Champions of Old Korvosa

The Reliquary of St. Alika (Part 4)
Session 18

Synopsis: The party discovered that the catacombs beneath the Reliquary opened into lost Thassilonian chambers dedicated to Zutha, Rulelord of Gluttony. The Cult of the Scythe Mother had re-purposed the Thassilonian cathedral to gluttony into their own cathedral to Urgathoa, herself a goddess of gluttony. In that cathedral, the party crossed swords with Scythe Mother cultists led by Arazna herself!

Detailed write-up pending

The Reliquary of St. Alika (Part 3)
Session 17

Synopsis The party discovers the source of the evil suffusing the Reliquary vaults, but still find no sign of the Cult of the Scythe Mother.

Detailed description pending

The Reliquary of St. Alika (Part 2)
Session 16

Synopsis: Exploring the crypts below the Reliquary, the party discovers that an evil force has pervaded what had been a holy site dedicated to the dead god Aroden.

Fireday 21 Desnus 4704, afternoon

The party stood before the open passageway leading into darkness. Turgrox, who can see in the dark, entered first. He found a passageway that ran about 30 feet and ended in a spiral staircase leading down into darkness below. The rest of the party took out their light sources and followed. The stairway descended about 120 feet, ending at a small landing before a closed door made of stone. The door seemed that it was made to pivot on a central axis, but it appeared to be stuck. Turgrox and Zak threw thier shoulders into it, and the door slowly opened, making a loud grating sound. The party ventured into a large, high-ceilinged burial vault. The walls were lined with burial niches, from the floor to a height of about eight feet. The walls above the niches were decorated with carved symbols of Aroden, although several had been damaged. Eight stone sarcophagi tood in the room, their lids smashed on the floor beside them. Turgrox approached a sarcophagus, and an arm of blackened and rotting flesh shot out of it— and the rest of a ghoul bolted upright to attack! More ghouls rose from the other sarcophagi, and all sprang to attack the living. As the party fought the ghouls, four skeletal warriors climbed from burial niches and joined the fight.

The party was outnumbered, but they quickly realized that they outclassed the undead horde, and the battle soon turned in the party’s favor. After a minute of combat, all of the undead were in pieces on the ground.

Several passages led to other crypts. Following one, the party found itself in another burial crypt, full of niches cut into the walls. A single dessicated corpse sat on the floor, crumpled against the wall. As Darshan examined the corpse, it sprang to unlife and attacked, attempting to strangle the Vudrani druid. While it did manage to get its hands around Darshan’s neck, Zak hit it from behind with his greatsword, cleaving the thing’s head and left arm from its body, destroying it.

Another crypt contained more burial niches, and more Arodenite iconography that was partially smashed. While exploring this chamber, six skulls floated out of niches, and all swarmed Zak, biting at him with clacking jaws. Zak and the rest of the party were able to smash the skulls out of the air. In one of the burial niches, Turgrox discovered an interesting helmet that radiated magic., which he claimed.

The last passage out of the entry chamber led to another burial crypt with niches along all walls. In that room, Turgrox spotted a pressure-plate on the floor. He managed to disarm it, and realized that the trap would have triggered a hail of dozens of arrows that would have struck anyone in the room. After a few minutes of work, the half-orc managed to disable the trap, and the party explored the room— which turned out to be empty. A passage led to the south.

To be continued… Next week!

The Reliquary of St. Alika (Part 1)
Session 15

Chapter Three: The Reliquary

Synopsis: After conducting a little research into St. Alika, the party paid a visit to the run-down Reliquary of St. Alika, in western Bridgefront. They tangled with a dangerous guardian, then successfully decyphered the clues to access the crypts below.

Fireday, 21 Desnus 4704

The party woke up to a gloomy, rainy, and unseasonably cold spring day. Checking on Basila’s health, she seemed to have gotten no worse, but no better. After a quick breakfast, they headed back to the library at the University of Korvosa to find out more about the Reliquary of St. Aliika the Twice-Martyred.

After just two hours of research, they learned that the Reliquary had been completed in 4435, four years after the death of Saint Alika, using funds originally raised to conduct a resurrection of the fallen paladin. The documents indicated that there were crypts below the public areas of the monument, but only the Church of Aroden would have access to them. Today, with the deterioration of the Bridgefront neighborhood in which the monument stood, combined with the destruction of the Church of Aroden, the almost 270-year-old monument has fallen into a state of disuse and partial disrepair.

The heroes then headed back to Bridgefront to the reliquary itself. The monument was built of light gray marble and stood 60 feet tall. The building took the form of an Azlanti temple: rectangular, about 120 feet wide and 100 feet deep, with a triangular roof supported by marble columns. A wide stariway led to a 20-foot-wide open doorway. Inside, the roof was supported by many smaller columns. A large raised dias stood at the back of the reliquary, on which lay a stone sarcophagus. A 15-foot-tall bronze statue of St. Alika stood on a pedestal behind the sarcophagus. Unlit bronze censers stood on either side of the sarcophagus. Behind the dais was an open doorway to a second chamber. The reliquary was illuminated by several everburning torches in iron sconces affixed to several of the columns.

The party entered the reliquary and looked around. Frescoes of the deeds of St. Alika adorned the walls, and Arodenite symbols were everywhere. Don remembered the saying written on the map they’d found on one of the cultists the previous day: Call the Watcher by name or face immediate death. Kneel before the twice-slain fool and lift your gaze to see the sign. Seek the Squire then touch silver to the second sign to find the way. He had no idea what the watcher’s name could be, but he decided to follow the instructions. He walked up to the dais, and knelt before the statue.

As he knelt, the other members of the party gasped in fear: suddenly, silently, and without warning, a gigantic spider with a humanoid head appeared in their midst! It bit Turgrox in the shoulder, then disappeared!

art by Jason Rhineville

Turgrox felt woozy for a moment, but managed to shake off the effects of the poison. Darshan recognized the thing as a phase spider: a creature that can hop between the material and ethereal planes at will— a dangerous opponent indeed! Weapons drawn, the party looked around for the beast, but couldn’t see any trace where it went. It materialized again, this time trying to bite Zak, but its fangs were repelled by the barbarian’s armor. Don began casting a spell, holding its last few words for when it appeared again. And when it did, he completed the spell before it could disappear. Don cursed the creature with blindness! Unable to see, it spat curses in common and then disappeared for a final time. “Wow! Neat trick, that!” said Zak.

Looking around, Darshan noticed something in large spider webs near the ceiling. Turgrox climbed a column to investigate, and discovered the dessicated corpses of several people— including one city guard, still in her uniform. He also found a small cache of treasure, presumably taken from the spider’s victims.

Don returned to the dais and looked up at the statue. For a brief instant, he saw a strange silvery sigil appear on the underside of the statue’s chin. It was unlike any symbol he’d seen before, but he would certainly recognize it if he saw it again. Examining the statue, censers, and sarcophagus did not reveal anything, so the party decided to explore the back room.

The back room contained a smaller shrine to Khundren, Alika’s squire, who fell by her side in 4431. The shrine consisted of Khundren’s sarcophagus, with a bronze effigy of the fallen paladin adorning the lid. When Don looked at the sarcophagus, he saw the same silvery sigil on the effigy’s helm. When he pointed it out, no one else could see it. Taking out his silver dagger, Don touched the blade to the sigil. Nothing happened. He then traced the sigil with the blade. The sigil winked out, and the party then heard a rumbling sound and the grinding of stone on stone. A section of the wall to the west descended into the floor, revealing a dark doorway to the east. Chilly, dank air wafted from the passage.

