The Malificar

Lamashan 21 Fireday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

On Lamashan the 21st, Jethrik is assigned to rigging repair. Once again the Jethrik is able to prove his worth as he nimbly makes his way through the up and down the ratlines, the small ladder-like rungs that are tied between the shrouds so the crew can climb up and down the rigging. He checks the shrouds and sheets are all in good repair, and that all the lines are made fast. During the day, he finds a chance to sneak into the wardroom and check out the sea charts. He looks over the chart on the wall and sees that it depicts the coast of Avistan and northern Garund, from the Varisian Gulf to the Eye of Abendego. It looks to be over a years worth of the Teeth of Araska’s travels that have been marked, mostly centered around Ilizmagorti, a pirate haven on Mediogalti Island just northwest of the Eye of Abendego. An island also rumored to be lair of the infamous Red Mantis assassins. Jethrik also notes tiny skull marks near Botosani, Magnimar, and Herma. Jethrik muses that these could perhaps indicate marooned enemies, secret hideouts, or even buried treasure.

That night, once everyone but the night watch are asleep, Jethrik sneaks out again and this time attempts to go beyond the wardroom door to see if he can poke around the captain’s cabin. What he finds instead is that the door leads to Ishana’s quarters and that she and the captain are noisily occupied in more amorous pursuits. Thick, seductive scents fill the air, ribbons of colored smoke winding their way up from an incense holder sitting on a simple writing desk. There is also a journal on the writing desk. Red and black curtains cover the walls, embroidered in stylized roses. An inviting bed fills much of the room’s remaining space, piled high with spotted and striped pelts of exotic animals. At the port end of the room there appears to be a part in the curtains and a cabin beyond that one.

Jethrik is tempted. Oh so very tempted to lift the journal. So very, very tempted… But then he’d have to put it back too, and he realizes that would just be tempting fate. He decides to quit while he’s ahead and backs away, though also tempted to cast grease on the rutting pirates. ‘Oh, being a pirate is no end of laughs!’ thinks Jethrik. Since the captain and his woman are so noisily preoccupied, Jethrik does take the time in the wardroom to find a scrap of paper and make notes on the wall chart and its markings before he retires for the night. He figures it may come in handy in case those markings indicate buried treasure he can dig up someday.

Lamashan 22 Starday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

On Starday, Lamashan the 22nd, Jethrik and some others are sent out on the longboats to hunt leatherback turtles so they can have turtle soup that night. Their hunt is successful and so that night they are able to enjoy a better meal than usual.

That night the captain truly does seem to be warming up to Jethrik but is not more forthcoming about his actual intentions in heading for Brinewall. “Ah bucko, I’m glad you’re takin’ t’ life aboard ship. T’ sweet trade we be engaged in be a wondrous thin’. I be aye that when we meet your old buckos at Brinewall they’ll see that you’ve found your true callin’. And o’ course if they need any assistance we’ll be happy t’ give it. ” A sincere desire to make things right with Jethrik’s former companions seems all that Captain Grudge is concerned with. He doesn’t even ask about any potential loot or buried treasure that may be there.

Lamashan 23 Sunday waning moon

 Teeth of Araska

On the 23rd, Selis points out that Jethrik, being a gnome, would make a good lookout as he has keener sight and hearing than humans. Captain Grudge agrees to give Jethrik a try but to the gnome’s dismay the 60’ climb to the crow’s nest is more than he is able to handle. Halfway up he finds himself unable to move any further and vertigo causes him to seize hold of the rope with a death grip, unable even to climb down. Disgusted, Ishana shouts, “Climb, you bugger!” The force of divine magic in her command forces Jethrik, his mind in a blind panic, to finish the climb up to the crow’s nest. He has no idea how he will bring himself to even attempt to climb down, and is now greatly afraid that when the time comes Ishana will force him to do it against his will with another spell. From time to time he sees her looking up at him with a malicious grin, her fingers idly tap the lash hanging from her belt.

Once in the crow’s nest however, and in spite of his fears of what will happen when his turn at watch ends, Jethrik does prove to be a good lookout. The sky is clear and bright blue, and the seas are relatively calm though there is a brisk breeze to fill the sails. Not long after passing out of the Varisian Gulf and into the Steaming Sea, Jethrik spies a ship on the horizon to their stern and upwind. The ship is probably a good 20 miles out. Once Jethrik has called out the ship and its position, Captain Grudge slackens the sails enough so that it can get close enough for them to identify it. The Teeth of Araska, at the moment, is flying the flag of Riddleport, marked by the rune engraved arch of stone called the Cyphergate. In addition, though the draconic masthead of the ship looks ominous enough, the ship doesn’t have any siege weapons displayed – no ballista or catapults on deck at any rate.

The ship continues to catch up with them throughout the next couple of hours and in the meantime Selis has come up to take a look himself. He takes the spyglass from Jethrik and curses. “Damn! Captain Grudge! It’s the Maleficar! Captain Venjam is still after us!” He hands the spyglass back to Jethrik and quickly climbs back down to the deck to consult with the captain and Ishana. Jethrik looks again and sees that it is a Chelish naval vessel, flying the red and black Chelaxian flag. Its mast is carved in the image of a devil out of the Nine Hells and its deck does display siege engines.

Captain Grudge soon has the Teeth of Araska at full sail and heading north along the Varisian coast past the Calphiak Mountains. The Maleficar follows, and so the chase runs on throughout the day and past sunset. When the Bloody Hour comes along, Jethrik is helped down from the crow’s nest by Selis but only to be battered with rope bashes, tied to the mainmast and given three stinging lashes by Ishana who declares, “Don’t think you’re too cute to be spared the lash little gnome. All on the Teeth of Araska must feel the lash if they can’t do the work assigned to them. Still, I will spare you a worse beating since you did eventually do your duty, even if I did have to waste a spell on you to do it.” She makes it very plain that she will not be approached by the likes of Jethrik, at least not that night. In any case, Selis remains aloft for the rest of the night, and half the crew is kept awake to maintain watch and keep the ship heading due north and sailing as close to the wind as they can in order to lose the Maleficar.

Lamashan 24 Moonday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

 The chase continues into the next day, even as ominous black clouds gather off the port beam. As a heavy rain drums down upon the ship, Jethrik is employed down in the galley, helping the cook prepare a cold porridge for breakfast and more turtle soup for the evening meal. Even as the ship flies from its pursuer and attempts to skirt the edge of the storm it continues heading north towards Brinewall.

Lamashan 25 Toilday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

The storm continues to build all through the night and into the next day. Winds howl, waves grow larger and larger, lightning flashes off in the west and thunder rolls across the sky. Despite this the chase continues. The Maleficar never strays more than a mile or two astern. During all this, Jethrik’s seasickness returns with a vengeance. The cook, a Varisian named Andrezi who has taken a liking to Jethrik as has most of the crew, provides Jethrik with hardtack biscuits but even this fails to settle Jethrik’s stomach. Fortunately, there is no bloody hour. However, neither is there a dinner as such or any idle time after. The pirates grab what food they can in between shifts attending to the rigging and battening all hatches and loose items on board.

Lamashan 26 Wealday new moon storm

Teeth of Araska

On Lamashan the 26th, the storm hits them in earnest. Waves slam into the hull and wind howls through the rigging. All sails have been furled and Captain Grudge has himself tied to the wheel so he will not be swept overboard. It is impossible to see anything through the sheets of rain more than a few yards away. Lighting continues to light the sky and the booming of the thunder is deafening. Fortunately for Jethrik his seasickness begins to recede in all this. He is still quite sick, but no longer as nauseous as he was when the storm was building. He stays below during most of the day cramped up in the tiny areas below decks with the other pirates who are not aloft working on the sails and rigging repairing sails, splicing ropes, and other odd jobs assigned to them by the boatswain, Solemn Jack. The dim lanterns rock and the timbers creak as the ship is thrown wildly about. Shadows dance crazily up and down the walls as the men fight the storm, nausea and fear! All the while, the two ships continue playing cat and mouse.

That night, Jethrik, now almost fully recovered from the storm-induced nausea, finds himself unable to sleep as his hammock sways back and forth as the ship is tossed about in the wild seas. He hops out of his hammock and sees that while there are a few pirates who are aloft, the others are either sick or sleeping and none are paying any attention to him. Jethrik takes the opportunity to creep over to the squat rickety door leading into the main hold and to quietly slip through into the middle hold. Jethrik recites a brief incantation and rubs powdered firefly ichor onto a silver piece to produce enough light to explore by. The dim light illuminates a sizable chamber cluttered with a collection of cargos and ship’s supplies. A heavy wooden grate in the floor leads below, as does a trap door at the fore end on the starboard side. Just to the left of the trap door is another door leading forward. Jethrik had been too busy really look around during his time as a runner a few days before and when they were hauling out extra sails and ropes for the rigging earlier in the evening so this time he pokes around and even casts another cantrip allowing him to magically sift through room to find things of interest without having to actually move things around or get up close. The only items he finds, however, are the ship’s weapons – twenty dismantled ballista and ammunition for them wrapped up in canvas in preparation for raids and attacks on hapless merchants but otherwise secured and hidden away. Other useful items include hooded lanterns, a few grappling hooks, several empty sacks, and of course lots of rope.

Jethrik walks over to the trap door and opens it to find a ladder leading into the darkness of the main hold. Stepping onto the ladder he finds that the hold is stacked with crates and barrels, most of them labeled with the names of prominent merchants or military navies like the Aspis Consortium, West Sea Brokerage and Sargava Shipping. The crates and barrels turn the hold into a small maze. Captured flags hang along the walls. Just as he is about to step off the ladder, Jethrik hears the hissing of a large creature, actually two large creatures, from the darkness beyond the corner of a stack of crates. ‘What is that?! Lizard men?! Naga?! Really big snakes?!’ wonders Jethrik as he scampers back up the ladder and closes the trap door behind him as quickly and quietly as he can.

Lamashan 27 Oathday waxing moon weakening storm

Teeth of Araska

On Lamashan the 27th the storm starts to weaken. It is still too dangerous to unfurl the sails and Captain Grudge continues to man the wheel, attempting to steer the ship so that it take the larger waves at a 45 degree angle from the bow so that it will not be swamped. That afternoon they catch sight of the Malificar once more, also with sails furled and attempting to keep itself from foundering. That is when Captain Grudge calls over Ishana and Selis. Selis then sends one of the other pirates down below. He comes back bearing Jethrik’s sword and returns it to the gnome who has been running messages.

Captain Grudge says to Jethrik, “I said before that I would make you t’ quartermaster and I mean t’ keep me word. Now one o’ t’ duties o’ a quartermaster be t’ lead t’ attack against enemy vessels. So here be your rapier. Now we be goin’ t’ steer for t’ Malificar and even unfurl some sail if we have to. It’s risky, but we’ll be able t’ catch them by surprise and like ourselves they won’t have their ballista on deck. So prepare t’ lead t’ boardin’ party.”

“Captain,” Jethrik shouts above the rain and wind, “I have no illusions regarding this command, but I will take it willingly none the less. Take us in, I’ll get the men ready.”

Captain Grudge smiles back at the gnome fiercely and then pulls on the large bell by the wheel. “Set t’ storm-jib! Haul up the jolly roger! Man your battle stations! Jethrik be now t’ quartermaster and will lead t’ attack when it be time t’ board!”

Within moments the pirates have take up their places. With the storm-jib set the Teeth of Araska flies towards the Chelaxian warship, but now the flag of Riddleport has been replaced with a ragged black flag bearing the image of a scarred red skull. As they approach Jethrik, still on the stern-castle, sees more clearly the red on black of the Chelaxian fylfot cross. He can see that the Malificar has also unfurled its storm-jib and is attempting to maneuver away from the Teeth of Araska. It all for nothing, however, as they drift into the irons – meaning that they are pointing straight into the wind and stuck, at the mercy of the pounding breakers. Captain Grudge howls and laughs like a madman as he steers the Teeth of Araska straight in towards the Malificar, laughing as the breakers threaten to capsize the latter.

Jethrik heads below to the main deck. Eager to board, the pirates gather around in their motley garments armed with cutlasses and crossbows.  Jethrik shouts over the storm, “Our captain has found our one chance to escape the Chelaxians. We are going to turn on them and attack while they are floundering. They won’t have their ballistae on deck, and they will be as helpless in this storm as we are – if the gods are good, maybe a bit more. Now is the time to show your salt and your iron!” The pirates all cheer heartily and several of them prepare grappling hooks as their ship closes with the enemy.

On the other ship, Jethrik sees that the crew is similarly armed but unlike the many colors and gaudy jewelry of the pirates, the Chelaxian marines are garbed in loose fitting uniforms of red trimmed black. There numbers are roughly equal to those of the pirates but they do not seem as eager for battle. Because of the storm their decks are indeed clear of siege engines, though a few dare to fire crossbows at the Teeth of Araska to no real effect.

As the ships close, Jethrik sees Captain Venjam on the sterncastle of the Malificar gesticulating with his cutlass and shouting frantic orders to the crew. Then he looks down and takes in the fearsome three bladed prow of the Teeth of Araska. His face turns ghostly white for he sees that the Malificar is doomed. The flying keels of the Teeth of Araska keep it steady, or as steady as can be expected in the storm. Everyone on both ships brace for impact just before the bladed prow of the Teeth of Araska staves in the hull of the Malificar below the waterline. Half a dozen grappling hooks are quickly thrown onto the Chelaxian warship. The Chelaxians prepare to repel the borders with pike, cutlass, and axe, but they find themselves unable to even keep their footing as Jethrik’s spell-work takes effect, making the deck as slippery as grease. As the deck rolls beneath them, the Chelaxians fall away, taking down even those not standing on the now frictionless portion of the deck.

“Woo hoo!” Jethrik shouts. ‘So far, so good’ he thinks to himself as he leaps onto the enemy warship, casting a new grease spell under the feet of Captain Venjam and his first mate. The two slide away and fetch up against the gunwales. The Chelaxians sailors scramble to their feet but it is too late. The pirates, with Jethrik in the lead, pour over the gunwales onto their deck. The two sides face off under the stern-castle shout curses and wave weapons menacingly at one another, each side daring the other to make the first move and begin the general melee.

Then Captain Grudge is standing at the bowsprit of the Teeth of Araska, one boot up on its draconic figurehead. He cracks his whip over his head with his left hand and points the tip of the rapier in his right hand at Captain Venjam, who is scrabbling to his feet. “You thar! You’re t’ one I want! Captain Mase Venjam, don’t think I don’t remember you. You were first mate o’ t’ Malificar five years ago when you Chelaxian devils ambushed us off Corentyn. We got away then but now I see you’ve taken up t’ chase. Well it ends here. Surrender yourself t’ me and I’ll let your men live. If not…”

“You are an addle brained fool if you think I’d surrender to you. The Chelaxian Empire does not negotiate with pirates! It is you who – Agh!” Captain Venjam abruptly stops and falls unconscious to the deck after receiving a blow to the head from the hilt of his first mate’s cutlass.

“I am Bafra, the first mate. We surrender. Take Captain Venjam and leave us to repair our ship. I swear to you in the name of the Prince of Darkness that this chase is over.”

Captain Grudge laughter cuts though even the howling winds. “Took t’ lash t’ you all too many times did he? Well it’s all t’ same t’ me. Fetch him t’ me lads.”

Several of the pirates quickly race up grab the enemy captain and bring him back aboard their own ship. Captain Grudge waves Jethrik and the others back aboard as well, tips his hat to the treacherous First Mate Bafra, and then begins shouting orders to disengage the two ships. Aboard the Malificar the Chelaxian sailors head below deck to man the pumps and repair the breach in their hull before they take on too much water.

That evening Captain Venjam is the “guest of honor” at the Bloody Hour. The pirates string him up by his thumbs from the yardarm of the mainsail with his toes barely touching the deck. As the ship rocks in to and from in the waning storm the Chelaxian captain swings back and forth over the deck. He groans in agony as his full weight pulls on his thumbs.

Ishana, in the meantime, prepares her lash. “I’ll strip the flesh from his bones for you my captain,” she purrs to Captain Grudge.

Jethrik taps on Captain Grudge’s elbow. “So what has he done that makes whipping him more valuable than playing a Chelaxian ship?”

“He’s more valuable than a founderin’ ship. This man has been a barnacle on me belly for years. For that alone he will die a slow death. But he also knows where Besmara’s Executioner was sunk. Don’t you Captain Venjam?” Venjam only groans in response.

“T’ Malificar sunk Besmara’s Executioner in t’ Shackles about a year ago. And she was laden with treasure wasn’t she? You know where it lies, and you be goin’ t’ tell us.” Captain Grudge nods to Ishana who begins lashing Captain Venjam, who had already been stripped to the waist by Solemn Jack before being strung up.

Captain Venjam croaks, “I will tell you nothing. To the Abyss with you all!”

“Oh you’ll talk. Aye, you will. We’ll have fun with you for quite some time I think. Plenty o’ time, for we still have t’ find poor Mr. Jethrik’s buckos. Then we can turn south aft t’ the Shackles. For now, I’ll cut you down and t’ t’ brig with you.”

Ishana draws her dagger and in quick motion slashes through both Captain Venjam’s thumb’s causing him to drop to the deck. Venjam, who has passed out, is picked up by Solemn Jack and Tubbs to be carried down to the brig. Before he is carried away, Jethrik casts a healing spell on Captain Venjam’s hands.

“You need to keep him alive for him to tell you about that ship don’t you?” Jethrik asks Captain Grudge. “If he bleeds out his life, or gets gangrene, you’ll lose that ship again. Not that I think he’ll tell you. He’s a military man. I’m sure his pride will keep him from telling you anything before he dies, if all he can expect is death by torture. I think you need to offer some means of escape. Maybe a third party could be found. Maybe a town that won’t trade him back to Cheliax, but isn’t a pirate haven. He could trade the location of that wreck for freedom with them. Not that you’d let that happen, but maybe it’s a plausible enough lie to get him to talk.”

“Very good, always thinkin’ you are. Well, we should arrive at Bunyip Bay tomorrow. If we find your bukcos thar we can leave him with them.”

Captain Grudge follows the crewmen and their prisoner below decks. “Have t’ get Ferris and Orband out of t’ way,” he grumbles.

That is when Jethrik sees at last what beasts have been guarding the main hold. Two Lirgen dragons, not true dragons but lizards the size of men from the lost kingdom of Lirgen in what is now the Sodden Lands. They crawl up onto the main deck with a slow but relentless pace. Their talons are like daggers and ropes of drool drip from their toothy maws. Captain Grudge holds them by leashes and allows them to settle by the mainmast. They hiss at Jethrik but Captain Grudge jerks on their leashes and keeps them from going after the unfamiliar gnome.

Jethrik is a little disappointed to see that they are not actual dragons or demons, though still dangerous enough to keep the like of him out of the main hold. Jethrik grits his teeth. “Fine!” he thinks “but when I tell people wild exaggerations of my exploits here, those things are going to be 6 armed demons!”

The Horse Lords

Lamashan 21 Fireday waning moon

Leaving Riddleport

For a mere 3 silver pieces, Ameiko is able to find a peddler heading to Roderic’s Cove willing to deliver a letter to Sandru. She simply writes: “Going to meet Jethrik at original destination. See you there.” As a courtesy, when they pass the River Runner Inn on the way to the north gate Amiko stops by to let Lord Slyeg know that they are leaving to find their friend and to thank him for his assistance. Lord Slyeg is not available, however, so word is left with one of his men.

The lands north of Riddleport are sparsely populated, with a few struggling farms near the city and the occasional hunter’s lodge further afield. A winding dirt road that quickly becomes a Varisian caravan path leads north from Riddleport, a route only infrequently used by travelers making their way between Varisia and the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. This road follows the Velashu River for much of its length, rarely veering away from its winding course to reduce travel time. (Pathfinder #15, p. 9) It will take at least a couple of days before they are following their original planned route to Brinewall.

At about noon Jharad is the first to spot a cloud of dust heading south towards them. All except Zeyala see it as well. “Those are horsemen, a host of them, and they’ll be passing us in ten minutes if we don’t get off the road. They may not have noticed us.” She looks to the thickets of trees and bushes on either side of the path. “We could try to hide, but if they’ve already seen us or if they notice our tracks when they pass they will surely be suspicious.”

Keng scoffs, “Why should we hide?”

“Our fight is with Jethrik’s captors,” says Zeyala. “An encounter here only serves to delay that goal.”

“Best to observe what comes before it is upon us, Keng. And Zeyala is correct, we should avoid any delays.” Jharad smiles, “Even as short a delay as I I am sure you would make it, my friend.”

“Agreed,” says Toshio. Let’s get off the road. Besides, I doubt these are holding Jethrik.”

“I grow weary sneaking around and skulking in the bushes. I seek combat and the taste of blood. Any delay getting to the gnome is irritating.”

Toshio keeps his exasperated sigh to himself.

Jharad chuckles, “As is the gnome himself.”

