Calendel, Valdis, Annonciade, Kestrel, and Søren. They booked passage on the Sea Coffin, an experimental submersible that failed and had the top ripped off, captained by Billick, a sad sailor who heard the song of a siren and can never again be happy.
Before they left they bought sea travel comfort kits with hammocks, snacks, pest repellent, and so on. They also met a vendor in Elbow Creek selling magical frogs from a handcart; Kestrel bought a curse-eating frog and Calendel bought an iFrog that could learn and repeat music.
The iFrog was such a hit on the voyage (it knew a song from its drowning pool where it was spawned, about bodies hitting the floor, and the orc crew LOVED it) Calendel let the captain buy the frog off him. Kestrel managed to keep his frog away from the captain; if it ate his curse, it would perish.
Welcome to Skullport
As they sailed up to the vast and wicked city, they saw Drowned Priests execute a row of people chained together, pushing them into the water. Taking in the massive engineering feat of King’s Bridge, twelve stories tall and a mile wide, they made landfall before passing Gibbet Bridge. The other sights and smells of the urban landscape were stunning, but Annonciade, Kestrel, and Calendel had been through the city before during their time in the military. Arden had passed through once or twice while searching for the old gods. Only Søren was new to the breathtaking spectacle of deeply piled civilization.
Since they were looking for lore on the old gods, they moved through the Merchant District and the trader’s ward. They were denied service in the Legless Seagull pub because they had an elf with them, but on the way out they invited the hapless starving minstrel named Cedric to accompany them. They went to the Saucy Elf, a garret loft pub with delusions of elfin refinement. Cedric played the harp for them and they got a poor person’s version of very fancy food, as well as a recommendation from Kestrel that the Black Finger was a great place for steak (since fancy food is notoriously unsatisfying.)
Checking Out a Book
They went up to the University District, squeaking through the closing gates as the orcs hauled them shut for dusk. Picking a bookstore at random, they met Jingles the Pointless Cat and his owner, a thin old fellow delighted by the accent of the elf, who apparently ran an entire shop of “romance novels” flavored towards various lores.
Annonciade had contacts in the city, and she knew of a literal and figurative underground bookstore, a sprawling subbasement that could only be reached through secret entrances in other establishments, called the Oubliette.
One entrance was through a trashy bookstore catering to particular tastes, staffed by a hefty boar-headed man who grunted “We don’t judge” every time the door opened. Going through to the back, she gained access to the Oubliette, where they met Jannara, a cobweb-haired pale woman in black robes. The Oubliette seemed to mix books, wine, and catacombs in an unsavory underground sprawl.
They asked for lore on Zomok and his children, an upsetting request. Annonciade also made the point they were looking for a Book of Power, if such a thing was possible. Jannara’s terms for giving them an opportunity to buy a book of Power–finish a ritual connecting to the fey realm. They were not sure what the ritual’s finish would look like, and they didn’t want to take the risk. It needed an ounce of unicorn horn and a competent casting to finish. They agreed.
Price of Entry
Arden guarded Søren while he studied up on the spell, and he discovered the spell was an invocation to a fey aspect of Zomok; someone wished to open the way, and while it certainly would have worked for them, it probably didn’t end well for that poor soul.
Calendel had a naughty romp with Jannara under a sound-suppressing stuffed trapper corpse mounted on the ceiling, and discovered she had hidden tattoos that only appeared when she was excited; the biggest was glyphs of Silamos, one of the old gods. Afterwards she gave him a silver ring with a big black stone, of elven make.
Annonciade and Kestrel returned to the city streets to buy an ounce of powdered unicorn horn. They found a goblin vendor selling bags with a pinch of dragon spleen named Short. Kestrel agreed to buy a pinch, so Short took them to his sister Herbert, who was in a ruined foundation selling alchemical ingredients. The best ones were hidden in a hole in the wall, guarded by something ill-tempered. They agreed on a price after some haggling, and then returned with the needed component.
