The Sharn Citydark series begins with a flurry of correspondence tumbling down the societal classes of the City as a cloistered scholar seeks aid from a familiar "specialty merchant." Our merchant in turn employs native delvers familiar with the City's deeper alleyways to inspect a potentially lucrative archeological find. But what they find instead begins a sinister mystery…
Wir, 11 Aryth, 998 YK
From: Provost Tal d'Archer, Morgrave University
To: Ashford Terra
archival reference code 1026-A: delivered ink-on-vellum, magically sealed and encoded; Morgrave courier service
Greetings Friend Ashford!
I trust your concerns in Xen'drik(1) were successfully resolved; it's good to have you back in Sharn. Have you heard about Professor Jarell's scandalous departure from the Library of Korranberg?(2) Quite a shock to us all!
In any event, I write to request your assistance. A colleague has brought to my attention a certain matter. It seems she has come across a reference in our special collections library, heretofore unearthed by our researchers. It concerns the goblinoid foundations beneath our fair city. The manuscript suggests that sometime toward the late Y'lothian period, a municipal digging team happened upon peculiar masonry while excavating a new water well. The goblins subsequently unearthed a chamber, with no visible egress, filled with strange sculptures and alien sigils. After the digging team sent word to the surface, they disappeared. Two investigative parties sent thereafter also never returned. The goblins covered the upper mouth of the water well leading to the chamber, taking great pains to seal tight the passage with both physical impediments and magical wards.
Last week, the University arranged employment of an Inquisitive familiar with the area where we believe the sealed well mouth to be located. (Dura Quarter Depths; see included map). He reports that the well mouth is indeed still extant, accessible beneath a furnace duct originating deeper into the Cogs(3). The physical seals have decayed to the point of crumbling, and he reports no aura of magical warding still present.
If indeed this well leads to ruins predating the goblinoid period, we should like to confirm with all expediency. This matter is too delicate to entrust to our effective but notoriously mercenary Inquisitive.(4) (He knows none of the details set forth here).
My request to you, then -- access the well, descend to the chamber, and return with masonry samples or any portable artifacts therein. I foresee no particular hazards here. The reports of disappearing goblin diggers are certain to owe more to goblinoid mining habits than any outside threat.
Please reply with haste.
Zor, 12 Aryth, 998 YK
From: Ashford Terra
To: O'bo dob'Dura
archival reference code 1026-B: delivered ink-on-vellum, sealed and encoded; courier unknown
See the attached message and map from our friend d'Archer at Morgrave -- you remember him, tall fellow, big tattoo on his face? I believe this area is under the hobgoblins' jurisdiction -- it's adjacent to your warren in the Depths. The map is a bit dodgy, but the well mouth appears to be near an outlying furnace duct network, possibly belonging to the local Cogmasters. You know the area better than I do.
Please go down and fetch the samples requested by d'Archer. My personal feeling? It's another sewer ghost hunt. But Morgrave pays well regardless of the samples returned, and I'm willing to double your usual commission. It should be an easy tunnel-and-grab, quick coin for us both. Still, take someone with you, to be safe. Jabber, perhaps? And keep this to yourselves. These types of scholarly secrets -- should they prove true -- are of great value in certain circles. Return the samples to me at the usual place. I know that I can trust you with this, O'bo. I need not mention our exchange with your former Darguun friends and the boon I have yet to collect.
Just leave me a note when you drop off the samples. And watch your back down there!
Far, 13 Aryth, 998 YK
From: O'bo dob'Dura
To: Ashford Terra
archival reference code 1026-C: delivered ink-on-vellum, barely legible; courier unknown
Must say to you -- play nice with O'bo! O'bo remember favor! O'bo play nice!
O'bo and Jabber sneak into Cogs last night. Jabber, him biggie magicker now, you know. But still little kobold friend to me. This place we go, it Dogface turf, you know. So Dogface come to take our coin. But Jabber no want give coin. When Dogface swing dagger, Jabber mumble him famous biggie curse, and Dogface cut him own throat! How Jabber do that?(5) Jabber make good magic now.
