21 Barrakas, 998 YK
Sar, 9:48 AM
Rocky first laid eyes upon Rhukaan Draal mid-morning of the fifth day after the attack. The caravan had seen no further trouble from the Kech Shaarat for the rest of the trip to the city, though Salter swore he would report the attack to the authorities in the city. The warforged approved. The caravan master had displayed the proper flags, and the raiders had ignored them and attacked anyway. The dead hobgoblins had received their just reward, but others had fled the same. It pleased the warden that they might yet suffer the consequences of flouting the law.
After Salter paid them the promised gold, the Cyrans entered the city. Once a Cyran frontier town, Rhukaan Draal had grown into a sprawling goblin metropolis. The architectural tapestry was dizzying; mud and timber huts surrounded ancient structures of stone and brick, interspersed with canvas tents and pavilions. Most of the roads were bare earth, and few of the wonders or conveniences of the more civilized cities were evident. Within the ramshackle city, Rocky noted that a single building dominated the skyline – an enormous tower of red stone that rose up from the very center of the city.
“That’s Khaar Mbar’ost, the court of the hobgoblin king,” Rickard commented. “Most folk just call it the ‘Red House’ though.”
Goblins and hobgoblins dominated the population of the city, going about their business in much the same way Rocky had seen men and women of the other fleshy races do so. His mouth quirked in a warforged approximation of curiosity when he noticed many bipeds – of various races – in chains. The truth of the situation was not immediately evident, and closer inspection beckoned. For a few moments he stared, trying to figure out why so many different jailers would be accompanying so many seemingly innocuous inmates. The sad reality dawned on his metallic brain as the glint of despair echoed in the eyes of slave after slave.
Being kept against your will as punishment for a crime most often breeds contempt, hate, then complacency; none of which he saw. Being owned saps the fire from a person’s belly, empties their soul. Those eyes are known to any who dare meet their gaze, especially those recently freed of the affliction. That the free persons of the town took no obvious action against the situation spoke volumes and put the situation into perspective. These were not, as a whole, people of great moral conviction or character. A sad truth, but a useful insight as well.
“Well, ain’t that a kick in th’ head,” Arturo said, eyeing the slaves.
Mind your words and use the mindlink if you must be derisive of the local populace, came Ralharath’s mental voice.
“Sure,” Rebexa said aloud.
Arturo chuckled and elbowed her playfully. “Mind your manners, Girly,” he said with a grin that seemed to show a great many of his teeth.
“Soon’s I find them,” she replied.
Rocky noted that the pair seemed to take pleasure in needling the kalashtar. I’m not sure what ‘derise’ means, but it’s probably better if we don’t say anything rude about goblins, he suggested.
So, where are we off to? the changeling asked.
“Anyone remember the name of the person we are to find here?” Relic asked.
Please do not utter the name of who we seek aloud Ralharath insisted.
Well, that’s easy, Rocky’s fellow warforged replied. ’Cause I don’t remember who it is anyhow.
Oy! Cool yer heels, Ral. We ain’t daft, Arturo projected. The kalashtar arched an eyebrow incredulously at him, but the tiefling only offered another toothy grin back. The artificer’s bird familiar cawed. “He seconds it,” Arturo said.
Who has the letter? Is it in the sack, Art? Relic asked.
Yep. The tiefling began fishing around in the pockets of the enchanted bag, searching for the letter. When he found it, he smoothly palmed it to Relic.
Ralharath looked around nervously. I know I have advised this ad nauseum, but we are out in the open. Perhaps we should get indoors, at the least.
A’ight, folks. Let’s find a place to drink and look inconspicuous at whilst we do conspicuous things a’fore Ral has a ki-niption fit, Arturo said.
Relic shook his head, a decidedly human gesture, if a convenient one. Yes, I understand that looking at a piece of paper is incredibly devious and worthy of attention, but I’ll risk it.
Rocky thought he remembered the name. Is it Failin? he thought, trying to ignore Arturo and Bex bantering across the mindlink. I think there’s something about a blood market, where we were supposed to meet this person, although I don’t know what kind of place that might be.
The other warforged skimmed the letter briefly before nodding. It is indeed, Rocky. Failin in ‘The Bloody Market’.
Lessee if we can find a place near this Bloody Market? Bex suggested.
I will go look for this market, Rocky asserted. Alcohol makes my sockets itch anyway. Does anyone wish to accompany me?
None of us should travel alone, Ralharath agreed. Not with this task on our shoulders and with so few of our nation remaining.
Okay. I’ll go with him, Relic said.
Ralharath, your national pride is commendable. Thank you, Rocky projected sincerely.
