JollyDoc's Savage Tide-Updated 10/8!
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    JollyDoc's Savage Tide-Updated 10/8!

    Well, friends and neighbors, here we go again. I've grown so used to writing these things, I don't know what I'd do with myself if I couldn't continue....well, maybe I could think of a few things. Anyway, a new adventure begins, in a strange, new world. Come and join my players and me at our table once more as we embark upon...the Savage Tide!!

    DRAMATIS PERSONAE

    Thrisp Doogal: a gnome of svirfneblin ancestry, brought up in a good family, and trained at the respected House of Dragons, yet harboring a dark secret in his soul.

    Samson Searanno: a human-born dragon shaman, whose clan was wiped out by a rival tribe. The soul survivor, he was rescued by the half-ogre Vico Bevenin and now works as a troubleshooter for the Chult Trading Concern.

    Ferox Deepdelver: a dwarf refugee from the city of Cauldron. Once a disciple of the dwarven hero Rusty Longbottom, he became disgruntled by the very un-dwarven like plans for fabled Jzadirune, and left to seek his fortune elsewhere. Currently affiliated with Zelkarune’s Horns as a free-lance mercenary.

    Sepoto: a one-time goliath slave whose freedom was purchased by worshippers of Savras, the All-Seeing. Grateful and inspired by his saviors, he has pledged his allegiance to them, and to He of the Third Eye.

    Gotr: a gnome on the run, this twitchy and somewhat unbalanced individual is fleeing his own personal demons. While he pays lip service to Oghma, his only true allegiance is to himself.

    Basil: a plane-touched demon-spawn from Calimport, this magic wielding rogue wound up on the losing side of a guild war in the Shadowshore district of Tashluta. He now makes his living hand-to-mouth, selling his skills to the highest bidder, and trying to stay one step ahead of those who want him dead.

    Anwar Rosznar: a half-elven expatriate from Waterdeep, due to his family's involvement with slave trade and drug trafficking. Aspires to regain his noble status in Tashluta, mainly by ingratiating himself with single women in high places.

    Marius R'alan: a younger son of minor nobility, who was turned away from the Witchwardens due to his "limited" arcane ability. With minimal resources at his disposal, he was forced to choose the life of an adventurer, and joined the Seekers, a dubious group of treasure hunters.

    Xerxes: another mercenary of Zelkarune's Horns, assigned as bodyguard to Keltar Islaran after threats were made on the life of the harbormaster. Unfortunately, Xerxes failed in his task, and Keltar was killed by the Lotus Dragons while the dwarf was taken captive. Freed by the Legion, he vowed to redeem himself in the service of Lavinia Vanderboren.

    Daelric Zorrin: a favored soul of Shaundekal who was part of the Vanderborens' original expedition to Farshore. Though the blood of the celestials runs thru his veins, his motives and allegiances remain unclear.

    Ozymandia: a gold elf transmuter who is also a Seeker, and was one of the original Farshore colonists with Lord and Lady Vanderboren. She is descended from elven divinity, yet remains all too grounded in the sins of the world.

    Tower Cleaver: a minotaur separated from his tribe by space, time and creed, he now seeks only to find his way home again, while struggling to understand the strange, new tribe he has found himself a part of.

    Octurus: one of the last surviving warriors of the Tiger Clan, a fierce tribe of Maztican demon hunters. With nothing to sustain him save his thirst for revenge against the fiends that destroyed his people, he has thrown in his lot with the Legion, no matter if the hunt leads him to the Abyss itself.

    THERE IS NO HONOR

    Greetings, and I trust this missive finds you in good health!
    My name is Lavinia Vanderboren, and I humbly
    request your attendance at dinner at my estate on Festival
    Street and Blue Skink Lane tomorrow evening. I think that
    I can present you with an opportunity uniquely suited to
    your skills. Please inform the carrier of this letter of
    your response to this invitation, and I hope to be
    speaking to you soon!

    Lavinia Vanderboren

    Thrisp read the letter over again as he stood outside the open gates in the stone wall that surrounded the Vanderboren manor. He had received it yesterday, delivered by a wizened halfling woman. The young gnome of course knew of the Vanderborens, a relatively minor noble house in Tashluta, and had even seen the younger daughter, Lavinia, at one of the Dawn Council meetings. Yet he had no idea what had prompted her to contact him, or what this meeting might be about. True, since he had run through the last of the inheritance left to him by his father, he had begun advertising himself as an adventurer, but he had no practical experience, and certainly had not earned himself any great reputation so far. Still, gifts and horses, as the saying went, and besides, rubbing elbows with the nobles, even the lesser ones, might just expedite his long-term ambitions.

