Dark Kraven, the Night Watcher, thwarted their ambush like it was child’s play. Aerys leapt out from behind a stack of discarded props that the villain had haphazardly heaped in his lair and swung her fist at his face. But he dodge the blow and, with an impossible twist of his body, threw her across the room and into a stack of old chairs. She sneezed loudly after she landed with a dusty crash. Ishirou, hidden behind the poorly gilded cheap throne, popped out and puffed a poisoned dart through his blowgun. Dark Kraven, without even looking at him, plucked the dart out of the air and flicked it at Amiska as she crouched behind the ratty four poster bed, missing her neck by a scant amount. Sasha, howling with glee at finally having something to do rather than hide and wait, threw aside the curtain and sprinted across the stage, the crystal on her machete glinting in the dim light, her kukri glowing dangerously in her off hand. Yet, as she swung down in a deadly arc, she could not connect. Her target was just too nimble to pin down. Amiska, startled by the dart, traced a sigil of protection in the air, hoping to keep herself safe from harm by creating a group of identical copies of herself. They appeared around her in a confusing shifting pattern but the dwarf had other ideas. Pulling knives seemingly out of nowhere, he threw two blades into Amiska, bouncing them off the walls to hit her behind the bed, and one at a rope tied to the wall, neatly cutting it and dropping a thirty pound sandbag on Gelik as he drew a lightning sigil. The bolt, as the bag knocked the gnome sprawling, went wide and Dark Kraven effortlessly evaded it.
This whole thing was an exercise in madness, Gelik realized as he stared at the black painted floor boards, trying to clear the haze out of his head. The fact that someone had written a serialized play about the Crew of The Water Naga was strange enough. But to find out that the writer had gotten her inspiration from some otherworldly source had put this into a whole different realm. She knew everything that was happening around Admiral Sandy and his crew of odd misfits. Every battle. Every conversation. Every plan. Everything. She even knew about the theft of the Mantis Blade and who was responsible. That’s just unbelievable, he though as he groggily got to his feet. “But Rapa,” Preet Nola, the aasimar writer, explained wistfully over a cup of warm wine, talking about the snippy editor that the Guild had thrust upon her, “Felt that it wasn’t an important side plot, so we dropped it. I wrote out an outline of the scene. She was right, though. It was a distraction from the main plot.” She sighed, ignoring that fact she was talking about an actual event like it was some story she had made up. “I vaguely remember it. Jotted down the names but I’d be damned if I can remember them. The hag was someone connected to the Crew. To Renza, maybe?” She said with a wrinkled brow, trying to recall something as fleeting like a fever dream. “The hag was trying to impress Renza’s hag? I think that’s how it went. I was going to set it up as a whole spin off series once the main story ended,” she claimed offhandedly. But she couldn’t remember the names. And all of her notes were in the hands of the Guild, who confiscated everything after the Trial of Dark Kraven, in which The Night Watcher stood before a court and outlined his whole crazy story before his dramatic escape. “The Guild claimed they didn’t believe anything the man said, of course,” she said with a shake of her head. “But he was convincing enough for them to keep the play out of people’s hands, just in case someone thought there was something to his ravings.”
But The Guild wouldn’t let them see the play or any of the notes. They were all considered “Unsafe for Public Consumption” and held in a safe under Guild Orders. And, because writing a cursed play was frowned on within their ranks, even though the play wasn’t cursed, Preet was considered something of a non member. They weren’t going to take any chances, it seemed, and even she couldn’t get in to review her own work. So Gelik came up with a plan. They would get Preet to work Aerys’ own magus opus, The Saga of Saventh-Yhi, into some sort of performance. Aerys was very nervous about having her writings reworked into a different medium but Preet, once properly motivated with the promise of her own works recovery, proved to be a more than capable wordsmith. Then, with a few pages of extremely infectious songs that Preet had worked out, they approached the Guild with an offer to stage the production. While Gelik and Aerys negotiated, Preet’s sister Tris, the actress who played Idoki on stage, happily led Sasha and Ishirou into the vault where the work was kept. She too, it seemed, wanted the plays back, if only to help get her own career back on track. Gelik had Amiska keep lookout, feeling that her very pirate like nature would draw too much attention from the notable dramatic Guild, not to mention her tendency to steal anything not nailed down might draw The Watch as well. Incredibly, the whole affair worked. Not only did they get into the vault without alerting anyone, they also negotiated the Guild into allowing the piece to be staged. The Guild was particularly aggressive, wanting a different writer and a say in who was cast. And a portion of the profits and their name on the marquee. But Gelik fought them, arguing that, as successful adventurers, they could easily afford to stage the whole thing without the backing. The Guild folded like a cheap tent, eventually capitulating to a small part of the profits in exchange for allowing their name on the poster. It was like they were desperate to one up the Pathfinder Lodge, who was busily releasing tidbits about a newly discovered city. They had even unveiled an intact mosaic depicting the dead God of Beasts a few days earlier. What the Guild didn’t know was that it was Gelik’s report the Lodge was leaking and it was his mosaic they were displaying. He had carried it all the way from Saventh-Yhi in a Bag of Holding and had ‘donated’ it quietly to the Lodge in exchange for the leaks. A small price to pay in order to get the name of the hag who killed Jask and to get a chance to get back the Mantis Blade. But, of course, the play was missing from the vault. All that they could find was a small token etched like a black dagger. Dark Kraven’s calling card. He had stolen the plays in his mad belief that only he could keep them safe.
