Part the fourth: Wherein the party come into some money and learn some secrets

Marpenoth 13th
After waking early, Shadow Flame and Silvara took the caravans containing the bodies of the Rigon family to the Seat of Lore to have the Loremaster cast the speak with dead spell on them. As the arrived at the temple they were greeted by a halfling dressed in the clergy attire of one of the Priests of Oghma. He offered to have the bodies brought to the spell chamber but Shadow Flame refused and he and Silvara carried the body of Aldous Rigon, following the halfling. The halfling lead them to a small chapel with a dais in the centre which they placed the body of Aldous upon. The halfling stepped forward and began preparing to cast the spell. Shadow Flame interrupted him and asked where Bransuldyn was since the agreement was that he would cast the spell. The halfling gave a quick laugh and winked at Shadow Flame before peeling back some make up and false skin to show that he was indeed Bransuldyn! Shadow Flame asked what was going on, why was he disguised, to which the gnome simply giggled and said that he often travels in disguise for no real reason, he is just having some fun.
With the the Loremaster cast the spell and began to speak with the spirit of Aldous Rigon. The power of the Loremaster allowed only 4 questions to be asked:

Q: Were you buying or selling the Bowl?
A: Selling

Q: Did you know what powers the Bowl has?
A: Yes. It can purify any liquid placed into it.

Q: Why did the Red Dragon Coster attack you?
A: I do not know. Perhaps they were trying to avoid having to pay me 80,000gp for the Bowl

Q: Where did you get the Bowl from?
A: It was willed to Ipnik by his uncle recently

The spell ended and Shadow Flame gave Bransuldyn the agreed upon 1,000gp. Since they were unable to provide and care for Aldous' son they asked Bransuldyn whether there was an orphanage around Berdusk they could give the child to. The Loremaster told them that the church of Oghma would take care of the child if the party was agreeable to that. Knowing that the church of Oghma was not an evil faith and that they would honour their word Shadow Flame and Silvara agreed that letting the Oghmites raise the child was a good solution. They also paid the Loremaster 40gp to ensure that the Rigon family received a proper burial before taking their leave and returning to the caravan.

While Shadow Flame and Silvara were with the Loremaster at the Temple of Oghma, Unagi and Jean manned the weapon stall at the caravan. Early in the day they were approached by a small group of heavily armored warriors and a well dressed man with an air of nobility about him. He walked up to the stall and simply said to Unagi; "You have something that belongs to us". The noble had an insignia of the Red Dragon coster on his overcoat, identifying him as a representative of that trading house. This was the moment Unagi had been waiting days for; he reached under the table of the stall and produced the severed head of the half-ogre Murg and simply said; "there you go". The noble, while noticeably shaken, gave Unagi a look of barely concealed rage and simply walked off as the message was loud and clear.

Upon their return they informed Jean and Unagi of the events and the answers they received from the body of Aldous. With no revelations or surprises revealed from talking with Aldous the party talked about what their next steps would be. Jean felt the best course of action was to find a sage who could begin to answer their questions. As the party had had no real luck finding a particular sage, everyone they asked simply pointed them to the Temples of Oghma or Denier, she decided to try the Temple of Oghma. So Jean and Silvara set out to speak consult the Priests of Oghma while Unagi and Shadow Flame remained behind to guard the caravans and try and sell some more swords.
Shortly after Jean and Silvara had left, Unagi was approached by a well dressed Dwarf. Walking up to the stall the party had setup to sell the weapons they found, he began to speak with Unagi when he spied Shadow Flame sitting up on the Caravan. Without saying anything to Unagi he walked up to the caravan and climbed up and sat with Shadow Flame. The dwarf turned to Shadow Flame, gave him a bit of a wink then peeled back some of his beard and told him "Well met!". Shadow Flame recognised the eccentric Loremaster and greeted him in return. Bransuldyn apologized to Shadow Flame, he only realised after he had left that he required the services of a sage. The Loremaster suggested that he seek the sage known as Fallon the Plane Touched, a man who had a good deal of experience walking the Planes. Since Bransuldyn was aware of Shadow Flame desiring to remain low profile he warned him that Fallon is often employed by Lady Cylyria and the Harpers and that any information that he provided to the party could possibly end up with the Harpers. He then told Shadow Flame where Fallon could be reached and took his leave.
Since the Loremaster was not available at the temple, Jean and Silvara had little luck in getting any further information than they already had. Jean was on the verge of approaching the Temple of Denier even though it would mean that the Harpers would certainly find out about the staff and the Bowl. Silvara began asking about the staff that Jean carried and asked what the issue was with talking to the Denierans, or indeed the Harpers. Silvara knew of the Harpers and what they stood for and believed that they would be a good source of information and possibly aid with learning more. Jean dodged Silvara's questions and stepped up her pace to return to the caravans as quickly as she could.

Once the party was reunited at the caravans Shadow Flame told everyone of the their visitor and suggested their next step should be to contact Fallon. Silvara pressed further with her questions about the staff and the parties apparent distrust of the Harpers. Shadow Flame and Jean took Silvara into one of their caravans and explained the story to Silvara. As they were doing that, Unagi remained at the stall ostensibly to sell more swords but also to act as a guard. Grey Tannis approached the stall and greeted Unagi. He looked somewhat the worse for wear than at their meeting the previous night; Grey Tannis sported a rather savage looking set of scars on his face, put there apparently by some fairly sharp claws. Grey Tannis apologized to Unagi and explained that Shemeska the Marauder was willing to overlook the disagreement of the previous night and had extended her invitation to meet the party to this evening. The situation had not changed to any large degree Unagi explained, the party was still wary of the reasoning behind Shemeska wanting all of them present. Grey Tannis expressed his understanding and explained that the reason was that Shemeska did not want anyone in the party to be able to come back and claim that since they weren't present when the deal was made and that it was therefore void. He also offered to personally guard the caravans during the meetings to help put Unagi's mind at ease. Unagi was still not particularly impressed with the offer but promised to take Grey Tannis' offer of another meeting to the party. The meeting time was again set for "7 past peak" and Grey Tannis took his leave.
Shortly after Grey Tannis left the rest of the party came back out of the caravan (with Silvara now fully understanding the situation with the staff and the creature that once possessed it). Unagi filled them in on their visitor and the terms of the new meeting. However, since that meeting was not for several hours it seemed like the perfect time to go and pay Fallon a visit.

Fallon
Shadow Flame and Jean arrived at Fallon's residence around midday. Their knock at the door was greeted by a young halfling girl who showed them into a waiting room while she went and got Fallon. The sages home was well furnished and he clearly had wealth but also the good taste that rarely goes with those who can buy what they like on a whim. Fallon appeared shortly thereafter and introduced himself. He was human, probably in his 40's and dressed in the garb of nobility.
"Well met friends. I am Fallon, called by some the Plane Touched."
Shadow Flame and Jean introduced themselves. "There are some things I like to clear up before any business is conducted." said Fallon. "Firstly, an initial consultation will cost 20gp, and any fees that result from research or the like will be calculated after that."
"Yes, that will be fine" replied Shadow Flame. "I have some questions of my own as well." Fallon raised an eyebrow but signaled that Shadow Flame should continue.
"The subjects that we wish to discuss are personal and may be considered to be somewhat....sensitive I guess the word would be. We have been told that you have been known to work for the City and for the Harpers. I would like to know how discrete we can count on you being since we consider the matters we have come to discuss to be for your ears only."
Fallon paused briefly to consider his reply before saying "Yes, while it is true that I am, on occasion, commissioned by the City and the Lady to look into matters on their behalf, I would have you know that I treat all paying customers with the greatest respect and seek to maintain their privacy. I will say that should the matters you wish to discuss with me today coincide with matters that I am asked to look into by Lady Cylyria, and indeed the Harpers, I would feel obliged to pass information from any meeting I felt was relevant. I am sure you can understand my position on this matter."
"Yes, I understand" answered Shadow Flame. "That will be fine."
"In that case my friend, let us retire to more comfortable surrounds and we can discuss those matters which bring you here today".

