The Stone Pit
It was suppose to be a simple job. Find a rival, end the rival, get paid. Well, maybe not simple. Direct. Yeah, that’s a better…
Arriving at The Hippo, we were led through the corridors surrounding the stands until we entered a large private viewing room overlooking the arena below. I did a double-take. Standing in front of a desk was a fire-haired stout man covered in the queer blue tattoos that lined Branok’s body. He greeted us with a thick brogue, one I’ve not heard since I left Faerun, introducing himself as Pryce. Seemed as though he and Branok got on right away. Knowing more than a few dialects of dwarvish made it easier for me to follow the exchange and eventually what he was tasking us with easier than, I think, the others.
Apparently a rival fight club was rumored, one that was lethal. There were few details. Competitors who had lost in The Hippo, usually completely out-classed, had been disappearing along with a handful of others around the area. It was pretty clear Pryce wasn’t going to tolerate a competitor, but, more importantly, he wasn’t going to allow some low class operation cut into his reputation. We were given a description of the last person the most recent missing losing competitors had been seen speaking to, an old man with a long white beard, and a location where rumors had been circulating, a manse on Cry Baby Alley in the Shades.
This was going to require some strategy. The five of us (Truda, Branok, Flynkin, and Noggal) would have to try to finesse this job. I had my doubts, but as we talked we came up with good options. We floated the idea of a straight up burglary but it was agreed it would be too much of direct assault. Given what we we knew, Branok offered himself up as bait reasoning since he hadn’t fought with us in the arena, he could take a dive without raising suspicions and get himself recruited. It was a good point of advantage, but we didn’t like the idea of leaving him out there to dry or, if it didn’t work, we’d just be square one. Finally, we settled on staking out the Hippo, finding the old man, and following him to confirm his hideout. It would be easy to do, especially with Thyrsus as an eye in the sky.
Sure enough, a pair of local commoners were thoroughly thrashed by Boson’s Boys and when they exited, there was an old man with a white beard waiting for them. Discreetly, we followed as the old man seemed to come to an agreement with the boys and lead them away down some winding streets to Cry Baby Alley and into a tall mansion sitting inside the circle making up the street. We had our location, but how to get in? Branok was certain there’d be a bar nearby where we could grouse about not being able to bet on ‘real fights’ with ‘real consequences’ to tip some shady local into giving information. We found the nearest pub, The Long Bones.
Branok went in alone returning not too long after with a special knock that’d get him in to watch and bet on an underground fight ring. It seemed like our best option. However, I didn’t like the idea of him going in alone so I used Disguise Self and went with him as back-up. With Thyrsus keeping watch high up on the roofs surrounding, the others would sneak in after we had gained entry as I sent Truda updates via Message. If it was the fight club Pryce wanted taken down, we’d do it from the inside or, at the very least, get enough information to strike later. We were all on the same page. With evening descending, we decided to act.
Entering the manse went smoothly enough. I disguised myself as a human allowing Branok to take the lead. We were ushered into a long empty hall of the rather posh looking house (but it was clear it hadn’t been kept up for some time). The butler disappeared after Branok informed him why we were here. Things to be going in the right direction. Once the butler left, however, some trigger was flipped and the floor below us gave way. We slide down what felt like at least twenty or thirty feet landing in what to all appearances was a prison cell. Getting my feet back under me, I sent a message to Truda telling her what had happened and that they needed to get inside the manse sooner rather than later.
There was nothing but silence as Branok and I looked around.
“This looks like it’s about to sideways.” He said.
“Yeah,” I agreed looking through the bars of the doorway in front of us, “but it could be a test. I dunno. I don’t like it.”
“That’s two of us.”
Just then I heard a moan and from around the corner of the wall just beyond the bars of our apparent cell, a human flopped over looking our way as he attempted to crawl. It took me a moment but it was one of the boys the old man had taken.
Suddenly the bars shot down into the ground disappearing as the chamber beyond where the human was filled with light and music. I could just make out someone speaking but not the specifics.
“I don’t think we’re betting on a fight…” Branok said.
I nodded, “…we’re part of the fight.”
