“You can’t just make a city out of nowhere and expect for things to take care of themselves!” Were the Magistrate words.
Katapesh was demanding proper recognition of authority and Al’Kaffesh had been instructed to assist the local de-facto governing body –the Saltspit Trading Company- in the proper organization of the city.
“Districts have to be regulated, main streets named, public buildings designated!" The man was clearly suffering from the lack of tangible bureaucracy in the surroundings.
Far more concerned with a fountain that sprang liquid gold, Hassan basically waved him off saying “Magistrate, you can take as much gold from our vault as the strongest man can carry, in exchange of taking care of this whole situation”
“Hold on, hold on” Interrupted Rakhim “This is important. Saltspit is our centre of operations; we can’t just forfeit its administration! What we need here is a city council that will handle the little things, but ultimately reports to us”
"And to our money" Added Jack.
"And to our money" Agreed Rakhim.
It took some debate, but eventually the party agreed to implement Rakhim’s idea: They would form a city council drawn from people they could trust, which in turn would be given the responsibility of managing the day-to-day aspects of Saltspit.
And so the Saltspit Metropolitan Council was instituted as follows:
-Mahmoud Al’Sherengen (the local kingpin) would be in charge of overseeing commerce/smuggling (there wasn't a particularly clear differentiation between the two in Saltspit), making sure to both attract new businesses and remind them that, while the STC did not actually enforce taxes, "gifts" to the company were a thoughtful and fantastic way to avoid serendipitous encounters with spiked clubs in dark alleys.
-Nidaros (a priest from the Church of Desna that was a good friend of the party, especially after they saved him from a cult of man-eaters when they were in level two, though in all honesty, it was them who got him kidnapped by accident in the first place) to take care of social services and public speaking. Despite its utter lack of ethics, the STC knew very well that the key to a community that doesn't kill its overlords with pitchforks is a well-greased and populist propaganda machine (as well as camouflaged clerks equipped with Suggestion wands).
-Abdul Bel’Nabir (one of Prince Osman’s most trusted advisors) to take on the adjudication of law. In what could be considered a revolutionary method, the STC offered to pay for lawyer when a poor citizen was accused of a crime and could not afford his own defense. In what could be considered standard STC style, however, said lawyers were often instructed to make sure their clients ended up as slaves.
-Iendys Mossburger* (the shrewd but quite clever manager of the local branch of the andoran trading company Thudsucker, dedicated to adventuring gear and the main provider of rope-‘n-caltrops for the party since level one) to oversee urban planning
-And Hrulf (the leader of the Brass Legion) to handle leg-breaking.
*: The party met him during one of their first real jobs –they started off as slaves after being captured by gnolls at the start of the campaign when their vessel shipwrecked-, which consisted in bringing him a blue envelope. Mossburger didn’t like blue envelopes
With the city taken care of (well, almost. They never really took take of the epidemic brewing among the slaves that Whipmaster Konkaff reported earlier, something that would come back to haunt them eventually), they set up to travel to Jalmeray in order to meet the owner of the dream that included the golden fountain. Although the figment in question had disappeared from the desert (news that resulted in Hassan almost dying from a heart attack, and the messenger almost surviving a furious dagger), Quite-Awful Giselda -a painfully expensive “Dream Consultant” provided by the Night Hags- explained that once a dream has been created by a mind, it can be recalled, so if they managed to find the person who sprang it, she could assist them in reproducing it.
At that point, Jack wondered why couldn't they just dream cool stuff by themselves, to which Valanar replied “Because we would have to be kept asleep for Sivanah-knows how long. Although thinking it better, you could be a great candidate for that”.
There was also the issue that only a specific dreamscape from the Deep Ethereal had been brought into Golarion, and the chances of their dreams existing in that particular region were next to none.
Since the party was going to visit Jalmeray, which rose from the heart of Obari Ocean many miles to the east, they travelled to Katapesh to hire a ship, and took the chance to visit the Prince and the Emir, as well as some other friends and associates. During the trip, Rakhim was informed that his beloved Falballa –the elven priestess he had become close with earlier in the campaign- was pregnant, so he decided that from now on she would be within sight whenever possible. So she would go with them to Jalmeray, which was also Rakhim’s homeland, and he wanted her to see it.