Fallon then lead Jean and Shadow Flame to a comfortable, well appointed Den. A large desk and several very comfortable seats rested in the centre of the room which was dominated by a large bear-skin rug.
"So my friends, what can I do for you?"
Shadow Flame and Jean started explaining their encounter in the Ancient Crypt in the Grey Forest. They described the murals they saw, the statues and creatures they encountered. Fallon was clearly intrigued by the tale the pair spun, and as they finished he leant forward in his chair. Pausing momentarily to consider his words he began to answer some of their questions.
"A fascinating tale my friends. There are some oddities, but I believe I can explain some of what you saw. It seems to me that the place you entered existed on an Outer Plane known as the Grey Waste which is called Hades in some cultures of Faerun. The creatures you describe are almost certainly a race of outer Planar creatures known as the Yugoloths, and those with the heads of Jackals are called Arcanaloths. The Yugoloths are an ancient race, and in the same way that the Tanar'ri, called demons by some, are the exemplars of chaos and evil, and the Baatezu, called devils by some, are the exemplars of Law and Evil, the Yugoloths are exemplars of pure Evil, with a capital E. They are of the belief that Evil is something worth pursuing and embracing in it's own right, that it is the foundation of the existence of the multi-verse. Further, they see law and chaos as taints, impurities in this concept of abstract pure Evil that they embrace. They eschew the worship of gods, seeing them as shallow and short sighted fools; beings of great power yes, but not worthy of worship or praise, nor even respect. The Arcanaloths are, for lack of better terminology, a caste of Yugoloth who are charged with maintaining the contracts of their race. For you see, the Yugoloths are by nature mercenaries and will hire themselves out to those who can pay. The contracts are kept by the Arcanaloths and enforced by the lesser castes."
"So perhaps you can see what is so strange about the story you told. The Yugoloths do not seek worship, nor do they desire to appear 'god-like' to lesser creatures whom they believe are simply there to be used and caste aside as required. The place you described was similar to a temple, with artifacts, such as masks, tombs, candelabra and the such, that are often the trappings of worship and religion, but whatever it was it was not a place that any Yugoloth would ever grace with its presence. I'd tend to suggest that the more likely reaction to such a place would be rage or disgust followed by the urge to bring about its annihilation."
Jean and Shadow Flame sat back for a moment to take in what had just been told to them. After a moment they went on to describe the creature they got the staff from, and also the manner in which they left the grey plane.
"Some things start to make a little more sense. I am intrigued by your description of this creature, but I will attend to this plane first. If you were in fact 'ejected' from the plane in the manner you describe, and some of the words of the creature allude to this as well, I would postulate that it was not in fact the Oinos, the first layer of the Grey Waste, that you had entered, but probably more like a Shadow Plane, probably branched from the deep Ethereal. It makes a bit more sense when you take the nature of the Yugoloth into account as well. Such a place, steeped in worship as it appeared to be, would not be permitted to exist on the Grey Waste unless, I suppose, it was located in the realm of a Power. It's mere presence would be considered an abomination, but for it to appear that way in a shadow dimension, visited by mortal creatures, then that makes slightly more sense."
"As for this creature of which you speak, I am intrigued. For you see I have just returned from a Planar sojourn myself, and amoung other things I spent some time in the city of Sigil. Just previous to my return to Toril I heard rumours concerning the return of a mighty being. In fact, as far as such things go, the city was awash with these rumours. They claimed that Anthraxus the Decayed, a mighty Yugoloth, and once Oinoloth had returned to the Wastes. Of course, Sigil being what and where it is, I dismissed these rumours as such, but your story certainly lends a certain amount of credibility to them. Whilst I am still more inclined to keep considering them rumours the situation does lend itself to further investigation."
With some questions answered, and new mysteries revealed, Jean unwrapped the Staff of Knowledge and asked of Fallon, "what can you tell us about this staff?"
Fallon looked at it for a short time before announcing, "my dear, I cannot claim to have ever seen that staff before."
"In that case, would you be willing to look into it for us? Research it and tell us what you find?" asked Shadow Flame.
"I most certainly will as I must admit to being curious myself."
"We would also like to ask you about something else. Have you ever heard of 'the Bowl of Adlab'?"
"I cannot say that I have, what can you tell me about it?" replied Fallon.
Jean told him all that they knew of the Bowl that they have gleaned from the casting of the Legend Lore spell.
"Very interesting indeed," said Fallon. "I would suggest that the scene from the banquet hall, and the dress of those present that it was crafted in the ancient city of Netheril."
"We had surmised as much, " replied Jean. "We were hoping for more specific information."
"If you would like I can also look into this Bowl of Adlab, and see what I can find."
"That would be very much appreciated" said Shadow Flame. "Please consider the staff to be your priority though."
"Of course. Is there anything else?" asked Fallon.
Jean and Shadow Flame looked at each other before letting Fallon know that there was nothing else they wished to discuss.
"Well my friends," said Fallon, "can I just say how much I appreciate you bringing this to me. If I didn't have my expenses to consider I would look into this for free. It has been sometime since someone brought something as interesting as this for me to look at. Normally the requests I receive are somewhat dry and mundane. But this, this story you have told is very exciting. Thank you again!"
Jean and Shadow Flame smiled as they rose to leave. As they walked towards the door Shadow Flame turned to Fallon; "If it is OK, I would like to speak with you privately on some matters."
Jean looked questioningly at Shadow Flame. "Jean, these matters concern my past, my Tiefling nature, do not be suspicious."
Accepting the explanation Jean left to return to the caravan.
"So my friend" said Fallon, "how can I help you..."

While Jean and Shadow Flame were speaking with Fallon, little had occurred at the caravans. Unagi had sold quite a few swords that morning, and had to show some customers the proper way to handle the weapons after it appeared they may have been in danger of harming themselves. Unagi shook his head at these noble kids playing hero, but was happy to accept their coin, after all, they didn't need it. Jean returned to the caravan by herself and began filling in Silvara and Unagi on what had transpired, letting them know that Shadow Flame had stayed back to ask Fallon about his past.
By the time Shadow Flame returned the rest of the party was deep in discussion about what they were going to do about the meeting with the Marauder.
They spent some considerable time debating amongst themselves how to approach the meeting. The terms were clear - the Marauder had explicitly asked that all party members be present at the meeting. Her reason for asking this seemed reasonable argued Silvara and Unagi, both of whom were in favour of meeting with Shemeska. Shadow Flame was unconvinced and deeply suspicious of the Marauders motives - should not the word of those attending the meeting that they spoke for all party members be enough? Jean, whilst also suspicious ultimately fell in favour of attending the meeting. Shadow Flame also finally agreed to attend the meeting but was sure that things would go badly if the caravans were left unguarded. In this respect however, their hands were tied - they did not, and could not, trust anyone; the Marauder was a completely unknown quantity, the Harpers would not see their plight in any favourable light, the Shadow Thieves, while being less of a mystery, also could not be trusted to any degree, and they could not even hire mercenaries or guards for much the same reasons. In the end it was agreed that all party members would attend the meeting with Shemeska the Marauder as per her wishes.

