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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

Explorer
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Slaver Isle

Returning to the Vulture's Roost, Darrow, Shanni and Dermot ancily waited for their companions to arrive in the common room. Aerikoth descended and joined them first, his studies completed. A while later Rahnee entered, stamping the snow from her boots. She informed them that during her visit to the headquarters of the Order of Kainen, she had received a polite reception, but had learned little of substance. Darrrow, Shanni and Dermot then explained about the "job" they had been able to obtain via Barzog's introduction. Dermot described their new "employers" as having dodgy shipping, guards looking the other way, and their fingers in local government. He also confirmed that they used the Astorians' mark.

After some light banter to lift their spirits - from everyone except Aerikoth - the companions finalized their preparations for leaving the inn, retrieving their necessary gear and in Dermot's case asking the bartender to refill his hip flask. They rapidly made their way through the cold night to the northern docks, where Red Ortho was waiting for them impatiently. The first mate of The Blind Man was pleased enough, however, to receive the Astorians token from Shanni and 100 gold from Darrow. (This must have been contributed by the dwarf in place of the gold the adventurers had been asked to "acquire" from the councilman, along with the token. It seems that they have invested a goodly sum in their quest already, certainly more than the rewards received. I do not believe this is typical behavior for adventuring companies. --C)

Red Ortho then explained the rules of the ship to the adventurers, which were simple enough. They were to put themselves up in the cabins, selecting two of them for the group. They were also welcome to gamble with "the boys" in the common cabin spaces if they liked. The group was not to show themselves on deck until the ship made landfall or unless called for. They were also ordered to stay out of the hold, unless someone called them there, which would not happen until after they picked up the "shipment" if at all. Dermot Kenner asked if they would be out at sea long, to which Red Ortho replied that they should be at their destination around sunup.

Per their instructions, the five companions headed for the cabins, which at least were warmer than the outside air. There, they were warmly greeted by Pincer, the head of the ship's guards, and introductions were made. A number of guards were either sleeping or conversing in low tones in the main cabin area, with a bunch of bedrolls close to the wall by the entry door. Pincer mentioned that additional guards were in the ship's hold, cleaning up, and clued them into the fact that Red Ortho actually ran the ship, with the captain just doing the sailing.

Pincer had already heard of Darrow, as the dwarf's recently-acquired fame as a pit fighter in Starmantle proceeded him, and he eagerly asked the dwarf about the fights. The two then chatted about Darrow's experiences, Pincer's enthusiasm being evident, along with his disappointment at having missed seeing the fights. Darrow casually mentioned that they had not received much detail about their current job, leading Pincer to explain that the adventurers were there in case "something heavy" came their way; they made good profits, so hiring a little insurance made sense. Pincer then inquired what they had done for Red Ortho in order to get hired, which Shanni and Rahnee deflected without truly answering.
 

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Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After The Blind Man got underway, the companions picked two of the available cabins, conversing among themselves about their situation prior to going to sleep. The ship kept on a steady course during the night and the companions were up around dawn on Alturiak 30. Shanni was the first to brave the main cabin, quietly moving past a sleeping rank of guards and then striking up a conversation with the guard on duty by the door.

Once Shanni had finished getting what she could out of the guard, she returned to her cabin and checked on Rahnee, who was apparently seasick. After a while, sounds of activity were heard from the cabin deck. Shanni, Darrow and Dermot came out of their respective cabins to see a group of guards moving out, with their overseer commenting that the hold wouldn’t finish cleaning itself. Aerikoth meanwhile remained in his room to study, unconcerned about the guards’ activity.

The other three briefly went up on the deck, observed a pair of half-orc guards, then retreated to the men’s cabin to discuss things privately, leaving Rahnee to privately moan and groan. Shanni mentioned that she had not been able to obtain much more detail about the ship’s “cargo” from her earlier conversation, as the guard had become suspicious of her questions. Hearing some muffled voices outside, Darrow put his ear to the door and relayed that the talk was about the ship arriving at an island in two hours, where their cargo would be picked up.

After some further discussion, the group was hungry enough to go see what was for breakfast, announced by a thud and some cursing. Pincer by then had joined the two half-orc guards, who were now manning a cauldron filled with food looking vaguely like oatmeal. He helpfully pointed out that the food was at least well-cooked, with nothing possibly being alive in it. Shanni, apparently both the hungriest and bravest, tentatively tasted a bowl of the glop, then shrugged and finished it off. Dermot and Darrow then followed her lead.

As soon as they had finished their food, the larger of the two half-orc guards, called One-Eye, asked Darrow if he was a gambler. Having heard of Darrow’s reputation as a brawler, One-Eye challenged him to a fight, with fifty gold as the stakes. Darrow, not being one to turn down a good fight - or a bad one, for that matter - deposited his stake with Dermot and stripped himself of weapons and armor, as did One-Eye, under Pincer’s supervision. Aerikoth emerged from his cabin and stood at the door, watching the two prepare.

With the rules being simple - no killing, no leaving the deck’s open space, and the last one standing wins - Darrow and One-Eye got to it, after exchanging some verbal barbs. The scarred half-orc had the swagger of a veteran and after planting his feet, got in a vicious right hook to Darrow’s jaw, snapping the dwarf’s head back. Darrow shrugged it off, however, and then stepped in to start pummeling the half-orc’s torso. One-Eye could not keep up with the flurry of blows and Darrow laid him on the floor with a blow to the head. The half-orc struggled up for a moment, but then his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell back down.

Darrow collected his winnings as One-Eye’s companions revived him. Pincer was suitably impressed by Darrow’s fighting prowess, commenting that this was why he thought it was good to hire “specialists”. Shanni pulled out a handkerchief to dab at Darrow’s cuts. Pincer was noncommittal in response to a question from Dermot about their jobs, saying he would return later with their orders.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
In order to pass the time, Dermot suggested a bit of storytelling, as both he and Shanni were interested about how the adventuring group known as “Helm’s Shadows” had originally got together. Aerikoth and Darrow took turns talking about their adventures, explaining how they had first joined the group and describing the different enemies and encounters they had together. Aerikoth’s story focused on the group’s discovery of and struggle against the ancient lich Ashnakzeroth, while Darrow’s tale featured their descent into the Clan Ironhelm Deep Delves and the recovery of the clan’s legendary axe, named Haelgrim, which Darrow bore.

As Darrow finished his tale, Aerikoth excused himself and went into the cabin he was using in order to study his spellbooks, shutting the door behind him. Rahnee then staggered out of her cabin, looking pale and complaining that the grog Darrow had given her must have been off, because she does not get seasick. The dwarf in response just shrugged and pithily observed that “Sometimes ye get th' troll, sometimes th' troll gets ye.”

Pincer arrived and invited the group to come up on the main deck, although he had no intention of bothering the wizard at his studies. Shanni and Rahnee leapt at the chance of getting some fresh air and were followed up to the deck by Darrow and Dermot. The dwarf expressed his amazement at the amount of water visible, as Pincer pointed out that their island destination was visible at a distance off the starboard bow, through the fog. Dermot briefly disappeared down the ladder to the hold area, but was observed by Pincer, who called Dermot back immediately, advising him not to try the captain’s patience, since the hold was off limits.

After the group had a chance to catch their breaths and adapt to the movement of the ship, Red Ortho clambered up from below deck. He said they were more or less on schedule to land at their “resupply island” in two hours. He described how the ship captain would need to time the tide and then beach the ship in some soft sand by the island, there being no pier or other facilities for the ship to dock. Shanni questioned whether that would harm the ship, but Red Ortho reassured her that it would not, if done right.

Red Ortho then moved on to describe the situation they would face. He related how the last time the ship had been at the island, they had encountered problems on land. Three of their camp guards had disappeared at night, with no sign of a struggle or anything else that had happened to them. Dermot threw in a jest about giant tortoises, but Red Ortho was not amused. He added that some of “the boys” had felt something cold during the night, but that was all; he noted that the island was not very big. When Rahnee incredulously questioned how three men could have simply disappeared from camp, Red Ortho cursed and said that was why the adventurers had been hired, to tackle the problem.

Following some additional questions about the island and the three guards’ disappearances, during which it was spelled out to Shanni that the ship was run by slavers, the four fell to discussing what could have been responsible, with speculation running from invisible dragons to shades. Some color commentary was also provided by One-Eye, who came up from below decks to puke his guts out at the ship’s rail, one of the lingering results of his fight with Darrow.

