The City at the Center of the World

Chapter One

To Market, To Market

Maral Helvetica and her companion Denrick Frostshield arrived at the Hand of Glory tavern, responding to an request to meet from Corwin. The request came as a surprise, as the young Andoran soldier had previously expressed disdain for Maral due to her Chelaxian origin.

Once Maral and Denrick were seated, Corwin explained that he was acting at the Colonel, who had declined to come himself out of concerns that his movements were being watched. Maral inquired as to whom it was that the Colonel suspected of surveilling him, but Corwin said that the Colonel hadn’t divulged the subject of his suspicions. Corwin went on to state that the Colonel had wanted to ask Maral for her assistance in taking down the House of Bright Wings slaving operation. The Andorans had reason to believe that Droda Strush, who headed the House of Bright Wings, had been mistreating slaves in a fashion that contravened the laws of Absalom. The Eagle Knights had been making use of a member of the watch named Hrotha to keep an eye on the House of Bright Wings, but she had disappeared shortly after informing the Colonel that the slavers were taking more product than they were selling.

Agreeing to investigate the matter, Maral and Denrick departed the Hand of Glory and made their way to the Second Vault, an inn located close to the House of Bright Wings in the Coins district. Maral assumed an alias of “Lady Corvus”, a wealthy Chelaxian noblewoman in the market for slaves, and Denrick assumed the role of her bodyguard. Traveling through the Coins, Maral and Denrick spotted an elderly woman who was glaring in their direction while spitting and making the sign of Pharasma, as though to ward off evil.

As the pair approached the House of Bright Wings incognito, Maral noticed carved above the doorframe the inconspicuous image of a red fly, with wings of gold and a golden crown placed above its head. Upon entering, they were approached by the salesclerk Borl, who extolled the virtues of the House’s stock. Maral, in her guise as the Lady Corvus, told Borl that she had a most specific purchase in mind, but that she would discuss it with none other than the establishment’s proprietor. Borl at first demurred, but eventually acquiesced out of fear of losing the sale. As he left the showroom in order to retrieve Strush, Maral and Denrick quickly questioned the slaves on hand about what information they could provide about the operation of the House of Bright Wings.

The slaves said that they made no attempt to flee because Strush was harshly punitive to those who ran. When questioned about the image of the red fly crowned in gold above the door, they said that they had seen that same image tattooed on some of the guards, and that a similarly shaped birthmark (or “mark of the gods”, and the speaker believed) adorned the cheek of a witch who served as Strush’s advisor.

Borl returned, accompanied by Droda Strush. Maral and Strush discussed the purchase that the “Lady Corvus” was seeking, a strong, educated Chelaxian with a penchant for languages. Strush said that the request was a most specific one, but that he was certain that he could fill it given a little time. They agreed to meet again the next day to see what progress the House of Bright Wings had made in the acquisition.

Upon departing the House of Bright Wings, Maral and Denrick caught a carriage to the temple of Pharasma to see what information the priests there might have regarding the image of the red fly with the gold crown. The priest to whom they spoke was unnerved to note that he believed this symbol to be associated with a cult of Ghlaunder the Gossamer King, the demigod of parasites and infection. Denrick also asked about the old woman that they had seen in the Coins, and he was told that it was likely Auntie Gust, a long-time fixture of the area, who was alternately said to be either mad or possessing supernatural vision. With this new knowledge, Maral and Denrick determined that they would return to the House of Bright Wings, to see if Strush or his men would expose part of their operation in the attempt to fulfill the request that Maral had made as Lady Corvus.

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