Just before 7 the party left to meet Grey Tannis at the Lonelycoins tankard house. When they arrived he was sitting and waiting for them, "ah I see you all made it. Excellent. If there is nothing you wish to ask, shall we go?" he asked.
"Yes, I'd like to know where this meeting will take place," said Shadow Flame.
"Of course, my apologies for not saying so sooner," replied Tannis. "We will be going to a private residence within the Castle Hill district. It's an estate Shemeska uses when she has to do business on this plane."
The party indicated that would be fine and they set off. Tannis set a brisk pace, he was clearly in a hurry. Shadow Flame continued to ask questions as they traveled.
"If you don't mind me asking, what is the Marauders business? What does she do?"
"She has her hand in many things, although I guess you could say that the bulk of her wealth is in real estate. She owns a great deal of property. She also finds it prudent to be informed, and as such she spends a great deal of time in the trading of information. Where we come from she is what is known as a 'chant broker' and is often sought by those seeking information."
"Well, if that's the case, what would she want to meet with us for?"
"I really cannot say," said Tannis. "I am not privy to the Marauders business dealings, I am merely a messenger."
Realizing that this was the best he could hope for questioning the Marauders messenger Shadow Flame continued to journey to the Marauders estate in silence.
They arrived at the estate of the Marauder in short time. Tannis lead them through the gate, manned by several guards, and up a pathway to the front door. Everything about the place spoke of wealth - an ostentatious display of wealth. They were lead into a small sitting room and Grey Tannis excused himself while he went to inform Shemeska that they had arrived. The room they were left in was richly decorated with plush carpeting and the highest quality furnishings. Grey Tannis returned swiftly and bade the party follow him as the Marauder was ready to receive them. They were lead through the home and down into the basement, which although it was under the house was not really a basement as much as it was a meeting room as the area was also richly furnished and decorated. Tannis walked across the room and opened a door indicating that the party should enter. They paused for a second, Jean trying to get a look into the room before they entered. As they stood for a moment contemplating a head poked around the side of the door, a human male with dark skin and shaved head looked at them questioningly. "Please, enter" he said, and the party began moving into the room. Grey Tannis began closing the door and told them that he would be leaving at once to attend to their caravans.
Shemeska and Colcook
The party walked into a well kept room that was clearly designed for meeting with business clients. A large table was set in the centre of the room and several comfortable chairs placed around it. Sitting behind the table, dressed in a gaudy, tight fitting evening gown was what might have been a very beautiful woman, accept for the fact that she was covered in fur and had the head of a jackal. Her fur was the rusty red color of a fox, and thin white lines of white fur ran from her nose up to her eyes, and her appearance did indeed remind the party more of a fox much more than a jackal. Standing beside her was a male tiefling, gaunt, with large round eyes. He had a spiny tail and the small pointed horns common in tieflings and was dressed in the clothing of minor nobility. He held a large 4' mirror up to the Marauder and she sat there preening her fur and smoothing her whiskers as the party waited. Two other tieflings were also present, both female and dressed similarly to the male. One of them was running a thick brush through Shemeska's fur while the other smoothed ruffles from her dress.
A door lay open at the other end of the room, and the party could see inside to a room that was the opposite of what they had seen so far. The walls and floor were bare, and the floor looked wet. Hanging from his feet from the ceiling, bound and gagged, was a human male whom Silvara recognised as one of the men who had fled the attack of the Red Dragon Coster when the fight had turned against them. His eyes bulged in terror and he cried out to the party, his screams muffled by the rag stuffed in his mouth. Another man stepped into view in front of the door, wearing a leather apron he turned and smiled at the party as he pulled a long serrated blade from his belt. The muffled cries of the bound man increased in intensity as the man in the apron leaned over and closed the door.
"Greetings to you my good cutters," said the jackal headed woman. "I am Shemeska the Marauder, King of the Cross-trade, and I welcome you to my home. Please, take a seat."
The party greeted Shemeska as they sat down. She turned and checked her appearance using the mirror, "I am so glad we could finally meet."
"As are we," said Shadow Flame, "but we are not entirely sure why we are here."
"Of course. I apologise again. As I mentioned in my letter of introduction, I am aware that you have recently had a turn of good luck and come into some..potential great wealth. The item you have obtained, I am interested in buying it of course."
"We had suspected that may be the case," said Shadow Flame. "Can you tell us anything about the Bowl?"
"We are here to talk business Tiefer, not to discuss the history of the item. I assume you have investigated the history and lore of the object yourselves."
"Yes, we have," replied Shadow Flame. "In that case I suppose you should make your offer."
The Marauder smirked, to herself more than anything. "Direct. I like that. I am prepared to offer you 60,000 jink for the Bowl," she said, turning to the mirror to preen her whiskers and adjust her gown.
The party looked at each other, trying to remain calm. They had not been not expecting such an offer first up.
"That is a most generous offer, more generous by far than the offers we had been previously entertaining," said Shadow Flame.
The Marauder smiled, "there is no deal that the King of the Cross-Trade cannot make. It is only the price that must be negotiated."
Silvara began to speak, "Given the situa..."
Shemeska waved her hand dismissively at the Priestess, "silence godslave. No one here cares what your masters think," she spat, the disdain clear in her voice, before again turning to ensure her fur was clean and neat in the mirror held by the spiky haired Tiefling.
The party paused at the Marauders outburst, and as she had not moved to say anything else Shadow Flame picked up from Silvara, "I think what my friend was going to say was, given the offer, we would like to request that we be able to discuss the matter between ourselves."
Shemeska turned to Shadow Flame and simply said "of course. Take all the time you need." She held one of her paws out daintily and Tiefling girl who was brushing her hair quickly moved to her hand and started filing her claws.
Again, somewhat taken aback by her manner the party looked at each other. Were they just supposed to discuss the deal with Shemeska sitting not 5 feet away?
"Uh, would we be able to discuss amoung ourselves in private? I'm sure you understand," asked Shadow Flame.
Her eyes narrowed somewhat as she regarded the Tiefling but her tone was more than gracious as she replied "yes, you may use the room next door." Shemeska waved her hand at the Tiefling who was filing her claws and indicated towards the door. The Tiefling girl quickly placed the brush upon the table and almost ran to open the door for the party. They stood and moved into the next room to discuss the offer.
Silvara was fuming, "I don't care if we just walk out now after what that bitch just said."
"We need to be calm Silvara," said Shadow Flame. "It's a pretty impressive offer, and I can't help but think there's more to this bowl than we know."
"Yes, there was no haggling, it was straight to 60,000. I think we can probably get more," said Unagi.
Jean was a bit more cautious, "It's a good offer but Shadow Flame is right, I think there's more than meets the eye."
"I think that we should try and find out more about the Bowl. Maybe we could go and see if Fallon can find anything else about the bowl," suggested Shadow Flame.
"We could ask for some time to consider the offer," said Silvara. "Take a couple of days to see if we can discover anything else?"
"I don't think that's going to work. She's not going to give us more time, it's going to be a deal or no deal decision on the spot," said Jean.
"Most likely you're right Jean," smiled Shadow Flame, "but it can't hurt to ask, it's not like we don't have other options."
Everyone was in agreement with that idea, they would ask Shemeska for time to think about her offer and see what happened. They returned to the room and sat at the table.
"Your offer is most generous, but we would like some time to consider the proposal, to decide on our best course of action" declared Shadow Flame.
The Marauder sat for a moment and studied her appearance in the mirror. Finally she narrowed her eyes and turned to the party, "OK. 70,000 jink and a bag of holding to carry it around in."
Surprised by the raise in the offer the party looked at each other. Nothing had really changed from their perspective, the Bowl was still a slightly unknown quantity, and the agreement reached in the other room between themselves still stood.
"Your offer is, as already stated, very generous," said Shadow Flame, "but I think that it does not..." he paused as Shemeska turned to the mirror and began preening herself once again. She waved her hand at one of the tieflings and held out her other claw. As the tiefling began filing the paint from them she turned to Shadow Flame, "I'm sorry. You were saying?"
Shadow Flame looked a little unsure before continuing, "yes, we would still like to have some time to think about your offer."
Shemeska turned her attention to the tiefling holding her mirror, "Colcook, put the jink on the table, let them have a look."
Colcook pulled out a small stand built into the back of the mirror and placed it on the floor then removed a tied-off bag that was hanging from belt and placed it on the table. He immediately picked the mirror back up and held it so the Marauder could study her appearance in it while she awaited the parties reaction.
Once again the party looked at each, gaging each individual reaction. It seemed that maybe one or two of them were beginning to be swayed by the somewhat gratuitous display of wealth made by the Marauder, but the answer remained the same, "once again I will have to say that we would like some time to consid..." Shadow Flame was interrupted by the Marauder.
"My friends, we are here to deal are we not? As you acknowledge yourselves, the offer is quite generous, and my part of the deal is sitting in front of you right now. If you prefer you can even take the jink with you now and deliver the Bowl to me afterwards."
"You're going to let us take the money now? Before we hand over the Bowl?" Unagi exclaimed incredulously.
"I think I can trust you not to try and pull a peel on me. After all, we're all friends here aren't we?" replied the Marauder.
"Well, I don't think you can call us friends," said Shadow Flame, "we don't exact..."
"Fine," interrupted Shemeska once again, "we are not friends. Let's say we are business associates. Given the current situation they amount to the same thing. In any case I await your answer, let's reach an agreement so that," she turned and looked at Jean, "we may speak of other things of mutual interest..."
The pointed look was not lost on the party and they knew that "other things of mutual interest" referred to the staff. "I think we would like another opportunity to discuss these matters briefly, in private" said Shadow Flame.
With the Tiefling having finished with her nails, Shemeska turned back to the mirror and began adjusting her dress. The party was a little unsure whether to move to the next room, it appeared as though Shemeska had completely ignored their request. Noticing their uncertainty Colcook indicated that they should move to the next room. Shemeska said nothing, nor even gave any indication she was aware of their presence as they stood and walked out of the room.
"Other things of mutual interest hey?" said Jean.
"Not surprising," replied Shadow Flame, "but not exactly good news."
"We can worry about that when the time comes," said Unagi. "70 grand, it's a good offer, but did you see how quickly she upped the offer? The contract from the Red Dragon Coster was for 80. I think we can probably hold out for more coin."
"I don't think it's really necessary," Shadow Flame argued, "it's a good offer, better than anything else we can managed I'd reckon. I still don't like it though. As you said, the offer was raised pretty quickly, there's more going on here than we're aware of."
"I think Shadow Flame is right," Silvara chimed in. "I'd prefer to wait and see if we can find anything else out, I'm not really inclined to do her any favors."
"The offer is good, I say we take it" said Jean. "I'm kind of interested in hearing what she says about the staff."
"Well, we could probably try and get the price upped, but I'm pretty much over this whole Bowl thing," said Unagi. "I vote we take the money as well."
"I'm still not convinced" said Shadow Flame. "I say we ask for more time to decide. If she says no and wants us to deal now then we walk."
"I agree. If the deal has to be made now then no deal," Silvara was adamant.
"So we just walk away from 70 grand? Let's just take the money and go, all this sitting around and talking is boring, I want some action! If we deal now we could could be smacking Lunder around this very night!" said Unagi, getting himself a little excited.
"OK wait. We are pretty much deadlocked here. Silvara and I are saying wait, and you two want to make the deal," said Shadow Flame. "I say we explain the situation and ask for an extra 24 hours to decide. We can investigate the Bowl further, maybe go and see Fallon, and if we get a majority vote after that we make the deal."
Given that everyone had made their decision there seemed to be no point debating further. The party agreed and walked back into the room, taking their seats at the table.
"We cannot reach an agreement between ourselves," Shadow Flame explained. "Currently two of us are in favor of taking the deal and two of us want more time. The only solution we can see is to have more time to discuss it between ourselves."
Shemeska looked at them expressionlessly. "Colcook, put another 5,000 jink in the bag," she said turning to the Tiefling who quickly began to do as he was ordered. Shemeska turned and looked at the party again. "That's the final offer. Take it or leave it."
Without pausing Shadow Flame spoke again, " your offer is generous, and is not the cause of our disagreement. The extra coin is appreciated, and if we deal then we will deal with you, but we must ask again if we can have some more time to discuss it. All we need is 24 hours. You've waited this long, surely another day will not make that much difference?"
The Marauders eyes narrowed as she looked at Shadow Flame. She pulled her hand away from the Tiefling that was painting her nails and regarded the party as a whole. It was clear that the Tieflings in the room were getting increasingly nervous as the Marauder sat and looked at the party. After what seemed an age Shemeska relaxed a little, leaned forward and said "You can have 12 hours. Agreed?"
Shadow Flame paused for a second before replying, "fine. 12 hours."
"Then I will see you, here, at 4 before peak tomorrow. I appreciate your time this evening, you can see yourselves out."
The party rose and left without any further ceremony.

