Fly, You Fools!
The night after the quarantine of Old Korvosa goes up, Slim and Zandu quietly slip out of Zellara’s house. They make their way to North Point, where Slim assesses the level of security along the Narrows of St. Alika, which separate Old Korvosa from the mainland. Gray Maidens patrol the shoreline, while patrol skiffs periodically glide through the river water and hyppogryph riders circle overhead.
After spying the weakest point in the quarantine, they step into an alley, where Zandu casts fly on both of them. Rising above the Shingles, they float over the shoreline towards the island. But they hadn’t factored on the stiff breeze off Conqueror’s Bay, which sends Zandu’s robes noisily flapping, attracting the attention of a patrol of Gray Maidens, who sound an alarm. As a Sable Company hippogryph rider swoops in to investigate, Slim signals for them to split up.
Robes still flapping wildly, Zandu awkwardly wheels about and flies back over the mainland, drawing the attention of the hippogryph rider and the shore defenses. Slim, meanwhile, dives towards the shoreline on the other side of the Narrows, barely missing a passing patrol skiff.
Unfortunately, the Bridgefront ward of Old Korvosa is thick with tall, rickety buildings rising as high as five stories and linking together with multiple tethers, rope bridges, and walkways representing several successive layers of the Shingles. Slim tries to maneuver into a narrow gap in the obstruction, but has to break off at the last moment and circle back around for another try. His maneuver attracts the attention of another Sable Company rider who orders him to halt. Slim replies by making an all-out dive through the gap, escaping into the relative security of Bridgefront’s warren of slums.
The Scouring of Old Korvosa
After landing, Slim makes his way through the ill-lit streets. Never the best neighborhood to begin with, Bridgefront seems to have gone rapidly downhill. Broken glass from smashed windows litters the cobblestones, while corpses lie openly in the streets. No street lamps are lit and rare is the building with a single light in the window. Slim has a bad feeling about this.
He comes across a large apartment building that has been lit on fire, a gang of bearded men methodically looting its ground floor while the upper stories blaze brightly. Slim pulls up his hood and tries to pass by nonchalantly, but he’s stopped by one of the gang members, who demands to know his allegiance. Slim insists that he’s a freelancer and the thug, who claims to be one of “the Longstreet Boys,” says that with the quarantine in place, a man needs to pick a side if he wants to survive. Slim recognizes the gang as small-timers affiliated with the Cerulean Society—this kind of brazen looting is out of character for them.
The gangster then demands that Slim pay a toll for passing through Longstreet territory. Slim convinces the man that he has always been able to pass through without any trouble and suggests that the gang carry on with their business. Slim starts to walk away, then asks “Does the Sticky Mermaid still keep hours?”
“No, it’s closed for repairs,” the thug snickers.
At the Sign of the Sticky Mermaid
The deeper Slim walks into Old Korvosa, the worse things seem to have gotten. He passes several charred buildings, sees stray dogs tearing into corpses, and passes by homes that have been trashed in riots. There are no lights lit anywhere in Old Dock or Garrison Hill. Watch fires shine only at the very top of the hill, along the crumbling walls of the old Fort Korvosa that demarcates the wealthiest ward in the district.
As Slim approaches the stretch of river walk that the Sticky Mermaid is perched upon, he discovers that the entire building has been gutted by a fire, leaving only a few charred walls and support pillars behind, its cheerful mermaid sign lying scorched in the ashes. Nine bodies lie in the street around what would have been the main entrance. Three of them Slim doesn’t recognize, but the others he’s seen at the tavern before—including Peaches, the bouncer. Slim pauses to retrieve a blue Cerulean Society uniform from one of the bodies before investigating the wreckage.
There are more remains inside the ruins of the tavern—none of them halfling-sized—as well as the tell-tale smell of alchemist’s fire. Slim has the unnerving feeling of being watched, but doesn’t see anyone out in the darkness. Carrying on, he makes his way through the ruin towards Kyra’s favorite table.
The table is lying on its side, half-charred. Scratched onto the underside is a phrase in Korvosan thieves’ cant, which Slim translates as “Don’t turn around.” Facing forward, he starts walking slowly and purposefully towards an alleyway, his hand on his sword. As he draws near, there is the crunch of a single footstep behind. Slim whirls around, rapier in hand.
Ten paces behind him is a man with the head of a bug, wielding two strange jagged swords. The bizarre figure immediately begins twirling the swords in a hypnotic, undulating pattern that quickly has Slim entranced. The strange man begins walking towards him, still waving his swords, until the twisting pattern is on the verge of striking the helpless rogue.