Pincer at this point came up on deck and offered to show Darrow something in his cabin. After several minutes, the dwarf returned and casually motioned his companions over where they could speak privately. Whispering, Darrow told them that Pincer had provided some additional information on the incident with the guards. Apparently two of them had decided to take a girl from the slave pen and had gone off with her into the night. Later, however, the girl had returned alone and screaming, unable to say to anyone what had happened. Despite the guards being doubled, another one of them also disappeared. The four companions considered the ramifications of this, speculating that a desire for revenge might be behind the actions. (Pincer privately volunteering this information is an indication that not all the slavers are necessarily alike in their depravity, although you will have to judge for yourself whether justice is served in the end. --R)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After The Blind Man had been successfully beached near shore by the captain, Aerikoth came up on deck to observe the results. Rahnee decided to remain on board to try and investigate further on the ship, while the others debarked for the island. Aerikoth, Darrow, Shanni and Dermot were rowed the short distance to shore, with Pincer and a number of guards following.

Even though by now it was mid-morning, the fog remained thick. The four started exploring the immediate vicinity, with Darrow filling in Aerikoth about the additional information the others had obtained on the circumstances of the guards’ disappearances. Dermot observed what looked like an underground stream relatively near the shore, otherwise the area was unremarkable.

After moving some distance away, the four ran across a slave pen and a couple of bored guards. The slavers were willing enough to answer questions, but were of little help. The slaves appeared listless and Darrow noted that one in the corner appeared to be dead. One of the female prisoners, seeing Shanni observing them, wandered over and spoke to her in a low voice, but then moved on. As the four companions walked away, Shanni mentioned that the prisoner had asked if they were going to help. (I can only imagine the desperation felt by those poor souls, held captive in a slave pen on an island with no real hope of escape, and willing to grasp at any possibility of assistance that comes their way. --C)

The four retraced their path to the underground stream, debating on the way how they could best deal with the situation. While the others were still talking, Dermot unstrung his bow and handed it to Darrow, then took off his cloak and boots and waded into the deep pool at the head of the stream, his head quickly disappearing. After a few short but anxious minutes, Dermot re-emerged, spluttering water, to explain that there was a cavern on the other side. Although he had no light to tell how large it was, he said that by the air movement it felt like a large space. Dermot had thought to affix a rope on the other side, which would help their passage through the water-filled tunnel.

Aerikoth offered to cast a light spell on Dermot, who after consulting with Darrow asked the wizard to enchant a dagger. Aerikoth took the dagger from Dermot, spoke a short word activating the light spell, then handed it back. Dermot then quickly plunged back into the water, with Shanni following him as soon as she divested herself of her own boots and cloak. After a much longer period of time than before, Dermot reappeared, followed by Shanni. He explained that the cavern extended for a long way and they had found signs that someone man-sized had been sleeping there. They also had found three sets of humanoid remains, along with some dead birds. Since further investigation was obviously needed, Darrow relieved himself of his armor and other encumbrances, at Shanni’s suggestion putting them in a sack and tying it to the rope. The four then entered the pool, one by one, with Aerikoth bringing up the rear.

Once all had emerged into the underground cavern, somewhat tired from the effort, it took them several tries to pull the rope and its attached burden to them while fighting the current. After Darrow and Shanni had re-equipped themselves, the group advanced into the cavern’s gloom. Dermot led them back to see the space at the end, where whoever (or whatever) had slept there had a mat on the floor, also passing the skeletal humanoid remains and bird carcasses.

Returning back along the cavern floor, Dermot thought he heard something, off in the dark. Shanni and Darrow then quietly said they had heard a hissing sound. Dermot drew his sword, the sound echoing off the nearby stone. Aerikoth waited silently while the others attempted to greet whatever was in the darkness. After a pause, a voice whispered, "Do you come to kill me?" Strangely, it did not sound upset at the prospect.

The four adventurers strained to hear more and Darrow lit a torch to try and see what was out there, but the voice had fallen silent and nothing could be seen. Eventually, Aerikoth declared that he would return to the ship and inform Rahnee of what had happened; he also needed to tend to his familiar and begin some spell preparations.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Some minutes after the wizard had left, the others thought they heard something again, in the dark. Shanni advised Darrow to keep any light source doused, in order not to frighten away whatever it was. The voice in the dark suddenly began speaking again, asking if the adventurers would help it. In response to a question from Shanni, it explained - only partly coherently - that the slaves were its friends and that it was satisfied with the “bad men”. It described what had happened to it with a series of word images: movement, fear, blood, pain. After this terrifying experience, it had awoken in the dark, with a desire to hurt the bad men.

The voice continued, saying that there was one in the slave pen with whom he had felt a connection. Before disappearing, the voice asked them to return that night. Shanni, Dermot and Darrow were somewhat taken aback by what appeared to be an offer of assistance against the slavers, not knowing what to think of the offer or whoever was behind it. As they made their way back through the cavern, they encountered a sopping wet Rahnee, who had found the underground stream entrance per Aerikoth’s instructions, and filled her in.

The four then made their way to the slave pen, to see if they could identify the person of whom the voice had spoken. Once there, Dermot alertly spotted a male prisoner with his hands tied behind his back who had not been visible before. One of the guards ordered the man, a wizard called Kain Graves, to come to the fence and share anything of use that he knew with the adventurers. The two guards on duty, stomachs rumbling, then asked the adventurers if they would stand watch while the two got some lunch. Darrow was happy to agree to the idea on behalf of the group.

Under questioning, Kain revealed that he had special knowledge of the undead, thanks to coming from a family of necromancers. He explained that he had been on his way to Candlekeep when he had been drugged and captured after spending the night at an inn. Shanni empathized with his situation. Kain mentioned that he had tried to come up with an escape plan, but one of the half-orc guards had taken his magic gem, which contained his familiar’s sleeping place.

The four were satisfied that Kain was the one they were looking for, although they were split on how best to take him with them. Rahnee advocated simply spiriting him away, while Shanni thought it more prudent to ask permission of the slavers. Darrow agreed and volunteered to do the asking. When the two guards returned from lunch, he approached them and explained that the group wanted to use Kain as bait for whatever was hunting the slavers and would pay them back if he were damaged. The guards had no problem with this arrangement. A dark-haired female prisoner, the same one who had talked to Shanni before, walked up to Kain and briefly whispered to him, before he was let out of the slave pen.

Once they were out of sight and earshot of the pen, Darrow sat down and gave Kain a quick intro to the group, also mentioning Aerikoth’s presence on the ship. Darrow next asked if any of the other prisoners were sailors. Kain said that he thought one was, having been picked up from a sailor’s tavern. The wizard also mentioned that when his spell books were taken, he heard something about them being taken to a lair in a deep forest, which Kain thought must mean somewhere on the island. He further described the magic gem, containing his familiar named Xorn, that had been seized.

Dermot then informed Kain of how they were secretly working against the slavers, while having been hired to find whatever had been killing the guards on the island at night. Dermot commented that it might be a vengeful ghost, but they truly had no idea of what it was in reality, and could use Kain’s help. Kain in turn promised his assistance against the slavers, although he cautioned that he was limited to the spells he had memorized, without access to his spellbooks.

The group asked Shanni to go back and query the guards at the slave pen about the spell books, given that she had what Rahnee termed the best rapport with the slavers. Kain pointed out that if the books were on the island, so was the lair he had heard them mention. The guards it turned out had no information for Shanni, but pointed her towards Pincer, who was with the main guard group by the boat landing.

The five of them trooped over to the landing area, finding Pincer behind a group of guards. Leaving their companions a short distance away, Shanni and Dermot approached him and broached the topic of the spellbooks. Pincer indicated they could not be retrieved any time soon, since they had been sent away to “the lair”. However, he quite approved of their stated plan to use Kain as bait. The two then returned and informed the others.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
By that point it was getting on towards late afternoon on Alturiak 30. Having finished his business on board ship, Aerikoth returned to shore and spoke briefly with Pincer, who informed him that the others had acquired a slave to use as bait and should be nearby. Aerikoth set off into the interior of the island and quickly ran into Rahnee, who had been dispatched by the rest of the group to fetch the wizard.

At the entrance to the underground stream, Aerikoth was introduced to Kain Graves, the “slave necromancer” as Rahnee dubbed him, and given the latest on their encounter in the cavern. Aerikoth’s companions now thought the creature likely to be a vampire, but uncertainty remained high, as none of them had even been able to see it. Rahnee explained that Kain had agreed to assist them in return for his eventual freedom, or for cold steel between his ribs if he betrayed them. (As a member of our Order, I must condemn all association with necromancers. The use of this one under the circumstances, however, appears to have been expedient to the party's cause. --C)

Deciding to venture into the cavern once more while it was still daylight, the band of six descended into the pool and pulled themselves underwater, with Darrow going first and Aerikoth bringing up the rear. Having already made multiple trips, Dermot by this point was tired and had the most difficulties of all of them, but nevertheless managed to fight past the underground current.

