Monday, March 28, 2016

The Company of Fools: After the Lady

So, I've been running a 5e D&D game for the past two months.  It's set in a homebrew sword & sorcery world.  Think Conan the Barbarian meets Clash of the Titans, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what the setting is like.
I'm going to be lazy today and, instead of posting more about the Thornhold homebrew, I'm going to share with y'all, the first adventure of the Company of Fools in that world.

The Company of Fools:
After the Lady

14th of Truce, 1002 CI
Our story opens on a dark and stormy night in the city of Ator Aru, at a tavern called Strego’s.  Outside, the wind howled and the rain fell in cold, thick sheets.  Inside the tavern, there was light and warmth and comradery of a kind.
Seated around a table were four travelers: Joeber, a Human Rogue; Woodbridge, a Human Cleric of the god, Arcus; Paan-zi, an Elf Sorcerer with a static electricity issue and Korri, a Human Druid from the Greenwild.
As these four sit talking, the door to the tavern opens admitting a newcomer; a blonde man wearing a woolen cloak.  As he makes his way to the bar, his gaze drifts over the tavern’s customers and stops on Joeber.  Joeber thinks he recognizes the fellow, but can’t remember his name.
A moment later that situation is rectified when the stranger walks over to the table.  He addresses Joeber by name and, when Joeber admits that he doesn’t quite remember the man, the fellow identifies himself as Oryx.  He and Joeber fought side by side during Joeber’s days as a soldier.  Sitting with the party, Oryx reveals his right arm is missing. Joeber comments that this is new and Oryx touches his stump and remarks that he lost the arm in conflict with a champion.
As the group talks, they order more wine. A slave girl approaches with a clay wine jar, but trips and drops the jar.  Joeber tries to catch it but fails miserably, actually knocking the jar into the adjoining table.  It shatters, spilling wine across the tunic of a large man named Bartus.
Bartus rises from the table, incensed, and backhands the slave-girl across the face. Joeber steps up, claiming the fault was his and offering to make amends. He orders more wine but Bartus, egged on by his drunken friends, pours it out on the floor.  Joeber punches him and a fight breaks out.
It ends fairly quickly; the drunks dispatched, mainly, by Joeber.  One of the drunks, who had fled, returns with a pair of city watchmen.  They order Bartus and his pals home for the night, and caution Joeber and his associates about making any more trouble that evening.  As the watchmen leave, the group notices that they lock eyes with Oryx, nod in recognition and leave.
As things settle down in the tavern, Oryx tells Joeber that he might be able to offer him and his companions some work.  It would require discretion, though.  The party agrees that they might be interested and agree to meet with Oryx the next day.

Afterward, as the evening wears down, Woodbridge takes some time to tend to the slave-girl, Ella’s, bruises.  He also presses three silver coins into her hand. (A princely sum in this world!)  Eventually, the tavern closes and the party retires for the night in a hostel down the street.  Korri opts to sleep on the roof, beneath the stars, where he gets rained on.  Paan hangs out with a doorman, who warns him against wandering the streets. There has been a string of disappearances lately.