After moving into a nearby copse Jharad and others watch as the cloud of dust dissipates as the riders slow to a canter. They are barbarians by their dress, bearing distinctive patterns of war paint on their faces and shoulders, marks repeated in the same dark color on the necks of their equine mounts. They are twelve in number, although they are followed by a train of two dozen additional horses. They pull to a stop just outside of shortbow range, a little more than twenty yards away, and hold up their right hands, showing that they brandish no weapons.

The leader of the group, a tall, sun-tanned man with dusty black hair, urges his mount forward a few steps before speaking. “There is no use hiding. If you are honest folk you have nothing to fear from us. There is no need to leave the path to skulk in the trees. I am Windbraid of the Horse Lords. Come out and let us greet one another in peace. Otherwise, know that you are surrounded.”

Jharad hears the stretching of at least two bowstrings from somewhere behind them. A quick glance reveals to his keen elvish senses that there are two Horse Lords crouched on branches above and about nine yards behind them.

Jharad chuckles and steps out of the copse of trees they are hiding in. “Well met, Windbraid of the Horse Lords. I am Jharalion Aeirandi and these are my traveling companions. We certainly mean you no harm as our only intentions were to avoid any unpleasantries on an unknown road. Please have your archers withdraw from behind us so we may continue to talk without threatened hostilities.”

“Well met, Windbraid,” says Zeyala.

Toshio follows ‘Jharalion’ out of the brambles. Bowing formally he says, “I am Izawa Toshio. Well met, Horse Lord.”

Ameiko walks out as well, leading her horse by the reins. “I am Ameiko Kaijitsu of Sandpoint. We apologize for causing you concern.” She bows, Toshio notes as an equal, to Windbraid, and continues, “As my companion Jharalion said, we just wished to avoid any unpleasant encounters and we intend no harm.”

Windbraid bows in the saddle. “Your apology is accepted.”

Just then, Keng steps out leading his horse, inflates his chest and stands as tall as he can saying, “I am Keng of the Shoanti Spire Clan from the Storval Plateau.”

Keng’s self-introduction is greeted with murmurs, sidelong glances, scoffing, and even snorts of derision. One of the riders, says, “We Horse Lords are sometimes called the Eighth Quah, but never in the hearing of true Shoanti. Even we would never admit an orc, or any with orc taint. How dare you call yourself a member of the Spire Clan?” The rider turns to Windbraid and says, “How convenient that there are no true Shoanti here to gainsay this tshamek.” The last word being the Shoanti term for an outsider, stranger, or even “foreign devil.”

Keng snorts and shakes his head making the bones woven into his dreadlocks rattle allowing his war trophies to speak for his acts of conquest and prowess.  He is used to being treated as an outcast, it means nothing to him other than the speaker is fearful.

Addressing Windbraid, Keng speaks in Shoanti, “Storval ekbitel nalharest” (We walk the land as brothers!) He continues in Common, “One is not known by their blood but by their deeds.  I am on my three-year journey through the World.  It does your tribe no honor allowing such a small one,” he gestures towards the rider who insulted him, “to speak ignorantly of strangers.”

Turning now to the rider he says in Shoanti, “My blood boils at your insult! I challenge you to sredna!” With that he raises his head to the sky, throws out his arms and lets loose a mighty battle cry!

The rider who insulted Keng snarls back, but looks to Windbraid and does not speak.

Still smiling and addressing Windbraid, Jharad says, “You were saying something about greeting one another in peace? Apparently your leadership skills need some work.”

Zeyala simply let’s out a sigh of exasperation.

Toshio hopes Jharad and Keng don’t make beds that are too uncomfortable, but he doesn’t interfere. He keeps an eye on the riders and stays close to Ameiko.

As Keng steps up for the contest, Zeyala gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Rip his fucking head off, Keng,” she purrs while glaring at his opponent.

Windbraid grimaces, not pleased with Jharad’s criticism. He turns to the rider and says, “Well, Quick Wolf, will you take up this challenge from a mere orc pretender?

Quick Wolf looks affronted but under the stern gaze of his leader he relents. The other riders grin and chuckle. One of them tosses a long cord of leather tied in a loop to Quick Wolf who catches it in his left hand and then climbs down from his horse. “I will meet this challenge.”

Windbraid gets down from his horse as well and takes the loop from Quick Wolf. The two Horse Lords walk over until they are in the middle of the space between the riders and Keng and his companions. Windbraid beckons Keng forward. “Take your positions and I will do the binding.”

Keng walks forward and faces his opponent. Together they crouch down upon the ground on their hands and knees glaring at each only a foot apart. Windbraid places the cord so that each opponent has one end of the loop behind his ears. Windbraid check the cord and then steps away. After a moment he shouts, “Begin!” and raises his fist ins the air. It is known to the opponents that they must spend three “breaths” testing each others spirits before they can begin to pull away.

Keng and Quick Wolf glare, growl, gnash their teeth and spit out insults at one another and at first Keng seems a bit taken aback by the ferocity of his opponent and the way in which he causes his muscles to jump and bulge. It is clear as well that Quick Wolf has already entered a blood mad rage. Keng, however, keeps his cool and his steely glare begins to unnerve the young Horse Lord. Then they begin tugging back and forth for almost a minute. Those around them can hear the straining of the cord as the two engage in a painful game of tug-of-war. At first Keng digs in and Quick Wolf is unable to move him, then Keng jerks back and pulls the Horse Lord towards him. Then Keng digs in again and Quick Wolf fails to pull him back. That is when Keng begins to call upon his own rage and tugs back, but the two of them, even raging, are of equal strength and Quick Wolf is able to dig in and keep from getting pulled. Then Quick Wolf slowly but surely begins to pull Keng back until at last Keng is forced to bow his head and allow the cord to slip off. He is still in the heat of his rage however, while Quick Wolf fall back with the release of the cord. The Horse Lord is panting and out-of-breath as exhaustion overtakes him with the end of his exertions.

Zeyala fights back the urge to check Keng for injury, fearing that such an action would cause him to lose face.

Toshio nods acceptance of the results, appreciating it as an alternative to a duel of wills before blades are drawn.

Quick Wolf looks to Keng with newfound respect in his eyes. “You are, if nothing else, a worthy opponent. Few could last so long against me. I guess you do have Shoanti blood after all.”

Keng growls at Quick Wolf’s grudging acknowledgement. Then realizes he has lost and this now calls for him to be gracious. “You are strong and a great warrior. But I need not your acknowledgement of my blood. I know who I am; my mother was human and my father an orc pig, I was adopted into the Spire Clan at the request of Shalelu an elf ranger of great repute. I offer you my oath as battle brothers that we may seek valor and glory in battle in each others need.” Keng offers his right arm and open hand.

Quick Wolf arches his eyebrow at the mention of Shalelu. He does not take Keng’s offered hand but says, “Is this true?!” He looks past Keng to Jharad and asks, “You, elf, do you too know Shalelu? Is this true?”

Windbraid and the others all turn their attention to Jharad. Windbraid says, “Shalelu is known to us and considered a trustworthy friend and ally. Is what this half-orc says true? Does he really know her? Do you?”

Jharad responds to Windbraid, “Yes it is quite true. Shalelu is an old friend of mine and a member of our group. She would be with us now if she were not running a separate errand of her own.”  Smiling at Windbraid as if sharing a private joke, he continues, “If you know Shalelu then you know how she can be.”

Windbraid eyebrows raise in surprise to hear of Keng and Jharad’s familiarity with Shalelu. He nods saying, “Yes, we do know.” He turns to look at Quick Wolf who nods in turn and then at last clasps Keng’s offered hand.

Quick Wolf says, “Friends of Shalelu are friends of ours.”

Windbraid laughs. “That is true. Well, we have no intention of delaying you any further. We are on our way to Riddleport to sell or trade some of these horses. I assume you are coming from there. How are things in that den of evil? I’d rather turn back now if its undergoing another uprising or there is another street war between the crime lords.”

Ameiko answers, “When we left things seemed peaceful. Your horses are beautiful and I’d offer to buy some of them myself, but we couldn’t possibly afford them. Still, Desna’s blessing be upon your journey.”

Windbraid responds, “And upon yours.”

Toshio sizes up the horses Windbraid’s people have. Fine though they may be, he’s more than happy to keep riding Onyx. “Farewell, riders” he says as they part.

Jharad holds up his hand with a single wave as they depart from the Horse Lords and continue on their way.

“Fortune has smiled upon us,” says Zeyala. “This delay was brief. We can ill afford another…for Jethrik’s sake.”

Kengs coughs into his hand. “Windbraid Horse Leader. Please wait. We have great need of assistance. One of our party, a gnome bard of great skill and repute, has been kidnapped by the scum pirate Grudge of the Teeth of Araska. We are on a quest to rescue him. Might we interest you and your men in an adventure?”

Windbraid laughs. “I know nothing of pirates. If they tried to raid the uplands we’d show them a thing or two, but we stay away from the coasts except to trade horses in Riddleport. I am sorry but we must be about our business. But tell me, why do you head north by land to seek this pirate?”

Ameiko sighs, not wanting to have to explain their business to the Horse Lords but seeing it is now unavoidable. “We believe they are heading to Brinewall, so we are riding there as swiftly as we can to get there before them.”

“Brinewall! That place is cursed! Is there some treasure they seek there? Is that why they took your gnome? Was he leading you to some treasure?”

Ameiko replies, “They may believe so, but that was not the case. My family lived in Brinewall and my grandfather died there. We were heading there to find out what really happened to them and so that I could see if there were any family records left. We know nothing of any treasures but the pirates may believe otherwise.”

Toshio hides a smile. He appreciates how smoothly Ameiko deflected the inquiry, neither giving away too much information nor lying about the quest.

Windbraid shakes his head. “Treasure or not, we will not go to Brinewall. I’d caution you against it but I see you are determined and now you must rescue your friend. Still, I must warn that there are things haunting the lands around the castle. No one has seen them but awful screeching has been heard echoing through the forests like cries of doom. Those bands who dared investigate further never came back. We Horse Lords have avoided the place for many years now. I hope you are able to rescue your friend, but you will have to do it on your own. We have more profitable business to attend to. The blessings of the gods go with you.” Windbraid spurs his horse and moves on with a final bow in the saddle. Before long he and his riders have passed beyond the bend in the road, leaving only a cloud of dust from their horses.

Business with Lord Sleyg

Riddleport

The trip through to the northern end of town to find the River Runner Inn is indeed uneventful. North of the wharf district the condition of the buildings improve somewhat, through the streets are still dark and winding except for those areas lit by functioning oil lamps. It would be easy enough to get lost but some helpful drunkards point out the way and they soon enough find themselves at the River Runner Inn. It is a large establishment that is perched on a bluff overlooking the Velashu River. It must have once been quite grandiose, but now its paint is peeling and in the light of the moon they can see several patches on the roof where its shingles have fallen away. The common room is full but there are a couple of places open at the bar. A middle-aged man with mutton-chop sideburns and a hook on his left hand bustles over to them and asks if they’re looking for drinks, dinner, or perhaps a room.

Toshio responds, “Drinks, please.”

The man grunts affirmatively and says, “Take a seat at the bar then if you will. Either that, or for a couple of coins we have a room for private parties available.”

Ameiko says, “We’ll take that room then.” She hands him a few coppers and they are ushered into a small room as their host heads out to get mugs and a pitcher of ale for them.

While he is gone Toshio says, “We should have planned a bit more on the way over.”

Jharad looks at Ameiko, for she is clearly more adept at dealing with these types of people.

Ameiko says, “I suspect that Lord Slyeg is a business man, as am I. I think what we need to do is approach him with a business proposition. We will ask for whatever assistance he can give us to recover Jethrik, in terms of information or even a ship, and in return we will bring him back Captain Grudge, dead or alive. Does this sit well with all of you?”

Keng, Jharad, and Zeyala nod in agreement.

“That sounds like a fine plan,” says Toshio. “I look forward to ‘settling’ our grudge with Grudge.”

When the host returns with the mugs and ale, Ameiko asks him if an audience could be arranged with Lord Slyeg. She tells him that they have news of someone that Lord Slyeg would like to find. The host nods, surveys Ameiko and her companions with an appraising eye and then leaves telling them that he will see if Lord Slyeg is available.

“At least we weren’t turned away at the door, so to speak,” says Zeyala. “That should be a good sign, right?”

Toshio checks the locations of the ex its before agreeing. “Yeah. That’s a start.”

The host returns after what seems like an hour. “Lord Slyeg has agreed to see you. If you would please come this way…” He leads them out of the room and down a dingy hall to an iron bound door. He nocks and the door is opened to reveal a large and luxuriously appointed chamber. A large mahogany desk takes up one corner with a high backed chair. Gold threaded tapestries depicting nobles riding and hunting adorn the walls. There is a square tower display case whose shelves are filled with miniature ships that seemed to have been carved out of driftwood and other pieces of flotsam, but exquisitely done and delicately painted. Near this is a table with a large bowl of water. The surface of the bowl has been painted to show the entire Inner Sea region of Golarion. Before a hearth sporting a cheerful fire is are two long couches set at angles to form an L. A low table of mahogany like that of the desk in the other corner is before them upon which is a silver tea service. Close to this is what looks to be a small bar with shelves lined with silver goblets and even various kinds of glassware. By the door is a stern looking bruiser in a chainmail shirt and dark cloak. His sharp eyes look over Ameiko and the others as they enter but he says nothing. In the center of the room a tall man dressed in a scarlet lined black cloak, pearl gray military uniform with shiny brass buttons in two columns, and shiny black riding boots stands drinking from a silver bejeweled goblet while gazing into the fire. He turns to greet his guests and it can be seen that he is at least partially of elven blood. His ears taper slightly and his features are refined and aristocratic. He is fair skinned with golden hair and bright green eyes. He sports a moustache and beard in the style known as the “anchor.”

The host closes the door behind them and announces, “Lord Slyeg, I present to you Ameiko of Sandpoint, and her companions Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng.”

“Ah, what a lovely surprise,” purrs Lord Slyeg. “Please, come and join me.” He indicates the couches. “Perhaps you would like some brandy to fight off the chill?”

Ameiko bows slightly and replies, “I thank you Lord Slyeg, especially for agreeing to see us on such short notice. And yes, brandy would be nice.” She walks over to the couch followed by the others. Lord Slyeg smiles and they all take seat with Lord Slyeg sitting on one end and apart from the others, but directly facing Ameiko.

Lord Slyeg turns to the host and with a nod dismisses him. Then he says to the bruiser by the door, “Beval, please bring brandy for my guests. We recently received a shipment from Corentyn.”

After the brandy is served in small glasses with short stems, wide bottoms, and narrow tops called “snifters” and pleasantries are exchanged between Ameiko and Lord Slyeg, who soon insists that she and the others call him Avery, they are able to get down to business. “I am told that you have news of someone I have been looking for. Pray tell, who would that be?” Avery asks with a bemused expression. He finishes off whatever he was drinking in his goblet.

Ameiko smiles and says, “We understand that you have been looking for Captain Grudge, captain of the Teeth of Araska. We are also seeking him as he left Roderic’s Cove only a few days ago. We were hoping to find him in Riddleport but have been told he is no longer welcome here.”

“Indeed, he owes me. I am surprised he even dared come as close as Roderic’s Cove. Still, he is not there now, so how does your news help me? For that matter, why are you seeking him?”

“He took one of my friends with him when he left Riddleport, a gnome named Jethrik. We cannot rest until he is returned to us safe and sound. It seems that we have a common interest, so perhaps we can assist one another?”

Avery smiles at Ameiko. Then he stands and walks over to his bar and refills his goblet from a bottle of red wine. He sips from the goblet as he eyes Ameiko and her friends. “You are quite a remarkable group. It is not often that one sese an elf and a half-orc traveling together with three humans, and two of those of Tien ancestry. And of all things you are seeking a gnome! You all seem to be warriors as well, but I think you will need magic to intercept the Teeth of Araska. Fortunately, I can work some minor spells that may help. First, however, I want your word that if I help you, in turn you will bring me what Captain Grudge owes me. Do I have your word of honor?”

“For my part, I would give it if you can help us find the Teeth of Araska. I cannot speak for my friends though.” Ameiko turns to Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng.

With little hesitation Jharad smiles and responds, “You have mine as well.”

“I give my word” responds Toshio.

Keng has been sitting quietly, the brandy snifter almost disappearing in his large hands, and doing his best not to fidget. He is definitely very uncomfortable in these ‘fancy’ surroundings. He musters up his courage to ask a questions, “Pardon me your lordship, but what do you mean bring you what this pig captain owes you? I will do my best to bring him to you but I can’t swear an oath to you without knowing what this something might be.”

“You are obviously a man of means, but what aid do you offer?” asks Zeyala. “I’m not so concerned with what you are owed, but know that I can not violate the laws of my order or willingly break the laws of the land. Jethrik’s return is paramount, but like Keng, I need information before I strike this bargain.”

Avery chuckles good naturedly to hear Keng and Zeyala’s questions. “Well, you came to me asking for aid. I didn’t come to you. But if you promise to bring me what I feel I am owed I will tell you where the Teeth of Araska is going and I will provide a ship and crew to set out after him. As for what he owes me…” Avery looks to Ameiko and Toshio who have already given their word, “I simply want his head.”

Ameiko is startled and seems about to say something but then thinks better of it. She nods in acquiescene and looks pleadingly to the others, beseeching them with her eyes to go along with this.

Keng shrugs his shoulders, “His head is all you want? That was the plan anyways. I would be pleased to bring it to you milord in exchange for your help,” replies Keng. “You have my word,” Keng bows slightly with his right fist on his forehead. “Uh, might it be okay with you if I keep one of his finger bones for myself though… as a trophy?”

Avery chuckles again. “You may keep any other part of him you wish. I just want the head as proof that he has indeed been dispatched to face the judgment of Pharasma.”

Keng nods as he considers the matter settled.

Hmm…’ thinks Toshio. ‘Maybe we can bring his head, but still attached to the rest of him. It ‘ll be hard to sell that to Keng and Jharad, but I think I know how…’

“Very well,” says Avery. “As I have your agreement to bring me what I want, I will help you get what you want.” He walks over to the display case and plucks up one of the small ships there. He then opens a shelf hidden in the base of the display and retrieves a scroll in a silver cae. The miniature ship is then placed into the bowl of water. The ship has three masts with triangular sails, a draconic masthead, and a little flag bearing a scarred red skull. It is a miniature of the Teeth of Araska. “This was carved from a broken spar the ship discarded when last in port. We make sure to collect such things so that I may keep track of my friends and enemies. It’s just good business. Gather around now.” Avery beckons them to come and gaze into the water filled bowl as he unrolls the scroll and reads off the incantation. When he finishes, the little ship starts to drift from the center of the bowl until it floats above that part of the map depicting the Gulf of Varisia. “Odd, they are heading north out of the Gulf. Why would they be heading north at this time of year? Surely they are not heading to the Lands of the Linnorn Kings?”

Ameiko looks intently at the bowl chart and the floating miniature. Her eyes gaze up the coastline to Bunyip Bay, over which looms the ruins of Brinewall Castle. She mutters, “I think I know where they are going.”

“Will you require a ship? It will be hard to find one on such short notice heading north at this time of year but I am sure I can arrange something.”

“Thank you Avery, but I think I had better consult with my friends first. May we come back and talk with you again tomorrow.”

“Certainly. My door is always open,” replies Avery graciously.

With her eyes Ameiko bids the others to please be silent. They take their leave and make their way back to the Captain’s Chamber. There the crowd has thinned and the innkeeper has laid out blankets by the hearth for those who will be staying the night there.

Quietly Ameiko says, “It is clear that Captain Grudge has tortured or otherwise coerced the goal of our quest from Jethrik. I can only pray that he is still alive. I believe the Teeth of Araska is heading for Brinewall Castle. They probably believe that we are seeking a treasure trove there and want to loot it before we can get there. Today is the 20th, and it will take them about a week or more to sail to Brinewall as they have to sail out of the Gulf before they can follow the coastline up to Bunyip Bay. That gives us some time. We are only a four days ride from Brinewall. The problem is that Sandru and the caravan won’t get here for a week. If we wait for Sandru we might arrive too late. We need to leave a message here for him and then continue on. The problem is there is no one here we can trust. I certainly don’t trust Avery. Also, how are just the five of us going to take on Captain Grudge and his whole crew? Dare we ask Avery for men-at-arms to go with us? Also, what if the Teeth of Araska really isn’t headed to Brinewall? What if they are going further north or if they turn south? We might want to take a ship afterall, but it will have to be a very fast one to catch-up. We might even need a weather-wizard for that. What do you all think?”

Keng says, “Safe enough to leave a message for Sandru with Avery now while our interests align,” replies Keng. He continues, “We should leave at first light and set an ambush at Bunyip Bay.”

Toshio, thinking aloud so the others will know what’s on his mind and can contribute, says, “Finding a fast enough ship and getting the correct winds seems too much to ask. We should ride there. Riding will be faster and more reliable this time. But we still need our other people to have a hope of taking on a whole crew.”