The trip to the Island of the Impossible was quick and uneventful*. After landing, Rakhim took the party to his parent's house (who were quite pleased with Falballa and the child, but very displeased with Rakhim for “Making child with no parent consent. Very irresponsible”), where he left the elf to be looked after -his family, while not particularly wealthy, was no foreigner to the many luxuries provided by the enslaved genies of Jalmeray-. They took a day off to engage in some sightseeing of inverted waterfalls and monks so stealthy they could steal their own pants without noticing and finally got to their purpose: To find the mind that about a week ago was dreaming about fountains of liquid gold. The silvery dust trail revealed by the Terror Dust was faint but still visible, and it led into one of the more populated areas of Padiskar, the second largest city in the island nation.
They scouted around trying to follow the trail –which wasn't making the job easy, as it twisted and turned through and across walls and mountains, only to then fly hundreds of feet through the sky and make unexpected turns whenever it was most disorienting-, and finally saw it entering through a window in a miserably poor shack. They decided to wait until very late in the night, in order to hopefully find the person already asleep in case they had to get more convincing (as if “Hey, we need to knock you unconscious for a month so a witch from another dimension can prod your brain in order for your dreams to come true, so that we may steal them afterward” wasn't a convincing proposition to begin with). Hassan had little trouble opening the locks and getting inside without making any noise, and he found the dreaming person: A thin, sick child about eight years old with a missing leg, sleeping atop a badly crafted box with some hay sprinkled on it to simulate a bed. The poor kid breathed heavily from the fever, and his forehead was covered in sweat.
“Great. This makes it way easier” So Hassan took the clorophorm he bought from a katapeshi merchant (why use spells when you can be villainously dramatic?) and put it on the kids mouth to make sure he won’t wake up, then tied him up inside a blanket and ran out.
*In our gaming group, "uneventful sea trip" is anything that doesn't directly involve being attacked by ridiculously big sea monsters. I just find it very difficult to miss such grand opportunities.
Part XIX: A Time for Friends and a Time for Fisticuffs
“No, no way I’m going to agree with that” Rakhim wasn’t too pleased to see the adorable thing Hassan had just kidnapped “It’s a kid!”
“What? When did you grow a conscience? Where was it when we began incarcerating people for getting a bad haircut so they could work in our salt mines? Or when we sent an aboleth insanity-fishing into the wrong side of reality so we could fill them with nightmares that would make you pee through your ears? Eh?” Hassan was both shocked and moderately offended by Rakhim's reaction. "Have you even considered how much gold this kid is worth right now?".
Rakhim was in a difficult spot. On one hand, he was supposed to be a monk, and at some point in his life before the STC, he could even say he had a code of morals and ethics; he remembered being a good guy. And even though he knew he had foregone most of that life in exchange for money, apparently it had been so gradual that the sudden realisation that there was a line he wasn't able to cross hit him hard enough to leave him without an answer.
On the back, Valanar was smiling “No, I know what is really going on…” He walked closer “This reminds him of the child his very own elven mistress is carrying as we speak, doesn’t it?” The priest had been waiting a long time to take advantage of the romance in order to try and break Rakhim's composture, but the whole salt venture had left those mind-games in the backburner. The whole self-perfection thing about monks really irked Valanar as pretentious, but more than anything it had turned into some sort of personal challenge of his “He cannot stop thinking that this could be his… that little brown, pointy eared halfbreed, the son of an incontinent excuse for a monk and a priestess with no control of her loins, a harlot in the guise of a saint, a…”
He was interrupted by Rakhim, who wielded a very convincing argument composed entirely of Flurry of Blows.
Shock! Conflict! Rakhim decided that he was not taking part of this anymore and goes away. Jack, who had been getting doubts about it himself, eventually followed suit. Vorgok... well, Vorgok just smoked his cigar.
“Should we stop him?” Asked Hassan.
All bruised, Valanar stands up “No need to. In fact, this might be exactly what I needed. This, Falbala's baby... everything so far is exactly what I needed. All that's missing now is a....”
At the table, the player behind Valanar asks me if during the short fight he got any blood from Rakhim on him, to which I answer positively (he did fight back a bit, and he always has sharp blades under his scarf that could have cut him a bit. That’s his favoured priest weapon, by the way, a Bladed Scarf. Don’t ask me, ask Paizo).
Valanar grinned like he had never grinned before. "My roguish friend, do you remember about our encounter with the flesh-eaters so many moons ago? I think you are going to like what I have been brewing"
"What? Have you been keeping secrets from me and the rest of the party?" Hassan was baffled. Hassan's player, not so much. When it comes to Valanar's player, we have learned to expect secrets being kept from everyone (including the DM. Perhaps specially the DM).
(the next part is a bit long, so I'll split it in two)
Part XX-1: Let's Leng Them a Hand
“Tell me, Hassan. How much are rubies worth these days?”
