The Warehouse on Candle Lane
Gloom filled the narrow alley Kuhl and his companions stared down. It was so dark, it almost reminded him of a tunnel in the Underdark. Nearly all the streetlamps had been smashed and the only light that pierced the darkness was a faint flickering from down the lane, like a distant candle.
"Well, this isn't ominous," Aleina whispered. "Let me guess, Candle Lane?"
She massaged her right shoulder as she spoke. It was still sore, apparently, from all the throwing she'd done earlier in the Skewered Dragon. Luckily the half-dragon bartender hadn't charged them for all the new off-target dagger markings on the wall of her establishment, or they'd have no coin left at all.
"According to one of the men I talked to at the Dragon," Jhelnae said. "Some of those who followed Floon and his friend out of the tavern that night are known to work at a warehouse down there."
"How drunk was he?" the aasimar asked. "Drunk enough to be telling the truth and not be sending us into a trap?"
"I'd plied him with a lot of drinks and even a flirty smile or two." The half-drow shook her head. "But he was sober and unsmitten enough to be deceptive if he wanted to be."
"Flirty smiles?" Aleina asked. "I almost threw my shoulder out of its socket while you were throwing flirty smiles?"
"His breath was terrible, and he was at least three decades older than me," Jhelnae said, voice flat. "Which is a lot for a human. And did I mention he was missing half of one ear? Besides, if your shoulder is in so much pain, use some healing magic on it."
"I'm tempted." The aasimar rolled the sore shoulder a couple of times. "But I figured I should save it in case we need it. In case we really are walking right into a trap."
"Oh, relax," Sky said, with a dismissive wave. "If it's a trap, you can fly out of the alley on wings and I can run out on magic boots."
"Wait," Jhelnae said. "What about Kuhl and I? We don't have wings or magic boots."
The tabaxi shrugged and gave a sharp tooth smile. "Not my fault you haven't picked up some magic boots."
"Actually," the half-elf said. "I have my own escape as well. I could always step into the mists."
"Oh, that's right," Sky said. "I forgot about that. So it would just be poor Jhelnae, all on her own."
"Ha, ha," the half-drow deadpanned. "You two are very funny."
"Don't even joke about leaving someone behind," Aleina said, with a shudder. "It reminds me too much of Blingdenstone and the medusa. But, since Sky mentioned it, some magical precautions are a good idea."
She pulled her moonstone orb out of her pouch and drew it down her body. Pale, silvery armor glimmered into place, then faded.
Jhelnae followed the aasimar's lead and cast a similar spell. Shimmering strands of protective webbing encased her before they too disappeared.
"No fair," Sky said, lashing her tail in irritation. "Kuhl and I didn't bring our armor."
Waterdhavians did not walk about the city armed and armored and the companions had followed suit to better blend in.
"Not my fault you two didn't learn to cast wardings," the half-drow said, with a roll of her eyes.
"Wait," the tabaxi said. "Kuhl, you cast some sort of magic like that on me once before. When we met the mind flayer, remember? Can you cast it again?"
"I could do that," the half-elf said, concentrating and whispering a prayer.
A shimmering field surrounded Sky. Like the other magical defenses cast, it quickly vanished from sight.
"There," the tabaxi said, sticking her tongue out at the half-drow. "Now I'm just like you two."
"Well, that was dumb, Sky," Jhelnae said, throwing up her hands. "You dodge everything and he's the biggest target. He should have cast it on himself."
"I…", Sky started, then fell silent. "Sorry, Kuhl."
"It's okay," the paladin said. "I have Dawnbringer."
He pulled the sword hilt from the holder on his belt so he would have her at the ready.
"I am a formidable weapon," his sentient blade said in his mind. "But neither a shield, nor armor. So, Jhelnae is still right."
The half-elf shrugged in acquiescence to the point, which earned him a puzzled look from the others. He raised the sword hilt in his hand slightly and they all gave a nod of understanding.
As they started down the alley, Kuhl noticed they had fallen into the familiar formation they'd used so many times before. Sky was in the lead, he followed close behind, and spellcasters took up positions in the rear. All of them possessed dark vision, but the meager light of the lone streetlamp interfered, meaning the darkest corners might hide something. They crept forward cautiously. Encountering no one and no surprises, they soon stood within the flickering radiance of the last illuminated streetlamp of the lane. Across from it, behind a high gate and fence, stood a ramshackle, two-story, darkened warehouse.
