Octorum 14, 887 Af.
Kasret and Sharlot, having taken more time to rest the previous day, were the first up that morning. Sharlot came to the common dining room first, and found it empty save for an old man chatting with the bartender. She picked an empty table at a good distance to eavesdrop, and attempted to listen. She heard the man talking about Tieflings getting up to problems, and she heard the bartender exclaim over the stories, before Kasret came to the room. As he approached the bar, the bartender excused herself, saying she needed to get Sharlot's order first.
The bartender convinced her that the bacon, eggs, and potatoes were a better choice than the gruel, as Kasret spoke with the old man. Kasret asked the man to join them at Sharlot's, and together they took their drinks to the table. Sharlot offered to pay for breakfast in exchange for stories from the old man, and he agreed, although to tell them all would take days. Sharlot sized up the man as she told him she would be leaving after breakfast.
The man was old for a human - probably in his seventh decade, Sharlot guessed, although that could be off by a decade either way. He was short and a little stout, and the little hair he had left had turned grey. But he seemed a friendly sort, and asked what type of tale Sharlot would like to hear. "Something new," she answered. "What's going on?"
The old man laughed, and said he had the inside scoop, but she had to promise not to tell anyone. He drew Sharlot and Kasret in close around the table, and began to tell the tale of the adventurers fleeing from giants. He described their long day in the wilderness, not exactly inaccurately, but certainly in more unflattering terms than was called for. Kasret spoke up, informing the man that they were part of the group in question, and it didn't go down exactly like that. The old man smiled and assured him that rumors are just rumors, and his earlier restriction to keep it quiet clearly no longer applied. He told the companions he had to leave, and Sharlot reached for her purse to pay the bill. The man stopped her hand and paid the bill himself, but Sharlot felt a tug at her purse when he did it. He quickly left as Sharlot checked her pouch - he had taken nothing, but left behind a note saying "I am Sancho."
The bartender came back to clear their plates and let them know a carriage waited out front. They went out to see what was going on, and Kasret recognized the carriage driver as an agent of Orchid's. He let Sharlot know, and the two boarded. They rode in comfort to the lake house Orchid was currently living in, and were led inside.
Carta had just awoken in the guest room, and saw a note from Orchid to meet her in the drawing room when he woke. He cleaned himself up, and set off to find her. She was sitting in a luxurious armchair, sipping on a glass of wine and eating cheese from a plate on the table next to her. She motioned Carta to a similar seat next to her and offered him a drink. Carta passed, and asked about where they were to meet his friends. She let him know that two of them had just arrived, while she had not heard word from the other two. She assured him the carriage had been sent, and said they should start talking now, since surely his friends would treat any agreement he made as one worth fulfilling.
At that moment, Sharlot and Kasret were shown into the drawing room. Orchid gave a friendly welcome and a kiss on the cheek to Kasret, holding his hands as she said how glad she was to see him. She told him that she had retrieved her mother's necklace, and she was so sorry that her brother's men attacked him. Then turned to introduce herself to Sharlot. They exchanged pleasantries, and Orchid asked to get down to business. She was worried about her friend - she had gone missing, and Orchid thought that her brother had something to do with it. She wanted to break into his office to find out what had happened to her. She was also worried that her brother had changed for the worse recently, and was starting to really hurt innocents. If they helped her get in, she might be able to find some information that would let her show her uncles what he was doing and bring him down.
Agreeing to help, talk turned to planning. Orchid's plan was straightforward - Sharlot would distract her brother in the casino, while Kasret and Carta would clear the path to the office. She felt confident in this, but the heroes were not - they felt they had skills and options that Orchid wasn't accounting for. Sharlot's burgeoning fame, for one, as well as the various magic items in their possession. Orchid was intrigued by the bottle of mushroom whiskey, and they thought that perhaps having Sharlot drink it before entering the casino and suffering the consequences in front of her brother might be the best plan. Sharlot volunteered to perform a show at a tavern, owned by Orchid, near the casino and then lead an entourage to the casino. Carta's retainers, Sif, and Durdeg would work for that, but they didn't want to call attention to Sharlot this way with her career. Orchid suggested that Sif drink the whiskey, and the others agreed. With the plan ready, the group split up. Kasret went to the club to watch the place and enjoy the free drinks, while Sharlot went to the contract lawyer to speak about her current royalties and advice on the gig tonight. Carta went with her, looking to kill time until the plan would go into action.
