As the Party approached Hillsfar, they began to discuss their plan and realized that they still needed a suitable sponsor for the Arena games. Although Mystra was traveling with them, her current physical condition and ailments would prevent her from fulfilling the role of a sponsor. The Party would fair better in the arena with as many combatants as possible, and Dastan is not the most reliable of individuals to act in that role, either. Both Darian Skullbasher and Dastan agreed that Nigel the Merchant would actually be the ideal sponsor out of the people they know, but he was presumably elsewhere traveling along the Moonsea by ship to sell his wares.
The Party mixed into the large throng of people crowding the long road to Hillsfar when – to Dastan’s great delight – Nigel was actually spotted in the distance with his wagon and bodyguard up closer to the main gate. Dastan was selected to quickly catch up to Nigel, inform him of the Party’s desire to select him as their sponsor, and request to accompany him into Hillsfar. Nigel greeted Dastan merrily, and Dastan quickly and discretely disclosed the Party’s current predicament about clones, the arena, and the Party’s desire to investigate their doubles. It took Nigel a few moments to realize Dastan was not joking, then he agreed to act as the Party’s arena sponsor in exchange for a percentage of any winnings or loot that would be recovered. Dastan reported back to the group who then caught up to Nigel and joined him in entering Hillsfar. Saevel “The Shaman” Naelgrath quietly remained behind and did not accompany the Party into the city.
One point of interest was that Mystra’s physical appearance and health seemed to far improve once she moved within a close vicinity of Nigel. Gruuntham Bronzerunner immediately noticed this and tried to determine the basis for which it would occur. He was able to discern that it was not a result of Nigel being some kind of particularly pious worshiper of Mystra. However, it definitely seem to be the consequence of Mystra somehow leeching divine energy from either Nigel himself or something on his person.
Immediately inside the walls of Hillsfar was a registration area for incoming arena participants and sponsors. The group tentatively labeled themselves as “Thirteen Inches and Rising,” but a more official name is likely in the works. Mystra decided to remain by Nigel’s side as his apparent courtesan. Security is particularly stringent in Hillsfar during the arena games when non-humans are inside the city walls, so all weaponry was confiscated from the group to be returned to them after they’re housed in the barracks. The guards registering the Party completed the process by handing each participant a red gem that they press against their foreheads and remains there indefinitely for their stay in Hillsfar. The gem marks the individual as an arena participant which also means the person is off-limits from being hassled by any locals. However, all non-human participants must be accompanied by their sponsor at all times if traveling outside the barracks. The group is also informed of the following rules of the arena:
- All matches are to the death unless a given combat scenario dictates otherwise
- Human participants get 1 free True Resurrection
- True Resurrections can be pre-paid for any team member by the team sponsor for 30K gp; unused resurrections are refunded at the end of the week-long games
- Pre-paid True Resurrections may be purchased by team sponsors at any during between team matches beginning Day 1 or on Registration Day
- Only pre-paid resurrections allowed for arena participants during the week-long event; no post-match resurrections allowed that are not pre-paid
- Participants assume all risk for personal gear used
- Magical equipment valued 50K gp or less at market can be rented for 25% market value for use all week; arena assumes risk for rented items
- A force barrier prevents leaving the arena once a match has begun
- All participants must wear their gladiator identification gems during the week
Once the Party finished their arena registration, an armed guard escorted them through the city proper to the arena located on the opposite side of the city. The Party listened intently to much of the conversation from the crowds moving about the city and heard a variety of rumors and information.
After reaching the arena, the Party was shown their new quarters located in the sublevel below the arena. These areas were previously catacombs that were later converted into holding pens for the various creatures and persons who would participate in the arena as gladiators.
The Party was shortly thereafter introduced to Krust, a half-orc veteran of the arena who is retired and now assigned to various combatants as an overseer and taskmaster of sorts. It is generally the job of the taskmaster to look after the arena teams when their sponsor is unavailable. The Party asked Nigel to do some recon work for them with the other individuals around the sublevel of the arena and to purchase some items. In the meantime, they also questioned Krust regarding what they should expect in the arena. Krust said that he was forbidden from really providing any information, but he heard that one of the new potential combat scenarios involved filling the arena space with either dense fog or deeper darkness, although magical effects allow the audience to view the combatants with their vision unhindered by such environmental effects. The purpose is to force a greater sense of fear upon the combatants while the opponents are forced to more actively ‘hunt’ for their foes.
Nigel returned with the goods and items requested of him, and he managed to confirm that potential opponents in the monster trial portion of the games (Days 1 – 4) are multiple, advanced invisible stalkers.
The Party rested for the remainder of the evening to awaken the next mourning to the sounds of Krust bringing breakfast. Each team of gladiators will generally fight once a day, and according to the schedule of combats that Nigel was given the Party was scheduled to fight at noon. After idling away a few hours in their quarters amidst muffled, distant sounds of crowd cheers and intense combat, the Party was finally led by Krust to the underground entrance ramp to the arena proper. They were led upwards to a large, sandy arena with an audience of approximately 20,000 people. On a small platform floating high above the arena, an individual who the Party could only assume was First Lord Maalthir, the political and military leader of Hillsfar, was presiding over the games. He announced over the crowd that this particular combat would involve no unusual rules or scenarios, and that the monstrous opponent would be a Cyclonic Ravager. At that, the Party saw a large creature summoned on the far side of the arena that was seemingly made of gusting wind and appeared more than ready to engage to the death as its form began to fade into the thin air…