The Alexandrian

Ptolus - In the Shadow of the Spire

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE

SESSION 7A: THE ARISTOCRAT’S TABLE

May 5th, 2007
The 22nd Day of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty

The group woke up late in the morning of the 22nd after a long sleep which eased the pain of aching limbs into a dull reminder of the previous day’s rigors.

Dominic expended himself in channeling the holy energy of Athor to heal as many of their wounds as he could. Elestra’s battered body was restored entirely and Ranthir was left with only a weariness from the blood he had lost. But the painful wounds to either side of Agnarr’s neck refused to close and, after inspecting them, Dominic concluded that Agnarr would need a full day of rest under his ministrations.

So Dominic settled into Agnarr’s room, praying occasionally and generally tending to his wounds. Ranthir retired to his own bed and set to work copying an additional spell from Collus’ spellbook into his own that would allow him to detect the presence of the undead – he wasn’t sure why, but he had a sneaking suspicion it might come in handy.

Elestra walked out into the city, seeking the Breath of the Streets. It seemed as if she could sense it stirring the hairs upon the back of her neck – and there was a lingering familiarity in it… but she couldn’t feel it, yet. Nor could she hear the Voice.

Tee offered to accompany her, but Elestra needed to walk alone. So Tee headed off to do her own shopping. As she turned to go, however, both of them heard a town-crier: Helmut Itlestein had publicly renounced the Republican movement and the Commissar had outlawed all Republican activity in the city.

Out of curiosity, Tee headed back to the Delver’s Guild and discovered the pro-Republican flyers she had seen hanging there previously had all been torn down. While she was there, she kept a promise she had made to Agnarr and asked around about the pits of insanity: The barbarian had wanted to try bottling the primal chaos in order to use its effects on magic as an inhibition against nefarious spellcasters. Unfortunately, Tee quickly learned that primal chaos was simply too dangerous – it would destroy anything it touched.

Tee then headed over to Saches to check on Phon again, only to discover that she wasn’t working that day. Tee took the opportunity to order a few new shirts (as she seemed to be burning through them – often quite literally).

TEE SLIPS AWAY

Tee did not, in fact, merely go shopping as she had told Elestra she would. Instead she headed up to the Delver’s Guild Library in Oldtown.

There she met with Shad and was disappointed to learn that the elderly librarian had not had any luck in discovering the origins of the dragon sigils she wore. He offered to continue looking, but honestly professed that he had not found the slightest inkling in the library’s records. He suggested that she might try the City Library – they might have some record that he lacked. The librarian dug out a scrap of parchment on which he had drawn a copy of the dragon sigil. “Give this to the librarians over at the City Library. No sense in having them draw another.”

Tee thanked him and reached out to take the parchment… but as she touched it she was overwhelmed by a sudden vision… No, a memory. A very clear and distinct memory of sitting at a table carefully drawing the dragon sigil out… She was designing it herself! It was to be a symbol of… of… She wasn’t sure. The memory slipped away like water through a sieve.

Tee left and headed back into Midtown.

A BURNING SHIP

An hour or so later, Tee came back to St. Gustav’s and met Elestra returning from her walkabout. The streets were aflame with the rumor that a ship sailing into the harbor had caught fire. Elestra suggested that they head down to the Docks and look, so the two of them cut down to Bridge Street, followed that across the King River’s Gorge, and then took Sailor’s Run down to the outlook overlooking the Docks.

The ship was still quite some distance out from the piers and was burning quite fiercely. The sun had slipped behind the Spire, and the pillar of flame that the ship sent up stood out starkly against the sky of the darkening east. The ship appeared to be drifting now, and the word in the crowd that had gathered was that no one had escaped the fiery blaze alive.

Tee and Elestra decided to head down to the Docks themselves and get fresher news. As they headed down the long ramp towards the Wharf Road, the ship began to slip beneath the waves. By the time they reached the bottom of the ramp, it was gone.

No one truly knew what had happened. The ship had been rounding Beacon Island into the southern straits when it suddenly caught on fire just before sunset. It was true that no one had escaped – at least, no one who had been recovered so far (and with night coming on…). The biggest concern seemed to be whether the ship would prove to be a navigation hazard, with some sailors arguing that it had clearly gone down in the Deeps while others argued that it had reached the shallows off the shelf.