He ponders a bit, and then suggests, “If Ameiko agrees, we could send our fastest rider back to get Koya and Shalelu while the rest ride ahead to scout out a likely place to ambush Grudge. We’ll send the rider with extra horses – we’ll have to buy some – so he and the others can swap them out and keep riding hard without killing any mounts. With that kind of speed they should be able to regroup on time. But that leaves the caravan unguarded. I don’t like that idea, but our first mission is to rescue Jethrik. Sandru wouldn’t like to hear it, and I don’t like to say it, but the caravan and its good are our last priority.” He leaves Ameiko’s mission to Brinewall – their second priority as Toshio sees it – unspoken in case there are extra ears listening. And besides, everyone present already knows that mission. “Still, we will need the others if we’re to take on Grudge and his crew. Maybe we can borrow some guards from Avery to keep the caravan safe? He has no reason to betray us, and at least one good reason not to do so. What do you all think?”

“I don’t like any of this,” says Zeyala.  ”We are undermanned and ill equipped, but do we have even the luxury to wait for the others to join us?”

Ameiko ponders and finally replies, “I don’t think we do have time. I agree with Keng. We should ride together at first light and leave a message here for Sandru. I think we had better not leave it to Slyeg though. I do not trust that he won’t manipulate things to his advantage. He now knows that that we were originally seeking something in Brinewall and that now Captain Grudge seeks it as well. Slyeg would no doubt love to lend us men so that he can find out what is being looked for, believing it to be a treasure hoard or artifact. We should go to the city gates and pay someone who seems trustworthy among the merchants heading south to deliver a letter to Sandru. The letter of course will only give enough information to inform Sandru of where we have gone but not enough to give away our exact destination. Once we have done that we ride full speed for Brinewall. Do you agree?”

“Under the circumstances,” says Zeyala, “that seems the most sound.”

Toshio nods in acceptance of Ameiko’s plan.

Learning the Ropes

Teeth of Araska

Over the next couple of days, Jethrik literally “learns the ropes” of sailing aboard a pirate ship. He learns that the Teeth of Araska is an Abendego tricorne, a broader variant of the caravel designed to handle the rough seas near the Eye of Abendego. It is a small, fast, and very maneuverable ship. He learns to say port and starboard instead of left and right, fore and aft instead of forward and behind, bow and stern instead of front and back, and aloft and alow instead of above and below. If he forgets, he gets a rope bash, a strike from a nearby pirate with the hefty, sealed end of a ship’s rope. He also learns that the three masts are called (from fore to aft) the foresail, the mainmast, and the mizzenmast attached to which are the foresail, main-sail, and mizzen-sail by the yard-arm aloft and the boom alow. As for the ropes, he learns about the halyards, hawsers, backstays, lanyards, sheets, and shrouds, and of course the ratlines. Even for a bard who thrives on information, it is a lot to take in.

In order to better learn the ship, Jethrik is first employed as a runner. The runner passes messages between the officers and the crew in all parts of the ship except the officer’s cabins. This keeps Jethrik quite busy and out of breath, but it does help him get familiarized with the ship, its crew, and its terminology. Unfortunately, Jethrik succumbs to seasickness on the first day as the seas get a little rougher that afternoon. He finds himself unable to do anything but cling to the rails and retch or sweat and groan down in the crew commons on his hammock. This earns him some buffet and rope bashes from Ishana and the crew but they otherwise leave the ‘land lubber’ alone to his misery. Fortunately he recovers by the next day and as the seas are fairly calm has no more trouble for a time after that. He finds himself delivering messages and orders from one end of the ship to the other but as Jethrik is quite nimble he is able to get around without tripping over any of the lines and being in fair shape doesn’t get too winded by the end of the day.

Sunset is when the crew assembles on the main deck for the “bloody hour” when punishments are meted out just before the evening meal. There were no punishments the first day, though Captain Grudge did deliver a tongue-lashing at the crew in general for laziness and shirking. The second day one unfortunate named Tubbs was tied to the mainmast and given three lashes of the whip by Ishana, who truly seems to enjoy her work. The Captain, however, talks her out of throwing a bucket of salt water on Tubbs before releasing him. After that they “enjoy” a meal of pickled vegetables, salted pork, and rice, washed down with grog, staggeringly strong rum that has been watered down a bit. After this the crew has some leisure time before hitting their hammocks. The pirates arm wrestle on barrels topped with broken rum bottles, or “hog lob” whereby they throw a lead ingot wrapped in a greased piglet skin across the deck, or they play “heave” which involves throwing down half pints of grog until they either heave or pass out and the last pirate standing is the winner.

For his part, Jethrik cheers on the contestants in the various games, though he really is too small to take part in the wrestling, hog lobbing or excessive drinking. During the course of this one of the pirates comes up out of the hold with a gnome sized plumed hat and sticks it on Jethrik’s head. “Arr, he’s a real pirate he is now!” announces Solemn Jack, the boatswain.

When the pirates begin their drinking songs he enthusiastically leads them in those songs he sang back at the Rusty Dragon. He happily learns some new ones as well.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We pillage, plunder, we rifle and loot.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We extort and pilfer, we filch and sack.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Maraud and embezzle and even highjack.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We kindle and char and inflame and ignite.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We burn up the city, we’re really a fright.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re rascals and scoundrels, we’re villians and knaves.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re devils and black sheep, we’re really bad eggs.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re beggars and blighters and ne’er do-well cads,

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads,

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

That night, Captain Grudge gives Jethrik a small chest with a poor quality lock on it. “This here’s your footlocker. Keep your personal gear in here. I’ll give you back your rapier in time, but your dagger’s in there. You’ll need it for splicing ropes and other tasks. I don’t think I need to tell you that anyone who harms another member of the crew will be keelhauled.”

Jethrik is able to find space along the bulkhead among the other footlockers for his own. Inside he finds that everything he was carrying with him that night he was Riddleported has indeed been returned to him, even the gold and silver in his belt pouch. Only his rapier has been held back. The other members of the crew have seemed to take a liking to him as well, seeing him as a kind of ship’s mascot.

Into Riddleport

Lamashan 20 Oathday waning moon

Riddleport

 

At sunset on Oathday the weary travelers finally reach Riddleport. Once a secret pirate haven, Riddleport has grown over the last three centuries into a port city in its own right. At first it served as a secure base from which to conduct raids against Chelish merchant vessels bound for Korvosa, but over time the city has expanded into a true settlement, the frontier’s frontier, the northernmost outpost on the lonely strip known as the Lost Coast. Yet while Riddleport has grown into a proper city, it remains true to its roots—you can get rich quick in Riddleport if you’ve got skill and a bit of luck, though for every Riddleport success story there are a dozen nameless bodies buried in potters’ fields or tossed to the hungry denizens of the sea.

 

Riddleport is located in a secluded, rocky harbor situated at the easternmost reaches of the Calphiak Mountains, where the meandering Velashu River meets the sea. Although the site was partially chosen for ease of defense (either from Chelish privateers or raiders from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings), the original settlers picked the site as much for its singular Thassilonian monument: the mysterious and intriguing arch known as the Cyphergate.

 

The city proper is tucked in between two rocky ridges, the easternmost rising just over 300 feet in elevation and blocking the city from a tidal swamp of hillocks and mires that serves today as a dumping ground for refuse, derelict ships, bodies, and undesirables. The western ridge ascends swiftly into the Calphiak Mountains themselves. To the north, the Velashu River threads its way between these ridges, leading up into the Velashu Uplands. While roads from the east and north exist, they are not well-maintained—the most notable access to the city is its harbor. No one who sails into Riddleport by sea can avoid passing beneath the Cyphergate.  Many sailors have favorite private signs or rituals for good luck they perform as their ships pass under the storied arch, for one can never be too careful around Varisia’s storied monuments.

 

Riddleport today bears an air of legitimacy that eluded it in earlier times when it was little more than a haven for those seeking shelter but not necessarily law. This legitimacy arises from a growing influx of scholars and experts, for of all Varisia’s monuments, the Cyphergate may be the best preserved. It’s certainly one of the most enigmatic. An entire tradition of arcane study has risen in the Cyphergate’s shadow – the growing Order of Cyphers has become one of Riddleport’s most powerful factions – quite the feat in a settlement known for traditional values of piracy and bullying. This newest faction of Riddleport’s already complicated administration may just be what it takes to force the growing city into a stable government – or it may be the final load that causes it all to come crumbling down. (From Pathfinder #13, pp. 48-49)

As the sun sinks beneath the western ridge, Toshio, Ameiko, Keng, Zeyala, and Jharad look down upon the city from the top of the eastern pass that sharply descends 200 feet into the city. At a glance they can see that most of Riddleport’s buildings are composed of wood – logs or planks – with multiple floors and steep, high-peaked roofs of wooden shingles. They are built in close-quarters, and in some cases their wooden upper floors sag and lean together from the constantly sodden conditions. Stone fireplaces ward off the child that lingers in the fog-laden streets. (Ibid, p. 50) The fog is currently engulfing the city but throughout they can see the twinkling of lights. At the mouth of the harbor they are awed at the sight of the Cyphergate. The arch rises 350 feet above the water below at high tide, rising from the rocky crags on either side of the harbor mouth – its diameter is exactly 700 feet. Rectangular in cross section and 35 feet wide, the sides bear massive Thasillonian runes and glyphs. (Ibid, p. 50).

There are no walls nor a gate to bar them from riding down the pass and directly into the city. They find that the major streets of Riddleport are cobbled and slick with drizzle. Cobbles are often missing or crushed by incessant traffic, leaving gaping holes and ruts in even the most well-tended thoroughfares. Side streets tend to be relegated to muddy tracks, some of which have become stinking morasses of sucking mud and filth. Riddleport doesn’t have much of a sewage system, and relies mainly on gutters along street edges to carry refuse to the river and harbor. One feature unique to the major streets is the frequent oil lamps mounted in iron poles that provide beacons of light in the benighted mists. They are set in sturdy hurricane lamps and burn thick, rancid oil from barrel-shaped reservoirs at the lamppost base. These wavering lights give off illumination equal to a torch even in the midst of the fog and drizzle but they don’t seem to be well-tended as over a third of them are out – in need of repairs or refueling. (Ibid, p. 50, adapted)

Jharad looks to Ameiko, “I think asking anybody in this town for directions would be a mistake. I suggest South towards the Docks is best as that is the first place we should look. I am sure we can find a place to stable our horses close to there.”

“That sounds like a good idea. To the docks it is,” Ameiko says.

Zeyala pulls her cloak tightly around her and instinctively grasps at her spear. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could for once, ride into a town with brightly lit welcome sign marked with an arrow pointed to a row of honest inns?”

Toshio laughs, “Yes, I look forward to that day!”

The way to the docks takes them past a massive stone coliseum from which the roars of a huge crowd can be heard. This would be Zincher’s Arena, infamous throughout Varisia for its bloody gladiatorial games and uneven contests between unfortunate slaves and convicted criminals against wild beasts and even monsters. Across the street from the coliseum is an immense structure of brick and iron with dozens of foul, smoke-belching stacks. A small party of dwarves, cloaked against the fog and evening chill, can be seen entering what are most probably the Gas Forges, a dwarven run forge fueled by gas that is one of the few places on the continent of Avistan hot enough to forge even difficult metals like adamantine. Past these structures, are rows of buildings beyond which lies the wharves. One can turn either right and head further east to where the Velashu River empties into the cove, or turn left and head to where the city hits up against the southern terminus of Riddleport’s eastern ridge. There, atop a lonely crag, a beacon tower shines out into the night to guide ships to the safety of the harbor and away from the treacherous rocks just to the east of the harbor mouth.

Ameiko says, “It’s all the same to me, right or left?”

“I think right. There will probably be docks where the river meets the cove,” says Toshio.

“Agreed,” replies Jharad.

It turns out that the docks run all the way from the mouth of the river to the eastern ridge. Heading down the street toward the river are a series of warehouses and cheap grog shops where merchant and pirate crews mingle in a haze of rum-soaked debauchery and blood. Inns and shops have grimed windows and peeling paint hinting at a properity that no longer exists. All around can be heard the sound of pipes, concertinas, and tambourines and bodhran’s accompanying the singing of sea shanties and forecastle songs. There are also the shouts and cursing of drunken sailors and bar wenches. The reek of offal, smoke, sweat, rum and ale is almost overpowering, though a bit mitigated by the salty tang of the fog-laden and chilly breeze that sweeps in from the gulf. One of the inns they find is named The Captain’s Chamber. This one actually boasts a stable in the rear. As they consider the place an aged and bewhiskered drunk is shoved out of the swinging doors that lead into the common room. He stumbles and fetches up against Toshio who was leading his horse down the street. With a mumbled curse he lurches away and disappears into the fog.

Keng has become sullen and quiet. He mutters to Zeyala, “This place is disgusting – full of filth and trash. We will never find Jethrik here nor, if we do, will we be able to get him away from the pirates and live to tell about it.”

Jharad smiles at his friend, “Have hope my friend, we are here now and with luck near getting Jethrik back. Oh and you might want to keep your belt pouch tucked inside your pants.”

Toshio frowns and wishes that just once they could accomplish a mission without unpleasant complications. Toshio takes Jharad’s advice (meant for him or not) and tucks his purse away securely.

Jharad notices this and with a mischievous grin says, “You should keep yours out and slid further back along your belt Toshio. It will take attention away from the rest of us.”

Zeyala simply grimaces and shakes her head.

“Jharad…” says Ameiko warningly. “Someone should wait out here and watch the horses, maybe Keng. Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, come with me and lets see if they can stable our horses and provide us with a room or two. Then we can start asking around to see if the Teeth of Araska is docked here or expected. We should tread carefully though, as Captain Grudge and his crew almost certainly have friends here.”

Jharad slaps Toshio on the back, “All in jest paladin, all in jest.” With a quick glance at Toshio he adds, “After you beautiful,” and follows Ameiko.

In Minkaian, Toshio says, “Yes, Lady. Right with you”

The inn is small, shadowy, and clouded over with the smoke of oil lamps, pipe-weed, and flayleaf. A scruffy looking man stands behind the bar wiping dirty mugs with an even dirtier looking rag. A couple barrels of ale and wine are on the shelves behind him, as well as some bottles of rum. There seem to be only a dozen or so patrons in the common room, all talking in low murmurs. A small three-man band plays on a raised stage in a corner. As Ameiko and her comrades enter, the band stops playing, and the murmuring stops. Furtive glances are directed at the newcomers but after a moment, seeing that the strangers pose no immediate threat or need for acknowledgment, the patrons turn their attentions back to their drinks, cards, dice, or quiet scheming. The band starts up again with pipe, fiddle, and concertina.

“Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door?
 Who’s that knocking at my door?” said the fair Young Maiden.

“It’s me and my crew and we’ve come for a screw!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

“It’s me and my crew and we’ve come for a screw!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

“What if I should lock the door? What if I should lock the door?

What if I should lock the door?” said the fair Young Maiden.

“I’ll smash the lock with my diamond-hard cock!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

“I’ll smash the lock with my diamond-hard cock!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

The song continues on in this vein, getting no more delicate and even quite a bit rougher. The innkeeper lips twitch a bit in what might be a smile and as he nods a greeting.

Jharad says quietly to Ameiko, “Nice crowd, maybe you should talk to the bartender.”

“Hey, I know this one,” says Zeyala. ”Who wants to dance?”

“I’ll take this dance” replies Toshio.

Ameiko grins and says to Jharad, “They’ve both heard this song before at the Rusty Dragon. Not all my patrons were simple farmers. We got our fair share of sailors. Let’s go to the bar” While the paladin and the blind oracle are dancing a jig Ameiko, Jharad at her side, talks briefly with the tall and homely bartender-innkeeper. She asks him if they have any rooms and learns that there is only room by the hearth for them but there is room in the stable for their horses. They banter a bit about shipping and Ameiko then tells him a tale about wanting to visit Kalsgard in the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. This leads to a conversation about which ships are in port, which might be heading north, and which should be avoided. From this she and Jharad learn that the Teeth of Araska is not in port and in fact has been avoiding Riddleport lately as its captain apparently has had a falling out with Avery Sleyg, one of the eight powerful bosses who govern Riddleport under the rule of Overlord Cromarcky.

“You don’t want to mess around with those guys, let me tell you,” the bartender informs them. “Lord Sleyg runs his business out of the River Runner Inn upriver. Hardly anything comes through or gets sold in town without him knowing about it. Captain Grudge, the Teeth’s captain, tried to slip some things by without paying the fees due to Lord Sleyg.” With a chuckle he says, “I don’t think the Teeth of Araska will be docking here again any time soon. Probably heading down to the Shackles anyway to join the rest of the Free Captains.”

Ameiko is careful not to show any undue interest in the Teeth of Araska or Captain Grudge, but nods and subtly draws out this and other information about the licit and illicit traffic that comes in and out of Riddleport. She thanks him, gets a pitcher of ale and some mugs and finds a free table where she and Jharad can sit and where Toshio and Zeyala can join them.

Jharad looks over the rest of the tavern to hide the disappointment he feels as Ameiko finishes her conversation. Once seated at a table he mentions quietly to Ameiko before the others join them, “Nicely done. I had hoped for better news however.”

Seeing his opportunity to speak with Ameiko alone he continues quietly, “For what it is worth, while it does seem clear that Jethrik was taken with the assistance of the poison I sold I do believe that he still would have been taken without it. I am sure that another method, probably more painful, would have been used. Regardless, any guilt on my part would not enhance my efforts to get him back. Jethrik is my friend and that is something that I hold very important in life.

“As for the issue I have with Toshio, it is more to do with his judgmental approach to everyone else than whether he was right or not regarding the poison. The fact that he treated me as guilty immediately without a shred of proof is the crux of it. I also understand that it puts you in a bad position as the leader, and with your… well… relationship with Toshio. For that I do apologize.”

Ameiko responds, “Well, I think we need to stop worrying about who is or is not to blame and concentrate on what we need to do to get Jethrik back. Toshio has a very rigid code of honor from our home country, he was raised to be a ‘samurai’, that means ‘one who serves’ and he has always done his best to live up to it even though here he has never received the actual training of a samurai. Instead he joined Iomedaeans and they instilled in him a more idealistic code on top of the one he already had. He is someone trying to live up to the ideals of two cultures and I don’t envy him. In fact I think he is a little crazy, but I can’t help but admire him for his efforts and the strengths and blessings it gives him.” She smiles and turns to watch Toshio and Zeyala dancing, then returns her attention back to Jharad. “Please, try to be understanding. You elves live so long I think you forget how hard it is to have only a few decades to figure out what we want in life and then to do something about it. Please be patient with him and I’ll ask him to be patient with, well, with all of us.” She smiles. “Now lets get everyone together and tell them what we’ve learned.”

Ameiko goes out and tells Keng to go ahead and bring the horses around to the stable and to join them inside. Then she catches Toshio’s eye and crooks her finger to indicate that he and Zeyala should join them at the table. Once everyone is together and Keng is informed about what they learned she asks them, “Well, what do you all think? We’ll at least need to wait here for Sandru, Koya, and the others to join us. Then I think we had better find a ship to take us to the Shackles. A pity, we are less than a week away from Brinewall, but I can’t rest until we get Jethrik back.”

“I agree,” says Zeyala. “We need to rescue Jethrik. As for the added delay of getting to Brinewall, I say we take it out of his shares,” adds Zeyala in jest.

“I agree as well,” says Toshio. “We should wait for the others to catch up and then work out a plan to rescue Jethrik. Sandru won’t be pleased at the delay for the caravan, but I’m sure he’ll support the rescue. It’s just a pity we need to wait – finding Jethrik will get harder and harder the more we wait.”

Keng grumbles, “Yer all daft. Lets go see Lord Sleyg and offer him a deal. We help him find Captain Grudge and the Teeth and he helps us get the gnome back. Then we split the take from selling the Tooth.”

Toshio nods and says, “Good idea, Keng. Sleyg seems to be the last loose thread here.”

“Agreed, says Jharad. “We should try and see Lord Sleyg. But Ameiko should do the talking I believe.”

Zeyala pantomimes the raising of a glass in cheer saying, “Here’s hoping for an uneventful stroll to Lord Sleyg’s.”

Riddleported

Lamashan 19 Wealday waning half-moon - Teeth of Araska 

The first thing Jethrik sees when he awakens is a large mahogany table surrounded by sturdy bar chairs that dominates a shadowy shipboard lounge. Morning light streams in through the porthole on the starboard side. Dented and worn cabinetry displays a variety of mismatched dishes and dull cutlery, rolls of maps and sea charts, and a few grizzly trophies – scalps, bloody eye patches, and even a leathery severed hand. A large nautical chart, covered in scratches and crisscrossing marks, hangs upon the port wall. A hint of perfume lingers here, and as the ship rocks, mugs and plates clink softly.