    The manor house was located in the Merchant District, and was impossible to miss with its towering, gothic three-story frame. Leering gargoyles and capering nymphs festooned the eaves, and several trees gave the grounds a nice buffer from the bustle of the city. Thrisp made his way to the front doors and knocked once. After a few moments, the same woman who had delivered the note opened the door and greeted him.
    “Thank ye for coming on time, sir!” She bowed, and beckoned him in to a large atrium. “The others are already here,” she continued. “If ye’ll make yerself comfortable, Lady Vanderboren will be with you directly.” She then turned and bustled down the entry hall and through a door at the far end. ‘Others?’ Thrisp wondered as he stepped inside the darkened atrium and waited for his eyes to adjust. Sure enough, there were several individuals gathered about the perimeter of the room, each clutching a rolled parchment like the one that he held. Apparently Lavinia was quite desperate, he thought as he sized up his competition. A non-descript human stood nearby, dressed in scale armor that had been painted green. Next to him, engaged in idle conversation, was another human, wearing a ratty robe over equally ragged street clothes. As his eyes turned to regard Thrisp, the gnome noticed with some surprise that they lacked pupils, and were a uniform shade of red. The other three occupants of the room stood by themselves. One was a black-bearded dwarf, dressed in heavy armor with his hand resting on the haft of a notched battleaxe hooked to his belt. Thrisp noted, with increasing alarm, that this individual had a shield slung over his back that bore the herald of one of the Horseman…Bane! Even more impressive was the goliath who stood directly across from him. He too wore armor, but carried no weapons except for a pair of heavy, spiked chains wrapped around each of his forearms. Strangely enough, he bore the symbol of Savras on an amulet around his neck. Last was another gnome. This surprised Thrisp, since there were very few of the little-folk living in Tashluta. He was just about to greet the fellow, when he heard him muttering to himself, punctuating his words with odd grunts and the occasional curse. He too wore a holy symbol, but not one that Thrisp recognized.

    At that moment, the door at the far end of the corridor opened, and four figures came striding down the hall with the little halfling woman scuttling after them. The first of these was a jaunty looking man with elven features, dressed in leathers and armed with half a dozen daggers of different shapes. A dark-skinned dwarf with a sour expression, dressed in green and brown robes and clutching a large, curved spear walked beside him. Next was an attractive, but haughty-looking woman dressed in dark purple robes and with a tattoo of a crescent moon on one cheek. Last was a tall, handsome man dressed in a polished breastplate and carrying a wicked-looking sword. This group eyed those assembled in the atrium with disdain as they passed and headed out the door, but the half-elf stopped and turned back.
    “Hmm,” he said. “You lot must be the help Lavinia’s bringing in to do the chores. Best of luck to you!” He then walked out, laughing as he went. The dwarf with the Banite shield took a step forward and looked as if he were about to spit out a retort, when the halfling servant spoke up.
    “Lady Lavinia will see ye now, if ye’ll just follow me.”

    She led them to a comfortable and cozy private dining room, softly lit by wall-mounted lanterns. A window overlooked the manor’s central courtyard and the carpet was thick and soft. A large portrait hung on one wall, a fine work depicting a handsome young man with a short beard. Standing before the portrait was an attractive woman wearing a long, flowing blue dress. She smiled as the group entered.
    “Welcome my friends,” she said. “I am Lavinia Vanderboren. As you may have heard, I recently inherited my parents’ estate.” Thrisp had not. “Along with this fine house, unfortunately, came a fine amount of debt owed the Dawn Council, the harbormaster, and quite a few guildhalls. It seems my parents, for all their success as adventurers, were not as skilled at finance as one might expect. If I’m to get these taxes paid, I’ll need to access my family’s vault under Stormwall Keep. And that’s the problem, you see. The vaults are magically locked, keyed to special signet rings. Both of my parents had these rings, at least until recently. My mother lost hers a few months ago. She arranged for a replacement, but it won’t be done for another month or so, too late for me. Which leaves my father’s ring. He never wore it…he had a thing about men wearing jewelry. He kept it hidden somewhere on his ship, the Blue Nixie. The problem there is that the harbormaster’s seized the ship until someone pays for the last four months of mooring. I’ve paid the fines to the man the harbormaster’s put in charge of my ship, a brute named Soller Vark. Yet when I went to claim my ship, Vark’s men wouldn’t let me board, claiming that I hadn’t yet paid the fines. I spoke to Vark again, and he denied ever receiving my payment. My complaints to the harbormaster have fallen on deaf ears…he’s a doddering old fool who trusts his man and won’t relent. Vark and his men are up to something on my ship, I know it. What I need is to find out exactly what they’re up to. Unfortunately, Vark’s not the type to react well to diplomacy or logic. I need someone who speaks his language…which is where the six of you come in. If you can find out what he’s using my ship for, or even better, recover the money I paid him, I’ll pay each of you two-hundred gold in return once I’ve access to my vault.”

