Posted by: lordkyler | June 7, 2014

Radiance: Part VI – The Emporium

Last time, our heroes helped the Mongrels raid the warehouse of a rival gang. They met Drake Weaver, a new player character, acquired some loot, and received a warning from a mysterious man. They have spent the night in a Seven Sisters safehouse and are now awaiting information from the Mongrel’s informants.

The crew awoke in pleasant conditions. This particular hideout of the Seven Sisters was in a middle-class part of town, and housed in the small but cozy attic of a chocolate shop. Bird sang, trucks trundled down the street, and outside a shopkeeper was sweeping his sidewalk and singing the soprano line of a popular opera.

Once they had all awoken, the members of the party held a meeting to discuss the recent events.

“So what about that guy last night?” Aria began. “What were your thoughts?”

“Forget him,” Connor growled. “I’m not about to be kept away from my payment because some goon in a trench coat tries to scare us off.”

“Agreed,” said Ian, echoed by Lilly and the newcomer, Drake. Aria nodded as well.

“Still,” she said, “I think we need to be careful. He seemed pretty serious about his threat.”

“Let him try to enforce it, and he’ll find himself facing cold steel,” Connor said. “The real question is what we plan to do next.”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Aria approached and used the view-slit to see a fellow gang member looking back at her. “There’s a boy here to see you,” the woman said. “Claims to have a message from the Mongrels.”

“Be down in just a second,” Aria said. She turned to the rest of the group. “Wait here.”

“Try and make me,” Connor retorted, and pushed past her down the stairs. Aria huffed and followed. The other members of the party sat in awkward silence for a few moments until they returned.

“The boy was from the Mongrels,” Aria confirmed as she came up the stairs. “This fine gentleman here scared the poor lad half to death, though.”

“Can’t take chances.”

“In any case, the boy says Noah has some leads, but they need until this evening to get everything ready. We’re to meet him at the Mongrel’s Lair tonight at seven.”

“What do we do until then?” asked Lilly.

“I don’t think we’re likely to find anything the Mongrels won’t,” Aria answered. “Today would be a good time to conduct any business you may have.”

“Ooh, I’ve always wanted a pet,” Lilly squealed. “Something magical. And now I can afford one. Let’s go to that emporium uptown.”

“Sounds good to me,” Aria said. “I wouldn’t mind getting something exotic myself.”

“I would like to come with you,” said Drake hopefully. Lilly frowned at him.

“Um, I don’t think so. We hardly know you and quite frankly I don’t trust you.” Drake’s face flushed.

“He helped us with the heist,” said Ian.

“And he tried to use some form of magic on us too,” Lilly shot back. “If he’s going, I’m not.”

“Come with us, kid,” Ian said, turning to Drake. “Connor and I have been talking about going to some of the mech places downtown. See what they can do about tuning up that motorbike we got, maybe pick up a new weapon or two.”

“Or more,” Connor said, with a rare trace of a grin on his scarred face. He turned to Lilly. “Hey, baby-face. I saw an ad in the newspapers a couple weeks ago that said they had a frosthawk. I’ll give you the money and you pick it up for me, okay?”

“Umm, sure,” Lilly said hesitantly. She did not fancy learning what happened to people that said no to Connor Williamson. Connor produced a wallet and counted off a stack of cash, handing it to Lilly. She took it as though it were diseased.

“It looks like we’re all decided,” Aria said. “Meet back here by six.” The crew dispersed.

•••

“So, the gang takes half of all your earnings?” Lilly asked, amazed. Together the two ladies stepped off the train onto the platform. They were followed by a few other passengers, but here on the wealthier northern end of the island, most people owned cars, so the trains were not as crowded as they would normally be.

“Yes. Technically, they get the advance, but so long as I complete the job they won’t care which half is which. If you just spend it, there’s no problem, if you ask first, they’ll say no.”

“It seems like an awful lot,” Lilly said.

“The benefits outweigh the costs, I would say. There’s a lot of perks.”