To Be Continued… Next Week!

The Grove Street Mortuary (Part 3)
Session 14

Oathday, 20 Desnus 4704, early afternoon

Surprised by the sudden appearance of a gang of Sczarni street thugs, the heroes were nevertheless prepared for battle. The thugs tried to stay between the heroes and the woman, and the heroes realized why as she cast a spell at Zak. Zak suddenly noticed that everything around him seemed to grow to be twice its size. Everyone else saw Zak and all of his gear shrink down to half his size, leaving him just three feet tall! “I guess we’re all looking down on you now,” quipped the sorceress. Don drew his wand of magic missles and returned fire, as Darshan drew his sickle and fought the thugs. Despite being half his size, Zak remained a formidable opponent, and found that he had gained a new advantage— he was now more agile and harder to hit! Despite not hitting as hard as he did at full size, Zak managed to drop one of the thugs, just as Turgrox successfully caught another thug off-guard and plunged his dagger between his shoulder blades. The sorceress cast another spell, engulfing half the party in a cone-shaped blast of flames. Unfortunately, her remaining guard happened to step in front of her just as her spell went off, and he was engulfed as well. The thug dropped to the ground, smouldering, but none of the heroes did. Turgrox then lunged at the sorceress, trying to pull her to the ground. She nicked the half-orc with her dagger, but Turgrox managed to pin her to the floor. Using the manacles they’d recovered from Ambrik House, they captured the sorceress.

The sorceress called herself Elleste, and claimed to be an apprentice to the wizard Ferista. She said that when she became Ferista’s apprentice, she had no idea that her master was involved in criminal activity. She said that she had been coerced into helping her cruel master into taking over this mortuary five years ago, under fear of her mistress removing her magical powers and selling her to orcish slavers from Kaer Maga. At first, she claimed to know nothing about the Cult of the Scythe Mother, save that cultists suddenly took over the mortuary a few days ago. Darshan was pretty sure she was lying, so Turgrox pressed his interrogation… at one point threatening to break all of her fingers so she couldn’t cast spells and then sell her to orcish slavers himself. At that threat, she confessed, and told the real story: She really is a wizard and apprentice of Ferista. Ferista is involved in several criminal activities, and has been using the mortuary as a front for years. She said that Ferista has a gang of about 20 people that do her dirty work, which includes selling drugs and body parts. She claimed that Ferista charmed Tirus Dreen, the owner of the mortuary, five years ago, and that she keeps him as a willing prisoner in his own home. She said that Dreen now thinks that Ferista is his adopted daughter who managed the business now that he’s getting older. She said that Ferista let the cultists move in about a month ago, and they were the ones that found the statue of Urgathoa behind the false wall. When asked about the zombies, she said that the cultists made a few, but lost control of one and that one attacked one of the gang members. He got sick after a few days and died, so they stowed his body in the morgue with some other bodies. But earlier today, all of the corpses in the morgue rose up and attacked, and those the zombies killed themselves rose up! She said that some of the cultists had barricaded themselves in a storeroom off the crematorium, Ferista is holed up in her own bedroom, and she used a rope trick spell to save herself and a few gang members— she then cast invisibility on the rope itself so that the zombies wouldn’t know where they were.

At that, Turgrox thanked her for sharing, then clonked her on the head with his sap, knocking her out. He then picked her up in a fireman’s carry and took her along.

Opening the door, they found themselves in a finely-appointed lounge. The room was lit by three sconces on which continual flame spells had been cast. The walls were decorated by Varisian tapestries, and in front of the fireplace was a white bearskin rug. A comfortable-looking divan stood behind a hardwook coffee table. A cabinet with glass doors held a crystal decanter of brandy and four crystal goblets. A beautiful marble statue of a naked nymph stood near the doorway. Turgrox unceremoniously dumped the limp form of Elleste onto to divan.

Just as the unconscious sorceress hit the couch, the statue of the nymph animated and attacked! Darshan identified it as a caryatid column: a magical construct that tended to break weapons if struck with them. Fortunately, the party had collected a fair number of mundane weapons from fallen enemies, and used those to fight the animated statue. The statue managed to strike Zak several times, but the party was able to beat it into submission, at the cost of ruining several captured weapons.

While Darshan tended to Zak’s wounds, Don and Turgrox searched the room. They found a bookshelf that held about two dozen books on various topics, including a tome about the crafting of magical constructs like the homonculus. While tapping a fine hardwood coffee table for secret compartments, Turgrox found a wand taped to the underside. Don identified it as a wand of lightning bolt. The crystal decanter held about a quart of excellent whiskey. Turgrox was fairly certain that the decanter and atching goblets were valuable. Examining the alcove where the statue had stood, Turgrox found a secret compartment that held a locked coffer that contained cash and a few potions. While searching the room, the spell that shrunk Zak wore off, and he returned to his normal size.

At about this time, Elleste regained consciousness. Looking around the room, she said, “Well, I see you met our guardian statue. I was just about to warn you about that when you knocked me out!! Ouch, by the way.”_ Turgrox glared at her. Darshan asked her where the two doors in this lounge led to. She said the door to the south was her room, and the door to the east was Ferista’s. Turgrox listened at the eastern door, but didn’t see anything. Darshan cast detect magic, but didn’t see any traces of magic on the door. Turgrox then picked up Elleste again, as Zak kicked open the door.

The room beyond was a finely-appointed bedroom, with a four-poster bed, more tapestries, a mahogany writing desk, and a wardrobe. Sitting in an overstuffed armchair was a blonde woman in a frilly dress, her hair held in place by a tiara. She appeared to be in her late 20s, She also appeared to be unarmed. “Welcome to my inner sanctum. Of course, you could have just knocked.”

art by ismael Bergara

Turgrox threw Elleste onto the bed. “Ooh, kinky,” she taunted. Darshan faced the seated woman, ‘’You must be Ferista.’’

“I am. I see you’ve met Elleste. As you can see, I am unarmed and pose no threat to you. So, let’s dispense with the niceties. What do you want from me?”

Don then asked what she knew of the Cult of the Scythe Mother. Ferista shot a look at Elleste, still sprawled on the bed. Her apprentice shrugged. Ferista sighed, and told the party the following story:

“Yes, I know of the Cult of the Scythe Mother. My sister Arazna is their leader. About 30 years ago, Arazna petitioned the magistrates of the city to officially recognize the church of Urgathoa in Korvosa. They refused. She then petitioned Queen Domina herself for a private audience, and to her surprise, the request was granted. The meeting lasted several hours, but in the end, Arazna stormed out. The very next day, Queen Domina issued an order to arrest and detention of every follower of the Pallid Princess and their leaders— Arazna in particular. In the scramble to arrest all of the Urgathoans in the dead of night, my sister’s husband put up a fight while Arazna tried to escape. He was killed, along with their three daughters. The Church of Urgathoa was effectively destroyed that night. While Queen Domina claimed that all of the Urgathoans arrested had been tried, convicted, an exiled, in reality they were all locked in the dungeons below the Grand Mastaba and executed. The Church of Urgathoa in Korvosa was effectively destroyed that day. Or so I thought.