Gelik saw Ishirou shoot the dart but the elusive dwarf plucked it out of the air and, impossibly, flick it at Amiska while he fended off Sasha’s impulsive assault. Aerys got to her feet and tried to strike with her foe with a devastating straight punch. Yet the dwarf was like a shadow. He seemed to become momentarily insubstantial as she passed through him, materializing just in time to trip her, sending her flying into a heap on the ground. But Aerys threw a back fist as she passed, catching The Night Watcher square in the nose, staggering him. While Ishirou slipped into a position to attack in tandem with Sasha, Gelik grinned and sketched a sigil. This madman might be able to dodge lightning, but a simple Magic Missile spell, although weak, was a sorcerer’s best friend in situations like these. They never miss.
Amiska cursed as a black knife plunged expertly into her chest. She put a sigil down to healed the wound and hoped the Night Watcher wouldn’t cast some sort of spell to escape. Her job was to cancel anything he tried and he seemed to know it, pouring everything he had into putting her down. It was a strange place to be in, to be the one taking the beating and needing the healing rather the other way around. She wasn’t sure she liked it. She was sure, however, that his knives were poisoned. She could feel her guts twist into knots but she held on, taking the punishment he was throwing at her. She threw up some illusionary duplicates to cause confusion but The Night Watcher seemed to know they were fakes and targeted her exclusively. Yet, even though he could throw the knives at an amazing rate, he couldn’t land them very well, which worked for Amiska’s favour. Aerys, rolling to her feet after being thrown across the room, roared in frustration and charged her foe, grabbing at him before he had a chance to throw more knives. He sneered and dodged her, causing her to barrel clumsily past him. He took advantage of the opening, flicking knife after knife at Amiska at an impossible speed. How was he carrying so many? Maybe they should of jumped this jerk earlier when they had the chance, she gasped to herself as another knife buried itself into her stomach. Out on the open street where they might of had a better advantage. Rather than fighting on his own home ground. Act like pirates rather than honourable people. The others, at first, wanted to be up front with this guy. When they found out he had all of Preet’s stupid plays they tried to talk to him and maybe convince him to just give them the goods. But, when they were out searching for him, the vigilante showed up at the aasimar’s house instead and took all of her current work, including all of the copies of The Saga. Aerys was so angry Amiska though she was going to go out and punch every dwarf in the city until she found her silly book. Not only did he take everything, he threatened Preet, telling her to leave town if she knew what was good for her. She tried to stop him, grabbing her work while screaming obscenities at him but he kicked her in the chest, sending her to the ground. “I’m no clown,” he warned her, standing over her menacingly while fondling one of his many, many knives. “I’m the only person who sees through you. I though you might of just been a dupe to Stageman. But now I know. You were with him all along. What did he offer you? Power? Money? You make me sick. Get out of my city and never come back, villain,” he sneered while he vanished, melding mysteriously into the shadows. Preet cried the whole night, terrified that he would come back and murder her like he did to Aadan, the man he accused of been the dreaded Stageman. “Aadan was just a stage hand,” she cried as her sister Tris tried to sooth her, “He had nothing to do with anything. Sure, the two of them had their differences but I had no idea that he was so insane. Kraven though he was some sort of powerful magician or whatever but he wasn’t. He was just an actor. Kraven killed him because of a fantasy. A fantasy.” Amiska cursed loudly as another dagger plunged into her body. Maybe if she cast a sigil to dispel whatever protection magic he had on, her partners might be able to stop him before she bled out. Through the painful haze, she heard Aerys’ fist smash the little bastard face. Good, she though to herself while she fought to keep herself conscious and sketched the sigil in the air in front of her, I hope that hurt.
