V Pandemonium in The Veins
IVLIVS XIII DCCCXCI
While strolling through The Merchant District the players are surprised to encounter a wild lion! Unfortunately a child bystander was slain before the beast could be butchered. Aiding our returning heroes is Titus Pullox, a legionnaire looking for work. The lion was being transported from The Docks to the Veins for the Ludi Apollinares, the last day of which is today.
Their nundimun heroics impress the young Rufillius Syrene, a slave of the gladiator stable Achillia who asks them to accompany him to his master to help with an unspecified problem. They agree after Rufillius promises them that his master will pay them well.
Through the crowd gathering for today’s spectacle the happen upon a gathering of the owners of the top stables arguing and organizing the day’s slaughter. Present is Achillius Severa, Vitus Sextus Vicentius, Juba Numidius, Meridius Proximo, and Afrenius Philo. Vicentius, campaigning for a seat on the Council of Magistrates, has funded the day’s events and coolly insists that the bouts he planed be carried out. Apparently the other stable owners, especially Achillius, feel that Vicentius has organized the events in such a ways as to whittle down the other stables completely. Philo states that the games are those of Vicentius and will go as he planned. The meeting dismissed, Achillius turns his attention to the PCs.
Gladiators have been dying and not in the arena where they need to. Achillius believes that his stable has taken the greatest blow, and because of this he suspects that it is the work of Vicentus. He offers the PCs a lofty fee to investigate and they agree. In order to investigate the inner workings of the Veins they must adopt the guise of gladiators, including false papers of ownership. This temporary “ownership” does mean that they will have to fight in the arena but Achillius assures them that he is confident in their combat prowess. They are stripped of their weapons, armor, clothes, and identity and accept the cheap tunic of a slave.
In the pits the mingle with gladiators from all the stables and hear of the legendary bouts of recently deceased Hector of Lycia and Arxus Sullo. Also spoken of in terms of legend is Fritigern of the Thervingi, a towering German gladiator returning from retirement to fight for Vicentius. The players approach Fritigern and have an open conversation about his past triumphs in the Veins. After getting him to open up a bit they approach the subject of current goings on amongst gladiators. Fritigern tells them about how drug use has always been common amongst those for whom death is certain but recently there has been a lot of performance enhancing drugs being tossed around. This new drug, called Bloodrush, is of new interest to Fritigern who feels that it cheapens the combat. He does not know why gladiators have been dying.
They investigate without much headway until the trumpets are sounded and they must appear for a match. They have the honor to portray Roman legionnaires, in the battle of the Teutoberg Forest. Etrusicus Superbus Invicti falls back on his classical education and remembers that in 762 AUC III legions were destroyed by an alliance of Germanic tribes. Their role is to be slaughtered portraying the heroic last stand of the forces of Rome. They are sent out into the sand with XVI other slaves of Achillia before the “Germans” are sent out to slay. The tide of the battle ebbs and flows but the ex-legionnaire Titus uses his tactical training and to the glee of the crowd manages to change history with a Roman victory in Germania. The amphitheater thunders with the approval of the crowd and the return to the bowls of the Veins having saved gladiators of stable Achillia and defied stable Vicentia.
On one of the bodies of the deceased gladiators they find a poultice, smelling of faraja leaves. They pursue the faraja lead and find it is often associated with the offices of the Nyos surgeon, Paramezzus Sullo. Thinking that his medical insights might help them with their investigation they head off to the subterranean offices of the good sawbones for his professional advice. On the way to his office, which lies behind the beast cages, they encounter Juba Numidius who has an excited gorilla in close pursuit. Being “slaves” and gladiators they are commanded to slay the beast by Numidius which they are able to do after some awkward combat with the ape they find that it was Meridius Proximo who set the beast loose in order to kill his former slave, Numidius. The PCs promise to deal with him later but he laughs them off, knowing that the testimony of a slave is only legally acceptable if produced under torture.
They enter the office of Paramezzus under the guise of wanting to treat their arena wounds. Paramezzus asks them to cut the crap, remembering that not so long ago they came to seek his aid as free men after Lucius Aemilius Rufus had been gravely wounded (See Death in Liberportus). They tell him that they know about the drug trade going on and he tells them to wait in his office and he will produce the distributor. Amazingly enough they agree and Paramezzus quickly bars the door from the outside. For a moment or two they have the office to themselves and they seize the opportunity to raid the room of belongings, including Paramezzus’ codices. After collecting his thought Paramezzus hammers on the door and calls out the name Arxus. The party watches in horror as an overlooked amphora begins to ooze out a seemingly impossible amount of thick black syrup crawling towards them!
Titus and Gaius Severus Commodus combine efforts to bash the door out and when they finally succeed they are greeted with a view from the abyss.
The ceiling above (which doubles as the floor of the arena) is aflame and dripping a sticky black liquid. The beasts, in their cages, roar and claw and kick out between the bars making escape a gauntlet from hell.
Braving the flames and beasts they flee from the oozing monstrosity as it chases them through the hypogeum. The ceiling/floor has apparently been rigged to burst into flames by Sullo and the party is forced to escape through a collapsed section of ceiling leading them onto the sands of the arena.
Most of the crowd has fled but there is still activity in the elite box seats, Vicentius and Achillius are fighting to the death. Still being chased by the unnameable black thing they climb the arena walls to save their employer. They arrive in the box about the same time as Sullo who also wishes to protect Achillius and simultaneously dispose of the PCs. Vicentius is slain and Paramezzus escapes after throwing an explosive device into Gaius’ face and it is all the PCs can do to escape with their lives and that of their employer.
Although nearly all of the stone structure remains intact the interior and hypogeum of the Nyos Amphitheater is gutted and the vigilies strain to keep the peace.
Through examination of the looted diary of Paramezzus Sullo they find that he is the selfsame person as the notorious Alchemist, one of the most infamous members of the Liberportean drug trade. The bodies of Paramezzus is not found in the wreckage. The black ooze is not found but in the merchant district people begin to disappear.
It is a very mixed victory for the party. Although they have gained a new foe and were involved in creating a tremendous new financial strain for the city, they have also found out what has been killing the gladiators and many others in Liberportus: Paramezzus Sullo.