Jethrik remembers leaving the Sailor’s Rest and feeling the prick of a dart hit his neck. He had wheeled around to see several shadowy figures in an alleyway but before he could draw his rapier or run he started to feel woozy. As he sank to the cobblestones the figures stepped out of the alley into the light of the nearby streetlamp. It was Captain Grudge, his woman, and the elf first mate. He recalls that as he lost consciousness he heard the elf say, “Ha ha, got ‘em. It was fortunate for us that the elf who came up from Ravenmoor unloaded a stock of blue whinnis poison at the apothecary just before we got into town. A good buy. It sure makes recruiting a lot easier.”

Turning his attention back to his current predicament Jethrik finds that his hands and feet are numb from being bound. He is propped up against the cabin wall aft by a cabin door. He is not alone for long. The door opens and into the cabin strides Captain Grudge and his closes comrades. The captain introduces himself as Captain Elreth Treeg. He then introduces his woman, Ishana, a priestess of Calistria, and his first mate, the elven sorcerer Selis. Now Jethrik remembers, the vengeful Captain Elreth Treeg, known as Captain Grudge, is the commander of the Teeth of Araska, an Abendego tricorne, a broader variant of the caravel designed to handle the rough seas near the Eye of Abendego, the gigantic, permanent hurricane to the far south that cut off trade to the southern colonies of Cheliax. Jethrik realizes the he has been Riddleported aboard one of the more infamous of the Free Captains of the Shackles, the pirate fleet that sails under the banner of the Hurricane King who have been ravaging the merchant shipping near the Arch of Aroden for decades.

“Now,” says Captain Grudge, “we really want to hear the rest of that story you were telling. And since we have already set sail, we will have plenty of time to hear it.”

“I would be happy to finish the tale. Shall we go above deck so your crew can enjoy it as well?” Jethrik smiles broadly.

“Aye, matey, I think that can be arranged.” Captain Grudge gestures at Jethrik and says “Untie.” The ropes binding Jethrik fall away. The captain nods and Ishana and Selis help Jethrik to his feet and rub at his wrists and ankles to get the blood going again. The prickly feeling is not a pleasant sensation but it is good to get the feeling back into his hands and feet. When Jethrik is able to walk they lead him out the forward hatch onto the main deck.

Three sturdy masts rise above the marred wood of the broad deck. Although well scrubbed, fiery scars and the gashes of boarding axes mar the dark wood. Above swings a webwork of rigging and ropes, connected to the yards and crow’s nest. Two longboats hang above a hatch leading below, while nearby a smaller trapdoor stands closed. To the ship’s aft, twin pairs of stairs rise up to the sterncastle, where the ship’s wheel and a large iron bell stands. Between these steps hangs a heavy door adorned with a bronze nameplate bearing the word “Captain” followed by a second scratched-over name. It is out this door that Jethrik has been led. At least a dozen pirates swarm about on the deck and riggings tending to their duties and singing a sea shanty.

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die!

The King and his men stole the queen from her bed

and bound her in her bones

The seas be ours and by the powers

Where we will… we’ll roam!

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die!

Some men have died and some are alive

And others sail on the sea

With the keys to the cage

and the devil to pay

We lay to Fiddler’s Green!

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die!

 

The bell has been raised from its watery grave

Do you hear its sepulchral tone?

A Call to all, pay heed to the squall

And turn your sails towards home!

 

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die!

Captain Grudge takes Jethrik up to the sterncastle to overlook the main deck. He strikes the large iron bell on the sterncastle and calls all the crew currently on watch to assemble on the main deck to hear Jethrik’s tale of the lovesick paladin. Standing on a large coil of rope on the sterncastle, Jethrik is able to perform in sight and hearing of all. The assembled pirates are greatly appreciative. Even Captain Grudge, Ishana, and Selis clap, guffaw, and roar in appreciation. At the end, Jethrik receives a standing ovation. It seems as though these fearsome pirates aren’t so bad after all.

Once the story has been told, Captain Grudge, whom Jethrik suddenly realizes is certainly one of his most trusted friends and allies, puts his arm around Jethrik and invites him to come back down to the wardroom to talk discuss some business he’d like to propose. The wardroom is the room where Jethrik first awakened. Once back there, Captain Grudge apologizes for their rather unceremonious recruitment of him. “We were just a little over eager to hear the rest of your story is all. I hope we can let bygone be bygones?”

Once those niceties are out of the way Captain Grudge offers Jethrik a position on his ship as the new quartermaster for as long as he’d like to stay. He explains that the quartermaster is a kind of middleman between the captain the crew who settles disputes, acts as a kind of magistrate aboard ship, and is a trustee for the entire crew. He would also lead attacks against enemy ships, the dreaded Chelaxians for instance, and make sure that spoils are distributed fairly. “So, do ye accept?”

Jethrik frowns “Well, I won’t say I’m not a bit irritated by the method of your recruitment. I lost some gear back there in whatever shithole town that was. Besides, the guys I was with are a decent sort. They may even do something stupid like try to find me. If you had let me say my good byes, it might have saved some trouble for them.

Brightening up a bit, he continues, “Still, this sounds like fun. I’ve never been on the sea, and I think I could do you some good. Yep, I’m pretty sure I could earn enough to replace my gear pretty quickly if the shares are fair! And those Chelaxian ships have it coming.”

Captan Grudge says, “Well I’m very glad t’ hear that. Where were you and your buckos goin’? Maybe we can meet them further on and you can let them know your fine and say your ‘I’m shovin’ offs’ t’ proper way. “

“Brinewall.” Jethrik beams “That was our next stop. Though it may take them a while to get there since the caravan is so laden down with goods.”

Captain Grudge’s mouth gapes open in shock. “Brinewall! Why would they ever be goin’ t’ that accursed place?”

Jethrik shrugs. “Ask Sandru, he’s the guy who whips the horses. Not me, fortunately, just the horses.” He adds with a chuckle.

“There must be a hidden treasure thar for him t’ risk goin’ thar. Don’t you think? Well, maybe we can ask him ourselves and if he needs our help we’ll be glad t’ give it.”

“It would be wonderful to meet up with my old friends and give them help from my new crew.” Jethrik warmly agrees.

He then calls out to Ishana to have her explain to Jethrik his new duties and show him his hammock in the crew commons.

Ishana explains that they’ll give Jethrik his weapons and other equipment back once they’ve had a chance to secure a footlocker for him. “The Captain will keep your gear safe in the main hold until then. You shouldn’t need them. You’re safe with us and we’re not planning on any actions until the spring. We’re heading home now to our homeport in the Shackles.”

Ishana leads Jethrik back out ot the main deck. This time Jethrik notices the tattered triangular sails of the foremast, mainmast, and mizzenmast. He also sees that the masthead is carved into the likeness of a fearsome dragon. At the moment the ship if flying the colors of Riddleport, but Jethrik has no doubt that if running down a merchant ship they’ll hoist a “jollie roger” to signal that the victim should surrender peaceably and give up their goods or suffer the consequences – a fight to the death with no quarter asked or given. Nine crewmen man the deck, with the elf Selis up in the crow’s nest as lookout. Perhaps a dozen others lounge about the deck, talking, playing various musical instruments, throwing dice, or simply enjoying the sea breeze and sunshine while off duty. If he had to guess, Jethrik would estimate around two-dozen pirates are currently aboard the ship. Not a very large compliment for a ship that could easily carry four times that many.

Ishana leads Jethrik down a small trapdoor just aft of the hatch beneath the longboats. They go down a splintered ten-foot ladder to the crew commons on the lower deck where a dozen hammocks swing between narrow beams, swaying amid the stink of sweat and spilled rum. Three doors head to the ship’s aft, and another smaller door heads to the stern. Several empty bottles clink together, rolling across the floor with the ship’s swaying. A couple more pirates lay in bed, sleeping off hangovers no doubt. Ishana shows him to a hammock and informs him that he’ll be sharing this with another crewman as is typical aboard sailing vessels. They’ll have to simply take turns, one sleeping while the other is on watch. Ishana tells Jethrik that the doors aft lead to the quarters of Tralter, the ship’s accountant; to Selis’ quarters; and to a hall that leads to the food stores. The door to the fore opens into the middle hold. She warns Jethrik to stay out of these areas – as he has no business in them at present. She then takes him back up to the main deck and goes over the duties of a quartermaster.

While touring the boat, Jethrik does his best to be attentive. He tries to show the crew confidence and warmth. He very much wants to be accepted and respected by the crew. He finds he is intrigued by the prospect of being a pirate… for a little while anyway. It is something he never imagined for himself, and it will make a great story! He can’t recall any gnomes back home taking up piracy. He’s a little worried that he will be called upon to do things against his principles. But then, principles are fluid things. And while he misses Ameiko and wants to get back to her, losing his companions does not seem like a great loss. He has only known them for a short while, and a gnome lives a long time… so long as he says entertained.

A few hours later, as Jethrik stands upon the forecastle by the helm he begins to wonder why he feels so at home upon the Teeth of Araska and why he feels that Captain Grudge is so trustworthy. Then he realizes that he does not in fact feel at home and that the captain and his crew are not at all trustworthy. With growing horror, Jethrik realizes that he has been under the effects of a charm spell that is at last fading. He is now unarmed and unarmored in the midst of a crew of ruthless pirates and worse he has revealed the destination of Ameiko, Sandru, Koya, and the others. Captain Grudge has already pointed the ship north towards Bunyip Bay. Jethrik becomes acutely aware that just a few feet away, Captain Grudge and Ishana are talking quietly together and eyeing him at the same time.

“Not havin’ any second thoughts about signin’ on are ye matey?” asks the captain as he fingers taps the hilt of his rapier.

“I am having second thoughts about all the scotch I drank.” Jethrik quips, “You don’t have any hair of the dog do ya?”

Capain Grudge laughs. “Sorry matey, but we’ve not much but some grog. Ship life can be hard at first for a land-lubber like yourself. Still, you’re free t’ go if its not t’ your likin’. You can just walk away…” He nods to a couple of pirates down on the main deck who are standing by the side rails with a plank. They grin back up at the captain, as do a couple of others nearby who are busily throwing chum in the water to the sharks that have been following the ship.

Jethrik pantomimes shocked disappointment. “What and miss all the fun?”

Captain Grudge laughs. “There’s a good lad. I think we’ll all be gettin’ along just fine then. Get this man some grog!”

Lost Comrade

When Sandru joins the others later that night in the common room of the Sailor’s Rest he can’t help but pick up on the awkwardness around the table. Ameiko and Toshio, and Keng and Zeyala seem particularly uncomfortable, and Jethrik seems rather put out. Not wanting to pry, at least for the moment, he informs them that he has decided that it would not be wise to cross through the Velashu Uplands without their main healer and diviner, Koya, or without one of Varisia’s most renowned rangers, Shalelu. He proposes that since it has taken them longer to conduct business in Roderic’s Cove anyway, they should just stay for an extra week or so and wait for Koya and Shalelu to join them and then leave for Brinewall together. “I can easily find a peddler who can deliver the message to Ravenmoor, or a couple of us can just make a quick trip back there.”

While these logistical considerations are being discussed, Jethrik’s vexation over the refusal of his comrades to tell him what was going on earlier increases. Furthermore, he is upset that he was interrupted while on a roll telling his latest ribald tale. He considers trying to find a more attentive audience at the Pirate’s Booty, the Port of Call, or the Fat Gull. In the end he decides to try each one in turn. Quietly, he slips outside and heads over to the taverns.

Lamashan 19 Wealday waning half-moon

The next day, Keng asks Jharad at lunch if anyone has seen the gnome.

Washing down a bite of bread with a swallow of water Jharad responds with little enthusiasm, “I have not. Maybe he is still asleep.”

Toshio finishes his own mouthful and adds, “He’s probably sleeping off the evening’s ‘entertainment.’ No point in worrying yet.”

“I’m not sure where he went,” says Zeyala. “I haven’t seen him.”

With a bit of concern Jharad asks Zeyala, “Are his bedding and possessions still where he slept? Does it look like he slept in them at all last night?” Without waiting for an answer he and Toshio go to check for themselves. Keng wipes his face and follows them.

Zeyala, a worried Ameiko at her side, follows and tells them that Jethrik had not come in when she had gotten into her blankets to sleep. Nor was he there in the morning. She had thought nothing of it because Jethrik had on occasion stayed out late and/or gotten up early to wander about during past caravan trips.

Jethrik’s folded bedding, backpack, shortbow, chainshirt, light wooden shield and other items are still on his section of the raised and heated wooden floor where travellers sleep. It does not look as though he came in at all the night before.

Sandru walks in, and outside they can all hear a dog barking and whining. “Good morning everyone. Where the hell is Jethrik? His dog Sherman is raising a ruckus. Usually Jethrik has come out to walk him by now.”

Keng curses. “I do not like this. I am going to get my weapons.” Keng then goes upstairs and grabs all his armor and weapons and heads back downstairs, as do Ameiko, Jharad, and Toshio.

“We need to find him now before any ships sail this day!” says Keng as he hurries back to the common room.

Sandru says, “We’d better head to the docks first then. Maybe Sherman can sniff him out.”

Sherman indeed catches Jethrik’s scent. It seems that he had left for the taverns and/or the brothel, but then veered towards the docks. When they get there a couple of small merchant vessels are still at anchor. One ship, however, is already on the horizon – the infamous Teeth of Araska. Sherman runs to the edge of the pier and howls mournfully.

Jharad pales as they watch the Teeth of Araska sail away with his friend. “We need horses, now; to ride to Riddleport,” he says with anger in his voice.

“Oh, no, no, no…” says Ameiko in despairing tones.

Keng bellows his rage, his eyes glowing like red hot coals, “A curse on pirates!” He looks about to see if there are any pirates nearby on which he can vent his rage.

Sandru says, “It would be swifter perhaps for a couple of us to board a ship if any are outbound this morning. I’ll go find the harbormaster and see if we can arrange passage. I’ll meet you all back at the Sailor’s Rest in an hour or so.”

“I’ll go with you,” says Ameiko to Sandru. The two of them hurry over to the harbormaster’s office. Sherman runs along with them.

On the way back to the inn, Toshio finds a dart near the alley where Jethrik changed directions. It has blue whinnis residue on it. Toshio holds the dart up for all to see and shoots a withering glare at Jharad.

Toshio says to Jharad in an angry, low tone “We’ll talk later. Right now we need to rescue Jethrik, and I expect your efforts to do so will outshine the rest of us, as your choice did not.”

Jharad bites back, “And your choices have all worked out for the best have they, paladin? Don’t even attempt to lecture or question the strength of my efforts where friends are concerned.”

“Okay, we’ll talk now. It’s your choices when away from your friends that concern me. You sold that poison I’d say, and now it looks like someone has used it to kidnap Jethrik. I only hope your future choices are better.”

“You are wasting time, Toshio,” Jharad retorts. “A better leader would be working on a plan to rescue Jethrik. You instead choose to deliver blame and pick fights. If you continue to see finding our friend as a secondary concern then step aside.”

“Stop arguing like women,” growls Keng. “We have little time to waste. I am going to get my gear. Then off to Riddleport by ship or a fast horse to find the gnome and burn that ship to the water.” He looks at Jharad, “You coming?”

“Best suggestion yet my friend, yes of course I am,” Jharad responds to Keng. Then glaring at Toshio he adds, “Are you coming with or do you have better things to do, paladin?”

Toshio ignores Jharad’s ridiculous accusations. “I’m with you, Keng. Let’s go get our gnome back.”

Already moving, Toshio asks of Jharad “How much did you get for the poison anyway? Was the gold worth the hazard our friend is in?”

“You presume much Toshio. I was under the impression that paladins believed in justice rather than blind pronouncements of guilt. I am fairly certain that there is more blue whinnis in others hands beyond what we found in Ravenmoor,” Jharad replies as he digs out a vial of the poison from his pouch then replaces it.

“And the other vials we found? Do you feel sure they were not involved?” Toshio asks accusingly.

Jharad replies more calmly than before, “Why are you so sure that they were? Why are you so quick to inflict blame? Have I wronged you in some way?” Then in a much lower and almost friendly voice he says, “Toshio I suggest you stop the inquisition. Our friend has been taken and we need to focus on his return.”

Matching the friendly tone but without lowering his voice (he doesn’t feel the need to hide anything in this situation), Toshio responds, “I had hoped to discuss it later, but you didn’t take that route, so I can walk and talk. I notice you haven’t denied selling the poison. Nor have you owned up to the possibility that your actions may have contributed to Jethrik’s plight. My purpose is not to inflict blame, but rather to get you to realize your actions were poorly chosen, have probably put our friend in danger, and to get you to choose more wisely next time. We are not neglecting our friend. We are merely talking about a contributing factor in his abduction as we prepare to rescue him.”

Abandoning his quiet demeanor Jharad matches Toshio’s volume and responds, “Contributing factors like inviting stray werewolves into the caravan without warning any of us of the very real danger? Abandoning the group, as its designated leader, to a combat instigated against the brothel guards and priestess by us only to blindly support you? Blindly, I will add, because you never seem to find it important to actually explain these situations you get us into, whether because you just do not trust us or do not realize that as a leader that might be a good idea. Toshio, on all of your questionable escapades I have stood by and supported you as best I could. While ribbing you occasionally yes, I continued to support you with the understanding that in all cases your intentions were good. I gave you the benefit of doubt. You on the other hand assume guilt without proof, take no time to consider any other explanation, and frankly lead without wisdom nor forethought. To end this now I will admit to you that yes I did sell some of the poison, for reasons of my own which I am sure your black and white judgment cares not to know. Whether it was this that contributed to my friend’s abduction I may never know but certainly regret now if it is at all a possibility. But one thing is very clear to me now, I will no longer follow you anywhere. You can go to hell Toshio. My trust, loyalty and friendship to you is at an end.”

“A working relationship within the caravan and Ameiko’s quest will be satisfactory,” replies Toshio simply and formally.

Jharad matches pace with Keng who has been walking several strides ahead of his two bickering comrades and says, “Come on Keng, lets find horses and get our friend.”

Keng shakes his head. Then slaps Jharad on the back, “Time for talking is over. Go secure us three horses from the horse train so we can ride if Sandru can’t find a ship while Zeyala and I collect our gear. We will meet you out front of the Inn. Pretty boy can catch up to us. Speed is critical to save the gnome. I plan to be waiting when the Teeth of Araska arrives. We ride hard.”

Keng takes Zeyala by the arm and says, “You can ride with me.”

“Thank you,” replies Zeyala to Keng’s offer.

Jharad tosses Keng his room key and says, “Grab my pack as well, I will meet you within the hour,” says Jharad as he heads to the caravan encampment.

An hour later they are all gathered together again in front of the Sailor’s Rest. Sandru and Ameiko have brought horses with them, saddled and ready to go. Sandru informs them that there are only two ships at anchor in Roderic’s Cove and neither of them will be outbound that day. He tells them that they should take the horses from the horse train and ride to Riddleport as fast as they can. They should be able to get there in two days.

Ameiko says, “It is a slim hope that the Teeth of Araska will head there, but on the off chance they are we should go. Even if they do not, we may be able to find out where else it may be going. I’ll put everything at my disposal to get Jethrik back. Sandru, can you get word sent to Ravenmoor to have Koya and Shalelu rejoin you, I think we may need their help after all and they deserve to know what happened, especially Koya.”

“Certainly. Once they have rejoined the caravan I’ll head to Riddleport by the main road, unless you find Jethrik and can get back here before we leave. I’ll send word by way of merchants and peddlers heading south to Magnimar.”

“Excellent,” Ameiko replies. “Now who will be riding with me to Riddleport? And why are you all shooting daggers at each other with your looks? Is there something more I need to know?”

Keng says, “I have been ready for over an hour now. Zeyala rides with me.” Keng straps Jethrik’s pack and gear to his horse and then nimbly, for a large man, leaps into his saddle and gently lifts Zeya in front of him. “Lady Ameiko, please don’t encourage them,” he looks at Toshio and Jharad, continuing, “They can entertain us along the way and keep us awake.”

While getting on Keng’s horse Zeyala says to Toshio and Jharad, “I have tried to remain silent, as your disagreement has nothing to do with me, but I am concerned and frightened for our friend. Toshio, does it really make any difference if the poison used was the same sold by Jharad? Do you think the pirates who Riddleported Jethrik could not have found an equal substitute, let alone simply bashing him over the head to accomplish the same end?” she asks. And Jharad, you’re no better. Why put it upon Toshio to come up with a plan?” She questions. ”With the way your acting, the same could be said about you regarding secondary concerns.”

“Well, Zeyala, I suppose Jharad is right – we’ll never know if it was his poison that was used. I just think we shouldn’t do things that encourage or support actions like piracy or slavery, even if it’s indirect support.”

Keng kicks his horse and gallops off down the road towards Riddlesport.

Without saying a word Jharad leaps into his saddle and rides off with Keng.

