Walking off the ship, it doesn’t take long for Galathalas and I to see the looming wall beside us. The entire port area seems to be fortified, with numerous guards standing atop the soaring walls. Ian says in his experience, something this size would take no less than 150 guards to maintain.
Feeling their gaze upon us we make our way to the northern bridge where most others seem to be heading. Lutien catches up to us not long before we make the turn onto the bridge proper. Everyone we meet seems to be traveling with purpose; no strolling, minimal talking, and definitely no stopping to look at shops as there appear to be no storefronts outside of the city proper!
We get in line behind a small group of people ushering slaves into the city. All are shackled together in a procession, looking sullen and weak, probably fed just enough to keep them alive for sale without “wasting” food on them. Valrak’shi looks to the slavers herding them, thinking how easily he could drive a shortsword through their back, but a quick glance to the top of the walls reminds him to calm his emotions. He knows going into this city that there will be many things he will not approve of, but you can’t fight for those inside if you are riddled with arrows before making it past the gates.
Keeping in a tight group, we enter the lower city proper as one, letting any that look upon us know that we travel as one group and not as individuals to be picked off at random.
Once inside the Fish Market, we can see the primary slave auction off to our left. It’s a large platform with multiple levels and we can see slaves being auctioned off in pairs, as a group or individually, depending on the lot and person.
The one thing that is not easy to ignore is the smell; the Fish Market mixed with the smell of unwashed bodies and vomit. As I look to the next slaves being taken upon the stand, I see one lean over and vomit, a look of fear in his eyes like no other. I have to force myself to look away…I would like to help these people but this is not the proper time and place. We need a strategic strike, not some random rescue attempt fueled by emotion and ill planning.
Scanning the area, it’s easy to see the many guards standing around the area. Some of them seem to be city guards, others personal guards to people walking the area. I spot several guards down near the edge of the water, peering into it, preventing entry in or out from that one seemingly vulnerable area.
We continued up Furlough Street, keeping tight formation but trying not to bring too much notice to ourselves. I hear off in the distance the bang of a club or stick, and someone shout “40 gold!”. Looking to the sound I see a group of slaves being herded off of the platform and the rope holding them together being handed over to a tall human with an air of contempt about him.
Continuing on we see many shops on both sides of the street. Beggars notice us and approach, their hands out begging for coin. I could care less for my coin and would happily give it over to them, but I do not trust they are what they see, nor do I want to draw attention to myself as I attempt to stay within the recesses and shadows as we venture forth. I ignore them as I go and keep a vigilante eye on my belongings.
Galathalas is not so subtle, raising his voice to them to ‘scram’. He continues with them as they recoil from the words, telling them to be happy that they are free, unlike the people we just passed who were being sold into slavery.
Ian on the other hand, his noble heart in the right place, tosses some copper to a few who are close. A gesture that is good in the eyes and heart of a man, but one that became somewhat tedious when they swarmed towards him begging and dragging at him, trying to get him to give more.
As a last ditch effort, he throws some coins up into the air and makes his way into a nearby building right as Galathalas turns to enter a shop called “The Hired Horrors”.
I glanced at Lutien and with a nod let him know I was taking up a lookout post outside the door where Galathalas went, and across the street from where Ian went so as to keep them both in sight. He being the cunning sniper he is, faded back against the opposite side of the door I was near, with a clear line of sight to the building Ian entered.
Later on, Galathalas fills me in on what transpired while he was inside. This was from his mouth:
“I went inside, with the intent of simply checking the place out, but what I found upon entering was an interior altogether different than the outside. It seemed almost comfortable with chairs and tables about, casual lighting and books on shelves. Many men sat around in their robes, writing in ledgers or reading books, feet upon an ottoman. On the one wall to my right I saw a glass, foggy and impenetrable with swirls throughout and seemingly attached to the wall in a very secure way. A gentleman stands immediately when I enter and makes his way over to me.”
“Good day, sir” he says, bowing slightly. “My name is Aurin the Generous.” I return to him a generic greeting and something about the beggars outside, not really even thinking of what I said so confused (and interested!) was I in the building.”
“I see many tomes laid out on a nearby table, presented for customer viewing I would assume. I let Aurin know that I have interest in peculiar things and that I seemed to be in the right place. He didn’t seem surprised by that and motioned me towards the open tomes, a glimmer of pride in his eyes.“
“The first had pictures of various odd looking creatures in it and upon the cover. There seemed to be many variations of creatures, mixed together in unnatural ways. For instance, there was an owlbear with no fur, but covered in scales…and another picture that of a horse with multiple horns and an armored neck."
