With Van Benten’s arrival, the party headed out to Coratka, where to Van Benten’s slight dismay, there had been absolutely no organisation as to how meetings with the high ranking merchant families were going to take place. But first things first – as always, the party actually had to get into the city. Being a human city, this would normally not have been such a big deal, but tensions were high with the coming conflict, and so the guard were keeping a much more watchful eye on the comings and goings at Coratka’s gates – especially the southern gate, which led primarily to the ogre port of Saadoe. And so when Vargas marched his way up to the gate and announced himself as an enforcer of Ken Ta Ral, the guards were obviously not impressed. Thinking she could fix this problem, Veri stepped forward and announced herself as the emissary of Khaharas, stating that her word was her bond, an she, along with Vargas (who also bore the marks of Khaharas) and Jethro (who was a kender) were promptly placed under arrest. The elves and the minotaur, along with their strange robed companion, were allowed to pass unmolested, which they did, entering into the town without any further problems.
Vargas was not keen on finding himself under arrest for his so-called link to the blue dragon, and so, using his powers of persuasion, as well as a little nudge from Carna, insisted that this was not his allegiance, and that he should be let free. The guard relented – besides, he had caught one of the more important criminals already in the blue disciple, and was thinking about how he would spend his reward. The other two, however, were led away. Jethro was more than used to this sort of treatment, and the greeting was more or less the same welcome wagon any kender would get who decided to enter the city through the front gate. Humans were usually nicer than that, but in these times of war and change, he guessed they were under a little more pressure.
Mellvin, Granlin and Van Benten, having been set loose on the city, decided to go to the temple of Paliyl first – a nice, safe bet. Mellvin sought out the highest member of the clergy there, and was introduced to a justicar called Starke. Mellvin spoke with him, asking if he would perhaps be able to introduce them to the merchant families, given that they had an important message to pass onto them, but Starke explained that those sort of social circles were above his rank. If Mellvin wanted that kind of introduction, he would be more likely to get it from the high cleric of Paliyl in Manxiga, a man called Mason, who was based in Chan Ma Rai.
Meanwhile, Veri and Jethro had been locked up in a not so spacious and rather muggy stone building called a prison. Joining them in this holding cell were two or three other kender, who were all so very excited to meet Jethro, along with a few drunken men who seemed to be sleeping off last night’s revelries, and some other shifty characters whom a respectable mage probably wouldn’t want to be caught dead near. But that’s okay – Jethro had a plan. Reaching into his many pouches, he produced a tiny, kidney shaped bean, and poking a hole in the dirt floor, placed it in, and covered it up with a little mound, much to the excitement of the other kender who were watching. When he explained it was a magic bean that would get them out of this mess, they were ecstatic, and so it was that, to the raucous cheering of, “Magic bean! Magic bean!” by the kender entourage, a thick, greasy cloud of white, grey and black smoke began to billow out of the ground, filling the room with its fumes, and quickly rushing out the high barred window. This was not precisely what Jethro had planned, but nonetheless he asked Veri to quickly lift him to the window, whereupon, shrunk with magic, he could simply climb out the bars, and float down to the ground in safety with a featherfall. Veri, meanwhile, was stuck in a room full of acrid smoke and coughing criminals, while prison guards threw bucket after bucket of water blindly into the room trying to put out what they assumed was a fire. Many of the buckets splashed over Veri, who was none too impressed, but knew she could fix herself up with a few cantrips.