The party then slowly made their way back to where the voice had first appeared, near a rocky ledge by an underground pool. Kain was put in front, presumably so the creature would recognize the slave with whom it had the connection. After waiting for a short while, several of them heard a faint splashing and the voice reappeared, observing that they had returned, although it was not yet dark. The voice also noted that they had brought “the one who speaks with the dark”, by which it meant Kain. It said that Kain “had the taint” and asked for his help, in a forlorn wail.

Kain in turn asked what the creature wanted. Semi-coherently, it said that it would be satisfied with a “red night” and for the “bad men” to pay. Shanni cannily inquired what would happen after there were no more bad men. The voice replied that it had thought of this, since their last meeting, and would be satisfied with one of the bad men…alive, to keep.

The creature’s offer of assistance against the slavers threw the party into some confusion, given the implications of massacring their enemies. Rahnee took the direct approach and asked the creature what and who it was. After a moment, it appeared before them, a pale creature looking as if it had once been a man. He called himself Tuli.

Tuli said that he had no need to breathe and could hide in the water, in order to kidnap someone; however, he could not defeat the slavers alone. Rahnee asked if he were a slave and how he had come to be like this. Again, Tuli was not fully coherent, but described how “one” had come on the ship, followed by red and coldness, then he awoke. Tuli stated that the one was not with the ship, this time, as he would have felt his presence. (This description appears to describe the relationship between a vampire spawn and its sire. Tuli evidently does not yet have the full powers or characteristics of a vampire, otherwise he would be able to dispatch the slavers on his own. This situation also makes for more confusion in terms of the moral choices to be made by the party, although in the end this is resolved with some finality. --R)

Discussion now shifted back to Tuli’s proposal. Tuli said that they would have to act that night, as the ship would be gone by morning. Shanni suggested that they should work out how best to help, promising to return at dark to share their plans; Tuli agreed to await them in the cave. Before the group departed, Aerikoth approached Tuli, who looked ready to bolt but stood his ground after the wizard promised not to harm him. Aerikoth studied the creature and asked him again what he remembered, getting the same response. Tuli then dove into the water and disappeared.

The adventurers decided to regroup back by the stream entrance to the cavern, as they had much to debate. Shanni and Darrow expressed strong reservations about giving one of the slavers to Tuli. Rahnee reminded them that their primary concern should be finding Janatha. A consensus emerged that at least they would need to preserve one of the slavers, perhaps Pincer, who knew where their lair was, as well as take control of the ship.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After the group had reached their preliminary decision to take on the slavers, Rahnee decided to return aboveground, in order to more thoroughly scout the island and determine the full extent of the slaver presence. The others continued to refine their battle plans and Shanni was particularly interested in the idea of constructing some traps. With the ship being a key target for them, Shanni volunteered to make the tiring journey out of the cavern and check on its status. After a while, wet and exhausted, she returned to report that it was still beached; there would be at least several hours before high tide, with sunset perhaps an hour away. She then attempted to construct a trap with some of her possessions, but failed.

With night nearly upon them and Rahnee not having yet returned, the five decided to go inform Tuli of their plans. They once again went deeper into the cavern and Darrow made some noise to attract Tuli’s attention; however, Shanni suspected that the creature had been listening to them all along. Tuli appeared and listened to Dermot outline their plan, which amounted to defeating the slaver guards in separate groups. The adventurers would first take the slave pen guards, then head for the boat on the shore. Tuli’s role would be to lurk in the water offshore and attack the ship at an opportune moment. Shanni emphasized that they needed to move soon, before the slavers decided to take the boat back to the ship.

All of them then headed for the underground stream exit. Once back on the surface of the island, the adventurers made for the slave pen, while Tuli silently slipped into the stream, heading underwater for the shore. At the pen, the night guard shift was being changed and the four guards present were easily taken after Darrow engaged one of them in conversation then attacked with a blood-curdling battlecry. Shanni roused the freed slaves and had them make noise, in the hopes of attracting additional guards away from the main body at the boat. Among the guards’ bodies, Kain was able to find his gem and immediately summoned his familiar Xorn, who turned out to be a shadow.

The five adventurers formed up and headed for the boat, Aerikoth by this point having summoned a huge dire bear to accompany them. When they arrived at the main guard camp, Pincer’s eyes widened at the sight of the bear and he asked if that was the creature responsible for the guards’ disappearance. In response, Aerikoth cast a spell at him, attempting to polymorph him into a small helpless creature, but it failed. Pincer then called for the others to attack and the battle was on.

Although the guards had the advantage of numbers, the party was more fearsome in combat, Darrow’s axe and the bear’s claws wreaking havoc close in, while Shanni attacked from the flanks and Dermot tossed choking powder and employed his bow. Aerikoth’s next spells, hurled quickly after the first, succeeded in exploding a fireball among a group of slavers and then striking fear into several of their enemies, most crucially Pincer, who was in fact the last slaver left standing. Dermot noticed this and the ranger cried out to Aerikoth to call off his bear, while Shanni yelled at Darrow to try and break the dwarf’s battle-rage, which calmed once Pincer formally yielded. The slaver was then quickly disarmed and tied to a tree.

Dermot went off to round up the freed slaves. Meanwhile, Darrow took the lead in taunting Pincer, softening him up in order to make him more responsive to their questions. Dermot returned and reported that the slaves were fine, the ranger also observing some movement in the distance on the deck of the slaver vessel. Shanni did a more thorough job of tying Pincer up, to prevent an escape while the group headed for the ship. Aerikoth then commanded his summoned bear to guard Pincer, both to protect against his escape and to prevent any of the slaves from taking immediate revenge on him.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The five adventurers moved to launch the boat from shore, then somewhat awkwardly paddled the short distance to the slaver ship. Once they arrived and boarded the main deck, they saw by the bodies there would be no resistance. Descending to the cabins, they found more bodies and Tuli locked in combat with one remaining slaver guard, who shortly afterwards succumbed to the creature’s natural weapons.

Tuli hissed that there was one more remaining, behind a closed and jammed cabin door. Shanni volunteered to try to open it, but Darrow took matters into his own hands and chopped the door open. Behind the door was Red Ortho, who immediately began begging for his life. He said that he had thrown the ship’s charts away, so now he was the only person who knew how to navigate back to the mainland. Shanni checked the chest in the cabin, finding no charts but several gems and other valuable items. (The slaver - and pirate? - Red Ortho here demonstrates the survival qualities of cunning and an ability to switch sides when necessary, at least temporarily. His willingness to seize an evident opportunity for personal gain ultimately determines his fate. --R)

Red Ortho offered to guide them to Westgate, Teziir or Starmantle, wherever they liked. Shanni responded by telling him they wanted to go wherever they were taking the slaves, so Red Ortho announced their destination would be Westgate. Dermot said they also wanted the location of the forest where the operation was based; Kain mentioned that it would be the same place the slavers had taken his spellbooks and other magic items. Red Ortho said that they could not take a ship there, so their destination would have to be one of the cities.

Dermot queried whether Westgate or Teziir were closest and Red Ortho answered Westgate. So that they could gain some privacy, the group directed Red Ortho to the inside of a cabin and set Tuli to watch the door. Shanni wondered whether it would be better to hold their conference on deck, but then Dermot pointed out it might not be a good idea to leave Tuli alone with their prisoner. Aerikoth observed that before deciding anything, it would be good to locate Lady Roaringhorn and obtain her input. Darrow raised the idea of taking the former slaves to Baron Pahar’s domain, sparking an animated discussion about what to do with them and their two slaver prisoners.

Dermot recalled that they had not yet examined the ship’s hold and went to check on it. Shanni then decided to explore the cabins some more, warning the others against traps after she found and disabled one. Dermot returned and advised the others that the half-orc Barzog was alone standing guard in the hold, but was not looking to cause any trouble.

At this point a nearly-naked and very wet Rahnee literally appeared before their eyes, asking wryly if she were late for the party. Her face was severely bruised on one side and she explained, somewhat woozily, that she believed she had fallen out of a tree. Before she could say anything further, Shanni suddenly recalled they had left Pincer back on shore and ran up on deck, diving off into the shallows.