At which point there is a loud thwok and the bug-headed man keels over with a dagger sticking out of his back. Ten paces behind him is Kyra, drawing another dagger from her belt. Slim lets out a grateful chuckle. “I really need to read your instructions more closely next time,” he tells her.
They search the body of the would-be assailant. His bug head is revealed to be a mask in the shape of a mantis head, covering the face of a Keleshite man. The mask, like his leather armor, is dyed a dark red. With little else on him besides his strange saw-toothed sabres and a few daggers and tanglefoot bags, Slim figures he must be some sort of assassin. Kyra explains that the strange man has been prowling around the wreckage of the Sticky Mermaid ever since the fire, as if he was looking for something, but she wasn’t able to get close to him until he was distracted by “bait.”
Slim says that he’s come to share some important information with her and hopefully get her out of Old Korvosa. Kyra says that they should take their conversation indoors, but adds that there’s a bit of a complication. The halfling woman can’t leave Old Korvosa without also taking her aged mother Yamyra, who is unaware of her daughter’s criminal affiliations.
A Shortcut to Mushrooms
Kyra leads Slim on a quick jaunt through the Shingles—despite her shorter legs, the Varisian rogue has trouble keeping up with her. After a while, he notices something odd. Although the buildings they’re traversing are the same height as before, they now have more floors. All is revealed when they slide down a drainpipe to ground level and Slim notices all the buildings have round doors that never reach higher than his armpit.
“Welcome to Smalltown,” Kyra grins.
She takes him to a well-kept block of flats and knocks on the door. “It’s me, mom, and I’ve got company. You can put down the crossbow.”
Inside they are greeted by a friendly middle-aged halfling woman who regards Slim warily. Hunched over inside the cramped halfling-sized foyer, Slim introduces himself as an old friend of Kyra’s and says he’s with the Guard. Her suspicions allayed, she invites him inside and offers to prepare a spot of tea.
Kyra waves him into the living room, where the arched ceiling offers more room to stand up. Once her mother is occupied in the kitchen, she starts talking about what has happened over the past few days. The plague weakened the authority of the Cerulean Society, as the local gangs stopped taking orders. With the Guard and the Gray Maidens pulled out of the district, law and order began to collapse. Kyra’s folks were gathering at the Sticky Mermaid to launch a punitive attack to force the Old Dock gangs back into line when they were overwhelmed by an angry mob that burned the place down. Most of the Society leadership has holed up at the guild hall in Korvosa’s Vaults and sealed the entrances, leaving the district to burn.
She has no idea what the man in the mantis masque was after, but the Society does have its secrets. Kyra explains that the Society’s unpleasant, dim-witted leader Guildmaster Boule has implied that he is just the front man for someone much more powerful. Slim tells her about the party’s discovery in the wreck of the Direption and his suspicions of Chelaxian involvement. They’re both stumped as to motive.
Slim notes that his original plan to get Kyra off the island has fallen through, but the halfling woman says that she might have another way out. She explains that the Bekyar slaving operation wasn’t limited to West Dock; they were also operating out of a sea cave in Old Dock, right under her nose. The cave has a teleport circle like the ones Slim described before, but the chamber is flooded except at low tide, when it’s only buried under three feet of water. That’s too deep for a halfling to activate it, but not for Slim. The only problem is that Kyra has no idea where the circle goes. Ultimately, the two of them agree that it’s a risk they’ll have to take as soon as the next low tide in early morning.
Yamyra emerges from the kitchen with hot tea and a plate of dried mushrooms, forcing Slim to explain that they need to flee Old Korvosa for their own safety.
One Does Not Simply Walk Out of Old Dock
The halflings bundle up their most precious items and stow what they can’t carry in hidey-holes around the apartment. At the appointed time they make their way through the darkened streets to the Reefclaw Run Market as the first fingers of dawn begin to creep over the horizon. Ordinarily the market would be bustling with merchants setting up their stalls, but instead it is deserted and the stalls trashed.
Kyra leads them to the bait shop the Society used as a front for the smuggling operation and Slim makes a show of unlocking this secret “Guard” safehouse. A hidden trapdoor leads down to the sewers, where the Society has fenced off a long, straight passage out to the sea cave. Slim ignites a torch and leads the way.
The crackling torchlight draws attention from several zombies who rattle the iron bars of the barricades as the trio nervously passes by. The noise attracts yet more zombies until the growing horde finally breaks through the fences just as the cave comes into view.
The cave has a narrow seaside entrance just large enough to allow a small boat to slip in and out at low tide but otherwise hidden beneath the waves when the tides turn. The cave floor is a flooded pool three feet deep, but even under the flickering torchlight a circle of strange runes can been seen at its center.