Castle Hill
Once they were back outside the party began making their plans. It was decided that since they had already both met Fallon, Shadow Flame and Jean would go and speak to him now while Silvara and Unagi headed back to the caravan to relieve Grey Tannis.
Shadow Flame quickly made their way to Fallon's home and knocked at his door. There was no answer so they knocked again, a little more insistently. There was still no answer at the door, so, suspecting something may have happened, Shadow Flame began checking out the building, looking through windows or other signs of disturbance. Jean continued knocking and after several minutes the door finally opened. Fallon stood looking a little frazzled before recognizing Jean and inviting her in.
"Sorry for taking so long to answer the door, I was working up stairs and did not hear you knock straight away," apologized Fallon.
"Please don't apologise, it is us who are sorry for disturbing you at this hour," replied Jean. "Shadow Flame, Fallon is here," she called out to the tiefling.
"Ah sorry Fallon, it's just when you didn't answer I thought something might me wrong so I started looking around," explained Shadow Flame as he got to the front door.
"No it's quite alright, I appreciate the concern. Please, won't you both come in?"
They followed Fallon through to his study and sat down. "We seem to have run into an unexpected situation," began Shadow Flame. "The Bowl we talked to you about this afternoon, we just came from a meeting concerning the sale of it, and we are a bit suspicious given the buyer."

"Before you go on my friend," said Fallon, "you should be aware, that given you specified I should put the greatest priority on the staff I have yet to investigate the Bowl."
"That's fine," replied Shadow Flame. "But have you perhaps heard of Shemeska the Marauder?" he asked.
"Well, yes I have. If you recall I have just recently returned from Sigil, and Shemeska is well known in that city."
"She is the buyer we have just come from meeting," continued Shadow Flame. "What can you tell us about her?"
Fallon considered his words carefully before speaking; "Shemeska is one of the most powerful, err, folk in Sigil. It is said she own as much as a third of the property in the city. It is also rumoured that she has an extensive network of spies working for her, and it is said she has her hands in all manner of plots and schemes. She is after all the self styled King of the Cross-trade," explained Fallon.
"Cross-trade?" asked Shadow Flame.
"Right you are. Cross-trade is Sigilian slang for thievery and associated activities."
Shadow Flame looked across at Jean who raised an eye brow in response. "Given the nature of the staff, and the creatures that decorated the crypt, and those Jean has seen in her visions, I'm sure you can understand our caution. Surely the fact that Shemeska is the same sort of creature - Arcanaloths you called them? - is no coincidence?" asked Shadow Flame.
"I understand what you are saying my friend," replied Fallon, "however, I would be inclined to believe that it is indeed a coincidence. What you are describing seems to be a fairly straight forward deal. Shemeska has no doubt earned her reputation, but by the same token she has not gotten where she is today by not honouring such simple transactions."
"But, 75,000 gold for a bowl that appears to do little other than purify liquid? The price seems excessive wouldn't you say?"
"No, I think perhaps it is a reasonable offer. While such an item is of little use to a group of adventurers such as yourselves, surely you can see the value that it might have for someone such as an unpopular lord or even maybe the head of a thieves guild?" said Fallon. "Shemeska no doubt is very well connected, I doubt she would have any trouble finding a buyer for such an artifact as this bowl. I think the fact she is making such a generous offer would indicate that she is able to sell it on for a considerable profit, which after all, is what she seeks."
Shadow Flame pondered for a moment before saying, "I suppose. Still, I cannot shake the feeling that there is more to it. The offer seems....excessive, by my reckoning."
"Again I must disagree. Of course you must remember that I have had no dealings with her personally, I can only go on what I've heard, but again, as I've said, I think for such a straight forward deal as this she can at least be considered forthright enough to make good on her end."
"Fair enough," replied Shadow Flame. "There is of course the matter of the staff. She did hint to us that she wishes to discuss what she called, 'matters of mutual interest'. The timing of all this seems to me to be remarkably coincidental. Were you able to discover any information about it?"
"Given her nature I think it would be more surprising for her not to express an interest in the staff. No doubt she recognises it, even wrapped in cloth as it is. In the short time since you last visited I have not had any luck with the staff. In fact, it is completely absent from the resources I have at hand that might reasonably have been expected to at least mention it. I think that it is probably very old, and in all likelihood not of this world. Considering the lack of reference to it I am inclined to think that it probably would not be known to the majority of sages in Faerun. It is wise of you to conceal it, even in such a simple manner, for who knows who will recognise it, but it is clear that very few will. Well, at least on this world. If  you want my advice I would say you should take advantage of a discussion about the staff with the Marauder. No doubt she knows a good deal more about it than I do, and it would appear that you have information she wants as well, so why not also extract some information you want in return? If nothing else, she loves to trade in knowledge."
Shadow Flame and Jean both sat and considered Fallon's words. "Thank you very much for that counsel my friend, we will definitely give it strong consideration," said Shadow Flame. "There is still the matter of the Bowl. If we could impose we would like you to find out everything you can about it. However, we have an extremely limited time frame."
"How limited?" asked Fallon.
"12 hours," replied Shadow Flame.
"Yes, that is quite limited...."
"We are prepared to pay," Jean said. "We understand that it is not an everyday request. You can name your price."
"Price is not the real issue here," explained Fallon. "The real issue is resources. I'll be honest with you; 12 hours is not enough time for me to find any information that may be of use to you. I'm willing to stay up all night if need be, if nothing else you have made today an interesting day, but to find out anything that may be useful to you I will need to make use of some of my contacts in the city. Knowing your aversion to including the Harpers or the various priesthoods I should warn you that I will need to speak with them in order to be of any use to you."
"I think as long as no mention is made of the staff that none of us will be concerned about the Harpers knowing about the Bowl," replied Shadow Flame, looking to Jean as he did so.
As she did not have any objections Fallon simply said "I'll see what I can do for you. What time would you like to meet in the morning?"
"Our meeting with Shemeska is at 8, so if we came by around 7? That would give us more than enough time I think," suggested Shadow Flame.
"OK then. See you at 7."
They both thanked Fallon and left him to his research.