Arriving at the tree where they had left Pincer, she found him still tied to it, with Aerikoth’s bear looming over him. The former slaves had gathered round the area, although leaving a respectful distance between themselves and the large animal. The woman who had previously spoken with Shanni at the slave pen, whose name was Nina, approached and greeted her. Nina was assured by Shanni that all was well and the slavers were all dead, except for Pincer and one other who were prisoners. Nina mentioned that some of the former slaves had looted the dead guards’ bodies, obtaining weapons and armor.

Shanni waved at the ship, to try and attract the others’ attention. After a short while, the adventurers aboard ship used the slaver boat to row back to the landing area and join Shanni. Nina and Kain greeted each other, evidently pleased and relieved that each of them was safe. Seeing the prisoners gathered around, Aerikoth prompted Darrow to inquire if any of them knew how to sail a ship. An older-looking, bearded man named Tomas answered affirmatively, saying that he thought they should be able at least to sail the ship to the coast, even with the lack of a real crew.

Aerikoth, after closely inspecting the unconscious Pincer’s ropes, dismissed the summoned bear. Rahnee then came up to inspect Pincer’s wounds, declaring that he was in poor shape and they would at least need to staunch some of the blood flowing from his wounds. Dermot carefully untied him and laid him on the ground, applying a healing poultice and then offering Pincer a potion once he had regained consciousness. Pincer stood up briefly and was derisively greeted by his captors, before slumping back down to the ground.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Shanni began the serious part of questioning the slaver by stating that they had a problem: their vampire ally wanted someone to keep, who might just be Pincer. The fact that the creature on the island was a vampire and that the adventurers were on its side seemed to stagger Pincer, who expressed his incredulity. Shanni explained that they had no interest in selling the slaves - what Pincer had originally assumed - but wanted him to tell them the location of the slavers' base of operations. Pincer pointed out that if he told them, they could then feed him to the vampire anyway. Shanni replied by saying that something could likely be arranged, looking at the others. Dermot then put it to Pincer that either he or Red Ortho would be their guide. Pincer declared that it might as well be him, saying he would talk more once back on the ship.

As the adventurers started escorting Pincer to shore, they passed a group of armed former slaves who spotted the slaver and started moving toward him in a threatening manner. Dermot backed them down with commands to stay away, while Rahnee made sure that they saw her blade at his throat. Nina pointedly asked why Pincer was being kept alive, but was satisfied with Dermot’s explanation, helping calm the others.

After a short delay while Darrow had difficulties boarding the small boat, the group pushed off and headed back to The Blind Man. Pincer noted the bodies of the crew on deck and exchanged more verbal barbs with Shanni. Once below deck, they saw that Tuli remained on guard with Red Ortho. The creature asked which of the two slavers would be his prize and was told that would depend on their questioning.

Dermot went back on deck to start the process of transferring the former slaves to the ship. The rest of the group then began questioning Pincer, who confirmed that he would be able to lead them to the forest lair, which was in a hidden location off of Traders Road. Kain inquired whether his spellbook might still be there, which Pincer thought was likely. Rahnee then brought up Janatha and described her, prompting Pincer to declare that they must be working for Council Member Queron Ulanthar, Janatha’s father. Pincer said that he had known about Janatha’s kidnapping, although not the details, and would assume that she had been taken to the lair.

The group then turned to Red Ortho, implying that he had lost the competition and would become Tuli’s victim. The shipmaster, sputtering, reminded them that he was the only one who could sail the ship back to civilization and that it was not his fault that the lair was in a forest and not on the coast. Shanni and Rahnee raised the possibility of giving the half-orc Barzog to Tuli, but the creature replied in a chilling voice that he wanted a human. After this exchange, Dermot stepped forward and whispered in Rahnee’s ear, asking her if she thought they could take the vampire in a fight. In a low voice, she replied there was only one way to find out.

Red Ortho continued to bluster, trying to save himself, while Dermot and Rahnee carefully positioned themselves in the cabin area, all the while eyeing Tuli. Darrow had just distracted the creature, asking him which of their prisoners he would choose, when suddenly Rahnee struck at Tuli from behind with her magical sword. He spun around and immediately engaged with Rahnee, but was unable to fend both her and Dermot off, shortly afterwards falling to the ground and remaining still. (I am relieved that the threatened use of one of the slaver prisoners as chattel for a vampire spawn did not come to pass. Yet I admit to being disturbed by even the contemplation of the prospect, as part of the party's temporary bargain with Tuli; they seemed to seriously consider it. Killing the creature in the end, of course, was the only option. --C)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Although the rest of their companions had been surprised by the sudden attack on Tuli, they saw the logic in it. Kain advised Rahnee on how to ensure Tuli would not rise again, by staking its heart - Rahnee used an arrow shaft for that - and destroying the body, with which Dermot assisted. Aerikoth, with an unusual slight grin on his face, commended Rahnee for her ruthless efficiency. Rahnee returned a not very nice smile at the compliment, as Darrow exclaimed that he would never want to give Rahnee a reason to doublecross him. Shanni seemed the most upset by the sudden development. Rahnee made a point of telling Red Ortho and Pincer that both of them owed their lives to the adventurers, which they acknowledged. She also reminded them that they would be traveling with a large number of former slaves who would like to flay their hides from their bodies.

For the final disposition of Tuli’s body, Dermot and Darrow carried it up on deck to the boat and with Shanni’s assistance - although she was careful not to touch the corpse herself - rowed back to shore. They had borrowed a torch from one of the prisoners, which was then used to set fire to the body. Meanwhile, Kain had conferred with Nina on deck and the prisoners were then brought below deck in order to rest for the night.

Once back on board, Shanni had the idea of rousing Barzog and bringing him into the fold, as it were. The half-orc was eager to follow orders from the new masters of the ship and help with the sailing, having seen the fate meted out to his former companions. He in fact became positively ecstatic after Darrow passed him an ale, although he obviously preferred to perform duties, such as being the deck lookout, which kept him out of their immediate vicinity.

With the press of action giving way to the relative calm of night, the group sorted out their watch order. Aerikoth chose to remain on deck first and would be replaced by Darrow. Meanwhile, Shanni and Rahnee stepped aside from the others and ironed out their differences over what had happened with Tuli. After Aerikoth returned from his watch, they sorted out their sleeping assignments - not an easy task, given the limited space and the mix of adventurers, former slavers and former slaves occupying it.

The first day of Ches dawned early, it seemed, as the ship’s complement slowly awoke after sunrise. Rahnee was evidently still feeling the effects of the previous day’s blow to the head, so the others left her to rest in the back of one of the cabins. Once the other adventurers were up, Shanni and Darrow woke Pincer, who was disappointed to discover that the previous day’s events had not in fact just been a bad dream.

They took Pincer out on deck and Darrow yelled for the sailor. Tomas, yawning and still groggy, came out to see what the yelling was about. Tomas ruefully observed it was raining and then inspected the hull’s waterline, after Pincer informed them that the ship should be refloated now that the tide was in. Aerikoth and his raven familiar joined them on deck, the wizard silently observing as was his wont.

Tomas said that they would need several hands on deck during the refloating of the ship, in order to watch for dangerous rocks and such. As Tomas went to inspect the rigging, Darrow went to fetch Red Ortho, as he knew the most about the ship. The former slaver thought it would be best to have the adventurers serve as lookouts, given the poor condition of the former slaves.

Once Red Ortho had confirmed there was no damage to the ship, he asked that people be stationed at the bow, stern, and both sides of the ship to act as watchers. Barzog, who had remained on deck the whole time, and Tomas would let the sails out when the time was right. Red Ortho estimated it would be about a half hour before the tide was high enough. He advised them to break their fast in the meantime, informing them where crates of food were stored.
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After the meal, Dermot, Darrow and Shanni took the opportunity to question Red Ortho some more below decks about the slavers’ activities. He confirmed that they would normally take their “cargo” to Westgate once they had a full load on the island. In order to avoid attention, the slaves would be drugged and taken off the ship either in sacks or crates. Red Ortho claimed not to know anything about vampires or how Tuli was made, then observed it was time to get the ship moving again. Once back on the main deck, Red Ortho moved to the ship’s wheel and took charge like he still ran things, yelling at Barzog to go with Tomas to the rigging and telling the watchers to immediately advise of any obstacles they saw in the water. The skies cleared and Red Ortho gave a loud command to let out the sails, which started the ship moving with a jerk.

Shortly afterwards, Darrow spotted a boulder off the port side and called it out, prompting Red Ortho to adjust course and halt letting the sails out further. He gritted his teeth and put his shoulder into turning the ship’s wheel as Darrow observed the ship passing close by the granite rock. Shanni reported no obstacles at the bow, while Dermot was confused by Red Ortho’s request for a depth reading off the starboard side. Tomas went to check and after a moment called out four fathoms.