Jethro had now made it into the outside world, and what a world it was! Why didn’t he explore every major city as only four inches tall? You could see so much more from this low level! While it did make even walking across the road a fair bit more exciting, it also made travelling anywhere take a fair bit more time, and it was quite a walk just to get over to the nearest pub, the Pike and Spetum apparently, which seemed to be full of off duty members of the city’s various guard militias. There was just so much to see – the dirty and sticky floor was amazingly detailed from down here, and the things people carried around were that much more exciting when they were as big as you. But then Jethro spied something that he did not see very often – a set of keys. He remembered that keys were used to lock them into the prison, and thought that perhaps they could spell an escape route from the gaol for him and Veri. So in a dash of daring do, he scurried across the floor, unseen by the masses (another great thing about being so small), climbed the length of the guardsman’s trouser leg as though it were a huge, grey curtain, and slipped himself onto the man’s belt, whereupon he found this enormous set of three keys, one nearly as big as Jethro himself. This was great, but did make the keys a little difficult to appropriate. But oh! Why not just shrink them, and take them with him? Yes, that’s a great idea. So without further ado, the keys quickly became mini-kender sized, and Jethro slid down the trousers with glee, before skipping out the door once more. All he had to do now, was make it to the gaol again. He could see the smoke was starting to die down, so things should all be back to normal quickly enough.
Meanwhile, given their failure at the temple of Paliyl, the two elves, who now met up with Vargas, headed over to an old contact of theirs in this city – Jiminez, the yuan-ti weaponsmith of great renown, who had made a fine quality sword for Mellvin many moons ago. Even without the sword, the serpentine merchant remembered Mellvin, and greeted him as any merchant would a friendly customer who is prepared to spend big. Unfortunately, Mellvin had lost that sword some time ago, but Jiminez was assured that it would be serving whoever had it now very well. He then informed the merchant that he had some important news to take to the leading merchant families in Coratka about the illithids and the war effort, and was blessed to hear from Jiminez that not only did he, as one of the city’s best-known weaponsmiths, have a good relationship with the Patriot family, whose main trade was in weaponry, but furthermore was aware that all of the families were having a meeting today, one that had been organised for the sake of a man who had travelled down from a monastery in the Singing Mountains to discuss elements of the war effort. But that didn’t mean that the snakeman could simply have them admitted into a merchant leader’s home – especially since the meeting itself was not taking place at the Patriot mansion, but at that of the Medini family. If he were to put his own reputation at stake, he would need to know at least a little of what this information was, so that he could be assured it passed muster with the ruling families. Hearing this, Van Benten took a step forward, and rolled up one of the sleeves of his long robe, revealing to the merchant his beautifully tattooed arm. This made Jiminez pause in his tracks, and with widened eyes and a large, knowing grin, he nodded and said that yes, the merchant families would certainly be willing to meet this man.
Jethro had made his way back across the deadly crossroads, but as he was sneaking his way along the front wall of the prison (the window he exited by was now far too high for his diminutive form), he met an altogether different threat – an alley rat spied the tiny kender and saw it as the kind of exciting snack, and began on the prowl to catch him. But of course, a kender is far more wily than a little cricket, and one that can sing a song to summon an illusion of a large, hungry alley cat proved more than enough to scare away the insolent little rodent. But moreover, Jethro figured he could use the mangy feline apparition to work as a distraction allowing him to sneak back into the gaol unnoticed. It didn’t quite work as planned though – one of the guards saw the small bard, thought it was a mouse, and chased him behind a bookshelf with a broom, muttering about how cats come in off the street and don’t even eat the damn mice. Still, with some sneakiness and some patience (far harder for the kender) he was able to wait out the guard’s tenacity, and then sneak down the skirting boards into the gaol once more. He scampered up to Veri who, upon addressing him got the attention of the other kenders once more, and Jethro spent quite some time doing what could well be every kender’s dream – taking a guided tour through so many pockets full of amazing trinkets, being treated as though he were one of them! Eventually, once the spell had worn off and Jethro was a normal size, a guard came in to talk with Veri, who had decided she didn’t want to escape, but would rather discover what she was in for.