    “Begging your pardon, my lady,” Thrisp said, raising his hand. This earned him a black scowl from the dwarf, and a litany of muttered grumblings from the other gnome. “But I can’t help but wonder why you would choose such a…colorful group to work for you when it seems that you already have a band of mercenaries in your employ.”
    For a moment Lavinia looked puzzled, but then comprehension dawned and she nodded her head. “You mean the Jade Ravens,” she said. “It is true that they have been in the employ of my family for some time now, but I currently have need of their services elsewhere. That is why I have called upon you. I have done my research on each of you and have found that all of you have, shall we say, unique skills that I may find useful. For example, you, Thrisp, bill yourself as a “master of illusion.” I have often found that subtlety is far more useful than brute force on occasion. However, sometimes the sword, or rather the chain speaks louder than words. That is why I chose Ferox,” she indicated the dwarf, “and Sepoto,” she gestured towards the goliath. Though your magic is powerful in its own way, master Thrisp, it may be that you will also have need of more…direct forms of arcana. Isn’t that right Basil?” She smiled at the shabbily dressed human, who nodded sheepishly. “Then there are those whose skills are not so easily observed or defined, but are priceless nonetheless. Samson here,” she nodded towards the man in the green armor, “has had much experience working with the Chult Trading Concern, and comes highly recommended by master Bevenin. Last, but by no means least, any adventuring company worth its salt needs spiritual guidance, and that is where mister Gotr comes in.” The twitchy gnome mumbled under his breath again and fiddled with his holy symbol. “So you see, master Thrisp,” Lavinia continued, “I believe that I have chosen wisely and I hope I will not be disappointed…assuming that we have come to an arrangement.” Thrisp looked around once more at his new associates and shook his head dubiously. “Beggars, as they say, cannot be choosers,” he said, offering his hand to Lavinia.

    _________________________________________________

    It was almost midnight by the time the motley band reached pier number five, where Lavinia said the Blue Nixie was supposed to be moored. It was there that they encountered their first dilemma: the ship wasn’t there. Instead, it was anchored some thirty yards off shore.
    “Great,” snapped Ferox, “now what? I ain’t swimmin’ and that’s fer sure.” Thrisp looked around. The boardwalk was deserted at this time of night, the guildhalls closed up tight for the evening. No city watch were about. Several small dinghies and rowboats were tied up near the pier.
    “Why don’t we just take one of those?” he offered. “That is if anyone can steer the thing.”
    “Oh for the love of…” Gotr grumbled, cursing to himself as he unhitched the mooring line from the nearest boat. He hopped nimbly aboard and positioned himself in the bow. “Well?” he said, glaring at the others with one eye squinted. “What are you waiting for? Do you think it’s going to row itself?”

    One-by-one the others climbed into the boat, Gotr steadying it all the while. He motioned Ferox and Sepoto to the oars and then began barking hushed orders at them as he guided them out into the harbor. As the Blue Nixie loomed closer, the little company could see several figures moving about its deck, backlit by lantern light.
    “Wait!” Basil hissed. “I have an idea!” Thrisp’s stomach tightened into a knot. He could well imagine the buffoon of a wizard producing some flashy, showy magic which would give away their position to the entire district! He was somewhat surprised, and even mildly impressed when the man did something quite the opposite. He murmured a few arcane words, and in an instant, the boat and all its occupants were cloaked in shadowy darkness. Still, as they neared the ship, the creak of the oarlocks betrayed their approach.

    “Who goes there?” one of the sailors called from the main deck. Thrisp thought quickly. They were obviously discovered. To remain silent would only rouse suspicions further. Before any of the others could say anything stupid, he called back: “We bring a message for Soller Vark! It is urgent that we speak with him immediately!” The dwarf and the goliath continued their rowing, bringing the boat ever closer. After several tense moments, the sailor replied.
    “Come along side, but only two of yous can come up! The rest stay below!” Not quite what the gnome had hoped for, but better than being shot at in the dark.
    “Ferox,” he whispered, “you and Sepoto should go. When you get aboard, stall them, and I’ll try and convince them to let the rest of us come up.” The dwarf grimaced, obviously not accustomed to taking orders from someone of Thrisp’s stature, but ultimately he nodded his reluctant agreement.

    The dwarf and goliath scrambled up the slippery ropes on the side of the ship and climbed onto the deck. Two thuggish looking sailors waited there, loaded crossbows leveled at the pair. A third sailor stood atop the foc’s’le, also holding a crossbow.
    “Well?” one of the thugs said. “What’s so important?”
    Ferox looked at Sepoto, who shrugged. The dwarf turned back to the sailor, shrugged as well, and then clocked the man under the chin with the head of his axe, sending him stumbling back several steps.