This appeared to satisfy Red Ortho, who announced they were clear of the island and asked if he should set a course for Westgate. Darrow confirmed this, although he said he was still interested in going to Turnton, where Baron Pahar would be able to take care of the former slaves. One of the armed former prisoners volunteered to keep watch on deck along with Tomas, while the adventurers went below again to discuss their plans.

By mid-morning, the ship was moving smartly across the sea and Red Ortho predicted that they would make Westgate harbor around nightfall. Darrow had his enthusiasm level raised by Red Ortho mentioning pirates in the waters, although it was dampened by a caveat that it would just be bad luck if a pirate ship found them. Kain found it surprising that the slavers did not have any business agreements with the pirate vessels, for example to purchase the surviving crews of captured vessels, an idea which got Red Ortho to thinking. Rahnee briefly stuck her head out of the cabin area while the pirate discussion was going on, then retreated back down to continue her convalescence.

Although earlier Red Ortho had ordered Barzog to let out the sails, to take advantage of the sunny skies and brisk winds, a storm started to blow and he had the half-orc pull the sails in again, cursing their luck. As wind and rain began to lash the deck, the adventurers decided to go below to the cabins, helped along by Red Ortho’s pointed suggestion that lubbers should vacate the area.

The five checked on their other slaver captive Pincer, who had recovered something of his sense of humor at his predicament. The group then turned to discuss their planned course of action after arriving in Westgate. Aerikoth pointed out that Turnton was eight hours of travel outside the city; the wizard did not want to detour there and delay their search for the Astorians’ lair, arguing that the Westgate authorities should be competent enough to take care of the freed slaves. A quick poll by Dermot showed that the ex-slaves were looking forward to returning to their families. As Aerikoth noted, the slaves had been taken from various places along the Dragon Coast.

After further discussion, the adventurers decided to ask Pincer some more questions, having decided to take him along to the forest lair. Shanni asked him if the slavers had any way of communicating with their base. Pincer denied having any magical communications and was startled when Shanni asked about any messenger birds. The former slaver gestured around him and asked if they saw any birds. Kain admitted having the idea earlier about the birds, self-deprecatingly. Although Shanni pressed Pincer further, he declared that he knew nothing about any birds.

Pincer was, however, more helpful in describing the Astorians’ base in the forest. He mentioned there were normally around two dozen members there. He described a maze of shrubbery in the forest, with a hidden entrance leading to tunnels beneath. He also mentioned there were various traps, as well as guards defending the entrance. Pincer said he had been escorted there once and he considered it a deadly place. The information extracted from Pincer gave the party plenty to discuss about their plans to assault the lair, as well as what they should do with Red Ortho once they reached Westgate.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
To Darrow’s disappointment, the remainder of the day passed without any pirate ship sightings. As the sun started going down on the horizon, land was sighted in the distance, presumably the port of Westgate. Since the party was unsure what kind of reception awaited the slaver ship, the former prisoners along with Barzog were sent to the hold, with Darrow and Kain to watch over and guard them as necessary. Aerikoth, Rahnee, Dermot and Shanni remained on deck with Red Ortho, Pincer and Tomas. Nina, who had been elected by the former slaves as their spokesperson, also stayed.

With the sun nearly down and in the dark, rain and fog, Red Ortho dropped anchor outside the harbor, explaining that there was too much traffic to sail in safely and they would need to wait for a pilot boat. He went and fetched two signal flags from the cabins, which he said would be needed to summon the boat in the morning. One was white and triangular with a black border, the other being rectangular and solid black. Red Ortho ran both of them up to the top of the rigging, with the rectangular black one on top. Unsure of their significance, Rahnee quietly asked Tomas if he recognized them. The sailor replied in the negative, noting that most sailing companies had their own private systems. Shanni also clearly distrusted Red Ortho’s motives, but observed that there was nothing they could do except take things at face value.

After Red Ortho remarked that they could see the outline of the East Gate promontory in the distance, Aerikoth glanced up at the rigging. His large raven familiar Zeluth, who had been perched there, instantly took wing and headed for the barely visible land mass. As Shanni and Dermot watched the raven fly off, Red Ortho said that he should take a sounding, bending down and lowering a sounding cord off the port side of the ship. The company meanwhile engaged in some idle conversation while watching the shore.

Suddenly, Red Ortho dived into the water and began swimming powerfully for land, staying under the surface as much as possible. Shanni immediately cursed and drew her bow for a shot at his swimming figure, getting hers off slightly before Rahnee did the same. Shanni’s shot went wide, while Rahnee’s skimmed the side of the slaver’s head, making him flinch momentarily. Aerikoth, urged on by Dermot, looked intently at the fleeing man to see if he could cast a spell, but Red Ortho was no longer visible above the waves.

A patch of turbulence then appeared off the port bow of the ship, in the area where they had last seen Red Ortho. He surfaced briefly and screamed as the adventurers saw something in the water was clinging to him. Shanni took the opportunity to line up another shot and let fly an arrow, but Red Ortho sunk beneath the waves and the arrow was lost in the churning of the sea. Confusion reigned on board the ship as to what had happened, as Shanni mentioned that she had seen something black and flapping around Red Ortho as she took her last shot. (Could this be one of the infamous Ixitxatchitl? It is difficult to verify the existence of these "demon rays" firsthand, for obvious reasons. It would be very unusual for them to inhabit the harbor of a city, however, unless some special arrangements had been made with harbor authorities. --C)

Dermot turned to Pincer and asked for an explanation of the signal flags. The former slaver said that he had never been up on deck during docking, so did not know about them. Pincer however could not repress a grin at the turn of events, commenting that it now looked like the party would have no choice but to keep him alive.

As Shanni was asking Aerikoth about his “crow’s” return, Zeluth appeared as if summoned by Shanni’s words and alighted in the rigging above Aerikoth. The wizard looked up for a moment and nodded. Turning to the others, he reported that they were indeed off the coast of Westgate, with the ship being northeast of the East Gate promontory. The docks were close past it, but the channel leading to them was narrow.

The group decided it would be best to take the ship’s boat and make for land, rather than wait around for morning. Rahnee escorted Pincer down to the hold and explained things to Darrow, who grumbled at having to remain at sea with no ale. The boat was then lowered into the sea and the four adventurers boarded, with Dermot and Shanni going first. Rahnee deftly slid down the rope with a daredevil maneuver and Aerikoth carefully climbed down last. Tomas yelled down directions to clear the promontory five boat lengths to the west, then head south.

Rahnee and Shanni manned one of the oars, while Dermot handled the other. With strong, smooth strokes they pushed away from the ship and made for the headland, moving over the swells of the waves. The going became rougher as they neared the promontory and they rested for a moment after they passed it, before turning south. Once round the promontory, the light from Aerikoth's staff revealed a set of docks close by, with other docks further south. There were no identifying marks visible by either docks. Rahnee said they might as well head for the first dock, since they did not know who either belonged to.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The boat was pulled up to the dock without mishap and the four adventurers – Rahnee, Aerikoth, Dermot and Shanni – exited. On the other side of the dock was a gate and they were immediately challenged by the guards, who turned out to be of House Athagdal. Shanni attempted to use her personal charms on the guards, smiling sweetly and explaining that they had come in from a ship where there had been a problem with the crew. She apologized, saying that it was dark and they had not known what they were doing. At the insistence of the guards, Shanni gave the name of the ship, The Blind Man, which apparently meant nothing to them. Dermot also pointed out – including a reference to Aerikoth’s glowing staff – that the group did not look like thieves or smugglers.

Apparently satisfied that the group had nothing to do with House Athagdal business, the guards agreed to unlock the gate and let them go on their way. Dermot sweetened the deal by passing the guards 30 gold in “docking fees” in order to watch over their boat. In response to a question from Shanni, the guards indicated that ship pilots could be found in the Westlight Harbor district.

Making their way across the city, the four entered the Watch Docks building. After attempting to explain their situation to a confused clerk, they were directed to speak to Lieutenant Doran, who was the senior officer on duty. Rahnee went straight to the point, telling him that they had a slave ship on their hands that they had liberated. She and Aerikoth also described what had happened to their former slaver guide in the harbor. This baffled the lieutenant, although he mentioned having heard rumors about some previous disappearances in the waters.