After milling about for awhile longer and coming to the conclusion that nothing was going to be discovered that night, Elestra and Tee returned to the Ghostly Minstrel.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

The party awoke fully refreshed the next morning. Under Dominic’s care, even the grievous wounds on either side of Agnarr’s neck had been reduced to thin, scabby lines which were quickly giving way to pale white scars. It seemed as if their ordeals in the dusty and bloody chambers beneath the city – only two days past – belonged to another life.

When they came down to enjoy their usual breakfast, however, they found a man waiting for them: A portly gentlemen with thinning hair and rich, red robes.

“Good morning, my friends!” he said. “You must be Tee and Elestra and Agnarr and Ranthir and Dominic… Or perhaps its Dominic and Ranthir. The two of you are a trifle hard to tell apart on reputation alone. I have the advantage of you I fear, but I shall soon put this right: My name is Mand Scheben, the head priest of the Temple of Asche. I am hoping that you might listen to what I have to say.”

“That’s fine,” Agnarr said. “As long as you buy us breakfast.”

Mand Scheben smiled and spread his hands wide. “I did intend it.”

There was a brief flurry of activity as orders were taken and food was delivered, but then Mand cut to the chase: “I am here on behalf of my friend, Lord Zavere of Castle Shard. Are you familiar with the place?”

It was a token of their growing familiarity with the city that several of them nodded their heads.

“Good. Then you will understand me when I say that we know that you were responsible for the arrest of Toridan Cran. It is because of that that Lord Zavere would speak with you about a slightly riskier proposition – a proposition which will reward you well, I think. Are you interested?”

The group quickly agreed.

“Good!” Mand smiled. “I have made reservations at the Aristocrat’s Table at one of the clock this afternoon.”

“That’s fine,” Agnarr said. “But what’s the Aristocrat’s Table?”

“A restaurant in the Nobles’ Quarter.”

Elestra looked at Agnarr doubtfully. “The Nobles’ Quarter? Will we even be allowed in there?”

Mand smiled again. “Arrangements have already been made. With a reservation at the Aristocrat’s Table, you will not be denied passage through the Dalenguard. And now I must leave you, but I leave you with a final word: It is of the utmost importance that no one know of Lord Zavere’s involvement in his matter. Please consider it a confidence and speak of it to no one.”

Mand headed toward the door. As he left, Agnarr asked loudly – perhaps even intending for him to hear: “So… do we think it’s a trap?”

Tee shook her head. “If someone like Lord Zavere wanted us dead, I doubt he’d go to the trouble of inviting us to lunch first.”

Dominic leaned forward. “Wait a minute. Who’s Lord Zavere? What’s Castle Shard?”

Agnarr, who had apparently heard some people talking about it on the street several days ago, shrugged his shoulders. “He’s this weird guy who lives in a weird castle and throws weird parties for weird people.”

“Oh. Okay.” Dominic turned back to his food.

The conversation turned to how they should spend the rest of the morning before their appointment at lunch. They all agreed that going back to the underground complex they had discovered wasn’t a good idea – they might not make it back to the Aristocrat’s Table on time (and showing up for lunch covered in their own blood probably wasn’t the best way to get off on the right foot with the powerful Lord Zavere in any case).

The conversation turned away again as people discussed their plans, but then Dominic turned to Tee: “Did you want to try going to that ‘other store’ again?”

Agnarr perked up. “What other store?”

“Oh, I don’t think you’d be interested in it,” the priest demurred.

Agnarr bristled. “I might be. What are you guys talking about?”

Tee gave up. “Saches. I want to go check on Phon again.”

“Great! We’ll all go!”

Tee tried to find the right words. “I don’t think she’d want to see you, Agnarr.”

Agnarr: “What do you mean?”

Tee: “You upset her.”

Agnarr: “I just wanted to know who the father of her child was!”

Tee: “And that upset her!”

Agnarr eventually admitted that Phon might not be happy with him. He asked Tee to apologize for him when she saw her again and to explain that, among his people, when a child didn’t have a father it fell to the rest of the tribe to care for the child. That had been the intention of his questions.

Dominic made a witty comment about immaculate conception. Agnarr ignored him.

THE PLAN

Elestra: “So what’s our plan?”

Dominic: “Well, Tee and I are going to head over to Saches.”

Ranthir: “I’m going to stay here and study.”

