Ma’am, do you know what you do when you walk into a bad bar and the hairs on the back of your neck stick up? You get your drink, you pay for it, you turn around, and you walk out.
And this is a “bad bar”?
Yes, ma’am, Jericho is a bad bar.
Last episode, the Castaways acquired both a ship and a small fortune in cargo. The hold was filled with shiver, also known as “dreamshit,” an addictive and valuable hallucinogenic drug harvested from the venom of the Mwangi dream spider. In addition to the narcotics, bolts of dreamsilk, just as illegal as the shiver, and a big caché of weapons—including a curious quiver of elf killing crossbow bolts—rounded out the Red Gull’s illicit shipment.
It was strongly suggested that the Castaways keep clear of Senghor by the naval inspectors who’d searched their vessel; at least until the Senghori officials had grounds to charge Lord Maragorn, the Gull’s previous owner, with slave trading.
The new shipowners were directed to Suum’tero, a nearby village port. There, they’d discover that for people like them, precious downtime didn’t come easy.
Jask warned his friends that he might cry a little when they departed the Gull. It was the first time that the Garundi had been back home in a decade, and as a free man besides. The others were touched to see the cleric walk on the white sands, thanking the heavens. After haggling over the “no-questions” docking fees and settling accounts with the harbormaster, Dornas renamed their ship “The Freedom.” The party quickly took note of the raucous sounds and laughter emanating from the nearby Naga’s Notch Inn. Kishtari and Naga, her sentient psicrystal, were especially curious about the place.
Though the party weren’t certain yet they’d try to liquidate their cargo in Suum’tero, they agreed it was best stored in one of the local warehouses. Tyst and his newly drafted henchmen from the (former) Red Gull took on the backbreaking task of moving their hold’s massive stock of shiver and dreamsilk while everyone else went inside the Notch to have fun.
The inn was a crowded panoply of people and boasted a dance floor, a broad stage, and live entertainment. Local Bonuwat fishermen comprised the majority of the revelers, though there was a good mix of Garundi sailors, a few folk from the northern continent, and the not-so-good presence of Bekyar warriors—the latter infamous throughout the Expanse as slavers and demon-worshipers.
Ignoring their buzzkilling presence for the time being, the group grabbed a table, got drinks, and tried to enjoy themselves. Kor’lec shouted out a few words in Druidic on the off-chance there was a druid around. There wasn’t, but his words didn’t go unnoticed…
Kishtari simply stood at the bar and waited for some admirer to buy her drinks. She only needed a second and her hands were full of exotic cocktails and shots to bring back to her friends. A comedian and ukulele player named Rashoom finished a crowd-pleasing set of bawdy folk singalongs and jokes, which several in the party made a big show of enjoying, especially to spite Gelik. “HA! now that’s comedy!” said Kor’lec, while slapping the gnome on the back.
“He knows this audience,” Gelik explained, “a truly great comic can perform anywhere. Let’s see him try the same act in Oppara, or Kalsgard! They’d pelt him with rotten fruit, and they’d be wrong not to!”
“Jealous,” quipped the druid, who remembered he hated fun and crossed his arms. Kishtari teased the half-elf by mock-threatening him with one of the elfbane bolts. Kor’lec’s fellow elf-blood Aerys chided the kalashtar, pointing out the things were dangerous for anyone of elf-blood… “Waitasec…” Aerys’s eyes widened as it dawned on her that thus far, Kish had claimed she was half-elven.
The house band struck up a catchy fusion of tribal rhythms and contemporary beats, and many of the Notch’s patrons invaded the dance floor. Likki had been sitting quietly in a disguise he’d donned at his own insistence, not understanding anything. Music, though, he understood. The monkey goblin bounded up to the stage to join the band’s bongo players. To his friends’ delight, he wasn’t shooed away. Gelik stood, hat over heart, and took Monica by the hand for a lindyhop that enthralled the crowd. Not to be outdone, an already tipsy Kish pulled Aerys into the fray, both forgetting for a second her earlier faux-pas and the pirate’s peg leg! No matter; Aerys was aces in her proficiency, pivoting and pirouetting on the prosthesis like she’d trained on it from birth.
No News is Good, Period.
Meanwhile, Dornas saw that Big Rashoom served as the bouncer and door guy when he wasn’t performing, and decided the cheerful Bonuwat bard was a good person to solicit for the local scuttlebutt. As usual, the magus wasn’t wrong.