They exited the train station to find themselves in a vastly different environment than the parts of the city they had been frequenting lately. The streets were paved with brick, shrubbery graced the periphery of the streets, and delicate wrought-iron street lamps lined the sidewalks. Storefronts were beautiful and impeccably neat. Cars drove past, some older steam-powered models that hissed quietly past, and some of the newer diesel variety with engines purring. Some were simply beautiful, gilded with Oqidan designs or decked with spotless white paneling. Even the most ordinary cars were more than the average man downtown could afford.

Lilly suddenly felt terribly out of place in her stained and worn battle clothing. “We’re not going to fit in very well,” she said.

“Not to fear,” Aria replied. “There’s another Sisters safe-house in a dress shop nearby. Just follow me.”

They entered the shop, and thirty minutes later emerged in much nicer clothing. Aria was dressed in traditional Oqidan style, pants and a silk robe, while Lilly had opted for a very flattering dress that complemented her eyes.

“Lovely choice,” Aria said, and Lilly spun to show if off, in appreciation of the complement.

“Only five hundred dollars,” she said. “Quite a bargain for a dress of this quality. And goodness, you look marvelous as well!”

“Thanks,” Aria said. “It was free.”

Lilly’s jaw dropped open. “But- but that’s hand-crafted, imported silk,” she sputtered.

Aria smirked. “Perks,” she said, smirking, and sauntered off down the street. After shaking her head in disbelief, Lilly ran to catch up.

It wasn’t difficult to find the Emporium. Ever since the train station, elegant, tasteful signs had announced that Sweetwater’s Fantastic Emporium was only a few blocks away. The building, in fact, took up a whole block by itself. A one-story storefront faced the street, with a larger structure looming up behind, partially open to the sky. Bird calls and the plaintive, songlike cry of drakes could be heard on occasion, punctuated occasionally by the bark of a dog or the yowl of some type of wildcat.

Aria walked in as confidently as if she owned the place, and Lilly followed eagerly behind. A little bell tinkled overhead as they entered, announcing their presence, and within moments they were greeted by a short, balding man with the bushiest mustache either of them had ever seen, sculpted in a traditional Oqidan style.

“Greetings,” he said warmly. “I am Harold Sweetwater, the owner of this establishment. How may I assist you today?”

“We’d like to purchase some animals, I believe,” Aria said archly. “I was thinking of perhaps a drakeling.”

“Of course, of course,” Mr. Sweetwater said. “We have several, of course.”

During this conversation, Lilly had been staring at the sights of the store with unabashed awe, but she now snapped her attention to the shopkeeper. “I want a raven,” she said. “Do you sell ravens here?”

Mr. Sweetwater blinked. “I think we might have something like that,” he said, and then, seeing Lilly’s gawking, added, “But perhaps I could show you a few of our special attractions first.”

Lilly nodded eagerly. Aria rolled her eyes slightly. “You must excuse my cousin,” she said. “She is from a smaller town and rarely gets to see anything so exotic.”

“No trouble at all,” Mr. Sweetwater crooned. “Come, let me show you around.”

In Lilly’s defense, the store was rather spectacular. The front room of the store was dedicated to curiosities rather than living creatures. The decor was rich and dark, with dark red carpet, mahogany trim, and dramatic lighting from expensive stained-glass lamps. All of that, however, was a mere backdrop to the wonders on display.

Mr. Sweetwater led them first to a display case housing what looked like translucent red marbles.  They were arranged in a steel bowl and covered with very thick glass. “Salamander eggs,” said Mr. Sweetwater proudly. “Just brought in. Very difficult to obtain, you know, and we have them at a very special bargain. Only five hundred dollars for a half dozen.”

Aria and Lilly leaned in close to look. Upon closer inspection, the eggs seemed to flicker with an orange and yellow light. “You must be very careful not to crush them,” Mr. Sweetwater said. “The yolk can burn through solid steel and there’s no putting out until it’s finished.”

“Fascinating,” said Aria. “But perhaps not what we’re looking for.”

“Well, we have many other things to show,” Mr. Sweetwater said, and led them in a circle of the room, taking the most time at the most unique pieces. He showed them the fang of the smilodon, a great curved fang with a keen inner edge that never dulled. Many an excellent hunting knife had been made from such teeth, he said.

