Eleint 28, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
The tangled maze of streets in the Netherese city of Lundeth was an easy place to get lost in.
All around the three travelers from the Western Sunset Vale people went about their business with seeming disinterest to the three visitors walking among them.
“I would think the locals would at least look at you Lo-kag with curiosity,” Caldreas Arannis said to the goliath barbarian. The great eladrin pyromancer walked with his magical staff in hand. He choked back a cough as a cloud of dust settled down on his companions and him from above.
Looking up, Caldreas spotted an elderly woman shaking a dusty rug outside of a second-story window. She gave the pyromancer an apologetic shrug then disappeared back inside her home.
“I thought of that too,” Lo-kag said shaking dust off of him. “Maybe they’ve seen my kind before.”
“Or they’ve seen enough strange folks that you’re no different to them,” Deb Merryfoot the halfling ranger said as he brushed off sand and dust from his cloak. “We are, after all, in Netheril. Strange to us is what’s ordinary to them.”
“Speaking of strange,” Caldreas added. “Are you sure we’re going the right way? The directions we were given by the stable master sounded confusing to me.”
“Wasn’t it?” Deb said. “Fortunately, you have my expertise to call upon. To be honest, I ignored the man’s direction soon after we left him. I can trust him with our flying mounts, but his sense of direction left a lot to be desired.”
“You did what?” Lo-kag asked. “You mean we’re lost then? Maybe we should have asked another ranger to join us. Was Rowan busy? Maybe we should have asked him.”
“Lost?” Deb said. “I don’t even know what that word means. Besides, who guided us all through Elturgard without so much as a map to rely on? And who navigated us through the streets of Berdusk while fighting off crazy Gauntlars? If I recall correctly, a certain goliath once got himself lost in Berdusk when—”
“Enough you two,” Caldreas interrupted. “We’re here.”
The three stopped in their tracks and gazed at the magnificent structure before them. Made from polished stone, the great Colosseum of Lundeth loomed majestically in the center of the city, it’s presence towering above nearby shops and homes.
“If Cain Justice saw this…” Lo-kag said.
“…He’d have one built in Bear’s Head.” Deb finished. Both looked at each other and chuckled.
“Except it would be floating a mile above the town.” Caldreas added. “Well, let’s get on with this and find Quan One-Eye.”
Once inside the colosseum, the three were guided to where Quan One-Eye was busy instructing other gladiators in a small but well-equipped training room.
“Well met,” Caldreas said as they walked up to the gladiatorial instructor.
As Rolando had described, Quan One-Eye was a powerfully built human. He stood just a few inches taller than Caldreas. He wore a simple crimson robe that opened in the front and exposed his scarred muscular chest. His face, too, bore a scar that ran from his forehead, over his missing right eye, and down to his chiseled jaw. His thick arms were covered in tattoos and scars.
Rolando mentioned that Quan was an old friend of his who fought his way up through the gladiatorial ranks, until an unlucky swipe of a sword took out his right eye. Since the unfortunate accident occurred, Quan all but gave up his career. Instead of fighting in the colosseum, he now trains Lundeth’s finest fighters. Rolando also mentioned that Quan was a highly respected man in Lundeth with many powerful friends and equally powerful enemies.
“Well met,” Quan said. “You three are obviously not from around here.” He turned to look at both Deb and Lo-kag who stood to either side of Caldreas. “I’m afraid I don’t train halflings, but perhaps I can train the goliath or even work miracles with you, although you’re going to need some muscles if you expect to survive in the arena.”
“I’m afraid you misunderstand the reason for our being here,” Caldreas said as he brought his staff down on Lo-kag’s foot which stopped the goliath in mid-chuckle. He gave Deb a stern look as well. “We were sent here by Rolando of Bear’s Head. You are a friend of his. He said you would have information regarding a magical item known as the Cloak of Flames.”
“I see,” Quan said looking around. “If you’ll follow me, it’s best we speak of such things in a more private place.”
Later, the three found themselves with Quan in a comfortable room. Rich carpets covered the floor. Bronze goblets filled with rich wine sat at a nearby wooden table along with bronze platters full of sumptuous fruits. Lit scented sticks cloaked the room in an ambrosia of exotic scents. Paintings hang on walls while marble statuettes occupied recessed niches.
After they had served themselves, Quan asked everyone to sit upon huge padded pillows scattered about the floor.
“Are you familiar with the Cloak of Flames?” Caldreas asked.
“I am,” Quan said. “It was once worn by Margretor, a mage Rolando and I adventured with in our youth.”
“I didn’t know Rolando was that skilled as a wizard,” Deb said as he took a bite out of a plump pear-like fruit. “I thought Caldreas here surpassed his skills as a wizard.”
“His skills as a wizard was not why our adventuring company hired him,” Quan continued. “We had heard that he had a knack for the arcane. Since our company was interested in finding lost magic items, we hired him to travel with us. He didn’t go into the dungeons with us but stayed with the horses and equipment. Once we returned ladened with treasure, we had him examine them for their value and magical properties.”
“So, Magretor has the cloak,” Lo-kag said. “Where can we find him?”
“You can’t,” Quan said. “He’s dead.”
“This trip was for nothing then,” Deb conceded.
“Not quite,” Quan said. “I do know where the cloak is kept safely hidden.”
Caldreas looked at the gladiator. “I know where this conversation is leading,” Caldreas said. “We can pay you what the cloak is worth.”
Quan raised his goblet to take a drink. “I have no need for more wealth,” Quan said pointing to the various art pieces that decorated the room. “However, I am need of help at the moment. Perhaps we can strike a bargain. You offer to help me, and in return I will reveal to you the location of the legendary Cloak of Flames.”