“A year ago, Arazna contacted me by magic. She told me that she had escaped the pogrom 30 years ago, and had been nursing her anger against Queen Domina and her city every since. Arazna said that she had discovered references to a Thassilonian artifact lost in Belkzen that would allow her to enact the vengence she sought: this artifact was linked to the Pallid Princess, and could be used to unleash a zombie uprising in the city. Once the zombies were raging enough to be a true threat, she would go to Domina’s son, King Eodred. She would offer to use the artifact to end the zombie uprising in exchange for being named the new Queen of Korvosa. I offered her the use of this mortuary to her and her followers, in exchange for her to name me as the Chancellor of Exchequer once she’s queen. Arazna and several followers showed up about six months ago and started their preparations.”

Don asked if she knew where they were now. Feriesta said that she’d overheard one of them taking about the “tomb of the twice-martyred fool,” which must mean the Reliquary of St. Alika.

While she was talking, Darshan cast detect magic, and realized that Ferista was under the effects of several spells— including one spell that could mask her actions. Seeing through the illusion, he realized that she wasn’t actually sitting in a chair or wearing a frilly dress: she was standing at the ready, clad in no-nonsense leather armor, with a rapier in her left hand! Darshan interrupted her story, and demanded her to drop the illusion, which she relucatntly did. Turgrox then confiscated her rapier and spell component pouch.

“I’ve told you what I know. Take what you want, just leave Elleste and me alive and intact. I swear that you’ll never see us again.”

After a short conference, the party agreed. As Turgrox tied her up, Darshan asked, “One more thing— how come you’re in charge of a mortuary?” Ferista sighed and explained that it was an excellent front for the black market in humanoid body parts. She said she had convinced Tirus Dreen, the owner, to take her on as a partner. When asked if she’d used magic to gain Dreen’s confidence, she unabashedly said, “Yes.” Having enough of her, Turgrox knocked her out with his sap. He then did the same to Elleste, who managed to get in a, “Not again!” before blacking out.

Leaving the two wizards unconscious on the bed, the party ransacked the room, finding several valuables (although not Ferista’s spellbook.) Among the valuables recovered was a pair of magical eyeglasses They then locked the door from the other side, and Turgrox used his lockpicks to completely jam the lock. “It’ll take some doing to get this door open. Of course, they’re wizards, so they’ll get out eventually. At least they won’t be following us!”

On the way out, the party broke into Elleste’s room, and ransacked that as well. They found more valuables, including a few spell scrolls and Elleste’s spellbook. At that, the heroes left the mortuary and returned to the Stirge and Hammer to figure out what to do next. On the way back, they passed a pair of Korvosan Guardsmen, and reported that they had heard the sounds of a fight at the Grove Street Mortuary. “The guards should release Dreen and find those wizards we left behind,” suggested Don.

“Hopefully,” remarked Darshan.

To be continued…Next week!

The Grove Street Mortuary (Part 2)
Session 13

Oathday, 20 Desnus 4704, late morning

Standing in the basement of the Grove Street Mortuary, the party watched in horror as the barred oaken door to the next room burst open from the other side. A dozen zombies shambled into the room, seeking the living to destroy! The party fell back, using the narrow passageway throught which the zombies had to pass as a bottleneck. Zak stepped back, and threw his javelin of lightning down the narrow passage. With a crack of thunder, the javelin turned into a lightning bolt as it left the barbarian’s hand, which streaked down the corridor into the next room. Two-thirds of the advancing zombies fell to the electrical charge, and the party made short work of the rest.

Pressing into the next room, the party discovered a large cellar chamber with a huge oven set into the far wall. The floor and walls were slick with buckets fresh blood, and about a dozen bodies and severed body parts littered the floor. Several of the corpses seemed to be in a state of decomposition, while many of the fresher ones had been gnawed upon. Three more zombies attacked, which the party put down quickly. Searching the room, the adventurers found some salvagable gear and other valuables from the corpses. The ovens appeared to have not been lit in years. Turgrox noticed that it would be relatively easy to climb up the chimney to the mortuary’s grounds. A battered heavy wooden door led south, and an open passage led north. A ramp in the western wall led up to the storeroom above. Zak noticed a set of bloody footprints that headed up the ramp, and realized that it was the same set they’d seen earlier.

The northern chamber appeared to be a morgue. A dozen tables were neatly lined up along the walls, all bloodstained but empty. A few bloodstained tarps lay on the floor next to some of the tables. A shimmering silver seal was set into the floor, which Darshan determined was magical. Also in the room was a tarp-covered gurney. Under the tarp was a disturbing sight: a collection of body parts from small-sized humanoids: mostly gnomes and halflings, but some could have been from human children. Darshan’s examination of the seal determined that if a corpse was placed on the seal for a minute, it would cease rotting for as long as it remained in the room. Don suggested that this room had probably been the embalming room when the mortuary was really operating as a mortuary. Searching through the room, Turgrox found a set of old surgical tools that still appeared to be in good condition, as well as several dusty bottles of embalming fluid.

Finding no other way out, the party returned to the crematorium, and Turgrox listened at the door to the south. He heard someone on the other side whisper, “Shh! I think they’re checking the door! Get ready!” The half-orc noticed that the door had no lock from this side, and was barred from inside. With his greatsword drawn, Zak gathered his strength and kicked the door in— surprising the three Scythe Mother cultists that were inside! Shouting, “Parise the Scythe Mother!” one of the cultists cast a spell as the other two defended him with their scythes. He targeted Zak with the spell, and stage-whispered, “Reap them!”

art by Tamas Baranya

For an instant, Zak was filled with a desire to strike down Turgrox, but he quickly came to his senses and cut down one of the cultists instead. Positioning himself well, Turgrox buried his shortsword into the other cultist’s belly, twisting the blade on the way out. The cultist crumpled to the floor. Don blinded the spellcaster, who clutched at his unholy symbol to utter a malediction, as Darshan used a wand to hit him with an unnaturally cold chunk of ice. The spellcaster cursed the adventurers in the name of the Scythe Mother, and a pulse of dark energy pulled at their souls. Yet none of the heroes fell. Blinded, the priest of the Scythe Mother could scarcely defend himself against Turgrox and Zak’s attacks, and he also fell, cursing the adventurers.

Searching through the priest’s possessions, they found another crudely-drawn map of the Vaults below Korvosa. This map was similar to the one they’d found on the night of the initial attack. The target listed on the map was Exemplary Execrables, the theatre of the macabre in Old Dock that had also been targeted that night. On the back of the map was written, “Call the Watcher by name or face immediate death. Kneel before the twice-slain fool and lift your gaze to see the sign. Seek the Squire then touch silver to the second sign to find the way.”

Finding no other way out of the crematorium, the party returned to the main cellar, and took the open passageway to the south. They passed a side-passage, and followed the corridor for about 200 feet, where it connected to a secondary sewer line in the Vaults. “This must be how they come and go unnoticed,” offered Don. Returning to the side passage they’d walked by earlier, about 20 feet in, they found a ladder bolted to the wall leading up into a shaft. Turgrox climbed the ladder and found that it ended at a trap door about 20 feet up. The trap door was unlocked, and the rogue threw it open. The room above was lit by daylight, and he was assailed by the stench of sweat, urine, and rotting meat. Climbing into the room, the half-orc found himself in a filthy one-room apartment, apparently in the carriage house by the entrance to the grounds. A glance around revealed several stinking fetishes of bone rotting flesh hung from the cieling by twine or wire. A cloud of flies buzzed angrily through the room. Not wanting to search further, he retreated down the ladder, closing the trap door behind him.