But Rashoom also knew a good opportunity when he saw one. He’d already pegged the Taldan’s group as an adventuring party from the moment they entered his inn, people he knew had great stories. Rashoom’s word for the group was “well-apportioned.” When Dornas asked what he meant, the merry bouncer replied with a parable about groups of all scholars, or just missionaries, or only mercenaries, or solely tomb-robbers; all failing to get far in the interior’s infamous Kaava Lands. But a “well-apportioned” group like Dornas’s might succeed. Rashoom promised the skinny, and a not-so skinny helping of his hot egg and turnip scramble at breakfast, if Dornas could regale him with his exploits. The magus promised a tale of adventure and courage, and Rashoom surrendered to his questions.
The jolly Mwangi pointed out Captain Massingale, the town founder and priest of Shimye-Magalla, a functional drunk, but popular and a decent-enough fellow trying to do his best. Rashoom explained that the M’bulazi, a local branch of Bekyar slavers, had a stranglehold on the port’s economy, and held auctions right on the docks. Most of the town were against it, but the M’bulazi paid their taxes and the money helped pay Suum’tero’s exorbitant “protection” fees to pirates and the Senghor navy. Massingale was also the town’s broker, the man to talk to about liquidating trade goods. After pointing out a few other local movers-and-shakers, Dornas thanked Rashoom for his time.
One of those “movers-and-shakers” was Se’enga, a juju shaman who’d heard Kor’lec’s Druidic proclamation and approached him. The Bekyar wendifa cordially explained through sharpened teeth that she kept the town’s balance between the spiritual and material realms, and that Kor’lec and his friends were best moseying on. Kor’lec asked what sort of services she provided, and the Bekyar boasted, “healin’, blessin’, raisin’ the dead.” The offended druid sent her off, his umbrage plain.
After doing so, a halfling woman in red Qadiran garb approached Kor’lec, and mentioned that if it were up to her, she’d have the Bekyar run out of town. The halfling introduced herself as Red Agata, the village sheriff. As an ex-slave, Agata had nothing but contempt for the Bekyar and their evil trade. But, alas, there was nothing she could do about it. Captain Masssingale, her boss, allowed it.
Monica and Gelik fell into a slow dance when the band’s tempo shifted, and the gnome finally asked if Monica still planned to hold off revealing her groundbreaking discoveries on Smuggler’s Shiv to the world. He knew the answer. “Yes,” Monica replied, “I still have to work something out with Kor’lec, and we have bigger fish to fry.” She was referring to Saventh-Yhi, the serpentfolk’s designs on the fabled city, and stopping whatever those happened to be. Gelik gently teased her for her altruism, said he needed to return to Magnimar, and intended to find a ship going north in the morning. Realizing this meant the inevitable end of their relationship, Monica said she understood, and teased back “we still have one more night together, then.”
After their dance, Aerys and Kish had a heart-to-heart at the bar. Kish admitted she’d lied about being a half-elf because, “and I know this sounds crazy,” she was an alien refugee from the planet Castrovel. Aerys was beside herself, but not angry or incredulous, more bemused as to why Kish thought her planet of origin was so unbelievable that she needed to lie. To her.
“Slaves from Castrovel,” Aerys explained, “have been trafficked around the coasts for a century. Its the Dream Merchants’ specialty.” Kishtari asked who the Dream Merchants were and how she could find them. At that, Aerys was struck aghast. “Please promise me you’ll never, ever, put yourself in their sights, or set foot aboard their ships. These men of Leng, they are nightmares in flesh, and I’d wish for myself a hundred lashes of the cat before condemning even an enemy to one of their galleys.” Kish was undeterred, and asked how the Dream Merchants traveled through space. Aerys explained that they rowed to the horizon and just… kept going, somehow. Aerys immediately regretted bringing the horrible denizens of Leng up, and changed the subject.
“I’m booking passage back to Eleder,” Aerys said. “I love Kassata. I have to try to fix this thing.” Kish said she understood. “You could come with me! All of you would make great pirates!” The kalashtar said she’d think about it. After some awkward attempts at small talk by Aerys, the half-elf departed. But Kish had bigger things on her mind. Extraterrestrial things.
Gelik and Aerys had retired to their quarters, and Jask found a lady-friend half his age eager to accompany him for a private sermon. Sasha probably ditched them hours ago. The remaining Castaways were left to discuss their options, complicated somewhat by Kor’lec’s weird encounters with the wendifa and the sheriff. Slavery was an uncomfortable fact of life across the known world, civilized societies and otherwise. But they all hated it, and debated whether or not to strike a small blow against the practice here in Suum’tero.
Finally, the lights dimmed for the stage-show’s finále. She’d been named a few times by the staff of the Notch as an act worth staying up late for, mentioned by passing patrons of the Naga’s Notch in reverent ramblings. After the barker’s lewd introduction, and when the catcalls and clapping faded in anticipation…
Satanica appeared on the stage.
Satanica, and her nine-foot-long albino python.