When Unagi and Silvara returned to the caravan Grey Tannis was there, standing out front with several other well armed men. Upon seeing their return he simply said, "so the meeting is over. We'll leave you to it then."
Neither Silvara or Jean said anything, so without any further word Tannis and his men left. Immediately Unagi and Silvara searched the caravans to ensure nothing was amiss. They found everything as they had left it - it appeared that Tannis was as good as his word, or in all likelihood, the Marauders word. Either way, everything seemed to be in order.
The better part of an hour later Jean and Shadow Flame returned to the caravans and informed Unagi and Silvara of what Fallon had to say. The party discussed the days events, but no solid decisions could be made until they spoke with Fallon again in the morning. It was decided however, that in the event Fallon did not deliver any big news concerning the bowl that they would make the deal. The party retired to their beds then for the evening, each of them had plenty to think about.

Marpenoth 14th
The party awoke early to ensure they missed none of their meetings. Once again Shadow Flame and Jean went to see Fallon while Silvara and Unagi stayed behind to  look after the caravans. They arrived at Fallon's home at the appointed meeting time and were quickly shown to his study by the same Halfling girl they had met the previous day. Fallon was at his desk, eyes heavy from lack of sleep but he welcomed the adventures with a hearty greeting.
"My friends, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but my investigations last night did not reveal any information you already possess. Most of those whom I spoke with last night did not know of the Bowl of Adlab at all, it seems it is an item that history passed by. There were several references to it in history texts but the various magical almanacs that I had access to were vague on the descriptions of it's power. It seems even the name of its creator is lost to time as all I could discover were references to 'a mage of Netheril'. It is a little surprising when you take into account the general usefulness of the Bowl; many people must have made use of its power down through the centuries, but it appears none of them considered it to be of any great import. So, there you have it. My apologies for not uncovering any further information, but it seems, to the best of my abilities, with the resources at hand, that there are no secrets of which to speak."
"Do not worry yourself Fallon," said Shadow Flame. "If there is no information to find then it is not surprising you found none. Tell us the how much we owe you for your trouble and we'll be on our way to see the Marauder."
"Thank you for your words my friend. I hesitate to charge you for my services since I did not find anything you could use, but yes, the resources I used were not free. Would 500 gold pieces be OK with you?"
"Of course," replied Jean, "your time is not free and we asked much of you, we are happy to pay your price". She handed him a purse containing several gems.
"We don't want to be rude Fallon," said Shadow Flame, "but we must not be late for our meeting with the Marauder, and you look as though you could use some rest."
"Of course," replied Fallon, "I thank you once again. I will continue to look into the staff and see what I can find. I'll contact you in the next day or so, or when I have some information for you."
They all said their farewells and Jean and Shadow Flame returned to the caravan.

After discussing what Fallon had to say between themselves the decision was made to make the deal and sell the Bowl to Shemeska for the agreed upon amount of 75,000 gold pieces. The party drove the caravan containing the Bowl to the Marauder's residence. They were greeted by Grey Tannis who showed them into a different room than the night before. Instead of holding the meeting in the basement, this time Shemeska had them shown into a more formal room, a den, richly decorated with comfortable seating and a large oaken desk. Once again the party found Shemeska seated in a comfortable chair, wearing her uncomfortably tight gown and fussing over her appearance in the mirror held by the Tiefling named Colcook. The other two tieflings were attending to her as well, brushing her fur and adjusting the many gaudy jewels that she wore around her neck, on her fingers and in her ears.
As the party entered the den she turned to them; "Welcome, once again, please take a seat."
"I think I'll stand," replied Unagi.
"As you wish," Shemeska replied in a disinterested tone. Once the party were seated she continued, "I trust that your time was not wasted and that you have come to a decision?"
"Yes we have," said Shadow Flame, pausing slightly for effect.
Shemeska, seemingly happy to ruin his effect spat "well, out with it mortal, do we have a deal or not?"
"We have a deal," he replied.
"Excellent, I am pleased we could come to an arrangement." Colcook withdrew a rolled up scroll from a bag at his belt and handed it to Shemeska who placed it on the table. "The contract," she explained, "please look it over."
Shadow Flame took the scroll and unrolled it as the party gathered around and read it over. It was similar to the one that was found in the caravan from the Red Dragon Traders, simply stating the agreed on price and the terms of sale, there was no small print or hidden clauses as far as could be seen, it just appeared to be a simple, concise bill of sale.
"That appears to be fine," Shadow Flame told Shemeska.
"Very well then. As stipulated in the contract it is a requirement that the Bowl is authenticated. I have a contact in the Temple of Deneir who will verify the Bowls authenticity. If it is agreeable the Bowl will be taken to her and she will appraise it, and if everything is in order the Bowl will come back here and the contract will be signed, and the deal will be done. Do you find this to be to your satisfaction?"
The party nodded their agreement. "Good," continued Shemeska. "Grey Tannis will take the Bowl to the sage named Gillian at the temple of Deneir, you are of course welcome to accompany him, and any of you who wish to remain here, to count the jink maybe, are welcome to do that as well."
"I think it will be easiest if we all accompany Grey Tannis," said Shadow Flame.
"In that case, I shall see you when you return, whereupon we may discuss other topics of interest," Shemeska said while looking at Jean.
The party met Grey Tannis at the caravan and they proceeded to the Temple of Deneir. Once there Grey Tannis spoke with an acolyte of the Temple and the caravan was let in through the large front gates, and told to park in the courtyard. Shortly thereafter a small human woman dressed in the scholarly robes of the Priesthood of Deneir walked over to the caravan. She spoke briefly with Tannis who then showed her into the caravan. He told the party that one of them could remain in the caravan with Gillian as she worked with the Bowl. The party declined and waited outside for Gillian to do what she needed to do. After about an hour she emerged from the caravan and went and spoke with Grey Tannis. He produced a purse of what was assumed to be coins from his belt, handed it to Gillian who nodded and walked away. Grey Tannis informed the party that Gillian was happy that the Bowl was indeed the Bowl of Adlab, and they returned to the Marauders estate to complete the deal.
Once they were back in the meeting room with Shemeska the party all signed the contract, as did the Marauder, and Colcook handed over the bag of holding containing their coin.
"Now with the business out of the way, perhaps we could sit and talk for a while," suggested the Marauder. "Please, uncover the staff."
The party looked at each other slightly apprehensively before Jean unwrapped the cloth covering the staff. As she saw the staff Shemeska's eyes widened momentarily and she whispered to herself, "so, the rumours are true."
"Thank you my dear," she continued, "you may place your wrappings over the staff again if that pleases you." She turned and spoke to the party as a whole, "so, it appears that we do indeed have somethings to discuss. You have information I desire, and no doubt I have information you desire. Let us trade knowledge for knowledge, what say you?"