Slim wades out into the chilly water and struggles to decipher and then activate the teleportation circle while Kyra and Yamyra try to hold back the flood of restless dead. The glyphs slowly begin to flicker with eerie blue light as Slim performs the activation ritual, water lapping at his waste. Zombies begin to force their way past the halflings as the light grows brighter and Slim calls for the two smallfolk to join him in the circle. Moments later the light flares blindingly bright…
Together, the trio, a lone zombie, and three feet of sea water apparate into a different Vault with a loud splosh. Kyra dispatches the zombie and the three of them examine their surroundings.
They Have a Half-Orc
They have materialized in a rectangular room at the bottom of a deep shaft molded from the stone by some long-forgotten art. The chamber is damp and moldy and shows signs of relatively recent use. A stairwell winds upward around the walls, flight after flight. Slim ignites a second torch and investigates, leaving Kyra to look after her mother at the foot of the stairs.
Eventually, Slim reaches the top of the Vault, where he finds a sturdy wooden door. After carefully checking for traps, he picks the lock and slowly pushes the door open. That’s when the trap goes off.
Burning glyphs appear all around the door frame and then blast outward in a crackling spray of fire as the door swings open with a loud creak. By the time Slim is done beating out the last smoking patches of his clothes, the echoes of his mishap have faded away, instead replaced by the harsh voice of a woman bellowing in Orcish. Her voices rings out from somewhere in the dark room beyond the doorway:
“You honorless sons of pigs, I’ll string you up by your own entrails! Where are you?!”
Slim retreats back down the stairwell until he meets Kyra and Yamyra, who were rushing up to join him. He explains that he might have accidentally set off a slight trap and roused the anger of an orcish woman. The younger halfing shakes her head. “You are a disgrace to our shared profession.”
“I’m sorry, they don’t really teach us much about infiltration in the Guard,” Slim reminds her, pointedly not looking at Yamyra.
They make their way back up to the door, where the angry woman is still spewing curses in Orcish, demanding that they show themselves. The room beyond the door appears to be a large and well-furnished wine cellar—the orc woman is nowhere to be seen.
Speaking Orcish, Slim responds to her inquiries, promising that they mean her no harm. She accuses them of locking her up and now taunting her by hiding from view. A confused Slim says that they are refugees and had nothing to do with her capture.
The woman abruptly switches from Orcish to Common and explains that she is chained up in a holding cell behind an illusory wall. If they free her, she would be most grateful. Leaving Yamyra safe by the doorway, the two rogues search for the fake wall and along the way discover that the cellar is stocked disproportionately with fine Chelaxian vintages. Slim gets a sinking feeling in his stomach.
Hidden behind the illusion is a familiar metal stockade. Inside, chained to the rear wall, is a burly half-orc woman with short hair and bright hazel eyes, smeared with dirt and dressed only in filthy rags. She introduces herself as Ser Irabeth of Lastwall, Paladin of Iomedae, and explains that she was captured by orcs from from the Hold of Belkzen and sold in the slave markets of Kaer Maga to a gang of Bekyars. They took her south to a hidden sea cave, from whence she was teleported into the Vault below. She has been held in the cage for more than a week, with no idea where she is.
Slim surmises that they are likely somewhere in Korvosa. As he and Kyra free the half-orc, she explains that she is fed once a day at this time and mistook their entrance for that of her jailers. At that moment, they hear the cellar door creak open and heavy footsteps descend the wooden stairs. Slim passes Irabeth one of the sawtoothed sabre, which she clutches eagerly.
The Bekyar jailer, dressed in loose civilian clothes and carrying a heavy bucket of slops steps through the illusory wall to find Slim’s rapier pressed to his throat. Slim proceeds to ask te man a series of questions, while Irabeth glowers over his shoulder. From the brief interrogation, they learn that they are somewhere in the South Shore district and that the mansion above them has “many” more people in it. Kyra then disarms the slaver and Slim and Irabeth give him a one-two to knock him out. They chain him up in his cell and gag him, then fetch Yamyra to plan their next move. It won’t be long before the man’s absence is noted, so their only choice is to try to sneak out.
The Shadow of the Past
Slim and Kyra ascend the staircase quickly and quietly, while Irabeth hangs back with Yamyra. The first thing slim notices when he reaches the top of the stairs is the familiar layout of the hallway—a design pattern similar to Carowyn Manor. The second thing he notices is that the decor is all done in Chelaxian blacks and reds. To the east, he can hear servants at work in the kitchen, while to the west is the sound of two people taking breakfast in the dining room.