Durdeg and Sif finally roused late in the morning, and took some time to discuss events with Venfaren. Sif wondered if they might be able to cast will of the Deity again, and was told that he did not have a sufficient offering. Sif could try commissioning artwork in the city, or look for an auction. As she considered, the butler came and informed them that a carriage had been waiting outside for some time. The two went out to see why the carriage was there, and Sif recognized the orchid carved into the side of the carriage. The driver bowed to the two, and told them their friends were waiting. They entered the carriage and headed towards Orchid's house, while Sif fumed over her worming her way back into Carta's life.
When they arrived, they were ushered into the house, and told that everyone was out at the moment, but they were welcome to wait in the drawing room. Sif did not want to accept this, and demanded to see Orchid. The butler assured her that she would be down as soon as she finished with another item she had to deal with, but Sif would not take no for an answer and started to call for Orchid while searching through the house. Orchid heard her, and with an exasperated sigh went to see what the problem was. The tall, lithe Tiefling towered over the petite wizard, but it did not stop Sif from immediately reaching out to slap the taller woman. Orchid slapped back, and said next time it would hurt, but Sif's rage was undaunted. The two exchanged blows, with a particularly well aimed hit bloodying Sif's nose. Durdeg realized that even when Sif connected it wasn't doing much to the Tiefling, and stepped in to break it up. He calmed them down, and they sat down to review the plan.
The two accepted most of the plan, although Sif did not want to let Orchid out of her sight. She was convinced that it was all a scam, and no matter what, Orchid would stab them in the back in the end (it was not clear to Durdeg if she meant this metaphorically or not). Orchid didn't care who ended up drinking the whiskey, but said that she couldn't get a human into the private gambling room where they would wait for the path to be cleared. She asked if Sif was talented enough to cast a spell that would change her appearance into that of a Tiefling - if so, then she could come along. Sif fumed for a bit before admitting that she couldn't, but Durdeg could. Orchid smiled and told her that's all right, Durdeg can come along while Sif takes her rightful place as the vomiting distraction. While this may have led to further fighting, they got through it and agreed to the idea.
Carta and Sharlot returned to the house, and they finalized the plan. Orchid sprung one last surprise - anyone going in the front door would not be allowed to take in any weapons or large bags. They would have to wear relatively formal clothes (Orchid took the opportunity to get another dig in at Sif, hoping she had something nicer and that Orchid would lend her something but she just wouldn't fill it out) with no weapons and nothing larger than a purse full of money. She had a solution ready, however, with her purse of pocketing, a smaller version of Durdeg's bag of holding. She showed a small bag, four inches deep and six inches across. She opened the top and reached in, her entire arm disappearing into the tiny space. She pulled her arm back to show a rapier in her hand, then dropped it back in the bag. "You can put anything you'll need in here, and I'll stash it in the back where you can find it if needed," she told them, and surprisingly got little resistance to the idea. With the plan ready, the group set off to the tavern, where they would eat before watching Sharlot perform.
When they arrived at the tavern, Kasret reported no issues. Orchid kissed him on the cheek and thanked him, and told the serving girl to bring them all whatever food they desired, on the house. The girl showed her the current tab for Kasret's drinks, and while her eyes widened initially, she nodded and signed off. Everyone had a pleasant meal, and Sharlot started her performance. She sang and played well, with the crowd dancing and singing along with the more well known songs. As she neared the end of her set, Orchid took Durdeg, Carta, and Kasret with her to get in position. Sharlot finished to a lot of applause, and Sif, Boka, and Bolda all gathered around her to praise her singing and ask for autographs as part of their pretense of being groupies. A couple of actual groupies appeared to find them as well - a Nelwyn with red hair and a goatee who appeared to be quite drunk, and a very non-descript man. Average height, average build, brown hair, brown eyes, and clothes that wouldn't stand out anywhere.
The Nelwyn was stumbling drunk, and as Sif was beginning to show signs of being drunk as well, the Nelwyn clung to her as a new found friend. The two chanted together about Sharlot playing more, and cheered when Sharlot told them to join her at the casino. The non-descript man began to question Bolda and Boka about what the knew of Sharlot, and genereally inserted himself everywhere. He followed the group as they made their way to the casino, asking questions of everyone except Sharlot herself.