Shanni provide the lieutenant with the name of the ship, which did not ring any bells with him either, although he promised to have one of his clerks research it. He had just queried where the adventurers intended to dock the ship, which they did not yet have an answer to, when Captain Halfoy of the House Urdo vessel Sea Sprite walked into the room. The captain approached Lieutenant Doran and was informing him of a delay in his ship’s departure, when he suddenly recognized the four adventurers as having recently taken passage with him to Starmantle.

Once the situation had been explained to the captain, he offered to assist with the docking and disposition of the ship. Rahnee noted that Helm’s Shadows had previously done good service for House Urdo, which the captain said would be a point in their favor. Halfoy arranged with Lieutenant Doran to use one of the pilot boats to bring the captain out to The Blind Man, with Rahnee, Dermot and Shanni accompanying him on the small vessel; Aerikoth had decided to teleport on ahead, after a hushed conference with Rahnee.

Upon arriving at the ship, Halfoy moored the pilot boat alongside and clambered onto the deck, along with Rahnee, Dermot and Shanni. The captain introduced himself to Tomas, who was manning the wheel, and assumed command. The three adventurers then went down to the hold to check on the others. There they encountered a beagle puppy which had not previously been there; Aerikoth wryly suggested that the name “Pincer” would be a good one for it. (This must have been the business that Aerikoth and Rahnee had conferred about earlier. I understand that polymorphing the slaver made him more easily controllable, yet I admit I find unsettling the ways of wizards in matters such as these. --C) The transformation of the former slaver was a source of amusement to the group, but their mood turned to worry when Nina inquired the whereabouts of Kain and they realized the necromancer had not been seen for some time.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The group went back up to the main deck, with Nina hurrying in the lead, clearly concerned about Kain. Captain Halfoy and Tomas were slowly but expertly bringing the ship into the harbor, the captain confidently calling out orders despite the rain and dark of night. Barzog, somewhat grumpily, was also assisting with the ship handling. Tomas was periodically calling out the distance to obstacles in the channel, but was able to somewhat distractedly answer Nina’s questions about Kain.

The sailor related how around sunset, Kain had come up on deck with a scroll that he had mentioned finding in one of the cabins. The necromancer said that he thought he knew what it did. After he looked at it in the waning light of the sun, he then vanished. Tomas had assumed that, Kain being a mage and all, there was no cause for concern and he must have told the rest of the party about it. Darrow cursed under his breath and stated that Kain had not said a word to him, at least.

Nina, by now frantic, asked what the disappearance meant. Dermot helpfully asked if there was any sign of ash on the deck, which caused the woman to let out a small scream. Rahnee pointed out that it was raining and Dermot acknowledged it was unlikely any ash would remain. Aerikoth observed that Kain might have found a teleportation scroll amongst the slavers’ belongings, perhaps one that had even belonged to him, but at that point everything was just conjecture.

The ship finished its careful, slow approach into the Urdo docks and the captain let out the winch holding the ship’s anchor. A boat soon put out from the docks, in order to more easily shuttle off the people on board ship, and Captain Halfoy called for all hands to remember to take what they needed from the ship. He then ordered the former prisoners to begin queuing on the starboard side of the ship, to get them off first. Rahnee and Darrow expressed their gratitude to the captain, while Dermot praised the fact he would be finally back on land, to stay.

Dermot went and fetched the beagle puppy from the hold as the former slaves made their way to the dock. The company then turned their attention to the fate of their other companions. Captain Halfoy generously offered Tomas a position with his own crew, which the sailor gratefully accepted, although it meant he would have to stay on board The Blind Man as a watchman for the remainder of the night. Regarding Barzog, Darrow confirmed that they had promised him his freedom; the dwarf wondered if the half-orc might do well as a bouncer somewhere. Dermot and Shanni had no doubt that he would land on his feet in a town like Westgate.

As the group finally finished debarking, joining the former prisoners milling around the Urdo dock, a large group of men marched out of the night - Losifan Urdo, field commander of the Mercenaries Guild, accompanied by a squad of heavily armed Urdo guards. Losifan called out a greeting to Helm’s Shadows and recognized Rahnee, who had pushed her hood back upon seeing him approach. The two then clasped hands, leading Darrow, Shanni and Dermot to relax and move their hands away from their weapons.

Losifan observed that it had been nigh on two months since their last encounter on Traders Road. He explained that when he had heard it was Helm’s Shadows coming in with the ship, he thought he should greet them personally. He mentioned that he did not recognize everyone, although he recalled Aerikoth from before. Rahnee explained that some of their companions had fallen, with others taking their place. She then introduced Darrow as being from Clan Ironhelm, Dermot by name with no further explanation, and while pointing out Shanni, simply noted that she was Rahnee’s maid. Losifan commented wryly on Rahnee’s choice in maids as Shanni stiffened and Dermot raised an eyebrow. The Urdo lord then said he would not leave them standing in the rain any longer, but wanted to extend an invitation for them to come to Castle Urdo. The company indicated they had pressing business that night, so the hour of eight bells in the morning was settled on.

(So finishes the account of Helm's Shadows at Slaver Isle. As is often the case in these chronicles, perhaps more questions are raised than answered. The party seems to have stumbled upon a path forward, now having the puppy/slaver Pincer in its possession, to help guide them to the Astorians' forest lair. We also are left knowing relatively little about the isle itself, including how it was chosen by the slavers and if anything remained there of value. The matter of Tuli also begs further explanation, including how and why he was changed to vampire spawn. The implication of the chronicle is that the Westgate vampires were employing the slaving operation for their food supply, and that this "trade route" had been established for some time. The company has yet to focus on the vampire threat, however. --R)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
To the Lair

Taking Barzog with them, the five adventurers tramped through the dark, wet streets of Westgate to the Gatereach Inn. Shanni was noticeably stiff and silent the entire way. Upon entering the inn, Darrow called out a loud greeting to Jandrico and Barzog exclaimed his appreciation of the inn, which apparently was of a higher class than his usual haunts.

Darrow immediately headed for the bar and was the first to get a drink, as the others came in after him. Rahnee had noticed there was something amiss with Shanni, so the two went off to discuss things, while the others filled Jandrico in on their situation. As Darrow and Dermot were talking with Jandrico about what to do with Barzog, Aerikoth declared that he would see them in the morning, meeting them at the Gatereach before they were due to head to Castle Urdo, and departed. Jandrico agreed to take Barzog on, at least for the time being, and expressed his appreciation for the adventurers’ search for Janatha, along with his disappointment that she had not yet been found. Returning from their talk, apparently satisfied by the outcome, Rahnee and Shanni then joined in the drinking session, with some tea provided by Jandrico. (It was very good of Jandrico to accommodate Barzog's employment at his establishment. I must conclude that it was done primarily as a gesture of appreciation towards the company, taking a problem off of their hands, as well as a way to avoid their being distracted from the search for Janatha. I cannot imagine the upstanding innkeeper having much of a real use for the half-orc thug from Starmantle. --C)

Following a dream-filled night, the five adventurers awoke on Ches 2 with the sun and the sounds of the city morning. Dermot and Darrow were the first up and were joined by Aerikoth at the Gatereach bar. A few minutes later, Shanni and Rahnee came down as well. After greetings were said, Dermot informed them that it appeared a hooded man in the common room was there to see them, along with the fact that breakfast would shortly be ready.

Questions about their unknown guest were temporarily forgotten as a hearty breakfast of venison sausage and black bread arrived, along with the usual tea for Rahnee. Goruna the serving woman was also especially pleased to see Dermot return. Shanni uncharacteristically served portions of food to the others, smiling and calling them “sirs”. Rahnee smiled and commended the job performed by her “maid” as Dermot wondered what had gotten into Shanni.

In between bites of food, Rahnee commented that they would need to hurry in order to make it to Castle Urdo on time. Darrow in response jerked a thumb back in the direction of the common room, saying quietly they would not need to go to the castle, as the castle had come to them. Aerikoth then further explained the unidentified man had rented a room upstairs, so they could meet discreetly. Darrow said that until Jandrico had informed them, he had not realized who the other man was.

