THE DM’S TALE
Leaving The Ilecin Delve, our valiant, battered heroes were now in possession of The Heart of Stone. They were now deep in open desert. The roadway they had been following is little more than a suggestion, but they think you can still follow its course, tracing the bulge it made in the hardpan through a landscape of scattered boulders and strange stunted trees, and the endless sands around them, beneath a boiling sun that had bleached them of all color. The breeze hadn’t so much died as collapsed, the air was motionless, the heat vibrating around them like insects wings. Everything around looked both close and far away, the sense of perspective distorted by the immeasurable horizon. How easy it would be, one would think think, to get turned around in such a place to wander aimlessly until darkness fell.
At this time, they spotted a horse trader with a caravan traveling in the opposite direction. Informing the man that there was no benefit to trying to sell his wares in either Memphun or in Desheb, a brilliant plan formed in Elythia’s mind; they would volunteer to escort him back to The Salt Coast and the City of Gemoor. This man knew the way, and had horses. In time they made it to their destination, but not before losing some horses to viscous hyenas after nightfall, and then battling the tattered remnants of Uzgash’s orc dynasty, driven from their battle with Drekha the day before. Riddled with arrows and doused in magic flames, the orcs met their last, and it would seem that for now, at least, Drekha ruled supreme in the Salt Flats of The Desert of Raduun.
Eventually, after what seems an interminable and thirsty journey through the desert, they spot the glittering Salt Coast – it appears at this distance as a vast blue carpet of twinkling gems, stretching ever onward to the horizon. Imagine a place where the ground simply stopped, and beyond that a place of tumbling endless blueness, like the sky turned upside down. And sitting there atop it, the rusting ribs and creaking planks of a dozen ships, great in size and stretching up and out of the blue, like a whole village of man’s creation, jutting from the waters further than a dwarf could throw an axe.
It’s perhaps a more welcome sight than they’ve had in a long time. Just of the road into Gemoor, a monastery stands several floors higher than the smaller buildings around it in this district, at the outskirts of the city. The Monastery itself is wrought from sandstone, and has intricate stained glass windows depicting the radiant sun, Solar angels in flights, and the stern face of Pelor looking down upon the city of Gemoor. Inside they met a singing priest by the name of Meron, and learned of several things: First, that a ship had come in from Brondoriand with its crew in terrible sickness, and they had not received any scented oils in shipments from Lorione in weeks to cover up the smell. Layla volunteered to help tend the sick, and dragged the limp form of Kayras toward the sick ward to tend her wounds as well.
Second, Moron told them of scandalous rumors from Grewfert that implied that the sun was dimming, and that their Enginseers in the Astronomicon had proof. Then, an acolyte ran up to Meron and delivered a sealed, beautiful paper folded into intricate designs, with gloriously colorful dyes forming a royal crest. Meron took some time to read it, furrowing his brow deeper, and then further so, over time. “My my, it’s as if things couldn’t get any worse. This is news from Dorasea, the Deacon of the Westcrown diocese presents me with this report that the congregation there is dwindling, and She has requested aid for the church – both in terms of clergy for services and promotion of the faith, and clerics for the treatment of the poor children, for their ward is overcrowded as ours is. Though this is a different sort of ailment, it would seem – She lists terrible depictions of birth defects rising in the area: Children born with extra arms, no eyes, a second head sprouting from the shoulder, horrible discolorations, legs with too many joints, etc. In many cases it seems there is nothing to be done, they are simply treating the pain more than anything, and the family’s loss. Dwarven children are so rare as it is, such a tragedy. But I have so little to spare as it is, there simply isn’t anything to be done, even for the likes of her holiness Madame Leonhardt” As he crumpled the paper and tosses it into a wastebin beside his desk.
Leaving Layla to do her healer’s work, the party then descended towards the Bay of Nakarn, meeting Captain Stenwall, who had just returned from The Dominion of Odisvalk, and was fearful to return. They decided to board his ship, the Arcturan, to head there with him to investigate his stories of mad beasts driven into the sea. First, however, they headed deeper into town to meet with Lady Seema Idhan and deliver news from Desheb.
Approaching the walls of the Palace seen from outside the city, it becomes apparent that this series of buildings is particularly large – bigger even than they had thought from atop the hill. A number of people are milling about in front of the gate, some are beggars, and others are merchants peddling wares. Eight guards stand watch at a massive double doored gate, which stands open at the moment. Occasionally people pass through after handing documents or showing things to the guards and are allowed passage, while others are turned away. “You’ve come from Desheb, you said? Lady Seema has been expecting you. Come with me”, and so they proceeded indoors after talking with the guards.
Two more of the guards peel off of the group to follow alongside as the first begins to escort them through the gates and into the palace grounds beyond. He says nothing as he walks you up to the front of the largest building in the compound, an elaborately carved door opens as he leads the way, the guards at the front of the palace stepping aside. Brought through the open foyer through a long hallway, several artistic pottery works in recesses along the walls before them and at a large, open chamber with several couches gathered around a low table. There are pitchers of water and wine at the table, with several brass cups. Sunlight filters through a slatted roof above, as the guard leading says to wait, and heads up a set of stairs at the far end of the room.
