The Hollow Earth

Chapter 2, Book 1 - Welcome to Hux

A Whole New World

Having crossed the water for the past three weeks, from The Falcon Merisiel finally spotted land ahead. During the trip, an awful storm had whipped up and damaged the main sail. Xiff and Navki planned to get it repaired when they arrived in Hux.

Ahead of The Falcon lay a city that ran up the face of a steep hill. Sticking out deep into the water was a maze of floating docks all tethered to either the land’s edge or to a smallish rocky island, upon which lay a smoking lighthouse.

As they approached the land they encountered ships of larger shapes and sizes anchored or scuttling about the waterways and smaller skiffs and barges accepting and moving cargo from larger ships to the docs. Closer to the actual land still were a hundred simple sailboats adorned with yellow and white striped sails bearing fishermen bringing in the day’s catch. And beyond that, the docks floated like an intricate lattice of driftwood caught in a dewy spiderweb.

As the Falcon passed through the larger ships, they noticed that there were no ships the Falcon’s size closer to the docks beyond. A system of break-walls acted as an interim dock intended to keep large ships away from the city to avoid congestion. On the other side of the break-walls were a number of smaller skiffs and barges ferrying people and their goods to the land. The team paid a skiff captain for passage on his boat and after some gold exchanged hands, they were on their way.

Raru, having been seasick during much of the trip offered to stay on board the ship while the others went to the mainland. Mung was feeling sick too and stayed on the ship until he was feeling better and then went to shore to learn what he could about the city.

At dockside were a number of small merchants’ stalls selling mostly food and trinkets to those working or visiting the harbour. For a few copper, any number of figures or religious shapes carved from seashells, stones, bones, and driftwood could be purchased. Gunnar bought two necklaces and a braided bracelet bearing the mark of Iomadae.

For a silver or two the team could purchase snacks typically consisting of fried fish or dried bread served with small jars of honey marked with a beautiful bee motif and a cup of strong coffee. Replacing fish with chicken was possible but each cost 5 silver instead. Larger meals, consisting mostly of all the things above, just on one platter costs about 7 silver. Chicken versions cost a couple pieces more.

The people of Hux dressed in what appeared to be traditional clothes. Simple, light-coloured robes were paired with sandals and box-shaped hats or fezzes for men, while similar robes and sandals and wide-brimmed hats or decorated turbans are worn by women. Both sexes wore make up of some type, whether it was intricate patterns traced on the faces of those who look like they’ve arrived from the desert, small patterns on others’ arms, or covered with gold flakes that accent their eyes, noses, or other features.

Merchants barked their wares to passersby in a variety of languages, looking for something to catch in the buyer’s ears. Native Dwarven, Elven, Common, and Ayfan shouts of “Souvenirs, Favours, Party Tricks!” filled the marketplace as the team passed through them. Almost everyone spoke in a thick accent that could be hard to grasp at first.

The first goal here was to meet their contact in Hux, a man named Hale Bashiir. Bashiir is an informant for Aroes but hides it from no one. Many people they met knew him and after looking at you for your strange method of dress (you don’t dress like anyone in Ayfa), can tell you the two places where he could be: The Canary House or the Common Mews.

The Canary House
Bashiir could be in The Canary House. The Canary House is a large, dome-shaped three storey building decorated in the familiar honey-yellow colour found on ship sails in the harbour. From the outside, the building was unique. It was shaped like a large birdcage, easily 5 stories tall, and painted gold with white bird motifs painted around its top. Around the larger dome ran a sort of donut-shaped building, making the place look more like a hat than a house.

Outside The Canary House stood a startling sight for anyone from Arroes: a orc bouncer (named Grub) surrounded by about 7 half-orc helpers who keep an eye out on the street for trouble. All were neatly-dressed in clean yellow robes hemmed with small white bird patterns. Grub would not allow anyone inside unless their name is on the list or they know Bashiir. If they can pay off some debts he owes Grub (close to 100gp), he’ll let them right in. If not, he’ll suggest they get into line and wait with the others. He can and will neither confirm nor deny that Bashiir is inside. If they pay, he’ll “be reminded” that Bashiir is inside on the floor of the cage.

