The new quest, as it happens, did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. Theodore, Milacent, and Zelcor all became violently ill, the first two from their splashing around in the sewage, the last from the stirge bites he had received. Natalya recovered from her megalomania, and spent the next several days moping alone in her bed. Scratchy, the only party member not utterly disgusted by crawling around in the sewers, spent several frustrating days looking for traces of where the goblin snake had gone. He followed the pipe they had seen the goblin snake go down, only to find it was a simple drain leading into the sewage pit; the other side was a grate emerging into a nearby alleyway, and from that there was no trace of where the snake had gone.
Once the rest of the party had recovered from their illness, they joined the search, but their results were no better. Then, several days after the search had begun, they happened upon a bit of luck. They spotted a young boy putting up posters around the town, each of which featured a painting of a man dressed in ornate clothing, and the words, “COME SEE KIERAN THE MAGNIFICENT, SORCEROR EXTRAORDINAIRE! MASTER OF MAGIC, KEEPER OF LORE, HOLDER OF ANCIENT SECRETS, AND SLAYER OF THE GREAT SNAKE BEAST OF THASSILON!” And in the corner of the poster, a picture of a snake. With a goblin head. “Tomorrow won’t be spent in the sewers,” said Milacent with a smile.
And indeed it wasn’t. The next day found the party in clean, fresh clothing, sitting in the audience as the curtain came up on Kieran the Magnificent. “Ladies and Gentlemen!” he exclaimed, “Prepare to be astounded! For I, Keiran the Magnificent, greatest showman alive, bring you the wonders of the ancients! And a special greeting to the so-called Amazing Zograthy, who thinks he is hidden!” And with that he gestured toward the aforementioned individual, who was sitting in a corner with a hood pulled down over his head.
“Idiot!” replied Zograthy. “I am just here to see how badly you fail!”
The crowd laughed as Kieran told several more jokes at Zograthy’s expense. Theodore wasn’t too fond of Zograthy himself, so he chuckled along. Far more interesting than the old man’s humiliation, however, was the show itself. Kieran began with some simple tricks, clearly accomplished more with sleight of hand than any magical ability. Theodore admitted the young man was quite the showman, but so far not an actual practitioner of magic. As the show went on the tricks improved: objects floating through the air, lights appearing out of nowhere, and flatulent sounds emanating from Zograthy. All of which could be achieved through trickery, but also low-level magic. And then came the part which Theodore had truly come to see: The Great Snake Beast of Thassilon.
“I came upon this creature,” Kieran explained, “while braving the dangers of the Darklands. A terrible beast it was, but after much struggle, myself and my companions were able to overcome it.” And with a flourish he gestured to his scantily-clad female assistant. She went backstage, and then with a smile rolled out a table on which sat coiled the so-called ‘Great Snake Beast of Thassilon.’ The audience gasped, but the four adventurers sat up in their seats. The snake beast was indeed the goblin snake they had last seen making off with Natalya’s copper shard. It had been killed, stuffed, and posed to appear to be snarling at the audience. As they watched it suddenly shifted, and its head snapped out at the nearest audience member. “Don’t get too close,” chided Kieran, “the creatures of ancient Thassilon have a habit of not staying dead. As you will see with my next, and final demonstration.” And with that he reached into his pocket and closed his hand around something.
Theodore took special notice. All through the performance Kieran had been gesticulating with both hands. Now he waved one hand wildly about while the other stayed in his pocket. “I call upon Karzoug, Runelord of Greed!” he shouted, “Appear now before Kieran, your new master!”
And with that a figure appeared on the stage, a humanoid figure, eight feet tall, clad in robes but wrapped in glowing chains. The crowd shuffled back as the figure strained against its bonds and screamed, “Kieran! I shall destroy you! I am a runelord of Thassilon! You cannot contain me!”
Kieran took note of the crowd’s concern and smiled. “Fear not!” he admonished. “For I am Kieran the magnificent! The Runelord Karzoug is my prisoner, and you are in no danger! Unless …” he grinned, “I fail now to send him back.” He turned now to the ‘Runelord’, and said “Begone now, Karzoug! Kieran the Magnificent commands it!” The figure screamed, flames leapt up around him, and a few tense seconds later, it faded away, howling as it went. The crowd stood up to deliver thunderous applause. Theodore, for his part, did not applaud, but he had gotten what he had come for. He knew now that Kieran had killed the snake, and he almost certainly had the shard. It was now just a matter of getting it from him. Fortunately, the shard was highly magical, and if there was one thing Theodore, as a priest of Nethys, was good at, it was finding magic.
The party decided to wait until nightfall to make their move, and spent the rest of the day observing the sights and sounds of the carnival area. They had a particularly amusing audience with the Amazing Zograthy, who ranted angrily about the disgracefulness of the ‘stupid brat’ Kieran, and ended up offering the party 50 gold to make the new showman go away. They were already planning to do just that, but they took his money anyway.
When nightfall came, Theodore cast a detect magic spell and then took a walk around the tent Kieran was staying in. It wasn’t long before he sensed the powerful aura emanating from one corner of it. He also checked out the guards: four apparent mercenaries and one enormous musclebound warrior, who looked to be their leader. From this information two conversations followed: one with his comrades, the second as he, Milacent, and Zelcor, approached the muscleman.
“Hello,” began Zelcor, “Whatcha got inside the tent?”
“Back off,” growled the muscleman. “It’s just a show. Nothing to see.” And while he was distracted, Scratchy snuck past him into the tent.
The inside of Kieran’s tent was a confused jumble of crates, props, and linens. It had clearly been set up in a hurry, or else it would have been more organized; and more secure. It also seemed to be occupied only by a sleeping Kieran and his now even more scantily-clad female assistant. Scratchy crept silently to the area where Theodore had indicated the magical aura had been emanating from, and after some poking around he found a lockbox. Grinning wildly, he tried to pick the lock, but it wouldn’t open. No matter, Scratchy thought, he’d just take it and they’d smash it open. He put it under his arm and crept back out of the tent.
The rest of the party, meanwhile, was having a fascinating conversation with the muscleman. It seems he had joined Kieran in the far north, where they had hoped to form the nucleus of an adventuring party. They had come south when Kieran had heard of some unspecified opportunities, but then Kieran had suddenly changed his mind and declared that he first needed to demonstrate that he was the greatest showman in the world. The muscleman didn’t mention killing the snake, but it was easy to guess when that had happened. And when the party felt Scratchy had had enough time to obtain the shard, they bid the muscleman adieu and went to the prearranged meeting place.
When they got there, Scratchy was dancing excitedly around a locked metal box. “Break it open! Break it open!” he demanded. Break it open they did, to reveal a pile of silver coins: the take from Kieran’s performance. As soon as they realized the shard wasn’t there, another realization dawned: Scratchy would have to go back to the tent. And since he had searched almost the entire area where Theodore had said the magic aura was emanating from, it could only be in the one spot Scratchy hadn’t searched: Kieran’s bed.
Fortunately, the second time was easier than the first. The party waited several hours before their second attempt, and when they returned the muscleman from the North was gone, leaving only the four mercenary guards. Scratchy evaded them easily, and got into the tent, then poked very carefully beneath Kieran’s pillow. There he saw it, glowing faintly in the darkness: the coppery shard. He considered pulling out slowly, taking great care not to wake Kieran. Then he realized that he could just grab it and be long gone by the time a groggy Kieran realized what had happened. He chose the second option.
The next morning, while the party relaxed in the Pathfinder Lodge with their newfound treasure, there was a great commotion in the carnival area. They didn’t bother to investigate.