“Sales are down 22% in the last month, sire,” stated Hershall, the estate’s doorman. “You know why.”
Garrison Blair lounged in his gaudy velvet chair with filigree arms, and swirled his goblet distractedly. “The Eastern Trade.”
“Yes, sire.” Hershall cleared his throat. “People…are talking…”
Blair’s eyes narrowed, his ego hurt to hear such from a trusted confidant. “That cartel of monsters thinks it can waltz into the Visage and undercut me. Make me look incompetent, a fool? It’s not about money with these…creatures. They seek to destroy me personally. Malfinger’s blood, I’ll be damned before I let that happen!” He stared into the fire, contemplating. “Hershall, grab a quill. Compose a letter to the king…”
Our story opens as the Eastern Trade Company finds itself summoned before the king of the Visage of Strife. Noted businessman Garrison Blair has filed a petition to set minimum prices on a variety of goods, to stop the Eastern Trade from undercutting his existing business.
Alister sends his Little Birds into action, to see what secrets Blair has. They report what is widely known about Blair— a successful businessman, member of the Visage’s “Old Boy” network, outspoken against both magic and non-humans, and looked upon with favor by the king. But unknown to most, a Little Bird whispers into Alister’s ear that this fine upstanding citizen of the Visage has a most unsavory habit— that of the highly illicit magical drug Moon Dust.
The principals of the Eastern Trade concoct a plan, to use Guardian‘s contacts among the the Black Lotus to contaminate Blair’s next Moon Dust supply with extract of fire beetle— known to make its users overly aggressive and compulsive. Alister’s Little Birds go to work whispering into the ears of the king’s court that Blair is a dangerous user of magical drugs, and the party hopes the reports from the Little Birds that Blair likes to imbibe such substances before important meetings is true.
The next day, the party sees Blair arrive before the king looking the worse for that. Not only is he weary with blood-shot eyes, but his wife sports a black eye as well. Before Slabian can speak for the group, she approaches him alone, and confides how attractive she find Slabian and how she hopes he will win the king’s favor in the meeting today. Slabian finds himself angered by this comely lass’s treatment at her husband’s hands. However, he is still able to argue deftly before the king.
Blair claims that the Eastern Trade’s good are magical counterfeits, and presents his doorman who testifies to having bought Eastern Trade silk, only to have it turn into a bird and fly away! Slabian counters by questioning why Blair or his people would be buying silks from non-humans. He also drops hints of the pleasures of the Orient they could bring to the Visage of Strife. Blair calls it immoral debauchery, betraying the hard working people of the Visage, but king swayed by Slabian. Slabian deals yet another blow by implying Blair’s drug use; Blair is rattled by the low murmors among the court at the rumor.
Later, news is brought that the Eastern Trade has had a caravan attacked by a great beast. Routes east do seem to be growing even more dangerous. Will Cartesian leads the party and they arrive to find most of the caravan still in good order, although scattered. Only one wagon has been destroyed, laying crushed in a area of disturbed earth which has entombed several of the wagoneers.
As the party examined the scene, they noticed a rumbling coming from below the surface of the ground! Prince Kami’s lieutenant and minions spring from their hiding places to defend their liege as terrible tentacles erupt from the ground. They party battles these horrible tentacles which seem to focus on Guardian, trying to strip his gun or his maul from him. The party makes headway until hundreds of tentacles erupt, ensnaring everyone at once! Tentacles are hewn left and right, until Guardian pulls the Ebon Lance and fires into the heart of the mass, his own might draining away as the Ebon Lance seemingly stole the creature’s soul.
Upon death, the creature convulsed and thrashed, and dissolved back into the earth it sprang from— leaving several magical items it had previously acquired.