With the city watch gone, the party turned back to the issue of how to get to the Lady’s Light. Sheila knew a ship captain that could take them outside the reef, and then they’d have to use a skiff to come in to the statue itself. It wasn’t a bad plan, but something about it bothered Theodore. “Whichever way we go, we’re going to need supplies and equipment, so let’s take care of that first,” he advised.
So they did. They had been given a reward by the city watch for solving the disappearances, and that plus the treasure they had taken from the Crow added up to a sizable amount of cash for shopping. Scratchy and Milacent bought themselves new bows, and Scratchy found himself a trained wolf from some Varisian traders (Semi-trained, actually; Scratchy figured he would finish the training himself). Zelcor and Theodore scoured the magic shops of Magnimar for potions and spell components, and whatever items they could find – and afford. Even with their newfound wealth, the most powerful of magic items were still far beyond their reach.
They also took some time to inquire with Sheila’s contacts regarding the Lady’s Light. One contact was an eccentric sculptor by the name of Ayavah. She specialized in tiny risque sculptures involving succubi, and she had a longstanding agreement with Heidmarch Manor to pay for any artifacts that had to do with the said demons. The party members met her and agreed to bring her anything relevant they found.
Sheila also knew a man named Jasper Kandamerus, who had traveled the Mushfens more extensively that anyone she knew. She warned that he was more than a little eccentric, and she was right. The party found Jasper in a Magnimar slum being menaced by street thugs while he ranted about the coming of the end times, and the power of his god Groetus. “Step away,” the thugs commanded the adventurers, “or we’ll bust you up worse than we do this old man.”
“No, I don’t think you will,” answered Milacent.
The fight with the thugs was predictably short and one-sided, but one thing happened that no one had expected. As Milacent moved in to attack she thought briefly about the Shard of Greed that she carried with her, and an instant later she had cut through one of the thugs. Everyone was briefly shocked by the speed at which she’d moved, but then Theodore nodded. “Magic,” he said, “shard magic.”
The thugs were a minor street gang that called themselves the Black Kiss Boys, and when they were dealt with the party turned to the old man Jasper. He had indeed been to the Mushfens, but it was difficult getting actual information out of him, in between the crazy. Eventually they managed to get him lucid long enough to tell them that they should seek out the witch Maroux. She knew the way into the Lady’s Light, and even though she wasn’t generally friendly, she would help people that were willing to perform tasks she was too lazy to do herself. “And tell her Jasper Kandamerus sent ya!” the old man added, before slipping into something incoherent about a doomsday door and Oblivion’s bell and Groetus and the end times.
“Why is everyone who gives us information crazy and homeless?” Scratchy sighed as they left.
The various purchases took several days to complete, and there was the still the matter of retrieving the illustrations from Lockerbie Brast, so the party had time to think about how they were going to get to the Lady’s Light. Toward the end of their preparation, a young boy came up to Milacent and handed her a pouch before running off into the crowd. Attached to the pouch was a letter that read,
Zelcor the Gnome
Heroes of Magnimar, you are all invited to dine at the Guardsman’s Leap tavern, by invitation of Alphonse Baghrata, Gentleman Trader. Please accept the enclosed gift as a token of our appreciation.
The bag contained 500 gold pieces, and was sealed with the mark of the Aspis Consortium.
“That’s not good,” Theodore remarked, “I don’t know much about these Aspis guys, but I do know they’re sometimes rivals of the Pathfinder Society, and that sorcerer we met way back when we were searching of Natalya was hoping to capture us and sell us to them.”
“But they gave us money!” countered Milacent, “And they’re going to give us food!”
It was hard to argue with logic like that, and they were pretty sure the Consortium didn’t want open warfare within the city walls, so at sundown the four adventurers made their way to the Guardsman’s Leap tavern. The venue was in the shadow of the city watch’s main headquarters, and it appeared that the entire place had been bought out for the evening, because when the party arrived, the only other guests were seated at a single long table with four empty seats. At the center of the table was a middle-aged man, dressed all in white. “Greetings,” he said, motioning everyone to stand as Milacent and Company entered.
“Where’s the food?” Scratchy asked.
The man in white was, as everyone suspected, Alphonse Baghrata, Gentleman Trader. Up close, they saw he had mismatched eyes: one a deep blue and the other dull red, suggesting some sort of exotic ancestry. Despite that, he was pleasant enough, and chatted with Theodore intelligently about history, religion, and other urbane matters. Presently, he came around to the subject of Kieran the Magnificent. “There is a rumor,” he began, “that our performer friend had a shard made of some sort of coppery metal. That it had some kind of special powers that he used in his show. Would you know anything about this?”
Theodore swallowed his veal, looked Alphonse straight in the eye, and said, “No, don’t know anything about a shard.”
“Are you sure? We’d be willing to pay for it. Ten thousand gold, in fact.”
Scratchy didn’t bother to swallow his food, but he did stop chewing and stared straight at Alphonse.
“We’ll let you know if we find out anything,” Theodore replied, and made up his mind to memorize the faces of every single person at the table.
When dinner was over and they were back at Heidmarch Manor, the party informed Sheila of their meeting.
“He’s treating you like idiots,” she said, “he’s offering you what seems like a lot of money now in order to gain something that will bring him far more money in the future.”
“But who will he resell it to?”
“To a government, most likely. The city of Magnimar would pay handsomely for it, especially if they were locked in a bidding war with their rivals. Or …”
“Or maybe the Consortium will use it themselves. The full shard assembly is not just a historical artifact, it’s a weapon. Just the promise not to use it, or not to hand it to unfriendly agents, could be used to extort favors for decades to come. No one knows its full abilities, after all. Just that it was powerful enough to keep the Runelords in line.”
“Well that settles our question,” Theodore said, “of whether to travel to the Lady’s Light by land or by sea. Before we were afraid someone might be watching us, now we know.”
“How does that affect our travel method?” Zelcor asked.
“A ship is large, it’s noticeable. It has lots of crew on it and possibly other passengers, none of whom you know. On foot, however, through a swamp, it would just be us. It’ll be easier to tell if someone’s tracking us, and if we see them we can deal with them ourselves.”
“Alright then,” answered Sheila, “You’ll go on foot. And right before you leave I’ll have my friend the ship captain take his boat out of the harbor, to act as a decoy.”
“Great,” said Milacent, “we get to walk through a swamp.”