A Few Questions
While the rest of the party treks off to rescue Jerem Farima, Nox and an invisible Kyra head to the Longacre Building in North Point to look for Remmy. According to Zandu’s cousin, she met with another Gray Maiden in an alley behind the building, but they were interrupted by a patrol of Maidens. In the ensuing scuffle, Remmy vanished.
Unable to find anything conclusive at the scene of the fight, Nox opts for the direct approach. He walks right up to the Longacre Building and tells the Gray Maiden sentries outside that he is investigating reports from concerned citizens about a scuffle between some Maidens. He is soon greeted by Sergeant Oriana, a big burly woman in the same faceless plate armor.
“This is an internal matter,” she insists. “What’s a Chelaxian diplomat doing asking about it anyway?”
“Some concerned citizens notified me of the incident,” he explains. “Turmoil within the Queen’s guard is a subject of great interest to Cheliax, as I’m sure you understand.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Oriana grits. “Who were these concerned citizens?”
“I’m afraid they did not give their names,” Nox tells her. “Now, please describe the incident.”
“A deserter named Remmy contacted one of the sisters of our Order, Kelles Vel, and the two met in secret in the alley behind the Longacre Building,” the sergeant explains. “My patrol was returning to the building at the time and I attempted to arrest them for violating regulations—no secret assignations and no travel in public in groups of less than four. During the scuffle, the deserter lost her hat, which broke whatever illusion she was under and revealed her armor. We chased her into the Dock Trade, but a flock of those damned pseudodragons swarmed us and we lost her. A search of the city is underway.”
“I would be happy to assist with the hunt,” Nox offers.
Oriana cocks her helmeted head at him skeptically. “And what good would a lone diplomat be against this dangerous outlaw, especially wandering around without an escort? You could be abducted by the insurgents, or worse.”
“Trust me,” Nox says, patting his sword hilt, “I’m not some aristocratic dandy in shiny armor who doesn’t know which way to point a sword. I’m a troubleshooter for the Empress, and I have some experience tracking down fugitives.”
The Gray Maiden Sergeant gives him a once over and then nods. “Good! Korvosa has too many weak-wristed blue bloods as it is. If you want to search for the deserter, feel free. I’d be happy to assign you a squad of Maidens to help bring her in.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Nox says. “In my experience, the hunt goes faster if you work alone. Do you happen to have the enchanted hat the fugitive was wearing.”
“No,” Oriana says regretfully, “we gave the hat over to the Seneschal, Togomor, for his special construct to use to hunt her down. But I prefer to put my trust in people, not things. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for another patrol.”
After bidding the Sergeant farewell, Nox treks towards the Dock Trade.
“I don’t like the sound of that construct,” he murmurs.
“Me neither,” invisible Kyra replies from down by his waist. “Sounds like we’ve got a race on our hands.”
The halfling informs Nox that the Dock Trade is a major center for black market goods in Korvosa, despite the best efforts of the Guard and the Hellknights. She notes that a flock of pseudodragons roosts in the area and will sometimes swoop down to create a ruckus. It’s curious that they intervened at such a convenient moment.
“Maybe Majenko has gotten the word out to the pseudodragons,” Nox speculates.
Threads of Evidence
The Dock Trade consists of a series of converted warehouses linked together and stuffed with stalls and lean-tos. They arrive just as the market is beginning to close for the day, with shopkeepers stowing away their wares. Kyra quietly points out that most of the goods on display have some slight damage here and there, “like they fell off the back of the cart.”
Kyra checks on the pseudragons, but finds they’ve been driven from their roost in the warehouse rafters. Nox asks around for witnesses to the incident, eventually find a suspiciously clean merchant with a bland face who claimed to have seen the whole thing.
“You didn’t hear it from me, but it was all the Maidens’ fault,” the merchant says. “One of them charged through here, waving around this gold necklace with a glittering green gem and shouting ‘Shiny! Shiny!’ So naturally those dreadful pseudragons took note and swooped down to investigate, just in time to get in the faces of the other Maidens—and everyone else nearby. Horrible little things, knocking over produce and getting their dirty little feet everywhere. They eat rats, you know! Dirty, disease-ridden rats.”