15th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
The next morning the group rises and, after some discussion, heads for the bathhouse down the road. Joeber makes arrangements with the hostel to hold his pack as they will probably be back that evening.  They head out into the streets of Ator Aru, grabbing breakfast from a food stall and discovering that the city is paying for free baths today.  The group heads to the bathhouse where all of them, except Korri, opt for the baths.
This part of the city is largely a blue collar district, where there are factories and workshops. Most of the folk on the street are human men, so the group can’t help but notice a group of armed dwarves escorting a dwarf cleric and a halfling matron.  Joeber, who speaks Pidgeon, overhears the word ‘death.’  Woodbridge, who speaks Dwarvish, curiously shadows the group and hears the cleric and the matron talking about the recent deaths in the city and how they may have to do something since the city leaders seem helpless. Then one of the dwarf guards notices the cleric and he rejoins the group.
After their baths, the group heads back toward Strego’s.  Joeber goes into the tavern, where he sees an Elf woman serving at the bar.  He approaches her and she greets him warmly.  When Joeber asks about buying the slave-girl, Ella, the Elf woman, Rhalla, says she’s willing to consider it.  She’d have to ask for at least two silver for the girl, but is open to “negotiation.”  As it turns out, Rhalla is Strego’s wife (a peculiar situation since the races here can’t interbreed). She calls her husband to mind the bar, while she takes Joeber upstairs.  As Joeber is walking behind Rhalla, Strego gives him the thumbs-up.
While Joeber goes upstairs, the others enter the tavern. Korri is suspicious about Joeber’s absence and bulls his way upstairs, past a surprised Strego, who mistakenly thinks Korri and Joeber are ‘intimate friends.’  Korri sets him straight, then goes upstairs and walks into the room, just as Rhalla is straddling Joeber.  There is a short, heated exchange and Korri returns to the tavern, where he fumes.  Meanwhile, Woodbridge checks in on Ella, assuring himself that she is okay and that she still has the silver pieces.  About an hour later, Joeber comes downstairs with Rhalla.  They’ve successfully negotiated, Rhalla commenting that what Joeber lacked in endurance he made up for with enthusiasm.  Her husband gives Joeber the thumbs up.  Joeber now owns Ella, but he will leave her at the tavern until the next day.  He does not tell this to the others.
Oryx arrives and he takes the group to meet their prospective employer. They travel from the Trade District, into a wealthy residential district.  There, they enter the residence of Master Armus Cegatar.
Master Armus is from Irsutustu, the First City. His family is one of the First Families of Irsutustu, a position of status and power.  He is in Ator Aru on business, and brought his wife and daughter along with him.  He regrets this as his daughter, Farrah,  fell in love with an Elf Cleric named Siortanalus and has eloped with him.  They are, even now, sailing to the Elvish city of Aorluen, on the other side of the Sea of Splendors.  Master Armus wants the companions to return his daughter to him, alive and, hopefully, ‘unspoiled.’  As payment, he offers a fortune in small, precious stones: rubies, diamonds, emeralds, citrines.  They just have to be quick and discreet.
The party accepts the offer, Woodbridge stepping up to negotiate the finer points of the deal. He specifically asks what Armus wants done with the Elf.  Armus tells him that he doesn’t care what happens to Siortanalus; he just wants his daughter returned to him.
As the party leaves, they are accosted by Armus Cegatar’s wife, Jura.  She begs the party to bring her daughter home, and gives them a strand of pearls from around her own neck as impetus. She vanishes as quickly as she came, leaving the party startled and quite wealthy.
Outside the house, the party discussed what to do with the pearls. After some debate they decided to divide the pearls among themselves, and have the two remaining pearls kept at a local temple until later. Once this is decided, Oryx informs them he has the maid who helped Farrah escape confined at his home. They will also need to speak with the captain of the ship he has arranged to learn the best time to leave.
While Woodbridge and Paan decide to accompany Oryx to his place to question the maid, Korri and Joeber head to the Elvish Quarter.  Korri is looking for a distance weapon, and Oryx recommends an Elvish merchant named Ulso.  They all agree to meet back at Strego’s tavern at dusk.