With people to either side, Kyra suggests they pick the side closer to an exit. Slim invites her to investigate the dining room. Nudging the door open a fraction, she spies two Bekyars having breakfast at a long dark table. Kyra insists that the two of them could take the slavers by surprise. Lurking in the doorway, they each line up a shot with their crossbows. Both bolts hit, but neither man is quite slain. Before the Bekyars can do more than thrash about, the two rogues reload their crossbows and finish them off.
Unfortunately, the commotion draws the attention of a halfling servant from the kitchen, who runs away shrieking “Assassins! Assassins! Protect the Ambassador!” At this point, Slim drops all pretense at stealth and races across the dining room for the garden exit. Unfortunately, he steps outside to the sight of a pair of Chelaxian soldiers hustling towards the mansion.
“Can’t get out that way!” he calls out, stumbling back inside with the guards hot on his heels. The doors to the dining room are kicked open as a Chelaxian soldier and officer barge in, demanding their surrender. Kyra leads her mother off into the kitchen to the east, while Ser Irabeth stands her ground.
“I am a paladin of Iomedae the Inheritor, caged in your cellar for eight days, and I will have my freedom at the point of a sword if need be!”
The soldiers hesitate, giving Slim time to regroup with Irabeth. The Chelaxian officer demands that they explain why they broke into the mansion and slaughtered the ambassador’s guests. Slim insists that their intrusion was all an accident, then demands to know what they are doing keeping slaves here when it is against all the laws of Korvosa.
“Here is precisely the point,” says a richly dressed man as he pushes his way past the guards. “This embassy is Chelaxian soil, from here down to the center of Golarion, and in Cheliax, slavery is perfectly legal.”
Slim accuses him of using magic to subvert Korvosan law. The man praises him as an aspiring lawyer and suggests that they all put away their nasty sharp things so that they can discuss matters like civilized men. Once the Chelaxian soldiers sheathe their blades, Slim does likewise and Irabeth reluctantly lowers her sabre.
The “civilized” man introduces himself as Ambassador Darvayne Gios Amprei of Cheliax. He insists that the arrangement with the Bekyars has nothing to do with Korvosa—it is a matter of Chelaxian geopolitics in the southern continent of Garund. Word of these clandestine dealings must not leave the building, so he must either be confident of Slim’s silence or take the step of silencing him.
Amprei reminds Slim that his companions have already proven to be a thorn in his side. With this latest mess in his own home, he has little incentive to be merciful. Slim replies that he knows full well what Chelaxians do to those who cross them.
“I imagine so, Mr. Tils,” the ambassador replies. “I know that while you were last in Egorian, you stole a certain amulet sought after by two individuals of great influence and I know that you fled their wrath to this city. Were I to reveal your presence to them, their agents would soon be fighting over your head. Fortunately, your enemies are no friends of mine.”
Amprei asks Slim to divulge the location of the artifact in exchange for his life. The ambassador hopes to present the amulet to the Empress to show what her trusted councilors have been up to behind her back. This would get Slim off the hook and get Amprei out of this backwater posting.
Slim says that they can talk about the artifact another time and instead asks for Amprei to release them as a show of good faith. In return, the rogue pledges to keep silent about the ambassador’s connection to the Bekyars.
Irabeth refuses to go along, declaring that she cannot permit slaving to continue in Korvosa. Slim quietly tries to talk her into going along, but she hisses back to him that “If I make a promise I must keep it—and this is a promise I do not want to make.” Slim manages to subtly convey that they aren’t going to let this matter slide and Irabeth grudgingly goes along with the pledge of silence.
“We won’t tell anyone either!” Kyra says, popping back up beside Slim, her mother in tow. “Our lips are sealed.”
Amprei reminds Slim that if word of the slavery arrangement gets out, there will be repercussions. He also promises to stay in touch about the amulet. Satisfied with the oaths of silence from the four of them, the ambassador has his guards escort them outside the embassy. The last shreds of twilight are retreating over the western horizon as the sun rises in the east.
There and Back Again
“Well, that was easy,” Kyra says as they walk down the cobblestone lane towards the Midland District.
“When Cheliax is involved, it’s never easy,” Slim cautions.
“No, I meant filching his stuff,” the halfling grins. She pulls out a set of important-looking documents. “While you guys were jaw-jawing, I got into his study and rifled through his papers.”
Slim invites Kyra and her mother back to Zellara’s home and offers the same to Irabeth. He says they may be able to get her a change of clothes, too, as he knows a woman about her size.
“That would be the other paladin you mentioned?” she asks.
“How did you guess?”
Irabeth shrugs. “The Church attracts a certain type.”
Slim touches a hand to his chest, feeling the reassuring weight of the amulet beneath his armor, and then leads the ladies towards home.