“This first Maiden, did you see where she went?” Nox asks.
“Who could tell with those winged beasts fluttering everywhere!” the merchant says. “Those Maidens clomped all over the market in their steel boots, even up on roof if you can believe it.”
Nox and invisible Kyra make their way up onto the roof of the warehouse, where with a little looking they find some crimson threads from a Gray Maiden cloak.
“The Shingles!” Kyra says. “Of course! I should have known that’s where she’d go.”
“Are you sure?” Nox asks. “I mean, she’s no Irabeth, but clambering around in that armor…”
“Remmy’s an Old Korvosa girl, like me,” Kyra says. “Bridgefront instead of Old Dock, but I forgive her. Old Korvosa is where the Shingles started and everyone raised there knows their way around them.”
Nox surveys the rooftop. Several makeshift paths of planks and netting connect with adjacent rooftops in multiple different directions, some rising up towards the castle and Citadel Hill and others descending down to West Dock or winding up towards North Point. As twilight settles over the city, the buildings start to fade together.
“Hmm,” the fighter mutters. “Where do Remmy’s parents live?”
“She’s got them set up in a house in Midland,” Kyra says, “but she won’t go there. Too obvious, and besides, they haven’t seen her since the whole ocular reduction procedure.”
“I see,” Nox says. He looks around and shrugs. “Well, it seems like we’ve hit a dead end.”
“Oh, don’t be a quitter,” Kyra says, nudging his armored thigh with an invisible elbow. “A Gray Maiden wandering around the Shingles is bound to attract attention. Let’s head down to Twitcher’s Tavern and ask if anyone’s seen her.”
“Lead on, then,” Nox says, “you know the way better than I.”
“Um,” says Kyra, “I think I’m gonna stay invisible if you don’t mind. This is kinda my first time out away from Zandu since the demilich incident and, yeah…”
She curls her small fingers around Nox’s hand and, still unseen, tugs him along in one direction.
Traversing the Shingles after dark is precarious, but clambering out on the open rooftops proves easier that trying to move through shadow-strewn alleys below.
“Tell me something, Kyra,” Nox asks as they clamber over roofs. “Why was Remmy and everyone else such big fans of a lowlife like Slim?”
“Slim was a good guy,” the halfling explains. “Kept his word and always had your back in a fight.”
“Doesn’t sound like the man I knew,” Nox says bitterly. “The boy was a coward who seduced my sister, got her in over her head, and left her to die.”
“The way he tells it, she was the leading him into trouble,” Kyra says.
“Valria was always a little headstrong and wild,” Nox admits.
“Whatever happened, Slim was definitely haunted by something,” Kyra adds
“I dunno, maybe you’re right and there was more to him than I thought,” Nox says grudgingly.
They scramble across a tiled roof and continue in silence for a little while, until the invisible halfling speaks up again.
“We’re kinda getting back to your bounty hunting roots tonight, aren’t we?” Kyra says cheerily, but a note of tension enters her voice as she continues. “When you were in the personal acquisition and recovery business in Cheliax, did you ever retrieve any … escaped property?” Kyra asks.
“I never went looking for escaped slaves and I never would; that business disgusts me,” Nox assures her. “And I wasn’t really a bounty hunter, more like Amprei’s muscle. Someone else would track down his enemies and then point me towards them to drop the hammer.”
“Well that’s good to know,” the halfling says. “Say, did I ever tell you how I got my brass ring, the one I wear in my hair?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Nox says.
“Back when I turned 20, there was this bounty hunter prowling through Smalltown and snatching up escaped slaves to take back to Cheliax,” she explains. "I already had a rep as quick, sneaky, and good at climbing, so the halfling elders decided that my coming of age rite would be to follow the bounty hunter discover his secret lair in the Shingles.
