In the Shadows
As they settle in for the evening at Salvator Scream’s house, the party discusses their next move. Slim suggests reaching out to House Arkona, while Zandu asks if Kyra could try getting the Cerulean Society leaders to open up their guild hall. The halfling woman, perched on an empty shelf and toying with the ring in her hair, warns that “The Cerulean Society will sell us out.” She notes that the Society operates under a royal charter and won’t risk crossing the Crimson Throne, especially when the payoff could be so high.
She also has misgivings about the Arkonas. Although Lord Glorio Arkona has been building affordable housing and tossing out gold to the poor in Old Korvosa, his family has close ties to the Society. Kyra says that noble clients who pay their protection fees are left alone, but the Arkonas are given an especially wide berth.
On the other hand, she does note that Glorio likes to see himself as the patron and protector of Old Korvosa. And he’s never gotten along with Queen Ileosa. Slim suggests that the party offer to remove the Emperor of Old Korvosa for him, since it couldn’t hurt to get on the Arkonas’ good side. The rest of the party elects to go along with this plan.
Bring Me the Head of Pilts Swastel
As they make their way towards the Arkona Palace, Irabeth spots three people in an alleyway, all afflicted with the Blood Veil. After convincing them that they’re not here to drive them out, Arlynn removes the disease from them. The three of them, two men and a woman, explain that they fled Old Dock to avoid being conscripted into the Emperor’s mob and came here because it is safer, even though the Arkona guards are trying to keep out anyone who’s sick. The refugees also tell the party about the Emperor’s obsession with violent games, particularly something called “blood pig.”
The Arkona Palace is a most unusual place, built in an exotic and colorful Vudrani style that contrasts sharply with the Chelaxian design of most of the other major buildings in Korvosa. The party speaks with Carnochan, the Arkonas’ one-eyed majordomo, who leads them into a nearby lounge to await an audience with Lord Glorio Arkona. Laori identifies a statue in the hallway as being Chamidu, the Vudran Goddess of Beasts, and surmising that “they probably don’t worship ZK.” Kyra is more interested in the fist-sized green gems than make up its eyes, though she keeps reminding herself that “He’s a client, he’s a client.” Zandu telepathically messages her that they may make a return trip here in a few months, after the Cerulean Society undergoes some reorganization.
A few minutes later, Lord Glorio appears and gently chastises Carnochan for failing to offer the adventurers refreshments. While the servant goes off to fetch snacks, Glorio hears out the party. The adventurers explain that they would like to use his facility as a safehouse in exchange for removing the Emperor. Glorio gives them some background on the demagogue, Pilts Swastel, the former manager of the theatre of the grotesque known as Exemplary Execrables. He notes that the petty dictator is rarely seen without his Gnome toady, Jabbyr. Slim suggests the party try to get close to the Emperor by offering to participate in one of his “games.”
Arlynn also raises the issue of the plague victims and their fear of the Arkona Guards. Glorio promises to speak to his men about being “over zealous” in protecting Fort Korvosa. Zandu supplies the noble with the formula for the Blood Veil cure, so that his men can begin manufacturing it.
After leaving the Arkona Palace, Laori recommends that they come up with a cool team name for themselves before they play Blood Pig. After some back and forth, Ashla suggests “Blood Explosion,” which Laori amends to “Super Blood Explosion.” Bound together by their new name, they then head out towards Old Dock and the Emperor’s palace on Silk Street.
Big Trouble in Little Korvosa
Kyra leads the party on a roundabout route into Old Dock, first swinging by her old neighborhood of Smalltown. They find the halfling enclave smashed and abandoned by the Emperor’s mob, as Kyra had feared. She vows vengeance against him. “I want him dead. I want his whole inner circle dead. Let’s go find this artist.”
The deeper the adventurers journey into Old Dock, the more signs of the Emperor’s mad rule they see—from smashed and vandalized homes to corpses hung up on display. They are soon confronted by a gang of thugs who sneer at Arlynn’s attempt at diplomacy.
“Why is a pretty thing like you looking for trouble in a place like this?” he asks.
“Yeah, we’re looking for trouble all right!” Slim interjects. “We’re looking for all kinds of trouble!”
Zandu tries to give the thugs an intimidating glare but instead just looks like a puppy. Arlynn says that the party wants to participate in the Emperor’s “games.” The gang leader grudgingly agrees and takes them to the “palace,” a collection of flats on the edge of burned out neighborhood. The bottom floors of the remaining buildings have been filled with junk, limiting access to a series of rope bridges leading up to the main building.
It is at this point that the gang leader notices that Egan is missing. The gnome had previously slipped away to wild shape into a rat and follow the party surreptitiously. Despite the leader’s conviction that there were originally eight of them, the adventurers persuade him to drop the matter and take them upstairs.