"I think this is the place," Jhelnae whispered. "It's in the right location and like he described."
"I just had a thought," Aleina said, voice low. "This isn't like Blingdenstone, where we were working with the Diggermattocks. Or even Gracklstugh, where we were working for Blackskull. We go in there - we're breaking the law."
Kuhl realized she was right.
"And no matter our intentions," he said. "If we break the law, we could get arrested."
The aasimar nodded.
Jhelnae sighed. "Yeah, you're right. So what do we do? Go to the Watch? Tell them our suspicions?"
Sky was already shaking her head.
"We can't go to the Watch," she hissed. "What are we supposed to say? A man in a floppy hat hired us to find his friend? So we talked to a deep gnome who loves purple and has extra eyes painted on his face because he thinks he is a beholder and he told us, under a charm spell, that this friend was probably kidnapped?
The tabaxi paused, letting them consider that while she regarded her audience with an expression of incredulity.
"Then say a tip from a man, part drunk and part trying to bed someone in our group." Her tail lashed at Jhelnae. "Told us we might learn something here?"
Aleina sighed. "Sky…you're just emphasizing what a bad idea this is. We're about to break the law and we really don't have any good reason to do that."
"We have two good reasons," the tabaxi said. "You believe Xoblob, right? Believe he saw someone get kidnapped?"
The aasimar's brow furrowed in thought before she answered.
"We all saw how afraid he was," she said. "I believe he saw what he described."
"In that case someone," the tabaxi said, then held up two clawed fingers. "Two someones, are in danger. So shouldn't we be following any and every lead to help find them?"
"What if we're wrong?" Kuhl asked. "What if this place has nothing to do with the kidnapping and it's just an innocent place of business?"
"Then we're in and out, and no one is the wiser," Sky said. "It isn't like we're planning on looting the place, right?"
"No one is the wiser," the half-elf said. "As long as we don't get caught."
"We won't," the tabaxi said.
Moments passed as they all stood, three still undecided after their whispered debate and one certain. Then Sky padded over to the gate and gave a small push. Rusty hinges squealed as it swung inward, causing the half-elf to wince and glance around.
"Oh, look," Sky said. "The yard wasn't even locked. It's like the place is begging to be searched."
"That is a bit strange," Aleina said. "We Dluskers have a couple of warehouse operations. Can't imagine we'd ever not keep them secure at night."
"See," the tabaxi said. "We're just concerned citizens, who happened to notice something a bit strange, and did some investigating."
"Concerned citizens who aren't even citizens of Waterdeep," the aasimar said. "Who just happened to be out for a walk down a darkened alley in the middle of the night?"
"Yes." Sky said.
"Does the Watch even patrol here?" Jhelnae asked. "Look at this warehouse. It's a dilapidated wreck. And almost all the lamp posts in the alley are smashed. So it might not be too risky to take a quick look."
Aleina blew out a breath. "Fine, a quick look. If there's nothing suspicious, we're out of there with no one the wiser."
She looked around the alley to make sure they still weren't being watched and motioned to Sky. The tabaxi led them through the gate and into the yard. Gravel and packed earth crunched underfoot as they crossed it. The warehouse had wide double doors that were almost as tall as the building with a smaller, normal sized door next to it.
Sky pointed at the door handle of the smaller door. A symbol was painted there - a black winged snake. Wordless glances were exchanged. Hadn't Xoblob said one of the kidnappers had such a tattoo on his neck? Was this affirmation they were in the right place?
"I should have kept borrowing Ilvara's hairpin," Sky mumbled, as she pulled out her lockpicks and started working on the door. "I'd gotten so used to them."
Aleina was mumbling too, but so low it was difficult to hear. Kuhl had to listen carefully to pick out the whispered words.
"This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy…"
He felt the same, but no help for it now. The half-elf glanced back over the yard, making sure no one had noticed them, and realized they'd forgotten to close the gate. Maybe he should run back and shut it?
A snick from the lock made him decide against it. They'd be inside soon anyway.