Ishirou, as he ducked out of view and invoking his ninja training to disappear from view while being in plain sight, was particularity disgusted with this insane dwarf. He rolled a dart on his tongue, careful to avoid the poison that he had on their tips and put the magical blowgun he found at Saveth-yhi to his lips. He fired only to watch in amazement as the Night Watcher plucked the dart out of the air. Impossible, Ishirou gasped to himself while he watched a flurry of daggers pepper Amiska. Lucky, the lovely cleric stood her ground but he could see she was faltering under the poison that tipped the dwarf’s vile knives. Sasha slashed the dwarf with an upward cut from her crystal coated machete, causing him to stagger back. So the legend can bleed, he though to himself and rolled again, placing his hand on his katana’s hilt, his only connection to his far away homeland. He need to end this before this ended Amiska. Although he had his problems with the ignorant pirate, he had grown fond of her strangeness, of her determination to understand his homeland, even though she failed at every attempt. Although his heart belonged to Aerys, he found himself liking the foolish woman and her constant questions about the proper way to hold a chopstick. Or how to hold ones head when addressing someone. Or when it was polite to stab someone in the back. It was impolite to attack this man in his home but, at this point, Ishirou had long ceased caring, for his actions revealed him to be a dishonourable monster. As Aerys’ desperate fist connected with the dwarf’s nose, he saw his chance and moved.
Fighting The Night Watcher was like fighting a lightning bolt, Sasha realized. He was fluid, fast and deadly. And it was the most fun she ever had. She could hear her own laughter as it pealed throughout the empty theatre. This guy was terrific, she thought as they weaved a complex pattern with their weapons. His black knives flicked and swirled in front of her while she matched him. The Red Mantis would hold this dwarf up as the pinnacle of knife work. A true master of the craft. After they killed him, of course. That was the Mantis Way. But Sasha wasn’t a Mantis. Not even close. As he flowed like water, like smoke, she jabbed and danced like a wild flame, crackling with delight. She could tell her laughter was unnerving the mighty Night Watcher by the way he twitched and hesitated when he threw his knives at Amiska. Corey swooped from above and nip at her foe, giving her the small opening she needed to slice a slick cut up this little fool’s chest. His blood dripped onto the floorboards and she grinned from ear to ear in triumph. Aerys fumbled in between them, causing Sasha to step back to avoid hitting her friend, and The Night Watcher sliced a cut across Aerys’ back. But, even as she stumbled past, she threw a wild swinging back fist that surprisingly connected. Sasha heard the pleasant crack of bone as his nose exploded and sprayed blood. Tracking this dwarf had been a pleasure. He was the impossible quarry the Mantis dreamed about. No fixed address. Stayed to the shadows. No income. A rumour of a target. But he did have a single friend. And that was all she needed to find him. Thanks to Gelik’s magic and Amiska’s beauty, the poor gnome melted and unwittingly revealed where the fearsome Night Watcher laid his head. An abandoned theatre named Rose Petal. Amiska had cast a spell once they came to the city, asking the Goddess Besmara for a hint on where to look for the Mantis Blade. The answer was “Look for the abandoned flower”, which is what lead them into this whole fiasco. Now they were fighting a legend of a madman after planning a stage play. Such fun, she smiled and lunged, but now was the time to end this.
Dark Kraven’s plan had finally came together. With the evil cleric poisoned, she would fall momentarily. Then he would focus on this disturbing woman and her idiotic pet. After that, the others would be easily defeated. Then he would turn whatever was left over to the incompetent Watch. The Tian man was moving for another attack. The fool thought he was invisible but there was no one that Dark Kraven could not see. Whatever curse Dag had placed on him had an unforeseen side effects, making him able to see better than ever before. He felt the universe was unfolding before his very eyes. He could see everything, ever action these pathetic adventurers were planning. Every move they were making before they had a chance to make it. It also allowed him to use the shadows in an unexpected ways, like giving him the power to coat his weapons in a slick vile black poison that would sap a victim’s strength or to evade attacks while leaving behind a ghostly copy of himself. With his incredible skill, he was able to become something he knew he always was, the perfect guard. The Night Watcher. He leaped over the blundering half elf as she charged at him, slicing his knife delicately across her back. Soon she will falter from the poison and drop. As he lightly landed, he slipped under the giggling red headed assassin’s kukri but her machete scrapped a glancing wound up his ribs. This one thought she was was problematic, he sneered, but she was delusional if she thought she could stand up to him. Her high pitch giggling was reminding him of the clown who killed his… Who took everything from him. No more orphans, he though to himself, never again. But the momentary distraction was enough for him to let his guard down. The half elf threw an unpredictable back fist that connected directly into his face. It was staggering, filling his sight with painful stars. He blindly waved his knives in a warding pattern, keeping the mad woman at bay. But something at the edge of his sight became clear. A figure in the rafters, among the ropes and pulleys, clad all in anonymous black. The figure sketched a sigil in air that floated gently into the fray. The Stageman, Dark Kraven gasped in shock. But he’s dead. I saw the body. I even dug it up to make sure. He’s dead. The sigil hovered just in front of Dark Kraven’s nose and did nothing. But that was all it needed to do.
