Curse of Strahd

Prelude: Malenthor

Westgate, A Year Ago

The back of the wagon had been an uncomfortable place to spend the last thousand miles of the journey from Luskan, but Malenthor was not one to complain. After decades of training, discomfort was a constant companion. Rather, he had been unsure of the Zhentarim’s ability to get him to his destination. However, the Black Network agent had proven true to his word. The dark elf monk climbed out of the covered wagon and took his first look at Westgate.

According to what he’d heard, the port city had been forced to expand when the Sea of Fallen Stars began draining into the Underdark after the Spellplague. The lower water level had caused the shoreline to recede and left the dock area of the city high and dry. The docks had been rebuilt on the new shoreline, and the area had become known as Tidetown. Someone – several Someones – had put some Money into constructing lasting structures to support Trade, the city’s lifeblood.

Wealth was one reason Malenthor had chosen Westgate. The diversity of its peoples was another. Even a drow could be just another face in the crowd. There would certainly be a market for a man of his skillset, particularly if the grip of organized crime was as strong as rumor suggested. He briefly wondered if it would be out of character in the city for him to put up a shingle outside a small rented building announcing his intention: Private Investigator.

He dismissed the notion almost immediately, as it flew in the face of his desired anonymity. He would instead rely on word-of-mouth. He would need to take the pulse of the city and take a few small jobs to establish himself as a new player. In time, if he was successful, his name would find its way into the ears of more powerful men. He thought he had some time before Bregan D’aerthe reached this far East. He hoped he did.

He made his way to the gates of the city proper and passed through them without incident. He’d been directed to a contact within the city to find lodging and so he made his way to the charmingly named Black Eye tavern. No sooner had he entered than he realized it was a place to keep your hands on your coin purse. He sought a dark corner, noting that they were all already occupied. He reluctantly took a seat at the bar, ordered an ale and passed along a marked coin to the swarthy barkeep. The man took the coin, brushed Malenthor with an appraising gaze, and juked his head toward a door leading off of the common room.

In the private room beyond, the drow found a middle-aged half-elf woman seated at a small round table. Her eyebrow quirked as she looked him over, then she indicated the single chair across from her. He sat, waiting for the woman to speak first. She sat silently, staring intently across the table at his dark-skinned face. Perhaps it was a tactic intended to put him off his ease. Malenthor let his mind drift into a meditative state, content to sit for as long as it might take. Perhaps ten minutes later, she broke the silence.

“I’d say you’re a cold one, but your face is so serene.” It was half a complaint, tinged with admiration. “Bonnie Silver,” she added. “You’re in need of a place to stay. How long?”

“A year at least,” Malenthor said in a measured tone.

“A year?” she replied, surprised. “You mean to put down roots, then?”

“Perhaps.”

She tilted her head as she shrugged. “All right. A rental apartment, unless you’re richer than you look.” Her expression as she looked over his simple clothing showed clearly that she doubted it very much.

“A rental,” he agreed.

“I know just the place.”

* * *

A bell above the door jingled as Malenthor entered the office. A matronly dwarf squinted up at him. “You the new tenant Silver sent?” she asked, her voice strained with a worry that the drow didn’t think had anything to do with his dark skin.

“Bonnie Silver told me to ask for Mistress Blossom,” he replied, noting the flowers stitched into her blouse.

“Fine, fine,” she said distractedly, reaching for a ledger and a quill. “First month’s rent?”

The dark elf exchanged a pouch of coin for the leasing contract she slid across the counter for him to consider. While he skimmed it, he casually asked, “May I ask if there are any chores that tenants can be expected to perform?”

Caught off guard by the question, the dwarf snapped, “What, like take out your own rubbish?”

“Of course. And is there anything I can take care of for you?”

She glared up at his face but saw only sincerity, and the flame of her ire died quickly. “It isn’t your problem.”

“Perhaps. But if my landlord is happy, my life is simpler.”