Ameiko exchanges a glance of dismay with Sandru. Incredulously she says, “Jharad sold the poison and…?” she shakes her head and groans in frustration. Mounting her horse she says to Sandru, “Get word to Koya. Maybe her divinations will help us find Jethrik. I’ll see you in Riddleport.”

“May Desna’s stars guide you,” Sandru says as he waves goodbye.

Ameiko and Toshio gallop after the others. Once they are out on the open road it is clear that Ameiko and Keng are barely able to control their mounts. Keng’s mount esp. is overburdened with two riders. Jharad and Toshio, both experienced riders, are easily able to overtake Keng. Furthermore, as Toshio’s mount, Onyx, is a light warhorse she is just a bit faster than the others even with a rider.

As Toshio rides up to Keng and Zeyala he says to the latter, “Well, Zey, it looks like Jharad will get to pick on Keng’s leadership for this one.”

Jharad remains silent, non-responsive to Toshio’s continued attempts to bait him into furthering their argument.

“As long as Keng has this target on which to focus, I trust he will lead us to Riddleport in great haste,” says Zeyala. “Once we get there and in the thick of it, as far as any further direction other than, ‘burn everything to the ground,” all bets are off.”

Gently patting Keng on the side of his face, Zeyala adds, “Until we have Jethrik back, all dissection of your leadership skills will have to wait.”

With a happy chuckle Toshio says, “Lead on, mighty Keng! Our friend needs your strength.”

Ameiko clears her throat, “Excuse me, but I am the leader of this expedition and therefore finding and rescuing Jethrik is primarily my responsibility. So neither of you boys is leader.” Jaw set firmly she positions her horse ahead of the others, or tries to. Ultimately the horses all seem to instinctively look to Onyx as their leader. Ameiko fumes but says nothing and refuses to look at Toshio, Keng or Jharad for quite some time.

Keng replies, “Yes, Lady Ameiko.” He then chuckles, “perhaps you and Pretty Boy can figure things out for us… just in case something unexpectedly small pops up.”

Business and Pleasure

Lamashan 17 Moonday waning moon

7 units of hard maple bought for 560 gp sold for 616 gp on the 17th

1 unit of Ravenmoor wine worth 250 gp  – sold for 375 gp on the 17th

Lamashan 18 Toilday waning moon

1 units of glass for 500 gp – sold for 625 gp on the 18th

1 unit – flayleaf worth 600 gp – 720 gp – sold for 900 gold on the 18th

Jewelry and other items sold. The proceeds are then distributed to the party.

Ameiko invites Toshio and Jethrik to accompany her to the armorer to see if she can sell her leather armor for something better. To her delight she is able to get trade it in for a discount on a mithral shirt made in the elven village of Crying Leaf in the Mierani Forest to the north. On the way back to the inn they are disgusted to see that burrowing among the offal in the alleys of Roderic’s Cove are cockroaches the size of cats.

“Ugh. Why have they let their town get so filthy?” exclaims Toshio.

Keng heads to the general store where he buys some supplies that he foresees will be useful in exploring Brinewall Castle, things like a silk rope (he trades in his hempen rope), climbing gear, and other items. On the way back he is approached in the street at dusk by a streetwalker, a dark haired girl, with only a couple of teeth missing but whom otherwise has retained her beauty despite her hard life. She winks at Keng and asks if he’d like some company.

Keng looks at her and finds her somewhat repulsive. He grunts and mutters and finally manages, “Ah… no… not at this time.” He fishes out a silver piece and hands it to her saying, “May your spirit guide you.”

The girl is amazed at Keng’s generosity. She happily takes the coin and backs away saying, “Thank you kind sir, thank you!” and then runs off down the street.

Zeyala visit the temple with shrines for various deities and finds that it does indeed have a space dedicated to Pharasma. As she lights a votive candle and offers a prayer a dark haired girl in a low cut dress with a gap tooth but otherwise still retaining some of her youthful beauty comes in, drops some coppers into the offering box, and offers a candle as well. She smiles shyly at Zeyala and then leaves without a word.

Afterwards, Zeyala goes to the armory and trades in her chain mail shirt and the sickle from Ravenmoor for a mithral shirt made in the elven village of Crying Leaf in the Mierani Forest to the north. The armorer laughs and tells Zeyala that she is the second woman to make a trade for such armor that day. He points to the items traded in by the other woman. Zeyala recognizes Ameiko’s enchanted leather armor. The armorer confirms that indeed it was a Tien woman, accompanied by her samurai retainer and his gnome servant.

“Smart woman,” laughs Zeyala. “If one is traveling between towns, it never hurts to take precautions.” She thanks the proprietor and heads out to some of the other shops to buy a scarf for herself and some incense for Koya.

Jharad, meanwhile, breaks away and heads to the apothecary, intent on selling the blue whinnis poison he acquired in Ravenmoor. For a time he is troubled by three stray dogs that shadow his path but in the end they go running off into an alley, probably to chase a rat or one of the ginormous cockroaches sometimes spotted among the offal of Roderic’s Cove. The apothecary happily takes nine of the ten vials of poison off his hands for 540 gold.

When Keng returns to his room at the inn, Jharad and the others have not yet returned. He can’t help but think of the woman in the hallway. Then he notices that there is a rhythmic banging noise coming from the suite upstairs. It is almost as if someone or something was hitting the door every few seconds. It is not a very loud noise, but because it is quiet in the inn it is easily noticed. Keng becomes increasingly annoyed at the banging sounds coming from upstairs. This is somewhat heightened, although he won’t admit it to himself, by his curiosity about what and who is in that room. Against his better judgment (some might say that is a stretch) he decides to go up and investigate. Still wearing his armor and taking his axe he heads as quietly as he can upstairs to the door and puts his ear to it and listens. There is no sound coming from the room except a slight scuffling, like someone walking back and forth, and then the door is thumped as though someone were bumping up against it. The same pattern repeats again and again, scuffling, thumping of the door, scuffling, thumping, scuffling, thumping… It is already getting dark outside, and now inside the inn, but there is no light coming from beneath the door. Keng kneels down to look through the keyhole. Being able to see perfectly in the dark, he sees that it is the smaller of Baron von Luden’s servants. She seems to be walking into the door, and then backing up, then walking back into the door again, over and over and over. He cannot see her face only the middle part of her through the keyhole, but she seems to be wearing nothing more than lace undergarments of red silk.

Keng’s eyes widen as he takes in the fair complexion and shapely contours of the beautiful young girl within the suite. Again, Keng finds himself unable to stir as he takes in what is clearly the most desirable girl he has ever seen in all his travels. He knows he must have her at any cost, and can’t break away from the keyhole even when he hears the sounds of someone coming up the stairs behind him. Fortunately, it is the innkeeper’s son Pavo who has come to uncover the everburning lamps in their wall sconces. He doesn’t see Keng until the stairwell is lit up, but when he does he shakes him by the shoulder and whispers, “Hey, stop that. We can’t let you spy on our guests. The baron would be furious, and him you don’t want to cross.” Pavo backs away as Keng is finally able to tear his eyes away form the keyhole.

Keng regains his senses but now he notices that he is still feeling the effects of this uncontrollable desire and that it seems to be caused by a musky but pleasant scent that pervades the stairwell outside the door to the suite. Now he remembers that he smelled it the other night in the hallway too when the baron and his servants passed him by but he thought nothing of it until now. The innkeeper’s son is also coming under its effects. He is standing still and staring past Keng at the door, his eyes glazing over.

Keng shakes his head in an effort to dispel his clouded lusty thoughts and pieces together the effects from the previous night. He realizes he is experiencing some kind of spell and spells never lead to anything good. He tightens his gut in an act of will and quickly heads back down the hallway, easily lifting the young boy in his arm as he passes, “Boy we need to get out of here now.” He proceeds down to the second floor where he releases Pavo explaining, “There is an ensorcellment spell up there. We were almost ensnared. You saved me. I saved you. Now we are even.” He hands Pavo a silver and says, “Speak not of this to anyone, only ill will come if you do.”

Keng heads downstairs to the public room looking for the elf. He must share what just happened. Seeing the others gathered around for dinner, he walks over to the table and looks around carefully to see who is nearby. He hunches over the table and leans in so he can whisper to them. “I was in Jharad’s room putting away and organizing my new gear. I heard a rhythmic banging coming from upstairs that went on and on without stopping. It became quite annoying. I went upstairs and it was coming from the baron’s room. I was concerned because the banging was coming from the door and perhaps someone was trapped inside. I peered through the keyhole and saw the smaller servant pacing back and forth into the doorway. I became ‘aroused’ again but was saved when the innkeeper’s son came upon me and pulled me away. I noticed a musky smell in the hallway similar to what occurred last night when they passed me and first ensorcelled me. The boy started to feel its affects too, so I grabbed him and we quickly went back downstairs where the effects wore off us both. I paid him a silver piece to hold his tongue. Something is very wrong inside that room. That servant is not of this living world.” Keng finishes his story and looks around.

Toshio has a number of thoughts and questions. ‘Why didn’t Keng just knock on their door so he could ask them to be quiet? Keng’s spying through keyholes is going to make trouble for the whole caravan. Has Keng now changed his mind and wants to confront them for spelling him the other night? What does Keng want done, if he’s so troubled?’ All this passes through Toshio’s mind in a flash, but he holds his tongue. Considering the troubled relationship he has with Keng, Toshio thinks it better to let the others lead the discussion.

Jharad looks directly at Toshio, only guessing at why he is not replying to Keng. Curious that only Keng seems to be bothered by the baron’s presence he decides what to do. Standing he addresses the group, “I would like visit the baron to both ask if there is anything I can do for him while we are both staying under the same roof and to ask him to have his servants keep down the noise as it seems to be bothering my friend Keng here. Toshio would you mind accompanying me?”

“I’d be happy to help” Toshio says to Jharad. “Shall we go now?”

“I think that would be foolish. And the Baron isn’t the only wizard in the world using erotic spells.” Jethrik objects. “It’s kind of an obsession with some.”

Toshio looks at Ameiko with a big smile and says, “Wish us luck. A couple of highly skilled diplomats like us may need it.”

Ameiko smiles back at Toshio. “Of course. Good luck dealing with our noisy neighbors. If that doesn’t work we’ll just ask the landlord to talk to them. They’ll quiet down for a while and then resume. Then we’ll call in the watch. They’ll quiet down for a while and then resume. At that point we will have to kill them.” She is, of course, being sardonic.

Keng, not catching the subtleties of the civilized lands, nods his head in agreement.

Jharad catches Ameiko’s eye and smiles widely, “Yes that is the course of action I was planning,” and heads up the stairs after Toshio.

“Well, if anything comes of this adventure,” says Zeyala, “I’m sure we will be made aware. Have fun,” she says with a smile.

As Keng, Toshio, and Jharad are heading towards the baron’s room, Zeyala mutters softly to herself, but still loud enough to be heard by Ameiko and Jethrik, “However, I do believe I might cast a spell on an uninvited peek through the keyhole on my door, or at least a jab with a pointy stick.” She lets out a little giggle as she lights up her pipe.

Ameiko also giggles. Then she leans over to ask Jethrik about this new tale he’s working on.

“I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been running it through my head on the long ride out here and I think it is finally ready for it’s debut. If I may be so bold, I have dedicated it to you; my good friend and mentor!” Jethrik bows. “It is called the Lovesick Squire, being the true and tragic farce of the romance between a paladin and a werewolf.”

“Scene 1 The Paladin promenades into town with his retinue; his destrier wearing it’s least patched caparison, the servant boy that polishes the pommel of the paladin’s short sword, 14 chickens, 2 maids and a gnome bard.

“Scene 2 Wherein the Paladin spies the tavern wench and falls madly in love! He compares her to Iomedae in a soliloquy that attempts to be flowery and epic, but is in fact scatological and farcical.

“Scene 3 The Paladin surprises the tavern wench with an ardent proposal, which shocks her so much she turns into a werewolf and runs away!

“Scene 4 The Paladin tracks down his love… but in fact is mistaken and woes a common mutt instead (which humps his leg before it is shooed away).

“Scene 5 Iomedae blesses the couple. The paladin is transformed into a riding hound for the bard. The happy couple is surrounded by puppies.

Zeyala nearly spits out her pipe and begins choking in a fit of coughs.

Ameiko’s eyebrow’s arch from the moment she hears the theme of the play. As Jethrik goes on to describe it she looks increasingly shocked but also bemused. Finally she stammers, “Uh, I, uh… I’m flattered that you would dedicate this minor opus to me, but… well, I fear some people… in our company… might take offense.”

“Let’s find out!” and Jethrik hops up on the table and gives his performance. As he does, other patrons begin to filter into the inn. They seem to be a rough crew: sailors with bandanas or knitted caps, tight fitting breeches but billowy loose-sleeved shirts, studded leather vests, golden teeth and earrings, an eye-patch or two, and cutlasses at their sides. They are led by a man whom the innkeeper addresses as Captain Grudge. He is wearing a blue frock coat with gold trim and a matching tricorn hat, out of which hangs his blonde dreads. His beard is likewise braided. A rapier hangs from his belt. By his side is a dusky Garundi woman with white braids wrapped around her head. She is wearing golden-hooped earrings and loose fitting silken clothes of yellow and black. She bears a whip by her side and around her neck is an amulet bearing three outward pointing daggers, the sign that she is either a devotee or even a priestess of Calistria. Among the crew there is also one who is an elf. He bears a longsword and is wearing masterwork studded leather and has a wand tucked in his purple sash. Captain Grudge and his crew take seats at nearby tables and fill up the bar, but after ordering drinks they begin to listen attentively to the gnome’s tale. It is not long before they are roaring with laughter, throwing silver coins at Jethrik, and otherwise showing their appreciation of the farce.

As Keng, Toshio, and Jharad head upstairs they hear the rhythmic thumping from the upstairs door. It is evident that the smaller servant is continuing to walk into the door over and over again. As they head up the stairs they see that Pavo, the innkeeper’s son, has returned to the door at the top of the stairs and has just opened it with the master key. Before anyone can do or say anything to stop him, he pushes open the door. Like a snake grabbing a field mouse two fair and shapely hands reach out, grab him by his collar and jerks him into the room. The door slams shut behind him.

“Uh oh,” rumbles Keng. “Well at least now we have a good reason to intervene.”

Jhrard gives out a quick barking laugh before sobering up. “I think maybe this falls under your purview of ‘rescuing the innocent’ does it not Toshio?”

Toshio jumps to the door and pounds on it, shouting, “Open up! Release the boy!” Toshio notices the musky scent and for a moment his mind drifts to Ameiko and how much he’d like to… but then he shakes his head free of such indecent thoughts. The mental discipline instilled in him as a paladin but above all the divine providence of Iomedae enable him to keep his longings at bay and concentrate on the task at hand – freeing the boy!

Jharad calls down the stairs, “Keng I believe we will need you for this after all,” and then moves to back up Toshio. He also smells the musky perfume that fills the landing outside the suite door. Nearly threescore years of erotic dalliances with the bawdy wenches of Varisia and the delicate yet flirtatious elven maidens of Kyonin all come rushing back to him at once. Yet, as the vulgar humans say, “You can’t con a con-man,” and elves are masters of enchantment. Jharad discerns that the scent is magical in nature and the realization allows him to close his mind and heart to it and return with full awareness to the present moment.

Keng nods and his long strides make quick time up the stairs. He reaches into his belt pouch and ties a handkerchief across his nose and mouth. Unfortunately this precaution is not enough. The perfumed scent of the young woman within the suite pervades the landing and top of the stairwell. The thin strip of cloth is not enough to shield Keng from it. All he can think of is that he hasn’t had a piece of tail since leaving Urglin, and even then the best he could aspire to there were the more human looking of the orc-blooded tramps of that city of exiles, outcastes, and degenerates. Keng slows his advance up the stairs and stands still, eyes glazed over, lost again to his imaginings of the possibilities just behind the green painted door at the top of the stair. Keng manages an, “Oh baby…” and is helpless to move beyond that.

Toshio and Jharad see that Keng has come to a stop, overcome by the enchantment. From within the door are muffled cries and whimpers. There is the sound of clothes ripping and then bodies falling on the floor and against the door. The door is firmly locked once more, and the boy was still holding the master key when he was dragged within. Toshio proceeds to try to kick in the door while crying out for someone to call in the authorities. Jhard also lends his boot to the cause. Unfortunately the door is fairly sturdy and resists their first three attempts.

It is not long before the innkeeper is bellowing up the stairs, “What’s going on up there?!” He turns to a serving girl and says, “You heard him! Go get the watch!” The girl quickly hurries away to find the watch.

From inside the boy weakly cries out, “Go away… I’m fine… don’t tell my dad…” His voice is then muffled again.

Upon kicking the door the fourth time, the lock breaks and the door is driven hard into the back of a young girl in red underthings of silk and lace. She is entwined around Pavo, kissing him deeply. His shirt has been torn off and discarded and he does not seem to at all mind being ravished by her. His eyes are startled and more than a bit outraged by the paladin’s intrusion. As for the girl, she does not seem to have even noticed that a door was just kicked into her backside.

To Jharad, the girl’s blond hair, long lithe build, and tapered ears look very similar to Shalelu. Understanding the magic that is at play here, Jharad clearly sees that the boy and Keng are both enthralled against their wish. He grabs the girl about the waist and tries to pull her off of the boy saying, “I think we have had enough of that now.”

In Toshio’s eyes, the figure, complexion and hair of the girl looks awfully similar to Ameiko. In fact, he is afraid to turn her over even though he knows Ameiko is downstairs. He senses no evil in whoever it is. ‘Well, that’s a relief.’ thinks Toshio. ‘Ameiko is not mine,’ Toshio reminds himself, just in case he is deeply hurt when he turns… whoever… around. Toshio sets his feelings aside and reaches out to help Jharad pull her away. “Let the boy tell me he’s fine when he’s away from this scent!”

Jharad and Toshio succeed in pulling the woman off the boy. She whimpers and struggles but otherwise says nothing. The boy does cry out though, “No, what are you doing! Go away! Leave us alone!” He scrambles to his feet, jaw set and hands curling into fists.

“Pavo!” shouts the innkeeper. “Is that you! What are you doing up there!” The innkeeper can be heard tromping up the stairwell, where Keng still stands trapped in a reverie.

The girl, in the meantime, writhes salaciously in the arms of the elf and paladin.

Jharad ignores the innkeeper and boy, focused solely on trying to keep his wits about him as he grapples with who appears to be in his arms. He wrenches her away from Toshio, at first intent on removing her from his grasp. Then rallying his senses completely he slaps her hard across the face, though doing so brings a grimace of anguish to his own. “Tether your powers now girl or next I will move to truly hurt you,” he says in anger. She says nothing but only looks at Jharad in mute shock and surprise.

Toshio winces with the slap and reminds himself again that this is not who it seems. “Let him go!” Toshio gestures to Keng. “And stop this magicking! Show us who you really are.”

Keng, finally having shaken the enchantment, walks over to the girl, grabs her hair, pulls her head back to look at her growling, “What are you? Why are you spelling us?” Her only response is to moan and close her eyes as if in ecstasy as he pulls on her hair.

Keng sees a vision of beauty:  Long golden hair that shines like the sun on earth. There seems to be a glow that lights all around. Her eyes are the deepest blue of the high desert sky. Her features are more handsome than pretty, strong and confident. Her body is voluptuous yet muscular and Keng knows she will be a tigress in bed. He can barely contain his desire.

Now, though, it is the innkeeper who is standing stock-still just below the landing, his eyes gazing into space and a slight smile on his face. “Oh,” he murmurs. “Heh, yes, yes…”

Pavo, his son, however, is not so entranced. Instead he is enraged by the abuse being heaped upon his beloved. He hurls himself at the half-orc and hits him in the face screaming, “Let her go! You’re hurting her!” This in spite of the fact that the girl is actually rubbing herself up against Jharad, who is still holding her, and if anything seems to be enjoying Keng’s rough housing.

Keng snorts at the boys feeble attempts to hurt him, instead he grabs the boy by his collar and hoists him in the air, “Be still boy.” He carries him out of the room and hustles both Pavo and the innkeeper back down to the second floor where he quickly explains what is happening about the door bumping and the malodorous lusty spell. He says, “Keep watch here and let no one pass, except the baron if he returns, while our paladin of Iomedea sorts this out.”

With less chaos and distraction in the room Jharad relaxes just a bit with a heavy sigh. Allowing this all-too-familiar effigy to continue rubbing up against him he looks Toshio in the eyes with a wry smile of understanding. With a tone of commiseration he asks with one word, “Ameiko?”

With eyes of understanding the paladin nods ever so slightly.

Nodding in return Jharad replies, “Shalelu,” and hopes they never speak of this again.