There, a long flat roof section has been turned in a crude ballcourt, while the slanted roofs to the east have been made into makeshift bleachers crowded with more thugs. To the west, the balcony of a taller building overlooks the game field. It is there, seated on a crude mock up of the Crimson Throne, that Pilts Swastel, the Emperor of Old Korvosa, holds court. Nearby looms the ominous silhouette of the Tall Knife, tended by the gnomish executioner Jabbyr.
The Emperor is surprised to find volunteers for blood pig, but he agrees to give them five minutes with Salvator “under my supervision” if they win the match. If they don’t, well, the Tall Knife is always hungry.
Play It Through the Pain
The game of blood pig involves grabbing a squealing pig and tossing it into one of two pits containing a starving wolverine. Each pig disposed of in this fashion earns a point for the team whose wolverine is fed. The game runs until one team gets 5 points. No weapons and no magic are allowed, but otherwise violence is encouraged.
The party stumbles through the match, scoring a point early on but then falling behind. Rat-Egan lingers near the Emperor on the balcony to watch the match.
Team Super Blood Explosion tries to bull rush their opponents, the Shinglesnipes, into the wolverine pits. Poor Kyra keeps getting knocked over and kicked down, though she does manage to get in some unarmed sneak attacks against her opponents’ knees. Laori trips people, tumbling between them while laughing and singing.
Zandu gets pushed into a hole but is protected by his ring of feather fall. Slim sends one of the Shinglesnipes in after him and a furious Kyra barrels into another one, shouting “Halfling power!” She manages to knock him off balance and into the pit, where Zandu is able to climb over him and on out. Irabeth ties up several Shinglesnipes in the center of the field with a slugging match, while Asha wrestles with another near the home goal.
By the time the score reaches Shinglesnipes 3, Super Blood Explosion 1, the party is about ready to turn to plan B. Then one of the Shinglesnipes picks Kyra up and drops her into the wolverine pit.
That’s the limit for Slim, who shouts “This whole thing is turning into one big pineapple salad!”
The code phrase thus uttered, the party begins moving into position, with most of them clustering around Arlynn near the home goal while Slim moves over to Zandu near the Shinglesnipes’ goal. The sorcerer surreptitiously slips the rogue his rapier from the handy haversack. Rat-Egan quietly casts heat metal on the Emperor.
The confused Shinglesnipes continue playing the game, scoring a fourth point as the party ignores them.
Wrath of the Halfling
As heat metal starts to take effect, Rat-Egan blasts the Emperor with flame strike. His response is swift. Leaping from his smoldering chair and casting aside his crown and scepter, bellows out to his followers “Sorcery! Kill them! Off with their heads! You do not not know fear, you do not know pain, you will defend your emperor!”
Slim vaults up onto the balcony, rapier in hand, pledging “Death to tyrants!”
“Assassin, usurper, revolutionary!” the Emperor spits back. Jabbyr the gnome rushes over to defend his liege, greataxe in hand and hacks into the rogue savagely.
Out on the field, Arlynn, Ashla, Laori and Irabeth are all reclaiming their weapons. Zandu casts fly on himself and swoops down into the pits where Kyra is trying to fend off the hungry wolverine.
“Well if it isn’t my knight in flapping armor!” she calls out in delight. She grabs hold of his robes and draws her rapier from the handy haversack.
Up on the balcony, Rat-Egan casts call lightning, finally catching the Emperor’s attention. He responds by casting a spell on Slim. “You, anarchist, kill the rat!”
Having resisted the charm’s effects, Slim grins back. “With pleasure.”
The Varisian rogue vaults over the Emperor and lands behind him, then spins around to stab the fraud in the back. “I think I got him pretty well!”
With Kyra clinging to him, Zandu flys up to the balcony and blasts the Emperor with lightning bolt, which Egan follows up with call lightning. As the false Emperor totters woozily on his feet, Kyra springs up onto the wreckage of his throne, rapier held high.
“For Smalltown!” she shouts and skewers him through the eye and out the back of his skull.
Ashla calls out a warning to the Emperor’s thugs. “This is why we’re called Super Blood Explosion!”
“Show’s over, folks!” Kyra adds. “Curtain’s closed! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”
The mob starts to flee as Ashla, Irabeth, and Arlynn force open the gate to the balcony stairs. The gnome Jabbyr recovers from the shock of seeing his master die and lets out a wordless cry as he charges Slim. Zandu blasts the gnome repeatedly with lightning bolt, prompting Ashla to warn him about accidentally striking Salvator in the adjacent building. It is ultimately Laori who brings down Jabbyr with a cheerful flick of her spiked chain. Slim proceeds to check the Emperor’s body to ensure that he is truly deceased.
“He’s dead, Slim,” Egan assures him.
Together, Arlynn and Laori also smash the Tall Knife, an abomination to both their deities.
Everyone’s a Critic
Once healing spells have been cast and the bodies have been secured in a bag of holding as “evidence,” the party investigates the interior of the palace. Stepping through one of the gaping holes blasted by Zandu’s lightning, they find the Emperor’s bedroom. Among the tattered knickknacks are three strange and morbid paintings by Salvator Scream. Laori is immediately fascinated by them and the party promises to come to some arrangement with her over them.