She continued staring at him intently, weighing whether or not she felt like sharing with this stranger. With a sigh, she made her decision. “My son. I expected him to join me for lunch, but I haven’t seen him since this morning. He told me he ran afoul of one of the new Fire Knives lieutenants last night. You’re new in town, so wouldn’t know about those wretched assassins. They are not to be trifled with.”

“I’ve heard of them. Would you like me to try and find your son?”

“What, just like that?”

“If I can bring him home safe, maybe you’d be inclined to reduce my rent.”

Her face expressed comprehension. “Pragmatism, then. Still, defying the Fire Knives is choosing a side in Westgate. You should know that.”

“I understand. What is your son’s name?”

“Henrik.”

* * *

Malenthor started his search at the last place Blossom’s son had been seen, a seedy tavern called Bent Mermaid Inn. “I’m looking for a man,” he said to a group of tough-looking men after buying a round.

“I’ve ‘eard that about elves, mate,” retorted one of the thugs, soliciting laughter from his compatriots.

“Nice one, Joker!” said a big and particularly stupid looking human.

The drow smiled pleasantly, and the laughter died down. Clearly the dark elves’ reputation still counted for something in Westgate. Once they were quiet, Malenthor continued as though there had been no interruption. “A dwarf by the name of Henrik. Do you know him?”

“Aye, we know the piker,” said Joker. “Poor sod’s probably dead by now, or as good as.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He stiffed Emmet, didn’t ‘e, lads.” The other thugs nodded agreement, and one spat on the floor. “Prideful bugger, Em’. New to his colors an’ lookin’ t’prove ‘e’s got a monster cock.” Joker shook his head. “If ol ‘Enrik owed you money, best you just let that debt go. Some of Emmet’s Strikers dragged ‘is ‘airy arse out of ‘ere at ‘alf past ten, I ‘eard.”

“Where would they take him?”

“I ain’t a Knife, right,” Joker retorted crossly. “But I ‘ear rumors, eh. Emmet got ‘isself a warehouse down Tidetown special for wetworks.” The thug winked and drew a line across his throat with a finger.

“I see,” said Malenthor, starting to count out gold coins on the table. “Show me.”

* * *

Evening had arrived while the drow had been about his business in Westgate, and the shadows held him close as he made his way to the warehouse Joker had indicated. He found an open window high on the wall and slipped inside quietly. He began to prowl the pathways between crates until he spotted a lantern in the far corner. It shined on a dwarf who was bruised and bloody, but fortunately still drew breath. Two bored human men stood watch nearby, waiting impatiently for someone to arrive. Malenthor watched them silently for several moments, sizing them up before moving closer.

“What is that?” said one of the guards when the drow’s dancing lights appeared on the far side of the room. “Who’s there?” he demanded, more loudly. When there was no response, but the lights started to move farther away, the man nodded to his companion and they both went to investigate.

“Greetings,” Malenthor said softly to the dwarf from the shadows behind him. “Are you Henrik?” The bound man’s startlement lasted only a moment before he nodded once. “Excellent. Would you like to leave?” Without waiting for an answer to the rhetorical question, the drow’s nimble fingers set to work on the knots.

“Who are you?” Henrik asked.

“Your mother’s new tenant. She was worried about you.”

“Heh,” said the dwarf, a faint smile crossing his blood-caked face. “All right then.”

“Where is the nearest exit?” the drow asked.

“Follow me.”

* * *

Malenthor and Henrik made their way swiftly back to Blossom’s boarding house. The landlord was pleasantly surprised to see her son back again and still alive. Their reunion was of necessity brief, since the dwarf man would have to leave Westgate for a time until the Fire Knives stopped looking for him. He thanked the drow and made his exit, bound for a meeting with Bonnie Silver and through the Zhentarim, safely out of the city.

“You’re a wonder,” Blossom told Malenthor. “I don’t know how you managed it, honestly.”

“I asked politely,” said the drow.

The old dwarf laughed.


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