    “What the hell are those idiots doing?” Thrisp shouted in exasperation.
    “Stalling,” Basil said, and then he pointed one finger at the sailor Ferox had struck and spoke a single, guttural word. A missile of light streaked from the digit, and hit the seadog squarely in the chest.
    “That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind!” Thrisp sputtered indignantly.
    “It would seem the choice has been made for us,” Samson said, catching hold of one of the guy lines and clambering up the side of the ship.

    The situation on the deck was becoming more chaotic. Sepoto had unwound one of the chains from his arm, and despite his size, he moved with the grace and speed of a cat. With almost casual ease he snapped the chain out, catching around the throat the sailor that was still reeling from Basil’s attack, and jerked it taught, snapping the man’s neck. Flicking it free, he spun, catching the second sailor around the knees as he tried to scramble a safe distance away. Bracing his feet, the goliath pulled again, sending the man sprawling to the boards in a heap. At that moment, a door beneath the foc’s’le slammed open, and four more figures spilled out onto the deck, one of them female. They all held rapiers in their hands, and the largest among them was bald with a jagged scar running down one arm…Soller Vark. Vark closed quickly to where Samson had just stepped over the rail and deftly pierced the dragon shaman’s shoulder with his foil. Samson recoiled, hissing in pain as blood streamed down his arm. Vark advanced on him again, but from out of nowhere Sepoto was there, and a lightning-fast cuff from one chain-wrapped fist brought the mercenary up short.

    Meanwhile Ferox leaped after the man the goliath had tripped, just grazing him with his axe as the sailor lunged on all-fours towards the deck rail and threw himself over the side.
    “Not so fast, swabby,” Basil said as he sent another missile at the swimmer. The sailor gurgled once and then sank beneath the water. Thrisp cursed again at the lack of professionalism he was being forced to endure. Still, they were past the point of no return and in very real danger. He began speaking the words to his own spell, gesturing at the thug on the foc’s’le and another who stood near by.
    “Sleep,” he whispered, and as if on command, both of them dropped bonelessly to the deck.

    Samson, still favoring his wounded arm, managed to draw his sword and lunge at Vark, stabbing deep into the scoundrel’s leg. As he did so, a wave of power seemed to emanate from him, and as Sepoto watched, the shaman’s wound began to knit itself back together again. Vark continued to back away from the combined assault of the two warriors, and he began to shout: “Burn them! Burn them all!” Sepoto continued to advance on Vark, pausing only for a moment to crush the skull of the sleeping sailor who lay at his feet. Vark’s eyes widened in shock, and then Ferox was coming towards him as well. The two sailors still standing moved to interpose themselves between the attackers and their leader. The woman slashed her rapier across the dwarf’s cheek, while the male darted in under Sepoto’s guard, scoring a minor wound. For some reason, the goliath barely felt the injury. His skin seemed somehow tougher, almost impervious. Again he felt that strange energy flowing from Samson.

    Just then, smoke began billowing up from the hold, and the group could hear the frantic shrieks and cries of several animals coming from below. Then there was the sound of a terrific crash, followed by a woman’s high-pitched scream, and a strange, shrill keening. Basil, who was just climbing over the top of the rail, paused, as did everyone else on deck…except Vark. He turned and dashed for the starboard rail, and dove over. Samson rushed to the railing, hefting a short javelin as he ran. Just as he was preparing to throw at the retreating figure, the female sailor crashed into him, slashing with her rapier as she came.
    “Swim, Soller, swim!” she cried. Then her eyes abruptly glazed over, and her jaw went slack.
    “That should hold her for a second or two,” Thrisp said as he came over the rail behind Basil. The last sailor standing quickly threw down his weapon at Sepoto’s feet, raising his hands in the air.
    “I give up!” he cried. “Don’t kill me!” Ferox growled and shouldered past him, trying to peer through the smoke into the hold.
    “I can’t see nothin’!” he spat, and then, without warning, he simply jumped down.
    “I’m dealing with complete idiots,” Thrisp muttered under his breath.