As the companions finished their meal, Jandrico walked up and told them that the man who wished to meet with them was in an upstairs room, at the end of the hall on the right. This was the signal for the end of breakfast, although Dermot managed to filch some more sausages on the way out. The five then climbed the stairs to the level of the inn rooms, following Jandrico’s directions. One knock from Dermot and the door was opened, revealing Losifan Urdo, who motioned them inside.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After polite greetings were exchanged, including a demure curtsey by Shanni in her role as Rahnee’s maid, Losifan apologized for what he called the irregularity of the situation. Aerikoth arched an eyebrow at this, his hands resting on his wizard staff, but remained silent. Losifan explained that his own business, it turned out, could not wait either; he complained of the lack of sleep which came with preparations for Lord Scirkas Urdo to assume the position of Westgate’s elected leader as Croamarkh. (Westgate's periodic elections are an interesting experiment, if not truly representative of its citizens. A small group of those at the apex of city society are put forward as candidates, and no doubt the Night Masks and others have a large hand in determining the outcome. However, this form of governance seems no worse than the vagaries of hereditary lordship, with no choice at all involved. --R)

Losifan then turned to the subject of the Fire Knives, asking Rahnee directly what she knew of them. Rahnee observed that they were a well-known band of thieves and assassins, not from Westgate. Darrow, ignorant of the group, asked whether they were better or worse than the Astorians; Dermot advised him they were more the latter than the former. Losifan continued by saying that the Fire Knives appeared to have a relationship with House Cormaeril, one of the losing candidates in the election for Croamarkh. He also said that he understood that Rahnee’s group had been involved somehow in an investigation of the Fire Knives the previous year.

Most importantly from Losifan’s perspective, House Cormaeril were “sore losers” as he put it and apparently were seeking revenge for their electoral defeat. Durgar the Just, the outgoing Croamarkh, had shared many things with House Urdo, including information recently obtained that the Fire Knives were planning to send assassins against Urdo. Rahnee observed that if the Fire Knives were squashed hard enough, they would see the error of their ways. Losifan agreed with this view, proposing that once the group’s urgent business was done, they consider working with Urdo against the Fire Knives.

Losifan said he did not yet need to know the details about their history with the Fire Knives, but admitted he was curious about the group’s current business. Without naming names, Rahnee explained they were helping recover the kidnapped daughter of a friend and confirmed that it was related to their previous business in Teziir. At this point, they heard a scratching at the door. Shanni, playing the role of dutiful maid, told Rahnee that it sounded like her puppy and went to open the door. Pincer scampered in and was immediately scooped up by Shanni, who stood to one side and played with his ears.

Losifan, chuckling, asked where they had found the puppy and Dermot responded it had belonged to a former employer. Losifan indicated that his proposition could wait until after the party’s business was concluded; they should go see him at the Mercenaries Guild when they returned, where he would also give them the gold owed in compensation for turning in The Blind Man to House Urdo. Without further ado, the Urdo lord pulled up his hood and departed.

As the door clicked shut behind him, Pincer jumped from Shanni’s hands to the floor as she dropped him with a grimace. Aerikoth explained to the others that his and Rahnee’s earlier encounter with the Fire Knives had been on behalf of House Thalavar, and involved unwrapping some of the mystery surrounding the Knives’ activity in Westgate. Answering Darrow’s earlier question, Aerikoth said he also thought they were considerably more dangerous than the Astorians, hailing originally from the land of Cormyr. Rahnee followed up by mentioning that House Cormaeril was as well, so there was no surprise at the association; both groups were dangerous and neither bore any love for the adventurers.

After some further discussion of Losifan’s offer and their immediate plans, while Dermot fed some of his sausage to Pincer, both Rahnee and Aerikoth indicated they had errands to run in the city before departing. Dermot, Shanni and Darrow thought they should head to Shalush’s shop in the Market district, to stock up on provisions and sell a few items.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
It was late morning by the time the company had reassembled at the Gatereach. Rahnee made sure to talk to Jandrico and say their goodbyes before departing in the direction of Traders Road. Darrow was having some trouble getting his armor fastened and said he would catch up with the others, also having to find a way to stuff Pincer into his pack.

On the outskirts of town, the party ran across a panicked merchant and his wagons. The man, panting for breath, warned them of having spotted two giants on the road ahead, alluding to a previous problem with giants from the year before. He and his guard had been fleeing for the past half hour, before making it to safety at the city boundary. Rahnee, Aerikoth, Shanni and Dermot carefully made their way west. Darrow caught up with them shortly, having also heard the merchant’s warning.

The group made their way to the crossroads with the trail to the Amee Pass and paused there to make further preparations. Darrow thought he heard something up ahead of them, but admitted he was unsure. Their battle strategy was laid out, with Darrow to take point with support from Rahnee, Shanni to stay back with Aerikoth at range, and Dermot to place himself where he saw the best opportunity. As Darrow was to take on the giants directly, Aerikoth cast a stoneskin spell on him, which would absorb many of their blows.

Further up the road, the party therefore was well prepared when two hill giants attacked. Darrow was able to charge forward and engage the one in front, shrugging off its blows due to his magical protection. Aerikoth used spells of force to strike at them while Shanni employed her bow by his side. Dermot moved to flank the giants, staying just within arrowshot of them. As Darrow’s protection disappeared, Rahnee moved in to assist the dwarf in close fighting and caught a blow from one of their enemy’s huge clubs, but the giants were quickly dispatched after that.

After taking a look at the giants’ possessions, it was agreed that Aerikoth would change Pincer back to his human form. The wizard focused on the beagle puppy, speaking a magic incantation and holding out what looked like a small cocoon. Pincer’s transformation was instantaneous and the man touched his torso with an exclamation of surprise and pleasure, confirming he was all there.

Pincer was duly impressed by how the party had handled the giants, although he had been somewhat apprehensive while in puppy form during the battle. He commented that he thought they might have a chance against the Astorians lair defenses, especially with Aerikoth’s magic. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Pincer indicated that the lair was about two hours outside of Teziir, but was not easy to find. Dermot asked about the defenses and Pincer said they consisted of layers of traps and guards, both above and below ground. He also mentioned that he had been led by a guide the one time he had visited, so he doubted he could remember the exact way to get to the lair and avoid the traps.

With the skies now raining on them, the party headed west along Traders Road, traveling for about fourteen hours to the Reddansyr Crossroads. Tired and wet, Pincer complained that he couldn’t believe it was still raining and asking about shelter, considering it was past midnight. Rahnee and Darrow conferred with Aerikoth and agreed that it would be best for the wizard to create the shelter there, which confused their other three traveling companions. They continued to be confused as they watched Aerikoth hold up various small pieces of material while uttering arcane words. After a short while, however, the wizard ceased speaking and a large hut sprang into being directly in front of him.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The party circled the hut and Aerikoth opened the door to let them in. Inside it was dry and comfortable, with ample space to rest. As the others made themselves comfortable, the wizard explained that the hut would last for a day, unless he dismissed it earlier. Rahnee, after shedding her wet cloak, pointedly observed that she would be sleeping near the door, looking at Pincer as she said this. Aerikoth stated that he was the only one who could magically unlock the door for them to exit, which satisfied Rahnee.

Although the group was tired from their travels, the conjuring of the hut had temporarily given them an adrenaline boost, so they decided to debate Pincer’s future. The former slaver observed that some people might simply use and then kill him, which did not seem much to look forward to. Aerikoth declared his indifference to Pincer’s fate, deferring to the Lady Roaringhorn. Dermot asked Pincer what he would do, assuming he walked out of the situation alive. In response, Pincer said that he had not thought that far ahead and besides had no family or anyone else to go to. Darrow pointed out that this would be an opportunity to turn his life around and suggested the Mercenaries Guild in Westgate, or better yet enter into the service of Baron Pahar in Turnton. The dwarf said he would at least promise not to personally kill Pincer - unless he turned on the party.

Sleep came quickly after their discussion was finished and the morning of Ches 3 seemed to arrive just as quickly. Aerikoth unlocked the door for the others, saying he would remain inside and study his spells for the time being. Rahnee was first outside, stealthily checking to see if anyone else was around, and was soon joined by Darrow. Pincer meanwhile exchanged verbal barbs with Shanni and Dermot, while Aerikoth obliviously pored over his spell book. Rahnee and Darrow returned to report that there were no threats in the vicinity and the party exited the shelter into the light of day.

Rahnee then recalled that she had forgotten to mention Jandrico’s offer to the company, namely that they could occupy a rebuilt guest house on the Gatereach property for only 300 gold per month, if they so chose. Aerikoth thought it would take a while to rebuild, but Rahnee said it was supposed to be completed by the end of the month. Aerikoth then turned and dismissed the hut, which disappeared with a wave of his hand, the wizard impressing Pincer once again with his magic.

