The dwarves expected Hum Lae (Max) to gather some fellow humans to help with tasks that needed doing. (Don’t all humans know each other, more or less?)
Hum Lae (now 3rd level) wandered around the neighborhood and saw a dice game going on with a couple new chaos monks garnering winnings.
Anju (Michael) was a coin clipper who had been captured with his gang, and while in jail lightning struck his cell and infused him with chaos. He managed to escape through the open door, helping himself to whatever was in the evidence bin on his way out.
Otivan (Oti for short) (Eamon) was a scrivener in a shrine to Tamash the Truthful, out in the countryside. He faithfully copied over a contract that breathed with dark energies, and some of that seeped into him; he was relieved of duty, and wandered to the Yellow City to find his fortune, with only the contents of the donation box and what he could buy with it.
Hum Lae offered the other chaos monks work, and they accepted. The neighborhood was coated with wet butterflies (it was the rainy season) and they inspected some to see that they were decorated magically as flying leaflets to the Leopard-Who-Laughs tea house, and each butterfly even included a coupon.
Leisure in Kuan Loon
They seated themselves in the bustling tea house, looking at the rough strangers in the place. Hum Lae saw a yakkish sitting alone with a hookah, and tried to make friends with him, but the yakkish was feeling hostile.
They were called over to a table where a bunch of bravos from the Small Swords Society were finishing up supper. They fell to talking, and found that one of them, Kammish, had an uncle who owned a hookah den, and they were all going there next. The monks went along.
The hookah den was in a basement, and knee deep in water in the rainy season, but there were floating candles and luminescent rocks in the water casting patterns of ripples on the ceilings and walls, and they sat on an island couch and shared a hookah. They talked with Kammish about the current dilemma facing the Small Swords.
The Guildmaster Sunli had been bitten by a tiny asp brought in by a snake cult assassin posing as an applicant. The cursed nature of the bite meant it could not be healed by apothecaries or priests, and he was dying by inches in spite of their best efforts. Ruten, Master of Arms, had the compound on lockdown–especially forbidding applicants to join.
They also talked about how the Small Swords Society had exclusive rights to salvage the Thousand Pagodas, and how they answered to the Jade Empress of Kwantoom, and other assorted lore and chit chat.
They decided that together they would take on the snake cult that was killing the Guildmaster of the Small Swords. In the morning. He was to be found on Weeping Yak lane and surroundings.
Infiltrating the Shrine
Anju and Oti would use the height of the five storey shrine to Roc, King of the Winds, to oversee Weeping Yak lane and its surroundings to get a sense what they were dealing with. While they were waiting, Kammish and Hum Lae went to get a fantastic pedicure and foot massage. (The woman who rubbed Hum Lae’s feet was apparently from his village back home; small world.)
Oti climbed the outside of the shrine to the third level, where he could see the rooftops with the snake cult. He saw some town guards try to go down the street, and a cultist strolled off the roof onto stilts and threw snakes at the guards to chase them off.
Oti climbed into the pagoda, near a shrine area where a sluggish meditated with a human guarding him. He found an abandoned shrine area and put on the clogs, robes, and fan of a visiting supplicant servant of the sluggish that owned the worship niche in the shrine. Then he headed downstairs to help Anju get in position.
Meanwhile Anju came in and introduced himself as Hum Lae. He suggested that he was trying to decide who was better, a snake cult or a bird cult. This offended the staff, so he found a different priest in the shrine, who told him about the time the Roc assumed the form of a human avatar, coming to the Yellow City as a chef. They went into that area of the shrine, where there was a bas relief carving of the avatar, an impressive muscled bald man with a cocked eyebrow. Apparently the scent of his delectable dishes once saved the Jade Empress, centuries ago. You could burn offerings reminiscent of his favorite dishes, like bacon flavored incense. You could smell what the Roc was cooking.
Oti talked with the shrine staff, who told him his master Delvis was behind on paying for his private shrine on the upper level. (Initial cost, 100 gp per floor, and 10 gp per floor per month, so for a shrine on the 3rd floor, 30 gp a month…) Oti promised to iron that out with his master, but in the meantime, told them his master mated with a human somehow, and had an unacknowledged bastard that needed to be kept out of trouble–Anju.
Oti and Anju went back up to the currently unused shrine niche, robbing it of about 100 gp and reclaiming Oti’s gear. They left the shrine, rejoining Hum Lae and Kammish at an outdoor cafe.
