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!]