Søren cast the spell, and it went off without a hitch, turning a mushroom cap inside out and summoning a tiny bright fairy that Jannara caught in a jar. Satisfied by their efforts, she opened the chest of a massive suit of armor, and inside was yet another staircase going down.
They entered a reading room with a wrought iron stand and two blue magical lights, an eight sided room with six passages out. They had a half hour to complete their business. Jannara brought them a book that was the compiled notes of a thief who planned an elaborate heist to steal from the Drowned Priests; they had a fantastic collection of Zomokite lore.
That wasn’t enough. They wanted to see if there was a Book of Power also. Reluctantly, she brought them a small journal bound in shadow burrick leather and silver. They bought it for 500 gold and acceptance of being the bearer of such a book, and Calendel pocketed it.
As they were leaving, Kestrel swapped his powdered spleen with Jannara for a sachet of tea that would let him calm down or summon the dead, and speak with the remains for about ten minutes.
Shelter and Planning
Cedric recommended a great squatter’s place nearby, the gang living there had been rounded up by the guards, evicted for gentrification of the building. They broke in easily, and investigated the shuffling upstairs; it was a vulture making a nest, and they shrugged and left it alone.
Søren copied a spell from Calendel’s book to his own while Calendel studied the new Book of Power, the Farasell Clan Bargains. It was a record by Algor, the “family lawyer” of the clan, noting how each patriarch had made a deal with Zomok. The first one wished to be a pirate king, and ended up part of the spearhead that took Skullport for human (mainly pirate) control a thousand years ago. The second patriarch wished for a way to seal the ancient horrors of the city away. And so on. Calendel heard the whispers of Algor, inviting him to add his own entry, or at least accept the book’s burden to better understand the ways of Zomok. He considered it.
Arden stood guard while Kestrel and Annonciade pored over the detailed notes of the heist the hapless criminal planned, to rob the Crush Depth Shrine of the Drowned Priests on the waterfront. The central shaft of the shrine ended in a waist-deep pool with a devilfish guardian, the bottom also serving as a library where the most holy and precious texts describing Zomok and his ways were kept. The scoundrel mapped out what tomes were there, and where, by sneaking in some associates to the prison and torture chamber as “guests” of the Drowned Priests. They got a sense of the lay of the land, like the 20 minutes a day the Drowned Priests gathered at the top of the shaft and chanted hymns while the devilfish slithered to a lower chamber for feeding time.
The Crush Depth Heist
After planning for a few days, the adventurers hit the shrine. They knew the Gauntlet Fists would be turning one of their own over to the Drowned Priests midmorning, right before the feeding and chant. They also discovered there was a corroded grating they could use to slip through into the complex underwater; security wasn’t too tight because the Drowned Priests had such a fearsome reputation everyone knew better than to rob them.
Arden, Kestrel, Annonciade, and Søren swam in, surfacing in the half-submerged torture chamber based on water and fire torments. They heard the feeding gong and the chanting start, then used a magical underwater light and swam up through the complex to the bottom of the shaft, surfacing as quietly as they could.
While the Drowned Priests chanted above, they stealthily filled three water-proofed and magically buoyant bags with Zomokite titles identified and located by the scoundrel’s research (before one of his plants was discovered and tortured to give him up.) Also, Kestrel knew a fence named Pelican, from his time in the military, so they got a couple extra loads of books to sell while Annonciade stayed alert with her bow. They managed not to attract attention with their low-key sloshing, and their quick eyes mapped the book spines to the research to quickly grab the books they were after. The chant abruptly ended before they closed up the bags and submerged, but even in that awful quiet they were stealthy enough to escape undetected.
Swimming back towards the torture room they spotted several baby devilfish, but they were not detected, and they managed the arduous swim out to relatively open water where Calendel waited with a boat.
Once More Across the Sea
They sold the books to Pelican for a hefty profit. That helped defray the expenses of a week squatting in the city (preparing for the heist, selling the books, buying passage back to Elbow Creek.)
Armed with 9 good books for Zomokite research, and 7 more that could be useful, they set sail back to where Tolfree waited for them at the Lightning Vault.