Sky eased open the door, unlike the gate, it swung fairly silently. She peered inside, staring for what seemed a long time, then she looked back out at the companions.
"Does a bunch of dead people count as something suspicious?" she asked.
"What?" Jhelnae asked.
Motioning for them to follow, the tabaxi slipped inside.
Tables and chairs had been carelessly tossed across the floor. The corpses of a dozen men laid along the walls, their rapiers and daggers nearby. On the north side of the area, stairs rose to an open level above.
"Something tells me," Kuhl said. "We've stumbled on something far bigger than a random kidnapping."
They'd all covered their noses against the stench of recent death and silently moved forward into the building, looking to see if any matched Floon's description.
"Agreed," Aleina said. "We don't have a choice anymore. We need to go to the Watch and report this."
A cawing cacophony came from above, startling the half-elf, making him slow to react. Shadowy shapes leapt down at them from a large balcony that ran along the wall opposite them.
"Kill any who enter!" one of them cried, in a gruff voice that reminded the half-elf of Ront.
This was taken up by the others like an echoing battle cry as they fell upon the companions.
"Kill any who enter...any who enter…any who enter!"
The attackers' cloaks billowed behind them like wings and their hoods swept back to reveal their features. The voice they used didn't match their long avian beaks and black feathers. Each wielded a short sword. At first Kuhl just stared up in surprise, mind trying to catch up to events. Even Sky seemed transfixed, and the one attacking her was a little ahead of the others. The creature's short sword slashed and the tabaxi dodged, too slow. Kuhl felt more than saw the defensive barrier he'd placed on her activate and flare, keeping the blade from finding her as she moved out of the way.
Dawnbringer's scream into his mind and impending death from above spurred him into action. It was too late to ignite his blade and parry. He instead dropped to give himself some distance and rolled to the side. Over-sized, taloned, bird feet dug into the earthen floor where he'd just been standing. The sword point followed him to the ground, and he had to roll several more times to avoid stabs that thrust into the dirt floor behind him.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the flash of pale warding armor and heard Jhelnae cry out in pain. Then he ran into a stack of crates and his rolling stopped with a jarring impact. The dark, bird-like creature raised his blade for the kill. Kuhl hadn't realized that during the fighting they had still been repeating the call in that gruff voice.
"Kill any who enter…any who enter…any who enter."
The half-elf had bought himself precious moments with his tumbling escape. Now he finally had enough time to activate his sword. She blazed to life in his hand, sparking as she blocked the descending blade. Light filled the warehouse, and not all of it from Dawnbringer.
Streaking rays scorched out of Aleina's moonstone orb, searing into one of the cloaked creatures. It shrieked in pain with a voice now like that of a young girl.
"Ow! Ow! Ow! Stop mommy! St-o-o-o-p!"
It unnerved the half-elf, but he pushed the feeling aside. Parrying with Dawnbringer, he scrambled up to one knee, then to standing.
A crackling beam of energy from Jhelnae blasted into another of their attackers, flinging it back to thud against a pillar supporting the upper floor balcony. A second blast pinned it in place for a moment, then the creature slid to the ground where it lay curled up in a whimpering ball.
"It hurts, it hurts, it hurts," it said in a rough male voice.
Element of surprise lost - the creatures seemed to realize they were overmatched. Now standing, Kuhl towered over the one he faced. His opponent cocked its head to one side, staring at Dawnbringer, beady eye squinting in her light.
"Back to the sewers," it said in a thin nasally voice.
The phrase was repeated and mimicked in the same voice.
"Back to the sewers…to the sewers."
Three flowed past the companions and out the door like a dark wave, two trailing the one in the lead, clutching at injuries.
One remained behind, still crumpled where it fell and still whimpering in that gruff male voice incongruous to the beak which spoke the words.
"It hurts, it hurts, it hurts…"
"Jhelnae, are you alright?" Aleina asked, lunging forward to steady the suddenly swaying half-drow.
The aasimar didn't wait for an answer, forcing Jhelnae's hands away where she clutched at her side, revealing a widening circle of blood staining her tunic. Wasting no time, Aleina poured healing magic into the injury. Jhelnae hissed in pain as her flesh knit together and she sagged against the aasimar for support.
