By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.
Session 2: 'Shell Game'
Getting back to the Nightwatch Emporium the crew gather over the case. Tess carefully picks the elaborate padlock, noting a hidden springe within it that she carefully deactivates. Inside they find a collection of uncut stones on a bed of velvet, glistening facets protruding from raw stone. As they look on, mesmerised, there is a pounding on the front door of the shop.
As Nik calls out to ward off the people at the door, the pounding turns to violent kicking. Hargraine and Tess scramble to hide the box, with Shackle moving his maul within easy reach, and the door splinters inwards. A couple of burly thugs muscle their way into the shop and Nik plays the aggrieved shopkeeper, until a third figure slips between them into the shop – Baronal, a sleekly menacing human, known as a well-connected lieutenant of the Curzian Collegium, with a reputation for playing with his ‘food’. Baronal wonders aloud if Nik has any work on, as he eyes the nonchalant goings on in the workshop, and expresses his concern that Nik might be forgetting his old friends at the Curzian. Nik protests that times are slow, and Baronal seems to accept this, though as he leaves he ‘invites’ Nik to visit the Curia sometime soon. The Collegium men withdraw
After a judicious delay, Tess and Hargraine remove the case and the gems to the counterfeiters, who begin work immediately.
Not long after dawn, Nik slips out of the shop and heads back to the coffin-maker’s shop in the Kythan to keep an eye on the reactions of the Courier and her men. At mid-morning he overhears an uproar from within, and after a time one of the courier’s Chessentan escort crosses the street and, after dropping a handful of coins, demands all the workers (and Nik) leave. His manner is menacingly impatient and with their pockets full of money the carpenters need little other motivation and remove themselves promptly to a local tap-house.
Back at the Emporium, Shackle tries to sleep, but is repeatedly interrupted. When Hargraine returns with the stones, however, he comes to see them – even Hargraine is forced to admit the replicas are uncannily good, enough that some care has to be taken to ensure they are not mixed up with the genuine stones. Tess returns with the counterfeit box, which is a good likeness for such short notice (though the lacquer is still very slightly tacky to the touch). They place the two sets of stones and cases into the secret cache, the original gems in the replica box, the replica gems in the original box, as Beckett asks for Shackle’s help in resolving a problem in the shop.
In the shop a small fat man sets his jowls a-quiver as he stamps his feet in apoplectic rage over being sold <<some>> that he feels is a fake and keeps shouting even as he shrinks away from Shackle’s terrible grin. As he retreats back through the door the little man gives a dire threat of legal action before slipping away like a crab under a rock. Nonplussed, those left behind take the opportunity for some rest.
Nik spends a pleasant lunch at the taproom in the Kythan, singing some jaunty gypsy numbers with his squeezebox, and enjoying the company of the carousing workers. When the Chessentan soldiers appear outside and start working their way through the gathering, asking questions in their own inimitable style, the crowd quiets and eyes them warily.
As Nik tries to wait patiently for the soldiers to reach him he is recognised, out of the blue, by a previous business contact – one Keldrin Sim, a nervy eladrin scribe who had previous had Nik ‘retrieve’ some books for him from the librarium at which he worked. Sim expresses slightly overblown pleasure at the meeting, while Nik tries to keep an eye on the marks. With pantomime secrecy Sim explains he has been meaning to search Nik out anyway, as he has a job he could use some help with – and he’ll pay well for it. Nik finally fobs Sim off demanding some wine before discussing any business, just as one of the Chessentans works his way over. The Chessentan interrogates Nik over a stolen item, demanding information roughly, and Nik plays him like a fiddle – convincingly portraying a man who could find things. With dismaying predictability he is hauled off by the two soldiers to help further with their search, back to the safe house.
At the Chessentan safe house Nik is closely interviewed by the courier Charis, who proves a near intractable mark, but eventually Nik is able to convince her of his worth by mentioning he had heard about a drow that had been lurking in the area over the past few days, recognisable as one of the pirates he had seen at the safe house the night before. In the course of the conversation Charis reveals a bit more information about the smuggling operation, but nothing more than Nik had known already. Nik closes the interview by agreeing to use his contacts to try to find the case for a modest fee, though the courier insists that he take one of the Chessentans with him – the looming half-orc Maagar. Reluctantly, Nik acquiesces and they set out, but as they do so he overhears a last comment by Charis about the drow that suggest the pirates may be part of the Firestorm Cabal.
Nik goes through the motions of a long investigation, questioning contact after contact and taking copious notes until eventually he hits the limits of even Chessentan focus, and Maagar’s attention slips. Nik takes the opportunity to write a quick set of instructions, which he then passes to Hargraine at a pre-arranged meeting place. He asks Hargraine to gather Shackle, and be ready for action. After a long route, he has a stool pigeon drop the information that a young thief supposedly has some case he’s trying to offload in a hurry – Nik knows just the scum who’d buy it, too.
Tessa arrives at the Prasek’s Pawnshop, a long term rival of Nik’s, in the guise of a young thief trying to offload a case of jewels in a hurry (selling the replica gems in the real box. After some difficult bargaining, she and the miserly Prasek hit upon a deal, but are interrupted bare moments after the coins hit the counter-top. Maagar charges in first, tailed closely by Shackle and Hargraine, only to watch as Tess vaults the counter (neatly palming Prasek’s gold as she passes), gathers up the case again and tumbles through the narrow window.
Maagar, Shackle, Nik and Hargraine give chase after Tess through the misty alleys of the Curzian, narrowly ahead of Prasek’s goons. As both groups burst out into the open at a 5-way intersection of alleys, they find Tess caught flat-footed by a rather surprised looking Baronal, and his crew of Curzian Collegium cut-throats who are gathered together at the benches at the front of a streetside tavern, drinking and gaming together. There is a moment of quiet confusion as the three groups eye each other, and the wary looking Tess caught between them.