Skullport Shakedown: An Unlikely Cast of Characters

Volo,

You’ll notice we haven’t reported back within the implicitly assumed time frame for your little fetch quest. If you read this and it’s still invisible, we weren’t dead yet a sun’s and moon’s rise ago. At the time of writing we’re not yet topside, but plan to be soon when I get over having my brain leak out of my ears (stop laughing, you fiend – I swear there is a perceivable difference in my performance). “Send” me if you want to adjust scope based on this report, otherwise I’ll see you at Halfway’s soon to wrap up. Do you need an overview of expenses?

Your trinket caught the interest of the magpie-eyed Zhents and has been in their possession roughly since the moment we set foot down here. This by means of a noxious feller of the brain-eating persuasion. Name’s Roxy. He’s been making meals of some of the citizens. Possible opportunity for a clever person to gain a conduit for information down here (see “Frankie” of Skull square), plus perhaps an entry for your next book, should you care to do away with the tentacled parasite. Happy to retry ourselves, if properly compensated but we’d need more firepower and significant hazard pay. Roxy seems remarkbly resistent to both banishment and appeals to morality. The latter is not a surprise. Consider figuring out how he was compelled to act- maybe the Zhents can be moved to get rid of him if he’s lost his use. Likely lower risk and cleaner than extending our contract to include assassination – it’ s not our forte.

Other persons of interest:

Goblin operator of a boxing ring / gambling den called the Batroost, name of Grubbus Pipsnout. Can possibly provide dumb muscle where needed, and has a hand in the local gambling scene (where said Roxy, apparently, had been cleaning out the house). The aunties were willing to pay lil shorty for his information, but my estimation is that he’d not be a hard nut to crack for a minor business advantage. Possibly another good source of intel. Provided the gold to pay for purchase of said trinket.

Madcap necromancer in Deadman’s Corner who makes zombies to have an audience for her conversations with herself. Cheap buy, but picky on payment type. Called Laurel Stillwater. Has a sister? Apparently willing to hold onto sums of gold without much instruction and then hand them off to whoever. Could send a runner by once a week just to ask for the petty cash, I guess.

A victim of Roxy. Orc. Mugrub, or somesuch. Not herself particularly interesting, but she’s the link where Roxy broke his clever little chain of diversion. Mugrub picked up the gold from Zombies-R-Us and went to purchase the trinket from Thimblewines, which Roxy then presumably took off of her when he had her brain for a snack. Tentacle hickies gave him away. Wonder if he tried to hide her murder by killing others, or if hels just hungry a lot.

Crystallene, operator of Thimblewines and an overall delight. Unsure if she knew we would come for the key or if the pickup by Mugrub was what she expected. Did she even know what she had? She knew to sell well, so she must’ve been aware of something. Wonder if she fences other wares, as making a living off of mechanical cockroaches and painted eggs seems unlikely.

Found both guide and initial contact to be performing within parameters. Consider a sweep of the travel route as the slavers and their pet snakes were pesky and you almost lost Gwenson, (who you apparently pay upfront). Asathra is wasted on that inn. Girl is too clever for her own good – that little puzzle of hers almost reduced cuz Damien to tears and drove auntie Elissa to drink.

The Skulls are a pesky lot with not a single sane thought still between them. Please advise on a clothier, as I do think I’d look dashing in a bow tie.

Faithfully,

Tio

Ps. Unicorn from C3 to E4.

Skullport Shakedown: introducing Din and Elissa

20 years ago:

One of the benefits of being all sneaky-sneak is that if someone is after the same mark you are, you hear them coming.
Din had quietly walked over the roofs of the townhouses of this block until she reached the middle house, climbed down to the top window at the back- making sure to not make a single sound with her light halfling step – and then carefully slid the window open and slipped inside. If she didn’t close the window, she’d probably be able to sneak out the same way after she got her hands on the ring. The merchant who owned the house, and technically owned the magic item Din was after – at least for a few more minutes – was away and all the staff were in bed. This should be an easy job, even on her own.
Easy until the owner, an older human man, came bustling in, unexpectedly returning from his travels. The staff rushed out to welcome him home, confused and asking if anything was wrong, but the merchant shrugged them off and sent them back to bed. Then, he walked up the stairs to his chambers – the very same ones Din was hidden in. ‘Fuck fuck fuck’ Din whispered to herself, but then got very quiet. Something sounded off. The sound of the merchant walking up the stairs was wrong. If she didn’t move and held her breath, Din could hear a soft clop-clopping sound instead of the soft thump of shoes on the stairs.
As soon as probably-not-the-merchant stepped into the room and closed the door, Din stepped behind them and pressed her dagger into their back. “I know you are not him. Get out, I’m on a job and I was here first”. Din heard a tinkling laugh filled with genuine joy in response, before the not-merchant whisked around and knocked the dagger out of her hand with their staff. At the same time the tip of the staff sprouted a bunch of daisies. The owner of the staff seemed nearly as surprised as Din at this. “Oooh, flowers, how very romantic, you shouldn’t have!” said Din as she stepped back and grabbed her rapier. The not-merchant laughed again and dropped their human form. Suddenly Din saw a female satyr before her, with a flowery staff in one hand, a sickle in the other, and a wickedly beautiful smile. Well, that explained the clop-clopping sound at least.
“Listen,” said the satyr “I don’t want to fight someone who looks this confident with a rapier. How about we share the loot and leave quietly so we don’t get caught?” Din felt the familiar tingle of magic at the base of their skull, trying to lure her into a false sense of security. Ohhh, this lady was dangerous… With a shake of her head Din resisted the magic, but that gave the satyr just enough time to hit her once with her staff. Ouch. Out of reflex Din tried to jump out of the way and hit a bookshelf. A few books fell, loudly, and stirring noises came from the other floors. Both women froze and waited until all was quiet.
Then Din moved into the satyr’s space, pushed her up against the wall, and held the point of her rapier to the other’s throat. Why did the satyr not stop smiling while she tilted her neck up, Din though. It was distracting. “We’re both going to get killed if we keep fighting. All I’m interested in is the ring, you can have any other loot. But no more hitting or creepy magic or stupid flowers, ok satyr lady? I just want to grab the ring and get out.” The satyr nodded and somehow widened their smile to something just beyond genuine. “Sure, I don’t care about a silly ring, I am just picking up something for Lady Titania. And you can call me Elissa.” After a hesitant nod, Din stepped back, grabbed her dagger off the floor and put her rapier away.
As Elissa rummaged through stacks of papers, Din quickly picked the locks and disassembled the traps of the heavy desk’s drawers, and opened the box the ring was in. It was beautifully inlaid with gems in a flower pattern. “Ohhh, that is pretty. I’ve changed my mind, I want it” said Elissa from just over Din’s shoulder, startling Din enough to nearly drop the ring “What does it do?”. “None of your business” answered Din. “Oh really? Do you want me to hit you with my staff again?” “Yes, because I’m soo scared of some flowers…” Quietly bickering Elissa and Din climb out of the window and up to the roof. Elissa sighs as she looks at the sliver of moon. “I really want that pretty ring though, but you have my word that I won’t use magic to get it. So how about some ale?”
A few years later, Din used that very same ring to propose to Elissa with. She always gets her way in the end.

Skullport Shakedown: Trade Secrets

Eleasis 23, Waterdeep, Dock Ward, The Hanging Lantern

The earliest hint of dawn light falls through the small basement window, filtered through dirt and cobwebs.

The kitchen is still too dark for fine needle work, so a moonlight-haired half-elf in sheer robes lights a squat, four-wicked candle. A steady dripping splishes onto the cracked, glazed tiles in front of her satin slippers.

She sighs.“You’re lucky you arrived when you did. Had you come sooner, you would have had to wait.” Tio frowns. “ A busy night? Tonight? I hadn’t thought it likely.” She nods. “An inland trade delegation.” Tio pulls a single shoulder up. “Guess they’re not here on sheep’s trade” She smiles. “Rough gems. And silver ore. Second grade.” “Will you tell Maradan of the jewelers then? You see her regularly.” “Probably. But first things first. You’re bleeding all over Polly’s floors.”

She reaches over and picks at the kerchief knotted around Tio’s upper arm. “Most people would go to a temple for this sort of thing.” Another one-shouldered shrug from the tiefling. “I prefer going to the seamstresses.” She gives him a look, then moves to kick him playfully. “Hey! Kicking a man when he is down, isn’t that against your religion, or something?” “If you cared about my religion, you should have gone to see a cleric after all.” He sighs, defeated. “Fine. Sorry.” As she unwraps the kerchief, the dripping speeds up. “That looks ugly. Why’d you let yourself get stabbed, dumbass.” “I know Hesper. No need to rub it in.” He slides over a small leather envelope. “Here, it should have needles pre-threaded.” “Did you even clean this before you tied your snotrag around it?” A third one-shouldered shrug. Hesper presses her lips together and moves her fingers in the gesture of a familiar cantrip before flicking open the envelope and picking up a curved needle.

Some time later they sit at a corner of the table, floor and silk slippers cleaned of blood, and a bottle of rum between them. Hesper’s face is more relaxed, and Tio’s a lot less grey. “You planning to spend the night?” “If Polly lets me.” “Hm. We’ve got a new girl, so no empty rooms. But we can share?” “That’d be nice. Old time’s sake, and all.” Hesper snorts at her friend. “Old times. You’re a baby, Tee. Shut your mouth.”

He gives her a smile over his glass. “Got you something, though.” He fishes around in a pocket awkwardly with his left hand before closing his fist on something and holding the closed fist out to her. She opens her hand underneath his and feels a cool weight drop into it. At first sight, it’s a smooth ring, completely unmarked. “Diamond on the inside. Casts Revivify when the wearer needs it.” She narrows her eyes at him. “Never in a hundred years could you afford that.” He shakes his head. “Was a smuggler who could, though. She didn’t deserve to have it.” “You’re kidding.” “Wish I was. If it was just contraband, I’d have let it slide. But you know what the laws are like down south, and she was shipping people. Not even just prisoners either.” “Fuck.” “Yeah.”