“Turns out it was a fortified shack over by Eel’s End. I shadowed the bounty hunter there and waited ‘til he went to sleep. But I didn’t go back to the elders. Instead I picked the lock on the door.
“He was flopped down onto this bed and snoring away, which helped muffle the sound as I carefully chained him to the wall with his own manacles. Once that was done, I decided to snag this little brass ring he had on his left hand. As a memento, you know?
“The whole time I was terrified that he’d wake up. But once he was all shackled him up and I had that ring, well, I kicked him away, stuck my tongue out at him, and then scampered off with his curses ringing in my ears. Then I reported to the elders and they came and beat the shit out of him and took his thumbs. They stuffed him into a crate and put him on a House Leroung ship, the ones with all-halfling crews, and shipped him all the way back to Westcrown as warning not to go slave-catching in Korvosa.
“The lesson in all this, Your Soon-to-Be Majesty, is don’t fuck with the small folk,” she concludes. “If you treat the halfling community right when you take the throne, well have your back, but try to bring any of that Cheliax crap here and I’ll personally cut your femoral artery—it’s right at eye-height for me.”
“You’ve got nothing to worry about, Kyra,” Nox says. “My family has always been good to the halfling community and as for Cheliax, I think Korvosa is too close to the Empire already.”
“All right then,” Kyra says, much more cheerful. “As long you’re also a fan of regulated crime, I think there’s a bright future here for you.”
News of the Weird
Twitcher’s Tavern appears to have grown out of a large attic into a sprawling rooftop structure almost fractal in shape. As a result, its interior seems to consist almost entirely of shady corners where small groups of even shadier customers chat quietly. Nox gets a few strange looks for walking in wearing black and gold full plate, but once it’s clear he’s not looking for trouble the clientele ignore him.
The fighter strolls up to the central bare, which is tended by a flame-haired man in his late 30s with average looks. Nox asks for what’s on tap and the bartender notes that they have a wide variety of domestic and imported ales and liquors.
“Give me one of the local brown ales,” Nox says.
“Right you are, m’lord,” the bartender says, pouring up a frothy mug. He nods at Nox’s helmet. “Might be a bit messy going down, but I can get you a straw if you like.”
“No need,” Nox smirks and lifts up his visor to take a drink. Once he is sated, he asks “Any strange happenings in the Shingles of late? Any news of a lone Gray Maiden running about?”
“Strange things happen all the time in the Shingles,” the man says, “but I’ve heard of your Maiden. She’s been going on a merry dash across half the roofs in Korvosa, from what my customers say. Word is she was last seen by the Marbledome, right before the building collapsed just a few hours ago.”
“It collapsed?” Nox asks, startled.
“Part of it did,” the red head shrugs. “And your Gray Maiden wasn’t the only strange thing in the Shingles when the collapse happened, though I’m a mite fuzzy on the details.”
“Pour me another while you try to remember,” Nox says, slapping down enough coin for three refills. “And keep the change.”
The bartender palms the coins and then slides another beer across. “It’s coming back to me now. Folk say that there was this giant spider things scrambling through the Shingles, clutching this floppy hat in one claw. It was last seen near the Marbledome, too.”
“A giant spider,” Nox repeats slowly. He takes a long sip from his ale before asking “Any idea what kind of spider it was?”
“No kind anybody round here’s seen before,” the bartender says, peering around the dimly lit room. “Big black thing the size of a horse, maybe bigger. Even a tunnel terror would be scared of this thing, from what I’ve heard.”
“Anything else prowling around the Shingles that I should know about?” Nox asks.
“Plenty of things you should know about,” the red head chuckles, “But if you’re asking about anything new, well, some folk say that there’s a great black dragon roosting in the castle that comes out at night to patrol the skies. Haven’t seen it myself and I wonder how such a thing could stay hidden even in the castle, but that’s the word on the gutters.”
“Does this dragon have any particular patrol route it favors?” the fighter asks.
