Money was running low and there was no sight of the rubies that supposedly would be waiting in Ribcage, so a decision was made: Fox would enter the public bath room and gather any information he could.
So he did, meeting a human merchant by the name of Kirin who was visiting to sell his load of fruit and vegetables from Arborea. He told Fox about Baron Paracs who rules the city and of the five powerful families under him. He spoke about the Baron’s effort to keep his town from sliding into Baator and the rumors that this is only a facade to cover his alliance with the fiendish army that was set to invade Ribcage. Of the Harmonium he knew nothing, as in general the Factions were not that important or powerful within the city’s walls, but in response to Fox’s claim of being an adventurer, he advised him to check a poster in the markets about a merchant that was looking for muscle to protect a caravan. On the way back to the Inn for the night’s rest, he told Kamau what he’d found out, while upon reaching the gate, Kamau offered to pay for both their chunks back, to make up for his error when they first left the city walls. Passing through the market at night, they did indeed spot a poster about a merchant that was indeed offering employment, only the reality was that he wanted to set up shop in Baator. Most intriguing, as well as convenient, they decided to visit him the following day.
As the last day of Mortis, the month of the Dustmen, dawned, Fox and Kamau visited Ribcage’s markets where eventually they found the man they were looking for. The plump, balding spice merchant introduced himself as Dermont of Faunel and explained that while Avernus ,the first layer of Baator ,is a wasteland, there is a large market in the second layer, Dis ,visited by planars and fiends alike, where he would like to set up shop. What he wanted was someone to take his letter of introduction to the local authorities and return with the proper permit, in return for 5% of the first operational year’s profits. Asking for a couple of days to prepare, they took up his offer.
Next stop was the Shrine of Dark Secrets, the only functional temple in Ribcage, run by the Flamen family and dedicated to the worship of the Baatorian powers and the fiends that dwelled in the plane. Cautious of his temperament, Kamau chose to stay outside while Fox entered the dark building, illuminated inside only by the light of a few black candles burning. Used to this kind of illumination from hanging out at the Styx Oarsman in Sigil, he walked to the huge altar, which a couple of clerics in white robes where wiping clean. Meanwhile, people were entering and exiting rooms on the side walls of the temple where they flagellated themselves in the name of the powers they worshipped. Cracking whips, mixed with screams of pain and pleasure made for a gloomy atmosphere.
One of the two clergymen introduced himself as Flamen Pontifus, leader of the temple. He answered every question Fox had on their religion and even told him that they regularly sent supplicants to the hellish plane on their pilgrimage. While that sounded like a good plan to infiltrate the place, Dermont the merchant’s way sounded like one with less effort and risk, so Fox kindly thanked the priest and left.
They spent the rest of the day, as well as the following, trying to get in touch with any Harmonium agents in Ribcage. To that end, they pressed the owner of the Gymnasium on anyone she might know. The only information they managed to get from her, accidentally too, was that some other berks had passed from the city a few days ago asking questions, while their leader sounded a lot like Karris, the man who had offered to be their guide in Sigil and never showed up. Sensing that they had competition, which had already gotten a headstart too, they decided to give up the ruby hunt for now and get to Baator as soon as possible.
The following day they visited the Palace, requesting an audience as merchants in the service of Dermont, with the letter from their employer as proof. In response, they were led to the Baron who chuckled “The Rule of Three, eh? Well, perhaps your spice merchant will find luck this time” and asked for 400 gold coins to grant them passage to the portal. Already running low on cash and with great worry of how they’d have some left to use in Baator ,they visited Dermont and managed to press him to give them 300 coins for the pass and owe them the rest 100. Returning to the palace, they paid the asked price and the Baron granted them entrance, warning them to carry a source of fire with them for the journey. They were led to an empty room with a built-around corner, leaving a small gap on top. Fox climbed up first and saw a spinning pillar of silver-red smoke and light. He jumped in, but instead of teleporting anywhere, he was swung to the wall. Kamau realized they needed the portal key. The only thing the Blackguards in the room would tell them was that “they had already been given their answer”. Remembering the Baron’s advice, he climbed up the wall, lit a torch and jumped into the portal, as Fox followed him.
They found themselves in the blasted ruins of a city not much unlike Ribcage, only this one seemed like it had been in the middle of a wizards’ fireball fight. “You – travellers! What’s your business here?” they heard a gutteral voice from nearby. Turning to locate its owner, they saw a large fiend in grey scales and wings, holding a chain whip which he cracked as he walked towards them. They offered him the merchant’s letter, which only served to make him laugh. “So, this Paracs jester thinks he can issue passes for this place? Now that’s amusing. You have made me laugh with your ignorance, and for that I will charge you really low, not like I did with those ”/wikis/berk" class=“wiki-page-link”> berks before you. I only wish I could be around to see what will happen with you two."
After they offered him one of the gems that Tonat Shar had given them when they first met, they were free to observe the town around them. Obviously a previous gate-town that had been eventually dragged into the plane, it was still populated by a few ragged survivors in the ruins who tried to stay alive in this Hell. Kamau consulted Zofiel, a mimir in the form of a bleeding skull that he had bought from Bok and assured that was specialized on topics involving the lower planes. According to the mimir, they were in the blasted wasteland of Avernus ,one of the many battlefields of the Blood War where no towns existed, save for the previous gate-towns that had slided into the plane. Due to the infinite and everchanging nature of Avernus ,the distance to the portal that would take them to the next layer, Dis as well as the way there were unknown. The only thing that was certain was that the portal lay within the lair of Tiamat, the evil deity worshipped by chromatic dragons.
Consulting their arrow of direction, they made their path across two more former gate-towns before they heard the distant sound of many voices shrieking, howling and cursing. Believing that they were followed by something, they marched even faster until they reached another former gate-town that lay on the bank of the river Styx. Too tired from a long day and an even longer walk, facing a mighty obstacle and unable to tell the time in a place without sun or moon but only a permanent bloody twilight, they decided to call it a day. Their preparation made things easier, as they dined from the tin plate they had bought from Nari and slept feeling relatively safe in the magical pocket that Fox created using a Rope Trick spell.
The thought of Tiamat’s lair haunted their dreams. They’d thought navigating Ribcage had been hard, now they were forced to reconsider. And this was only the plane’s first layer.