The conversation with Lady Seema was brief, but insightful. She cannot help them, despite believing their tale. She told them that the Ivory Clan are slavers, and they have unwittingly aided in their business, fighting off The Vultures, a band of rebels under her command. Black Marten was their leader, and Rooke was able to kill him, despite his renowned sixth sense – almost as if could practically read minds. Apparently she didn’t know of anyone who ever surprised him, snuck up on him, or ever defeated him – he was a monster to fight because he always seemed to know your next move, Greiz always said. As Rooke fiddled nervously with the ornate ring he was gifted by Naphrem, the party left to return to the docks and board the ship.
Approaching the bay itself, they can see a number of docks and launch points scattered across the water. Several are empty, but many contain ships moored there, some with full rigging and multiple masts with square sails, other smaller craft and many in between. There is a wide variety of ships present here, most tied off or at anchor in the recesses of the bay. Many of these wooden ramps and slips converge onto a single platform, at the hub of the varying shipways and portage locations. There are sailors and dockworkers hauling crates to and from the ships, nets full of fish, or guiding passengers, and they all pass by a man fussing over a large book, taking note of the people who pass by him – collecting or giving coin, and having to occasional passerby write or sign something in the book itself. On his shoulder rests a bright yellow and blue parrot, rustling its feathers every so often as it attempts to maintain balance – a difficult task, it would seem, since the man was in an animated argument with a merchant, who has just stormed off angrily back toward the shore.
They discerned that there was a ship in quarantine – the one from Brondoriand, it would seem, and the merchant Malazzan wanted them to board it regardless and get back his shipment of pearls and crab meat for sale, fearing a significant loss of his personal investment and an Ivory Clan loan if he could not recover his wares. Talking with the Harbormaster Faiza, the party decided not to go on board after all, after Faiza told them "let’s just say this is one of the few quarantines I actually agree with. He’s one of the lucky ones, really (Parrot cries “lucky ones!”) – his ship is actually here. I’m sure hes frustrated that he can’t get to it, but at least the ship is here. Many boats that are scheduled to be here haven’t arrived yet, some are late by over a week. I’ve been getting my ear yelled off by so many merchants these days – it’s been made all the worse by that edict that came out of Estalia this week."
“The bank of Estalia is a huge player in our business here in Gemoor – nearly everybody has a loan or two from them they got at some point. Earlier this week, we got in an edict from the Master of Coin declaring that all outstanding debts are to be repaid to the Realm Immediately. Not sure how well they’re able to enforce that, but I don’t have the ability to repay mine at the moment. Many of the merchants are panicking, and maybe even the Ivory Clan likely can’t repay all of theirs today if they needed to. Even the Idhan family probably doesn’t have the assets they need at the Palace to cover their debts, after what happened at Memphun and all that. I have no idea why they would demand the repayment without a warning like that, and the delayed ships isn’t making my job any more comfortable.”
Asking about other locations, Faiza tells them “I haven’t heard anything is particular, most sailors see me as an obstacle rather than a friend, so they just do their business quickly and get off to the shipwreck lounge or wherever they’re headed. What I do know is that despite the fact I’m missing some ships, There are a lot more passengers coming off board than I’m used to – not tourists, really, almost like refugees, travelers who seem to have decided that staying where they were wasn’t the best idea. I’ve seen more desperate and wild eyes than I’m comfortable with recently. Not sure what to make of that, but it’s probably not good.”
With their discomfort growing ever more, the party decided to recover Layla from the church and head out on the ship with Captain Stenwall, and learned shortly thereafter from Railey, the first mate, that Stenwall has not slept for some time, in part thanks to recurring nightmares of his time in Odisvalk. According to some onboard rumors, dreams had become a place he no longer wanted to visit. Stenwall had been able to conceal the effect of stimms he used to stay awake, at least at first. But now he was afraid the others could see it. Afraid that the others could smell it on him. He was afraid a lot of the time, in fact. Especially since the dreams had started to bleed into his waking life.
And so, with dawn breaking, the Arcturan set out from the Bay of Nakarn towards the distant shores of Odisvalk, with Dark Omens swirling in their minds, and the chill of ice in the wind.
THE LEE’S TALE
In the wake of the last battle of the Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty First Great Orcish Civil War (Part XXVIII), our band of adventurers struggled to return to civilization, with the newly acquired Heart Stone in tow. As luck would have it, the first non-orc they encountered was a traveling horse merchant. In desparation, they waved the aspiring businessman down and sought his aid to return to Gemoor. After much bartering from Elythia and Thomas, it was the former diplomat Sir Thomas Harbrooke that convinced the man to take them thence, free of charge. It should be noted that this horse merchant would soon die an ignoble and accidental death as a penniless street urchan after this failed endeavor. But none of them knew that.
