Jasperleaf Apothecary turned out to be a surprisingly large building--a decaying three-storey manor behind an apparently humble storefront. The window-shutters were closed and nailed shut. Reiko had spent some hours visiting with locals to learn what she could. Several people claimed that the shop was closed to the public but would open for a customer that called for 'three jugs of terrap sap'. The officers of Crisis were debating their approach when the Bonaventure arrived in port. They decided to delay in order to meet with Pegsworthy and combine forces. The friendly Captain was looking a little more ragged than usual and had several new, pink scars; he related a fascinating tale of battle with an aboleth at the wreck of the Brine Banshee, a battle that nearly claimed his life.
"We heard that asking for 'two pounds of powdered thileu bark' was the code to get into this apothecary," Pegsworthy finished well after sunset.
"Interesting," Reiko said, stirring herself to light the table lamp. "We heard to use a different phrase."
"That IS interesting."
"Whatever they are doing in there they seem to be at some pains to keep it quiet," Feruzi said. "So, front door?"
Reiko shrugged. "It can't hurt. If that fails, we can go with our second option."
"Now?" Pegsworthy asked. "Or in daylight?"
"My guess is that night would be best considering their usual trade. We can try again in the morning if no one answers. If that fails also, we can go with the second option." Reiko surveyed the group quickly: Feruzi, Ezikial, Leila, Sandara, and Chopper were present as usual, but Pegsworthy had also brought several of his own crew: Eggal Torkelsen, Labella Loor, and a dwarf he hadn't introduced. "It might be best if we split up."
"If you think that is best," Feruzi said.
"We'll try first, eh?" Chopper said. "Pegsworthy and company can rush to our rescue if things go in a southerly sort of direction."
"Of course. We stand ready to assist you," Pegsworthy said.
"Fine," said Feruzi. "Let's get moving, then." Leila took command of the Crisis and the two parties set out.
"I feel like we should be singing," Chopper remarked as they walked through the nighttime streets. "Let's sing." Ezikial scowled malevolently at this suggestion, but Eggal took it up with enthusiasm and proved to be nearly as awful as Chopper himself.
When they arrived the apothecary was dark and silent. Chopper banged on the door, calling loudly for terrap sap but there was no response of any kind.
"Why don't we go and wait for a bit before sending in the second group?" Reiko suggested.
"I am not sure waiting would accomplish anything," Feruzi said, scowling at the shutters.
"It might not, but are we in any particular hurry?" Chopper asked.
"Yes," Feruzi announced. She walked up the wall to a second-story window and began trying to wrench the shutters loose. Chopper grinned.
"That, uh, that was my idea.
and I talked about it back on the ship.
Reiko rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you did, Captain."
Feruzi did not seem to be having any success with the shutters. "Need a hand?" Chopper called up.
"Toss me a prybar or something." She ducked as a boarding axe came sailing through the air, barely managing to catch it. The narrow point worked well as a lever to get the nails out of the wood--some moments later, she was able to pull the shutters loose. Tossing the axe back to Chopper, Feruzi took off her vest and wrapped it around her fist, then smashed the filthy glass and climbed through to the dark room beyond.
"Aaaand there she goes. Without throwing down a rope or anything. Maybe we should follow her? Or not?"
Sighing, Reiko went to work on one of the ground-floor windows, making a terrible racket but eventually getting it open. Chopper peered inside. "It's pretty dark in there, huh? Sandara, got a light?"
"Sure," the Besmaran said, casting a quick spell. Reiko climbed through and looked around. The neatly ordered shop had a long counter with a tall stool behind it and display shelves stocked with baskets and jars, filling the air with a powerful fragrance of unknown herbs. They didn't have much time to look around, however, as a loud thump sounded from above their heads followed by an unholy yowling and hissing sound.
"Crap," Reiko said. "We need to find the stairs. NOW!" she ran through the door at the back of the shop, finding a long hallway that ended in a locked door. She was just bending down to look at the lock when Ezikial thrust a pistol past her face and pulled the trigger, nearly deafening her in the explosion. Furious, Reiko punched him hard in a sensitive spot and staggered through the now-open door.
"I'm not going to have sex with you even if you hit me like that!" Ezikial called after her. She rolled her eyes furiously as two guards came out of the room at the base of the stairs. Reiko instantly drew her wakizashi and charged them, spitting one viciously through the ribs. Ezikial fired again as the guards counterattcked, delivering several cuts to Reiko's arms. The second guard received a terrible blow from Reiko's katana, then Ezikial laid both of them out. He laughed happily until the door just behind them opened and several more guards spilled out into the hall, beginning a new and much less one-sided battle.
"I really wish you would fight with a quieter weapon," Reiko grumbled at Ezikial while she engaged the first of the men.
"Never," was Ezikial's cheerful response, laying Reiko's foe out for the third time in a row. Several arrows struck among the guards as Feruzi appeared on the landing above them. Chopper pushed his way forward, forcing the guards back into the side room, and Ezikial pulled something out of his coat and tossed it through the door. There was a faint hissing, sizzling noise and then the room exploded, shaking the entire building. Chopper and Reiko stumbled back, dazed, as dust and plaster rained down. One final guard, bleeding from the nose and ears, staggered into the hallway past the smoke, fire, and dust, and Ezikial shot him in the face.
"That worked GREAT!" he bellowed. "I should bundle several of them together! I wonder if I can double the size of the grenades . . ."
"EZIKIAL," Chopper growled.
"Never do that again." Chopper took a deep breath, coughed a little at the dust, and looked around. "You okay,
Ruse? What scratched you?"
"Some sort of snake-cat thing, I don't know. It's dead now."
"Ah. Of course. Silly of us to worry, really."
Ezikial pouted, which was rather more alarming than his usual expression of barely-contained rage. Reiko gestured to another side door. "This one is locked if you want to shoot it. But let me move out of range first."
The locked door opened to reveal a kitchen. Reiko peered inside, then grabbed Ezikial before he could enter the room. "A pressure plate. Leila is back at the ship--perhaps Pegsworthy has someone who can disable it."
"I will go," Feruzi said, and headed toward the front of the building. Pegsworthy and crew were standing outside, eyeing the building with some alarm. He gave Feruzi a quick smile and raised an eyebrown.
"We seem to have made a bit of a mess," she said dismissively. "On the up side, we found a trap of some kind but no one was caught by it."
"Labella can have a look at it."
Feruzi nodded and led them back into the building. "Don't step in the huge pool of blood."
"Pools," Chopper corrected. "Plural."
"Calistria wept!" Labella cried, picking her way nervously past the massacre. It was several minutes before she could focus on the pressure plate, but she did manage to get it disabled. The kitchen wasn't particularly interesting, but it terminated in a stairway leading down that was now choked with rubble and impassible.