As the heroes continued down the passage, they heard guttural moaning ahead, and the sound of many hands beating on and scratching at a door. They entered a room that appeared to be a ruined barracks, with bunk beds overturned and smashed. A dozen zombies were attempting to get through a closed oak door, and didn’t seem to notice the PCs behind them. The four adventurers each tossed a flask of alchemist’s fire at the zombies, and several caught fire and burned. The rest attacked. By now, the party had gotten pretty good at fighting zombies, and dispatched the shambling corpses while escaping serioud injury.

However, before anyone had a chance to catch their breath, a rope suddenly appeared, seemingly suspended from mid-air. Three Sczarni thugs slid down the rope, followed by an attractive dark-haired woman who appeared to be of mixed Varisian and Tien heritage.

art by Paul Taaks

The thugs pulled shortswords, and the woman said, “Nice work on the zombies. Sorry you have to die. Get ’em, boys!”

To be continued… Next week!

The Grove Street Mortuary (Part 1)
Session 12

Oathday, 20 Desnus 4704

Not long after breakfast, the party geared up and made the short walk to the Grove Street Mortuary. Their research indicated that this building had been constructed on the site of the former Temple of Urgathoa. It was also the most likely candidate to be the location of the elusive safe house for the Cult of the Scythe Mother.

The mortuary was surrounded by an eight-foot-high wall of red bricks. The front gates were made of wrought iron. They were closed and locked. A brass sign hung on the gates: “Grove Street Mortuary. Est. 4685. Tirus Dreen, Prop. Our Family Helping Yours”. A rope with a wooden handle hung next to the gates, obviously attached to a large brass bell. The adventurers walked the outside perimiter of the walls, and found a small back gate that led into an alley. That gate appeared to be latched, but unlocked. Using his magic boots, Turgrox leapt to the top of the walls to survey the grounds. He reported that the main house was one-story and made of brick, with a slate roof. The front gates opened into a carriage house, and there was a smaller cottage or shed near the back gate. The grounds appeared to have once been lush formal gardens, but were now overgrown and poorly maintained. After considering entering through the back gate and sneaking into the main house, they decided to ring the bell and pretend to want to arrange a funeral.

Returning to the main gates, the party rang the bell. After a too-long moment, one of the doors of the carriage house opened, and out stepped a huge, fearsome-looking man. He stood over seven feet tall, but was lean and wiry, weighing perhaps only 200 pounds. His head was small, with goatlike features. He had black, beady eyes that were too small, an upturned nose, and a too-wide mouth full of huge square teeth. He had a mane of black, stringly, hair that dropped to the middle of his back. His clothes were mangy and disheveled, with the exception of a fine gray cloak that hung at his shoulders. He had an oversized farrier’s hammer in his left hand, but his right arm appeared to be withered and covered with scabs. He grunted at the party, “Yeah? What do you want?” The creature’s reek assailed the adventurers’ senses.

Darshan immediately recognized the doorman as an an ogrekin. “One of our dear friends has passed, and we would like you to prepare his body for the funeral,” lied the druid. The ogrekin stared at eack of the adventurers for a moment, then unlocked the gates. “Up the gravel path straight ahead. Talk to Mr. Haddy.” He watched the adventurers carefully as the filed past him, up the gravel path, and to the front door of the house. Turgrox tried the door, and it opened easily. The sound of jangling bells echoed off the marble floor through the vaulted cieling the large room beyond. Idyllic murals of sea, mountains, and forest decorated tge walls. On second look, however, the party notices the cobwebs around the chandelier and walls, and that the floor was marred by a layer of grime, indicating that it had not been swept or mopped in weeks.

After a few moments, one of the doors opened, and a halfling entered the room. He wore a dark suit, a gray cravate, and a a pair of pince-nez spectacles. He appeared slightly surprised at the party’s arrival, but quickly introduced himself as Mr. Haddy, and assumed the role of a mortician, offering condolences for the loss. Don took lead, explaining that a dear friend had passed in the night, and that they wanted to hold a funeral here, with public viewing of the body. The halfling led them through one of the doors to a cramped and cluttered office. While going through the business of organizing a funeral, Darshan noted that the halfling appeared to be distracted, and was rushing through the procedings.

art by Christopher Stoll

Exchanging a glance with Zak, the barbarian asked if he could use the outhouse. The halfling shot him a quizzical glance and directed him to the side entrance. Zak feigned confusion, and Darshan said he’d help him find it, and they both left the office. Finding a set of stairs, the two descended to the basement, but they led to a locked heavy door. They went back upstairs, through the kitchen. Darshan noted that the pantry seemed to be stocked with enough food to feed a dozen men for weeks, which he thought suspicious. Another locked door led off the kitchen, but as Darshan tried it, he heard an old man’s voice from the other side say, “Yes?” Darshan asked if he would open the door, and the man replied, “Well, you know I can’t! Miss Firesta says I need to say in here for the day. I don’t have the key, anyway.”

“Miss Firesta?” asked Darshan.

“Yes! She’s such a nice girl. She takes care of everything for me these days.”

“I’m sorry,” asked Darshan, “who am I speaking with?”

“Why, I’m Tirus Dreen, the owner of this establishment. Of course, I’m semi-retired now. Miss Firesta runs things for the most part now.”

Darshan bade Dreen a good day, and went off with Zak to explore the rest of the house. This included a dusty, dis-organized coffin display room. A door from there led to an unused carpentry shop, which they didn’t enter. Another door led to a back storeroom, filled with various odds and ends, and the back door to the house. The storeroom also had a ramp that descended to the basement level. Zak noticed bloody footprints leading up from the basement, across the room, to the back door. Following the footprints outside, they led to the small outbuilding next to the property’s back gate. The outbuilding appeared to have once been a one-room cottage that had since been converted to a dog kennel, its door wide open. While the kennels held filthy straw filled with dog droppings, there were no dogs apparent. Darshan noticed a chain and lock lying on the ground next to the back gate of the property: the gate was latched but unlocked. The tracks indicated that the person who’d tracked blood through the house ran outside, released the dogs, unlocked the gate, and left without locking it behind him. Strange. The two returned to the house.

Meanwhile, Don and Turgrox continued to negotiate with Haddy over the fictitious funeral. Haddy fumbled through the scattered papers on the desk to find a ledger, which he started writing in. Looking at it upside-down, Don notived that the ledger had been meticulous until about four years ago, where the handwriting changed and the number of funerals dropped precipitously to barely one a month. When going over burial prices in the city cemetary, Turgrox noticed that the date of the price sheet was 3699— five years ago! They also both noticed that Haddy was growing increadingly distracted, and started to evade questions, asking them to come back later— after asking for a 20-ducat deposit.

Finally, Turgrox had enough. He took the coins, started to hand them to the halfling, but deliberately dropped them, “Oops! Sorry!” As Haddy bent over to pick them up, Turgrox lunged at him, getting the halfling into a half-Nelson, and putting a dagger to his throat! ‘’Look, there’s something fishy going on here, and you’re not leveling with us. Well, we’re not leveling with you, either. We’re not interested in booking a funeral. We’re looking for the Cult of the Scythe Mother. Ever heard of ‘em?’’ At that, the halfling seemed even more nervous. Turgrox told Don to tie the halfling’s hands, which he did. While Don worked the knots, Haddy regained his composure, narrowing his eyes and warning, “Gentlemen, you have made a grave error. Be careful what you seek.”

