“Do you really think NOW is a good time to go a-whoring?”
Trag shot a quick glance over his shoulder at the slightly aghast group of companions as he broke away from them as they left the Sin Spire.
“Yes,” he said, bluntly.
It wasn’t long before Trag found himself at the Gilded Lilies, the brothel of highest repute in the city. Upon entering and flashing some coin, the bouncer at the desk (a very large and imposing figure who seemed animatedly respectful towards the women…) called one of the Lillies over to accompany Trag to a room. Pushing open the fine oak door, Trag found himself in one of the nicest brothel rooms he’d ever seen. Plush furs lined the floor, embroidered cushions were strewn strategically around and heavy velvet drapes hung from the ceiling. A warm amber glow emanated from several alchemical lamps, and a fine clockwork time-piece sat prominantly featured on the heavy wooden dresser. A massive 4-post bed dominated the room, and as the young woman went over to the ornate clock and turned a few cranks to set the timer in motion, Trag heaved his heavy frame onto the edge of the bed. He tossed a bag of gold coins onto the dresser, startling the young woman, as this was an extra bag beyond the fee he had already paid at the door, and said to her without an ounce of lust in his voice, “all of this is yours if you tell me about this place and about King Hamish.”
Taken aback to say the least, the young women stammered through the first few sentences of her reply but eventually found her footing. She relayed the following information:
- The Gilded Lilies is a whore-run brothel who won their sovereignty through espionage and the spilling of the blood of any man who tried to get between the women and their clients’ coin. Unwanted aggression against the women is not tolerated, strict rules of conduct and cleanliness are in place for their clients and they are known for their swift and brutal retribution for any act of transgression. It seemed to Trag to be quite the powerful and influential faction indeed.
After getting the info he felt he was after, Trag left the money and trundled out of the house of the Gilded Lillies, and headed for the home of Ismael Deeb.
He found the rest of the party already inside and Ismael Deeb, Council-For-Hire from the Supreme Aetheneum in Stonehaven, had them lounging comfortably in his Pagoda-style sitting room.
Many questions were asked of his reasons for being in High Pengaard, and he countered with some of his own. Through the back and forth, the party learned the following things:
- King Hamish’s rose to power through the defeat of the evil Lich King, Thormar the Dread. Fifty years ago, Thormar had laid siege to the city with his massive undead horde (“the patience of those who are not mortal is a thing to behold. Each death through attrition won Thormar another soldier on the inside, and he was happy to sit back and wait.”). Hamish was a simple enlisted soldier, nobody of any great standing. But the story goes, on a moonless night he took it upon himself to sneak out of the city to Thormar’s camp and steal the source of the Lich’s power: his ornate phylactery. Upon the successful completion of his clandestine quest and the phylactery “dealt with”, Hamish was voted into power (a near unheard-of means of rising to power). He has been beloved by his people ever since.
- There is definitely something magical at work in the city that seems to be soothing discontent. Ismael revealed himself to be a magic user and that he is shielding his mind from outside influence. He believes the magic at work is extremely powerful, yet almost diabolically subtle, in that he suspects it takes time to work on the minds of those within its proximity of influence…anything too strong would be noticed.
- Ismael has been in Hamish’s presence many times in the last 6 weeks since arriving to Hamish’s council, and he notices that when dignitaries of extreme importance arrive, Hamish shows up wearing a large and ornate amulet around his neck. Most believe it to simply be a relic of his kingdom; some treasure of the realm. But Ismael suspects the ornate necklace gem Hamish wears could be the shard they seek.
- King Hamish is without an heir, and those that should be posturing themselves for the struggle for succession (wealthy nobles with eligible sons of standing, etc) do not seem to be doing so. There is too much contentment within his council for there to be nothing going on.
- He believes also that when it is not being worn by King Hamish, that the amulet necklace is held in the royal vaults below the castle. There is only one entrance to the vaults, and the castle is constantly patrolled by guards.
Over many brandy’s and hot herbal teas, the group decided that obtaining the amulet from the vaults is their ultimate goal here in the city, and they concocted a plan that was 3 fold:
1) Trag, in flea form, would ride into the citadel on Ismael’s shoulders, who would get him as close the newest recruits in the guard as possible. Hopefully while transformed Trag would learn the patrol schedule, the location of the vaults and which entrance to the castle made the most sense.
2) Arauka would learn of the best escape routes so that they could beat a hasty retreat out of the city should their intentions be discovered.
3) Grimpem, Hettle and Pluefin were intrigued by the existence of the Kobold Ghetto on the west side of the river that cut a smaller chunk of the city off from the main harbor. Their ultimate goal was to learn what they could about the Kobolds and to stir unrest among them in the hopes of eventually starting a riot against the citadel. This riot would act as the diversion they would need to sneak into the citadel unnoticed.
The next morning on their way across the river, Hettle discovered the Artificer’s District of High Pengaard, and that this city (and this district specifically) is renowned for extremely well-made clockwork gear, much to the liking of his Gnomish heritage. He suddenly noticed that things that he assumed were either alchemical or magical processes taking place all around him in the city were overwhelmingly done with this extremely subtle and finely-hewn craft of clockwork machines. He purchased himself the materials for several clockwork devices of his own making.
Trag and Ismael enacted their plan…Trag transformed into a flea and sat upon Ismael’s shoulder and the pair strolled into the Citadel. Ismael wasn’t out of place anywhere inside and very smoothly made his way as close to the Guard Barracks as possible…very quickly, they spotted the new recruits, fresh-faced and keeping to themselves along the far wall of the mess hall. Trag hopped off and found himself clinging to the uniform of a particularly nervous new recruit by the name of Lander, who, with his buddies, were so obvious with their complaining about their bitch graveyard shift that Trag was able to learn absolutely everything he needed: that the western most side door is the least monitored, that they are guarding the far back hallway that has the entrance to the vaults, that the door to the vaults is unmarked as such, and that they hated having to do the late-night shift.