Orchid's group arrived at the casino, and Orchid led them in the back. She told Kasret to wait beneath the balcony, and took Carta and Durdeg inside. Durdeg had altered his appearance to look like a Tiefling, and so the two walked right into the private casino on the upper floor. Carta went to the dining hall and ordered one of the most expensive wines they had, dropping 100 gold on a single carafe. He then went and waited outside the office, making sure he was conspicuous to the secretary while posing in his polished armor. She was, in Carta's mind, hot, and it became clear that she was looking at him while trying not to be seen. He posed for a bit more, then went in to speak to her. He turned on the charm as high as he could, and offered to share his wine. She was immediately smitten, and decided to throw caution to the wind. She got up and locked the outer door, then told Carta he should join her in the privacy of the conference room. His job done, he followed her to where they could drink and speak of love and connections.
Durdeg and Orchid gambled with the other Tieflings - Durdeg had never played the game before, and lost several gold pieces trying to fit in. He noticed that Orchid was the one who ended up with them, but couldn't say anything about it then. He listened to Orchid as she talked with the other Tieflings about the presence of the giant, hairy beast that they had chased through the town a few weeks back, and how she bets they wished they could find him again. She also reminded them of the follower of Adalci she knew when she was young, and that she'd heard he was in town. Surely her brother still wanted a bit of revenge on him. Durdeg realized that this was her original plan, and she was still laying the seeds necessary for the guards to be distracted by going after the other party members. He realized Sif's reason for distrusting the woman, but there was little he could do about it at the moment. After playing for a while, Orchid swept the chips into a bag, and handed them off to the pit boss, telling him to make sure everything came back to her. She motioned for Durdeg to follow, and said in a low voice that they had either made it by now or the plan would change. When they saw the closed and locked outer door, she smiled and set about opening it and getting to the inner office.
Kasret had waited for a minute outside, but quickly decided this was not the best place to wait. He reached up with his powerful arms, and was able to easily grab the bottom of the balcony. He hauled himself up and swung over the railing. The door to the office was still locked, so he sat in one of the chairs there to wait to be let in. After long enough for him to make himself truly comfortable, but not long enough for sleep to overtake him, the door opened. Orchid seemed a bit surprised he was already there, but was not fazed. She waved him in and turned back to the safe in the room. She opened it quickly, and started to look around in it. The two watched her as she poked around, until she started to curse under her breath. She turned to the desk, and told the others that they could take what they wanted. There were several gold bars and stacks of gold and silver coins that the two swept up into their bags. Orchid was going through every paper on the desk, when the floor began to tremble.
As the front door group arrived at the casino, Sif drank down her shot of mushroom whiskey. The Nelwyn cheered her on, and tried to support her walking in. Sif was not entirely clear on whether he was just trying to help her walk, but she was sure that he was doing it by holding on to her rear end. She sped up as the entourage got to the front door. The bouncer looked her over, and said that they party needed to pay the entrance fee. It was 2 gp, 3 sp, and 17 cp for the group. Sharlot paid the price, and they were let in. The non-descript man did not follow them in, but melted away into the crowd. The Nelwyn stayed as attached to Sif as he could be, and Carta's retainers stayed near them to bulk up the size. They made their way to the casino floor, where they saw an enormous brute of a Tiefling gambling at a central table. The people at the table with him appeared to have lost a lot of money to him, as his stack of coins dwarfed everyone else's combined. The hand they were playing finished with the Tiefling winning again. One player busted out and left, and Sharlot moved up to talk to the Tiefling.
Sharlot talked about her music, but the Tiefling didn't appear to care. When she started to talk about gambling, however, he perked up. She said she didn't know how to play, and he said he'd teach her, but the buy in was 50 gp. She put the money on the table, and the cards were dealt. As the first betting round came up, the Tiefling made his bet, and the others dropped out. With just Sharlot and the Tiefling in, she suggested a different wager - if she lost, she'd provide him with two songs. He ignored what she wanted in return, as he was confident in his hand. He called the bet, and showed his winning cards. Sharlot took the loss well, and prepared to sing. As she was singing, the dealer began the next hand, and Sif began to feel queasy. She let it come, and as Sharlot was hitting the high notes, Sif threw up on the floor, the table, and the enormous Tiefling. Bolda and Boka knew this was wear things would go off the rails, and made a quick exit. The Nelwyn looked a bit queasy himself, and joined them in fleeing the casino.