The man would have been slain much sooner, were it not for the band of adventurers. After a brief wolf attack, they were encountered by none other than Uzgash himself and his closest band of whatever loyal orcs managed to survive the slaughter. Desparately seeking a win of any kind, the orcish squad attacked the caravan. However, much like the wolf attack, the orcish variety was also short lived. Elythia of House Valoran put her overnight study of spellcraft to work, unleashing a new spell: A Scorching Ray that burned the everything off of the Orcish leader. And so it was that, in a forgotten spot in the middle of a desert that the great Uzgash was felled by a random band of yahoos with no stake in the line of succession. A fitting end, all who knew him would agree.
However, some wounds were sustained as the team dispatched the remaining Orcs. That process went by expediently as the group had grown wise in their dealings with Orcs who don’t speak common. Having successfully ended a potential dynasty (and a little fearful of their companion), the group pressed on.
Their efforts were well worth the journey. For they came upon the grand city of Gemoor, The jewel of the Desert of Radhun (a dubious honor, its critics would say). The city was formed into districts and dominated by a large palace at its center. The outskirts of the city held the first structure: A sizeable temple to the god Pelor, as identified by Layla, who recognized the symbols of her patron god. Seeking first contact, they made their way there first.
The priest in charge of the temple was an older man named Meron. At this point in his life, he had his hands full as the chief medical authority dealing with multiple health crises, on which he briefed the group. He described the plague ship, fresh from B. Its crew and cargo were ridden with a mysterious sickness and required assistance. Layla could not help but spring to the aid of others, and left the group to assist the sick. Meron, temporarily relieved with the extra helping hand, continued to tell the adventurers of the troubles of the land. There was also talk of a spike of birth defects in the Dwarven theocracy of Dorasea, which made Musushi absolutely livid to think of the suffering of his dwarven brethren. Through it all, of particular concern to Meron was the alleged dimming of the Sun in the land of Gwerfert. Though described with a torrent of mistrust for the Astronomicon there, the group recognized the symptom to be similar to the work of Hol Boloth of the Nine. Concerned by this grave news, the group steeled themselves and came to the realization that the work of the Nine continued. And must be dealt with. With no decisions, but great concerns, the group pressed deeper into the city.
Oh, and he didn’t know anything about the Heart Stone. Nor did he care about the Nine (Musushi welcomed the familiar pain of disappointment).
Their next stop was a crossroads where travelers could pray to Fharlanghn, the god of travelers. At Rooke’s beckoning, the group stopped for a while. There, they met Captain Stenwall, a sailor fresh off the boat for resupply. He’d been having trouble sleeping from the sights he saw on his last voyage. Herds of wildlife, rushing into the sea in an act of mass suicide as he and his crew helplessly watched from off-shore. He still heard the knocks of their antlers when he closed his eyes. He pointed them to his ship, the Arcturan, bound back to Odisvalk, land of druids. Bidding farewell and half-hearted good lucks, the group departed.
Their destination was the Palace in pursuit of their quest to find answers for the missing shipment of Desheb. Again relying on the connections and negotiating power of Elythia and Thomas, the group earned an audience with the de facto ruler of the Desert of Radhun. Who they met was not as expected. All talk made mention of the Lady’s inexperience, but the woman to whom the group spoke was shrewd, though young. It was revealed that the rebellion of Desheb was, in fact, financed and organized by Lady Seema herself. And for what cause than the freedom of all. Yes, the Ivory Clan, the group’s chief (earthly) employers thus far were slave traders. The lost shipment they sought was no exception. It had miraculously made it to Gemoor, whereupon Lady Seema freed those in bondage.
The group took a (few (dozen)) moments to collect themselves.
And executed a total reversal of position. They expressed their ignorance, then outrage at their former employers. They disavowed them immediately and swore their efforts to Lady Seema and her righteous mission (in 1 week’s time upon return to Desheb). They did, however, leave vague the precise events that led to the demise of Black Martyn, the freedom movement’s local leader.
The meeting concluded, and Lady Seema being very busy, the group was then excused, but not without partaking in some of the offered (and unoffered) refreshments. Reeling with new information, the gang set to the warpath (especially Elythia). They went down to the docks to inspect the plague ship from Brondoriand. There, they caught the end of an argument between Malazzan, an Ivory Clan merchant with business interests in the cargo (allegedly pearls and crab meat) and Faiza, the harbor-master, duty sworn to keep it quarantined. As Malazzan departed in a huff, he lobbed an ill-timed deal to the group: Retrieve the cargo and be rewarded. Newly suspicious of all things Ivory, the group decided to launch their own investigation, starting with the harbor master. Faiza told them of the Estalia banking edict, which called for immediate repayment of all outstanding debts. Noting the panic of the banks, Estalia made the list of the provinces of the Nine.
Pressed for time and eager to counter-act the Nine (and after a few cons thwarted by a too-wise harbor master), the group turned back Captain Stenwall, to join the second Odisvalk voyage, slated to leave by the next morning. After collecting Layla, the group disembarked aboard the Arcturan with its sleep deprived captain and concerned crew. And adventure!