Grimpem, Pluefin and Hettle made for the Kobold ghetto. Arriving, they discovered that the single bridge across the river was flanked on both sides by much smaller and much cruder chain bridges. They also remembered that Kobolds are nocturnal, so the daytime is a particularly dead time in that neighborhood. They also learned that most of the Kobolds actually live in a vast network of tunnels and caverns beneath this part of the city, but some of the seedier Kobold citizens could be found milling around. They approached one of these cloaked figures and met Igor, a merchant of oddities. From him, Grimpem purchased an Oil of Slipperiness, and then through their charm, pumped him for information. He relayed the following information:
- The Kobolds used to be enslaved in High Pengaard where they worked as miners. The White Marble that lots of the city was built from was their task, and they lived in extreme conditions for many generations as they mined the marble.
- The ghetto is now a near-sovereign state (they are ruled by a queen). They don’t like “the big folk” across the river, and they are currently vexxed about the proposed tax on their make-shift chain bridges across the river. These chain bridges began as a way to avoid the toll that Hamish put on the only bridge in or out of the ghetto, and should they get cut down, they could easily be collected further down river to simply be rebuilt later under cover of darkness. Eventually, the officials of High Pengaard stopped cutting them down, but recently they have proposed a tax on these bridges, and this is the cause of much vexation among the kobolds.
- Anyone is welcome in the Kobold’s realm, and oftentime non-kobold visitors are drawn by the grand games in the Fighting Lynx Pits underground…an arena for warriors and fighters to test their mettle against fearsome foes in exchange for the highest renown Kobolds offer, as they greatly revere prowess in battle, even though (or perhaps especially because) they themselves aren’t known to be great warriors. Anyone who bests the arena is granted extreme celebrity status for about “5-7 days” according to Igor. He told them that Yshka Byshka is the kobold in charge of booking the fights in the arena, and that there was an open call that night for participants.
While flea-form Trag/Ismael were in the citadel, and Grimpem/Pluefin/Hettle were exploring the Kobold ghetto and speaking with Igor, Arauka headed down to the docks district where he learned The Monsoon is the best sailor tavern and a great place to barter fast passage out of High Pengaard by boat. He also learned the Northeastern gate, called the “Dwarven Gate”, is the most direct exit that points towards Stonehaven, the home of the Supreme Aethenuem.
The Fighting Lynx Pits
The 3 party members returned to the Ghetto later that day with their remaining members, and the walked through the giant archway that took them below ground into the Kobold realm. There, they sought out Yshka Byshka in his fancy private booth overlooking the Fighting Lynx Pits. Normally combatants entered solo, and it took some convincing, but he eventually allowed them to fight as group if they fought his 3 hardest monsters. They agreed, and the deal was struck. They were relieved of all their possessions/equipment (in fact everything they owned), save for a single weapon each. On the way down to the pits, however, Trag was able to find a bookie Kobold in the crowd and placed a 50 gold bet on themselves at decently long-shot odds, and offered to split any winnings with the Kobold who would place the bet on their behalf.
A few moments later, they stood in the center of the large dirt arena surrounded by a couple thousand spectators. The grand gate slowly creaked open, and out from the darkness of the tunnel slithered a beast of nightmares, a Grick! A large snake-like creature with a razor sharp squid-like beak in the center of 4 sprouting face tentacles, the beast stood almost 6 feet tall and was about 10 feet from end to end. They learned quickly of just how resilient the monster was to their weapons, and it was magic that finally took him down.
But that was just the first battle of 3, and it was promised that they would increase in their deadliness. As the carcass of the Grick was hauled out of the arena, the gate creaked open again, this time producing a pack of tiny gnome-like creatures…but these were grey-skinned and wielded a wide variety of deadly throwing knives and wicked curved daggers that gleamed in the torch light. These were Svirfneblin, Deep Gnomes, devilish cunning and resourceful. Despite their small stature, they put up one hell of a fight as they coordinated their attacks and darted around the arena, providing only moving targets. Trag, deciding he’d had enough of their nipping weapons, raised his staff high over his head and slammed it down into the dirt. Bisecting the arena and tangling a few of the Deep Gnomes in its thorns sprung a massive wall of brambles, effectively isolating the little bastards and holding them in place to be eliminated one at a time.
The crowd roared and jeered in equal amounts, as the Gnome bodies that could be reached were removed. Yshka Byshka, up to this point having shown no emotion was now leaning forward in his seat, his eyes gazing sternly at the group.
The wall of thorns remained, blocking the party’s view of the tunnel as they heard the gate creak open again…soon, they felt a rumbling in their feet as the ground began to quake louder and louder until…SSMMMAAAAASSSHH Exploding through the brambles came what at first appeared to be a MASSIVE boulder…until it unfurled its limbs and stood up, revealing itself to be a most notorious creature of the Plane of Earth: A Galeb Duhr!
Standing as tall as an Orc and made entirely of earth and stone, the bulky creature extended its stony hand towards some of the larger boulders in the arena and bellowed with an otherworldly roar. To the party’s horror, the boulders burst to life and attacked in a coordinated effort with the Galeb Duhr. The elemental foe turned out to be quite formidable indeed, nearly taking down a few of the squishier party members, but the battle finally ended with all members still on their feet! They were victorious!
As they were escorted from the arena floor, Trag received his cut of the winnings that he had bet on their victory. They were hurried towards Yshka Byshka’s private balcony…