“The man looked to me and asked if I received my shipment as expected. I was at a loss for words…knew me? I have never been to this hovel of a city before! He must have seen the look on my face as his brow furrowedwhile he tried to decide how best to proceed. I leaned in and asked him who he thought I was, and this bit of intimidation put the man back on his heels, obviously taken aback by my response when he was so sure he knew me. “It was then that I asked you to come inside.”
At this point Lutien and I entered the building, with light instructions from Galathalas to play along and pretend we were reporting to him something important. We entered and did so, noticing the look on his face and the tension in the shoulders of this ‘Aurin’.
Leaving shortly thereafter, I later learned what had transpired.
“After asking if my goods and the shipping were to my liking, and getting the response he did, he backed off and seemed a bit scared. He seemed honestly concerned that he didn’t have a happy customer – but I don’t know this man! He however seemed quite sure he knew me and that I had been here before, and even ordered something!”
After leaving the building, Lutien and I continued our posts against the wall, watching the beggars milling about the street and seeming quite focused on the doorway and windows where we last saw Ian enter. Little did I know at that point, Ian had snuck out the back of the building after doing business with the shopkeeper, only to be slowly making his way down the street towards us disguised as a beggar himself so as to not drawn further unwanted attention. His ratty cloak was quite convincing, I hardly spared him a second glance deep in the shadows – a failing on my part for sure and one that will one day get me killed if I’m not careful!
Eventually Ian makes it down to where we are, he limps up as if he’s one of the common street urchins and asks us for money. We ignore him so as to not blow his cover while he makes his way across the street into an alleyway. There a small boy sees the (what he thinks is) broken man begging for food and money and takes pity on him. The boy grabs Ian’s hand and places a piece of fruit in it, smiling and looking to his mom for approval. She wastes no time in giving it to him, praising him for his good deeds. As they walk away, Ian quite deftly slips a silver piece into the mother’s pocket without her knowing, her good deed going far from unnoticed by Iantorin.
Galathalas has further tales from inside the shop, he continues on as such –
“After composing myself a bit, I leaned in close to Aurin and told him, ‘we have a problem’… at which point Aurin lifts his face and his voice, yelling to the back room at a female half-elf.
“Ysele, Glancer has returned and he seems agitated with our previous service”, the man says. She gets a very strange look on her face as she tils her head sideways looking at me. She then waves Aurin off, and he seems all too happy to be away from the awkward encounter!"
“She then asks me, “are you masked?” To which I respond that I may be.”
“I see her wiggle her fingers and chant a few syllables, then says confidently that I need not tell her, she can tell that I am not. I explain to her ‘the number are up’, continuing with the same crazy line you mentioned when you came in the door. What did that even mean!? Do we want them up? Who is recording the numbers as they rise and fall?”
“Anyway, I digress; she then asked me which package it is that I was dissatisfied with. I explained to her that I have a lot of business and if I could only see her ledgers I would be able to tell her. She agrees and leads me over to the same book we looked at before, only this time it looks totally different. As she reaches for the book, it unties itself and the book flips open by itself. Inside I see many names, dates, inventory numbers and the like; everything one would expect in a ledger of business transactions."
“I looked through the ledger, trying to find any correlation between myself, this new name they called me by – ‘Glancer -, Johadil or any of the tradesmen or ships we are familiar with.”
“While I perused the book I noticed Ysele move away and speak privately to Aurin off in the corner. I take my time and try to learn all I can while I have access to this book. I find no mention of me or any pseudonym that I’m aware of. I do however find the pattern of Johadil and Elkhart trading companies making shipments to Skullport..then after a while, Johadil shipments stop and only Elkhart remains. That damn Hemil, I just know it!!!”
“Once my study of the book is complete, I used Awakened Mind to send a message to Ysele, taunting her that it was rude to speak of someone while in their presence, but whether she ignored me or the message never made it, I have no idea. I made my way out of the front door, shaken to the core that I apparently had been here before. Was it me? Had I forgotten or been made to forget? Was it someone walking in my skin?? What is real and not real!?”
Galathalas went on and on for a bit, many concerns and theories and eventually went silent. He was obviously deep in thought, concerned about his findings. We all gathered up immediately after and he said, “we’re in trouble…” then explained what he learned.