As the Tiefling stood up and looked at Sif with Fury in his eyes, a rumbling sound came from the puddle of sick on the ground. Everyone in the room not already headed for the doors froze, as a tiny pyramid of sandstone began to push up from the floor. It did not remain tiny for long - it grew quickly, maintaining the golden ratio between height and base as it pushed its way from the floor. In seconds, it had hit the ceiling and pushed through, with no indication it was stopping. The people nearby, including Sif, Sharlot, and the Tiefling, began to scramble away from the stone work appearing in front of them. Sif and Sharlot headed quickly to where their weapons should be waiting, and the Tiefling yelled for others to come to his aid. As the base of the pyramid expanded to 60 feet across, a stone doorway opened, and something began to stagger out of the depths. Sharlot and Sif saw the crowds pushing towards the exits, and decided it was time to flee. The last thing they saw was a figure wrapped in bandages lurching from the depths of the pyramid, and Carta slding down the side with a Tiefling woman in his arms.
On the upper floor, the three non-humans in the group had just finished looking through the papers when the building shook. They didn't know what was happening, but they were sure it had something to do with the plan and now was the time to get out. They quickly went over the balcony to the ground below, and ran outside the walls surrounding the building. They regrouped a short distance away, eyes peeled for the others. Carta, meanwhile, had been drinking and wooing the secretary when the point of the pyramid shot up through the floor. It was on its way to the roof, and the floor was crumbling beneath them. The woman fell, and looked on the verge of being crushed by the walls falling in. Carta grabbed her, and took the only opening he had, sliding down the side of the pyramid into the room below. He hit the casino floor as the mummy was making its way out on the other side. With chaos surrounding him, he made sure the woman was safe, and went to check on his companions.
Everyone gathered outside, including Carta's retainers. Carta sent them on, telling them to get to Orchid's house and see to Lews. The two of them looked at each other and shook their heads, then trudged off down the road. Orchid told everyone that she was headed for her house, and they should come with to discuss the events of the night. Carta refused, saying he had to go back in to help. Sif, Durdeg, and Kasret went with, intending to find out what she had found in the office. Sharlot followed behind, keeping a look out for any new problems. As they left, Carta heard the screaming from inside die off. He charged back to the building, noticing that the flow of people outward had stopped. He made it into the building, and saw Orchid's brother, the giant Tiefling, standing over the bodies of a number of his guards and a broken and bloody mummy. Carta went up to him and tried to ask if others needed help. The Tiefling turned to him with a raging fire in his eyes, and told him to get out or face destruction at his hands. Carta was there to help, not to fight, so he turned away and looked for any wounded. He saw a man, barely breathing, near the doors out. He had clearly been trampled in the rush, and Carta called on the divine power of Adalci to help him. As the warmth of his God flowed through him, the man breathed easier, and Carta was able to help him out.
Those who made it back to Orchid's place learned what she had found. The safe should have contained an artifact that had been held by her family for ages, but it was gone. Between that and the papers on the desk, she feared the worst. Her friend was gone, and the notes on the desk made it clear that her brother saw her friend more recently than she had. It also looked as though her brother had shipped the artifact out of the city. She told them that the artifact could be used to open a portal to the Empyrean and bring forth evil that resides there. She desperately wanted their help in seeking out the artifact and bringing it back to her. When Sif asked why not just destroy it, she said that it had to be done by someone in her family, as part of an ancient curse.
The group took this all in, and headed to Venfaren's to discuss and see if they could glean anything from some divination. They had the man run his rituals to commune with the Deity and divine the future, and the answers were helpful, but not definitive. The artifact was clearly dangerous, but Venfaren reminded them of their commitment to the Duke. Taking everything into consideration, they decided that their best course would be to scout out the badlands for the Duke, then continue on north to the Grey Citadel, where Orchid believed the artifact had been sold. Sif gave them one last bit of news to stew over before they headed to bed and prepared to leave in the morning - after returning to Venfaren's tower, she had opened her money pouch. Found inside was a note saying, "I am Sancho". None of the others had such a note, and she did not know when it might have been planted, other than it wasn't there when she left in the morning. The rest absorbed the news, and left for their respective beds.
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