    Ferox landed flat on his back. The hold was rapidly filling with smoke, though he could see no actual flames. Dozens of cages held a variety of exotic animals, such as monkeys, parrots, and other creatures he didn’t recognize. A dozen feet from him lay a woman, obviously dead, in a growing pool of blood. Behind her, one particularly large cage was smashed open, and crouched atop it was a spider-like creature the size of a pony. Its body was dark brown with yellow stripes, and its furred legs were long and spindly. The front pair of its ten legs reared up threateningly, their tips flattening into terrible discs studded with dozens of hooked suckers. The monster’s head was horrifically oversized, dominated by immense mandibles that chattered and clacked with obvious hunger.
    “Uh-oh,” the dwarf said, and then the thing was coming at him, moving incredibly fast. Just as it was almost on top of him, all of its legs suddenly slipped from under it, splaying out to both sides. Ferox could see an oily slick covering the decking beneath the beast, one he was sure hadn’t been there a moment before.
    “Get out of there!” came a voice from above, and he looked up and saw Basil’s face peering down at him. Then the mage was elbowed aside by the hulking form of Sepoto.
    “Get clear!” the goliath shouted, and then he snapped one of his chains down into the hold, opening a large gash in the spider-creature’s hide. As the monster screeched and flailed, Ferox struggled to get to his feet. As he did so, however, one of the beast’s pedipalps slammed into him. Ferox felt the thorny hooks bite into his flesh as he was yanked towards the crushing mandibles. He was too close to bring his axe to bear, so he pounded madly with his fists…to no avail. The horror opened its great jaws and then clamped them shut around the dwarf’s chest. A great gout of blood spewed from his mouth as he went deathly still.

    “Savras save us…” Sepoto murmured as he saw Ferox go limp. The monster then cast the dwarf’s body aside, and began climbing up the ladder towards the deck.
    “Get back, all of you!” the goliath cried. As its massive head cleared the hatch, he struck, scoring its flesh again in a deep rent. Yet on it came. Once more it struck out with its palp, hooking the crusader around the waist. As it attempted to drag Sepoto towards its maw, he grabbed both of its jaws, preventing them from closing by brute strength. With a great heave, he thrust the creature away from him, and then lashed out with his chain before it could charge again. The weapon nearly decapitated the brute, and it twitched feebly for a moment on the deck before going still.

    Gotr was the last of the group to board the ship. He looked about, assessing the situation. One thug still lay snoozing on the foc’s’le, while another stood with his hands raised in surrender. Across the deck, a woman stood dazed and glassy-eyed. It was her that the gnome focused on. He knocked an arrow to his bow and carefully aimed, drawing the string to his cheek. As he loosed, he calmly readied another. The first arrow struck the woman, sending her spinning towards the rail. As she struggled to regain her balance, the second missile hit. This one caused her to stagger back, losing her footing and toppling over the side, yet even as she fell, a third arrow took her in the throat, ensuring that she would not be escaping.
    “Women,” the gnome said. “Can’t live with’em, but you can shoot’em.”

    During this time, the thug who had surrendered began edging closer to the port side railing, but Thrisp caught him out of the corner of his eye. Using the same spell he had cast on the woman, he stopped the sailor in his tracks, leaving him dazed and confused. Sepoto then walked up behind the man and cold-cocked him with his ham-sized fist.
    __________________________________________________ ___

    “I don’t understand why we don’t just kill them and be done with it.” Gotr had been arguing this same point for several minutes.
    “Because we need to keep them alive and question them,” Thrisp explained for what seemed like the dozenth time. “We need to find out what they were doing here, and where Vark might be headed.”
    “Bah!” the other gnome spat. “We don’t need both of them alive to do that, and besides, isn’t it obvious? They’re smugglers! Not those animals in the hold…you can get their like anywhere in Azure district. No, it’s that big sucker they were hoping to cash in on. The Watch frowns on the trade of so-called dangerous creatures. Case closed. Mystery solved.”
    “Look,” Thrisp said, exasperated. “We were hired to get the ship back, recover the money, and find Lavinia’s father’s ring. We’ve done all that. Murder wasn’t part of the deal.” Indeed, after scouring the ship, they had found a small chest containing the one-hundred platinum coins Lavinia had paid Vark. Then, secreted in a compartment in the headboard of a bed, they had discovered the signet ring, and a scrap of parchment threaded through it that held a code of some sort. Basil was still puzzling over it.
    Gotr threw up his hands. “Fine! Do whatever you want! You weren’t so squeamish about dumping the other bodies overboard, including Ferox!”
    “That’s different!” Thrisp shouted. “As soon as we pilot the ship back to the pier and report to Lavinia, the Watch is going to be swarming all over the place. We want as few questions asked as possible about our methods. No bodies…no evidence. We were just disposing of the dead.”
    “Then why not ‘dispose’ of those two as well?” Gotr asked.
    Thrisp shook his head. The conversation was going in circles.
    “We will leave them here, bound, gagged and unconscious,” he said finally. “Whatever Lavinia wants to do with them after that, is up to her.” Gotr still did not seem satisfied, but he didn’t argue the point further. When they reached the pier again, the prisoners were secured, and then Thrisp took the liberty of disabling the wheel, just in case Vark should return while they were gone and attempt to steal the ship back. Then, while the moon was still down, they made their way back to Vanderboren Manor.

