Brasshead wakes up feeling…groggy. For a being who doesn’t sleep, being stricken unconscious for the first time is more than a little disorienting. Sitting up, he takes in his surroundings: the interior of the city jail, the holding cell of Sharn’s Citadel Guard, and he’s not alone. The cell directly across from him holds a young Halfling, shaking and sobbing gently and rather well-dressed. The next cell on that side of the room holds a woman the likes of which he’s never seen before, bronze-skinned and elegant with flowing…green hair. Right. Green. Um…the last cell on his side of the jail is occupied by a hunched, cloaked figure rocking back and forth on the floor and cradling a bandaged and bloody stump where his left arm should be.
Two guards in leather jerkins sit at a table in an alcove by the door, casually chatting and joking as all good, attentive jailers do. Brasshead, standing up and shaking off the last strands of fog clouding his mind, strides to the bars and gives them a shake, verbally accosting the guards and insisting that there’s been a misunderstanding. Because they’ve never heard that one before…
The largest of the guards stands up, shouting at the disruptive Warforged to step away from the bars, and walking towards his cell. He makes it about three steps. The door bursts open and three figures in unadorned black leather armour and brushed-steel masks take the room by storm. The guard sitting by the door loses his head as he attempts to stand and draw his sword. The other actually gets his blade out before the lead attacker spreads his insides out over the flagstone floor. Brasshead, silenced midstream in his complaints, looks around at the other prisoners. The bronze-skinned woman is on her feet, calm, watching the attack unfold. The cloaked figure in the corner cell has straightened up and stopped rocking. And the Halfling has stopped sobbing and appears to have shit himself.
Sheathing their longswords, the figures in black pay no attention to the prisoners…except one. The cloaked figure stands as the lock to his cell is skillfully picked, and he haltingly follows two of his masked rescuers from the room. The remaining swordsman, the leader, bends to retrieve a ring of keys from the belt of the disemboweled guard; as he does so the edge of his cuirass slips to one side, revealing a gold badge in the shape of a slender blade, a badge Brasshead has seen all too many of…the sign of a Deneith Blademark. As the mercenary turns to leave the Warforged yells at him to let the rest of them go too. You can see the smile in his eyes behind the mask as he turns slowly…and deftly tosses the keys through the bars to hit the wall at the back of the cell. Brasshead turns and grabs the keys, intending to detain the swordsman, but upon turning back discovers that he’s gone. The Blademarks have left the building.
Who was that masked man? Intent on catching the swordsman Brasshead starts to run from the room in pursuit, and is stopped by an insistent yell from the bronze-skinned woman in the other cell. The ensuing conversation ends in her release (green hair is extremely persuasive) and she takes it upon herself to scout ahead. Returning, she tells Brasshead that the next room, barracks by the looks of it, has three remarkably relaxed guards in it nonchalantly discussing the demise of their fellow guards…and as an afterthought, introduces herself as Manekatari, a Kalashtar of Sarlona. What follows is obvious next step in such a situation: take the guards down.
Caught totally by surprise as Brasshead comes barreling up the stairs wielding a mahogany chair, the guards stand little to no chance. The first swing blends the back of the first guard’s head seamlessly into the stonework of the wall behind him, followed by a spinning toss that lodges the furniture firmly in the second guard’s teeth. The last guard, still turning from his inspection of the barracks library to see what all the commotion is about, is met with cold steel just below the ribs at the hand of Manekatari. In the ensuing silence one sound can be heard: the insistent, whining yelp of a terrified teenage Halfling begging to be set free.
His name is Sharlyn, he says, Sharlyn Boromar. His crime: being a spoiled enough rich little punk to push another kid off a suspended walkway as punishment for getting in his way. A quick Indimidation check by Brasshead ensures that this will never happen again. But the guards are surely on their way, and with not a lot of options left to them the Halfling reveals that he might know where their gear is. This is by no means a bad bargaining chip, and our Warforged and Kalashtar turn aside to determine the Halfling’s part in all this. But can he pick a lock? they wonder between themselves. A hinge squeaks behind them. “Please”, says the impudent little shit now standing between them, “I’m the son of a Halfling crime-lord. What do you think?” Alright, he’s in.
