“You see, there was …”
“The box, it …”
“Gremlins! Dogs! Really Ugly Gremlin-Dogs!”
It took a few minutes of scrambled explanations, but presently Sheila Heidmarch came to understand what had happened. Sitting down on the couch, she sighed. “Well, I’m sorry to have left you alone with a dangerous magic item like that. I honestly didn’t know there’d be a magical trap on it. Still, the fact that you handled the situation just reinforces my belief that you’re the right people for the job I have.” She picked up the box and turned it over. Out spilled three silver garnets, a ring, and a silver dagger. (Paradox boxes, like some other things, are bigger on the inside.) “You can have those as your first payment from the Pathfinder Society,” Sheila continued, smiling. “It’s the box we really want.” She needn’t have bothered, as Scratchy was already trying on the ring.
“Now, as for the job at hand,” Sheila started again, and now her tone grew serious. “One of our agents is missing. Natalya Vancaskerkin was my informant within the Sczarni – I’m sure you’ve heard of them, the criminal gangs that haunt the poorer neighborhoods of this city? A week ago she sent me a message saying she was on the verge of discovering something grand, something to do with ancient Thassilon. We were supposed to meet and discuss her find, but she never showed. That was a three days ago. Now I hear rumors that the Sczarni are looking for her as well, and that makes the situation all the more interesting. My guess is that Natalya found something and decided that it was worth betraying both me and the Sczarni. If that’s the case, I want to know what it is, and I’m probably going to want it for the Society once I find out. And that, my friends, is where you come in. You’re new to the Pathfinder Society – you won’t draw too much attention moving through the city, and people will be much more willing to talk to you than me. Discover what Natalya found, bring it back to me, and I’ll give you 500 pieces of gold. Double that if you bring her back alive for me to talk to.”
And her four guests nodded approvingly.
Sheila didn’t have much in the way of leads. The only concrete thing she could say was that when she first started working with Natalya, the soon-to-be informant had enlisted the help of a man who was colorfully named “The Amazing Zograthy”.
“Hmph,” sniffed Theodore. “Most likely a carnival magician.”
Theodore was an Aasimar, one of those few mortals who could claim a celestial being in his ancestry. But more than that, he was a priest of Nethys, the ancient Osirian god of magic. As such, he held more than a little contempt for the tricksters and charlatans of the carnival grounds. “I know where these … people ply their trade,” he said, “Let’s go.”
Now, in the western part of Magnimar was a place called Washer’s Row. Most of it was open-air washhouses, tailors, launderers, and the wagons and tents that many of the local Varisians liked to dwell in. At one end, however, was a cluster of brightly decorated tents that served as a permanent street fair. It was here, after asking some questions, that the party found their way to The Amazing Zograthy.
“Welcome! Welcome, my friends, to the abode of The Amazing Zograthy!” cried an aged, bald man in purple robes as they entered his tent. “What is it you want? You need your fortune told? For only 15 silver I will gaze into the crystal ball and tell you what awaits you in the future!”
“No.” Intoned Theodore. “We already had to get our fortune told to get someone to point the way to you.”
“From who? Madame Rastra? Bah! She is a hack! A phony! I spit upon her name! Phtoo!”
“Yes, she had much the same to say about you. But it’s not our fortune we are here for today.”
“Then perhaps you seek charms? Magic to help you in your daily life?” He pulled a roughly spherical rock off the shelf. “Here I have a magical stone, forged in Ancient Thassilon! For only 10 pieces of gold I will give you this trea-”
“Listen old man, we’re not here for your phony magic,” said Theodore, his impatience growing. “We’re here because we’re trying to find someone who was working with you. Natalya Vancaskerkin.”
“Ah,” said Zograthy, his voice suddenly lowered, “so it is secrets you want. That will cost quite a bit more than ancient Thassilonian magic.” He sat down behind a table and put out his upraised palm.
“How much?” Theodore asked with a sigh.
“Fifty gold?!” exclaimed Scratchy, “You know we could just kill you, right?”
“Yes you could,” replied Zograthy, “but then who would give you your information?”
After a few tense minutes of staring at each other, Zelcor rolled his eyes and gave Zograthy one of the gems that had fallen out of the paradox box. The old man took it, looked it over carefully, then leaned back and smiled. “So, you are looking for Natalya?” he said. “She has gone missing.”
“That’s the first true thing you’ve said,” growled Theodore, “And it’s also something we already know. Now tell us something worth our money.”
“She was not taken by the Sczarni. They are looking for her as well.”
“Yes, we know that too.”
“Bah! She is just one woman! I say she was taken by whatever is causing all these other disappearances!”
“Wait, what other disappearances?” For the first time since he had entered the tent, Theodore had an expression other than total disgust on his face.
“Oh, so you have not heard? People have been disappearing from the neighborhoods by the docks. Vanished right out of their beds at night! And nobody knows who is doing it. The City Watch knows nothing. The Sczarni know nothing. Both search and search, but they do not find the answer.”
“And you? What do you know?” asked Theodore, leaning on the table.
“Me? I know what people are saying. They say it is slavers from Nidal. They say they take the people, load them onto ships in the middle of the night, then sell them into slavery. It is what people say, but is it true? That escapes even The Amazing Zograthy.”
“Great,” said Theodore, the disgust returning. “Let’s get out of here.” But just as they turned to leave, Zograthy held out his palm one more time.
“What? We already gave you the gem!” said Millicent.
“This?” said Zograthy, holding it up. “This I can get maybe 50 gold for. Thirty-five after exchange fees.” Theodore glared at him some more, but after a few more minutes Zograthy had 15 more gold in his hand. That done, he continued in a whisper, “I will tell you this about Natalya. Just before she disappeared, they say she went mad. And she did not leave on good terms, for now the Tower Girls search for her with vengeance on their minds.”
“And the Tower Girls are?”
“The Sczarni gang she was a member of. Cat burglars, all of them. Of all the people in this city, they were the last to see Natalya.”
“So where can we find them?”
“Pah! They had a feud with another gang, the Wreckwash Blades, and now they have gone into hiding. And that is information you did not have before, is it not?”
“It is, but not worth what you got,” Theodore grumbled, and he stalked out of the tent.