They paused for some time at one display that needed no lamps, a stunning array of phoenix feathers against a black backdrop, shaped to look like a phoenix with spread wings. The feathers glowed like embers, red and gold and shimmering. The feathers were quite hot, Mr. Sweetwater explained, and would leave a trail of unspreading fire on whatever it touched. He demonstrated by picking up a tiny, downy feather with a pair of tweezers and drawing a circle of fire on the surface of a nearby bowl of water. The flames lingered for some seconds before fading away.

“These are quite a rare prize,” Mr. Sweetwater said, leading them to a centerpiece display. “Claws from an Umbra Cat, the specter of the northern snows. These claws can shear through steel as easily as a knife through parchment, and have been known to last for years before dulling.” The claws were arranged in a circle, and small placard laying nearby informed potential customers that the claws could be fitted into a glove if desired. It also informed them that the claws were several thousand dollars apiece. Aria sadly asked to move on.

They were then quickly shown a variety of more mundane items. Fantastic skulls, horns and antlers, luxurious pelts and more, all neatly stacked and organized, some seeming to posses magical properties, and some simply fantastic without being supernatural. They ended up in front of a large, stunning display of  diamond-shaped basilisk scales, each about the size of a small coin, and in a seemingly infinite variety of hues.

“These little beauties are common in decorations,” Mr. Sweetwater explained, “as you can imagine. Look how they gleam! You have to be careful though, before you sand the edges, they are as sharp as those Umbra Cat claws. They don’t hold an edge nearly so well, though.”

Lilly and Aria looked admiringly at the scales. “Excuse me, is that price correct?” asked Aria. “Only a dollar apiece?”

“Yes,” said the shopkeeper. “We have an exclusive contract with some state-sponsored basilisk breeders, and we are able to buy them in bulk. Many of our customers buy several hundred at a time.”

“I would like just a few, if you don’t mind,” Aria said. “Ten of them, in indigo.”

“And I want ten pink ones,” said Lilly.

“Ah, fingernails, eh?” said Mr. Sweetwater. “A very trendy choice, I must say. Just make sure you mind what I said about the edges.”

“Oh, I assure you I won’t forget,” Aria said, examining her nails. “But please, I think we should like to move on to the animals now.”

“Of course, of course. Although, there is one more section I think you would find very interesting,” said Mr. Sweetwater. “We have an excellent display of fantastical potions here. Only the best quality. Excellent for pleasure, for sport, or for entertaining.”

Or for more useful purposes, Aria thought. “Very well then,” she said, and they were led into a small annex guarded by a heavy door. Small vials and crystal flasks lined the walls, filled with liquids of a hundred colors and thicknesses.

“Potions are of course heavily regulated,” said Sweetwater, “although we are able to offer them at a very reasonable price due to our contract with the government. We refine the materials, they get the potions they need, and you get the savings.”

Aria and Lilly slowly moved up and down the rows of shelves, examining the tags. Most of the potions were mere amusements, such as the starfruit nectar, which caused one to glow for a time, or the midnight potion that turned one jet black. Some potions had the same effect but came from different sources, some came from the same source, but when treated differently varied the outcome.

Only a handful appeared to be genuinely useful. The Aquifer provided long-term hydration, some allowed for improved vision in the dark, one could enhance a man’s strength, and one even let you breathe underwater for a short time. They also had a significant stock of ivory milk, the famed substance that formed the most potent antibiotic known to science. Aria bought two doses of this, as she didn’t fancy dealing with lockjaw from a rusty weapon or rabies from some mutt. She had learned the hard way that such incidents were all too common.

At last they began to move back in the store. They found themselves in a larger room, not furnished quite as nicely. Cages and pens lined the perimeter. A large set of doors marked the entrance to the stables, where the large animals were kept, but Mr. Sweetwater paused to show them around again. A couple of smartly dressed attendants were tending to the pets.