A brief excursion through the barracks and into the hall beyond reveals an ancient wooden door with a lock that proves too rusty to pick. Let us jump ahead thirty seconds. the door is kindling, and our (heroes?) are in full gear and faced with two options: upstairs or down. Upstairs is the Sharn embassy district, and as much fun as accidentally starting a war may sound, the party just doesn’t need that kind of excitement right now. Down it is. A narrow stone hallway leads around a corner or two and down a flight of steep stone stairs. Manekatari takes point, and descends first. She enters the chamber at the foot of the stone flight through a door between two braziers, and is promptly greeted by a large, dirty, bearded man whose battleaxe looks immensely pleased to see you. The Kalashtar does the first thing she can: flashes a mental image of her soon-to-be-assailant back up the stairs to a Warforged who has never had anyone’s thoughts but his own running around inside his head. Welcome to the world of working with a psion, bub.
The message gets across, though. Brasshead hurtles down the stairs, and soon arrows and axes are flying merrily around the room, which also happens to have a large, smelly, and seemingly bottomless pit in one corner of it. And as all new allies should go through some kind of hazing process, Manekatari lodges a wayward arrow in Brasshead’s thigh. Best friends forever, without a doubt. The grungy axeman is finally subdued, and a closer look reveals the pit to be the prison garbage disposal chute, and a trapdoor in a recessed niche that leads to the sewers, which would make make the bearded berserker…yup. You just took out the janitor.
Ah, sewers. The true test of a city: if you can travel safely by way of the sewer system, then something is seriously awry. With the quivering Sharlyn (who, despite his best efforts, hasn’t been able to shit himself a second time yet) at their heels, our dynamic duo sets out into the yeasty darkness. The tunnel comes to a disconcerting fork, and our heroes go right, only to discover a hole in the path filled with skulls. Not cool. Sharlyn is particularly distraught at this discovery, and is reduced to mumbling something about how this “isn’t my dad’s work.” Further examination of the tunnel reveals a burrow in the wall just a little farther along; the marks in the dirt look like the scrabblings of fingers. Our heroes bend down for a closer look, musing, and then turn back to their ward only to be set upon by…Rodents of Unusual Size!
There’s nothing to eat on Brasshead, so the rats swarm Manekatari. A well-placed hammer blow dispatches one of the vermin, simultaneously eliciting a gargling, rasping moan of…anger?…hunger?….from the burrow in the wall. Brasshead charges past the opening towards the next rodent on his list, and is intercepted by a shrieking mass of decaying flesh and anger that comes hurtling out of the wall in a shower of damp earth and latches onto his shoulder. It’s a ghoul, and he can’t decide whether he hates the big metal thing with the hammer because it just turned the rat he was planning to eat into jelly, or whether he hates the big metal thing because he can’t eat it. Either way, he’s pissed. So, after much hammering, screaming, moaning, slicing, and hacking, Manekatari flanks the ghoul and helps its neck part ways with its shoulders…followed by a gratuitous downward swing at the rest of the body by Brasshead, officially making this ghoul part of the sewer.
Through the sewer, out of the sewer, through many crowds of people wondering what smells, across bridges, up a couple of towers, and our heroes find themselves outside a towerside penthouse in the Little Plains district, a neighbourhood of Sharn occupied almost exclusively by Halflings. The door in front of them has the look of a grand entrance, thick oaken doors with iron tracery under a soaring stone arch…except these are only six feet high. Sharlyn’s knock on this diminutive portal is answered by a weathered Dwarf with tarnished scale armour and an impressive-looking hammer slung across his back. Greeting Sharlyn with his arms crossed and looking thoroughly unimpressed, he turns his attention to the other beings on his doorstep. Brasshead steps forward and, looming over the Dwarf, introduces himself: “They call me Brasshead.” The Dwarf looks up past his eyebrows and grunts, “Clever.”
In that moment a bond is formed, a perfect and seamless understanding as can only form between two men with hammers.
Brock, as the Dwarf is called, ushers them in, and soon the master of the house enters, stage left: Saidan Boromar, the crime-lord of Sharn. He is, he claims, in their debt, and while the hospitality of Clan Boromar is not its foremost claim to fame the house is at your service. The Kalashtar request a bath, and nothing more, and is led upstairs by a servant. But Brasshead has more pressing things on his mind. Hospitality may not be Boromar business, but information is, and he wants to know who’s been hiring Deneith Blademarks to brutalize Warforged. This question troubles Saidan; he doesn’t have the answers, for House Deneith guards their clientele righteously, but he knows someone who might point you in the right direction.