As Jethrik is finishing up the humorous introduction of the “hero” of his tale to the assembling pirate crew (to the growing alarm of Ameiko and Zeyala) he catches out the corner of his eye one of the serving wenches running down the stairs leading to the inn’s rooms on the second floor and above that the baron’s suite. She crosses the public room in a panic, though the pirates are too engrossed in Jethrik’s tale to notice, as is Ameiko, and Zeyala can’t see her anyway. She leaves the tavern and with his sharp gnome ears he hears her calling desperately for the watch as she runs down the street. Jethrik uses dancing lights to cover the pause between the first and second scene and spins to Ameiko and Zeyala. “Check upstairs, the boys are in trouble.” He spins back and takes up the tale again.

Ameiko and Zeyala are off like a shot. Captain Grudge and his woman exchange glances, as they obviously heard Jethrik’s aside. They whisper something to their elf companion (maybe the first mate?) and he quietly follows after Ameiko and Zeyala.

Ameiko and Zeyala arrive at the foot of the second floor stairwell just as Keng is trying to explain to the innkeeper and his son something about a “malodorous lust spell.” At the top of the stairwell, the door to the third floor suite is open and within the two women see Jharad and Toshio interrogating a squirming captive that Jharad is holding.

Ameiko advances up the stairs and then her eyes widen. She shakes her head and then proceeds but then stops again. Her jaw drops. “Toshio! There’s two of you?! Is it another shape shifter?”

Oh gods! I hope he never speaks of this, especially to Keng,’ thinks Toshio. Toshio turns to look at the other (real?) Ameiko with a feeling of horror. He doesn’t want her to see what’s going on! His face pales as he realizes there’s no avoiding it now. Then her words register – she saw him in the creature – and his spirits lift again. “Don’t know. It isn’t explaining its actions!” he says in answer to her question.

Jharad’s eyes widen slightly and he snorts out a giggle. Under his breath intending only Toshio to hear he says, “Care to explain my friend, or shall I?”

Toshio replies with a smirk, “I don’t think I can. You give it a try!”

Smirking to Toshio then addressing the women at the bottom of the stairs, Jharad says with as much authority as he can muster, “Both of you please retreat back to the common room immediately. Toshio and I have this well in hand, but if you approach any further you will put us both at risk. Please trust us now and leave.”

Up to this point, Zeyala had been standing behind Ameiko, lost in erotic reveries like Keng, Pavo, and innkeeper had been. Hearing Keng’s exhortation close at hand she returns to the present. “Keng?!” says Zeyala uncertainly. “What is Jharad doing to you? Wait…what?” she stutters as she looks at Keng standing nearby. ”I know my sight is dismal, but what I’m seeing is not right.  Who’s the real Keng?  What have you done?” she asks.

Jharad’s face turns to stone as he stares at Keng, then blurts out a guffaw before sobering himself again.

Keng blinks rapidly for a moment looking at Zeyala with his head cocked, then says,  ”Zeyala, it is I… the real Keng that stands here next to you. That creature back there is some sort of sexual predator and easily affects those around it with powerful thoughts of lust. The fewer nearby it while we sort this out the better. Please go downstairs with Lady Ameiko… for your safety,” he adds. He then lightly takes her hand and places it on Ameiko’s shoulder and says, “Please lady, take her downstairs.”

“Predator?” Zeyala mumbles. She looks back at Jharad holding down Keng, then to Toshio, and then finally towards Keng standing near to her.

“A sexual predator? Lustful thoughts…” says Ameiko slowly as she works it out. Then she blushes furiously, turns around quickly, and drags Zeyala with her away from Toshio, Keng, Jharad, and the creature.

Zeyala can feel her face flushing red as well as Ameiko pulls her along back downstairs. ”Gods forbid,” says Zeyala.  ”On this, I will remain silent.”

As she begins to catch her breath, Zeyala says to Ameiko, “I think I need a drink…or a smoke… or both.”  She then lets out a hearty laugh.

Ameiko says to Zeyala before they get back to the common room, “Lets you and I please agree to never speak of this. I fear the others will find out, and if Jethrik does he’ll probably include all of us in his next ribald tale. Bad enough he’s lampooning Toshio to a den full of pirates.”

The innkeeper and Pavo, however, are still standing at the foot of the stairs. The former says, “Uh, Keng, the girl is Baron von Luden’s servant. Maybe it is best that you just leave her in the room and lock the door again.” He looks to his son and asks, “Wait, what were you doing in there?”

“I’d like to hear your explanation, too,” says Toshio, “but locking you up until the watchmen arrive wouldn’t trouble me. You can explain your actions to them if you won’t answer to us.”

Pavo gulps and looks to his father nervously. His father seems in no mood for any more nonsense. The boy begins, “Well, I came up to uh… uncover the everburning lamps and someone was bumping up against the door. I… uh… paid it no mind at first and left,” he says this eyeing Keng and then proceeds, “But I was worried that something might be wrong so I came back later and opened the door to check. Then she dragged me into the room and attacked me! She ripped my clothes off and uh… anyway, that’s when those two,” he points up the stairwell to Toshio and Jharad, “burst in and uh… rescued me. That’s the long and short of it. Really!”

“Hmm,” says the innkeeper, “seems to me like you were trying to poke around in another man’s business, and a paying guest at that! Now we need to fix things up right and proper before the baron gets back or he’ll burn this inn down around our ears. He’s no one to trifle with.” The innkeeper visibly shudders.

Keng says to the innkeeper, ” Wait here. As I said before, keep watch here and let no one pass, except the baron if he returns.” Keng then heads back upstairs enters the room and shuts the door. He grabs the creature pulling it away from Jharad and throws it into the corner of the room growling, “Stay put, do not move and answer our questions!”

Jharad says, “Keng stop. Truthfully she probably likes that.”

Nodding in agreement with Jharad, Toshio says, “Yes. Now that the boy is safe let’s let things calm now and hear her answers, or let’s leave her locked and alone until the watch arrives.”

Keng shrugs his shoulders and steps back just behind Toshio and Jharad, crosses his arms and glares at the creature. He asks, “Does anyone know what she is and what she really looks like?”

The baron’s servant picks herself up. She has a questioning expression on her face. It is clear that she does not understand and does not know how to respond anymore. Apparently grappling and hair pulling make sense to her, but being violently hurled away does not. Nor does she seem to understand the Common tongue. She stands and stares at them mutely, questioningly. Then her face begins to squirm and shift like molten wax. Now all three of them can see her in her different guises – as Shalelu, as Ameiko, and as an athletic blue-eyed blonde haired woman. In these guises her red silken lingerie does not change except to conform to her different physiques.

“M…m…master!” she cries at last as she continues to shift from one form to the other. Then she hurls herself through the shutters of the window overlooking the front of the inn. A servant girl screams outside as they hear the body crash into the cobblestones below and there are shouts of men as well.

As Jethrik is getting into the scene wherein the paladin meets the tavern wench and launches into a farcical love struck soliloquy, the elf return and whispers something to the captain and his woman. The captain nods and a sly look comes over the faces of all three. The elf sits back down behind the captain, who returns his attention to Jethrik’s tale. Now, however, he seems to be scheming more than listening. Soon after the elf returns, Ameiko and Zeyala reenter the public room, they are both blushing and seem to be embarrassed about something as they quietly resume their seats.

Because Jethrik is orating and the pirates are being fairly noisy in their hooting, hollering, laughing, and other expressions of mirth and enjoyment they do not hear the shutters of the third floor suite bursting open or the body hitting the cobblestones outside the front door of the inn. They do hear the servant girl screaming outside (the one who went for the watch) and the startled shouts of men (who may be watchmen). The pirates also hear this and run for the door and front window, and then they pour into the street to get a better look.

Toshio goes downstairs quickly – ready to lay on hands for healing if the thing survived the fall.

Jharad sighs, “Well that’s not good,” and runs downstairs after Toshio.

Keng walks over to the window and looks out.

Outside the inn door, the servant of the baron picks herself up off the cobblestones. She does not seem to be hurt at all. The servant girl with the two members of the Roderic’s Cove watch in half-plate and armed with halberds back off and then stand stock still. As the scurvy band within the inn pour into the street to gather around they too begin to slow and come to a standstill, all staring in undisguised lust at the servant. Even Captain Grudge comes under her spell. Only a few pirates resist it, including the elven first mate and the captain’s woman.

Zeyala, Jethrik, and Ameiko attempt to wade through the crowd to get outside.

This time the servant’s changes are apparent to everyone. As in the room above, her appearance shifts into a kaleidoscope of genders (though mostly female), ethnicities, complexions, hair and eye colors, and physiques. Through all the changes she is dressed only in a raggedy loincloth and a wrap around her breasts. She looks to the night sky and wails in anguish, her fists at held rigidly at her sides.

As Toshio and Jharad finally make it outside, Captain Grudge and his crew finally break free of the intoxicating enchantment they walked into by coming near her. Reason, however, has not returned. They eye each other and begin to draw weapons. The two watchmen back away and lower their halberds. It is clear that a riot over the girl is about to ensue.

That is when her screaming stops. She stands catatonic and the changes end as well. Now she appears in what is likely her true underlying form – a petite woman with a shaven head and mismatched eyes, blue and gray. Her skin has a waxy sheen, but underneath it is ashen and cadaverous, and in some places such as around the neck and limbs there are obvious sutures.

Then the baron appears with his larger servant at his side. He murmurs something to the large servant who doffs his cloak and cowl to reveal a face and body dressed in loose fitting purple breeches and tunic. His face and limbs are loosely wrapped by scarves but it is plain to see that underneath his complexion is also livid and marks of suturing can also be seen.

In the light of the street lamp it can be seen that the baron is shocked and even blushing to find that that the nature of his servant has been revealed. Then he reddens further in anger. “How dare you! Get away from my servant! Pleasure, to me! Business, make sure no one interferes!”

The girl servant, Pleasure, turns at the voice of her master and starts to walk towards him. The male servant, Business, forms his hands into two mighty fists and lumbers towards her.

Keng is watching the entire scene from upstairs. He murmurs, “By the gods! What the frak are those things?” He carefully backs away from the window so as not to be seen in the baron’s room and walks downstairs to the common room. He looks around for Jharad and Toshio and follows them outside.

Jharad smiles in full realization and nods in amusement at what damage this creature could cause to a civilized town. He murmurs under his breath, “Pleasure and Business… no imagination at all.”

“He has pleasure with that thing?” Jethrik shudders. “Bleh! I’m not picky, but I prefer live women.”

Jharad replies, “You have no idea, my comedic friend, until you have been under her thrall. A single one of those could easily double the traffic of any brothel. As long as she sees only one customer at a time, otherwise the results could be catastrophic.”

Based on her initial encounter with the smaller servant, Zeyala cast resistance on herself, then not knowing what the creatures are, she cast detect undead on Pleasure and Business and discerns that they are not undead.

Toshio lets the baron collect his things. Seeing Keng, he says quietly, “Still want to talk to them about the noise?”

“Nope. You?”

“Nope. Not me.”

Jharad adds, “I’m good.”

Toshio says, “Unless the inn keeper is upset for his son, I’m happy to drop it.” He pauses before asking innocently, “Buy you guys a drink?”

Still staring at Pleasure and Business Jharad absentmindedly responds, “Definitely,” and heads back into the inn.

“I’ll get the second round!” Keng agrees, “Lead on!”

Meanwhile, Captain Grudge and his crew slink off, disenchanted with the corpselike pallor of Pleasure, and not wanting to tangle with Business or his master. Baron von Luden looks as though he might cast some terrible spell but then thinks better of it as he is approached by the innkeeper who sinks to his knees begging forgiveness and then pulls Pavo down beside him to also beg forgiveness. The watchmen then intervene, demanding to know what is going on. Eventually things are sorted out to Baron von Luden’s satisfaction. He is given a full refund for his stay and that very night he leaves in his carriage to head bck to Ustalav with both his servants and the large iron trunk they came with, this time unmistakably jinging with coin.

Back in the common room, Toshio has the first round of drinks brought over.

Zeyala finds an empty seat, takes a lengthy draw on her pipe, and chases it down with a pint.

Jethrik looks around, clearly annoyed that he was so thoroughly upstaged. “Okay, so what happened?”

Ameiko gives Toshio an anxious look and then looks away sheepishly.

Toshio’s glance catches Ameiko’s, but he doesn’t notice her turn away – he’s too quickly turning away himself (blushing deeply). “Good ale, eh?” he says to change the topic (and ignoring Jethrick’s question.

Jharad smiles at the gnome, “This one you will not get your tall tale hands on I am pleased to say. Just accept that you will never hear the full story and leave it alone, for I am certain that none of us want any of what occurred parodied in one of your lewd performances.” After a pause he adds, “But you are certainly welcome to drink with us,” he finishes with a wide grin and fills the comedians mug with ale.

 

 

Roderic’s Cove

Lamashan 15 Starday waning moon

Sandru’s caravan arrives in Roderic’s Cove towards the late afternoon of Starday, Lamashan the 15th. It is a small town of little more than 1,000 people situated on the Varisian Gulf at the mouth of the Chavali River. Being such a small town there is only one inn, one brothel, and three taverns. The inn is actually a large building connected to the town’s lighthouse and is called Sailor’s Rest. The brothel is called The House of the Golden Dawn and a sign outside its swinging doors announces that within can be found all the erotic, exotic, and even esoteric pleasures that could be wished for in all of Varisia. On either side of the brothel are two of the town’s taverns: Pirate’s Booty, and Port of Call. Across the street is the third tavern, The Fat Gull. The brothel and taverns are only a few blocks away from the lighthouse-inn on the waterfront.

As they ride into town, Jethrik informs those who have not visited it before, namely Toshio, Keng, and Jharad, about its history. “Roderic’s Cove was founded about seventy years ago as part of the wave of emigrants leaving the city of Magnimar, led by the notorious privateer Sir Roderic. Looking for a smaller and less structured way of life, they founded such communities as Riddpleport and Roderic’s Cove. Most of these outposts did not survive, falling prey to native creatures or the countless other rigors of frontier life. Despite attacks by the bandits and goblins of the Churlwood, not to mention countless pirate attacks, the town flourished. Approximately 10 years ago the pirate captains of Riddleport finally decided that Roderic’s Cove was too juicy of a plumb not to pluck, and brought the town under their control.” (from Roderic’s Cove)

Keng enjoys listening to the bard tell the tale of both Ravenmooor and Roderic’s Cove. The Shoanti use oral histories and storytellers are considered to be in great esteem by the tribes. Perhaps this is one reason Keng feel so protective of the gnome and keeps a close eye on him. “Jethrik,” he calls out once the gnome has finished the story, “Roderic’s Cove is run by pirates?” He checks that his axe is loose and free to raise.

“Run by… running from.. .one of those things,” Jethrik responds.

Sandru laughs. “Don’t worry. The pirates, privateers, and smugglers won’t bother us. This is a safe haven for them, as of course is Riddleport. I’d still be wary of press gangs however, so don’t wander about alone and certainly not drunk. This can be a rough place, but not nearly so bad as Riddleport, which is why we are going to avoid that place entirely and go straight to the Velashu Uplands when we leave here.”

The morning they arrive in Roderic’s Cove Jharad feels perfectly miserable. Refusing to eat anything he simply huddles inside of a wagon wrapped in a blanket and sweating.

“Uh oh.” Jethrik notes, and runs off for Zeyala “Zeyala, can you help with illness as well as wounds?”

“Jharad, let me take a look at you,” says Zeyala. ”I think I can prevent your condition from getting worse,” she adds. “But I don’t think I can cure it. Let me get my healer’s kit,” she says. “Perhaps it will be enough to help your bodies own defenses fight off the disease.”

Jharad smiles weakly and says, “I will be all right, just need a day’s rest is all. I feel like I have fought off the worst of it already. But thank you for your concern.”

Nevertheless, Zeyala provides Jharad with some quinine powder to dissolve in his water and Jharad’s fever does indeed break that night.

After setting up camp just outside of the small town, Ameiko and the others head for Sailor’s Rest. Once there, Ameiko gets a private room for herself, as does Jharad so he can recover. Since Ameiko decides to take a private room at the inn, Toshio takes a room across from hers – the better to be nearby in case of trouble.

Keng grabs a piece of floor outside the door of Jharad’s room. He doesn’t leave except to run errands and bring Jharad food.  The innkeeper provides him with some blankets and a pillow but only charges him a couple of silver.

Zeyala chooses take a space on the heated floor with blankets and a pillow supplied by the inn. Jethrik also takes a space nearby to watch Zeyala’ s back.

That night Sandru joins Ameiko and the others at the Sailor’s Rest for piping hot bowls of fish chowder, pitchers of ale and wine. Jharad remains in his room so Keng takes food to the elf. The half-orc then eats outside the door. The inn fills up with other travelers, many of whom are merchant seamen, but most of these drift away as the evening wears on, except for those staying at the inn, less than a dozen all told.

Around midnight, long after the last drop of ale has been consumed and all but a few candles have been snuffed out, a carriage can be heard riding up to the inn. An elderly man wearing tailored breaches, a light green silken shirt, dark green surcoat, an embroidered robe, and a fancy fur-lined cap walks into the inn. He twists his monocle and looks about until approached by Pavo, the innkeepers son, who has stayed awake to see to the needs of those just going to bed. The young man seems to recognize him immediately and bows deeply, saying, “Baron Luden, it is an honor to have you visit us again. We have your suite ready for you.” The baron is then escorted to his room and both Jethrik and Zeyala overhear the baron say, “My servants will bring my things through the servant’s entrance in the back as usual. Make sure the door is open for them. We do not want any… disturbances.” “Of course, Baron, of course. It will all be as you wish,” replies the young man. The baron is then escorted to the second floor, down the hall, past where Keng is sleeping outside the door to Jharad’s room, and then up another flight of stairs to the entrance to a private suite on the third floor. A little while after that, the carriage is taken around to the back of the inn and two servants can be heard entering through the back way.

Jethrik has heard of a Baron Viktor von Luden before. Curious, he slips out of his blankets and peeks around the corner in time to see down the hall as the two servants come in and then head upstairs.

On the second floor, Keng had just drifted off to sleep when he is awakened by the passing of the innkeeper’s son and the baron. The innkeeper’s son comes back downstairs and seeing that the half-orc is watching him he whispers, “Sorry to awaken you, but an important guest has just arrived. His servants will be bringing his things up soon but after that you should be able to sleep in peace.” He returns downstairs. Not too long after that, the two servants pass by Keng. He raises one eye a mere slit and silently observes the servants passing him. Both are wearing long cloaks, leather gloves, and hoods drawn down over faces that also seem to be wrapped in scarves. It is too dark to see their eyes. Apart from their attire, the two figures are very different, in that the first is much taller and heavier than Keng, perhaps a couple of heads taller and twice as heavy. He (if it is a he) carries a large metal trunk by the two handles on its side. His tread is steady and seems to strain the planks of the inn’s floor. He doesn’t even seem to be breathing heavy or straining at all with his burden and doesn’t say a word to Keng or acknowledge him in any way. The second figure is much smaller and slighter, perhaps even smaller than Zeyala and most certainly thinner. This figure is not carrying anything at all, but seems to cock his (or her?) head at Keng in passing. As this second figure passes and turns to him, Keng finds himself overwhelmed with tantalizing erotic fantasies. He can’t help but wonder what vision of exquisite beauty is hiding beneath the second figure’s cloak and scarves. He realizes that he would do anything to make this woman his, but is unable to even move so wrapped up is he in the possibilities of rapturous pleasure that could be his for the taking. When Keng is finally able to come to his wits and stir, he finds that both figures are gone, though he hears the creaking of the ceiling overhead, undoubtedly caused by the first figure.

Keng is speechless and uncertain what to do. He gets up and quiet as he can goes into Jharad’s room. He wakes Jharad up tells him what just happened. “Elf, something ain’t right tonight,” Keng says. “Some important guest just arrived with a giant and sorceress as ‘servants.’ I think the sorceress just ensorcelled me!”

Jharad sits up in bed slowly, his fever in the process of breaking. With mild humor he asks, “Ensorcelled? How exactly were you ensorcelled Keng?”

Keng excitedly relates his story. “Elf, this masked person looked at me and my cock grew to the size of a giant redwood! I thought it would lift me off the floor and I could drill for diamonds in the highlands! I was about to rise and take her right there in the hall but I was unable to move!” Keng crosses his arms smugly and continues, “That is how I knew I was ensorcelled. If I was myself I would have ridden her ‘til the morning light.”

A few seconds of awkward silence passes before Jharad bursts out laughing. Then shaking his head he stands and wraps his blanket around him to ward off the cold. “Well my friend, either that is one hell of a dream you just had or there truly is something worth seeing in the hallway. Lead the way.”

Keng actually looks worried. “I forgot to mention she was attended by a enormous giant, easily two heads and a hundred pounds heavier than me! He was carrying a great wooden chest I bet I would have a tough time carrying. We should tread carefully.” He continues, “Perhaps we should seek the others’ council first?”

Sobering from the images brought about by Keng’s hallway fantasy Jharad replies, “Maybe we should just let this one be for the night. You and I are not exactly the quietest, and the thought of the five of us trying to investigate a giant and his wood-inducing companion down the hall in the dead of night does not strike me as the best course of action. How about you just slumber down inside the room for the rest of the night and we look into this further with the light of morning?”