"Anyone else hurt?" Kuhl asked. "Sky?
The tabaxi shook her head.
"I'm fine, but I almost wasn't," Sky said, actually sounding a bit shaken. "Those things were fast. Almost as fast as a tabaxi. But that one looks like it could use some healing."
The half-elf cautiously approached the fallen creature. It ceased its whimpering mantra as he neared, dark eyes tracking him and beak slightly open and emitting rasping breaths. Kuhl kicked away its fallen short sword. Keeping Dawnbringer raised and ready, he crouched and stretched out his free hand, only to pull it back from a snapping beak.
"Be careful, Kuhl!" Sky yelled. "It's still dangerous. What is it?"
"I don't know," the half-elf said. "Some sort of bird-like humanoid."
Jhelnae barked a laugh, then grimaced and clutched at her now closed wound site.
"By all that dances!" Jhelnae said. "That hurt."
"The healing magic is still at work," Aleina admonished. "Give it a moment."
"Bird-like humanoids, Kuhl?" the half-drow asked. "Really? What gave you that impression? Their beaks? Feathers? Taloned hands and feet?"
"You are kind of stating the obvious," Dawnbringer sang in his mind.
"Fine," the half-elf said. "I don't know what they are."
The creature in question, meanwhile, continued to lay there, curled back into a crumpled ball of wary watchfulness.
"Relax, I am not going to hurt you," Kuhl said, easing his way forward again.
"Careful, Kuhl," Aleina said.
Now who was stating the obvious, the paladin thought, but he focused on their captive.
"Relax, I am not going to hurt you?" the avian creature said, repeating not only the words but mimicking Kuhl's voice.
The half-elf stopped, surprised to hear his own voice. Somehow the creature had also managed to imply a question in the tone. Which meant, this was not mere mimicry, it was communication.
"Yes, that is right, I'm not going to hurt you," the half-elf said.
To prove the point, he extinguished Dawnbringer. The warehouse interior went dark. Kuhl returned the sword hilt to his belt, and gave an empty handed gesture.
"Not going to hurt you," the bird humanoid repeated, again adopting his voice, and relaxed.
Kuhl reached out a tentative hand, ready to dodge back at the slightest hint of an attack. This time, however, he was allowed to touch the coarse feathers. Slowly, carefully, he moved his hand to the twin patches of burnt feathers caused by Jhelnae's attacks. The bird creature did not move its taloned hands away from the wounds, but the half-elf did not need that for his healing magic to work. With a mental prayer, he channeled divine energy. His target's beak opened wide in brief agony, then eased closed.
"Better?" Kuhl asked.
"Better," his own voice came back at him, but not with the same inflection of a question.
Their prisoner, however, did not sit up and it's breathing remained somewhat ragged. The half-elf had limited the amount of magic given as the creature had only recently attacked them with deadly intent.
"Ask it if it knows anything about Floon Blagmaar," Jhelnae said.
The dark feathered head cocked towards the half-drow and it clutched at its wound tighter, seeming to remember who had inflicted the injury.
"Floon Blagmaar," it repeated in Jhelnae's voice, then shook its head.
Aleina sighed. "So, we stumbled onto a bunch of corpses, which we need to tell the Watch about, but we are no closer to rescuing Floon. This all might have nothing to do with him."
"Wait a moment," Sky said, crouching down to be at eye level with their prisoner. "It just might not know that name. Have you seen a handsome human male? Red hair? Fancy clothes?"
"Handsome human male," the creature said in Sky's voice, then switched to a thin nasally voice. "Pretty boy?"
"Yes," the tabaxi said, tail lashing in excitement. "Pretty boy. You saw a pretty boy?"
"Tie up the pretty boy," the creature said in the thin nasally voice, then switched to a scratchy one. "No time to loot the place. Just get him to the boss."
"Who is the…" the aasimar asked, but she trailed off.
When Kuhl looked towards her, he saw Jhelnae had put a restraining hand on Aleina.
"I hear you creeping back there," the half-drow said. "Come out where we can see you."