Turgrox then said, “Okay, Haddy, you’re going to give us a tour of this place.” He hauled the halfling to his feet and pushed him out of the office and back into the great hall. That’s when they met Zak and Darshan, who were both shocked to see that Don and Turgrox had held the halfling prisoner! While debating the merrits of this plan, Darshan noticed that the halfling had loosed his bonds, and had drawn a dagger! Before the druid could shout a warning, the halfling plunged his dagger into Turgrox’ back! The halfling tumbled out of the party’s way as they tried to cut him down, but it was Zak that struck him first. With a severe wound from Zak’s sword, the halfling retreated to the door and threw it open, shouting, “Chomper! We’re being attacked! In the house!” But Turgrox grabbed the halfling by the collar and punched him squarely in the back of the head, knocking him out. Darshan closed the door, but it needed a key to lock. As he fumbled through the halfling’s pockets, the door burst open, and the ogrekin from the carriage house brought his farrier’s hammer down upon Zak’s head. Another melee ensued, but after a moment, the ogrekin was lying on the foor. Darshan attended to the ogrekin’s and the halfling’s wounds, but they were both dead.

Deciding that they needed to explore the basement, they returned to the stairs that ended at the locked door. Turgrox picked the lock, and they entered an underground chamber. The north wall of this basement room had once been made of brick, but someone had broken through the wall, revealing a much older chamber beyond: A semicircular room dominated by a statue of Urgathoa! Before the statue stood a low altar made of stone, and in the center of the room was a bloodstained dining table with eight chairs.As interesting as the statue of the Pallid Princess seemed, the southern end of the room had an even more grisly display.The walls and floor of that area were covered in pooled and splattered blood. Seven corpses lay on the ground. Four appeared to be partly decayed and were hacked to pieces. Two were fresher, and wore the robes of a Scythe Mother cultist, and the last appeared to be of Varisian ancestry, and was dressed as a Sczarni street thug. After examining the scene, Darshan was pretty sure that the four decayed corpses probably had been zombies, and they killed the four humans. A corridor led off the room past the battle scene. This corridor was likewise covered with blood, and it ended in a heavy wooden door, barred from this side. Turgrox listened at it.

The distinct sound of groaning, punctuated with scratching and pounding on the door didn’t require the skills of a rogue to detect. While debating what to do, the sounds of banging grew more intense, and then the door burst open! A dozen zombies lurched toward the party!

To Be Continued… next week!

The Toyshop of Terror
Session 11

Wealday, 19 Desnus 4704

Waking up to an overcast and rainy day, the party had a quick breakfast at the Stirge and Hammer and headed back to Racker’s Alley. By now, the Korvosan Guard and some volunteers were wrapping up disposal of the stinking pile of corpses. ‘A couple of them started shambling, but we put them down again before they could do any damage. We’re taking them to Gray, where we’ll be having a huge funeral pyre,’ said the sergeant.

Once the guard and their wagons of corpses left, the party checked out the area. The coblestones and brick walls were still stained with sticky fliuds, and the reek of death still hung in the air, but far less than the previous night. “At least the rain is washing some of it away,” remarked Darshan. The building appeared to be mostly used as a low-rent tenement building, with a single business at street level, which appeared to have been closed for weeks. An askew sign hung over the door, as one chain had broken. It read, “Giotorro’s Toys.”

The front window displayed a collection of dusty and sorry-looking playthings. Wooden marionettes with too-long limbs and too-wide eyes, lopsided plush horses pulling carts with not-quite-round wheels, and unbalanced tin kights holding unwieldy swords stared blankly through the grime-covered window. Behind the display, heavy curtains obscured the view of the shop interior. Turgrox checked the bulkhead they’d spotted the previous night: it was unlocked. Don cast detect undead while standing in the window, and after a moment, declared, “Hmm. There is at least one undead creature inside. Its force of unlife feels stronger than that of a zombie, but isn’t the abyss of blackness of a spectre. We should approach with caution!” Seeing no one in the street, Zak, Darshan, and Don still shielded Turgrox as he picked the lock of the front door. The door opened easily, and a small bell jingled merrily, in contrast to the scene within.

Thin shafts of feeble light shone through holes in the curtain and dimly illuminated the dusty and cobweb-filled shop. Shelves and tables held scores of dolls, dressed in various stereotypical costumes, many bearing tiny weapons typical to their style of dress: tattooed Shoanti dolls with tiny hammers; Ulfen vikings with swords and shields; Mwangi warriors with spears and knives. Crimson kites hung from the cieling, and a dollhouse in the shape of Castle Korvosa stood on a table. A door in the back was marked “private.” Turgrox threw open the curtains, letting in the overcast day’s feeble sunlight through the grimy window. Suspecting the undead creature would be in the back room, Zak wound through the shelves of second-rate toys. As he approached the door, he felt a sharp pain in his back. With a shout of pain, he spun and pulled a dart out of his back— it appeared to be a tiny replica of a savage’s hunting spear. He then noticed motion on the shelf of dolls: a poorly-proportioned foot-tall doll of a Mwangi warrior raised its tiny arm, readying another tiny spear!

Turgrox roared in pain from the spear of a similar animated doll, while Darshan and Don each felt a spear whiz by thier ears! With weapons drawn, the adventurers returned the attack. The dolls were tough to hit due to their size and agility, but they were very fragile when a weapon connected. After a few exchanges of blows, the four animated Mwangi dolls lay in broken pieces on the floor. Turgrox then stomped them all into shards.

The half-orc then listened at the back room door, and reported that he heard the sounds of woodworking and indistinguishable muttering on the other side. The door was unlocked, and he threw it open. The room was filled with grotesque half-formed dolls of various sorts, their dead glass eyes glittering int he fliokering candlelight. A figure sat on a stool, hunched over a workbench. It wore a tattered and bloodstained smock. At the sound of the door opening, the figure turned. The withered flesh of its face stretched over its skull, a mockery of the features of the living. It still wore a scraggly, brittle-looking goatee and wisps of hair.

It hissed, “We’re closed— and this room is private!”

Darshan replied, “Sorry for barging in here. What are you making?”

“Toys. For the children,” it hissed menacingly. It then sniffed the air. “Wait.” It stood. “You smell… DELICIOUS!” It then lunched at Darshan!

Darshan evaded the things claws, as Zak struck it with his sword. Turgrox managed to get behind it, and stabbed it in the back with his shortsword. It half-hissed, half-shrieked in pain. Don fired a pair of magic missiles from his wand, and Darshan slashed it with his sickle. It collapsed in a heap, and then its flesh crumbled into dessicated chunks and fell from its skeleton. Searching the room, the adventurers found an inlaid wooden coffer filled with coins, and a key in the shape of the holy symbol of Abadar with the number 639 engraved into it. Darshan identified it as a key to a safe deposit box at the Bank of Abadar.