Nobody should bother with two warforged. Your decision is logical. Let us know what your scouting uncovers, said the kalashtar.
Arturo pointed out a building with a hanging sign featuring a foaming mug, then led the others toward it while Rocky and Relic began their search. They made a short circuit, attempting to look casual, but the warden wasn’t certain how well they were doing to blend in. Fortunately, after about ten minutes, they came across a vast bazaar. An ocean of tents and milling goblins filled the marketplace.
“I think this might be the place, Rocky,” said his companion.
“I think we have indeed found the place,” the warden agreed. “Let’s get back before they get drunk.”
“Maybe we should locate the person before heading back…although I am unsure how.”
“We could, or we could set Ralharath on the crowd and let him scan brains until he gets what he wants. Either way, I’m with you. Plus, I only speak Common.” Rocky shrugged, exercising one of his own human affectations.
“Hmm… Let’s let Ral have his fun. I know I wouldn’t want to read the minds of everyone in the market. Besides, it’s important to Ral to seem like he is being useful, I have noticed.”
“Agreed. Fair, then. Let’s to it.” As they walked back toward the tavern, Rocky kept an eye out for anyone paying them any extra attention, but he did not see anyone suspicious tailing them.
. . .
Arturo and Bex were toasting happiness when the warforged entered the bar. It seemed to Rocky as though the pair were already well-lubricated from the alcohol. It had that effect on the fleshy races. Rickard was leaning back comfortably in his chair and nursing a whisky, and Ralharath sat with his fingers steepled, watching the room.
Rocky saw every other patron look up at him and Relic when they walked through the doors, but their interest only lasted for a moment. He strolled over to his companions’ table with the wizard at his side. “Well met,” he greeted them.
“Excellent timing,” the kalashtar said aloud. “Have you located the market?”
“Yes, we have. It is very near,” the warden replied.
“Then we’d best be off,” Ralharath said, starting to rise.
Rocky placed a restraining hand on his shoulder gently. You should go there and search for the man we seek, using your brain powers. We will accompany you, so you are not in any danger.
It doesn’t work like that, the wizard replied. We’ll have to do it as we normally would.
And how would we do it normally? Bex asked. Rocky sensed an odd tone in her mental voice, as if she truly wasn’t sure what Relic meant.
Ralharath’s mind-voice was toneless. With our vocal cords.
I don’t follow your logic, Relic admitted. How are we to use our words to find this person if we aren’t supposed to say his name aloud? The kalashtar did not reply.
Interesting, Rocky said. Well, then you can stay or come as you like. Arturo, Rick, Bex… We need you.
Those who had been drinking swiftly finished, and waited for Arturo to pay the tab. Then the warforged led their companions back to the Bloody Market through the sea of commerce, misery, and interesting sights and smells that was the city of Rhukaan Draal. Rocky forced himself to focus on the goal, but it offended his sensibilities to ignore the suffering of the slaves he saw beaten and the other illicit dealings he witnessed on the streets. He caught pangs of revulsion and fury from Ralharath through the mindlink at the sight of the slaves. The warden was impressed that the disciplined kalashtar maintained an iron grip on his emotions and remained stoic.
Rickard, the only one among the Cyrans who spoke the Goblin tongue, approached a merchant and began the search for Failin. It became apparent that Common was spoken and understood by a number of people in the market, and so the adventurers split up and began to make inquiries.
Rocky approached a human merchant who seemed less unpleasant than most. “I am looking for a man named Failin. Do you know of him?”
The merchant glared up at him, mouth open to retort, but he apparently thought better of it. “Never heard of ‘im,” he muttered.
The warden moved to the next merchant and repeated his simple inquiry, but he received much the same response. The pattern repeated a number of times, and Rocky slowly got the impression that simply asking might not result in the information they sought.
About that time, Arturo approached with the others, “Oy! Mah friend over there done sold me a great item.” Along with how ta get to Failin, he concluded over the mindlink. He then explained that he’d gotten the name of a tavern Failin was known to frequent. To tha’ Clenched Fist!
Ralharath assumed an odd smile. It seems you lead us exclusively to taverns.
Arturo smirked. “Always. Never underestimate the draw of ale.”
As they followed the tiefling, Rocky looked curiously at a cloth cap atop Relic’s usually uncovered metal head. His companion offered no explanation. About a block away, they found a placard above a door displaying a mummified ogre’s hand clenched tightly in a fist and nailed in place. The rundown tavern appeared to cater to humans and members of the other common races. The commons was about half-full of patrons eating, drinking, and engaging in low conversations.
