The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.
We got into Shadizar the night before, and since the guys were doing their own thing I decided to do the same. That involved making my way to a tavern, the Unrepentant Scribe, where I knew two saucy wenches awaited, Dani and Anastasia, Of course, as things usually go I got distracted as I made my way across the city. As I passed an alley I heard a cry of fear from a woman – not a particularly unusual occasion in Shadizar, and it was more curiosity than concern that made me look. I could see two figures fighting – the smaller, obviously a woman, was attempting to avoid the larger, cloak-draped shape. By chance she stepped into the moonlight, and that’s when I realized she was Dani! She saw me and cried for help even as the brute she was trying to evade grabbed her. He – or it – then jumped and swung himself and the girl onto the roof.
I immediately gave chase, and I felt a short pang of sorrow as I remembered running across some of these very rooftops with Caitlin such a short time ago. Whatever form of man or beast had the girl, it was very strong and extremely agile. It first led me across steep and slippery rooftops, where it almost lost me when I lost my footing. However, I quickly regained some of the lost ground as it jumped across a gap between buildings – Dani’s struggles caused him to nearly lose his footing and slowed him down. Next the chase led a battlement-covered wall; he thought to lose me by stealth here, but my enhancements allowed me to find him fairly quickly – I thought Dani must be dead or unconscious (hopefully the latter), as she was no longer struggling or making any noise. As I closed the distance between us my quarry climbed up a nearby tower using only one hand and his feet. I followed as quickly as I could, and soon joined my prey at the top, where he realized he was cornered.
The cloaked figure paced quickly and silently, and I realized uneasily that he had made no sound whatsoever during the entire chase across the rooftops of Shadizar. Then I felt the cold stare of his eyes, even concealed as they were under his hood. Suddenly, he threw Dani at me and jumped off the tower. I managed to catch her, but the foe had gotten away – I knew even before I looked that his body would not be on the ground far below. At least Dani was safe.
She thanked me ardently, hugging me with all the strength she possessed. As I led her back to the Unrepentant Scribe, she told me her story. It seemed Anastasia was dead, killed a week prior on a trips to the Temple of the First One. Dani had an engagement that night, so Ana had gone alone and never came back to the tavern. Two days later her body was found in an alley. At this point Dani started shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, and it was all I could do to calm her down. When I did, she took a deep breath, and then told me she was sure that whatever it was that attacked her was the same thing that must’ve attacked Anastasia. I asked her to describe the thing, but all she could remember was a pungent odor, and something shimmering, like silver, under its hood.
When we arrived back at the tavern, the barman – one-eyed Jozum – sent Dani to her room to wash and rest. Jozum’s got a rough countenance, but he cares for his girls – one of the reasons I liked this tavern over some others. He poured some wine and thanked me, then confirmed Dani’s story about Anastasia. He filled in some gaps as well, such as the gruesome way Ana had been killed – she’d been skinned like a rabbit. The city watch had looked into the murder, but a dead whore isn’t the biggest priority in the best of Hyborian cities, let alone this one. Of course there were no suspects. A scream from upstairs had me react immediately, and I cursed profusely in many of the languages I spoke, knowing I’d be too late. I shouldered though the door to find the room in disarray, the shutters on the window shattered inward – of course, Dani was missing. A strange pungent smell lingered in the air, one I would not forget. I looked out the window to the rooftops, but there was no sign of my earlier foe. I returned to the room to search for anything that could give me a lead – I found a tuft of long, brown fur on the floor, though I didn’t recognize what manner of beast it might be from. I also found Dani’s amulet, a symbol of the First One’s faith. Jozum noticed the tuft of fur in my hand; he had no idea what beast it had come from and suggested speaking to someone at the Great Library.
Apparently the Great Library never shuts down, though the doors were closed and guarded. I was admitted inside to find it filled with activity, and it took only a short time to find an expert in exotic animals, a scholar by the name of Enerius. Unfortunately, he was of no help and soon sent me on my way. As I was leaving though, I happened upon an old man sitting on a bench and eating a peach. He greeted me and asked me about my troubles. His name was Velastios, called the Old, and he was able to examine the fur and tell me what it was – the fur of a Royal Ape of the Cannibal Isles. I’d never heard of these things, and he mentioned they were rather rare, coming from the Western Ocean as they did. He also said I might find out more at a place called the Arena, where all sorts of exotic animals fought to amuse the crowds.
