CHAPTER 1: INTRIGUE IN TAL SKALLAR
Our story opens in the city of Tal Skallar. Surrounded by dunes of ash, Tal Skallar is a city that spirals down into the ground like a funnel, each neighborhood a concentric circle that descends deeper into the earth. Its mines once served the Imperial war effort. Now, what some might call adventurers, others looters, ply what the miners unearthed in a lucrative, if dangerous ancient antiquities trade.
One such band of scoundrels found themselves wandering around the Fortune Tellers Ring late one night. In the shadow of Locksmith’s Tower, Ketil Gravelborn the thief found himself sneezed upon by a tavern wench. He immediately felt a sickness that, while not debilitating, was clearly something more than a simple sneeze should have brought on so quickly.
Ketil, accompanied by the thieves Zubatai and Jotis the Knife and the frail mage Mardak Hawklight, followed the woman to the Pleasure Ring. There, they spied a man in executioner’s garb and a knight dragging the body of what appeared to be a drunken friend though the streets. In the shadow of the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral of the Iron Cross (for where better to minister to those in need of salvation than the amdist dens of iniquity), our band left the drunks to their business and followed the infectious wench into her tavern.
While Ketil kept a watch on the wench, the others paid their cover charge and watched an exotic dancer clad only in a bejeweled ceramic mask prance before a leering crowd on stage. They recognized her as the noble Clarissa Griever. When she was done with her act, the beckoned her over to their table.
There, they threatened to blackmail Clarissa. She paid them some gold, but gave them an intriguing counter offer. There had been rumors circulating in Tal Skallar for some time that an aristocrat was performing in the brothels of Tal Skallar. Clarissa offered to pay them more if they would frame another noble for her scandalous behavior – the beloved Dominique Orrik, breeder of fine imperial warhorses.
They accepted. She warned them that, should they cross her, they’d have to deal with her spouse, the knight. Unvelt Gor Grothern.
As she left, Ketil approached the wench who sneezed on him. Appearing quite ill, she identified herself as Myria. “The Wretched”, added the bartender upon who she has also sneezed, and didn’t look well himself. She had no answers as to the cause of her illness, only apologies for infecting the dwarf. She asked him if he’d heard “the voices” urging her to always be around others. When he said no, she told him his fortune, some nonsense involving being awarded for a coin trick.
With no clue to the nature of his illness, Ketil left along with others as they went to find Dominique in the stables in the Ring of Itinerant Scholars. Outside, they once again saw the Knight and The Executioner standing over the body of their friend. They asked for help, and it became clear their friend was not drunk but dead. Poisoned, they claimed, in the very brothel from which they emerged.
The Knight, who introduced herself as Unvelt, pleaded with the party for help. Mardak and Ketil recognized the old woman as Sasha Volenveen, a former spymaster, militia captain and liaison to the Goblin Kingdoms. They asked that they convey a letter she was carrying while they made Sasha’s remains received a dignified burial. Already in a web of intrigue, they declined. Ariska Orben the executioner warned that if they didn’t keep quiet about what they saw, they’d find their heads on his chopping block.
Our heroes began to make their way to the Lady Dominique’s stables. They passed the Tal Skallar’s Palace, a Kremlin like building at the very bottom of the city that was a pit. It was surrounded by poor working-class structures, as the regent wished to be “among his people”. Some of these people seemed stricken with the same illness as Ketil and Myria.
They arrived in The Scholar’s Ring, home of Lady Dominque’s stables. There, they made their way through a throng of people outside Tal Skallar’s prison, surrounding a scaffold erected for tomorrow’s beheading. Suddenly, six mutated rats emerged from the sewers. They split up, three each attacking the two most attractive men in the crowd. Our band ignored their pleas for help, and the rats fled after disfiguring the beautiful faces.
Finally, the roguish companions stood before Dominique’s fine stables. Two private guards stood watch at each of the two entrances. Taking advantage of the commotion cause by the rat attack, they snuck around the back to a narrow alleyway between the stables’ rear and the earth the city had been carved from.
Zubatai and Jotis the Knife climbed to the second story window which presumably led to Dominique’s private quarters. Unable to pry the window open, they smash it quickly and let themselves inside a richly appointed hallway lit by expensive alchemical globes.
Downstairs, however, one of Dominique’s guards comes round to check on the noise. Ketil put his axe in the stable’s wall, and, pretending to be drunk, started pissing on it.
The guard drew his rapier and, picking up Ketil’s axe, demanded to know who defaced the stable’s wall with it, and why? Ketil claimed he found the axe already in the wall, but the guard never even mentioned the ace for it. Seeing the dwarf possesses a shield, he asked where Ketil’s weapon was. The Dwarf revealed his dagger.
Mardak passed out, pretending to be drunk. The guard poked him with his rapier, not fooled. He demanded the mage and the dwarf come with him, and threatened to relieve Ketil of his manhood if he did not stop pissing on the wall.
Above, Zubatai felt he cannot risk the guard discovering their enterprise. Although loyal to his Khan, he felt no compunction about letting loose with his short bow and putting an arrow through the guard’s leather doublet. Ketil finished the guard off with his dagger, nearly beheading him. After taking his gold, Mardak pulled the arrow from the guard and replaced it with the guard’s rapier. He then wrote a suicide note in the guard’s blood, not thinking how the guard would have stabbed and then beheaded himself.
Zubatai and Jotis The Knife hauled their comrades up to the second story with a rope. There, they picked a lock and entered the office where Dominque conducted the stables’ business affairs. They planted Clarissa’s exotic mask on Dominique’s desk, imprinting it with Dominque’s wax seal. Taking an envelope sealed with Dominique’s crest from the desk, they prepared to leave when they heard a guard below yell “Ursula! Vasken! Come quick! Something happened to Gorble…”