Agnarr: “I’m going to go looking for a dog.”

Dominic: “And Elestra can go with you.”

Elestra: “Wait. Why am I going with Agnarr?”

Dominic: “You’re on his team.”

Elestra: “How did I get on his team?”

Dominic: “You let him carry you.”

Elestra: “I am not on Agnarr’s team!”

Agnarr: “When did I get a team?”

Eventually they decided to do their planning on the run. Ranthir headed upstairs and read the book of poetry they had saved from the goblins. The rest of the party headed out.

Tee took Agnarr to an animal trainer named Ketyale. Ketyale offered to sell Agnarr a trained guard dog, but Agnarr wanted to train the animal himself. And, in truth, he decided that he wanted to rescue an animal in need. So he headed back out onto the street. Tee, Dominic, and Elestra were already gone, so Agnarr headed back to the Ghostly Minstrel.

Tee, Dominic, and Elestra, meanwhile, headed to Saches. Phon was working today. She asked if they had heard that Helmut had been released. (They hadn’t and Tee told Phon that was wonderful news.) Phon thanked them for checking in on her, but she was feeling much safer now.

Tee excused herself from Dominic and Elestra and headed off to run some errands on her own. Elestra pondered for a moment and then decided to catch up with Agnarr, so she headed back to the animal trainer. When she learned from Ketyale that the barbarian had been adamant about rescuing an animal in danger, Elestra concluded that he must have headed for the Warrens to look for a stray.

Dominic wasn’t sure it was such a great idea for the two of them to go to the Warrens alone. But Elestra convinced him that, with the Spirit of the City watching over them, they had nothing to fear.

TEE AND THE ARROWSMITHS, PART 1

Tee, meanwhile, continued secretly trying to figure out where her dragon-sigiled mithril shirt had come from. If she had designed the symbol, then she must have hired someone to make the armor for her. Maybe that person might be here in Ptolus. And there couldn’t be that many armorers skilled in the mithril crafts…

Tee spent the rest of the morning checking as many armorsmiths as she could find in Midtown, but to no avail. None of them had been commissioned – by herself or anyone else – to make her distinctive armor.

THE RAT CAIRN

Elestra and Dominic had doubled back over to Fairbriars, so they crossed down the hill back into Longbottom. Once they got to Iron Street they took that east towards the Warrens.

As they came up to Old Sea Road – which ran around the border of the Warrens – they saw that a huge crowd had gathered around some sort of mound in the middle of the street. Several members of the City Watch were also standing around (which seemed to be what they did best, as Agnarr put it later).

Drawing closer they discovered that the mound was, in fact, an enormous pile of rats.

“What’s going on here?” Elestra wondered out loud.

A man standing nearby looked over. He had the thick drawl of a low-trader: “Nobody knows right proper. Somebody came along and stacked rats two men high and no one saw them do it.”

“Just rats?” Dominic asked.

“Rats, dire rats. Some even say they saw some ratmen. The watchmen are right angry about it, too.”

“I thougt they’d be glad to see someone taking care of the ratmen problem,” Elestra said.

“Maybe. But to stack ’em up right in the middle of the road they’re supposed to be patrolling for all our safety? And with none of them the wiser to it? The Watch be thinkin’ that someone means it personal. And they’re not the only ones.”

Elestra and Dominic moved a little closer, observing that the Watch had, indeed, removed several ratmen corpses from the pile and placed them off to one side. Elestra shook her head, “I don’t think there’s anything we can do here. Let’s circle around into the Warrens.”

This they did, easily finding one of the countless streets and alleys which emptied out of the Warrens onto Old Sea Road. They were struck immediately by the stench of urine and garbage and even the distinct odor of open cook-fires. The streets were narrow and ill-kept. The alleys were virtually choked full of refuse (both human and otherwise). The two of them were quite out of place, and it was hard not to notice the stares which were glaring at them out of the buildings built one atop the other.

After wandering for a bit, Elestra decided that she wanted to get a drink some place. She dragged Dominic after her.

Near the heart of the Warrens she found a place called Nul’s. Or, at least, that’s what was scrawled in sloppy handwriting above the narrow doorway crammed between two larger buildings.

