Story of Arjhan the Diplomat
“Tensions are high,” Uther Flint was saying, “as might be expected in a situation like this, So many people forced together, fearing for their lives and their families’ safety. I’m afraid there have been a number of…incidents.” Behind Flint, his weasel-faced assistant Samuel blinked at the assembled adventurers.
“Incidents?” said F’lar, eyes brightening.
“Arguments,” clarified Flint. “Accusations of theft, for the most part, as well as the usual social conflicts. Unfortunately, the guards are locals, and do not command the respect they might…also, they have a tendency to become involved.”
“So what’s your point?” asked Uthrag, bored with the mayor’s long-winded ways.
“The point is…well, to be perfectly frank, I was hoping that some of you might be able to help out. You are obviously powerful and competent individuals, and you are quite graciously risking yourself to help us already…I feel that you will command more respect than the town guards, and will not be blinded by familiarity.”
“You do realize,” Solath put in in his precise manner, “that we are about to enter battle against rat-creatures and Corellon-knows-what in the tunnels beneath your town? Don’t interpersonal arguments seem rather less significant?”
Flint nodded but spread his hands. “I agree, but I also fear that I am in the minority. Already there have been several fights; it’s only a matter of time before more blood flows.” Samuel nodded vigorously.
Kuruk nodded as well. “He has a point,” he rumbled. “So, who’s it going to be?”
The small group looked at each other, all ready for battle, none relishing the idea of sweet-talking a bunch of angry peasants. F’lar, a slight smile on his face, opened his mouth and started to raise his hand.
“I’ll do it,” Arjhan blurted hastily, the gnome’s version of “diplomacy” in the Fighting Cocks Tavern vivid in his memory. “People tend to listen to me.” He bared sharp teeth in a reptilian smile and fixed the full force of his gaze on Flint. The man swallowed hard, but nodded politely.
“Samuel, here, has all the information.” Uther gestured to his assistant, who appeared less than pleased to have Arjhan’s full regard. “He knows everyone in town, and can tell you who was involved and what items were supposedly taken.”
The dragonborn nodded. “Let’s talk, Sammy.”
“It’s the children of that Stormholder fellow,” Tobias Fisk was saying, one hand gesturing expansively. “No blame to the children, of course, but Stormholder is using them, I’m sure of it.”
“How do you know that?” Arjhan asked politely. A wealthy merchant, Fisk was the most vocal of the arguing parties, according to Samuel. The sorcerer took another sip of the mead Fisk had offered him.
“They’re forever scampering about, here and there. Who looks twice at children playing? But that Stormholder, he’s a greedy sort. Always jealous of the good fortune of others, and him with six young ones. Stands to reason.”
“What, exactly, was taken?”
“Small things,” Fisk said. “Jewelry, a silver cup, a jar of peppercorns – nothing tremendously expensive, but all worth at least a few gold. They were thefts of opportunity, I’m sure. You just search that Stormholder place and you’ll find them, I guarantee!”
“Where were these…items kept before they were stolen?”
Fisk waves his hands. “Around here,” he said, indicating the small room. “Various places. What difference does it make? That Stormholder…”
Arjhan nodded, tuning the human’s voice out as he concentrated, senses attuned for any stray wisp of magic. It was unlikely that someone in the small town of Edgecomb would have had the magical skill necessary, but…
There was something. It was faint, just a trace, but magic had been done here recently – or something magical had passed through the area. Arjhan couldn’t make out the details – it was either very weak or very subtle.
“I got nothin’ to say to you,” Alric Stormholder insisted.
Arjhan fixed him with his best reptilian glare. “Are you sure about that, human?”
Stormholder stepped back a pace. “You can’t just come in and push me around! I’ve done nothing wrong!” Arjhan advanced, pushing into the small house. Behind the angry human he could see a table, chairs – and several human children, staring at him curiously.
Arjhan sighed mentally. He wasn’t sure how to handle human young ones, but he was fairly certain that terrifying their father wasn’t a good idea. “I’m just trying to find out what’s going on around here,” he said patiently. “Will you help me avert bloodshed?”
Stormholder eyed him suspiciously. “I’m being persecuted, is what’s going on,” he snarled. “Fisk said I was a thief, didn’t he? Well, it wasn’t me. It was the Jonas boys, if you want my opinion”
“Why do you say that?”
“They’re up to no good – everyone knows it. Shiftless layabouts. They stole my best knives, and you march in here and call me a thief!”