She lifted her moonstone tipped rod threateningly. Kuhl listened but heard only the still labored breathing of their prisoner. Then he heard it, faint footsteps against the earthen floor. The paladin grasped Dawnbringer's hilt, ready to draw her again. A man made his way through some barrels, feeling his way along. His fine clothes were dirty and rumpled and his shoulder length red hair was a mess and framed a swollen face sporting a blackened eye and a split lip. Due to his injuries, it was hard to tell his age, but the half-elf guessed early middle years for a human.
"Floon?" Kuhl asked. "Floon Blagmaar? Volothamp sent us to find you."
The man shook his head. "No, but he is a friend of mine. I heard you mention his name, which was why I was trying to get closer to listen."
"You are the other one who was kidnapped," Jhelnae said. "The spoiled noble. Your father was someone important."
"Spoiled noble?" the man asked, with the beginnings of a wry smile.
Then he winced, split lip obviously not wanting to stretch.
"Oh!" the half-drow said. "Sorry! Not my opinion of course. I am sure you are very nice. Just what people I talked to at the Skewered Dragon were saying."
"Skewered Dragon?" the man said. "Volo, Floon, and I drink there sometimes. Rub shoulders with the common workers. I always fancied they liked that, but apparently not."
"They…" Kuhl was about to tell the man the patrons of the Dragon he'd talked to thought they were just there to rub their noses in their lack of wealth, then thought better of it. "I'm Kuhl. Kuhl Nightstar. Do you need some healing?"
"Renaer Neverember," the man said, shaking his head. "I'm fine. My face probably looks worse than it feels."
"Renaer Neverember. Pretty boy," the wounded avian creature on the ground said in the thin nasally voice, then switched to the scratchy voice. "Get him to the boss."
"They were trying to get you," Aleina said, thoughtfully, obviously thinking through what the creature said. "But they got Floon instead and took him to their boss."
"Yes," Renaer said. "Look, I don't suppose I could have some light to see by?"
Some faint light came through the window from the sole remaining lamppost out on Candle Lane, but to someone without dark vision, it would be difficult to see. Kuhl drew Dawnbringer from his belt and ignited her. Renaer held up a hand to shield his eyes, blinking, then gradually lowered it and approached warily, bringing the stench of rancid, pickled fish with him.
"That is better and also impressive," he said, eyeing the sword of light. "You were sent by Volo?"
"Well, he is at least well-mannered and polite," Dawnbringer said in Kuhl's mind. "You really should heal him. His face is a mess."
Meanwhile, Renaer's gaze flicked to each of the companions, unblackened eye widening when he caught sight of Sky, Jhelnae, and Aleina. The half-elf was so familiar from traveling with them, he often forgot about what it would be like to meet just a tabaxi, a drow, or an aasimar, let alone all three together.
"Volo sent us to find Floon," Kuhl said, drawing Renaer's attention back to him. "Do you know where he is?"
"In trouble," Renaer sighed. "Like your companion guessed, I think they mistook him for me. We were kidnapped a couple of nights ago by the dead thugs there."
He motioned to the corpses lying about the warehouse.
"And brought here," he continued. "They beat us, kept questioning me about something I know nothing about, until another group of thugs burst in and killed them. I had managed to slip out of my rope bonds and crawled away to hide in the confusion. But poor Floon was taken. I'd been trying to figure out how to get past the kenku left behind so I could gather up some friends and rescue him. Then you showed up."
"Kenku?" Sky asked.
Renaer pointed to the avian creature. The tabaxi turned to their prisoner.
"You're a kenku? she asked.
The creature's head bobbed up and down.
"Kenku," it said in Renaer's voice.
"Why were you kidnapped?" Aleina asked. "What did they want? Ransom?"
"Not ransom." Renaer nodded towards Jhelnae. "As she said, my father was someone very important. Is someone important - the Lord Protector of Neverwinter. But before that, he was Open Lord of Waterdeep. And those thugs, and apparently also the ones who killed them, think he embezzled a large amount of gold and think I might know something about it. But my father and I haven't spoken in years."
"You said you were planning on rescuing Floon," Jhelnae said. "You know where he is? Think he is still alive?"
"These thugs wanted information," Renaer said, motioning again to the dead men. "They beat me but kept me alive. The others will do the same."
"But once they realize they have the wrong man?" Kuhl asked, already guessing the answer.
