Prologue — Some 16 years ago
The sun was on the verge of setting when the group left the trade station abutting the city’s west wall. The five figures turned down an alley bordering the main thoroughfare into the city. Walking slightly stooped and heads bowed as if weary supplicants to the newly built temple within the city walls, they nonetheless moved with a speed and grace that belied their attempts to appear nondescript.
Before going too far a cloaked figure stepped into the alley from the opposite end. Compared to the others this new arrival struggled every few steps to pull his cloak over his ample girth and the finery barely hidden. Stepping into a large puddle, the man swore as filthy water flowed up over his fine leather boots and down to crudely caress the delicate feet within.
“Couldn’t we simply have discussed this inside? The filth out here — -” said the heavy-set man before being interrupted by the tallest figure who had stopped an arms length away, the rest of the group arrayed behind him.
“Offends your delicate disposition? You know nothing of the true filth that infects this world’s darkest reaches.” The lilting voice nonetheless managed to covey an undercurrent of carefully controlled menace, a control that was rapidly losing patience, “The information you are here to deliver? The sooner we are on our way the sooner you may return to your tastelessly opulent trade station.” This last conveyed the speaker’s patience was at an end.
“Yes, yes, of course. My spy reported that the Duke will be in his private study for the rest of the evening, something about a meeting with some representative of the city-state of Ilumine.” Reaching under his cloak, he pulls out a folder piece of parchment. “Here is the layout of the castle. The Duke’s study is marked with an X.”
Taking the outstretched parchment, barely a glance was spared before it was passed to the others. Facing the overweight man again, the leader gave the barest of nods.
“We will be on our way then.”
Without another word, the group swept past towards the other end of the alley and the city beyond, again moving with an economy of movement much at odds with the stumbling steps of the man heading back towards the…