At the end of his telling, Gal slides down against a wall, seeming to get worse minute by minute. Ian steps up and from beneath his ratty cloak pulls forth an exquisite white fur cloak, the exact size to fit the little humonculous. Gal reaches out to Bellamy through their telepathic link only to find the little construct is no longer on the ship where it was instructed to stay, but at a house beside a large blue skinned woman. There are corpses all around and Gal thinks she is familiar to him. He reaches out.
Gal has Bellamy take flight and come towards us so as to figure out where it was. We decided to go visit this person to see what the deal was.
Making our way back down towards the Fish Market and around the stage where the slaves are sold, the scene is no different than before. To treat others like this is…simply wrong. We may not be able to do much to stop the slave trade entirely – indeed I fear we can but put a dent in it – but we can at least disrupt any mention of that roth dung-eater Hemil and his cohorts!
As we approach the building where Bellamy was at, we notice the poor condition of the shop. No different than most others, but this one is adorned with giant meat hooks hanging from the roof and porch. Several fresh corpses hang there or are piled near the entrance. Pieces of what must have once been live creatures seem to be strewn about, like some unused piece of a puzzle, lost by children and long forgotten. It is a truly gruesome sight to behold, but I have heard of those that use the dead in their duties and hold no beliefs (as you my brothers know!) of needing this body once my ki has left it. The shell can be discarded at will so long as my spirit has flown.
There are also two zombies manacled on the left side of the porch, sitting there as if awaiting a command from whatever master they serve. The name scrawled upon the sign says ‘Mhaugh’s Corner Shop”. A woman with blue skin is standing outside and talking to those that pass near. She seemed to be roasting some type of meat over a brazier. I immediately decide it best not to partake of this meat should it be offered…this is one experience I feel I am ok skipping.
Back behind us we hear the sound again and a “sold!” resonate around the area. I glance to see a group of slaves walking from the stage; a quagoth, minotaur, half-elf and few humans being led away. Next up was a large minotaur by himself who seemed to keep most away with a glance. The bidding seemed to start out higher for that one lone minotaur than the entire group who went before.
Iantorin approaches the proprietor of the shop. She seems to be in good spirits and doesn’t shy away as he comes closer. She’s barely covered, allowing her many curves to spill freely from the worn out rags that she wore. Blood stained her attire and skin alike. She obviously cared little for such concerns and stood tall as he approached.
Ian asks her, “do you buy the dead?” To which she nods and says, “I do. What have you for me today?”
He informs her that he saw a body in Trash Alley earlier today, very fresh. She suggests he bring her this body and she would be happy to negotiate.
He then reveals he is in fact no beggar and she assumes he was being sneaky so as to feel out her price. He quickly informs her that he has no interest in the selling of the dead, he considers the dead sacred. He spits the last line with fervor, letting her know without question that he considers the Undead an abomination.
She informs us that the dead are mostly used for jobs that are harmful to living creatures, jobs that simply could not be done by those that breath air, jobs such as getting the bat guano.
He asks her about what use she has of the Humonculous. She initially seems surprised by this line of questioning, catching her quite off guard. She inquires what he knows of such things. At that point, Galathalas has Bellamy flutter in and land on his own shoulder, drawing the attention of the blue woman. She stares for a moment and then bobs her head in understanding.
“Yes, yes…I know your little friend there. You are acquantances?” She says.
“I believe it knows my sister, I would recognize her work anywhere. She has always been quite the hermit and not nearly as business savvy as myself.” She pauses for a moment and then leans in a bit.
“You would be a fool to accept her hospitality in any way” she opines. Ian assures her that he is and will never be such a fool as that. I can’t help but wonder what surprise might await me for having dealt with such a creature, but I will not waste a moment of worry on what I cannot know.
She says that her interest in the humonculous was only as a messenger. She doesn’t speak to her sister much. Apparently there was some type of communication between them because of or through Bellamy, but to what end and how I do not know. Two guards then approach with dead bodies, yellow burn marks across their abdomen and face. She makes to attend them.
Ian thanks her for her time and we move away, having to once again cross the slaver’s market area.
As we walk through, we notice one well-dressed person buys a slave, only to quickly cut his throat in front of the crowd. It seemed to be for no reason other than to show he could or to get a laugh from his equally well-dressed companions. Seeing this and feeling nauseated by the unnecessary killing, I quickly take note of the shadows behind the man and feel their distance, knowing in a moment how easily I could be behind the man and run my shortsword through his back. As I contemplate my actions, I notice the many guards with him, apparently his entourage, as well as the city guards all around. I clench my fist in agitation as I remind myself the folly of such an emotional response. Wait for the proper time… I hear Grandmaster Glorfinn in my head, “Grain by grain a loan, stone by stone, a castle.”