What’s going on? In order to properly understand what Valanar was planning, I need to momentarily take you guys back to the early stages of the campaign, long before salts and nightmares were anywhere near the focus of the story, before the STC had highjacked my plot and started making money out of thin air.
As I previously mentioned somewhere in a footnote or two, the career of these fantasy Rockefellers started as humble slaves; better said, began as a band of resolute and dreamy-eyed adventurers who, after being involved in a shipwreck along the Osirian coast (allegedly caused by the ship's elf bard's horrible poetry), were forced into humble slavery by a band of marauding gnolls. However, after a series of events -including no less than five different references to Gladiator- that led to their freedom, the party ended up doing some work for a local Temple of Desna.
A few days into their service (which was more-or-less payment for the help they were given in escaping the claws of slavery. Interestingly, back then they vowed to fight such practices everywhere. Salt was all it took to forget those promises), they got involved in the investigation of a string of nasty murders, in which the victims were all boiled down and stripped of their flesh. Initially, it seemed to be tied to a bunch of crazy cannibals that worshipped Urgathoa, Goddess of Undeath, Gluttony and Disease, living underneath the sewers of Katapesh (it was precisely during these investigation that Nidaros, the aforementioned priest the STC appointed into the Saltspit Metropolitan Council, got kidnapped and his arm and half his face chewed-off). At the climax of that particular plot, the party managed to escape the cultists (which was, as it is par for the course, chock-full of Temple of Doom references) through an underground river, but Valanar got left behind, because he was checking some relics in the inner quarters of the cultist’s High Priest.
Long story short: Valanar was almost eaten alive, but thanks to a mixture of clever answers, risky promises, and some lucky saves, he managed to talk out the High Priest, who eventually offered him a deal: His life –and, more importantly, immortal soul- in exchange of a host, a new body to occupy.
Now, the explanation the High Priest gave to Valanar was very cryptic and confusing, but it gave him just enough information to be able to do additional research on his own. As it turned out, none of that had anything to do with Urgathoa; the cult was merely a tool for a more obscure and convoluted plan involving none other than the Denizens of Leng, creatures hailing from a mysterious and terrifying realm that in the scant volumes that mention it seems to be suggested as the last remnant of a long-collapsed reality, prior even to the current Multiverse. As it seemed, the High Priest himself was one of such creatures, and for some reason it needed a new body.
Among the things Valanar eventually uncovered was the fact that, while rare and far apart, the Denizens of Leng did have a presence in Golarion, some of them hidden among the courts of the mighty, influencing the course of history with goals no one understood. Katapesh was not stranger to them, either, where apparently they dabbled in selective slave trade: for some unfathomable reason, they were particularly interested in specific kinds of people, which they traded for absurdly valuable rubies (or at least what everyone thought were rubies).
As he kept delving deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the Denizens, always making sure to keep it a secret from the rest of the party (who were convinced Valanar had defeated the creature back in the underground temple), Valanar began conducting occasional meeting with envoys from the High Priest, random individuals whose minds had been blanked out, mere puppets made of flesh and bone. Soon enough, he started to connect the dots and understand what was going on: The High Priest wasn’t working for anyone in particular, but for himself. As it happens, the Denizens of Leng were beings whose bodies were made of a malleable fleshy substance they can control at will –which is one of the reasons they are really ugly when “relaxed”-, but existing too long away from Leng –or regions of the Multiverse that are somehow connected to Leng- has detrimental effects on said bodies. So the High Priest, a Denizen himself, trapped in Golarion since time immemorial, had been working on means to fix that shortcoming; so far, stealing the flesh of certain individuals he had previously identified as useful had helped as a patch measure (which explained the strange murders and using the cultist as a cover), but he was getting close to a point where this could simply no longer sustain his physical form. And so he needed a host.
To this end, the High Priest had been dabbling in the creation of a perfect host capable of sustaining the twisted essence of a Denizen, one that would be able to sustain itself in Golarion without decomposing into sticky black jelly, something no other Denizen had been able to manage so far (and as Valanar found out during his investigations, there were many other Denizens interested in such a solution, but they were all too fragmented to work together). For this host to work out, however, it would have to be conceived through a natural process. The High Priest had been trying to implant the host into pregnant women kidnapped from the city above, but it all ended up in horrible miscarriages.
But now there was Valanar...
Oh, yes, the Denizens of Leng are creepy stuff indeed. I'm really anxious to see what kind of evil scheme Valanar appears to have concocted...
I also wonder whether the group will actually split up into two factions fighting each other. I guess not but it's nice to see that at least some characters still seem to have qualms as far as certain matters are concerned...