Episode 001: The Baker’s Sister Part 1

Events presented in these journals were the oldest dated, assumed to be when the journal’s writers or participants were in the early stages of their journeys.

Note: Despite its aging, this journal was miraculously well-preserved. The works have been translated to the best of our ability, but the original was believed to be written in a mix of cuneiform and Persian script.

Part One – The Job

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“I could go for another round,” a heavily-armoured lady with matted loose braids and a face streaked with dirt and dried blood. A sword sticky with the last remnants of entrails in her right hand and a tankard of dark ale in another, she swigged the drink and slammed the empty vessel onto the heavy wood table of the tavern we were in.

      I shook my head before taking a sip of my tea.

      “Didn’t you just come back from the Fighting Pits?” I asked.

      “All the more reason to get back in!” she replied. The rest of my companions laughed out loud. If there’s anything to note about Laal of the Faithvazid House, more affectionately known as Sunset (she insists), it’s that she can take down the enemies of Jericho on her own and still emerge wanting another round in the gladiatorial colosseums of Caesar’s era.

      “If you want to go back, go back,” a better-dressed lady, though her garb was deliberately tailored such that it didn’t seem to stand out too much in the midst of the Nethian common crowd, “But don’t get any of us involved if you get too soaked in blood for your own good. I have more pressing concerns.”

      In a single motion, she flexed her fingers, an a single but powerful glint of gold flashed across the room for a merest moment – not enough to draw attention, but noticeable to perhaps one or two pairs of keen eyes in the shadows.

      “Avisha,” I furrowed my brows.

      She pursed her lips and pulled her sleeve over what looked like a solid bracelet of bronze and gold, with the merest etchings of the Barzgavid clan. Perhaps a tad too late, especially when our table was approached by an older lady, slightly hunched compared to the day patrons standing tall, head wrapped in a thin, ragged cloth, hands cracked from working in or close to heat, coated by the slightest hint of flour, and almost invisible in the shadows.

      “Kind misses…” she barely sounded.

      She received no reply, with the rest of the table directing their attention to either Sunset or Avi. Spotting her at the corner of my eye, I waved our two noble members. They, and the rest of the table, turned to the corner where the older lady was, jumping slightly in reaction.

      “Kind misses,” she said again.

      As she usually did, Avi stepped up.

      “Is there anything we can do for you?”

      The lady nodded, and we shifted to let her take a seat at our table, pouring her a cup of tea at the same time.

      Gathering her robes and adjusting her headscarf, at least a few of us noticed the same expression hidden behind her weary eyes – worry, concern, fear – desperation templated behind anyone who could brave through Neth’s market crowd to meet us at the corner of the least conspicuous tea house we could find.

      “My name is Makinah,” she started, “My sister, Sakinah, and I came to Neth earlier this year. She runs a bakery up the hill just at the edge of the city, and we’ve done quite okay for ourselves.”

      I noted the habitual nod and smile on Avi’s face.

      “But my sister has gone missing,” Makinah’s expression sunk, “I’ve been trying to contact her over the last few days but I haven’t heard from her. I understand that both her and her husband have been busy with the baby over the last month, but it’s funny for them to not ask for help suddenly. So I went to her shop…”

      “And?” Avi leaned closer.

      Makinah shook her head.

      “Nothing,” she explained, “The doors are locked, there’s no light.”

      “How long ago was this?” I asked.

      She paused, her fingers moving to count.

      “About a couple of days ago,” she answered. From her robes, she extracted a piece of paper – a slip of parchment with a network of lines and a few squares drawn on in black ink. A dusty finger pointed to a square marked with an X.

      “This is where her bakery is,” she said, “Please, I heard from the Fighting Pits that you can help with strange problems like this. The peacekeepers don’t want anything to do with us and…”

      Raising her right hand, Avi nodded and pocketed the slip of paper.

      “We’ll have a look,” she started, “But…”

      I kicked her in the heel, knowing exactly what she was going to ask for.

      Makinah jumped again, brows furrowing at Avi’s sudden reaction.

      Tightening her brows and pursing her lips, Avisha then turned to Makinah, new smile and all, “But we were going to ask – is there anything else we need to know before we search for your sister?”

      Staring at the table for a couple of seconds, Makinah’s eyes soon widened.

      “When I was at the shop,” she said, “I peeked into the windows…”

      “And?” Sunset chimed in this time. A little too eagerly.

      Makinah clutched her head scarf and robes, as if protect herself from an attacker, and continued, “There was a man, but he looked… weird.”

      “He looked like the beggar from down the streets, but with more sores on his skin and his stomach a lot less…”

      “A lot less?” Avi asked.

      “A lot less rotted,” Makinah breathed, “Which could be why he was eating all my sister’s wares…”

      All of us turned away from her this time, making eye contact within the group instead. As soon as she took a look at each of us, Avi turned back to Makinah, “Alright, thank you for your information on this. We’ll have a look and will let you know if we find anything.”

      Taking perhaps the final gulp of the tea placed in front of her, Makinah bowed profusely in thanks, despite our constant waves to stop her from doing so.

#

“We could’ve asked her for something,” Birdsong, a name they prefer over birth name Nazdra, said as we emerged from the tea house, “Sounds like this is going to be another case of pro bono neck risking work again.”

      “She has nothing to afford to give,” I said, “We’d know how it’s like.  

      “Avi,” Birdsong called after our companion, who was already a good 10 or so steps ahead of us, “You haven’t said anything so far. It’s not like you to take an unpaid job so readily.”

      Turning towards me, she nodded, “Trust me, if Nargs didn’t threaten to amputate my foot, I would’ve asked for payment.”

      They all turned to me, faces stern.

“We haven’t had a case this interesting,” I said, “And it’s the right thing to do.”  

      “Right thing or not, it’s still work,” Sunset commented, sheathing her broadsword behind her.

      “You’ll probably get to fight,” I explained, “And without paying the punks at the Fighting Pits to keep quiet about who you are.”

      She shrugged and nodded.

      Pocketing the slip of paper (though I remembered it to be more stained and thinner), Avi flashed her usual scheming grin and said, “Just let me get my horse first. If we have a job, there will be spoils.”

#

Author’s Note: The significance of the creatures and scenarios in the nightmare dungeons are explained more in-depth in The Nightmares Underneath by Johnstone Metzger. You can create your own scenarios and stories in this world by getting the hardcover here, or trying out the game first here.