Redrum, Red Mantis, and Red Herrings

The Lord-Mayor’s office is enormous—more a palace or resort than a center of government—and the party lounges in a well appointed room bigger than some villages while waiting for their audience. Eventually, they are called up several flights of stairs, and meet with a priest of Abadar. He asks their permission to divine for ill intent, then places a Zone of Truth, asks them questions about their intentions, and ends with a Detect Evil. Finally, they are allowed in to meet with Grobaras.

Situated at an oversized mahogany desk featuring numerous knick-knacks and gew-gaws (including a large snow globe containing an entire scale model of Magnimar) is the fattest man any of the party members have ever met. Through a mouth frequently stuffed with expensive candies, he asks them about their qualifications and the troubles in Sandpoint, seemingly only vaguely interested in their replies, and reiterates that the city doesn’t normally go in for vigilantes. He tries to spin the situation as if the party is being given an opportunity to give back to their city state, and waves off any talk of payment until they actually prove their value to Magnimar. They’re then sent out to talk to a city justice about the practical necessities of the investigation.

A guard leads them across the city to the Hall of Ushers, which is a much more formal and… efficient looking… place to deal with government business. They’re led to a large office that is cramped with legal texts and the engines of state—a far cry from the pristine and elegant salon in which they met the Lord-Mayor—where a harried looking middle-aged elf greets them. Justice Ironbriar is apologetic for the high way in which the mayor treated the party, and makes it clear that the stance on vigilantes is entirely practical to keep groups of villains and troublemakers from skating by on precedents set by helpful adventurers. He says he’ll assign a guard that is ostensibly there to keep them in line but is actually there to provide whatever assistance they need in cutting through red tape.

After surreptitiously getting a look at a document he was reading from and confirming it’s Hemlock’s letter of introduction, the party quizzes Ironbriar for a while longer about the murders. They eventually come to the conclusion that he doesn’t know anything truly useful, and decide to go look at the murders first hand. They pick up their escort, a dumpy and grizzled human named Sergeant Beech, on the way out, and head towards the most recent crime scene.

This townhouse is in one of the richer sections of town, and is cordoned off by guards that Beech easily leads the party through. They then set to work in the house, confirming that the victim was a wealthy man, is bearing very similar Sihedron Rune markings to the victims in Sandpoint, and appears to have been targeted specifically (if anything was missing from the house, it seems to have been taken with only a cursory attempt at making this look like a burglary). Veshenga’s analysis of the body seems to indicate that he was clubbed as he slept to keep him unconscious. Unlike Aldern’s victims, the rune was inscribed with a sharp knife or razor of some kind, not a claw, and it looks like less trouble was taken to make the victim suffer; the rune was inscribed while the man was still alive, but then his throat was slit to put him out of his misery. Meanwhile, Taeva turns up the probable entry method: a second story window appears to have been expertly jimmied open from the outside, and a close inspection of the latch makes her believe that it, too, was lifted with a thin blade. On comparing notes, the party thinks back to the war razor that Aldern wielded in their final battle.

Talking to Beech, the party slowly gets the tally of deaths: a wealthy individual every few days for the past few weeks, with over a dozen deaths in total so far. All are killed in a nearly identical manner… except for two. They were considered part of the same killings because they were deaths of wealthy individuals via home invasion, but these individuals were, instead, decapitated and had no runes drawn whatsoever. The party decides the different killings might give some insight, and immediately begin pursuing leads.

The most recent decapitation is a couple of days old, and as the party visits this crime scene—another high-class townhouse in a different style—they notice that a richly appointed carriage waits in the cold morning outside the lightly guarded home. They knock on the window and have a chat with the distraught widow, who came by waiting to be let back into her house. She gives extensive details on her husband as asked, and the conclusion the party draws is that he didn’t quite fit the role of miser they’d associated with the Sihedron-marked victims. When asked about enemies, she mentions a recent argument with a very distinctive looking Hellknight and her lawyers. Apparently, like Sandpoint’s mayor, her husband was a stakeholder in some Chelish estate.