Further investigations reveal the Emperor’s gruesome trophy hall and dining room, as well as the cramped chamber where Salvator is being kept, slaving over a half-finished painting of giant demons attacking a village. The artist begs to be rescued, but the party assures him that the Emperor is dead.
“And his shitty gnome, too!” Slim adds bitterly as Arlynn pulls the corpses halfway out of the bag of holding.
Salvator thanks them but insists that they take him far away from here—of Old Korvosa if possible. When asked if he wants to take his painting, he abandons it as rubbish. “He’s right,” says a surprised and disappointed Laori. She knocks over the easel in disgust.
With Salvator in tow, Team Super Blood Explosion investigates the rest of palace, finding salvaged props from Exemplary Execrables as well as an art supply room with another eleven new slapdash Screams. Laori eagers digs through them, but her enthusiasm quickly cools and she abandons the paintings with a dismissive “Bored now.”
The party also finds a choker nest in a semi-collapsed section of the palace, which they flush out with bright light and scorching rays.
Friends of the Arts
Searching for a safe place to regroup, they take Salvator back to Kyra’s place in Smalltown, which like most of the other houses has been thoroughly burgled.
“Amateurs,” Kyra sniffs. “They only found the decoy stashes.”
With the party crammed into the living room, the only part of the apartment with a ceiling comfortable for big people, Salvator explains how he used to have vivid, macabre dreams that he would simply paint out on the canvas. But much to Laori’s disappointment, his muse abandoned him months ago, an event that seems to have left him equal parts confounded and relieved.
The party asks him about his connection to Neolandis and Salvator explains that the missing seneschal was a devoted patron of the arts, fond of attending plays and gallery openings in secret as an escape from court politics. Neolandis recognized Salvator’s talent and the two struck up an odd friendship, meeting once or twice a month in secret to discuss art, philosophy, and any topic that struck their fancy.
The night of King Eodred’s death, Salvator was startled awake by a wounded and poisoned Neolandis pounding on his door. According to the seneschal, Queen Ileosa had murdered her husband and sent assassins after him when he tried to confront her. Neolandis told the artist that the Queen had changed recently, grown “worse,” but that the less Salvator knew, the safer he’d be.
After Neolandis had recovered from his wounds and begun slipping out to investigate his suspicions about the Queen, both men realized that Salvator’s humble home was no safe place to hide for long. The artist suggested that Neolandis turn to one of his biggest patrons, House Arkona, for safety.
It was shortly after the seneschal was taken in by the Arkonas that Salvator was contacted by Vencarlo Orisini, who’d somehow ferreted out his connection to Neolandis. Once he learned what had become of the seneschal, Vencarlo was furious, raging that the Arkonas were deeply in bed with the Cerulean Society. Salvator suspects vencarlo has attempted to break into the Arkona Palace and when he learns that the fencing master is missing, he urges the party to rescue both men and then flee the city.
“It’s not safe for any of us!” he insists.
After a short debate, the party decides to return to the Arkona Palace to get their reward for offing the Emperor and then confront Glorio over the two missing people. Laori offers to escort the artist safely out of the city. Ashla asks how she will get across the river.
“Oh, I’ll walk. It’s how I got here in the first place.”
Laori asks about the three good Salvator Scream paintings that the party retrieved and after some back and forth she purchases them for 650gp, gently removing the canvas from the frame and placing them inside a special scroll case.
Be Seeing you
Laori then awkwardly asks to speak with Salvator in private. Kyra points them to the kitchen, then quietly shows Slim the peephole.
The elf priestess asks Salvator more detailed questions about the contents of his dreams, including the color blue that turns up so often in his work. She also tries to pin down the date that his muse left him. She tells him not to worry, that Zon-Kuton works in mysterious ways and his muse could return any day. Then she offers him a cookie and promises to get him safely out of the city.
When she returns, Laori bids her farewells to the party, noting that they have all been “completely awesome.” She is clearly reluctant to go, but says that she has to report to her superiors in the Church on these developments.
She opens her arms wide. “Hugs?”
Ultimately, Arlynn, Zandu, Slim, and even a grudging Irabeth give her a hug, while Egan offers a high five and Kyra simply wishes her luck (while turning down the offer of a skull in for her mantlepiece.)
Laori is confident that she will see them again, however, saying that ZK promised it to her in her dreams and he always keeps his promises. She also pledges to follow up with Slim via sending on their conversation from the night before. With that, she and Salvator depart while the rest of the party settles in for the evening.
Slim goes to the restroom to investigate the metal case he recovered from the hidden cache in Vencarlo’s home. He soon calls Ashla off into the kitchen to inspect its contents. They decide to present their findings to the party, revealing that Vencarlo appears to be the alter ego of folk hero Blackjack.
Arlynn is not surprised.