It is mid-day and the sun is beating down upon the dusty streets of Calimport, but Pasha Moosha Rafeeq Jaadallah’s compound is bathed in shade from the lush fruit trees, ferns, and bushes; with an ever flowing fountain in the center of the court yard. No doubt a manifestation of a water genasi…enslaved like most who walk these grounds. Making your way across the courtyard, the familiar sound of the ancient Oud fills the air as each note dances and beckons you forward. Your father played the Oud…skillfully as you recall. Two guards stand on either side of the arched doorway. As you approach they pound their spear shafts on the white marble floor announcing a visitor. The sweet smell of the hookah wafts from within as a guard opens the drapes of the room. The guardsman looks intently at you. As you meet his gaze head on, he growls angrily, “You’re late…” Flashing a confidant smile and slight bow you you lower your eyes and utter in Calimshite, “Alay-hi wa-sallam”. It had been sometime since you had spoken the words of your ancestors and they flow easily from your lips, “Peace be upon him.” Your father once said to you as a young boy, “It is our wits that set us apart as men…you must first learn to use this,” poking you gently on your forehead, “before I teach you to use this,” as he brandished a dagger from beneath his sash. Gazing back to the guard you see his visage soften slightly as he responds, “And with you as well.”
Something heavy and cold slams into your back with just enough force to stagger you forward, “Move!” Regaining your balance you glance uneasily over your shoulder seeing a much larger guard nudging you forward with the haft of his spear. “Men have died for less than keeping a Pasha waiting.” With a sigh of indignation, you step through the draped beads hanging from the entrance.
Your eyes take a moment to adjust to the light as you strain to see the room. Floating globes emit a soft glow. White marble pillars line either side of room and the soft glint of the alabaster inlays dancing before your eyes. Large, lush pillows are strewn throughout the floor. Servants mill about the room refreshing drinks, and small entourages of nobles line either side of the room, lounging and murmuring in hushed tones. Their gaze falls upon you. You quickly note the number of guards and their locations throughout the room, “…13, 14, 15…one exit to the south, but heavily guarded…”, you think to yourself. “Survival,” your father once said, “is matter of a keen mind…always know your exits, my boy.”
You instinctively grasp for the package secured under your sash. It’s there. Good. “I just need to make this last exchange,” you think as you confidently stride forward. With outstretched hands you approach, “PASHA,” you exclaim, stepping toward the raised diadem at the far end of the hall. A nervous quiet fills the room as the strings of the Oud trail off. A heavy hand falls on your shoulder, “Speak to the Pasha again and it will be my dagger you’ll feel next.”
Like a cobra rising from his hollow, the portly Pasha raises his gaze to meet yours. A petulant, foul, disturbed man whose cruelty has seen no bounds. His vision has entrapped you long enough. There he is arrogantly lounging on large, plush cushions. Silver trays of meats, cheeses, and the finest fruits surround him while the masses starve outside his compound. A large flagon of wine rests comfortably in his left hand. The glint of his signet rings dances off the shine of his cup. His finely manicured beard flows easily down his chest. Taking a long drag off his Hookah, seemingly undisturbed by your histrionics, the Pasha slowly digests your greeting. “Fahzim, is that anyway to treat our guest?” You feel his hand withdraw from your shoulder with a shove and he steps back. “Alley Rat…” His pregnant pause fills the space, “it is good to see you.” His voice suddenly trails off into a disgusted tone, “I hope you will not disappoint me again.” Spite fill his voice.
Out of the shadows behind the Pasha a man steps forward and stands at his right. You have heard of such men from the far east, but his visage still strikes you. He is nearly expressionless, with intricate woven robes, and a long mustache and beard. The Pasha has gained considerable control of his subjects and the tent cities surrounding Calimport with a drug that has become known as “Ghoul’s Touch”. It is highly addictive and turns it’s victims into mindless slaves that will do anything for the next dose. The Pasha has quickly climbed over his rivals while controlling the market in Calimport. Could this be his secret supplier?
“Why you would go to such lengths to find a father that has cared so little for you I can not understand.” Taking another long drag from the hookah, he exhales billowing the fragrant smoke above him. “Your father was one of my best men. Loyal. Skilled. Why he left is still a mystery to me. I did nothing but care for him like a father.” He looks intently at you and lowers his tone to a hush, “I even cared for his own son.” Looking around the room indignantly, leaning forward, he shouts, “Am I so evil that I care for those who are closest to me?”
The eastern man suddenly shouts in a language unfamiliar to you, “Jūbun’na!” Angrily he turns to the Pasha and begins speaking angrily to him. The Pasha raises a hand to the man. “Now, now, my friend…we will get to the point.” Turning his attention back to you the Pasha gets down to business, “Where is it? This is your last chance or the deal is off,” he spits at you.
Reaching into your sash you feel the envelope with it’s wax seal unbroken. Many men died for this. From behind, you hear the guard, “Don’t do anything stupid…give me the package.” Turning and meeting the guards gaze you lean into him and whisper, “Men have died for less, Fahzim.” You slap the envelope in his hand and quickly turn back to the Pasha. “It is finished,” you mutter under your breath. The guard, clutching the note, approaches the Pasha and hands him the note. The Pasha quickly breaks the seal, “Alley Rat, you have done well. Now, as we have agreed. Here is the location of your father.” After quickly scanning the envelope’s contents he hands it to the easterner. With a nod, the easterner turns and leaves the room. Pulling a scroll from his robes he beckons Fazhim to lean down to his side. Whispering in his ear the Pasha places the note in his hand. With a nod Fazhim turns and approaches you. You snatch the scroll from his hand and bow while backing away. “Your father is in Zhentil Keep, Alley Rat. You have a long journey ahead of you. If you change your mind, I am in need of a Lietenant.”
Zhentil Keep….why would your father be in Zhentil Keep?