Jabber find old well. O'bo break top. We look down -- biggie deep well! Jabber say O'bo eat spider, for magic. So O'bo eat spider. Jabber, too. Then O'bo and Jabber walk down side of well, no problem!
Must say to you, we not find chamber. We find other thing, must say to you. Sideways tunnel into well, many feet down, blocked, heavy bars. But this tunnel, dusty and stones, maybe five suns old. O'bo not talk pretty, but you know O'bo smart. You know, friend Ash. This tunnel new, not belong this place.
As we look -- human-man, very thin, starving man, slam into bars on other side! Must say to you, scare khtotch out of Jabber! Him human-man say, please help. Him say they hunt him here. Him say they hunt Cyre folk here! Him say many Cyre folk here, taken and hunted and killed! Then him gasp and crossbow bolt come out him stomach! Jabber and O'bo, we climb fast, up and out.
We not go back, thank you, must say to you. O'bo worried for human-man, worried for Cyre folk.
Also, O'bo still get coin?
(1) See Expeditionary Dispatch, Xen'drik Blackwind 4
(2) See Expeditionary Dispatch, Mournland Silvercloud 4
(3) Sharn Districts (from Chapter One of Sharn: City of Towers)
Dura, the largest quarter in Sharn, covers the great expanse of the western plateau from the cliffs overlooking the Dagger River to the crevasse of the Western Cog. It is also the poorest, excepting the Cogs, with even its topmost levels solidly middle class. Dura mixes various businesses and housing, never approaching a true residential district but holding a number of apartments, tenements, and (near the bottom) slums. The lower levels of Dura include a large population of immigrants from Darguun and Droaam, forming a neighborhood of goblinoids and other monstrous residents.
The Depths is the generic name for everything that lies beneath the city's main plateau, excepting Cliffside and the Cogs far below. The upper levels give way to active and inactive sewers, some of which have their own inhabitants, as well as the mostly forgotten ruins of earlier settlements built long before the towers started to rise. Far below and accessed by well-maintained tunnels and shafts, the Cogs sit at the very base of Sharn and serve as an actively populated center of industry. In fact, the roots of modern Sharn's towers lie underground in some places, buried by the passing of centuries.
The Cogs are the churning heart of the city, full of forges and foundries powered by steaming geysers, molten lava, and bound fire elementals. The Cogs incorporate elements of ancient ruins and natural caverns that extend far below the foundations of Sharn's towers, built along the banks of the great chasms that divide the city.
(4) Hiring an Inquisitive (from Chapter One of Sharn: City of Towers)
An inquisitive's rates vary from customer to customer. In general, they range from 10 sp to 20 sp per day, plus expenses. (This is comparable to the results of a Profession check.) For exceptionally difficult or dangerous cases, inquisitives usually increase their rates by as much as 100% and insist on receiving an advance for several days' work. An inquisitive who brings magical resources to bear in the course of a case charges typical rates for spellcasting:
* The minimum cost assumes the lowest caster level that allows casting the spell. Higher-level casters produce better results and charge correspondingly more.
(5) Spell: Black Karma Curse (from page 103 of Player's Handbook II)
Enchantment (Compulsion) [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Cleric 2, sorcerer/wizard 2
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: One creature
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes
With a word and a gesture, you compel the bewildered creature to attack itself.
If the target creature's saving throw fails, it immediately takes damage as if it had hit itself with its currently wielded weapon (or natural weapon). If the creature has more than one eligible attack form, it uses the one that deals the most damage.
About the Author
Glenn McDonald is a freelance writer and game designer in lovely Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He writes about games, film, technology, pop culture, shady characters, conflicted heroes, strange and terrible magic, and shadowy fantasy noir intrigue. Not all at the same time.