    __________________________________________________ _______

    “While I am truly sorry for the loss of Ferox,” Lavinia said, seated in a large padded chair in the private dining room of her home, “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done. Don’t concern yourself with Vark’s escape. The carcass of that creature you killed will be more than enough to convince the Watch that he was involved in smuggling. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll leave Tashluta on the first ship. As for the two you captured, their word won’t mean anything. The Vanderboren name still has some clout in this town. Now, about this note you found with the ring, ‘chimera looks to sunrise; cyclops looks to sunset; medusa looks to sunrise, umberhulk looks to sunset; basilisk looks to sunrise.’ Do you make anything of it?”
    Basil cleared his throat. “Well, begging your pardon my lady, but I believe it might be a code, or some sort of combination.”
    “Go on,” Lavinia said.
    “Obviously sunset and sunrise refer to right and left,” the wizard continued, though he could tell by the looks on the faces of some of his cohorts that this wasn’t obvious at all. “The creatures mentioned are unrelated to each other except for one thing: the number of eyes they have. A chimera has three heads, thus six eyes. A cyclops has only one, while a medusa and a basilisk each have two, and an umberhulk has four. So, the combination would be six right, one left, two right, four left and two right.”
    Lavinia looked thoughtful for a moment, and then she smiled to herself.
    “The five of you have done such an excellent job so far, that I have another offer to make you. Stay on in my employ as my personal troubleshooters, agents and bodyguards, and I will pay you a retainer of one-hundred gold coins monthly. There are also other…less tangible benefits to being in the service of a noble house.”
    One by one the group looked at each other, each sizing up the next. Despite their lack of planned out tactics, Thrisp had to admit that they had worked quite well together when the chips were down. He actually couldn’t believe his good fortune. To be in the personal employ of a city noble. Things couldn’t be going more according to plan. His contacts would be most pleased.
    “I’m in,” he said aloud. “I for one could use a steady paycheck, and despite my initial misgivings, you lot acquitted yourselves excellently. I think we would make a great team.” Slowly the others nodded.
    “Excellent!” Lavinia said clapping her hands and standing. “It’s settled then. As it so happens, I already have your first official assignment. The family vaults of the nobles lie beneath Stormwall Keep. I need to travel there first thing in the morning to access that of my parents. I’ve never been there myself, but rumor has it that some of the vaults are quite extensive and guarded by traps. Based on the things I heard my father say over the years, I suspect our own is relatively small and safe, but there may be a guardian…a construct of some sort. I need you to accompany me as protection, and to aid me in investigating the vault’s contents. Meet me here at first light.”
    __________________________________________________

    The next morning Lavinia hired a coach to take her and her retinue to High Market in the Noble District, where they caught a ferry to the keep. Once there, they passed through a series of corridors to the lower levels where a single clerk stopped them to verify Lavinia’s identity and her signet. He then escorted the group down a spiral staircase into a large circular chamber. Over a dozen hallways radiated out from the central chamber, each ending at a single iron door. The clerk indicated a short hallway before bidding them good day and returning up the stairs.

    The short passageway ended at a solid-looking iron door which was emblazoned with a simple rune…an eight-pointed star. Above the door, inscribed in flowing script on a polished silver plaque, was the name “Vanderboren.” A single handle protruded from the door, just below a circular depression bearing the mark of the Vanderboren signet. Thrisp walked forward, and passed his hands over the door.
    “There is magic here, my lady,” he said, “but not of a dangerous sort. I imagine it is some sort of arcane lock.”
    Lavinia nodded and moved to the door. “I do not recognize this symbol,” she said, and then she inserted her ring into the depression. The door flashed once with blue light, and then slowly swung open on creaking hinges.

    Lavinia moved back into the main chamber, accompanied by Gotr and Basil, while Samson and Sepoto passed cautiously into the room beyond the vault door, Thrisp a few paces behind. The floor of the domed chamber on the other side was of polished, green marble. Two wide alcoves to the right and left had lower ceilings and featured marble pillars carved to resemble coiling snakes. In the center of the room, five similar pillars were embedded into the walls, rising up thirty feet to the dome overhead. The dome itself bore a huge representation of the same eight-pointed star that was engraved on the exterior door. The chamber was shadowy, with only the light from outside spilling in to illuminate it dimly.