Rahnee lingered at the Reddansyr Crossroads, while the others hiked west on Traders Road, in order to cover the party’s backtrail. She wanted to ensure that none of Pincer’s associates could trail or ambush them, if any were following. She asked that markers be left for her in case she could not track them later. (A person is only paranoid if no one is in fact out to get them. Considering that the company is isolated from any outside help and heading for a slaver lair in the deep forest, some extra prudence is warranted, although Rahnee's sword and bow might have been helpful with the others. --R)

After about a half-hour of travel for the main party, Pincer started slowing down and checking the environs for familiar signs. He told Aerikoth, Darrow, Shanni and Dermot to be on the lookout for a stone marker by the side of the road. Looking around uneasily, he also mentioned that the last time he was there, he had been told to be wary of the large spiders that nested in the woods. On a related note, Pincer asked if he could have a weapon; Darrow replied by telling him to stay close to Aerikoth.

Dermot was the first one to spot the stone marker. Pincer confirmed that it was the one he had seen and told them that they needed to head north from that point. Darrow was eager to get moving, but Dermot advised caution and moved ahead slowly to scout. He returned shortly and informed the others that at least six monstrous spiders were ahead and looked hungry. Dermot was just at the point of saying that the party could go around them, when several spiders appeared and raced towards them. Although the adventurers were able to dispose of them without serious harm, one of them bit Shanni in the arm and poisoned her.

Darrow looked over her wound as Shanni turned green and retched violently. They discovered that no one had any poison antidote with them, although Darrow applied a healing kit to provide some relief for the small woman‘s arm. She gamely struggled on, but it was clear that the poison had greatly affected her strength and balance.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Moving north from Traders Road, the group came to a forested area that Pincer said contained the lair. However, he was unsure exactly where it lay; during his previous trip there, he had been with a guide who had deliberately led him in circles to confuse the location. Dermot took the lead, concentrating his senses around him to reveal any hidden secrets or dangers. Some stray large spiders were destroyed easily, but the party had a real fight against several huge wolves, one of whom managed to lacerate Darrow’s shoulder. Shanni returned the dwarf’s earlier favor and bandaged him up afterwards.

Advancing ahead of the others, Dermot came upon a camouflaged snare and then waited for Shanni to come up and disarm it. In response to a question from Dermot, Pincer said he had been told to step only where his guide did, during his previous visit. Dermot took out a knife and made a mark in a nearby tree, for Rahnee to see later; the others noted that the dead spiders should also serve as a trail for her to follow. The group continued their careful progress through the forest, finding and disarming another snare. Monstrous spiders continued to plague them and in one instance Pincer had to kill one with a punch.

Emerging into a clearing, the group paused and drew their breaths as they saw a magnificent white stag on the other side. It looked directly at Dermot and slowly approached the fascinated ranger. Darrow was less impressed by it, however, declaring that he smelled a trap. As the stag approached even closer, Dermot reached out a hand, making an effort to keep it from shaking, and placed it on the animal’s snout. It paused for a brief moment, allowing the touch, then quickly turned away and ran to the north.

Shanni was nearly as fascinated by the stag as Dermot and mentioned to the others that the ranger had dreamed of one. He expressed his desire to follow the rare beast, but said it would be up to the rest of the company. Shanni wistfully supported the idea, while Darrow thought it would be best to press on to the lair in order to rescue Janatha sooner. The dwarf relented somewhat as Dermot discussed his dream, however, and he agreed with the others that they could follow the stag, as long as Dermot did not lose the trail back. (These types of decisions are difficult to make, balancing individual desires against one's mission. It would be easy to criticize such diversions, yet failing to pursue personal quests in one's life would leave it at least partly devoid of meaning, to my mind. --C)

The ranger tracked the stag’s hoofprints in a northerly direction, traveling for an hour. The forest had noticeably thinned and Dermot observed that they must be approaching the coast. Dermot cast around for the trail and found it leading west, towards a pool of water, where the group decided to rest. He estimated that the stag was outpacing them and was at least an hour ahead. They took the opportunity to refill their waterskins and marked the pool’s location, before Dermot urged them forward again. Despite the ranger’s best efforts over the next hour, however, the stag’s trail became no fresher, leading south and west into a thicket of dense wood.

As they debated what to do, Dermot heard some movement in the underbrush. He went forward and confronted a large grizzly bear, who evidently was hungry, as it quickly went for the group. It was dispatched before it could do any serious harm, although Darrow received another gash to add to his collection; despite its hostility, Dermot was disappointed in having to kill the bear.

At this point, Dermot reluctantly admitted defeat in his attempt to catch the stag and agreed to go back to the water hole and make camp. Aerikoth welcomed the chance to make additional preparations before entering the lair, in terms of the spells he would have at his command and in order to ameliorate Shanni’s poisoned condition. The wizard also observed it would be necessary for Rahnee to catch up with them first. As soon as they reached the pool, Shanni curled up on a nearby rock and started dozing, while Dermot quietly described his dream of the white stag in more detail to the others, still regretful.

Aerikoth conjured a hut by the pool as shelter and spent most of the afternoon inside, studying his spells, while Shanni slept to recover her health. Dermot kept watch outside, partly in hopes of once again seeing the white stag. Darrow inspected and repaired some of his equipment and as evening fell, joined Dermot outside to have an ale and look at the stars come out.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
In the early evening, Rahnee came out of the woods to join them, looking somewhat haggard but otherwise in good spirits; she joked that she had found them by following the dead bodies. Dermot and Darrow explained to her about the white stag and how they had decided it would be best to rest and prepare by the forest pool, prior to making their effort against the Astorians’ lair. Darrow escorted Rahnee into the hut while Dermot stayed outside, ensuring that Pincer came back after going into the woods. After the former slaver returned, Dermot came in silently after him, closing the hut door and surprising him. The group took a few minutes to get caught up, then turned conversation towards their next objective, the lair, while Pincer snoozed.

The first part of the discussion revolved around the planned treatment of any Astorians at the lair and it was agreed that no prisoners would be taken. Rahnee then kicked Pincer’s foot to get him awake and answer some more questions. She first asked where prisoners were kept in the lair, but he claimed not to have seen any on his last trip there. She and Darrow then expressed concern about any prisoners being killed after the lair was assaulted, which only served to confuse Pincer, who failed to understand why valuable prisoners would be executed.

Rahnee then pressed Pincer on what the lair was like inside, past the entrance. He mentioned that it was pretty dark and he recalled being escorted past the entry chamber and down a corridor to the guards’ quarters. He thought there was only one corridor and said he had not gone any further into the lair past that point. He also reminded them that they would have to find the lair entrance first. Rahnee was still concerned with the need to move fast once inside the lair, which Pincer was skeptical about, mentioning that he had moved slowly and carefully in there while following his guide.

The adventurers turned to discussing their tactical plans, including the use of light while underground, the need to detect any traps inside, and which spells Aerikoth should cast when. As they were finishing up, Pincer interjected with the suggestion that maybe he could stay and guard the hut, clearly not relishing the idea of going with the others to the lair. He was pleased to hear that this was their plan as well, although his enthusiasm was dampened after Rahnee informed him that Aerikoth would be locking the door after he left. The wizard observed that the hut would disappear of its own accord in perhaps twelve hours.

The companions, having decided over Rahnee’s objections that it would be best to move against the lair then rather than wait until morning, collected their gear and exited the hut, Aerikoth magically locking the door once only Pincer was left inside. He had been told that if they failed to return before the structure vanished, he would be on his own. Dermot then lead the group through the woods for the next two hours, taking them back to the original area where the white stag had appeared. (This raises the question whether Pincer would disappear along with the magical hut - which I expect may have been a concern of the slaver - although it is implied above that only the structure would vanish after the expiration of the spell. I would not like to trust my life to such magical effects. Pincer obviously had no choice in the matter and it would not be a loss to the world to have one less slaver in it. --C)

Circling carefully along the natural forest paths, Dermot found another snare, which Shanni disarmed. Dermot moved confidently and silently through the woods, leading the others down what seemed to be a natural-looking corridor of trees past the snare. Moving ahead of the others, he spotted another trap, as well as a group of men in what appeared to be an ambush position. Dermot went back and informed the others of this and they readied themselves for battle.

The fight did not go quite as the adventurers expected. More Astorians appeared from another ambuscade that had been hidden from view and Darrow set off a tangle trap while charging forward to meet them. The dwarf however was able to ignore the vines, which magically moved aside when faced with his axe, and rushed several enemies who were flanking them with arrow fire. Rahnee fought furiously to hold off the other ambushers while Darrow attended to this task, supported by the arrows and spells of her comrades. Several Astorians nonetheless got through into the adventurers’ back ranks, gravely wounding Shanni in a confused melee. Darrow’s return to the main fight put their enemies on the defensive, however, in combination with a well-timed Slow spell from Aerikoth. After some further brutal combat, all of the Astorians were killed.
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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