Gal mentions quietly to us the markings on some of the guard’s hands – The Reforged Ring tattoo. Nodding as I take in his observation, I lean over to pass the word to Ian only to find him focused on intently on the display in front of us. With a subtle mouthing of words, I watch as the murderer for no apparently reason seems to roll onto the ground, getting caught up in his fancy purple robes and impaling himself on his own dagger. He seems to be as confused as everyone around him why he would do such a thing, but the gash is somewhat deep and the guards and his “friends” help pick him up and usher him away, blood flowing from his side. I glance back towards Ian and see a prideful smirk on his face as he watches the ilk stumble away. Ha!
We make our way back up Furlough Street, onto the Trade Way area. Here there seem to be less beggars and more vendors off in the street. We partake of a couple of carts, and enjoy some delicious legs of meat and charred mushroom.
We ask around about how to get to The Mortar and Pestle. The first vendor seems to want us to go to another store, one he swears is much nicer and more evenly priced. “Leech’s Quick Cures” he says. As we walk away, Ian tells us that he has a bad feeling about that idea, feels that maybe it is a setup of sorts, so we disregard the advice and continue on.
After many fine drinks and filling our bellies, we get a head not in an upward direction from a couple of Duergar, indicating our destination lies above. Looking back we see many ways up and make our way in that direction.
Before we get far, a rusty colored Kobold by the name of Snarfenia De Gottago tugs at my clothes, he is offering to help us find whatever it is we need. I tell him our destination and he quickly points us in the right direction, telling us that going through Harold’s Meats is the ideal way above. He seems to be wanting payment of some kind so I gave him two of the copper colored coins that I found in my travels, thinking he would appreciate the color since it was similar to his own. He accepted them but seemed somewhat downtrodden afterward…I know not why.
Once we reach the next level, he points us to the shop we were looking for and Ian flips him a shiny coin to which he immediately brightens up. Interesting…
We then walk through what is known as Central Skullport, and easily make our way to The Mortar and Pestle. Along the walkway, precarious as it is, the Kobold is constantly chattering about other locations we may want to check out. One is called Deep Fires that someone named Sean manages. He says he can be found at the bridge sometimes. Another is the Crowing Cockatric. Ian tells him that for now we’ll start with the shop in sight, the kobold seems happy to go along with whatever Ian says.
Iantorin walks into the shop, a female human greets him. She is just putting a broom away from cleaning up it seems but all too happy to have customers. She seems quite friendly and says that Ruuth is her name. Looking around the establishment, I notice many types of minerals and liquids, some scrolls lined up in the back room, vials of many colors no shelves all around.
I inquire as to what she has to offer, being curious what each color smells and tastes like. She seems somewhat taken about with my appearance, I can’t begin to imagine why. I would think this creature would have seen many Drow just like myself in the depths of Skullport. Either way, I allow her her closer examination and prompt her for a response once she has refocused her attention.
She eventually snaps back to attention and lists for each of us what she has to offer. Hearing of a potion that increases how quickly one can fight and accelerating the senses, I immediately am interested in experiencing this. I ask her how much they cost and she ponders a moment. After pondering a moment, she picks through my outstretched hand of coins and takes several. Seeing many left, I ask if she has more than one of them to which she quickly agrees, handing me a second vial of swirling liquid. I let her pick more coins form my palms and bow to her in thanks. Making my way from the counter, I notice Lutien looking at the potion I bought, so as I pass I nimbly toss a vial behind my back at him. Catching the bottle from the air without thought, he perks up with a smile and a nod of thanks.
Ruuth lists out what she has to offer us, as well as items she’s looking to buy should we run across them. One thing to note is a Powdered Humonculous for which she would pay 10,000 coins and another a Beholder eyestalk.
As I back away from the counter and take up a guard position near the window watching our entrance and exit, I see Galathalas make his way to the counter and unfold some items from his backpack, it would seem to ask her opinion on some items he has picked up over time.
Playfully swirling the liquid around in a somewhat mesmerizing pattern, I looked up to notice a short human walking by the storefront, an interesting tattoo on his neck…it seemed to move on its own! Curious…