"I think that will be acceptable," replied Shadow Flame.
"Very well," continued Shemeska. "Since no doubt I have more for you than you have for me, perhaps a show of good faith is in order. You go first."
"That's all well and good," said Silvara, " but how can we know we can trust..."
"Clueless godslave," spat Shemeska, " the next time you speak will be when you are gone from here." She then calmly turned to Jean and continued, "tell me, how did you come upon this staff?"
Jean explained how the party came upon the sword and the creature that gave it to them, detailing the portal and the portal key that took them to what they found was a shadow plane fashioned as a prison for the creature. Shemeska listened on with straight face, not willing to give anything up to the party before she was ready to.
"Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. You have provided your information in good faith, the least I can do is return in kind. What is it you wish to know?"
"Tell us what you know of this creature and of the place where we found it," said Shadow Flame.
"I will do more than that," replied the Marauder. "The creature you met was no doubt an aspect of Anthraxus the Decayed, a Yugoloth of enormous power. Rumours have been circulating in the city of my home of late, rumours of the return of Anthraxus. Until now I had dismissed them as such, but it is known to me that one of his aspects had used this staff on occasion. With the staff now in your possession it would seem that he has finally returned to full power, after no doubt reabsorbing the aspect he chose to keep imprisoned in that plane of shadow. I do not know what this means yet."
"And of the murals and other things such as statues?" prodded Shadow Flame.
"Ah the clueless," smirked Shemeska. "No doubt placed there by mindless primes hoping to impress the Decayed. Likely they even tried to worship him as a god, how that must have amused him no end. The never ending need for mortals to worship beings stronger than them never ceases to amuse me," she glanced at Silvara as she spoke, "even when those beings are not worthy of worship. The Yugoloths do not seek worship, they abhor it. We are not concerned with primes and the mortal short comings, they are as useful as any other who is prepared to deal."
"Well, what can you tell us of the staff?" asked Shadow Flame.
"It is your turn now my friends, I have followed your turn and now you must share information with me in order to ask more. But I will tell you this for free; the return of Anthraxus will no doubt herald great upheaval in the lower planes. No doubt he seethes with rage, and that he has chosen to return now indicates that he is again himself. As you are no doubt unaware, Anthraxus was once the titular ruler of the Yugoloths, the title of Oinoloth. He sat upon the throne in the tower of Khin-Oin and guided our race. However he was deposed, and the manner of this deposal was no doubt deeply embarrassing. For you see, normally, when the Oinoloth is challenged it is an event that is accompanied by fury, the Oinoloth battles the challenger, often their armies rage on the fields surrounding the tower, battles the likes of which mortal minds cannot envision. However, in the case of Anthraxus he was removed without a drop of blood being spilled. The Ultroloth named Mydianchlarus, it is said, came to the Oinoloth and whispered a single secret to him. A secret so terrible in its portent that Anthraxus laid down his ownership of Khin-Oin and fled into the Wastes. That was centuries ago, and Mydianchlarus still sits upon the Siege Malicious. But now Anthraxus has returned and no doubt the former Oinoloth will wish to reclaim his throne. Trust me my friends, these are exciting times to be alive," she smiled. "But please, I have spoken for long enough. Share with me your knowledge of this staff."
Jean went into some details about the visions she had seen after using the staff to identify magical items while Shemeska sat and watched her, intently but without any hint of surprise.
"There are also these creatures we have encountered. Creatures dressed in black coats with circular goggles. They seem to want the staff for themselves," added Shadow Flame.
At the mention of the creatures Shemeska sneered, "fucking Keepers, we find them in places they are not welcome. Do not concern yourselves with these annoyances, they will be dealt with in an appropriate manner."
"We killed a couple of them," said Unagi, "Mr.Book, Mr.Sword, they are dead."
"They are not dead, you merely destroyed their bodies. It does not slow them down. This is one of the reasons they are so troublesome," said Shemeska. "They travel around, seeking items of great power and laying claim to them. Their reasons are unknown, but once they decide they want something they are single minded in their pursuit. It would be admirable if it wasn't so infuriating. Anyway, enough of them. It is your turn to share information is it not? Or perhaps we have come to the end of your usefulness?"
The party looked at each other. Indeed there was little more information they possessed that Shemeska would be interested in.
"Very well then my friends," said Shemeska, "our business concludes. Colcook, give them another thousand jink. They can show themselves out."
The tiefling named Colcook took another bag from his belt and tossed it on the table. The Marauder turned to her mirror once Colcook had picked it back up and began checking her appearance once again. The tieflings behind her sprung into action, one of them began brushing her fur and the other attended to the multitude of gaudy jewelery hanging from her. As the meeting was clearly over the party simply got up and left the estate, this time however, they were 76,000 gold pieces richer.

It was still early in the morning so they discussed what they would do next. Unagi was itching for a fight so he eagerly proposed they pay a visit to Lunder Callonar to find out what they could about the 3 Wheels Trading Coster and maybe teach him about the downside to being a slave trader. The rest of the party indicated that perhaps that was a visit best left for the evening. What they had was a whole heap of money and no idea on how to spend it. Jean and Shadow Flame decided they would go and buy some new spells - surely in a town like Berdusk it would not be too difficult to find someone willing to sell common spells for a good price. Unagi and Silvara took the caravan back to Amberside and began putting out the feelers for selling their caravans and goods. The day passed pretty uneventfully after that, Jean and Shadow Flame were able to find a mage willing to sell them copies of some common spells they sought and Unagi and Silvara were able to negotiate a good price for the caravans and the goods contained in them. Eventually it was night time and they began discussing how to approach Lunder Callonar.

Late in the evening the party approached the estate of Lunder Callonar. Their plan was simple; they would bluff their way in using the feminine wiles of  Jean and Silvara, and then once they had Lunder off guard Shadow Flame and Unagi would enter the estate. Their goal was to learn what they could of the 3 Wheels and their business.
Jean and Silvara went to the front door of the estate and knocked. The door was answered by an elderly man dressed in the clothes of a servant to nobility - a butler. As he answered the door Jean leant forward slightly, making her cleavage a little more obvious.
"Greetings m'ladies," began the butler, "how may I help you this evening."
"We would like to see the master of the house if we may," said Jean. "We have spoken to him previously about his wares and would like to follow through on a conversation concerning the purchase of some of his rugs."
"My apologies m'lady but master Lunder does conduct business from his home. Perhaps you could return in the morning or visit the 3 Wheels warehouse."
Jean leant forward and placed her hand on the butlers shoulder giving him a better look at her body, " aww come now my good friend, surely Lunder has time to talk to little old me?"
The butler was clearly distracted by Jean's beauty but managed to stammer out "I really am sorry m'lady, master Lunder has retired for the evening and..."
Jean cut him off, "surely your master would not disapprove of having myself and my friend in for a friendly drink to discuss some....business?", the rise in her voice hinting at other possibilities.
Becoming quite flustered the butler replied, "I think that indeed master Lunder will be most happy to see you this evening. If you would follow me I'll take you through to the entryway."
Jean smiled at him and began to walk into the house. As she passed through the doorway she purposefully stumbled on the door step and landed in the butlers arms, "oops, I'm terribly sorry, I can be ever so clumsy on occasion."
Clearly the butler did not mind holding Jean but still managed a very measured, "not at all m'lady."
The butler lead them into a well decorated, but not overly so, sitting room. "Please take a seat m'ladies I will inform master Lunder of your arrival." He turned and left leaving Jean and Silvara, who was rolling her eyes at the mage, sitting comfortably.

While Jean worked her charms on Lunder's butler Shadow Flame had managed to sneak around to the rear of the estate and was carefully working the lock to a door under the building patio. Normally he would have no problem with a lock such as this one but for some reason, tonight it was not clicking into place. Unagi had moved around to what must have been a servants entrance at the side of the house. He was becoming quite agitated at all the standing around that he'd been doing lately - he was a fighter after all and he wanted something to fight. Deciding that Lunder was probably going to be his best bet for a while he took it upon himself to hurry things up. Without further pause for thought he leant back and kicked the door in. It shattered with a loud crash, and after taking a moment to take in the damage he'd done he stepped inside and found himself standing in a kitchen.

A loud crash echoed through the house, and in the sitting room Jean and Silvara looked at each other and said in unison, "Unagi!" Realising that the jig was essentially up they both began looking around. Silvara decided to go through the door that the butler had left through while Jean opened one just next to it.

Outside on the patio Shadow Flame heard the loud crash and muttered to himself, "dammit Nug" before following Unagi's lead and kicking the patio door down as well. He stepped inside and found himself in a well appointed, but not excessive, smoking room or den. He looked to his right and saw Silvara come through a doorway. He mouthed the question, "Nug?" and Silvara nodded.

Unagi moved quickly through the kitchen and went through a door opposite to where he came in. It opened into a large dining area with a huge table and a dozen chairs. Cabinets full of fine porcelain crockery and silver cutlery lined the walls. A door on the opposite wall opened and Jean poked her head through. Seeing Unagi she smiled and waved. Unagi smiled back and indicated a door on the northern wall. Jean nodded and they both moved to go through it.

Moments after Shadow Flame and Silvara had spotted each other a door on the east wall of the den opened and the elderly butler came out followed quickly by Lunder. Looking a little nervous the butler stepped to the side and Lunder walked past him looking at Shadow Flame.
"You?" he said, clearly confused at seeing Shadow Flame in his home. "What do you want?"
Unagi stepped through a door in the south wall, followed by Jean, and said "we want you, you filthy slaving dog!"
The rest of the party winced slightly at Unagi's complete lack of tact but obviously none of them disagreed with him.
Quickly understanding the situation Lunder turned and ran back through the door he just entered through. The rest of the party quickly sprang into action - Shadow Flame chased Lunder, as did Silvara. Unagi turned and went back the way he came, certain that the door he had spied in the kitchen could be used to head Lunder off. Jean went to the butler to try and calm him down a bit, he looked like he needed to know that they weren't interested in causing him any harm.
Shadow Flame burst through the door to see a stairway going up to the second floor of the home and quickly ran up it, close on Lunder's heels. The stairs ended at a hallway running east to west. He arrived at the top of the stairs in time to see Lunder run into the third doorway on his left, and quickly ran after him. He tried the door handle, it was open but the door wouldn't budge. Shadow Flame leant into the door, and realised that Lunder was on the other side leaning on it to keep it closed. Shadow Flame took a step back and shoulder charged the door.  Lunder went flying across the room and landed in a heap on the other side as the door burst in under the power of Shadow Flames charge. Shadow Flame stepped inside and drew his blade as Silvara rushed in through the door. Pointed the sword at Lunder's throat Shadow Flame simply said, "don't move."