After a brief stop at the Stirge and Hammer for lunch, the party returned to the University of Korvosa. Presenting their library pass, they contnued their research into the location of the former Temple of Urgathoa in Korvosa. After four hours of searching through volumes which mainly confirmed what they already knew, Don made a fascinating discovery: Tucked into a treatise on the influence of Dwarven masonry techinques on Korvosan architecture was an envelope marked with the royal seal of Queen Domina. The seal appeared to still be intact, although Turgrox mentioned that it isn’t all that hard to re-seal a letter. Opening it, the envelope contained a private royal decree toi a Col. Buros of the Korvosan Guard, dated 4679. It ordered the immediate arrest of all known members of the Cult of Urgathoa— and their immediate families. Specifically named in the arrest warrant was High Priestess Arazna and her family. After another hour of research, Darshan found the text they were looking for. Rifling through the tome, he found the site plans for the Temple of Urgathoa: the building site was to be on Grove Street, on Garrison Hill, in Old Korvosa— a mere five blocks from the Stirge and Hammer! A gloss in the margin of that text noted the destruction of the temple in 4681. Darshan knew the location— it was now the site of the Grove Street Mortuary!

By now, it was late, and the University library was closing for the night. The party decided to turn in for the night, and check out the mortuary first thing in the morning.

To be continued… Next week!

Hungry Are the Dead
Session 10

Chapter Two: The Body Thieves

Moonday, 17 Desnus 4704

Still seeking leads on the safe house of the Cult of the Scythe Mother, the party figured that finding the location of the former temple of Urgathoa would be the best place to start. The priestess of Urgathoa they’d spoken with at the Pantheon of Many mentioned that Queen Domina had ordered its destruction some time ago, so the party split up to maximize their investigations.

Darshan met with some of his old Sczarni friends to find out what they knew, but none of them had any idea. “Cults? We don’t really mess with those.” He then checked with his ‘aunt’ Portia, but she didn’t have any information either. “I’ve only ever served the Guard under King Eodred’s rule. His mother Queen Domina died when I was still a girl.” Hanging out at the Stirge and Hammer while waiting for the rest of the party to return, he asked Vasaro if he knew of any action against the Cult of Urgathoa when he was in Sable Company. Surprisingly, he did! “Oh, I remember that! Nasty business. I was fresh out of the Academy. Queen Domina ordered the expulsion of everyone associated with the Church of Urgathoa in the city— and their families. It was the Order of the Nail who led the mission— we were just on aerial support. It was the middle of the night, in winter— the Hellknights kicked in doors and pulled people out of bed: men, women, children. At least a hundred people all total, as far as I can figure. They were loaded onto wagons, and brought to Castle Korvosa, for ‘processing.’ We were told that they were all going to be exiled to Nidal or Cheliax by ship over the next few days. But then i was reassigned to border patrol, and I never saw what happened to them.”

Zeldra had said a few things that indicated that the old temple might have been in West Dock in Midland, so Zak and Turgrox went over there to check it out. Carousing in bars, and talking with many old-timers, they were able to confirm a royal decree a while ago that outlawed worship of the Pallid Princess, but dno one could recall whether there was a temple, much less where it was located.

Don Decided to head back to Theumanexus College to do more research there. While there, he crossed paths with Extrarius, whom he hadn’t seen in a few weeks. Shortly into his research, he realized that this library didn’t have a whole lot on the subjects of local history or religion, but we was able to piece tothether a few relavent points:

1. Queen Domina issued a royal decree in 4679 banning the Cult of Urgathoa.
2. There was a reference to a plague that seemed frighteningly familiar in a thousand-year-old commentary on the full chronicles of Imperial Taldor’s Second Army of Exploration into the land of Belkzen in the year 506. The commentator mentioned that the chronicler noted that a group of tomb specialists had returned to the main camp sick from some kind of plague. Those that died from the plague rose again as zombies.
3. A book on architecture mentioned a dwarven architect named Brentha Grimjaw, and listed the Temple of Urgathoa in Korvosa as one of her designs, erected in 4672. There was an artist’s sketch of the building itself, although no background or adjacent buildings were included in the drawing. Don did not remember ever seeing a building that looked like that in Korvosa. The article mentioned that the plans for the building were on file at the University of Korvosa.

Comparing notes back at the Stirge and Hammer, the party decided that their best course of action would be to head over to the University of Korvosa the next morning. As they discussed it, Basila’s cough seemed to have worsened.

Toilday, 18 Desus 4704

After a brief breakfast at the Stirge and Hammer, the party set off across town to The Heights, where the University of Korvosa stood. Unlike the Academae, Korvosa’s world-famous wizard school, the University of Korvosa offered general non-magical education on a variety of subjects, inlcuding literature, medicine, law, and engineering. Heading over to the library, the party was stopped by a librarian before they could enter the stacks. “I’m sorry— the University library is reserved for students.” After explaining what they were looking for, the librarian suggested that they should speak to Head Librarian Estelle Banoy to request a stack pass. After waiting an hour for an appointment, the party managed to talk their way into a three-day stack pass, their position bolstered by a 50-gp donation to the library.

After about eight hours of research, the party found the following details:

1. Someone had deliberately obscured references to architect Grimjaw. Specifically, the plans for the Temple of Urgathoa were not where they should have been.
2. Don found a reference to decree from Queen Domina in 4681 ordering the razing of the Temple of Urgathoa. That reference did not include an address or otherwise indicate where it might be.
3. Darshan found a second-edition copy of the full Chronicle of the Second Army of Exploration. In it, he looked up Don’s reference to the plague unearthed in Belkzen 3500 years ago. The chronicle did not include much more detail, but there was a drawing of the tomb entrance where the plague had been released, and that drawing had legible Thassilonian runes. Don was able to translate: “Intruders beware of the curse of the Reaping Stone of Gastash.”

While somewhat burned out by a day of library research, everyone would have kept researching, had the library not closed for the night. The librarians asked everyone to leave.

Toilday, 18 Desus 4704, early evening

As the party returned to Old Korvosa, they happened upon a patrol of the Korvosan Guard. Leading the patrol was the party’s friend Captain Jeggare, who asked to have a word with them. “Glad I found you. We’re stretched awfully thin right now— people have started to die from this new sickness you warned me about. We’re distributing the antiplague medicine you secured from ”/characters/devargo-barvasi" class=“wiki-content-link”>Devargo Barvasi as best as we can, but there’s not enough to go around. The churches of Abadar, Sarenrae, Pharasma, Shelyn, and, gods help us, Asmodeus are assisting, but, again, people are getting sick faster than the healers can cure them. I’ve also heard some rumors that at least one of the teams running the body carts aren’t taking the corpses of the fallen all the way to Gray— instead they’re dumping them either in the river, or worse, an alley. We have reports I haven’t been able to follow up that corpses are piling up in Racker’s Alley in Bridgefront. If that’s happening, this plague is going to spread faster. Could you guys please check that our for me? Thanks!"

The high walls of the surrounding buildings threw the awkwwardly-bent Racker’s Alley into constant shadow— especially in the encroaching gloom of twilight. Although littered with garbage and filth, the refuse wasn’t the most stomach-churning trait of the rundown alleyway. Heaped against a bent wooden wall rose a pile of more than three dozen corpses, their faces blistered and flushed, dead eyes open and staring. The reek of death was overwhelming, accented by the buzzing of clouds of flies. Some of these corpses had lain here for days.