Carefully stepping over a puddle of calcified vomit on the doorstep, Elestra and Dominic eased open the door, headed down a short and ill-lit hallway, and emerged into a small room: What had never been fine wood had worn to a weary gray. A handful of tables were crammed into the space, with a number of chairs – several of them clearly with broken legs – placed haphazardly around them. A thick gray grime seemed to have found its way into every nook and cranny.

The place was empty, except for a single man standing behind the small and dingy bar. The man was tall (at least 6′ 9”) and completely bald, with a dozen scars criss-crossing over the top of his skull. His selection of alcohol seemed meager at best: Only three or four bottles of liquor and a keg of something.

“Can I help you?” the bartender said, crossing his arms.

“Is it always this busy?” Elestra said, looking around scornfully.

The bartender glowered. “Most people wait until after noon to start their drinking.”

Elestra grinned, not sure where her confidence was coming from. “I’m not most people.”

“Then what do you want?” The bartender still hadn’t uncrossed his arms.

“We’ll both have a cup of whatever’s in there,” Elestra gestured at the keg.

The bartender grabbed two of the filthiest mugs they had seen, picked up a rag that was even worse, and quickly wiped them “clean”.

“Ah… Let me do that,” Dominic said, gesturing at the mugs. “I, uhhh… need to bless them.”

The bartender stopped what he was doing, but didn’t hand the mugs over. “You’re a priest? We don’t get many religious people down here,” the bartender said. He still wasn’t moving to fill the mugs.

“You know what? I can probably bless them from here.”

The bartender filled them with the palest, most watered-down ale they had ever seen. Elestra eyed it doubtfully and then decided to brave it. “Bottom’s up!” After a nervous moment of indecision, Dominic did the same.

While continuing to drink, Elestra tried to engage the bartender in some more meaningful conversation. She didn’t receive much beyond short, terse answers, but it turned out that the ratmen problem was simply becoming an expected part of life here in the Warrens: You locked your doors. Sometimes you heard something scratching at it. Occasionally people went missing. But that was simply the way of things here. Elestra mentioned the cairn of rats they had seen coming into the Warrens and thought that perhaps the Watch might be taking action soon. But Dominic pointed out that even the Watch they had seen were still outside the Warrens.

“Oh yes,” said the bartender. “The Watch is quite good about staying at the entrances. They wouldn’t want anything to leave the Warrens.”

“Nothing at all?” Elestra said. “Do you think we’ll have any problems leaving?”

The bartender looked her up and down. “Oh no. I don’t think you’ll have any problem leaving.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Elestra said, standing up.

“I’m sure he just meant that you were dressed very nicely.” Dominic hiccupped.

Elestra turned to him. “Are you drunk? You only had one drink!”

“I know!” Dominic swayed heavily to one side.

“Great,” Elestra said. “And we’re supposed to be at the Aristocrat’s Table in less than an hour! I guess we’d better get going if you’re going to stumble all the way.”

The bartender watched them go and then went back to wiping down the bar.

THE ARISTOCRAT’S TABLE

Ptolus - The Aristocrat's Table

Agnarr was distressed when he heard that someone had gone to the Warrens without him. When he heard about the rat cairn he was doubly unhappy. “That could have been us! It could have been us!” Agnarr apparently had a real passion for killing rats. Or, at least, killing something.

The group headed up towards the Spire. They passed easily through the Dalenguard and found the Aristocrat’s Table just inside the gate of the Nobles’ Quarter.

(Esoteric GM’s Note: It’s interesting to note that there are no nobles in Arathia. The merchant houses are oligarchical and wield power similar to a Barundian noble house, but can’t honestly be thought of in the same terms. So why is it called the Nobles’ Quarter? The first Silver Fatar to come to the Outer Cathedral of Athor in Ptolus was a native of Seyrun and quite used to thinking in terms of “nobility” and “commoners”. When touring the upper terrace of the city he was famously quoted as saying, “It is truly the noblest quarter, for its paradise dims the light of the fairest families of the Empire.” The name stuck and the Noblest Quarter eventually became the Nobles’ Quarter.)

The Aristocrat’s Table was a beautiful establishment. A circular building of white marble sat in the center of an elaborately sculpted garden of exotic and breath-taking flowers and green swards. It seemed as if every seat in the restaurant was positioned for a perfect view…

… well, every seat except for the one in the dark corner that the party was seated at after the host took one look a them. (Tee was dressed in an outfit of expensive silk, but the rest had barely tidied up the clothes they had been wearing since waking up nearly two weeks earlier.) Still, it was a dark corner in a veritable paradise.