“Hard to say from rumors,” the bartender admits, “but the closer you are to the castle, the better chance you’ve got to see it.”
Nox downs the rest of his ale and then locks his visor back into place. “Thanks for the drink, and the news, but I must be off.”
“Stay safe out there, m’lord Adjudicator,” the bartender calls after him.
Itsy Bigsy Spider
Outside, Nox complains. “What the hell is a big hairy spider doing chasing after Remmy?”
“And you know we’re going to have to fight it,” invisible Kyra groans. “I hate big hairy things.”
“And yet you’re with Zandu,” Nox smirks.
“I know, trust me, I know.,” Kyra says. “But when my boy gets all halfing-shaped…” She lets out a breathy sigh.
“Don’t go weak at the knees, lovebird,” Nox chides her, “we’ve got to catch that thing before it gets to Remmy.”
They trek across the rooftops, following a zigzagging path up Citadel Hills into the ritzy heights district where paths through the Shingles are few and far between. As they approach the Marbledome, they can see that the top two stories of the back corner of the building have collapsed. A crew of dwarven engineers working under gaslight are surveying the wreckage while the theater manager vents his fury at them and anyone else in reach.
Most of the Shingles connections to the building have been broken by the crash, so Nox and Kyra are forced to access the building by going hand over hand along a stray rope. As they dangle out in the open, Nox catches the attention of the dwarf foreman and the theater manager.
“What it blazes are ye doin’, ye darft fool!” the dwarf shouts. “The whole structure’s unstable!”
“Get away from my building!” the theater owner howls. Grabs a piece of rubble from the street and chucks it ineffectually in Nox’s direction. “You rotten miscreants caused this mess—I won’t let you finish the job!”
“Have either of you seen a Gray Maiden or a giant spider crawling on the rooftops?” Nox calls down to them.
The entire building trembles with a sudden shutter, nearly dislodging Nox from the rope. The enormous rubble pile shudders and then eight black legs force their way out. The giant spider create rises out the dust and detritus, a floppy hat clutched in one of its antennae. It shakes itself off and then begins scrambling up the side of the building and off over the rooftops.
“Never mind!” Nox calls out, hauling himself after the creature. The fighter climbs around a collapsed roof, stares down an angry drunk, and gets briefly held up by a guard dog. Kyra suffers an unlucky fall from the collapsed roof but otherwise catches up.
While the guard dog distracts Nox, the spider creature arrives at the dilapidated roof of a mansion and zeroes in on an old pigeon coop at one end of the house. It skitters over to the small shack and tears it open with its claws, causing Remmy to spring out of the wreckage and hack at it with her longsword. The Gray Maiden looks a bit worse for wear, her armor scuffed and spattered with blood. The spider blasts Remmy with a beam of cold magic from one of its eyes.
Nox finally calms down the guard dog and quickly runs to help, while Kyra calls to him to set up a flank.
“Nox! You’re a sight for sore eye!” Remmy says, craning her head to peer at him between the spider construct’s spindly legs.
“You’re weren’t exactly easy to find,” he replies.
“That was the idea,” Remmy says, hacking at the monster. “This thing won’t stop following me, even after I dropped a building on it.”
“That was you?” Nox asks, looking for a weak spot. “You’ll have to tell me the whole story once we kill this thing.”
The two fighters tear into the creature with their blades, rending open gashes in its chitinous exterior which ooze out a pale gray fluid. To their dismay, the fluid rapidly begins to harden around edges of the wounds and darken into a new layer of chitin. They step up their attacks, trying to tear it apart before it can put itself back together. Kyra takes aim at its eyes with her dagger, but the blade misses by half an inch.
The spider construct casts its baleful gaze towards Nox and one of its eyes glows an eerie red. The warrior feels his skin start to tighten and flexes his muscles to shake off the effect before it can take hold. In his hand, his sword burns bright with every strike against the creature, letting him know that while it may be a construct it is imbued with evil.
