Age of Worms: The Return
The Emporium is Diamond Lake’s finest after hours establishment. The bottom floor features a combination freak show (known as the Gallery of Science) and performance act (complete with Vadir Di’Cazzeo’s famous knife-throwing act); the middle floor is a gambling hall where the region’s most popular games, including Three Dragon Ante, Gemsnatcher, and others are played. The top floor is a specialty brothel, known as the Veiled Corridor, with several exotic prostitutes available for those with the most expensive tastes. The Emporium is managed by Zalamandra, a former woman of ill repute and savvy business owner who herself is enmeshed in the dirty politics of Diamond Lake.
The Emporium exists to separate the men from the money, and at this it is paramount among Diamond Lake’s diverse businesses. Ten years ago it was simply Zalamandra’s, one of a dozen vice dens along the Vein. Its ill fortunes changed the day its charismatic young madam seduced Professor Montague Marat, proprietor of a traveling sideshow and curiosity collection passing through Diamond Lake. The two soon joined forces, and a cavalcade of freaks and eccentrics moved into the building’s lower floor. Thus was born Zalamandra’s Emporium, and Diamond Lake has never been the same.
Upon entering, visitors encounter a small desk station manned by a grinning, businesslike attendant named Gaspar. The thin, balding man smiles wryly at all times, a gesture accentuated by his upcurled mustache. The house charges three coppers for access to the “Gallery of Science” along the first floor’s central corridor, and three silver for access to the lushly decorated upper floor, which features a large gaming hall, an exclusive entertainment club, and the infamous Veiled Corridor, where any pleasure may be obtained for the right price.
The private chambers of the Veiled Corridor are frequented by the community’s elite, including the governor-mayor, sheriff, most of the mine managers, and several prominent merchants. Zalamandra does not tolerate blackmailers among her staff, but nonetheless keeps a mental file of the predilections and preferences of all of her prominent customers, silently wielding this knowledge as an anvil over the heads of potential political enemies. That she has not yet been assassinated is a tribute to her considerable political skills and to the shielding influence of Professor Marat’s motley assembly of living oddities.
Although the professor himself abandoned Diamond Lake seven years ago, nearly a dozen of his former employees remain at the Emporium, making more money here than they ever did on the road. Foremost among these nonesuches is the affable Shag Solomon, an aristocratic shaggy “wild man” from the northern pine forests. Solomon’s vicious teeth and jagged claws contrast with his shabby gentleman’s garb and cultured demeanor. When not on display, he frequents the opium lounge upstairs, where the wealthier patrons adore his clever stories.
Other attractions include the misshapen contortionist Tom Shingle, the combustible magician Ariello Klint, a two-headed calf named Esmerelda, and the alluring Chezabet, who reads fortunes using a replica deck of many things.
The Emporium offers several rotating games of chance, with the most popular being Three Dragon Ante, gemsnatcher, and a contest known simply as the Rat Game, in which four rats scurry to be the first through an open-topped maze. When the winner reaches the labyrinth’s central chamber, an attendant injects it with a serum that immediately triggers a rabid frenzy. At this time, four doors built into the sides of the maze slide open, revealing four tiny spear-wielding jermaline. Patrons wager on all aspects of the ensuing melee.
Folk of all social classes flock to the Emporium throughout the day and night, so the place makes an excellent staging ground for a chance encounter with an important townsperson. Because Zalamandra tolerates absolutely no conflict within her walls, even sworn enemies must treat each other respectfully in the Emporium or risk the attentions of Kurlag, the establishment’s imposing bouncer.