As the party approached, some of the corpses appeared to be moving— revealing themselves not to be corpses at all but four ghouls feasting on the carrion! The ghouls hissed angrily at the party, and one hissed, “Fresh meat! Get them!” The ghouls rushed to attack. Zak stood his ground, as as one ghoul rushed him, he swung his greatsword, separating the ghoul from its head. The rest fell on the party, rending at their flesh with scabrous, razor-sharp claws, and biting with mouths full of too-long canine teeth. As the party fought back, Turgrox was struck by a dagger coated in sticky red-black blood— the dagger hit him from unawares in the dark. Darshan spotted movement from a balcony overlooking the alley-turned-charnel house: A ghast, this one apparently female, was throwing daggers from the shadows! As Zak and Turgrox battled with the ghouls, Darshan and Don used their magic on the apparent leader of the ghouls, striking her with magic missiles and enchanged snowballs. As the last ghoul was about to fall, three of the corpses lurched to unlife and joined the frey. Zak broke off the attack and charged up the balcony stairs, but the ghast must have sensed danger, and retreated back into the building— a low-rent tenament. The rest of the party dispatched the zombies, as Zak gave chase to the ghoul leader. Chasing it through the tenement, Zak tripped over a cord stretched six inches above the top step of a flight of stairs, and he went crashing down. By the time he picked himself up, the ghast had left the building and disappeared down a manhole into the Vaults.

After defeating the ghouls and zombies, the party limped back to the Stirge and Hammer, alerting a patrol of Korvosan Guard that someone had been dumping corpses of plague victims in Rackers Alley, and someone needed to bury those bodies in consecrated ground as soon as possible, “or else vey bad things will happen.” While searching the alley, the party found that many of the corpses had been piled atop a metal bulkhead door that appaparently led into the building’s basement.

Smarting from the fight with the ghouls and zombies, once the scene was turned over to the Guard, the party returned to the Stirge and Hammer for some much-needed rest.

[To be continued…Next week!]

In the Court of the Spider King
Session 9

Fireday, 14 Desnus 4704

The party all decided to lay low for the day to recover from the previous day’s fight. Of concern was Basila’s persistent cough: Darshan was privately convinced that she was still suffering from the plague. He administered some medicine to her in an effort to cure the illness.

Starday, 15 Desnus 4704

Feeling much better, the party resumed their investigations into the Cult of the Scythe Mother. While the cult had been using the burnt-out Ambrik House as a staging area for its attack on the Stirge and Hammer, that wasn’t the main safe house for the cult, and the letter they found didn’t offer much of a clue as to where to head next. The letter did, however, confirm that the attacks were planned, and that the cult was deliberately spreading a plague called the Reaping Sickness. Darshan decided to check in with Captain Jeggare to show her more proof of the dangers facing the city, and found her later that day. She said that she would take this to her superiors and would do her best to muster resources to head off a major plague outbreak.

Don remembered that there was a shrine to Urgathoa in the Pantheon of Many down in South Shore, and he suggested that it might be a good idea to talk with a priest of Urgathoa to see if he could learn anything about the Cult of the Scythe Mother. Zak offered to tag along as a bodyguard in case the meeting went poorly. Posing as dilletantes that expressed some level of interest in the faith, they met with Zeldra Rallick, the Urgathoan priestess in charge of the shrine. Zeldra was an enthusiastic evangelist of the Pallid Princess, and told Don and Zak that the church stressed that followers should live life to the fullest, and to indulge themselves with as many pleasures as can be experienced. “And once you have experienced all life has to offer, then you can ascend to a different form, and experience a whole new set of pleasures, for as long as you wish to!” Don showed her the holy symbol that the party had recovered from the Scythe Mother cultists. She was curious where they had found the symbol, and explained that it was the symbol of a splinter-cult that didn’t represent the true teachings of the Pallid Princess. “They also venerate Urgathoa, but they call her the Scythe Mother. They worship her as a reaper of souls, and care little for life. They believe that the highest form of life is undeath, and they seek to spread undeath through the world whether people want it or not.” When asked what she thought of their philosophy, a disgusted look crossed her face. “Undeath should be a choice made willingly. It isn’t for everyone. And you shouldn’t go down that path until you’re ready. There are too many pleasures that only the living can experience, and transitioning to undeath is a one-way journey. Besides, if everybody ascends to undeath, what would we feed on?” Don was both impressed and somewhat horrified by the priestess’ answer, but pressed on with questions about the history of the church of Urgathoa in Korvosa. “Well, this was before my time, but Queen Domina had outlawed worship of Urgathoa for a while. I heard a rumor that she chased all of the faithful out of town and demolished the old temple.” Unfortunately, she had no idea where that old temple had been. Zeldra then invited Don and Zak to a worship feast that Wealday evening, and the adventurers took their leave.

Meanwhile, Turgrox decided to do some investigations of his own. He went to The Heights to try to speak with someone from the Cerulean Society to see if anyone had any news about the attacks in Old Korvosa. He successfully talked the guards outside the guildhall into an audience with Yono Tortney, the Guildmaster’s chamberlain. A regal, balding man with a full white beard, Tortney invited Turgrox for a drink to “talk business.” He led Turgrox around the corner of the guildhall to a side door and stepped through. Turgrox found himself in a small, nondescript barroom. Aside from a barkeep, the room was empty. The half-orc happened to glance up, and noticed several murder holes in the ceiling… and that Tortney showed him to a seat that was directly below one. After a pint of average-quality ale, Turgrox told Tortney that he suspected that a cult had released a deadly plague in the city, and that would be very bad for business. He suggested that the Society should have its local gangs be on the lookout for cultists and suspicious activity. Tortney nodded, and asked if there was anything else. Turgrox then asked for a job. Tortney smiled at that, and replied, “We don’t know you yet. You have to work your way up into the Society. Why don’t you talk to the Spider King in Old Korvosa. I hear he’s always hiring men of your skill set.” At that, Tortney concluded the meeting and walked Turgrox out of the bar.

That evening, back at the Stirge and Hammer, the party met to compare notes. While plotting their next move, Captain Jeggare came in and joined them. “We may have a problem, and I think you guys are the right tool to fix it. Over the past three days, somebody has been quietly been buying up all of the anti-plague medicine available in the city. My sources tell me that the people doing the actual buying have all been members of the Spiders— a gang led by Devargo Barvasi , a.k.a. the Spider King.” Turgrox shot a glance at the rest of the party, but Portia didn’t seem to notice. “Now, Barvasi knows me and all of the guardsmen, and he won’t let us get anywhere near him. But you four— you’re unknowns, and you should be able to get an audience with him. The city is prepared to pay up to 3,000 gold ducats for the medicine. That’s still a fair profit for him, but not at the price-gouging rates he’ll be charging. We need you to meet with him and secure the release of the medicine.” Darshan was able to talk her into releasing a letter of credit for 4,000 ducats, plus an agreement that if the party can talk him down from there, they can keep the rest. “One other thing,” added Portia, “he probably won’t agree to meet just anyone who walks in. You’ll need to get his attention in some way by patronizing his businesses.”

Later that evening, the party found themselves on the dock to Eel’s End, with 500 ducats in hand, and a letter of credit still worth another 3500. “Let’s win big!” said Turgrox. Five ships of questionable seaworthiness were lashed to the pier and to each other. The ships were the Goldenhawk, now serving as a flophouse; the Twin Tigers, a gambling hall, the House of Clouds, a low-rent brothel, the Dragon’s Den, a drug parlor, and the largest ship of this fleet of vice, the Eel’s End herself. The latter ship didn’t have any additional signage that indicated its function; Turgrox surmised that it must be where the Spider King held court.

