Serpents of the Frost Blade: Part 6

Page 123 "Well I, uh ... Okay, see, my brother — my um, older brother, he uh ... " Oh, this is not going well. Where do I start? You try to catch your breath, but the thought of those gnolls and their canine hearing lurking just outside the door has you just about ready to dive through the window in panic.

Dr. Hartigan patiently sips herbal tea from a museum gift shop mug. "Relax, lad," he says with trace amounts of amusement. "I'm sure your tale is a fascinating one. Just start from the beginning. Although, since you've apparently bluffed your way past Gackle and his silent friend, perhaps you should make it sound a bit more like an interrogation."

"Huh? Oh! Yes, I, uh .. Yes! LORD MAELORIN'S PATIENCE IS WEARING THIN!" With an overly theatrical shout, you knock over dozens of Dr. Hartigan's papers. Your hushed apologies start flowing almost instantly. (Roll D8 minus WIS modifier to determine guilt level. 1-2: You feel sorta bad about it. 3-4: You feel really bad about it. 5-6: Oh, you just feel awful about the whole thing. 7-8: You are under the effect of "Channel Jewish Mother" for 3D6 turns.) You scramble about to pick up the papers, and deliver a rambling summary of the events leading up to your current predicament.

The tale sprawls from Deerhaven Village to that day's breakfast at Chat n' Chew. Hartigan never once interrupts, though his brow furrows from time to time. He doesn't look at you, but rather stares at a fixed point on the floor, hands clasped in his lap. When you finish, he remains distant for a moment, as his mind processes everything he just heard. "Hm," he finally offers. "It's good that you came to me rather than to O'Neill up at Columbia, he's aligned himself with your pursuers. Maelorin has his fingers all over their Anthropology Deparment — not to mention the Linguistics Department, the College of Dental Medicine, and the Masters Program in Fundraising Management. There are those who say that he himself is a Columbia graduate, and played for the tennis team. Go Lions, indeed." The professors finishes off his tea and sets the mug aside.

"What does he want with you, anyway? What did you say this place was, 'Uncannibalized Topography' or something?" It's been quiet for a minute, so you throw in an "OUT WITH IT, WORM!" for good measure.

"Uncategorized Anthropology," Hartigan says with a chuckle. "When the museum acquires pieces that ... how shall we say, defy standard curation, they end up here. Pieces such as that sword of yours, which hail from corners of the world that the rest of society is blithely content to ignore." He gestures to the artifacts littering his office. "Relics of arcane power, devices of non-human engineering — anything the museum wants to study, but would rather not display, they give to us. I joined the department sixteen years ago, which I believe would have been the year 3652 in your calendar?"

Of course, you are quite used to making that particular conversion in your head. "3652, correct. The year I was born, actually. STOP CRYING, YOUR TEARS ONLY FAN THE FLAMES OF MAELORIN'S RAGE!"

"Now I serve as the department's chair, a position that is meagerly paid, but grants me full access to the artifacts. Plus, it comes with a rent-controlled apartment on 85th Street."

"By the many scars of Garonash, what is it with you people and real estate?"

"$575 a month for 900 square feet, 5 minutes from Central Park? It's not complicated. Regardless, five days ago, as I sat in said apartment finishing the Times acrostic, half a dozen of Maelorin's kobold lackeys burst in and took me captive, escorting me here to my office, where I have been ever since. Not much of a melee combatant, I'm afraid." Hartigan pats his bulky frame with a resigned smile. "Maelorin himself has yet to appear, but he sends minions to question me each day. The subject is always the same: Schreibwaffe, weapons marked with powerful runes."

"Scribeswords." Back home, the word is spoken with reverence.

"They sometimes go by that name, yes, though they are not always blades. It is a complex subject, one that allowed me to easily talk circles around my interrogators, so that they left with less information than when they arrived. But they never go without asking about a sword named Patience, and what I know of it. Which is nothing." For the first time since you arrived, Hartigan rises from his chair. "May I ... ?"

You check the door quickly, and pull the weapon off your back. Hartigan brings it to his desk and places it under better light. With the studied air of an experienced professional, he pores over the scabbard, hilt, pommel, and blade. The process takes several minutes, eliciting an occasional "Hm."

Your head snaps back to the door with increasing frequency. You can't shake the feeling that this 'interrogation' is taking too long. To burn off the nervous energy, you look around a bit. A small amulet on Hartigan's desk catches your eye — it is engraved with the same star that's on the talisman you used to bluff your way in here. Meanwhile, you can't help but notice that in your haste to re-stack his papers, you missed an envelope with the word "Deerhaven" handwritten on the front.

"Well, you and your brother are correct," the professor ventures at last. "There is an enchantment to this sword, almost certainly due to an inscription. The inscription will not reveal itself, and I have a hunch as to why." He picks up the scabbard. "This is not an original part of the weapon. I'd say it's 100-125 years old, well short of the blade's lifespan. Without the original scabbard, the runes will stay hidden. As to where that scabbard might be, I have a hunch to that as well." Something in the tone of his voice says that it's a place he'd rather avoid. He sheathes the weapon and hands it back.

"Ever so slightly dangerous to have brought it here, unfortunately. Young man, I believe it is time for you to conclude your interrogation and make a hasty ... oh my." Hartigan trails off as footsteps and an imperious voice ring out from beyond the door.

"Corporal Gackle, I am here to interrogate the prisoner. I trust you haven't eaten him yet?"

"WHAT? That sniv-ul-ing whelp ... Gackle has been TRICKED!" The door splinters out of its latch ahead of the gnoll's foot. His rabid stare finds you instantly. His halberd is ready to do the same. Snarling, he rears back to charge, oblivious to the sudden cacophony behind him — a crossbow shaft piercing bone and flesh, a muffled cry cut short, the clang of a parried halberd, and the sickening crunch as a gnoll loses his head. Before Gackle has a chance to wheel around, he is body-checked into the room in a flurry of cloak and steel.

He is out cold. Atop him, leather gloves clutching a scimitar, crouches a familiar figure.

It's the hooded stranger from Union Square.

Oh, SHIT.

She rises to her full height and pull back her hood, revealing raven's hair, blue eyes, and a scowl. The latter is aimed at you.

"I thought I might find you here," she growls in a low voice. "Brennick's a coward not to have come himself. Typical." She steps off of Gackle, and you're suprised to see that she's actually no taller than you.

"Miss Dreadhope! Oh, thank heavens!" cries Dr. Hartigan. "I was starting to think my text message had been intercepted."

"You know I don't trust these things, Max, though it seems the circumstances were dire." Much to your surprise, she pulls a talking-device from a hidden pocket, just like the ones you see everyone else in the city carrying. "Come on, let's get the twin-hells out of here. I know a good place to hide."

"I shan't require a second invitation," he says, gathering a few things from his desk. "Though I'm afraid we'll need to make a quick detour. We must pay a visit to ... (sigh) the Metropolitan Museum of Art."

The rogue smirks. "Some rivalries never die, eh Max?" She gives Gackle a kick for good measure, then checks the doorway, scimitar at the ready. "Stay close behind me, and stay quiet."

Their backs are turned. You have but a split second to spare, and can grab one thing on your way out.

"Hey kid, you comin' or what?"

• If the talisman came in handy, so will the amulet. I grab that. Turn to page 214. • Why does he have an envelope with the name of my village written on it? I grab that. Turn to page 193.

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