They begin to formulate the idea that those that are targeted but prove unworthy are decapitated instead of marked—and that Valeria is somehow involved—and go to the city morgue to visit the body. An inspection by Veshenga indicates that the man was probably surprised in the dark, decapitated, and then left where he landed. The surprising thing is that the decapitation seems to have been accomplished with some kind of serrated blade, not a war razor.

Looking for more corroboration, they visit the estate of the other decapitated victim, and meet an uptight butler and wastrel stepson happy to have his stepmother die and leave him the estate. According to both of them, though, she also did not fit the profile of greed, and had recently had arguments with Valeria over a Chelish inheritance. They learn that she had actually had a previous argument some months prior, and then died a couple of weeks after the second meeting.

Having somewhat hit a wall, and not wanting to go directly after Valeria just yet, the party starts gathering and assembling information. The party ultimately learns that something about sawblade-wielding, head-chopping assassins seems familiar to a lot of people. A careful prodding of Zif’s bardic training finally results in him giving them the name Red Mantis Assassins, which they confirm is an order of assassins-for-hire devoted to the Mantis-god. By this point, they’re fairly certain that this is not directly related to their main investigation, but still bears looking into—if assassins are taking out anyone that disagrees with Valeria, the mayor of Sandpoint may not be far behind.

After many other hijinx between the party, Zif, and various others around town—not to mention Taeva lifting Valeria’s day planner from her house while she sleeps—they have finally decided that Valeria clearly couldn’t have been responsible for the Sihedron murders (as one of them happened while she was in Sandpoint), and may not be knowingly causing the decapitations. However, both individuals who have refused her twice have wound up dead, and there are several others waiting on a second meeting before the end of Winter. Investigation into town records uncover a similar set of killings as a Hellknight passed through a few decades earlier; but without the rash of star killings at that time, nobody but the party had noticed the connection until now.

The next morning, they lay out their suspicions to Ironbriar, who—counter to Beech’s expectations—is very eager to let them take care of the Hellknight who’s been upsetting so many wealthy people in town. It turns out that she is from the Order of the Scourge, which places her outside the agreement the city made with the Order of the Nail, so they are disinclined to protect her continued operations if she is a danger to the citizens. Ironbriar suggests they go over straight away and confront her.

So, with no further worry about getting in trouble with the city, they march back over to Valeria’s apartments and bang on the door. She meets them and invites them in, especially appreciative of the visit from Haggor—who she refers to as “tall, green, and sexy.” They are escorted into a sitting room and treated to a strange, overwhelming politeness more appropriate to a society maven than a six-foot, chain-clad, pierced, tattooed, warrior woman with a weird haircut. Perhaps put off by expecting more of a fight, the party equally politely shares everything they know with her (leaving out their theft of her day planner). She is fairly forthright about her intentions in the city—to subpoena and take back to Cheliax the last surviving rights holders for certain properties—and expresses annoyance, if not sympathy, for the assassinations of people she’d talked to. She says her intention was purely to work through proper legal channels for those that wouldn’t come willingly, and she’d be very irritated if someone was going behind her back. Unfortunately, the number of people that know about her business is significant, including much of the city’s leadership and its Hellknights, so she can’t specifically point to who might be responsible for calling in Red Mantis assassins. She also seeks to provide help tying her issues to the star killings, but any relationship seems to be tangential at best. The final conclusion is that there are assassins targeting those who refuse her subpeona, and either they or the star killers are, at most, using one another for cover, and the killings at the same time may be entirely coincidental. She does invite the party back whenever they want, especially Haggor, to discuss any further information they or she might find.

Fairly convinced that Valeria’s mission is related to the assassinations, but that Valeria herself is not guilty of them, the party begins seeking other avenues to track down the Red Mantis assassins and get back on track with the star killings. Taeva begins a project at the tax office to try to correlate the remaining wealthy individuals in town with miserliness in order to identify the next targets, and the rest of the party considers clues they may have missed.