“Ah, sounds familiar,” Deb said with sarcasm. “We offer our services as skilled and famous adventurers. In return we get rewarded for our efforts. Someday, it would be nice if people simply accepted money for what we wanted.”
Caldreas ignored the halfling’s quip despite its honesty.
“What can we do to help a respected gladiator trainer such as yourself?” Caldreas asked taking a sip from his goblet.
“I need your help in getting my son back.” Quan said.
“What happened?” Deb asked.
“Three weeks ago, agents working for Oathem, a rival trainer from the House of Salax kidnapped my teenage son Kelek. Yesterday, I was visited by five goliath thugs working for Oathem. They told me that if I ever wanted to see my son alive again, I would need to poison the drinking water of several of my finest gladiators to ensure specific outcomes in the upcoming gladiatorial games.”
“Of course you can’t do that,” Lo-kag said.
“Naturally,” Quan said. “I cannot betray my warrior brothers—even to save my son.”
“Do you know where your son is being held?” Caldreas asked.
“My sources tell me he may be in a fort somewhere between Lundeth and Rasilith but that much area would be impossible to search.”
“What of the goliaths?” Deb inquired. “Did you have them followed?”
“I considered it, but feared for my son’s safety if Oathem found out I was trailing his pets. I did find out today that the goliaths are still in the city.”
“Perhaps we can help there,” Caldreas offered. “As you said earlier, we are obviously not from around here. No one would suspect that we were helping you look for your son. We will help you get your son back. In return, you’ll get us the Cloak of Flames.”
Grateful for the help offered, Quan One-Eye agreed to the terms.
Back outside, the group busied themselves by asking around for any sign of five goliaths who may be traveling together in the city. It took a few hours but eventually, they learned that the goliaths were entertaining themselves in one of the city’s numerous brothels. However, one of the goliaths was seen leaving the city to the north.
Following a lead, the three made their way to the Nut Cracker, the city’s most popular house of ill-repute.
“Really?” Caldreas asked as he stood before the brothel. “The Nut Cracker? Couldn’t they have thought of a better name for a brothel?”
“I suppose they could have called it The Bears Head In!” Deb said bursting into laughter.
“Or simply, The Bear’s Head,” Lo-kag offered also bursting into laughter.
Caldreas couldn’t help but laugh along with Lo-kag and Deb. “Alright, alright. Enough. Let’s go and get this over with.”
“That’s what she said,” Deb said with a final chuckle.
Lo-kag slapped the halfling in the back.
“What was that for?” Deb asked.
“You’re funnier than I thought possible,” Lo-kag said with a grin. “For a small one, you’re big where it counts.”
Deb couldn’t resist. “That’s what she said.”
Inside, the brothel was a gaudy mixture of mismatching furniture and colors. Peanut shells littered the floor. In the main room, several people were mingling about with drinks in hand or snacking on small nuts with the shells being casually thrown on the floor. Working women were busy entertaining their guest with offers of pleasures beyond their imagination or price range.
In one corner, the the group spotted three goliaths surrounded by six scantily-clad women. By the looks of it, the goliaths were rough-handling the women who were desperately trying to fend the brutes off. Even the other guests were starting to notice the trouble brewing in the corner.
Lo-kag turned to the others. “Let’s go ask them a few questions.”
“I can only imagine what their answers will sound like through broken teeth,” Caldreas said.
Coughing up blood, the remaining goliath found himself staring up at Lo-kag’s rage-filled face, his weapon inches from the beaten goliath’s head. The two other goliaths lay dead on the floor nearby.
“Where are the others?” Lo-kag asked in fury. “Or I swear my weapon crushing your face in will be the last thing you’ll ever see!”
Nearby, Caldreas was busy comforting the women who moments before were being accosted by the goliath thugs. Deb, his bow drawn back with an arrow ready, kept guard.
“Lo-kag,” Caldreas called. “One of the girls said the fourth one is upstairs. He’s in a room with two elven women.”
Moments later, with the goliath upstairs killed and the women and other customers safe, the three adventurers gathered around the beaten goliath seated on the main room’s floor.
“What do you want from me?” the beaten goliath asked as blood flowed from his mouth. “Do you want money? I’ve got some gold coins—”
“We dont’ want your money,” Lo-kag said. “We didn’t like the way you were treating those women. Damaged goods is no good to the rest of us.”
“You know if Oathem gets wind of you killing the others,” the goliath said. “He’ll have you hunted down and slain. Lo-tor left today to talk to Oathem. They’ll wonder why we haven’t returned.”
“Who’s this Oathem guy?” Deb asked as he stood looking eye-to-eye at the seated goliath. “And if he does send others, he’ll just end up losing more thugs. Eventually, he’ll run out of people for us to kill.”
“You saw how quickly we took care of your friends,” Caldreas added. He tapped one of the dead goliaths with the tip of his staff to emphasize his point. “I can’t imagine the others being much more of a challenge.”
“What if we came and worked for Oathem?” Deb offered. The goliath’s surprised look made the halfling ranger smile. “We can offer our services to replace the skilled thugs he lost.”
“You three are pretty good in battle,” the goliath said. “I can vouch for that.”
“I’m sure you can,” Lo-kag said.
“Oathem is always looking for more people to hire,” the goliath said. “I’m sure he’d like to have you three join us at the fort.”
“The fort?” Caldreas asked as he looked at the others in mock surprise.
“Yeah, the fort.” the goliath said. “It’s where Oathem and the others are. It’s in the desert, about two days journey from here. I can take you there if you like.”
Deb looked to his fellow adventurers with a wolfish grin. “We would like that very much.”
The story continues in “Quest for Fire” Part 2