It turned out that Veri was an enemy of the state, for being known as a potential assassin of Cherrock, the warlord of the combined effort to attack the illithid menace. Beyond that, it was above his pay grade – all he knew was he had to detain her. Trying to look as innocent as possible, she sidled up close to the guard and whispered to him something about how she was certainly not the dangerous sort, and offered to perhaps increase his pay grade if he could see his way to letting her go. This man was a merchant guard – he knew a bribe when he saw one, and with a grin and a wink, he agreed that she could “post bail”, with the agreement of a Paliylite cleric, whom he would summon immediately, and he’d even put in a good word for her. After a little while longer, Justicar Starke arrived and agreed that the mage could be put on bail, but it would have to be hefty in order to ensure her arrival at her trial in two weeks’ time – 10,000 gold pieces should do it. Veri agreed, but explained that she would need to get some gold changed into a workable currency. The guard, whose name was Bridle, said he would have her escorted to the closest appraiser and money changer, and would then ensure the bail money made it to the temple. Eight guardsmen once again escorted Veri and Jethro through the streets, and they were taken to a money changer. This human shylock charged a 10 percent conversion fee, but said he would appraise the gold for free. His eyes widened a little upon the magical arrival of the large block of gold, but after a few tests, he was assured of its authenticity (you never can be too careful with mages) and since Veri had said it was worth 30,000 gold pieces, he offered that price, less his 10% commission of course.
Bridle explained that 20,000 of that should go to him for the bail, and looked at Veri, giving her another knowing wink. But Veri, it seemed, had changed tack, and explained that no, the bail was set at 10,000 gold pieces, and she was being fleeced. Bridle explained to the money changer that this was a criminal and couldn’t be trusted – give her the 7,000 gold however she wanted, but the other should be made out in two promissory notes of 10,000 gold pieces each, and handed over to his custody as a member of the militia. Veri and Jethro were both up in arms – this was highway robbery! Apparently they had forgotten about their offer to bribe the guardsman, and were deciding on reneging on this little deal. But Bridle saw his chance to get some quick cash – 10,000 gold pieces was a hundred times what he made in a year, and if this mage was prepared to part with it so easily for bail, she could afford some more to keep her out of gaol and trouble while she was in town. Veri and Jethro, in their outrage, followed this guardsman all the way to the Paliyl temple, where he put one of the 10,000 gold piece promissory notes into the custody of a temple acolyte. The two adventurers proceeded to kick up a massive stink, getting the attention of a cleric called MacDougall, who said that it was a serious allegation, but if they had some evidence to prove it, he would be prepared to take action in the situation. Their evidence could come, they said, from a witness – the money changer himself. But upon the three of them arriving at the changer’s table, the changer had changed his tune – he said he had charged a 10% conversion fee, and an appraisal fee on top of that, which would cover the risk of this enormous gold block he was now in custody over. MacDougall informed Veri that without any evidence, there was nothing he could do, apologised and went on his way. Veri was absolutely ropeable, and informed the changer in deadly quiet tones that the bail she posted was for her torturing Cherrock, orc warlord, and that her eyes were now fixed completely in this snivelling excuse for a human being. The guy freaked out at this not-so-veiled threat, explaining that he just did it for the money, for the big fee he could charge prisoners, and gave her the 3,000 gold he took as his fee in the form of a promissory note. Lightning flashed briefly in Veri’s eyes, but she seemed satisfied, for now, and her and Jethro stalked off down the street, only to bump into the rest of the party, who were following Jiminez into the upper class district, where the merchant families had their mansions.
