Curse of the Crimson Throne
Teenage Half-Orc Alchemist
Po Gorb is like no other half-orc in Korvosa. Likely his father was a brutish mercenary, but he took more after his mother, willow thin and petite. An orphan now, he lives in the Vaults beneath Old Korvosa with his mentor, the lady in yellow. He emits no odor, a home-brew fragrance he calls “chameleon.” The lady in yellow taught him to keep his nails clean but sharpened to a subtle pinprick. With his dark hair slicked back into a tight knot, he resembles a whip in his leather apron, long sleeve gloves and thigh high boots. It so happens he carries a whip. Po has gray skin, dark hair, and amber eyes. His expression is blank and calm, but beneath the surface, fluids agitate. He is only seventeen after all.
The lady in yellow had left without further instruction. Some trick, he wondered. The wasp could tickle the web, coaxing the spider.
Time was measured on the surface by the passing of bright objects; but in the Vaults, moments trickled down the sides, into cracks, draining deeper. In work, Po became immovable, transfixed. Hunger, thirst, sleep scurried away to the corners. Years percolated in the dark beneath.
Our bodies were but flasks, fragile and temporary. The self beneath the skin: a chemical compound of bile, blood, and phlegm in a continuous state of flux. Lately, Po had felt the agitation of fluids. Perhaps, it was time to explore the surface. Follow the tickle.
The streets of Old Korvosa had not changed in the years he had been underground. From the filth of the Narrows, Bridgefront washed up along the foot of Garrison Hill. He was born in this sinking hole, a slippery slope of rambling homes. At the top of the hill, beyond the bleached stone walls of Fort Korvosa, the marble Palace of Arkhona crouched like a monstrous beetle, shiny and black. Constant or so it seemed.
It was said that the palace was a pile of dung. Many years ago, before the death of Aroden, a wealthy dung beetle merchant lived in the Heights. This gentleman beetle was extremely rich, self-made from the humblest origin. It was said his product surpassed any in all the city-states. He was of course ambitious, and hoped his daughter might marry into nobility, and as such had accumulated a dowry worthy of a princess. This attracted attention of the Chelish governor, a greedy man.
In order to protect this immense dowry from excessive taxation, the merchant hired a mercenary army of dung beetles to transport it from the Heights to a secure location behind the walls of Fort Korvosa.
The tax collector caught wind of his scheme (he just happened to be downwind) as the caravan rolled through Jeggare Circle. He ordered the city guard to block Fort Korvosa Boulevard. As the dung beetle brigade crossed the bridge over the Narrows, seeing the blockade ahead, they made a detour down Wave Street. The dung ball meandered through Bridgefront, growing in size and scope, accruing to an unimaginable size. Beetles crawled over the ball, some scuttling out instruction, other pushing with their heads and some standing on arms and kicking with legs. Hundreds were crushed. In their wake, a trench was gashed into the soft ground we call today the Merciless Way. Up, up the dedicated mercenaries struggled, pushing the dung ball over the top of wall, which forever left a gap in the northwestern side. There the dung sat to this day, safely behind the walls, out of reach of the tax collector. In time, sun hardened, rain polished, and wind carved the dung. One day, the dung beetle merchant will return to retrieve his dowry. It was said his daughter has many suitors, but she cannot decide.
The truth. Po knew that someday the palace would begin to melt. At first, small beads, trickling from the dome. Swelling into a puddle of tar, rising until it lapped against the edges of the wall. Gradually, steadily, the walls would bulge, festering like a black tumor of the plague. And then, in an instant and all at once, it would burst open. Black waves over Bridgefront. He knew this to be true.
As a child, he had survived on his own, sleeping under bridges or in alleys, diving dumpsters for scraps of food. Of his parents, he only remembered his mother. She was human, pretty with brown hair. She may have worked in a tavern. She smelled of ale. Her clothes stained. The sickness took her and he was alone. She had never mentioned his father. Sad, orphan’s tale.
Except, Po was different. The other gutter rats pelted him with stones, chased him off. The lady in yellow smiled at him one time. The first time he noticed her. She stood out among the shambling, tall and proud, her head shrouded by a cloak. He followed her into the Vaults beneath Old Korvosa.
It was there Po found the library, the dusty stacks, and the spiders. The lady in yellow hunted the spiders for their venom. From the spines of books, she harvested the eggs. But mostly, she milked living ones and gathered their webs. The Shiver was sold on the surface. Gold was necessary.
She caught Po easily, though he had been careful for weeks. She said, I will pay for you. Venom in exchange for venom, and she pierced her skin with the edge of a dagger. Since that time, he had stayed with her. Venom should taste like honey. The lady in yellow taught him. The Savored Sting was patient, persistent, insatiable. Often, Po wondered if he were nothing more than the poison smeared on a blade, waiting patiently.