Unagi ran hard back to the kitchen keen to cut off Lunder's escape. He quickly made it to the door at the back of the kitchen and kicked it in, and found himself standing in a large walk-in pantry with no other exits. Cursing to himself he turned again and ran back to the den and the stairs, keen to join his friends.

Jean took the butler and sat down with him, explaining what Lunder did for a living and why they were there, making sure to point out that he was not in any danger and that they would let him go once they had dealt with the situation.

Upstairs, in Lunder's bedroom, Shadow Flame and Silvara stood over the prone form of Lunder, who was obviously worried but looked defiantly at them. Stepping forward Silvara said to Shadow Flame, "here, let me deal with this, I have something that may convince him to talk."
Silvara closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her body began to tremble slightly, then started to shake. Hair started to grow from her body - her face, her arms - her clothing started to fall off and the hair growth was visible all over her body. The muscles in her arms and legs started rippling, growing, and her face began to elongate - her nose grew out, her lower jaw elongated, her ears starting growing long and pointed like those of an elf. Her fingers stretched and grew claws, her feet stretched. The transformation continued for about a minute or so, and once it was complete a large, hairy, slavering wolf stood in her place upon it's hind legs. Silvara was a werewolf. She leant down, close to Lunder's face and drew her lips back into a sneer and growled deeply in her chest. Lunder turned pale and began to shake in fear and whimper to himself.
Shadow Flame stood and watched the transformation. With his eyes wide he took a step back and drew his dagger to compliment his long blade. As Silvara knelt in front of Lunder and growled he managed to whisper, "Silvara?"
The wolf turned toward Shadow Flame and then cocked it's head toward Lunder indicating that Shadow Flame should get on with it. Realising that, for the moment at least, Silvara was in control of her actions he placed the blade of his long sword at the throat of Lunder again and said simply, "I think you should tell us what we want to know."
Lunder could barely manage a whisper, "yes, yes, I'll tell you anything you want to know, get this thing away from me."
Shadow Flame looked at Silvara before returning his gaze to Lunder. "Truth be told I have no idea if she can even understand me let alone listen to me, my advice would be to sit there as calm as you can and answer my questions, who knows what might make her tear your face off."
"O..o..o..OK, ask your questions," Lunder stammered.
"Tell me about the 3 Wheels, tell me about your business," Shadow Flame said in as diplomatic manner as he could muster.
"I...I...I'm a rug merchant, you know imported rugs and such from Amn and the other southern lands...."
"Wrong answer. Silvara, tear his thumbs off," said Shadow Flame flatly.
Silvara, growled deeply and opened her jaws. Looking down at Lunder's hands she licked her lips.
"OH GODS NO!" screamed Lunder, "don't do this, please. I'm sorry, I'll tell you anything! Don't let that beast kill me!"
Silvara paused and cocked an ear towards Shadow Flame as her mouth widened. Shadow Flame smiled as he realised Silvara was more or less in control of herself, and then shuddered briefly as he thought to himself, 'that must be what it looks like when a werewolf smiles'.
"I'll make it easy on you Lunder, we know you're in the business of selling people. Tell us how you go about it," Shadow Flame said to Lunder.
"Holy fucking hells!" exclaimed Unagi who had managed to find his way upstairs finally. He drew his katana from its sheath and walked inside the room.
Shadow Flame turned and held his hand out to Unagi to stop him. "Nug, calm down, put your sword away. We've got things under control up here, trust me on that."
Unagi stopped and looked questioningly at Shadow Flame. He nodded in response and said, "Nug, best bet right now would be for you to go back downstairs and make sure we are not interrupted by any unexpected visitors. Can you do that for me?"
He stood looking between Silvara and Shadow Flame for a few seconds before sheathing his blade, "fine. But I think we're going to have a little chat about this later on."
"No shit we're going to have a chat about this later on," exclaimed Shadow Flame, as much to Silvara as to Unagi, "but it's probably best to deal with this first."
Unagi turned and walked from the room.
Shadow Flame turned back to Lunder, "so, my questions still stands," he said.
"Well," began Lunder, "yes OK, I have traded in slaves before, it can be quite profitable."
"Who buys them? From who or from where do you get them from?"
"I'm really just a middle man," replied Lunder, "I get an order and then I fulfill it, I don't control the slave..."
"Wrong again," said Shadow Flame, "Silvara?"
Silvara growled loudly in Lunder's face before grabbing his armed and opening her mouth wide.
"OH GODS! NO! PLEASE, I'M TELLING THE TRUTH," screamed Lunder, "get it away from me, I'm not lying," he pleaded as he began to sob.
"Well tell us the truth then!" said Shadow Flame beginning to raise his voice. "Give us names man, names!"
"OK, OK. The slaves are always for the wizard named Hashtoth. I get the orders and then simply pick them up and take them to his home."
"So your just the middle man as you say," said Shadow Flame. "You know, I don't believe you. I think I'm going to let the wolf have you, no doubt I can find what I want to know around here somewhere." He sheathed his blades and turned to leave the room.
Lunder started screaming uncontrollably, "NO! NO! DON'T LEAVE! DON'T LET THAT THING HAVE ME! PLEASE! I'LL DO ANYTHING," he cried before falling back and sobbing to himself.
"Then talk now, my patience is running thin. Next time I will walk away and that will be that," said Shadow Flame.
Lunder sat and continued to blubber to himself, begging quietly into his chest.
Shadow Flame stood there and watched for a couple of minutes before saying, "Silvara, I don't think we're going to get anything else as long as you're here, he's starting to lose it."
Silvara looked back at Shadow Flame and nodded to him. She stood up, gathered her clothing and left the room.
"Now," said Shadow Flame, "the wolf is gone. I want you to calm down and start talking."
Lunder looked up into the room, and relaxed a little when he saw that Shadow Flame was telling the truth. "Look, really, I'm telling the truth. I would get a message saying how many slaves I had to pick up. I'd go and get them from where ever, and take them to Hashtoth. He'd pay me and I'd leave."
"Simple as that hey? You had nothing to do with getting the slaves?"
"No, I would..." began Lunder.
"Silvara, maybe you should come back in and give him something to think about, he appears to have a short memory," Shadow Flame called out.
"OK, yes. I'm sorry. There were usually a bunch of guards that accompanied my caravan. The rugs are just a cover obviously. I would set up in town and they would go about finding and kidnapping the people I would sell to Hashtoth."
"There you go, not so hard is it?" said Shadow Flame, his tone slightly mocking. "Which towns did you work from?"
"Between here and Hill's Edge," replied Lunder, "so, Hluthvar, Asbravn, sometimes merchants."
"Who gave you the orders to fill?"
Lunder paused and looked over Shadow Flames shoulder.
"Yes, that's right Lunder, you know what your silence will bring," said Shadow Flame, "answer the question."
He looked up at Shadow Flame, "Silas. Silas Coldstone. He leads the 3 Wheels out of Iriaebor."
"So Silas is the ring leader hey? Poor old Lunder, just a pawn in a game he doesn't understand. Don't make me laugh dog!"
"Well, I wouldn't say that, I'm not an idiot, but almost everyone takes orders from someone don't they?" said Lunder.
"What other filthy little schemes have you got your hands in Lunder?" asked Shadow Flame?