“I’ll buy the first round,” Relic offered as Rocky claimed a table for the group.
“A man after me own heart,” Arturo called after him as he sat. Ralharath took a seat next to him and stared around the room suspiciously.
Relic returned with drinks for all four of the fleshy Cyrans, and Ralharath nudged his toward the tiefling. Arturo nodded to him with a grin, downed his own drink before exhaling deeply. Rocky frowned, unsure if the kalashtar was being nice, or if he was annoyed by his fellow wizard’s offer. He noticed that Bex stared into her own drink, swaying gently in her chair.
Arturo nudged her and lifted his second drink with a smile. “Ain’t doin’ ya no good ta be shy, Girly.”
She favored him with a weak smile. “I know. I just… I just need a minute.”
Enjoy your ale, Ralharath projected. Half the party will remain alert.
Arturo chuckled. “Well, can’t let the round go ta waste.”
If nobody else is inclined, I will ask the keeper of this establishment if he knows of Failin, Rocky offered.
Sure, Rocky. Go ahead, Relic said.
He stood and approached the bar, finding a sturdy stool. Once he caught the bartender’s attention, he asked after their quarry. The barkeep directed him to a corner table in the rear of the room. There sat a gangly human with a shock of unruly red hair and bright blue eyes in sunken sockets. His lined and weathered skin contrasted with his clean and well-tailored clothing; he did not appear to be short of gold.
Rocky approached the man, who watched the warden’s approach in curious silence. “Hello, my name is Rocky. I am looking for Failin. Are you he?” The man nodded cautiously.
It might set him at ease to mention that Elaydren sent us, came Bex’s voice.
“An interesting and coy lady by the name of Elaydren sends her regards,” the warforged continued. “It is my understanding that you can facilitate transportation to Rose Quarry for myself and several companions.”
Finally the man spoke in rapid-fire bursts. “Rose Quarry? Very far away. Near the border. Near the gray mist. Mining town. I can take you. Yes. But it will cost you. Sixty gold each. Forty up front. You bring your own supplies.”
He wants sixty gold apiece for travel to Rose Quarry, Rocky reported.
I am okay with that arrangement, Relic replied.
Mebbe he’ll take fifty, Bex suggested. I better talk to him.
Aloud, Rocky said stoically, “There are six of us, and we can pay forty gold each, all of it up front.” The man’s brow quirked upward at the counteroffer. The warforged thought his eyes seemed…amused? He heard additional telepathic chatter, his companions telling him what to say. Thoroughly distracted, he finally projected, You all have very good ideas. I should like to learn more from you at a later date.
The warden sensed Bex’s approach about the time that Failin’s eyes flicked to her. She didn’t quite stagger, but when she arrived to the table, she supported herself with a chair. She drew in a breath, and when she said nothing, the red-haired man said, “For six, fifty each.”
“Then we are negotiating,” Rocky said, taking a step to the side. “Bex, this is Failin. I’ll be close at hand.” He took a step back.
“We can do fifty each, sure. Hi. Rebexa Chandler,” said the changeling, offering her hand.
Failin considered the hand for a moment then looked up into her face. He slowly reached up to take it. “Pretty girl. Cunning ploy. Might have gone lower. Agreed at fifty each. When?”
“When’s the soonest we could be underway?” Bex asked.
“All right. Should we meet you here?”
“Sooner is better. Burning daylight.”
Ralharath complained about the price over the mindlink. Rocky pointed out that the deal had been struck and there was nothing for it but to honor the terms that had been set. The kalashtar disagreed, excusing himself and asserting that he would find his own way to Rose Quarry. When he was gone, Rickard reminded the group that Lady Elaydren had given them five hundred gold up front for expenses.
Once that was settled, Bex said, “I think we’re ready now.”
“Then let us go,” Failin said, standing up from the table and gesturing toward the door. “Follow me! My land cart is hidden nearby.”
“A land cart,” Rickard said. “Impressive. Also explains the cost.”
Failin looked alert for threats as he led the group hastily from the Clenched Fist to the west through the Bloody Market. As they entered an alley, Rocky heard Bex ask the man, “So, who are we avoiding?”
Four burly bugbears stepped out of the shadows of the alley exits ahead, and Failin stopped short. “Them.”
“Failin, you cheat us!” growled one of the bugbears as the other goblinoids raised their heavy axes threateningly.
“Oh, blast,” the changeling cursed.
“Well, Failin… Looks like you’ve got a problem,” Rocky observed.
“You want my land cart. Protect me,” said the man.
“Sure,” Relic said. “For twenty gold each.”
“Hrm. Shrewd. I accept.”