Keng momentarily looks off into the distance fantasizing about wild stallions rutting across the desert, then shakes his head, his bone beads lightly clacking, “I fear I am still in her grip. Aye, you are right, this puzzle may be best suited for the light of day.” He throws himself down on the floor in front of the door with a loud thud, and then looks sheepishly at the elf and shrugs, “I will guard the door so you can sleep well.”

“Much appreciated my large friend. I will sleep better knowing you are there,” Jharad responds and settles back in bed to sleep off the remainder of his fever.

Lamashan 16 Sunday waning moon

The next morning they all gather in the common room for a breakfast of bread, jam, porridge, and cider. Jharad is still feeling a little light-headed and weak but is definitely better.

“We had an important person arrive last night in our modest, little inn…” Jethrik says to the others in conspiring tones, “Baron Viktor von Luden from Ustalav, himself! He is a powerful wizard and a merchant trader. He’s got two odd servants with him at all times. One is big and bulky,” he pats Keng’s arm, “and the other slight and graceful,” he puffs out his chest. “Both are as silent as the grave and their hands and faces are covered at all times! Very mysterious!” He finishes with a giggle, obviously amused at his own melodrama.

Smiling mischievously, Jharad says, “Keng had an encounter of his own with them last night,” leaving it open for the half-orc himself to finish.

Somehow in the light of day Keng doesn’t feel quite so proud of his experience. He tells the group a much simpler version, “I was outside Jharad’s room pretending to sleep when they all walked by. The ‘Baron’ was quite well dressed and his two servants completely covered. One was a giant of a beast, easily two heads taller and 100 pounds heavier than me carrying a large locked wooded chest with ease. The floor creaked under his weight. The smaller one ensorcelled me so as I could not move. I went into Jharad’s room and we decided to wait until this morning to discuss this.”

Toshio asks Keng, “Do you want to confront them about being ensorcelled?”

Keng is uncomfortable by the question. He shifts around in his seat and puts his spoon down. Looking at Toshio and the others he replies, “I don’t think this man and his servants are to be taken lightly.”

“Certainly not, but if you feel they’ve wronged you, we should at least talk with them about it. It needn’t come to blows or spell-casting. They’ll probably apologize or at least offer an explanation.”

“I agree,” says Zeyala. “There are rules about using magic against another’s will. As Toshio said, ‘An explanation is warranted.’”

“Uh…” Jethrik interrupts, “Here’s the thing about that. Before you start a negotiation, you should be clear on what you want. In this case, maybe all you want is an apology. Still, I think you need to be very clear about that. This wizard, as you say, is not to be trifled with. Obviously, this chest that was being carried in, well, he couldn’t take chances with it, could he? So his henchman was proactive in protecting it. Seems rude to me, but if that’s the explanation, is that sufficient? Or are you looking for more?”

“I am pretty sure Keng knows exactly what he wants,” Jharad quips. He seems barely able to keep back fits of laughter at each question and comment to Keng’s story.

Jethrik looks around the room nervously.

“Ease yourself, Jethrik,” says Zeyala. “I’m not suggesting we come off like the Chelaxian Inquisition. Inquiry is not unwarranted… or at least some investigation,” she adds as a wicked grin breaks across her face.

Jharad continues, “Yes Keng, do you feel you were wronged? Was it hard on you? Maybe it engorged you with rage and you would like to do something about it?”

Keng is now very uncomfortable. He squirms in his seat and briefly consider throwing his porridge at the elf. Instead he just glowers at him. Then he mumbles, “I ain’t got no issues.”

Not surprised by Keng’s reaction, Toshio replies, “Well, that settles it. Let’s just enjoy breakfast then and not make trouble where it’s not needed.”

Patting Keng on the back in friendly comfort Jharad clarifies for the others, “From what Keng was telling me last night the ensorcellment the more diminutive minion placed on him severely heightened his sexual appetite, specifically for ‘her’ I would propound. I can only assume it was done to curb his curiosity in their activities.”

“What a very odd spell.” Jethrik observes.

Keng adds, “Yeah, something ain’t right, but those three scare me.” Then looking at Toshio seeking to take attention away from his embarrassment he adds, “Never seen you so eager to back down from something nefarious.”

“Hmph. Nefarious?” replies Toshio. “So far it just seems rude. If you weren’t bothered by their actions then I don’t see any need to confront them about it.”

Zeyala laughs out loud. “Oh Keng. I don’t know how bad I should feel for you. I guess it could have been something much worse. If you’d like us to drop it, then we shall.”

Keng just shrugs and continues eating.

Toshio nods at Zeyala’s comment, and resists the temptation to needle Keng.

Sandru walks in and spotting his companions he joins them at their table. “So, did I miss anything big?” he asks.

Ameiko glances briefly at Keng and replies, “Something came up last night, but on further consideration it was probably just a private matter.”

“And the matter probably isn’t as big as Keng would like you to believe.”Jethrik snorts.

Just then, Baron von Luden comes into the common room, followed by his large servant, who is still carrying the large metal trunk. There is no sign of the smaller servant. The baron sits apart at a private table in a corner, and his servant stands by his side. The baron orders some porridge and juice but nothing for the servant. He eats rapidly and ignores everyone else present. He soon leaves with his servant to the visible relief of the staff.

Sandru nods knowingly. “Oh, Baron von Luden and his mysterious servants. I am sure Jethrik has already filled you in about him, or at least as much as anyone knows. Best to give them a wide berth.”

After breakfast Toshio, Jharad, and Keng accompany Sandru and Ameiko on a walk around the town, keeping out of the way but watching those around them. Since it is Sunday, a traditional day of rest and religious observance, most of the shops are closed and market day is not until Fireday. Sandru is happy to give a tour of the town to Ameiko and the others. Zeyala and Jethrik have of course visited before several times with Sandru and Koya and so they remain at the inn. Sandru does note the jeweler and the goldsmith shops that he will visit to sell the jewelry and other items he has in the strongbox. There are also two carpenters and four shipbuilders, one of whom he hopes will buy the lumber from Galduria. Finally he points out the wine merchant’s shop and the alchemist/apothecary, to whom he hopes to sell the wine and flayleaf. If they are not interested he might try to sell those items directly to the taverns or the brothel. There are also two temples in town, one for Gozreh and one for a myriad of deities though Desna is prominent, and other smaller shrines. Cayden Cailean, the drunken hero, and Calistria, the savored sting, are of course worshipped in the taverns and the brothel respectively, and those places are open on Sunday. Finally, Sandru points out that there are two general stores where they might find supplies and gear that might help them in exploring Brinewall.

No other incidents mark the day, nor does anyone see or hear anymore of Baron Luden or either of his servants.

Justice in Ravenmoor

Lamashan 13 Oathday full moon Hunter’s Moon

An hour before sunrise Viroic, Ornigaard’s father sounds a horn to call all the villagers to awaken and gather at the festival field. As it is the horn blown when goblins or trolls attack the village, the villagers are fairly quick to respond. Jethrik then calls them to the stage. He stands on a table in the front center of the platform. Weariness shows in his face and posture. Curtains are strung up behind him and cloths cover things laid out on the tables around him. The people murmur angrily at this, wondering what new devilry the strangers have stirred up, but Vioric hushes them and says that it would behoove them to listen to what Jethrik has to say. He then joins Toshio, Jharad, Keng, Zeyala, Koya and Lisette who stand nearby. Koya is dressed in the formal vestments of a priestess of Desna, white robes with black trim and a matching silken cap. Lisette is now dressed in Zeyala’s black silver trimmed cassock.

“People of Ravenmoor,” Jethrik begins in his stage voice, “I and my friends have uncovered a terrible conspiracy in your midst. For years, you have been made victims of greed and corruption. Those who swore to protect you have instead held you in thrall and leeched your strength, work, and wealth away from you. The corruption you have feared for so long was not natural – it was brought here by those who would control you.”

The villagers murmur again and look to each other, wondering what the gnome could possibly mean. A few however, such as Vioric nod, as they had suspected something had been wrong all along.

“Last night, my friends and I nearly became victims ourselves. We were attacked by the ringleaders and had to defend ourselves. I am very sorry to report that many of your fellow townspeople were slain in the fight.” This assertion elicits gasps of shock and now the villagers look to each other to see who is missing. Several edge away from Jethrik’s companions, as if afraid they might be attacked at any moment.

Jethrik quickly continues, raising his voice to be heard over their shocked outburst. “However, these townspeople were part of a cult! A cult that tried to kill one of my friends: Toshio a paladin of Iomedae. And when they failed to take him for a sacrifice they took one of your own, Ornigaard!”

At this Ornigaard shouts, “It’s true! They tried to kill me!”

Vioric hushes the boy but then turns back to the crowd and says loudly, “It’s all true! Listen to him! These strangers saved my boy at great risk of their own lives!”

This silences the crowd who now eagerly await Jethrik’s further explanation. Some in the crowd, notably Skender the ferryman and the two men and the woman from the house of the woman they executed, start to move towards the back of the crowd. Shel’s parents are notably absent.

Lisette nudges Toshio and whispers, “See, some are getting ready to run. I’ll bet you they are the ones I tracked to those homes last night.”

Jethrik continues, “We were forced to slay several of the cultists to rescue the innocent boy of this town. He was bound and gagged on the altar of their demonic god. This cult would have killed any of you to further its insanity. They have killed in the past. I am sorry to have to present this horror, but you need proof. Here is the body of the missing tax assessor found in the ringleader’s own home!”

Jethrik walks over to a table, hops up on a bench and folds back a blanket covering the face of the clerk. Gasps of horror rise from the crowd (though the gnome also uses a cantrip to to augment this reaction).

He continues, “And other victims known only to their gods.” Jethrik moves slowly to the other tables, hopping along benches and folding back the blankets to reveal the other victims. He pauses briefly looking down at the remains with grave consideration. The crowd is now very quiet, though here and there the sound of retching can be heard.

“This cult brought death and corruption upon you and more! They stole the tax money that was to be paid for your town. And they stole from you!” Jethrik spills the contents of a coffer over the side of a table, making a glittering shower of coins. “Now! We return to you, this gold that is rightly yours!”

The villagers are amazed by this and once more begin to murmur among themselves.

“And who was the chief ringleader? The mayor himself! Or something that was controlling him. Ladies and gentlemen, you may not wish to see the demon that wore your mayor’s skin. And yet, I must show it to you as proof that evil was at work in your midst. Avert your eyes if you must!”

Jethrik waves a hand using his magic to tear down the curtain hiding the thing that was in the mayor’s body. The crowd again gasps in horror and dismay. Several women and children shriek, and a couple of young women even faint at the sight. Older men reach for their hearts and even some younger men flinch and look away.

“Other monsters he had in his employ. This thing was playing the part of his brother Leonard!” Jethrik waves and another curtain falls revealing the corpse of the faceless stalker propped up on a wooden plank.

The reveal of Leonard causes one young girl to begin vomiting, a second to pass out, and third to curl up and begin rocking while babbling incoherently.

“And this creature was hiding in the fallow cornfield, a foul monster weaving webs of corruption.” With another wave of his hand a third curtain falls to reveal the corpse of the aranea.

Now the crowd begins to express its outrage, though not at Jethrik but at the lies and grotesque monstrosities that walked in their midst taking advantage of them.

“We regret the lives of those lost. And those we had to track down and execute to contain a deadly disease. We did our best to contain your loss. This means, however, that there are still cultists in your midst. We will report all these crimes however. The proper authorities will deal with them and you will have justice. We will not reveal them now, for fear that grief will turn to anger. We wish justice and healing for your town, not anger and more blood. The curse is broken, your treasure is returned. Be at peace! Forgive those who were misled by these demons. It is what Desna would have us do.”

Keng nudges Jharad, and whispers, “The gnome is good, eh?”

Trying not to show much emotion for fear he might ruin the bard’s tale Jharad quietly responds, “Indeed.”

“What do we do now then?” asks the villager named Erol.

Vioric answers him, “We must hold a village counsel among ourselves here and now. We need to elect a new mayor first of all.” Vioric and the members of the elder council come together before the stage while the other villagers begin talking in small groups among themselves as they await word from the council.

“That was a very persuasive speech, Jethrik,” says Zeyala as Vioric and the other villagers discuss what they must do. “You definitely won over the crowd. But I cannot accept waiting to reveal the cultist. Those remaining must answer for their crimes and it must be at the hands of their peers. They may have evaded us last night, but that does not absolve them from their crimes.  Any delay would be irresponsible.”

“Revealing their names now would restart the battle.” Jethrik sighs wearily. “The town might lynch them. The cultists might attack us. There would be more blood. Let them slip away. Let us slip away. I am done with the killing. It may not be what the Hellknights would want, but it is merciful. If you feel differently, you address the crowd. However, my power is spent. If something were to start now, I don’t know what I could do to help.”

“If the cultist move onto another village and take other innocent lives, is that merciful?” asks Zeyala.  ”If there was no intent to finish this, then we should not have started it.  While the crowd is still gathered and receptive, we should ask them if they would like to know whom among them is a cultist.  If not you, then yes, I will ask them.”

“We started it to save Toshio from being sacrificed, we broke the cult and contained the lycanthropy. The cultists probably will move to another village, but who’s to say they will continue with their evil? They’ve seen where it leads. I believe that people can be redeemed. If you feel otherwise, do as you must. But I stress again. I don’t think we can defend ourselves as we are. Our spellcasters have not had sufficient rest. We are not ready for another fight.”

“You can try to justify it, but the reason why it started doesn’t matter. How it ends, does,” says Zeyala. “It should be there decision to make.”

“I’m with Zeyala,” says Toshio. “The cultists need to repent or face justice. If that’s at the hands of their fellow villagers, so be it, and it seems right. If they turn on us, we can handle them. But they should not be allowed to spread their evil.”

Suddenly, the bruiser known as Jeb whom Keng fought the day before, shouts to Jethrik and his companions, “How can we be at peace? You tell us that we still have demon worshippers among us? Could there still be further things like this?” He gestures to the dead monsters on display. “You must tell us who they are!” He pounds his fist into the palm of his other hand and curls his lip, glaring at his neighbors. The other villagers also begin to cry out, some even begin denouncing their neighbors as demon worshippers and witches. Festering resentments now turn to open accusations.

Koya hops up on the stage and cries out while waving her starknife over her head, “Devotees of Desna! Hear me! I am a true priestess of Desna! Your faith must not come to nothing, but can be restored. My companions have killed the monsters, killed the high priest of Desna’s ancient foe, and killed those who have murdered in Desna’s name. Those who are left were deluded and could possibly be converted to the true teaching of Desna. Please be calm and consider. You have been in a nightmare but are now being given the chance to awaken. Dream of something better!”

This gets the crowd’s attention. Vioric and the elders then take the stage and declare that they will renew their faith in Desna right then and there if she can show that she has the favor of the goddess. To prove herself, Koya withdraws two scroll cases that begin to shine with a holy light. She announces, “I have here the Seven Scrolls of Desna! I will give you the direct word of the goddess! Come gather around me and I will hear your oath to serve the goddess. I will cast a zone of truth so that no false oath may be given. We will all then know who cannot in all sincerity renounce Ghlaunder and truly embrace the Desna.”

The elder council readily agrees to this and bid all the villagers to gather. In the name of the Song of the Spheres, Koya casts the spell and then leads all the villagers in an oath to renounce the demon of parasites and infection and to instead take faith in the goddess of good dreams and good fortune, travelers and the stars. Altogether they vow to dream a new life and take up a new path with the sun, moon, and stars as their witness. Only one is unable to say the words, Skender Cardzi, the ferryman. Shel’s parents are notably absent, as they did not appear that morning and are likely still recovering from their wounds. Skender is pulled aside by Vioric and Jeb and held fast until the ceremony is over.

Koya ends with a final dedication: “We respectfully dedicate all our merits now gathered to the great goddess Desna. We extol the benevolent gods. By this we offer them the enjoyment of true liberation. May heaven, earth, and the land be auspicious and purified. May the weather be seasonable and the wind and rain come as appropriate. May there be a fruitful harvest of the five grains and the plants and trees flourish. May the four seas be calm and all people enjoy their daily lives. May the august light of the Song of the Spheres protect us, enable the life journeys of your clergy and followers to be free of obstacles, foster freedom and benevolence, help both gods and humans, enable us to advance in our good deeds, dream of bright futures, and travel new path to greater joy.”

Vioric and Jeb pull Skender over to face Koya, Jethrik, Shalelu, and the others. “What shall we do with him then?” asks Vioric. “And what of those who were not here, Saul and Anya Lupescu? It was they who tried to kidnap your friend Toshio for sacrifice, and then when they were shown mercy they sent their daughter out again to kidnap my son.”

“For my part, I think that is for you, the village elders to debate and pray upon.” Jethrik replies. “Ask Koya what Desna would have you do. This is your chance to live a better dream.”

Toshio puts in his two coppers worth. “You are right. It should be up to the people of the village. I would prefer that their evil be ended now, but if the villagers choose to set them loose on the world, then any evil they commit will be on the villagers’ hands.”

“I agree as well,” add Zeyala. “I think it is best for the town to determine their fate.”

In the end, after much deliberation, Vioric is chosen by the elders to be the new mayor and appointment is confirmed by a vote of all the farmers present (meaning the heads of landholding households). Vioric also informs Shalelu and the others that the provisions they need will be confiscated from the Lupescus and given free of charge for Sandru’s caravan in gratitude for all that has been done for the town.

Koya informs Vioric that she has decided to stay for a couple of weeks at Ravenmoor so she can teach he and the elders from the Seven Scrolls and help them to restore their church until another priest of Desna can be sent. Shalelu promises to try to find and send them one if he can find any during his trip back to Galduria to meet with Jeminda Anikee so he can turn over the tax money, the evidence of Elias’ fate, and also the Kriegler Book. He will also provide her with a full report of all that occurred. As for Lisette, she decides that her place, for the time being, will be in Ravenmoor to look after Koya.

Keng says, “By the gods! Can we eat now?”

Smiling, Toshio tells Lisette, “I, for one, will be quite happy knowing you are keeping an eye on Koya. You’ll both do great things here.”

“Thanks for your confidence. As I said, I feel that this is where Desna wants me to be. I hope you are not too disappointed that it was not Iomedae whose path I now seem to be following.”

“No need to feel that way. It would have been the icing on the cake, but I’m just pleased you’ve found a good path, a good cause, and a place where you can be a good influence on others,” says Toshio encouragingly.

Jethrik moseys over to the ranger affecting a casual manner. “Shalelu, I was just thinking that there’s a lot more to the story than we have seen here tonight. Any chance I could look over that book for some backstory? I’d just look it over for as long as I have until you need to turn it over to the authorities. I wouldn’t want to cause any fuss, after all.”

Shalelu smiles and readily hands over the book. “You are more than welcome to read as much of it as you can before I leave for Galduria tomorrow. I am sure we would all be interested in learning what has really been going on in Ravenmoor, and whether the corruption started with this mayor, or some earlier one, or even with Iola Kriegler herself.”

Later that afternoon, Vioric asks Shalelu to please bring Skender and even the Lupescus back in chains to Galduria to face the magistrate there – though probably they will ultimately be sent to the Justice Court in Magnimar due to the magnitude of the crime of participating in conspiracy, demon worship, human sacrifice, and the murder of a tax collector. There they will most likely reside in the deepest levels of the Hells beneath the Pediment building so a confession can be tortured out of them before being convicted and crushed upon the wheel and then hoisted atop a pole in the public square for the scavenger birds to peck at while they slowly die of pain, dehydration, and exposure to the elements. Shalelu of course is not expected to take them to Magnimar but only so far as the jail in Galduria. Shalelu unhappily agrees, not being particularly endeared to human “justice” but only on condition that Vioric assign a couple of trustworthy men to accompany them. Once that is settled, Vioric directs Jeb and another brutish farmer to drag the Lupescus from their home and to lock both them and Skender in the stocks for the night. This is done and of course immediately the village children come out and enjoy themselves by hurling rotten fruit, mud, and even excrement at the demon worshippers.

Toshio may not feel warmly toward Shalelu, but he doesn’t envy her that trip.

As promised, provisions are delivered to the caravan. Arrows are also provided to fill the quivers of any who need them. A bushel of Ravenmoor’s flayleaf is also included, taken from behind the derelict farmhouse just before the building was put to the torch. Some local wine vintages are also sold to Sandru at bargain prices for sale in Roderic’s Cove.

As Sandru assesses the values of the loot, Toshio tries to be nearby so he can watch and learn. As the caravan resupplies he also tries to listen in on the dealings, and generally to get a good understanding of what a caravan master does.

“You keep quite busy, caravan naster. It’s tiring just watching you. How did you come to choose this line of work?”