    Suddenly, Samson and Sepoto caught a flicker of movement on either side, coming from the darkened alcoves. What at first appeared to be a pair of large snakes, each the size of a small dog, slithered forward, but as they entered the light and reared up, unfurling the hoods on their necks, it became clear that they were made entirely of iron!
    “Watch out!” Thrisp shouted. He knew that his magic would have little effect on the constructs, but he knew as well that, though physically formidable, such creatures were usually mindless. He spoke a few words and gestured towards the nearest cobra. A wall of shadow began forming between the creature and the other occupants of the room. In a matter of moments, it solidified, a barrier of pure iron reaching to the ceiling.
    “Sepoto! Samson!” he called. “The wall is not real. It is but a figment, but the guardian won’t know the difference! The illusion will only last as long as I concentrate on it! Hurry and dispatch the other cobra!”
    Sepoto nodded, but before he could act, the second cobra struck, sinking its metallic fangs deep into his forearm. He felt a burning sensation creeping up his arm, sapping his strength. Quickly he shook himself free, unfurling his chains as he stepped back. Samson moved opposite him, circling around behind the serpent. The pair worked like a well-oiled machine, one darting in to strike at the construct while the other distracted it. Sepoto suffered another minor bite, but in a matter of moments, the guardian lay in pieces.

    “I’m dropping the other wall!” Thrisp cried. “Now!”
    Instantly the illusory wall vanished and the second cobra darted forward. Once again, the complimentary fighting styles of the two warriors disabled the construct quickly, though Samson earned his own bite for his troubles. Once the guardians had been dispatched, Lavinia came into the vault.
    “Excellent work, gentlemen! I knew my faith in you had not been misplaced.” Gotr, muttering to himself, went to the injured pair and quickly tended their wounds. Meanwhile, Thrisp began pacing around the perimeter of the room. One of the few things that he had inherited from his father was the svirfneblin knack for stonecraft. When he reached the central pillar embedded in the north wall, he observed that the serpentine pattern on it was different than the others. He ran his hands over the stone, and his nimble fingers quickly uncovered a hidden switch. As he pulled it, the snake designs animated, writhing aside like living creatures, until they formed a coiling archway leading to another chamber beyond.

    This second room was octagonal and supported by a single, large pillar with dozens of deep grooves along its sides. The seven walls of the room each bore fantastically detailed bas-relief carvings of exotic monsters in threatening poses. Starting at the wall immediately west of the entrance and moving clockwise, the carvings depicted a tentacled monster with a glaring, red eye and a mouth full of teeth, a looming dragon, a fish-like creature with three eyes and four tentacles, a two-headed giant wielding a pair of immense clubs, a spherical creature with four eyestalks and a bulging central eye over a drooling maw, a gorilla-like beast with a fanged maw and six eyes, and finally a towering black spider with seven eyes. Each monster’s eyes consisted of a glittering red stone. The ceiling above was only ten-feet high, with the familiar eight-pointed star pattern radiating out from the grooved pillar. The arms of the star were all black, save for the southernmost one, which was red.

    “I don’t understand,” Lavinia said as she entered the room. “These aren’t the same creatures described in the code.
    “No, they’re not,” Samson said, peering at the carvings. “But several of them have the same number of eyes as the monsters in the note. I think Basil’s idea about the combination is still sound. Only…where is the lock?”
    “Here,” Thrisp said, examining the pillar. “It rotates.”
    With Samson on one side, and Sepoto on the other, they began turning the pillar, which clicked in its socket with each turn. Following Basil’s instructions, they rotated it six times to the right, one to the left, two again to the right, four more to the left, and then again two to the right. When the pillar clicked into its last slot, the entire room began to rumble and five hidden alcoves were revealed in the walls of the chamber.

    Lavinia immediately rushed to the nearest alcove and began opening the chests that had been secreted there. As she did so, a look of disappointment came over her. When she moved on to the next set, Thrisp could see why. Only a handful of silver coins lay at the bottom of the chests. Chest after chest turned up empty, and the noble woman was visibly distraught. Finally, in the last alcove, the chests were full, with many gold coins and gem stones visible to the onlookers. She also pulled out a number of ledgers and a thick pile of documents. Several minutes passed as she glanced over the papers, wiping tears from her eyes. Finally, she stood, facing her employees.
    “I don’t understand this,” she said, her voice cracking. “How could it all be gone? These ledgers list debts owed to my parents from various guilds and noble families. If I can collect on these, and with the money here, I should have ample to pay my back taxes and begin putting my estate back in order, but there should have been much, much more. The only thing I can’t make sense of is this.” She shook the pile of documents that she held in her left hand. “It’s written in a language that I can’t understand.”
    “My lady,” Thrisp said, stepping forward, “if I may?” She handed him the documents and he began looking over them, speaking the words to a minor incantation. The writing immediately became clear to him. It was written in elven. The documents appeared to comprise a journal written by Lavinia’s mother, cataloging her explorations to a place called the Isle of Dread. Several maps and sketches accompanied them. He explained all this to Lavinia as he returned the papers to her.
    “My parents were always off on various ventures and journeys, but they never spoke of them to me or my brother. It seems there was much more to them than I ever could have imagined.”

