow the signs of the struggle here and see what happened?” he suggests. “Maybe if we see where she was first stabbed, that will shed light on the situation.” As they head down the alleyway, Tric resumes his questions. The talking helps him deal with the nervousness he feels being so far out of his element. This urban situation is unlike anything he has experienced before, and now he seems to be with intense adventurer Alric, not affable barkeep Alric. “So you’ve had some bad run-ins with the Rats?” Tric asks. “Or they’re just prominent in the neighborhood?” 

“That’s not relevant,” Alric brushes him off. “We need to figure out what exactly happened here and why they acted.”

Tric wonders if Alric used to be part of the Rats, but he is not quite prepared to ask that outright, and there is no use provoking the man by implying it. Instead, Tric asks some questions that Alric can answer without needing to implicate himself. “Well, what kinds of things do they tend to go after? You said they hang out in the sewers… Is there a specific entrance near here?” 

Alric knows of a few nearby access points, and he explains to Tric that the sewers are connected to a cave network that extends under much of the city. “If Heledd was passing through their turf, the Rats might have assumed she was doing a job and they wanted in on it.”

Tric realizes this must be the same network of caves that Mari-Elin works in, the one whose entrance Yrogin told him about. From other things he has heard, Tric is pretty sure either the House of Light or the Tower is also connected to that system. He knows Heledd has knowledge of some of that; she told him about the Engineer fellow just last night. “Suppose we do trace this to some sewer grate,” Tric asks. “Is there anything productive we can even do beyond that? You’ve said the network is pretty vast. That sounds like there is no sense in us going down there to find these fellows. And I gather that since you don’t want to involve the House of Light, you also don’t want to involve the town guard.”

“I think it’s fair for me to speak on Heledd’s behalf in this matter. She would not want those elements involved. I just want to get a feel for how many Rats are involved here.”

“How big is the gang?” Tric asks. “Are we talking five guys who hang out under a bridge? Or a hundred fellows who are practically an army and—hypothetically speaking—could be being armed by some well-funded individual? Hypothetically speaking, of course.” Tric did not get a look at the weapons that took Heledd down, but if they were dwarvish made, he is going to feel pretty bad. “Do we want to sneak down into the tunnels to get a closer look? Or maybe we should just find what we can here on the surface and then get back to the Parting Glass and see if Heledd has come to? Maybe we can get some more information from her.”

Alric mulls it over and nods slowly. “Yes. Getting what we can from what tracks they left to know how large a group it was… that would be helpful. And if Heledd is awake by now, it would be good to get some information from her before we do anything further.” He looks squarely at Tric. “And so that you can decide how much you want to be involved in this. It’s not necessarily a large gang. We’re not talking about an army, but—”

“You can never be too sure these days,” Tric interjects, considering anew what the whole Merriver scheme could be about.

“—but I don’t know what exactly you and your cousin are up for,” Alric continues.

“Well, I was planning on watching a grand melee, but if I’ve got to be in a grand melee… It’s basically the same thing, right?” Tric replies flippantly.

“The stakes here are a little different from there.”

They trace the footprints and blood drops down the alley back to the scene of a scuffle near a sewer grate. The spot is not a particularly good ambush location, and closer examination yields evidence that the Rats caught up to Heledd here after a fight down in the cave system. At this point, there were three assailants, and Heledd gave as good as she got, hurting more than just one of them. Blood trails lead back to the sewer grate. Only one of the attackers chased her beyond this point. Once the poison worked its way through her system, that person was able to catch up to her a few blocks from the Parting Glass and do… something before retreating here. Thus, there is no one above ground for Tric and Alric to chase around. Tric thinks it likely that Rats watch this entrance. He stares down at the grating, wishing he had some sort of danger ribbon he could mark it with. “I gather that if we don’t catch those three fellows soon, it’s a matter of the whole rest of their gang getting involved…” Tric says leadingly.

“It depends.” Lost in his own worries about the situation, Alric replies without carefully choosing his words. “It depends who it was. You know, it’s not like a—” He catches himself and clams up. “Let’s head back.”

It is clear Alric knows something. Tric is now almost certain that he has some history with this gang. And there is the bandolier of knives! What is that about? Tric wonders. Oh… oh wait… The knives, the falcon… is he a crime-fighting vigilante?! With that, Tric is lost to thoughts of all the storytelling possibilities. Alric sounds awfully similar to Haldric… maybe there’s a connection there, he muses, thinking of the kings of Wesnoth.