“Your best knives?”
The human nodded. “Aye. I make knives, and they took my six best blades.”
Stormholder lead Arjhan to his workroom, a locked area with dozens of half-finished knives racked along two walls, and dozens of unfamiliar tools along another and scattered on a workbench. Arjhan scanned the room, letting his eyes slip out of focus and ignoring Stormholder’s complaints. It was just possible…
Nothing. Ah, well. Arjhan turned to Sormholder. “Odd that nothing else was taken. Knives are valuable.”
The human shrugged unhelpfully. Arjhan sighed.
The Jonas brothers proved equally unhelpful until Arjhan gave them his best glare and let electricity play between his fingertips. They listed several small thefts and claimed it was a conspiracy on the part of several other people to “make us look bad.” Arjhan was not impressed, but he did find one oddity: a boot-print by the Jonas brothers’ back door. It was partly smudged, and he wished he had Silvio’s tracking skills, but he could clearly make out the general outline. It was broad and short – far too small for a dragonborn, but it looked short even for a human.
Arjhan frowned. It resembled the boot-print of a dwarf or a gnome, but there were none of either race in Edgecomb aside from F’lar and Kuruk. He briefly considered the idea that F’lar was behind it all – it made a certain sense – regretfully decided it was impossible. Most of the stolen items had been taken before the party had even heard of Edgecomb. In fact, Arjhan guess that the recent tensions had been brewing for long before this whole rat-man situation developed.
Arjhan lay on the pallet, mentally exhausted but not tired enough to sleep. He had visited, argued with, intimidated, chatted with, drunk mead with, and been as nice as he knew how, to over a dozen people, and he felt no closer to solving the mystery.
The sorcerer considered. Most of the stolen items had been small, valuable…and hidden. Often hidden among other, similar items, like Alric Stormholder’s knives. The thief has to have known they were there, and what they were. He always took specific items, ignoring other potential prizes nearby. Why?
The thief had to be a local, someone who knew all the victims. He might be a dwarf. He had some sort of magical ability or item – Arjhan had discovered faint traces of magic at four different crime scenes.
And now there was this ridiculous note from F’lar, which were nearly illegible thanks to wet ink smudges and the dampness of the caverns. All Arjhan could make out was something about cheese. He hoped it wasn’t important.
The next morning brought more of the same; Arjhan assured Uther Flint that he was doing his best, then got the necessary information from Samuel – the weaselly little man really did know everything about Edgecomb – and alternately charmed and terrorized more locals. After several hours of this he stopped for lunch and got yet more information on aggrieved parties from Flint’s number-two man.
Samuel really did know everyone in town…
Arjhan fixed his gaze on Samuel as the man walked back towards Flint’s house, letting his vision blur. There! Magic, centered on Samuel’s chest.
It might mean anything or nothing, so Arjhan did the first thing that occurred to him. Using all his considerable lung-power, he bellowed, “You! Dwarf!”
Several people turned, startled, but the dragonborn ignored them. Samuel, however, whipped around with an expression like a scared rabbit, hand going to his belt knife. He met Arjhan’s eyes, then turned and ran.
Arjahn lunged after him. He discarded his usual tactic of hurling magical lightning or acid bursts; the man was no good to him dead. Samuel had to be captured alive, to prove that Arjhan was right.
He was gaining, his battle-hardened muscles easily a match for the disguised dwarf’s short legs. Samuel glanced over his shoulder; his eyes widened, and he groped in his belt pouch. As Arjhan’s outstretched fingers touched his cloak, Samuel threw a tiny object to the ground.
Dense, opaque fog exploded outward from the impact. Arjhan lost his grip, stumbled, cursed, flailing about in the fog cloud. His hand touched cloth and he grabbed reflexively. Something snapped, and a deep voice cursed. Then there was a shouted word in Draconic – “away” – and the other person was abruptly gone.
Staggering out of the fog, Arjhan cursed in both Common and Draconic as he regarded his prize. It was the distinctive medallion Samuel had always worn, cracked in the dragonborn’s iron grip. A quick examination revealed the aura of illusion-magic about it, fading now that the physical vessel was damaged.
Ignoring the gathering crowds who had seen him chase Samuel into a cloud of fog – and then emerge alone – Arjhan stomped back to Flint’s house and let himself in. The mayor regarded him with apprehension.
Arjhan grinned toothily at him and dropped the medallion on the table before the human. “Your assistant,” he said, “seems to have left to pursue other options.”