The party decided to board the Twin Tigers, and attempt to get the Spider King’s attention by either winning big or losing big. The games seemed to be mostly typical: A few tables of bounder, several open tables of towers, and several people crowd in around an odd version or roulette, called “ghoulette.” The latter piqued the party’s interest. In the center of a spinning wheel was the severed, but still animated, head of a ghoul Instead of numbers, the wheel was divided into red and black sections labeled: “Your Brains,” “Your Family,” Your Charisma," “Your Hygiene,” “Your Skill,” “Your Stuff,” “Your Body,” “Your Profession,” and “Your Race.” A green section was labeled, “Something Nice.” The croupier took bets on either a color (red or black), or a section of the wheel. Winning the color paid out two-to-one; winning the wedge paid eight-to-one. When the wheel stopped spinning, the head of the ghoul locked eyes with whoever was standing in front of it and proclaimed an appropriate insult. To one dandy with a fancy rapier at his side, the ghoul proclaimed (after landing on “Your Stuff”): “Nice sword! Do you let your pet rust monster play with it?” To a dwarf, it said after landing on “Your Race:” “Well, you can always tell a dwarf. You just can’t tell him much.” After landing on "Your Profession, " it said to a woman in a fancy dress: “On break from the House of Clouds? Gentlemen, she’ll be back there in an hour!” Turgrox played one round, but bet on the wrong color. The head landed on “Ypur Hygiene,” and asked him: “Do you raise swine or just smell that way?” When Darshan spun (and lost), it landed on “Something Nice,” and it said: “Hey! I’d like to help you out! The door is over there.”

Below deck were arenas for bloodsports: mostly imp vs. pseudodragon fights and games of knivesies. No one was particularly interested in playing those.

After playing (and losing) for a while, Darshan approached the pit boss, and said that he had a business proposal for the Spider King. The pit boss tod him that Mr. Barvasi was very busy and to come back tomorrow to make an appointment. Darshan slipped him five platinum coins, and the pit boss said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do.”

Half an hour later, the party was escorted aboard the Eel’s End, and brought to the aftcastle, into a room that was originally the captain’s quarters. The room was dark, and the walls were covered with thick spider webs. Scores of spiders the size of a man’s fist crawled the webs. About half a dozen Sczarni-looking people sat around a long table. Sitting on a gilded wooden chair overlooking the room was a wiry, gray-haired man in leather armor. He wore leather gloves with half-moon shaped blades that were folded back. Turgrox noted that the blades were coated with a green substance. Several spiders crawled on his arms and torso, and he held a housecat-sized spider in his hands, which he stroked absently as the party members walked in. A brass birdcage hung from a stand next to the throne, in which cowered a sad-looking pseudodragon. He didn’t stand as the party entered, but grinned, and said, “Well, boys, you piqued my interest. They tell me that you have a business proposal for me. I’m a busy man, so let’s hear it.”

Darshan explained that they had been tasked by the city to buy back the larghe stockpile of medicine that Barvasi had been buying up. At that, Barvasi laughed, picked up a metal rod and struck the birdcage several times. Addressing the cowering pseudodragon, he said, “Hey! The city wants to pay me to not make a profit! How generous of them!” He turned back to Darshan, and said that he’d be happy to sell them back for 10,000 gold ducats, in cash, “because, that’s what I’m looking at getting for it when people start getting sick.” After several rounds of negotiations, Darshan said that the city’s maximum offer was 3,000 gp. “Tell you what… let’s make this exciting,” replied the Spider King. “If one of you can beat our current knivesies champion, then I’ll accept your 3,000 ducat offer. But if she wins, then you take your offer back to your ‘Auntie’ Captain Portia Jeggare and tell her that I want 10,000. I know she’s good for it.” Darshan looked a bit shocked at the revelation that Bavarsi knew who he was. The Spider King smiled, and gesturing with the cat-sized spider he still held in his hands, he said, “Let’s just say I have ears and eyes everywhere in this city. So, who’s going to be your champion?” Zak stepped forward.

Bavarsi clapped, stood, and rapped the birdcage with the rod again. “Oh, this will be fun! It’s your funeral.” He then sent one of his men to fetch the knivesies champion. While they waited, Bavarsi reviewed the rules of knivesies. “Have you every played before? No? Well, that’s a pity. So here are the rules.” At that the rest of his men stood and cleared off everything from the table. “First, no weapons or armor. So, take off that hide shirt, my boy, and drop your sword and axes, and that razor you’re hiding in your boot.” Zak dropped his weapons, and started to doff his armor. At that, a burly-lookiing human woman strode in, wearing a tight-fitting sleeveless top and breeches. Her arms and shoulders were both heavily tattooted and well-scarred. “Ah, Zora. Welcome. You’ll be instructing this one in the art of knivesies, and I was just explaining the rules.” He continued, “Knivesies is a fight on tabletop. I will tie each of the contestants’ right wrists together. You each get a belt pouch. There’s one dagger,” and he pulled a dagger from a sheath, and with a flourish, stuck it forcefully into the center of the table. He then pulled out a handful of gold coins and dropped them around the table. “On the count of three, the game begins. The object of the game is to gather the most coins. The game is over when all of the coins on the table have been scooped up and deposited in each contestants’ belt pouch. Whoever has the most coins wins— the winner keeps half the total, the the rest are split between those who bet loor. on the winner. Oh yes, everyone can bet on who’s going to win— their bets are placed in the pile on the table, and then those who’ve bet stand on their contestant’s side of the table. The game also ends in two other ways. First, if any of the coins on the table fall onto the floor, the game is over. If someone deliberately kicks a coin off the table— judge’s discretion and I’m judging this match— that person loses. If one of the contestants falls off the table, that person loses. If one of the contestants blacks out or dies, that person loses. No outside help— if anyone interferes, then that side loses. Ohter than that, anything goes. Any questions?” Silence. “Okay, let’s start!”

Zak and Zora stood on the table, and Bavarsi tied their right wrists together with a leather cord. They seemed mismatched— Zak clearly had the size and strength advantage, but Zora seemed quicker, and had the experience of playing this game many times. Bavarsi counted down from three, and the fight was on. The contestants both lunged for the knife, and Zora was quicker. She slashed Zak in the arm after retrieving the weapon. Zak grabbed a few coins in the lunge for the knife, and then tried to sweep her legs out, but she anticipated his move and slashed him again. Zak tried to grab her knife and, but she managed to evade. At the same time, Zak managed to avoid getting slashed as they fought for several rounds. Finally, while beeding from several shallow slashes, Zak managed to knock her off balance, then punched her in the face with his left hand, momentarily stunning her. Finally, Zak managed to simultaneously trip and body-slam her, and she fell off the table.

Bavarsi slow-clapped, and said that it was a good fight. One of Bavarsi’s men tossed Zora a potion flask, and Darshan did the same to Zak. Now sitting next to each other next to the table, the two clanked vials and drank their potions of healing. Bavarsi cut the cord binding them, and agreed to sell back the medicine for 3,000 gold. As the party left, Bavarsi told Zak, “If you ever get sick of hanging out with those losers, let me know. I could use a guy like you.”

On the way back to the inn, Darshan observed that they had made a profit of almost 1,000 gold!

[To be continued… Next week!]


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