As the Night Watcher swung wildly, gasping in horror at some unseen opponent, the Castaways took their opportunity. Amiska sketched a dispelling sigil, cancelling Dark Kraven’s strange shadowy armour for a moment. Gelik launched a sigil that became five streaking magical bolts that slammed heavily into the dwarf. Ishirou and Sasha danced forward and scored their own hits, trading places in the process, opening both of his sides. Ishirou skidded across the stage and, with one move, drew his katana, struck with a flash, and put it back clean into it’s sheath. Sasha, in a giggling swirl of steel, danced on his other side, her kukri severing the dwarf’s hamstring while her short chopping machete slashed up to his armpit. Aerys scooped the Night Watcher up and over her head. He hovered there for a split second, unable to even comprehending what was happening before she screamed and drove him down onto her bent knee. His spine snapped with a sickening crack, like a wet piece of wood and the dreaded Night Watcher went limp.
“Broken,” Aerys gasped as she took over the dwarf’s prone and still body, “And done.”
Amiska wasted no time in casting sigils to try and stop the poison that was coursing though her and Aerys’ bodies. Sasha crowed in victory and threw her legs over the fallen dwarf, ready to slit her helpless foe’s neck. Yet Ishirou stopped her by putting his hand on her and quelled her blood lust. “We need him alive,” he said simply. She snorted and accepted that the ninja was right, as usual. They still needed the works he had stolen.
“Look at him,” Gelik quick pointed out, “He’s wearing it all like it’s a vest or something.” It was true. Every page was stuffed into his shirt like padding, making him look like a tragically comic scarecrow. “I guess he couldn’t find a place to hide it all that he could trust,” the gnome whispered as he pulled open Kraven’s shirt, wrinkling his nose at the dreadful stench of the dwarf’s unwashed body.
“Well, get it off him so I can kill him,” Sasha sneered and put her kukri back into it’s sheath. She kept her heavy machete in her hand though, ready for the final chop.
A loud crash erupted from the lobby. Voices calling out for people to freeze and come out peacefully as heavy boots trampled up the stairs towards the stage. The Watch had found them somehow. Little Tom must of figured out what has happening and gathered reinforcements. The Castaways swiftly cut off the crippled dwarf’s clothes and took every scrap of paper they could quickly find. A small leather bound note book fell out of a pocket and Ishirou snatched it up and held it out to Aerys. “I believe this is yours,” he smiled and she gratefully took it, wiping the blood off of it’s cover.
“We’ve got everything,” Gelik confirmed, holding all of the papers.
Sasha smiled and knelt down to quickly slit Dark Kraven’s throat. His lips moved and she frowned, listening to his whispered words. Worried, she stood up suddenly and looked at Gelik. “We need to leave,” she told him as the Watch broke down the barred stage doors, “Now.”
Gelik weaved a teleport sigil from a scroll and the group fled, disappearing from the lonely stage and reappearing in the room at Preet’s home they had designated as “home”. Preet gasped in shock at their sudden appearance, knocking over her half drunk glass of wine. But her shock turned to glee when she saw the sheaves of papers they had.
“What did he say?” Ishirou asked Sasha when they were alone.
She looked back at her friends. The pang in her heart drifted across her face as she watched Aerys and Gelik carefully smooth out papers, helping Preet organize the plays and looking for the notes about The Mantis Blade. Amiska was bragging to an enthralled Tris about their victory, waving Preet’s bottle of wine that she had appropriated and wearily laughing. “’The Storm Orphan is coming’,” she said with a frown.
They both looked at outside at the empty clear star lit skies and saw nothing.