Traveling onward along the Arborway from the abandoned village and its dead spinnermen, the intrepid party found Asha missing one morning. They spent some time searching the surrounding marshes but found no sign of the Eladrin. The bogs in turn proved too much for Amaya’s constitution, and she became miserably ill.
Still, the group was able to reach the gates of Ripenso without further incident. The guards at the gate were perhaps effective at regulating traffic flow into the city, but they proved largely unhelpful when questioned about the possible arrival of Ashkenu. When Vikram cajoled, threatened, and offered to bribe them (after their prompting) they were willing to arrange any meetings the group thought would be helpful. Their attitude towards and knowledge of strange tieflings (“Stick ‘em. The less they bleed, the older they are.”) demonstrated how unlikely they were to have kept track of the movements of a single man.
Fortunately, at that moment a young girl—tiefling, to judge by the smell of ozone and brimstone about her—emerged from the Slough, the tent city around Ripenso, and offered her services as a guide about the city. Liaz initially demanded a silver to show them the City of One Thousand Wonders, but Vikram saw through her greed and talked her down to a more reasonably five copper, two of which were paid in advance. She was able to point out the various areas of the city, from the Copper Market to the posh Barrows. More importantly, she was familiar with the shadow city of Ripenso’s underworld, the most likely place to find knowledge of Ashkenu’s travels or any attempt to sell the book he stole.
The man to see would be Black Jaquard, but of course luminaries of the shadow city would not be so easy to meet. Liaz led the party to the disreputable Giant and Lion tavern, where they found one of Jaquard’s lieutenants, the aptly-named Balendin the Fat. The big man demanded 20 silver blooms for arranging a meeting, but again Vikram’s experience proved invaluable. He shamed Balendin into lowering the price to a mere 7 blooms and threatened harsh repercussions if the money should simply vanish. The deal complete and a meeting arranged for the following day, the group followed Liaz to the Rogue and Jackal Inn, apparently one of the better establishments in the City of One Thousand Inns.
On the way to the Rogue and Jackal Inn, Liaz’s continued her stream of description of the city and shared dire rumors of the Arcénne’s return and resumption of the Wailing Throne. The arcane former ruler of the Northmanu once led them in a war against the Floran Empire with aid from the dark powers of the Duat. Defeated, he has become something of a bogeyman in Arbellor. If his return is true, it could spell the final death knell of the remnants of Floresan (along with perhaps much of the civilized population of the north).
The inn dispelled any dire thoughts. The halfling proprietress, Katarin den Nolwen, made the party welcome with offers of food and beds and, critically, baths. She explained business was slow with war and other threats, and was not terribly surprised to hear of the spinnermen that the group had slain. Most of the party took the opportunity to bathe in shifts, with only Narayan eschewing the warm water for his own arcane cleaning. The rest of the group took the chance to soak and talk amonst themselves—particularly Vikram, who stayed in the tub for hours.
Before bed, the party dined and learned from the serving girl Verinne that the odd old man Obert who left during their meal was often given charity by Katarin. Liaz also delivered the news that their meeting with Jaquard would take place at the Silent Dog the following day and that a white tankard would be the signal. The group retired for the evening, with young Collaín managing to entice the other serving girl, Saissa, into his bed.
Narayan was awakened in the night by a scream downstairs followed by ominous silence. He hastily awakened the rest of the party and the crept to the top of the stairs, where they could hear voices speaking Telwani and feel an unnatural chill in the air. Sure enough, when they charged down they found five rime-covered Senion figures with tattered clothes and tattered flesh. Behind them stood a black shimmering shape whose only distinct features were its winding graveclothes and black claws. There had been no warning that Ripenso was the City of One Thousand Horrors (or at least six)!
The band leapt into combat against the creatures, which Narayan identified as shades raised from the Duat. Kinaa charged against the things but found them much less solid than they appeared—though their blades were solid enough. Haraldr stood guard against the stairs and Narayan launched blasts of fire against the shades, setting the inn ablaze. Collaín rushed up the stairs to warn the sleeping Saissa, but two of the Senion things rose through through the ceiling and into the second floor, cutting the half-elf off from his companions. Vikram went back up the stairs and the two battles, above and below, proceeded.
Haraldr kept the Eladrin mage behind him safe but took many wounds doing so. Kinaa, meanwhile, managed to slice her way through the lesser shades to the other creature and, with effort, dispatch it. Without their leader the shades proved less certain, and they eventually succumbed to the spells and swords of the group. At the end of the battle the shades had faded back into the dark realm from which they had been called and the bloodied group found the rest of the inn’s staff dead of cold and claws. Narayan, the only one to escape the battle unscathed, used his arts to quench the fires raging through the inn and the group variously returned to sleep or awaited Liaz.
When the tiefling arrived, Vikram grabbed her and threatened her, but it quickly became obvious that she had no ties to the attack, to Ashkenu, or to the dangerous tiefling elements. The group offered her more payment in silver to handle the watch and the rest of the fallout from the damaged and depopulated inn. The party then set out with her for the Silent Dog, where they immediately received the signal white mug and ascended to the second floor.
After surrendering their weapons to guards, the group met Nemed, a mute Senion, and Black Jaquard himself, a dragonborn who quickly voiced his Blasphemer sentiments. After discussion of Ashkenu, the book, and the search, Jaquard revealed that he had once been a slave in Sargoth and knew Ashkenu there. The elusive tiefling, a priest of the Ebon Flame, was something of a fringe element, either heretic or saint depending on who voiced the opinion. He sought the Blind Whisperer, a poem or prophecy, and perhaps the book was linked to it.
Jaquard offered his help in pursuing Ashkenu for a price well beyond the willingness of the party to pay, but then agreed to a trade of sorts. The city of Ripenso, as the Eladrin knew, was built atop the sunken remains of the ancient Eladrin city of Vimanas. Its prince, Mihira Everbright, supported the Incarnate King Esfandera, but was murdered by his brother Candrodaya Halfface during one of the cyclops’ assaults on the city. Legend holds that Mihira was flung from the Tower of Sorrows where he died, but a “fey gentleman” of Jaquard’s acquaintance believes that Mihira remained where he died. The dragonborn offered his aid in exchange for the retrieval of the dagger the slew the long-dead ruler.
The party agreed, and Jaquard offered the information that the basement of the Riveren’s Guild offers access to the ruins and, most importantly, a (relatively) clear path to the Tower of Sorrows beneath the current king’s palace. This will, of course, require some means of access to the mystic fraternity’s guildhouse, but such things can be arranged—subtly or by force. Afterwards the party can contact Jaquard through Obert, who is, as it turns out, less “touched” than Varinne and Katarin believed.