The Medini family home was palatial and luxurious, and paid more than a passing similarity to the design of the Ho Tael Plaza, with large, pure white marble columns in the front. It was heavily guarded, by what seemed to be a menagerie of different guards – likely some from each of the families that were meeting there. Jiminez had a quick talk with the household chamberlain (some money passed hands) and once the chamberlain was convinced of this party’s need to be included in the meeting, they were led inside. The mansion was built around a sizeable open courtyard, which sported yet more guards of all shapes and sizes, and where the party were asked to leave their bear. Aurvandil was offered a pot of honey, and she seemed happy enough with that, sticking her paw in and licking the sticky sweet substance gladly off. All the other guards looked crossways at each other, but let it be. You don’t mess with a bear. After that, the party were told they would be allowed to keep their weapons – the family leaders all had bodyguards after all – and were led into an ante room briefly before being introduced into the council room – a large, polished wood table at its centre, made from the length of one of the elven jungle’s tallest and proudest tress, felled in the past and turned into this beautiful piece of furniture. Around it were sat some of the richest and most powerful humans in all of Elwarne – Don Cornionli, whose family were the largest in trade goods and mercantile guards generally, sat to the right of the head of the table in his expensive but professional robes; Fatar Abrahams sat along from him – an older gent, sporting a long, white beard and a brilliant platinum breastplate, who was all smiles – and who wouldn’t be, when they were involved in the selling of armour; to the left of the head of the table was Ile Patriot, a severe and austere, but younger looking woman, whose teeth were brilliant white and sharp looking – her family dealt primarily in weaponry, and it was she who knew Jiminez personally; beside her was Ben Bendigo, another youngun, but this time a man, who looked just a little out of place but was not overwhelmed – his family controlled banking and finance, and he was no slouch; and at the head of the table sat the beautiful older woman, Vivacia Medini, whose family controlled the rice, and those who control the rice in Manxiga control everything. Each of them had two bodyguards, all of whom looked deadly and experts in their craft. There was a sixth person sitting at the table, but who looked well and truly out of place. An man older still than any of these, with a balding head and wearing flame coloured robes – it was Drey Trailweaver! His face lit up in a smile when he saw Vargas, and he greeted him as one might an old friend. Drey was more than happy to vouch for anyone with Vargas Xavidar, and explained briefly that they had worked together some time ago, in the discovery of the gift of history.
Though the old friends were keen to catch up, with Drey asking about Kage and Blueblood, a polite cough from Vivacia reminded them that there was important business to attend to, and so the new arrivals were offered a seat at the large table – with the exception of Vargas, of course, who could remain standing. Vargas cut straight to the point – he explained that they were there because they had important information that should halt the war effort, introduced Van Benten, and allowed the ‘stonemover’ to tell his story. When Van Benten revealed his face and his tattooes, all eyes were on him, and all of the merchants seemed to listen with a curious interest. Vivacia had a stone tablet, engraved with a picture of a man and a chicken, brought to her and shown to the stonemover, who agreed that yes, this was made by his people – before he took the stone, turned it to flesh, and broke it over the ground, sending spatters of blood across the table and the marble floor. Drey’s mouth was agape – but the merchants did not seem convinced that this information meant an end to the war. It would mean more strategising, and a plan would be needed, but it was nothing that could not be overcome, surely. The party then turned to arguing about why the merchants should not support an orcish force, but these were old questions to the human leaders, who had dealt with them and moved on themselves. Mellvin offered to trade some information about the ogre and goblin forces in exchange for more information about the plans of the orc army’s strategies, but it was clear that, though these adventurers had come offering this news for free, they were still not seen as allies – not unless they would swear their allegiance to the war effort, which they could not. One particularly disturbing facet of this whole war was that it seemed no-one had tried to negotiate with the illithids directly – why not? The point was clear – they used mind control, and no negotiators could be trusted to keep the best interests of the humans at heart. But even if some sort of negotiation was possible, the humans made it clear what they wanted – access to the gift that the illithids held, whatever it was, and a promise not to try and control the other races of the world through their insidious espionage. Van Benten did not think sending emissaries was a good idea – he knew the illithid too well. During all of this, Drey’s words seemed to foreshadow some deep importance – the merchant leaders had to ensure that they were making decisions that were best for all humanity, all the world, and be prepared to make sacrifices even to their own interests.
After much toing and froing but little headway, Vargas decided that there was likely little more that he and the rest of the party could do here. Jethro had excused himself earlier – these discussions were too big and important for a little kender, after all. He went to wait outside with the bear and the honey. But Vargas did have one last order of business before he left – he wanted to thank Vivacia for the Ho Tael Plaza – and this sentiment was eagerly echoed by Veri. Vivacia accepted the compliment with great aplomb, and wished the party well on their travels. Drey turned to say that he would seek them out to talk more later, but until then he was going to continue with the discussions he was there for. The party made their way back out to the central courtyard and found Aurvandil, but no sign of the kender. That’s because he was waiting for them out on the front steps, sitting quietly with his hands over his ears – very strange activities for a normally excitable and energetic little kender.