Sandru stops for a moment and looks at Toshio with a grin, “I used to be caravan guard like you are now. Maybe someday you’ll have a caravan of your own. Heh. Actually, I don’t think that’s your line. You seem more the crusader type. I imagine one of these days you’ll hook up with the Knights of Ozem in Lastwall or perhaps join the Fourth Crusade in Mendev. That’s the type you strike me to be. Myself? I was an adventurer before this. I explored some of the many Thassilonian ruins in these parts and recovered enough lost treasures to put this caravan together. Koya was kind enough to join me. She practically raised me and my brother you know, so it made the caravan more of a true home. Adventuring was fun, but this is more profitable.” His smile fades and he looks to the darkening eastern sky. “And a lot safer,” he ends quietly.

“Really? Caravans are more profitable? I guess all the stories I’ve heard aren’t true after all. I imagine the steady routines of a caravan must be good to work with. Then again, this particular caravan trip seems to have had more than its share of trouble.”

Sandru smiles ruefully. “The stories you’ve heard? From old wives and friends of a friend’s cousin? No, you only hear the wild success stories, but you don’t hear abut the hundreds of other adventuring parties who didn’t make the big score – they just disappeared. And yes, this caravan has seen more than its fair share of trouble. I’ve gone up and down this route for years and haven’t seen so much trouble. Maybe the gods are sending it our way because we have the means to fix it, but as for me?” He pats the crate of Ravenmoor wine that he is loading into his wagon. “I’d rather make 50 or a 100 gold selling wine or hardwood or dried fish rather than have to fight giants or the undead because I went looking for trouble in the wilds thinking to make the big score. Hmm, of course…” Sandru’s eyes stray over to where Ameiko is helping pack one of the other wagons, “that is exactly what we’re doing now isn’t it? Heading off into the wilds after the big score. Except that in this case it’s Ameiko’s family legacy, so at least its not just greed or wanderlust driving us on.”

“I’m not so sure wonderlust, or something like it, isn’t what’s driving Ameiko.”

Sandru gives Toshio a piercing look. “You grew up with her in Sandpoint didn’t you? Did she ever tell you what she was doing when she left home when she was 16? Maybe you should ask her sometime.”

Keng helps the teamsters load the wagons. He keeps an eye on Shalelu for a time she is free and when he sees her alone he approaches her. He tries to be subtle but ends up stomping over to her and then stands looking at her until she acknowledges him. He then says, “You are leaving again?”

“It would seem so. Have no fear, though. When my errand is done I will ride north again to rejoin you all.”

Keng is quiet for a long time, clearly he is ill at ease, and has more to say. “M’lady, I find civilization confusing.”

“Please, Keng, just call me Shalelu. I am not nobility, not among elves or humans, just a humble ranger. And yes, I find what human’s call ‘civilization’ perplexing as well. Instead of regulating their birth rate they breed like rabbits and then have to ravage the countryside just to survive. Instead of dwelling in harmony with their environment they cluster together behind stonewalls. They bind themselves with all kind of rules and laws and taboos to control one another but mainly, it seems to me, to protect the property of the wealthy and enable them to become even more wealthy, usually to the detriment of those who have little or nothing to begin with. Then they appoint as their rulers not those who have actual ability or a benevolent regard for the people but those who have simply had the good fortune to be born into certain families. On top of that they expect everyone to respect these rulers and their grandiose titles as though they really were capable and benevolent. The whole human way of life seems to be nothing but delusion and fraud piled upon delusion and fraud, and at the core nothing but naked ruthless ambition and blind greed.

“The Shoanti, at least, try to live in small sustainable groups, and if a leader is not up to the task he can be challenged by someone young and vital and visionary enough to do a better job, and they live in harmony with the land by making the most of what little they have. They have no books of laws and precedents they have their traditions, personal honor, and the wisdom of their elders. Yes, that is more sensible, though they are still not as refined and gentle as the elves.

“I would even say that the orcs or more comprehensible than these ‘civilized’ Chelaxian humans. The orcs are brutal and savage, but they make no bones about it. They are straightforward and you know where you stand with them. They have no pretentions and do not cover up their depredations by labeling them as taxes or fees or tolls. You know they will just take whatever they can get. And they don’t call their wars holy or just, they just do what comes naturally to them with no apology to anyone. The orcs of Belkzen are indeed vile and dangerous, but unlike the Hellknights and politicians of Magnimar and Korvosa they are easy to understand. They are wild predators who only understand strength.

“Still, I should not be too harsh. There are good men and women among them, and their striving for order is an attempt to be fair and just, even if it is too often twisted to low ends. Perhaps someday they will outgrow their ‘civilization’ and discover the true liberty, personal dignity, and benevolence that the elves discovered long ago.”

Keng scuffs the dirt and mutters a few times trying to form a coherent thought. He sighs and looks at Shalelu a long time, then nods his head. “Aye,” he says. It is as I thought. If you can hardly understand them then they are incomprehensible to one such as me, a barbarian from the Cinderlands.”

He turns and looks at the others working and milling about and pauses when he looks upon Lissette who is speaking with Koya. “M’l… Shalelu… I fear I have wronged the were wolf. She did fight to save us.”

Shalelu frowns, “Yes, you should apologize to her. That was discourteous of you. We all perhaps owe her our lives for jumping in, even if it was the behest of Desna.”

Keng hesitates again, and then continues, “I also am not sure how I can be around the paladin without killing him. He is irritating lording it around us all the time and like as not making bad decisions nearly to getting us killed several times. As you say, in a Shoanti tribe, he would be quickly challenged. What should I do?”

“Yes, his idealism is taking him in strange directions. I am sure that he means well, but he does bear watching. Fortunately for us, it is Sandru who is truly in charge of this caravan, and Ameiko who is in charge of this expedition. I would go to them if you should have any more concerns about Toshio. These are dangerous territories we are going to be traveling through, including Roderic’s Cove, and so we must try not to fight among ourselves.”

As everyone is gathering around the campfire for dinner, Keng approaches Lisette and says, “Lisette, I owe you an apology for my insult. You risked much to save us. I am in your debt. If you ever have need please send me a message with this,” Keng cuts off one of his dreadlocks with a bone trophy woven into it and hands it to her. “I will come to you and provide such aid as I can. This token may be passed down to your children and honored by my line until it is used, as is the way of the Shoanti. Please accept this token of aid as my apology.”

Lisette’s eyes widen. She takes the token in both hands and says, “I don’t know what to say, but thank you, Keng. I accept your apology and this token.” She smiles awkwardly, not sure what else to say and then sits and contemplates Keng’s gift.

Toshio is surprised quite pleasantly. Keng is keeping him on his toes with a mix of misbehavior and unexpected civility. Keeping all that to himself, he just smiles, pleased for both Keng and Lisette.

Zeyala smiles at this.  ”Keng,” she says. “You have taken your first step into a much larger world.

Keng has no idea what she is talking about as this gift is known to the Shoanti, but knows some form of polite response is required for those in the civilized lands. He forces himself to smile but unfortunately it looks like a snarl. “Thank you,” he says. He then looks towards the elf to gauge if his response was adequate, and from Jharad’s smile and nod it would seem that it was.

After dinner, the distribution of the various items taken from the derelict farmhouse and the mayor’s manor that were not restored to the villagers or to be taken as evidence to Galduria are discussed.

Jharad starts, “We have collected quite a bit of this blue whinnis poison. If I am correct it has the effect of rendering one unconscious and is not systemically invasive long term. I plan to keep a few of these on hand but there is more for anybody else who wishes.”

Keng says, “I will take one.”

Toshio says, “I think poison is a dishonorable way to defeat a foe. I won’t use it. However, I’d rather have it in your possession than sold, to end up with gods know who.”

Replying to the paladin, Jharad says, “These would fetch quite a profit though, which would certainly help fund our expedition.”

“I know. I know,” says Toshio. “And it’s certainly tempting, but the harm isn’t worth it. You use it justly, and I won’t need to worry that it may be put to evil purposes.”

Sandru grimaces and says, “Like press gangs in Roderic’s Cove out to recruit some new deckhands? No, I have to agree with Toshio. It would be better to either destroy them or use them ourselves against our enemies.”

Ameiko adds, “I do like the idea of knocking out people rather than having to kill them.”

Jethrik looks through the pile of loot and pulls aside a few items, including the rubbings of Thassilonian script from the mayor’s manor, a potion to cure moderate wounds, two potions of shield of faith, a vial of antitoxin, and two vials of the blue whinnis poison. “I’d like to lay claim to these, if there are no strong objections.”

“Be careful with those,” says Zeyala. “You could accidentally poison yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I bet one of those will come in handy to me,” says Toshio, indicating the shield of faith potions. “May I… ? Also, a healing potion would be nice. Just on case. I seem to need healing a fair amount. If you’ll forgive the greed I’d like to hold one of those, too.”

Toshio points to the Galdurian wine taken from the mayor’s home and asks, “Is that wine worth so much that we shouldn’t enjoy it ourselves? If it’s not so valuable, let’s break out the glasses and share it here in the caravan.”

Sandru says, “Those bottles are worth 15 gold each.” He shrugs, “I am certainly not against drinking them now in celebration of your rooting out a cult of Ghlaunder.”

“Most definitely,” says Zeyala. “When we reach our destination, the rest should fetch a good price.”

Jharad pops the cork of one bottle and takes a big swig before passing it around. He then opens 3 more to pass around.

“About the pearl, Jharad,” starts Zeyala. “I will not deny that I am intrigued by it.”

Jharad removes it from his pouch so they can both look at it and says, “Yes, a pretty thing isn’t it. It would serve either of us well by its use.”

“I pray that Pharasma will grant me more power to work healing,” says Zeyala. ”You excel at magic and combat. My usefulness drains with my positive energy.”

Smiling Jharad responds, “It is good then that the wand and sickle will be useful to you then. For me I am just happy I was able to find something as useful as this pearl out of this ill begotten place.”

Keng grunts and swipes traces of ale off his mouth, “I got crap out of this raid. A few potions is all. When are we leaving for someplace with better pickings?”

Sandru, who is busily appraising the jewels that were found, looks up and says, “We will be in Roderic’s Cove shortly. There we can sell these jewels and other items and split the proceeds in accordance with the contract. Then you may buy whatever more useful items you may need there before we leave the civilized lands for the Velashu Uplands. Now looking all this over I would say this gold necklace you found is worth 120 gold, the jewels in this strongbox are worth about 550 gold in total. In addition to that, before they burned down that farmhouse I had them pack up the alchemists lab as it would be worth 200 gold. I also had that flayleaf behind the house harvested. That should bring in 600 gold in Roderic’s Cove, and they don’t even have any laws against it there, so we don’t even have to smuggle it in.”

Shalelu looks up and asks, “How much would that quilt taken from the crawl space in the farmhouse be worth? I am taking it back to Galduria as further evidence but I am curious.”

Sandru replies, “Well that could bring in as much as 50 gold to a collector of folk art, but as you say it is evidence.”

Toshio lets the night play out as everyone tells their tales of the Ravenmoor events. He shares the wine Jharad has opened, but is careful not to have too much.

Some time later in the evening Jharad approaches Shalelu as she stands the second watch and says in a low voice, “You have a long journey ahead of you. That is unfortunate as I was enjoying being around you once again.”

“As I told Keng earlier, I will be returning from this distasteful errand as soon as I can. I don’t like to think about what may be done to those I am going to turn over to Magnimar. All one needs to do with evil is eradicate it. I see no purpose in the grotesque displays that humans seem to go in for.”

“All in the name of justice as they see it,” replies Jharad. Changing the subject he says with a grin, “Well I will try and keep an eye on things while you are away, of course ready to shoot our paladin in the arm again should things get out of control.”

Shalelu laughs but then sobers quickly. “I also told Keng earlier that we are about to cross into dangerous lands. It is better if we don’t fight among ourselves. I worry that Toshio and Keng may come to blows. Please keep that from happening while I am gone.” She reaches out grips Jharad’s shoulder with an earnest look.

Still smiling but with a serious tone Jharad replies, “Of course. Keng I consider a true friend among those I travel with and I have been looking out for him for some time now. He and Toshio may have a reckoning at some point but I will keep that from happening until the time that unity is no longer needed to complete our tasks.” Taking her touch as affection he too reaches out and cups the back of her head in his right hand with a single caress of her hair. Quickly realizing he may have completely misread her intentions he removes his hand and takes a small, awkward step backwards but says nothing.

Shalelu reaches out and caresses Jharad’s cheek but then withdraws her hand. With a smile she says, “I look forward to getting back to you all. I hope that we will all be able to spend time again to deepen our friendships.”

Lamashan 14 Fireday waning moon

By staying up late into the night using cantrips for light, Jethrik is able to read through the relevant portions of the Book of Kriegler. He learns that Iola Kriegler, the town’s founder, had actually been a priestess of Desna at one time. In the story told at the festival, she went on a vision question to save Ravenmoor from a supernatural blight. What the festival story did not reveal was that the visions she chose to follow were not from the goddess Desna, but from her ancient enemy. Iola fell victim to Ghlaunder’s dark visions and she was led to a strange commune of his followers deep in the Churlwood, from whom she learned of a ritual that would ensure good harvests in return for giving the spawn of Ghlaunder a place to safely grow – her body, her descendants, her village.

Accompanied by two faceless stalkers disguised as human druid advisors, Iola returned to Ravenmoor a changed creature. But while her flock worried about her, they could not dispute the miracles that she worked, and the harvest that year and every year since yielded enough bounty to keep the villagers provided and safe. Iola, now a priestess of Ghlaunder, recruited select members of the village into her inner circle of allies. She formed a hidden cult within the populace who helped mask the truth from the others. As Ravenmoor grew increasingly isolated, the strange beliefs and traditions in town became more and more distorted, and the worship of Desna grew increasingly perverted into a mockery of her faith.

Iola eventually paid for her bargain with Ghlaunder when her body gave birth to one of the Gossamer King’s spawn, but not before giving birth in the preceeding years to several children of her own. The Kriegler line would rule Ravenmoor for decades, both as mayor’s and as secret spiritual leaders, and each of them eventually bore the Gossamer King’s spawn in a gory ritualistic death in the wee hours of the morning. Now and then, a particularly astute villager would discover the truth, but the cult was always quick to silence such folks before they could spread the word.

And so, over the generations, Ravenmoor has stagnated. In the end, the Kriegler line dwindled to a single member, the mayor Andretti Kriegler, whose brothers were actually faceless stalkers. Andretti, however, was sterile. Without the ability to continue his line, he knew that the line of the Gossamer King’s spawn would come to an end as well. Visions granted by his dark god made it clear that should he allow this to happen, Ravenmoor would not only suffer greatly, but his immortal soul would be denied is proper place in the Gossamer King’s court in the afterlife.

And so Kriegler began researching a cure for his condition. He hoped that by performing a number of fertility rituals centered around blood sacrifices that came to him in visions he could cure his sterility and father children to carry on the Gossamer King’s legacy. The initial sacrifices were Founder’s Feast Queen’s who refused to be indoctrinated into the cult, or else villagers who were not cult members but were aged or infirm. To cover these sacrifices up the victims would be temporarily replaced by one of the faceless stalkers, who then either feigned deciding to move out of town to seek their fortunes elsewhere or faked a death after a few months passed. Still, the mayor worried about testing the limits of the non-cultist’s faith in the counterfeit worship of Desna and, even worse, make them suspect that there was more to their beloved “Dream Tender” than they were led to believe. The arrival of a tax collector named Elias Kyle less than 24 hours before a ritual was scheduled struck the mayor as a divine sign, and though Kyle struggled and managed to kill one of the cult’s faceless stalker allies, in the end his sacrifice went exactly as Kriegler had planned, down to luring new sacrifices to town for the next few rituals, for what could be better than sacrificing strangers from outside who were non-believers?” (adapted from Feast at Ravenmoor, pp. 1 & 17)

That morning, Toshio makes certain to rise early and complete his devotions, and then carefully checks his gear. He finds some busy work to do and makes sure he’s near Ameiko’s wagon before she comes out for the day. When she does he greets her with a cheery, “Well, good morning sunshine! How are you this fine day?”

She smiles back at Toshio and says, “Well, you’re certainly in a good mood this morning. It’s nice, you deserve to have a good day after all you’ve been through.”

“With luck, the rest of our trip will be as nice as this morning. I can’t help wondering what we’ll find, though. Doesn’t it make you eager to get on the road and reach our destination? I should probably keep that curiosity in check – but I can’t.”

Ameiko laughs, “Eager to get to our destination? As opposed to being stuck on a hill during a flood while stalked by werewolves, or mired in a village with demon worshippers trying to sacrifice us? Yes, I am very eager to get away from all this and to Brinewall to find out what my family locked away there and then to get back home where I belong.”

“You’ve certainly made a good place for yourself back at home. But sometimes I see a look in your eye and I think, maybe, you might wish you were somewhere else. I think our trip may be just what you needed. Hey! Just for fun… what do you think it could be that your family left?”

Ameiko looks pensive and says, “I have no idea what could have been left. Our family’s ‘greatest treasure’ in a warding box hidden in a secret vault. What could be so important? What could my family have been running from?” Ameiko shrugs and shakes her head. “Your guess is as good as mine Toshio. But yes, perhaps I did need an excuse to get out of Sandpoint and see the wide world once again.”

Toshio keeps an eye out for Koya. When she has a moment he approaches her, making sure Lisette isn’t within earshot. “Good morning to you, Koya. May I take a moment of your time? Before the caravan departs I wanted to make sure to wish you well while you finish putting the town to rights. It’s a wonderful opportunity to help them, ‘though you’ll be missed from the caravan.

“I also wanted to put in a word for Lisette. I’m really happy for her. This is a good chance for her to set some solid roots down in a place that can really use her help. It will be great for her and for the town, and serving Desna here will give her the purpose and focus she needs to stay on the good path. But I wanted to ask you to keep an eye on her, for her sake. She says she’s staying here to keep an eye on you, or rather, to make sure no harm comes to you. I’m sure that’s her intent. But she really is going to need someone to be her ally and keep her on the right path, too. I was hoping you’d be that someone and keep an eye on her, even as she’s protecting you. I’d feel better if you’d do that.”

“Oh have no fear, Toshio. We will look after each other. You did well, when all is said and done. The Harrow told me that things could have gone disastrously or gloriously. Thank Desna’s stars they went gloriously, though not without much horror and pain. Still, your courage and belief in her despite everything and even the face of the disdain and threats of some of your own comrades was what won her trust and enabled her to change her path. Our patron goddesses seem to have once more allied to help a mortal soul. Probably Iomedae knew that Lisette was too wild at heart to ever be a true devotee of hers, and so she sent Desna to reach out to her to fulfill what you started. I couldn’t help but notice that even her wolf form is changing now. She is a silver wolf with golden eyes! A real beauty.”

Before the various people go their separate ways, Toshio makes a point of finding Shalelu. “Hey, thanks for not shooting me this time,” he says with more than a bit of irony in his tone.

Shalelu grimaces but chooses not to reply to Toshio’s gibe.

He immediately feels a bit guilty for teasing her and adds (with sincerity), “But seriously, be careful on your trip. You’ve got prisoners and some help that you really don’t know how far you can trust. Sleep lightly. And good luck.” He may not be over being shot, but he still respects her overall intent and ability.

“Thank you for your concern, but I have been patrolling and safeguarding these parts since before you were born. This is not the first time I have escorted loot and dangerous prisoners through the wilds. I am sure it will not be my last.” She nods curtly to him and rides over to check on the three prisoners.

After saying her goodbyes to Ameiko, Sandru, Keng, and the other members of the caravan, Shalelu rides off on a horse provided by Vioric. Her saddlebags are loaded with Ravenmoor’s back taxes, the Book of Kriegler, Elias’ signet ring, his light mace, his notes found in the mayor’s manor, and the quilt from the farmhouse. Accompanying her are the villagers Jeb and Zandaru, also on horseback. The three prisoners, Skender and the Lupescus (who have been given healing potions so they could endure the trip to Galduria), are bound in chains and each tied to one of the horses so that they must jog along behind them.

Once Shalelu has left, Vioric, his family, and the other elders of Ravenmoor thank Toshio and the others for all they have done to free the village of Ghlaunder’s corruption. Ornigaard gives Toshio a hug and tearfully asks him to please come back someday. Lisette, now dressed in a homespun peasant dress, also hugs Toshio, and though she doesn’t ask if he will return she does give him a kiss on the cheek and thanks him again for all he has done for her. Koya also says very warm goodbyes to everyone in the caravan, as does Vankor who is staying behind with her.

Once the goodbyes are all finished, Sandru gets the caravan moving out and headed to Roderic’s Cove. Koya can still be seen waving from outside her wagon, with Lisette at her side, as the departing wagons turn down the path leading away from Ravenmoor and they are lost to sight.

It turns out to be an unusually warm day, but fortunately they are not as plagued by mosquitos as would be expected. This would seem to be a sign that Desna is indeed looking after them and keeping the influence of Ghlaunder at bay. The rest of the day’s journey is delightfully uneventful. They camp at night under the stars and waning moon and are able to sleep peacefully through the night.