Down stairs Jean had finally managed to calm the butler down, and, as she explained, for his own good had tied him up. Since she was not a barbarian Jean had used the fine silk rope she owned to bind the butler, she didn't want him getting a nasty rope burn. That would be uncivilized. She made her way upstairs and found Silvara standing in the hall. Silvara told Jean most of what had happened and explained that Shadow Flame was questioning Lunder in the next room. Shadow Flame came out of the bedroom and told Silvara and Jean all that Lunder had told him.
"I don't think he'll be much more use to us at the moment. I think we should probably look around and see if we can find anything up here."
The girls agreed and they all began having a look around.
Jean went into a room next to Lunder bedroom and found it had apparently been newly renovated. There were several shelves with books on them and a large desk in the middle of the room. Clearly this was intended to be a study of some kind or maybe a library, but everything was very new and there was nothing of real interest. Resting on a small stand on the new desk however, was something that was of interest. At about 1 foot in diameter the crystal ball glowed with a dull red light that enhanced the effect of the smoke that appeared to be swirling around inside it. Since Lunder probably wasn't going to have any use for it now Jean decided that the crystal ball would get more use if she took it.
Silvara entered a room with many very expensive tapestries hanging from the walls, and plush, rich carpeting on the floor. Several comfortable chairs sat around a low table that had decanters of wine and water with several crystal glasses. The room appeared to be a waiting room designed to show off the more legitimate wares of the 3 Wheels coster to any potential customers who found themselves waiting in here.
Shadow Flame entered Lunder's office - a long narrow room with a desk at the end and several storage cabinets along the walls. The cabinets were full of files containing contracts and the like. Shadow Flame was becoming frustrated with what looked like it was going to be a long search and returned to the bedroom to question Lunder again. Jean and Silvara joined him.
"Look Lunder, "he began, "my patience is gone. The way this is going to work is you tell us where we can find you records, notes, letters, whatever and stop wasting our time or we leave and let my friend have her way with you. We haven't eaten since this morning."
Lunder sighed and nodded, "under my bed there's a chest you will find correspondence from Silas in there."
Shadow Flame reached under the bed and pulled out a large chest. As he opened it a large puff of smoky powder burst forth. Shadow Flame was quick enough to avoid the powder from the trap and turned to Lunder punching him several times in the face.
Lunder groaned and spat blood on the floor, "sorry about that, it's second nature to avoid the trap, I didn't consider it."
"You better start considering that sort of thing, I'm running out of reasons to keep you alive," replied Shadow Flame.
In the chest were a large number of very valuable gems along with several letters that were rolled up. He handed the letters to Jean and Silvara who read them aloud.
The contents of the letters were:
  • A letter from Silas Coldstone telling of his appreciation for Lunder’s good work supplying Hashtoth with slaves and bodies.
  • Silas mentions that Lunder may soon be promoted within the 3 Wheels and move his base of operations to Iriaebor.
  • Silas warns Lunder of encounters with strange humanoid creatures wearing black trench-coats and having an odd manner that makes them stick out in a crowd. Silas promises Lunder a rich reward if he can find anything out about these humanoids who seem to be interested in retrieving powerful magic items.
  • Silas talks about an ogre-magi called Estevan who works for the Planar Trade Consortium who is trying to buy him out. Silas hates him and his presumptuous attitude but is concerned because the ogre is well connected and obviously very powerful. He suggests that anyone who could rid him of the ogre mage could find themselves being very wealthy.
  • There is a letter telling Lunder of Hashtoths death and the appearance of the Staff of Knowledge. He is clearly angry but not concerned at the loss of Hashtoth as much as the loss of the Staff. He suggests to Lunder to talk to Shemeska the Marauder and tell her that the staff has reappeared since she let it be known she has some interest in it when they met briefly a few weeks ago. Shemeska will probably pay handsomely for this information.
  • There is a letter from Shemeska the Marauder, King of the Cross Trade thanking Lunder for his meeting invitation and how she would be pleased to meet with him on the 16th of Marpenoth at 7 past peak.
At the mention of Shemeska the Marauder Shadow Flame looked at Lunder, "what is your business with the Marauder?"
"It's in the letters," replied Lunder.
Shadow Flame kicked Lunder hard, in the ribs and knelt beside him, "I know it's in the letters, I want you to tell me about it. Why have you set up a meeting with her?"
"Silas asked me to. Like it says in the letter, he has been getting some heat from the Ogre Magi, Estavan of the Planar Trade Consortium."
"The Planar Trade Consortium?" Shadow Flame prodded.
"They are a merchant coster operating out of the Gate-town known as Trade Gate in the outer planes. Estavan is one of their high-ups and he works out of Sigil. They have it in their minds to try and corner all trade in the planes, and Estavan has recently taken an interest in Faerun. I guess his first stop was Silas since the 3 Wheels is a pretty new coster. Silas wanted me to talk to the Marauder and try and get her protection. She is a well known competitor of Estavan, in fact the two of them hate each other, if anyone was going to be able to help us out is would be her."
"OK then," said Shadow Flame, "what else should we know? What else have you got hidden away in this place?"
Lunder looked at him briefly before sighing, "in the meeting room. That's where all the records and contracts are kept, you may find something in there that interests you, but there really is just a bunch of contracts and such, I don't know what you'll find useful."

Shadow Flame grabbed Lunder and started dragging him into the office at the end of the hall. Once they were there Shadow Flame threw him in the corner and started looking about with Jean and Silvara. Jean and Silvara began going through the records in the cabinets while Shadow Flame searched the room. Behind a painting he found a wall safe. He turned to Lunder and raised his eyebrow.
Lunder explained how to open the safe and how to disarm the traps that had been set on it. Shadow Flame opened the safe and found only coin in there, which he dutifully pocketed of course.
The party had a fair bit to discuss, so, with the intention of talking through their options Shadow Flame went downstairs to get Unagi to come back up.
Silvara turned and sat down to watch over Lunder while Jean continued to flip through the contracts and records in the cabinets. As she read she discovered that Lunder had been down playing his level of involvement in the 3 Wheels dealings. The contracts indicated that Lunder had several operations on the side, dealings that he kept secret, or at least separate, from the 3 Wheels. Besides his slave dealings with 3 Wheels he was also involved in slave trading with third parties, trading in bodies and body parts, illicit drugs, black market spell components, poisons and even old fashioned protection rackets in Berdusk and surrounding towns.
As Jean continued to search through the multitude of documents she found one that made her stop cold. She pulled one file from the cabinet, her hands trembling slightly, and she seemed a little pale as she placed it on top of the cabinet. It was labeled "Aghal Morlike", a name she was only too familiar with. She took the file and went and sat at the desk and started reading through it.
Shadow Flame and Unagi returned and with the whole party present began talking about everything they had discovered during the last couple of days.

After some time had passed the question of what to do with Lunder was brought up. The party couldn't just leave and accept his word that he wouldn't say anything. Unagi was keen to kill the slaver, his hatred for slave masters overriding his senses. Jean was likewise unconcerned about the idea of killing Lunder outright. Silvara and Shadow Flame were not in favour of just killing him in cold blood however, so the party were at a bit of a logger head.
Unagi drew the silver longsword he carried and turned to Lunder; "You have 3 choices. You can sit there and die. We can tie you up and you can slowly die of thirst, or you can take this blade and fight me. To the death of course".
"Your choices aren't really choices are they?" said Lunder. "Given the situation I'll take option 3".
Unagi threw the long sword on the ground at Lunder's feet and Shadow Flame cut the mans bonds. Lunder picked up the long sword and squared up against Unagi. Perhaps he was a little bit over confident but Unagi was initially surprised by the speed of Lunders first attack. He was still able to parry it with little effort and retaliated with his own attack. Lunder was surprisingly deft and side stepped Unagi's attack. Realising that Lunder had received some training in sword play, Unagi focused his skills. Again he was surprised at the speed with which Lunder moved forward and attacked, but was able to side step and take the attack on his armor without injury. Momentarily off balance, Lunder staggered under the weight of a heavy blow from Unagi's katana. It was all the opportunity Unagi required and he moved forward and pushed the blade of his sword through Lunder's chest. Lunder tried to mouth some final words to the party but the blade was buried deep in his lungs; all he could do was let out a short whimper before dropping dead at Unagi's feet.
Shadow Flame and Unagi carried the body of Lunder into his bedroom where they covered him with a sheet.
Down stairs they stopped to confront the butler. "My friend," said Jean, "your master is dead".
"I am not surprised", replied the Butler. He hesitated before asking "is it to be the same for me?"
"We have no cause to kill you my friend, but obviously we can't have you raising an alarm with the watch. We were thinking we could buy your silence. 100 gold," explained Shadow Flame.
Quickly taking stock of the situation, the Butler paused slightly before saying, "100 gold? That will not get me far. You realise that I cannot stay either given what I know."
A brief flash of annoyance played over Shadow Flames face. "What do you have in mind?" Jean quickly interjected.
"I think 300 gold pieces will guarantee my silence" replied the butler.
"Done", said Shadow Flame and tossed him a bag with the gold in it.
The butler knelt down to grab the bag of gold, a glint of greed visible in his eyes. The party left Lunder's estate without any further word.

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