“Here is a particular beauty, the frosthawk,” he said, gesturing to a large birdcage. A hawk was perched within, head under its wing. The plumage of the bird was a brilliant blue, mottled with white and gray markings. “It’s a lovely bird, this one, although I’m sad to say he’s currently in a hibernate state. He comes from up north, you know, so I imagine he’s pining for the fjords.”

“Are you sure he’s not just dead?” Lilly asked.

“No, no, he’s quite fine. Take him up north or wait ’til winter, and he’ll wake right up, I assure you,” Mr. Sweetwater said emphatically. “An excellent hawk.”

“I have a friend who would like him very much,” said Lilly.

“Excellent, then,” said Mr. Sweetwater. “We’ll arrange it on the way out.” He snapped his fingers and one of the attendants moved quickly to prepare the bird for sale.

They moved on to look at several other of the smaller animals. A solitary salamander paced in an asbestos-lined box, warping the air around him with heat. Metallic Iron Beetles scuttled in a glass display, clumping together or flying apart as their magnetism worked. “Don’t let those into your machinery,” Mr. Sweetwater cautioned. A rather larger beetle with a golden carapace demonstrated how it could seek out nearby precious metals.

“This is what they call a forest cat,” said Mr. Sweetwater. The animal in question looked like an ocelot, though it had large ears and a peculiar build. It sat on a small potted tree, staring at them with enormous yellow-green eyes. Something intelligent shone in those eyes. “It’s a clever bugger, pardon my language,” the shopkeeper continued. “Aloof, like most cats, though he’ll take a shine to you. He has some sort of knacks, too. He can look at a wilted flower and make it bloom, they say. A very unique creature.”

“What’s this?” asked Lilly. In a cage to the side, a couple of little shadows frolicked, utterly black even with a lamp directly overhead.

“Those are shadow sables,” Sweetwater answered. “They can be excellent pets if you train them right. As smart as any dog, perhaps smarter. Incredibly loyal and friendly.” One of the sables paused in his gallivanting and looked up at Lilly with dark eyes, nose twitching. Somehow it seemed to make the shadows swell around it. Then the darkness retracted and he returned to playing with his brother. Lilly giggled.

“If you’re looking for ravens and drakelings, they’re outside with the bigger animals,” said Mr. Sweetwater. “If you are ready.”

“More than ready,” said Aria, impatient to see her new pet. “Please, lead on.”

Mr. Sweetwater grinned, although it seemed a bit forced, and gave his tour of the outdoor area while walking past. In cages on either side, dogs were pacing or lying with tongues lolling from their mouth. A stark-white wolf snarled at them, and great black hellhounds stared at them with eyes like embers.

“Top quality guard dogs, hunting dogs, and companion dogs,” Sweetwater said in passing. “Won’t find a hellhound with a hotter bite or a galehound with a swifter pace.”

There were many assistants and servants tending to a large variety of drakes. Some were house drakes no larger than a cat or dog, but most of them were normal-sized, as large as a horse. They came in a wide variety of builds and colors as varied as dog breeds. Some were slender, with long, tapering horns, and great wings built for speed. Others were heavier-bodied and thickly muscled. One great brute was an armor-plated monster with three attendants watching him carefully. A war drake. Parked in one corner was a sky carriage with attendants hitching it to a matched pair of strong young blues. A gentleman helped his lady aboard, and they took off, the sky carriage’s whirligigs slowing them to stately pace as they cruised over the city.

They passed by all these, though, heading for a series of hutches and mews at the back of the stables. A raucous chorus of birdsong greeted them, from a variety of creatures no less fantastic than the ones before. A glowing blue hummingbird flitted about seeking nectar from a bottle, a heron stood on water, and an enormous owl gave a single hoot that practically deafened them.

“Sorry!” cried Mr. Sweetwater. “He usually saves his calls for stunning game or calling to mates.”

“So does he want to eat me or marry me?” Lilly shouted back. Sweetwater declined to comment. In a few moments, their hearing returned.

