Prince Aduard Ordranti III held back a smile. His spies, of course, has told him of the party’s return to Caliphas. Seeing the group standing before him now silent and confident confirmed the optimistic assumption he had allowed himself about the news he was about to hear.

“We have retrieved the sword, your Grace.” The rogue elf Marisiel bowed slightly  and drew a slim leather bundle from her back. She began to loosen its straps and then, froze. A dozen soldiers had drawn swords and spears, surrounding her and her companions within a circle of blades.

“My apologies,” she said, her expression an amused one. “May I present to you the Silver Star?”

The Prince nodded once and Marisiel drew the fabled weapon from her pack with  a practiced, elegant arc. Light played across its curved surfaces in subtle lines and shapes.

“Gournamond is dead, then, I assume,” the monarch said, motioning to Duandin to collect the sword.

“Fungus food,” said the dwarf. “Though we bring his ring as proof, just as you requested.”

Marisiel glared, forcing herself to be calm. “Regrettably,” the elf said, “we found the royal nephew dead of poison. Mostly likely the very poison he was sent to investigate. We have eliminated the problem, however. The alchemist making the stable purple fungus venom is dead by our hand. There will be no more vials loose in the Principality.”

“And I suspect there’ll be no Middenstone contract for your pretty City either,” the dwarf added. The word “pretty” left his lips with difficulty. “The secret ingredient in that purple concrete you sent us to investigate is cockroach shit.”

After a short uncomfortable silence the Prince smiled. I knew I liked the dwarf, he thought. “Pity,” he said aloud. “A reliable source of pliable concrete would have solved a few problems.”

Duandin took the Silver Star and placed it in the hand of Prince Arduad who immediately turned it over and began examining it, hilt and blade. “I am a man of my word,” he continued, eyes on the sword. You have proved your worth by completing the tasks I set for you. I now prove my generosity.” An attendant in silver shoes stepped from the side. He handed each member of the party—- elf, half-elf, human cleric and human swordsman, and dwarf—- a bag with 600 gold pieces. “See,” the Prince finished, “I even include a portion for the late addition to your crew in addition to the price we had originally negotiated. I congratulate you. You are now all paid agents of the Crown.”

There were happy, somewhat confused murmurs among the returned party-members until the half-elf mage asked, “And when can we expect to be returned to our responsibilities in Korvosa, my Lord?”

“All that must wait,” said the Prince. “I appreciate useful people. You have entered my service and another job awaits. One sure to test those very abilities which, no doubt, allowed such safe return from travel with fungi and cockroaches.”

“This time, however,” he paused, “things will not be so easy.”

City of Golden Death

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