Under the storm of blows from the two warriors, the spider retreats down the side of the building. Its eyes begin to glow an eerie yellow, but Nox puts out that fire with a thrust from his sun blade, burying it deep between the spider’s eye cluster. Its legs curl up in a final death spasm and it tumbles from the side of the building, taking Nox’s sword with it. Kyra, also hanging from the side of the building, snatches the floppy hat from its grasp as it tumbles by. The construct crashes down to the ground in front of the mansion, its legs thrust up in the air.
Picking Up the Pieces
Nox clambers down the side of the building, noting that the words “KORVOSA REFORMATORIUM” are stenciled in rusty metal over the entrance. By the time he reaches the ground, a dozen people have gathered outside to gawk at the spider corpse. An old aristocrat with an enormous powdered wig and a monocle towers over the rest of the group, a trivial feat given that the others are all goblins dressed as butlers, servants, and cooks.
“What in the Nine Hells is this thing,” the old man says, gesturing at the body. “And what were you doing on the Reformatorium roof?”
“Sorry about that,” Nox shrugs, “just clearing out a bad infestation.”
“Infestation?” the old aristocrat stutters. He turns to one of the goblin butlers, a plump creature with pencil thin mustache and monocle. “Gribbet, did we have any infestation on the roof?”
“No, sir,” the goblin intones, its nose thrust in the air, “that’s why we have the dog,”
“Not your roof,” Nox says, “the Marbledome. Cleared out a whole test over there, but this one gave us a chase.”
“Well, whatever it is, I want it gone by morning,” the aristocrat says. “It will drive away our clientele.”
One of the goblin cooks creeps towards the glowing sword and Nox swats him away.
“Lay one finger on that sword and you’ll lose your head,” the fighter warns. He pulls the sword from the spider and then checks the wound to be sure it isn’t healing.
“Get them back inside, Gribbet,” the aristocrat says, polishing his monocle, “there’s nothing more to see here.”
The head goblin butler ushers the others inside, bows, and departs. Kyra and a disguised Remmy emerge from behind the building.
“More of your exterminators?” the aristocrat says skeptically.
“My associates,” Nox nods. “Don’t worry, citizen, we’ll take care of this mess.”
“You’d better,” the old man warns, before returning to the building. A few moments later, he can be seen peering out from behind the curtains in the front room window.
“What the hell is this place?” Nox says, cleaning the gunk off his sword.
“The old Reformatorium,” Kyra grumbles. “Used to be where Korvosa’s noble families sent their arsehole delinquent kids to get scared straight, but in the last few months the new headmaster turned it into an academy for these goblin servants that are all the rage. I hate those green grubby bastards, taking good jobs from halflings. How the hell can you train a goblin not to set fire to everything in sight, anyway?”
“I’m more worried about getting rid of this thing,” Remmy says, nodding at the hulking spider corpse. The Gray Maiden has disguised herself as a roguish young woman in leather armor with short pink hair poking out from under a stylish cap.
“Just drag it into the alley and leave it,” Kyra shrugs.
“No, we need at least a piece of it for someone else to identify,” Nox says. “If it is what I think it is, this thing could help discredit the queen.”
“Well, your not fitting that into a bag of holding,” the halfling says.
“We don’t need to fit all of it,” Nox says, hefting his sword.
He and Remmy cut off as many chunks as they can cram into the bag. Then they turn to survey the remaining bulk of the construct, which has started to give off an oily scent.
“What the hell do we do with this then?” Remmy asks.
“Burn it,” Nox says. “Anybody got any kindling?”
“Better,” Kyra grins, producing a bottle of alchemist’s fire. “From Zandu’s special stock. He gives the sweetest gifts, you know.”
As the flames slowly lick across the surface of the horse-sized spider, the three of them can hear the cheers of a distant crowd coming from the direction the rest of the party had traveled. The cheers are abruptly silenced by the sound of a terrifying roar.
“I think we should probably be going now,” Nox says.