    As they left the vaults, Lavinia paused at the clerk’s desk.
    “Has anyone else visited the vault recently?” she asked the man.
    “Why yes, my lady,” he nodded. “Your brother, Vanthus, has visited the vault several times over the past month.”
    Lavinia gasped, a shocked look on her face. “My brother?” she asked. “He has been missing for over a month!”
    “I…I’m sorry miss,” the clerk stammered, “but he bore your family signet, and I recognized him as a Vanderboren. I will be sure to notify you if he comes here again.”
    Lavinia nodded, still stunned. She did not speak a word as they left the keep and returned to Vanderboren manor.
    __________________________________________________ ______

    When they had gathered again in her receiving room, Lavinia collapsed on a chair, her face in her hands.
    “I suppose I must tell you of my brother,” she said at length. “Vanthus and I were quite close growing up. We had to be since our parents were rarely around. We grew to depend on each other, and we also got into a fair amount of trouble together. After one particular incident involving several love potions being emptied into a water tower, our childhoods came to an end. I was sent to the Thenalar Academy for the next five years, while Vanthus was shipped out to work on a plantation. When we returned home one year ago, we had both changed. I like to think that I benefited from my time at Thenalar, but Vanthus was bitter. He no longer had time for me, sleeping all day, and spending his evenings with associates of doubtful character. Eventually, he moved out of the house entirely. I believe that he took up with a lover in Azure District, but I never learned the details. When our parents died, he returned for a week, but he had changed even more. Gone was the easy sense of humor I recalled fondly from our childhood, and in its place was a bitter cynicism and a morbid streak that sent chills up my spine. After several arguments, he struck me with his fist one time. I was shocked, and for a moment, he was as well, but an instant later he was back to his new self, all scowls and menace. He gathered his belongings and left, and I haven’t seen him sense.” At this point, she raised her head, her tear-filled eyes staring imploringly at her servants.
    “I know something profound happened to my brother at some point to change him so, but I have no idea what it could be. I believe he has fallen in with a bad crowd, perhaps smugglers or thieves, or even killers. Although his attitude might speak otherwise, I have hope that it is still not too late for him, and that he can be brought back to my side. I might be able to talk some sense into him and redeem him before he passes forever out of my reach. The problem is, I don’t know where he’s gone. I implore you…find my brother for me, and bring him safely home!”
    Last edited by JollyDoc; Tuesday, 9th October, 2007 at 06:46 AM.

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    Ferox obviously doesn't have the Deepdelver clan success rate for surviving campaigns. Rusty survived the Adimarchus fight, Ferox got PW8ND the first time he rolled initiative.

    I actually rolled up a temp character so I could do something the Vault but look for Gfunk's PC Take 2 in the next update.

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    Just a little more grizzly than most characters that I've played in the past...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jollydoc
    “Women,” the gnome said. “Can’t live with’em, but you can shoot’em.”
    ...no paladin in that boy, shure 'nuf!

    I wonder if the alignments will make for a more surprizing story hour??

    Good Start, Joe.

  5. #5
    Great write up! yea I think the Alignments are going to make a big Difference in this story. No book of Exalted Deeds allowed.

    So let me Guess G your new character is a caster (Psionic's)?

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    So it begins! And a lot meaner and seedier than last time!

    Sorry to hear that a character got killed in the first battle, but I believe it. Those vermin are seriously tough customers.

    Demiurge out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ika_Greybeard
    So let me Guess G your new character is a caster (Psionic's)?
    Not quite, though I may go that way if Joe kills me again. BTW, could you bring your Complete Adventurer this weekend? Thanks.

  8. #8
    Damn, Ferox should have stayed with Rusty. Nasty critters, though. Spiders as big as ponies - they should get a fear aura...shudder
    Do that Jack-Sparrow-swashbuckling-pirate thing, I beg of ya, matey. Go show them landlubbers!

    JollyDM, nice intro. Love the characters & the alignments.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neverwinter Knight
    ...Do that Jack-Sparrow-swashbuckling-pirate thing, I beg of ya, matey. Go show them landlubbers!

    Gotr is about the only official sailor (W/ a whopping 4 to Skill check=Sailor) and I was going for more of a Inigo Montoya with Sepoto in the role of Fezzic.

    (Anyone remeber the movie?? Its and easy one.)

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    Woohoo! JollyDoc tells a good tale, and I expect this to be no different .

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