"They'll kill him," Renaer said. "Hopefully Floon realizes this. But he is known for his looks more than his intelligence, so if we are to rescue him, we need to hurry.
He went over to one of the bodies and retrieved a rapier and dagger.
"I overheard them say they were heading back into the sewers," Renaer said. "I have a friend who is the daughter of the Guildmaster of the Cellarers' and Plumbers' Guild. No one knows the sewers like her. She'll know where to look."
"Follow the yellow signs in the sewers," the kenku said in the thin, nasally voice it had used before.
There was a moment of silence as the companions and Renaer looked to the avian creature and to each other.
"What did you say?" Kuhl asked.
The kenku said nothing.
"Follow the yellow signs in the sewers," Sky said.
She was obviously trying to mimic the thin, nasally voice, but could not do it as well as the avian creature. It still, however, seemed to work.
"Follow the yellow signs in the sewers," the kenku repeated.
"Or maybe," Renaer said. "We don't need to wake Elra in the middle of the night and try and convince her to guide us in the sewers. Maybe we can follow the yellow signs."
"Follow the yellow signs in the sewers," their prisoner repeated again.
"Since Volo hired you to find Floon," Renaer said. "Will you come help me rescue him?"
Kuhl looked at the others and received nods of consent.
"We did promise Volo we'd try and find him," the half-elf said.
"But why does it have to be the sewers?" Aleina sighed.
"It could be worse," Renaer said. "You could have already spent the night hiding next to a leaky barrel of pickled herring."
The man-sized door they'd left ajar when they entered suddenly burst open and soldiers wearing tall steel helmets and green-and-goldenrod doublets streamed in, screaming instructions.
One younger Watch guardsman brandished his loaded crossbow in Kuhl's direction and repeatedly yelled the latter phrase over and over.
"Down arms! Down arms! Down arms!"
The half-elf extinguished Dawnbringer and carefully lowered her to the ground. The warehouse went instantly dark but for the faint light coming in from the window.
"Ahhh, captain?" one of the guardsmen said. "I really can't see now..."
"Neither can I," another said. "We extinguished our lanterns before we entered."
"You there," an authoritative voice called out. "The one with the magic sword. Light it again, but don't make any sudden moves or we'll stick you full of bolts."
Kuhl slowly picked up Dawnbringer and her blazing blade lit the room again.
"Will you let them know they are in the presence of a legendary sun blade forged in the age of Netheril," the sword said in his mind. "And not some mere light source they can use at their whim?"
The half-elf considered the crossbows pointed at him and decided against relaying her objections.
"What a mess," an older Watch member said. "Look at all the bodies. We just got finished with the ones in front of the Knight N' Shadow. Are we going to be at this type of duty all night?"
Kuhl started, suddenly recognizing the guardsman from earlier in the evening. He'd been the one who redirected them when they'd come across the bodies in the street. The half-elf hoped they wouldn't be recognized in turn.
"Wait a moment," the Watch member said, eyes narrowing. "I saw these four earlier. They were very interested in the killings at the Knight N' Shadow.
No such luck.
"What is this?" The speaker, a grizzled man with a salt and pepper beard, appeared to be an officer. He was the one with the authoritative voice. A shield shaped golden badge with a crescent moon along with its rippling reflection in water was pinned on his chest. "A revenge killing? The Zhents kill some of yours and then the Xanathar strikes back? I'm fine if the lot of you all murder each other, but it has spilled out on the streets and I've caught you in the act!"
The kenku chose this time to speak in a deep rumbling voice, "The Xanathar sends its regards."
"I see I was right," the Watch officer smiled coldly.
"Or, captain Staget," Renaer said. "They could be a group hired by my friend Volo to rescue me from a kidnapping."
The officer, a captain apparently, made a scoffing sound as he glanced over at the dirty and disheveled Renaer. His expression, however, shifted from disdainful to surprised.
"Lord Neverember," he said, voice polite. "My apologies. I didn't recognize you."
"Why would you?" Renaer asked. "When these thugs beat me to a pulp."
He gestured at the dead bodies on the ground.
"All this may be true," the captain said, recovering from his surprise and straightening. "But this is something that should have been brought to the Watch. We can't have armed and hired mercenaries carrying out their own raids and leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake."