At the Arena I spoke to a man called Runikos, who worked the beast pens. A few silvers loosened his tongue, and he told me they’d had a Royal Ape, but it was gone. Its trainer, a Kush named Ndami, had left with it and two other beasts – an old tiger and lion – a few months back. Ndami lived in a villa just outside the city walls, so I spent a few more silver to bribe my way past the guards at the gate and gave Ndami a visit. At the villa, I nearly soiled myself when the first thing I encountered was a tiger in the garden. The second thing I encountered – as I took a step away from the tiger – was the lion. Thankfully, Ndami was the next thing I encountered, and he called the two cats off, laughing at my expression and telling me they were only curious, being too old to be a danger (an assessment I wasn’t entirely convinced of). During our following conversation he told me of the ape, and that it had died a month ago. To his shame, though, he had sold the corpse to a man who was a follower of the First One for one hundred silver lunas – after all, big cats need a lot of meat.
Then the crows attacked, maybe a hundred of them. Forget that it was the middle of the night, and most birds would be asleep. I fought side-by-side with the old gladiator – he still knew his stuff! Dharma and Roghro – the tiger and lion – still had their form as well, and eventually we were surrounded by the corpses of the crows, all of us bloodied but unbeaten. The strange thing was that the birds all seemed to have been embalmed, and on their heads a strange silver symbol was painted; the symbol faded away after a few minutes.
My next stop was the House of the First One, to discover who might have bought the ape’s corpse. It turned out to be the Caretaker, who admitted to buying the corpse – he thought it might’ve been a man and thought it his duty to give him a proper burial, but he in turn had sold it to a sage of the Great Library, who wanted to embalm the body for study. So back the Library I went – I knew it must be Enerius, who had denied knowledge of the ape’s fur earlier.
At the Library I had no trouble finding my target – Enerius saw me coming though, and darted off down a corridor. I gave chase and found myself at a locked door. It took a few moments to kick it open, and as I entered I was doused in liquid from above. Luckily the acid missed my head, but the shoulder it covered was in agony. Across the room I could see Enerius ducking out another door, but he had set up several more acid traps that slowed my pursuit. That door led to a large gallery, filled with embalmed beasts on display – cats, snakes, dogs, and even stranger beasts. Here I was attacked by the ape – clearly embalmed and yet given a form of life by the symbol I could see on its forehead. We fought – its teeth and claws against my two swords, and though I was injured I could only think of Dani at the mercy of the madman who would flay the skin from her body if I failed.
Eventually I stood over the dead-again body of the ape, my blood running from a dozen wounds. I took but a moment to recover and rushed after Enerius, only to find a dusty hall with empty bookshelves lining the walls. There were no more doors, so he was either hiding or there was a secret door somewhere; a quick search of the shelves led to its discovery. The passage beyond was dark – darker than normal, with a palpable sense of evil. I had to steel myself to enter that passage, but yet again the thought of the unspeakable horrors that would befall Dani pushed me onward.
As I passed from the darkness into a dimly lit room, I remembered to breathe again. The room was large, its ceiling lost in darkness above. There was a large number of bookcases, and a number of books on each one. But it wasn’t the books that caught my attention – Dani lay naked in the middle of the room tied to a rack. The gentle rise and fall of her breasts let me know she yet lived. Then I turned to face Enerius. He gave some attempt to explain his actions; I didn’t wait for him to finish before falling upon him in my fury. The very shadows of the room rose up to fight me, and though my swords caused them to disintegrate it seemed that two more would rise for every one that I dispelled. Then I noticed the tattoos upon the madman – words flowed like ants across his skin, crawling from the books surrounding the room to cover his skin, closing each wound I caused him.
In a flash I understood! The books in the room were the source of his power, so I grabbed one of the torches from a sconce in the wall and started lighting the bookshelves on fire. The shadows flew around me now, slashing at me with their claws, but as each shelf caught on fire I could sense their power lessening. Eventually the room was ablaze and I could hear a thousand shrieking voices coming from the ancient pages filled with forbidden knowledge as they were destroyed. I could see the shape of Enerius through the flames, but I had no time for him. I gathered Dani into my arms and fled the room before it was too late.
It took all night to contain the fire, but we managed to stop it from spreading to other parts of the Great Library. The guard wanted to jail me, but Old Velastios put in a good word for me so I was free to go, after answering a great many questions. I made no money this night, but I did get the gratitude of a beautiful woman. There are worse ways to spend an evening.