Inside is a low ceiling area that is filled with long tables and benches that runs around the edge of a larger vaulted ceiling. Separating the two areas is a wooden wall with about 2’ of wooden lattice that splits it horizontally, allowing people to peek through but not enough to get a good view. At each cardinal point of the room is a gate manned by two more half-orcs. This “common” area is not at all a bad place to be, it’s bustling with people ordering drinks and having a great time and the music is delightful. It sounds as if 100 songbirds are singing complex melodies in unison and it’s easy to find yourself taken by the songs.

Each quarter has a bar that splits the fore-ring in half and serves customers on both sides. Humans and elves serve mostly but at one, the closest to the PCs, a handsome halfling does the job.

The bartender is a blonde halfling with a ruffle of hair as wild as that on his feet. He runs around the edge of the bar along a catwalk set one foot beneath the actual bar’s surface, singing and constantly telling poems and asking about people. He speaks very quickly and eloquently. There are plenty of servers wandering the crowd looking for someone interested in buying food or drinks. The bartender will take an instant liking to Bellatrix and offer her a free drink, cast her a warm smile, and wink at her. She notices immediately that he wears a beaded braid, similar to her necklace, that hangs down from his hair. The bartender can confirm that Bashiir is in the cage and has been there all day. He’ll point him out as the human in the purple robe with a wide gray beard.

Beyond the common area and wooden lattices can be spied a circular row of tables and chairs, seated at which appear to be wealthy patrons. They are eating and drinking expensive foods and wines and being served by beautiful men and women wearing gold silks and scarves. They tip very well.

There is only one way to get into the floor of the cage and that’s to pay. Each person must pay a 20gp fee to enter the space, which is collected by the half-orc security team.

Once they meet Hale Bashiir, he’ll very sternly ask them to prove themselves by telling him the name/title of any member of the Arroes/Kvothe government who sent them there. Once they do that, he’ll laugh deeply and point at each of them, order a round of drinks, and slide one of them a leather pouch that contains 100gp. He’ll explain that Grub’s fee outside was his first level of security that ward off potential troublemakers. Grub’s men are very observant and are able to pass information to him quickly about things that might be trying to harm him. The fee to get into the cage is very real though and he will not refund that.

Once the tension begins to ease, the PCs can take in the true beauty of the space and the reason it’s called the Canary House: nearly 50 gilded cages are set against the honey-coloured dome of the ceiling. Inside each cage is a beautiful man or woman wearing yellow and white silk scarves, all singing together beautifully. They sing not a word or a language, but blend a complex melody together so beautifully that if you spend too much time focusing on it, it’s easy to lose an hour in your own thoughts or be overcome by emotion.

The group eats and drinks well at the Canary House but Bashiir will not talk business there. He asks them to meet him in the morning at the Jewelled Bird, a coffee shop in the Common Mews at the end of the market where the city first meets the water.

The Common Mews

Following the docks through the thick of the morning market, the PCs make their way to the Jewelled Bird. Navigating through the throngs of morning good sellers and people shopping for the day. Hux is pretty much the exact opposite of Freehold: bustling with activity with people, goods, and currency moving at breakneck speeds. Making their way through the throngs of people is not an easy task.

Matt should make a perception check (DC14). If he fails, later he discovers their 3 platinum bars are missing from his stash.

Shops are packed with piles of carpets, blankets, and rolls of cloth. Strange smells waft through the air and there are lots of small statues, bits of jewelry, and snacks. People are selling live chickens, open bags of differently coloured grains, and platters of strange spices. Earthenware pottery, wooden flatware, and simple footwear can be found for sale everywhere. The team can completely update their outfits if they want for 2gp each.

Occasionally, the space is simply impassible. Whether it’s due to livestock being moved about or just a glut of shoppers trying to barter down a price on an already discounted item, patience is a virtue.