From the hard-eyed stares directed towards the companions, those under his command agreed.
"They are not responsible for these killings," Renaer said. "You were right before. This was done by the Xanathar. I was witness to that."
"The Xanathar sends its regards," the kenku rumbled again.
"They only fought some kenku left behind," Renaer continued after the interruption. "Three fled, and this one, as you can see, is very much alive. But I'm glad you are here. I wasn't the only one kidnapped. I have a friend in need of a rescue."
The captain gave a slight shake of the head. "Your pardon, sir, but you forget the Watch is not under the command of the nobles of the city, even if they are the son of the former Open Lord. This is the scene of a massacre and that must be dealt with first. Then we can look into other matters and deal with them as required."
He looked at one of the younger members of his patrol, the one who had ordered Kuhl to drop Dawnbringer.
"Go tell valabrar Hondyl and shieldlar Taenfeather there has been another gang killing," the captain ordered. "One with an even higher body count."
"Ah…at this hour?" the young man asked. "They'll probably be asleep."
"Do you want to explain to them why the meat wagons carried off all the bodies before they had a chance to look at them?" the captain growled
"Ummm…no?" the young Watch member said.
"No," the officer said, shaking his head. "Then off you go. Double time."
"Yes sir!" The young man saluted, tapping his temple with an upraised, vertical forefinger, then trotted out through the door.
The captain took a moment to pinch the bridge of his nose and sigh, then looked up.
"Right," he said. "Lord Neverember, I'll have a few of my men escort you back home. Your mercenaries will have to stay here and answer the questions of the valabrar."
"It might be better if I stayed, captain," Renaer said. "I'm the one who saw the killings. I can answer Hondyl and Taenfeather's questions. Besides, I believe the latter knew my father."
"So some say," the captain said in a carefully neutral tone. "If you are willing to do that, and vouch they had nothing to do with these killings, they are free to go I suppose."
"I do," the noble said.
The captain nodded but gave the companions a stern look.
"You may leave," he said. "But from now on, remember - best not to meddle in criminal matters. Leave the dirty business to the City Watch."
"Do we look like people who would meddle?" Jhelnae asked.
The captain frowned at her question and tone, but the half-drow only smiled and shrugged in response to his suddenly steely gaze.
"Shall I start giving you details now, captain or wait for the valabrar?" Renaer asked.
The Watch officer focused his attention on the noble and gave a wave of dismissal. The companions headed for the door, but Kuhl glanced back just before stepping outside. As he expected, Renaer caught his eye over the shoulder of the captain and cocked his head slightly in question. The half-elf gave a single nod in response, letting the noble know they had understood what he wanted and were on their way into the sewers.
I found this very challenging. We've got a lot of transition and data dumping going on here. I pretty much followed the module. One key difference is that Renaer actually just hides out, breathing heavily, until the companions find him in the store room under a tarp. When I was a player, that was the way it played out. But since then I've read the novel Blackstaff Tower (which has Renaer), and it didn't seem he'd just keep hiding when he heard the commotion of the fight with the kenku. I figured he'd investigate. Also, it dealt with another problem. You open the door and see a bunch of dead bodies. Why wouldn't the party just go and report that to the Watch? Now admittedly we didn't...but that is because we were basically murder hobos and searched the place and bodies for any loot before alerting the authorities. But if we were at all playing our characters realistically, rather than following the expectations of the way D&D is generally played, we'd have been back out that door and to the nearest Watch station.
Also, these characters are 5th level (we were first level). I could have ramped up the encounter, but I decided not to. I hopefully am able to keep it interesting without needing to ramp up the 'explosions on screen'. But maybe I'm not able to do that...which certainly wouldn't surprise me.
Besides...it always bothered me in Forgotten Realms novels when they refused to acknowledge that some parties were beyond the level of the threat they faced. I remember one where they fought something like a troll and then the next chapter the same two characters encounter a couple of goblin bandits and they are in this desperate battle to survive. At any rate, as of now, I don't plan on enhancing encounters too much at first (later yes). I'm hoping the party having to operate under the radar of Waterdeep authorities (and the general public who would complain about them) will be enough. Please let me know if this isn't working and it is becoming dreadfully boring.