With hot baths and monosyllabic manly exchanges with the Dwarven bouncer behind them, our duo sallies forth. Their ward no longer accompanies them; Sharlyn has been left in the care of his father to… atone for the carelessness that landed him in the clink. The fellow who can help them, they’ve been told, lives “Downstairs”, in the tavern district at the foot of the Menthis Plateau. The weirdos are just coming out of the woodwork as our heroes step down into the bustling nightlife of the Lower Wards. A gaggle of ragged Halflings crowds enthusiastically around a billboard of advertisements for the Firelight red-light district around the corner. Brasshead saunters up to a buxom Half-troll in a red dress looking for information, only to be confronted by her beery-eyed five-foot-nothing chimney sweep boyfriend, coal-smeared and cantankerous. Within minutes, yells of “Just bend over, Jackass, I bet there’s plenty of soot up there for this wire brush!” are echoing through the streets. That went well. Manekatari approaches a watch officer drinking a pint against a blackened brick wall. The sign hanging over his head looks like it used to be for the Blue Boar Tavern, but the place got torched, and the lettering on the front door now reads “The Charred Boar”. Classy. She asks the officer if he knows where “Chance” can be found; he merely chuckles and jabs a thumb over his shoulder, and receives the price of another pint for his trouble. Brasshead disentangles himself from the chimney sweep’s clutches and follows her inside.
And…it’s a bar. Three Gnomes hunch over glasses of Raspberry Fizz at a table by the stairs; there’s a Half-elf at the bar who’s so far inside his seventh pint glass that he doesn’t realize his pants have been stolen. But it’s the figure in the corner that draws your attention. Proud horns and indigo hair sweep back from a heavy brow and sharp features, a brow under which silver eyes are seeing everything that moves, and then some. Chance’s fingers are idly at play, rolling two carved dice across the back of his knuckles over, and over, and over. The Kalashtar sits down at the bar, while the Warforged moves to casually chat up the bar wench, a blonde Gnome with a winning smile who almost comes up to his hip. Manekatari grimaces and turns her attention to their contact; she fires off a mental greeting from Clan Boromar to the enigmatic figure in the corner booth, and is rewarded with the sound of fumbled dice falling to the table behind her. The a soft, smokey voice: “Snake-eyes…” Introductions have been made. Brasshead moves in and sits down in the corner booth as the tavern door flies open and the gaggle of ragged Halflings from across the street pours in and swarms the bar around Manekatari with the loudly voiced intention of getting roaring drunk. She ignores them, focused on the conversation and rather taken with the rakish, silver-eyed figure in the corner booth.
The conversation unfolds. Brasshead states his business, reveals who sent him here, and asks his questions. Chance’s reply is frank: yeah he knows about the Blademarks. Everyone’s been finding ravaged Warforged in the streets, and there’s a name floating around the rumour mills: Coghunters. As to who’s hired them, well, it could be this noble, it could be that warlord, it could be…on and on. And something clicks. The Halflings are too loud. The Tiefling is talking too easy, and the information is free. The Warforged turns to look towards the bar and comes face-to-face with a widely grinning Halfling holding all his gold. Manekatari, meanwhile, is totally enthralled by the perfect curvature of the Tiefling’s lips and the way the tavern lanterns glint just so off his sleek indigo hair. By the time she snaps back to reality her purse is long gone, and she finds herself surrounded by Halflings with drawn blades. The Warforged, she sees, is in a similar pickle at the table. Chance leans back and smiles. One carved die arcs through the air and lands with a pure, ringing E-minor in a wine glass on the table. As the note fades heavy footsteps are heard descending the tavern stairs. The bartender has vacated his post. The Gnomes are gone, their Fizzes abandoned in a hasty retreat. The pants-less Half-elf snores in an unconcerned monotone. “Now then”, says Chance, as a hulking Bugbear in chainmail shoulders his way through the doorway and into the bar-room, “let’s do business, shall we?”