“Now, the only real raven I have is Mephistopheles here,” he said. The raven in question glared at them malevolently. It bore strong resemblance to the hellhounds, with ember-like eyes and a furnace glow lurking at the back of the mouth. “I won’t lie to you, he’s temperamental. He is intelligent, and can be trained, but it would take an experienced falconer to handle him.”

“Oh, I don’t really know much about falconry,” Lilly said.

“Well, this fellow here could be quite dangerous in unexperienced hands,” Sweetwater said. “The frosthawk is one thing, but I think it would be best if you considered a different pet.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Lilly. “You know, I think I might actually prefer that little black weasel thing.”

“The sable?” asked Sweetwater. “An excellent choice.”

“I’m going to name her Dyana!” Lilly said happily.

“Actually they are both male,” the shopkeeper said.

“Fine, Dillon,” Lilly replied. “I think I’ll go get him now.”

“Very well, madam,” Sweetwater replied, summoning an attendant. Lilly latched onto the man’s arm and began asking questions about shadow sables.

Aria looked at the drakelings. There were five altogether. Three were mundane, without any magical affinity, two brown and one green. The largest of the group was a lovely bluish-green, the size of a shepherd dog. Like the other drakelings, it had a long, serpentine body with small legs, a narrow, horned head, and wings just large enough to let it glide. However, this one looked wet to the touch, and its liquid eyes belied an intelligent mind. ‘Some affinity for water with this one,” said Sweetwater. “I’ve seen her make whirlpools in her water dish before. Very tame, quite loyal.”

“Too large for me,” Aria said.

“Perhaps you’d be interested in her, then,” said Sweetwater, pointing to the last hutch. Inside was the smallest of the drakelings they had seen, no larger than a cat, though of course it was much longer. She was a smoky gray, with a cool, calculating gaze and wings that seemed as insubstantial as smoke.

“This is a zephyr drakeling,” said Sweetwater proudly. She can actually fly, and she’s quite agile. Smartest of the bunch, I imagine, and she can do tricks, too. Watch!” He whistled a short series of notes. The little drakeling studied him intensely, then repeated them, much clearer and louder. Then it took a deep breath and puffed. A tremendous gust of air practically blew Aria a step backward, making her robes and hair flap wildly.

“What do you think?” asked the shopkeeper.

“Do you sell harnesses?” asked Aria.

 •••

Not a lot of action in this section, but there was some decent world building and neat things to “look at,” and I hope you enjoyed it. Sorry it’s been a while since the last post of this nature, but it has been difficult to get the group together, even for a glorified shopping trip.

You would not believe how much I heard from the players who wanted pets (although not all of them ended up going to the pet shop.) I tried to point out that they could easily turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth, but they persisted, so I delivered. It gave me the chance to show an interesting part of the world. Next time we’ll follow the other half of the party on their trip to a decidedly less fancy portion of town.

•••

Radiance Info: Magic Regulation

The touchy relationship between magic and the governments of Radiance is perhaps exemplified by how they treat their super-natural resources. Magic is an integral part of the world, and even though Radiance was founded to flee the superstitions and ignorance that accompanied magic, they found the continent practically brimming with magical plants and animals. Furthermore, the benefits provided by magic are simply too great to ignore. Morphological healing and the antibiotic milk provided by ivory cows are prime examples.

And so the government grudgingly tolerates the presence of magic, although what exists is highly regulated, monitored, and studied as far as possible. 75% of the population live near the major population centers, with the rest working in agricultural communities. Even industries such as mining and fishing are centralized around a city. The rest of the country is largely kept as game preserves and wilderness, where only government employees and licensed monster hunters are allowed to go. The only sanctioned magicians are state healers working at hospitals and agents to crack down on illegal users. Magical artifacts and substances are tightly controlled and mostly limited to curiosities, with the more useful and dangerous substances monopolized by the government.

There is of course a large black market and illegal magician network, but most governments pursue such cases aggressively. However, some are beginning to relax their views. In Faith, religion is widely accepted, and they have begun granting licenses for magic. Fortune is loosening regulations on magical substances, and Fate is beginning to allow for expansion to more rural areas and countryside excursions. Foundation is the strictest country but is still the most powerful.

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