Infiltrating the Snake Cult
They planned their approach, and then went to the courtyard at the mouth of Weeping Yak lane. (Kammish declined to participate in their plan, as he had worked with too many chaos monks to believe things would go smoothly.)
The beggars shook their begging gourds to alert the cultists, then Oti loudly denounced Anju and Hum Lae as snake-loving frauds who were ejected from the shrine of the Roc. A cultist got on stilts and approached, tossing a snake at Oti, who was bit before he killed the snake. Oti staggered back to the Roc shrine, where the priests summoned an alchemist who had been treating all the snake bites in the neighborhood, and saved his life for the cost of 5 gold.
Meanwhile, the other two were not trusted by the snake cultists. They faced trial by snake; a cultist hurled a snake from his basket down at Anju. The monk caught the snake, and used his wilderness survival training and force of will to charm the snake. Impressed, the cultist escorted them some ways down Weeping Yak Lane.
They were brought up to the roof via knotted rope to a gazebo like structure where the leader held court with four ladies and a bunch of snakes, around a small shrine of black and green stone, about 2’x1’x1′. Anju again charmed the snakes so they could take a seat without being bitten; easier now that they were among relaxed, casual snakes. They met Kishori, leader of the Shimmering Scales gang, who spoke with annoyingly prolonged “ssss” sounds.
Anju introduced himself as “Yellowbelly the Unconquered” and Hum Lae as “Fang the Venomous.” It helped that Hum Lae had a snake tattoo as a sleeve on his left arm. They were offered the chance to join the cult, and they agreed. Hum Lae stuck his arm into the otherdimensional space in the altar first, and the ancient reptilian demigod liked his murderous and traitorous intent. He was allowed to grasp a charm that would prevent any snake from biting him as long as he was connected to Kulaja the Scaled.
Anju tried next, and he was not quite as murderous and traitorous, so the demigod demanded a price from him; the dark spirit curled up through him and transformed his eyes to snake eyes. He too got a charm to protect him from snakes. Then they had a good time with some mild drugs and relaxing decadence for about a half hour.
Back at the shrine to the Roc, King of the Wind, Oti spun a tale of how the snake cult grabbed “Hum Lae” the bastard offspring of the sluggish Delvis, and how they needed to get him back. This was the last straw with the shrine of Roc, so they called in a favor with a club fighting guild, the Octopoids, and sent them to retrieve the bastard.
So it was that the rooftop party was interrupted by a dozen hard-bitten pit fighters showing up ready for murder. The snake cultists snapped into action, flinging snakes on them and raining down javelins and daggers, leaving only the four women and snake pit guarding the altar. Kishori, the leader, had a sort of palanquin on stilts with blades on the legs, and he fought from that as the pit fighters threw spiked bolas and the mayhem escalated.
Instead of joining the fight, Hum Lae persuaded the ladies that the shrine needed to be underground, it was an abomination for it to be in the open air like this. The ladies agreed, and they climbed down to the street on the other side of the block from the fighting.
Oti, injured but upright, was rushing to rendezvous with his fellow monks. He rounded the corner to see them standing there with the portable altar and the four snake women.
Betrayal, Murder, Theft
Anju was caught between pretending to fight Oti or actually fighting the snake women. Hum Lae opened things up by killing one of the snake women outright, and Oti held back and flung acid into the face of a snake woman, killing her outright before he pulled out his crossbow. Battle was joined, but Hum Lae was too much for the snake women; Anju helped him cut them down, and the last survivor ran, only to be felled by Oti’s hurled spear.
They swiftly harvested the heads of the snake women (who had grown scales and fangs and become quite formidable right before getting mowed down) and took the altar, making a run for the Roc shrine, since Hum Lae had been injected with a massive dose of venom.
The alchemist saved him for another 5 gp, and the monks met up with Kammish and ran to the Small Swords compound.
Kammish vouched for them, and they had snakey heads and a portable altar, so they were allowed in to see the ailing Guildmaster. Anju begged Kulaja the Scaled to relinquish the curse on Sunli, and Kulaja was convinced only after granting Anju a forked snake tongue that could grow to be a couple feet long. (He can also see through cloth with his magical snake eyes.)
Anju “ate” the curse, swallowing it down, and then Hum Lae used the healing perfume to restore the Guildmaster.
Hum Lae, Anju, and Oti were inducted into the Small Swords Society as a reward for their service. They donated the snake altar, which was put in the vault under the compound. They also split the stolen gems and statues and goods from the shrine niche for 30 gp each, and 10 gp to the alchemist for saving their lives.