Shortly after they were seated, Mand Scheben arrived. As he greeted them and chatted amiably he withdrew a small aquamarine from one of the pockets of his robes and placed it on the table. He tapped it in a very rapid and very specific sequence, causing it to pulse briefly with a soft blue light.

“There we are,” he said. “That should give us the privacy we need. Anyone looking at us now will see nothing but a few people eating lunch. Anyone listening in will hear us chatting amiably about the weather or the condition of the city streets.”

“What an amazing piece of magic,” Agnarr said.

“Indeed,” Mand smiled. “Lord Zavere is generous with his gifts. And, speaking of that…” Mand pulled out a large purple stone and placed it on the table as well.

The stone abruptly started speaking in a deep and masculine voice: “I am Lord Zavere. I thank you for agreeing to meet with me today. I apologize for not being there in person, but – as Mand has already explained – it is important that no one be able to connect me to this affair. At least, as of yet.”

Agnarr jumped at the voice suddenly appearing out of nowhere, but quickly settled back into his chair. This city continued to disquiet him as much as it amazed him.

Lord Zavere continued: “We know that you have dealt with Toridan Cran. You’re here today because of Toridan’s brother, Linech. Linech is a gangster, like his brother, but far more successful. We have been concerned by him for quite some time, and now his operation is up to something new. He’s looking to hire wanderers and sell-swords. He’s never done that before. At the very least, we want to know what he’s doing. We might also want to put a stop it. His actions indicate a sudden influx of resources, when we had thought him to already be over-extended.”

Mand spoke up at this point: “Linech is a drug smuggler. He ran a small operation on an island somewhere off the coast. He used it to manufacture shivvel, which he would then ship to Ptolus. The facility on the island was recently destroyed, however, and we thought that would finish him. But now it appears otherwise.”

“So what do you want us to do, exactly?” Elestra asked.

“We want you to get hired by Linech,” Lord Zavere said. “Find out what he wants you to do. Let us know what it is and then we can plan an appropriate response – if any response is needed at all. For this we are willing to pay you 500 gold apiece.”

The party exchanged looks with each other. “Can we have a few moments to converse among ourselves?” Tee asked.

“Of course,” Lord Zavere said. “Simply let Mand know when you’ve reached a decision.”

Mand pulled the purple stone off the table and then excused himself. The party quickly talked it over: None of them wanted to do anything illegal – particularly Elestra – but it didn’t sound like they were being asked to do that. The money was almost impossible to pass up, given the increasingly narrow constraints of their finances. Their only concern was that Linech would know that they were responsible for Toridan’s arrest. If that was the case, then they would be walking straight into a death trap.

While they were talking, a swarm of butterflies descended on their table carrying small bowls of caviar. The beautiful, multi-colored creatures deposited the bowls and then fluttered off again. Tee seriously considered becoming a merchant prince… somehow. While she dipped delicately into the caviar, Agnarr went and grabbed Mand Scheben.

When Mand got back to their table he pulled the purple stone back out.

Elestra laid out the group’s position: “We’re concerned that Linech might know who we are,” she said. “We don’t want to walk into a trap.”

But Lord Zavere assured them that the secret they had asked Brother Fabitor to keep was well-kept indeed. He only knew of it because he had been keeping close tabs on Toridan himself. Linech was still searching for the people responsible for Toridan’s downfall, but he had no idea who he was looking for. They should be perfectly safe.

With that concern put aside, the group saw no reason not to accept the offer. Zavere thanked them again and then said, “Do well on this and count yourselves among the friends of Castle Shard. Now I have other business to attend to.”

Mand pulled the purple stone off the table and withdrew five small pouches of purple velvet from his robes. He passed these pouches around to the five companions. “Here is a hundred gold pieces each, a payment in good faith against the full payment you will receive.” Mand told them where to find Linech and then continued, “It’s important to remind you, again, that Lord Zavere must not be associated with this effort in any way. His name should not be mentioned by any of you, nor should you attempt to seek him out. When you have learned Linech’s purposes you may contact me at the Temple of Asche. Did any of you have further questions for me?”

They did not, so Mand made his farewells and left them to enjoy their sumptuous lunch… which they did.

NEXT JOURNAL ENTRY

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