“Are you sure you want to take more jobs from this new patron of yours? You landed here for two out of three. He throws you at dangerous people.” Tio looks down at the table. “It’s better than the jobs for the gambling halls. That’s squeezing people with problems for gold they don’t have.” “You almost sound like an altruist.” He gives her a lopsided smile. “Pay is better. Equipment too. And that ring really has a clever enchantment. It doesn’t go off if you lose the finger it’s on.” “Okay, still not an altruist then.” “Well, I did give you that ring.” Hesper shakes her head, blows out the candle and grabs her friend by the uninjured arm. “Time for bed.”

Early that afternoon, as the Lantern’s staff stumbles out of bed and assembles over platters of hotcakes, cream and preserves, Hesper presses on. “You keep taking jobs like this, you need access to a real healer. This’ll scar and get stiff. You’re more likely to get injured again.” “Hesp, I swear, none of those god-botherers want to be seen anywhere near hellspawn like me. You know how it is.” “Bullshit, Tee, you’re bigoted.” “You can’t be a bigot about other people’s opinions.” “You know what I mean.”

From across the long trestle table, kohl-rimmed dwarven eyes stare at the tiefling and his friend. “My brother Damien would help you, as long as you didn’t, like, sacrifice to Asmodeus in front of him.” Tio arches an eyebrow. “Graz’zt, actually. Great-great-grandmother was a daughter of his.” Now Hesper really does kick him. He winces. “The little shit means to say he’s interested, and would like to know where to find your brother. Don’t believe him if he ever tells you that this ancestor was a princess, either. All tieflings claim a “princess” as their evil ancestor. Pretentious twerps, the lot.” Tio rolls his eyes. “Sure. Whatever she says. I’m Tio. Pleased to meet you, new girl.” “It’s Ingfrid. And my brother Damien lives at the sanctuary of Chauntea.” “Hm.” “You should go see him.”

The next time Tio shows up to see Hesper, he speaks of a new friend. And he didn’t bleed all over Polly’s old store room.

Skullport Shakedown: Moving Pieces

Flamerule 1 (Founder’s Day), Waterdeep, Halfway Inn, Brother’s Barkeeper Charity Chess Tournament

A carefully manicured hand with glassy nails moved to the earth level of the dragon chess board and nudged a white warrior piece forward. “So, how are the book sales these days?”

The human wizard smiled at his opponent and moved a black basilisk piece on the lower level. “Not bad, really. There was that… unfortunate happenstance at the docks some time back, which caused a modest increase in demand.”

A soft chuckle and another white warrior slides gently forward. “One orc’s death is another orc’s breath, I do suppose.”

He cocks an eyebrow as the black sylph finds a new home on the upper level of the board. “That’s a more poetic translation than I usually hear. Not a common proverb either. Do you count the orcs among your friends?”

A smile reveals slightly pointed teeth. “There are many orcs. Certainly a few would consider me such.” A third white warrior moves. “One caravan master told me that whenever she and I go out on the town, she has a very wicked time.” Bright red eyes crinkle at the pun.

Volothamp considers his options. The tiefling who drew lots against him doesn’t seem overly concerned with the moves he had made thus far, and he had preferred a standard opening sequence. Maybe he could pull off the Stone Thief’s Mate. It would be a quick way out. He positions the black dwarf in preparation. No alarm shows on the face at the other side of the table. An amateur then, most likely. “Wicked, no less.” he says, “That’s something, from those who drink fermented warg’s milk with their morning porridge.”

They pick up the pace of their play. White Oliphant. Second black Basilisk. White unicorn. Volothamp makes his penultimate move, nudging the black Sylph forward again, face neutral.

His opponent’s head dips, tipping a dark curl forward from behind a slim, pale antler. “Fermented warg’s milk…” he shudders. “Personally I prefer southern brandy. Even the product of our beloved local Chauntea sanctuary, which is probably just distilled novice sweat, is vastly superior to that.” Eyes still down, the tiefling lifts his hand towards the middle board, then pauses, sending a pupilless glance up from under curls and eyebrows. “That said. A drink?” He pulls out the Paladin piece and drops it to the lower board, beckoning over one of the ale boys with his free hand.

Time to recalculate. The Paladin’s Counter wasn’t the strongest response to his manoeuvre, but it was a clever one. Effective. Profoundly noncommittal in response to his own decisiveness. Held until the last possible moment, too. He stretched in his seat. This could yet be an interesting game.

Two glasses of brandy later, with the game’s end a decently engaging victory, Volo finds himself lingering at the bar to await the drawings for the third round of the tournament. The slight tiefling leans back beside him, a booted leg stretched out into the walkway. “Shame to find such a strong opponent this early on. I could have used the prize money.”

The wizard smiles. “This is where I might offer to keep an ear to the ground for any interesting opportunities. However, knowing neither your name nor your trade, I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Yourself too, perhaps, if it turns out we could be of use to one another.”

The tiefling extends a hand. “Tio. Sometimes I work with local guilds to follow up on accounts. See if things can’t be resolved… harmoniously. Beyond that, well, it is said that I like to entertain.”