We stepped out into the chamber. A fighting pit. The two humans from the Hippo bleeding out against the wall near our cell and three ugly statues in three corners of the square. I could just make out the robed figures watching from above but couldn’t see any details. There seemed to be some bards behind the crowd playing. I had Sparkjaw unsheathed but hidden under my cloak as I stepped to the central stone circle. As I did so, one of the statues came to life unleashed two large stone wings as it swooped down on me.
With Branok just behind me, it became clear we were an addendum to the evening’s entertainment. Just as another statue came to life moving towards Branok, Noggal came tumbling in like a madman. Apparently, the others had made their way in and found the trapdoor leading to us. Soon we were engaged in battle with the stone creatures, gargoyles. As we hit out at the creatures, the crowd above watching gave what sounded like applause but prim and proper. I kept looking around trying to find a place where I might be able to climb up but had to always come back to the fact that a vicious stone creature was taking swipes and bits at me.
The three gargoyles had us occupied but not overwhelmed. Once Flykin and Truda entered, it was only a matter of time before the creatures were pummeled to dust. Once they did come into play, I felt some crossbow bolts wiz by us from above. Apparently, someone didn’t like the fact the odds were in our favor. Suddenly there was a huge commotion from the rafters as the crowd parted. I could see the robed figures begin to run away from something, abandoning their seats and the spectacle of us.
I unleashed Sparkjaw’s lightning charge into the gargoyle I was facing and as it crumbled the rafter above me seemed to snap and fall like a ramp up to the gallery. I yelled to the others I was going up. Leaping up the rungs, I quickly came face-to-face with what appeared to be a trio of musicians standing back-to-back with weapons drawn. They weren’t attacking anything but moving slowly towards the pit. I couldn’t tell if they were trying to escape or had been the cause of the chaos. With my sword out, I was poised to strike at the trio. But making eye contact with one of them, it was clear they weren’t looking for trouble unless I came at them. I relaxed slightly passing by them still on guard but not hostile. Then I saw him, the old man with white beard.
I rushed to confront the old man but immediately saw something was amiss. His appearance was almost hallucinatory, like an old human and a gnome were occupying the same space. This was some kind of magic. With Sparkjaw out I held it aloft as though about to strike.
“You’re coming with me.” I said as the old man/gnome held up his hands. “Put an end to this. Call them off. How do we get out of here?”
The old man/gnome just looked at me with contempt. I felt anger flood my body as I punched what was either the gnome in the face or the old man in the genitals. No matter, the old man/gnome crumpled and passed out. I called behind me to my friends I had a prison and I turned I saw nearly all of them up in the gallery with me. Truda seemed to be having some kind of stern exchange with one of the musicians as the rest were closing in on another. I manacled the oldman/gnome and gagged him. At this point it was clear from handling him, I was dealing with a Svirfneblin or deep gnome.
By the time I got over to the others, they had the butler who had let Branok and I in and Truda was having it out with one of the musicians.
“What’s all that about?” I asked gesturing to Truda as I approached Noggal and Flynkin watching Branok beat and bind the butler.
Noggal looked up with grin, “That’s Tristan.”
I stopped and blinked several times, “Her…”
“Son. Yeah, her son.” Flynkin interjected almost gleefully.
I paused, looked back at Truda and then back to the fellas, “I am so glad I didn’t kill her boy.”
Noggal let out a loud ‘HA!’ as Branok approached saying “Seems we’ve got what we came for.” The audience as it were had scattered fleeing.
“I saw a room back where I got this one, let me check it out.” I said. Following a narrow hall off of where I found the gnome, I came to a bedchamber/office of sorts. I found the gnome’s journal, and as a wanted poster informed me, his name was Claagingred with a 2000 gold bounty on his head.
“We can go.” I called to the others as I emerged. “This one,” I gestured to the unconscious gnome with the wanted poster in my hand, “is gonna net us some coin.”
“This place can sink into the Nine Hells.” Branok angrily muttered as we made our way through the halls of the manse.
“Well, then let’s burn it to the ground.” I replied as I pushed over a brazier under some thick curtains. “Pryce isn’t gonna mind.”
Branok smiled, “Right? It’s not our fault some folks went wild and knocked stuff over.” He says as he sets a torch to some tapestries in the hall.
As we exit the now burning manse, I turn to Branok. “We’re paying that barkeep you got your information from a visit.”
He nods, “And soon.”