The Jewelled Bird

The Jewelled Bird is a dingy open-air coffee marketplace. Groups of 4-9 men stand around standing-only tables whose 1’ wide tops are covered with tall tin pots of coffee and white porcelain shot glasses. The space, with its blue cloth canopy, smells like earth, sandalwood, and leather and is bristling with conversation at each of the tables. Some in common, but most in Ayfan. People give the group a good look up and down as they enters and then return to their drinks and discussion. There are a few of the empty tables here and no stools can be seen. With the tabletops set at nearly 5’ high, shorter characters cannot reach whatever’s on the surface. Bashiir is nowhere to be seen.

Soon a boy with a thin moustache approaches the table with a small serving tray. He asks something in Ayfan and holds up his free hand with his fingers outstretched. If he gets no reply, he asks “how many” in common, takes the order, and leaves into the kitchen. When he returns, he comes back with coffee cups, a tall tin decanter, and a small bowl of delicious, creamy macaroons.

Service for the day will total 4gp.

As the shadows of the day grow on, Bashiir arrives looking puzzled. He says:

My friends – through my contacts at the harbour I’ve secured information concerning a familiar shipment of goods from Arroes. Some crates bearing a familiar crest have been located at Giant’s Grotto, a privately-owned storage facility in a shady area where precious and secure imports are held when they arrive in Hux. It’s widely known as a storage facility for questionable goods, but it’s never shut down. Anyway, my informant says a ragged crew of sea dogs unloaded these goods a couple of days ago under cloak and cowl. Now, when you get down there you can approach your target in three ways: fight your way inside, bribe or take a more diplomatic approach to talking to the workers or by sneaking your way inside via a secret, small tunnel behind the harbourmaster’s office down at the wharf. Either way, take a look and find me at The Canary House afterwards to tell me what you discover. When you return, tell Grub “the silver fish has drowned” and he’ll let you inside.

Giant’s Grotto

The harbourmaster’s building is a small, 2-storey brick building that is set back from the main wharf. It butts against some of the rock that makes up Hux’ right shell/face. When the PCs arrive, they find a large party happening at the office tonight to celebrate the harbourmaster’s birthday (she is turning 53). There are people all over the place, some drunk, some eating or smoking, and some dancing. The harbourmaster is slightly intoxicated and surrounded by 5 people, all of whom look like they can handle themselves in a fight. There are also two dogs prowling about the space as well. They will bark and warn others if they spot the PCs.

The small tunnel is in fact just that. Behind some barrels in a little holding area behind the house is what looks like a rocky overhang.

The tunnel requires all inside it to crawl on their hands and knees to make their way through. The tunnel dips down into a still, black pool of water.

To continue, all must go completely under water. Under the water there are two paths to take and each player should roll to continue unless they’re holding each other’s hands or otherwise bound together:

Anyone who progresses forward finds themselves in Giant’s Grotto, in an area behind some crates in the main storage area. There is 1 large space in the centre of the room with only 1 way in. All of the guards in the room double as workers are are currently moving crates and working in the space. The first attack by an PC on any worker is a surprise attack.

There were 2 types of bad dude in here:

  • 1 bard (CR1)
  • 6 brigands (CR1/2)

When they checked, the crates contained the following:

  • One contained clay pots marked with bees. The pots were all sealed with beeswax. They all contained honey.
  • One chest appeared completely empty. Inside, the trunk was empty but when they put their hands inside, they discovered what appeared to be an invisible wedding dress. It had the symbol of The Branch woven into its intricate beadwork.
  • Another chest contained shelves stacked with rolled up carpets and bolts of brilliantly-coloured cloth.

In the centre of space between some crates were a few small chests bearing The Branch logo. They were constructed of ebony wood, held together with copper bolts. When one was opened, an air elemental burst forth and shouted: “Ahhh, I’ve been waiting for you mortals. My masters will be pleased when I crush your bones and scatter their dust on the tradewinds!"

Regardless of where the PCs would end up, one thing was for sure: The Branch knows they’re coming for them.

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