Heading back into the Trade District, Oryx leads Woodbridge and Paan back to his residence on the Street of Potters.  There, they meet Dae, the personal slave and maid of Farrah. She is chained at the wrist and ankles, under the watchful gaze of an old woman armed with a club. Oryx leaves Woodbridge and Paan alone to interview the girl.  Under their questioning, Dae reveals she had no idea her former mistress planned to elope. She told this to her owners, but they did not believe her. Now she has been turned over to Oryx who has instructions to sell her in the Pens.
Convinced that Dae is telling the truth and thinking she might be of use to them on the journey, Woodbridge convinces Paan that they should buy the girl.  After some persuasion and mental legerdemain, Oryx agrees to sell Dae to them for four silvers. To keep his word to his employer, the transaction will be carried out at the Pens. The four of them depart for the Pens to complete their transaction.
Meanwhile, Joeber and Korri have entered the Elvish Quarter.  Here, the buildings are whitewashed, the streets seem cleaner and the residents less stressed.  They find Master Ulso’s shop, where Korri buys some javelins.  Joeber asks where he can buy clothes and Master Ulso informs him the best place to buy second-hand goods is the Market District.  The two thank the elf and head for the Market.
Woodbridge and Paan have already arrived at the Market and made their way to the northern section, where the slave market known as the Pens is found. There, they complete their transaction with Oryx, purchasing Dae.  They discuss their plans, as they head back toward Strego’s tavern.  As they walk, sorcerer and cleric notice that Dae is lagging behind. Woodbridge suggests they place a single shackle on the girl.  Hearing this, Dae runs.
As the slave-girl flees through the crowded Market, Woodbridge and Paan give chase. However, Dae is quick and agile, dodging their efforts to catch her.  Woodbridge starts to shout, attracting the attention of the shoppers and the Market guards.  It also brings them to the attention of Joeber and Korri who have just arrived.
Korri tries to intercept Dae, but the desperate girl careens into him, knocking him prone and avoiding Joeber’s grasp as well. In her mad rush, she plows into a human woman, knocking her purchases to the ground.  The woman reflexively grabs Dae and holds her, giving the four companions and Oryx the chance to catch up.  Seeing five men descending on the terrified girl, the woman puts herself firmly between them.
Introductions and explanations are made. The woman is Lamalia, a haughty beauty, who decides to offer Dae her protection.  Woodbridge and the others explain what happened and hearing they intend to leave the city, Lamalia asks to join them (1) to keep her word to Dae, and (2) because she requires certain things from the Wilds for her research.  Despite some general mistrust among the group, they agree.
Returning to Strego’s tavern, Oryx bids the group farewell, telling them he will meet them at dawn the next day.  The others settle in for a meal. Rhalla greets Joeber with a wink and Strego gives him a thumbs up from behind the busy bar.  During a lull in the supper rush, Rhalla leads the slave-girl, Ella, over to the table and gives her to Joeber.
Finishing their meals, the group returns to the hostel down the street.  The night porter, recognizing Paan, urges the group to remain indoors as it is dangerous now to be out after dark.  When asked why it’s so dangerous, the porter says, “It’s Truce. Things get crazy during Truce, but they should get back to normal during Tithe.”
Lamalia shares a room with Dae, while Woodbridge and Paan agree to watch the door in shifts. The night passes largely undisturbed until around four in the morning, when a shrill scream wakes the party. Woodbridge and Joeber go downstairs to investigate, where they encounter the obviously frightened porter who dismisses the scream as, “Just a nightbird.” The two return to their beds, unconvinced but reluctant to investigate.

16th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
The next morning at dawn, the party (now consisting of five adventurers and two slaves) assembles outside the hostel. Paan discovers that his electrical condition has worsened.  Oryx greets them and leads them out of the city via the Fisherman’s Gate, which opens onto the Fisherman’s Stair.  The Fisherman’s Stair is a flight of switchback stairs carved into the rock surface of the cliffs Ator Aru stands upon.  Wide enough for two people to walk abreast, the rocky stairs are slick and treacherous.  Descending them, various members of the group slip and fall, only the druid, Korri and the slave-girl, Ella, keeping their feet.
At the bottom of the stairs, the party makes their way along a low sea wall. Four feet tall, there are simple shrines dotted along the wall to various deities: Osion, Simera, Ura, Sengu. Joeber cuts off a lock of hair and leaves it on a shrine to Osion, the God of Sea and Sky.
Ahead of the group is the Fisherman’s Village, a small, lawless shanty town built of whatever scarps the fisherman can scavenge from the city and the sea. Oryx warns the party to keep one hand on their weapons and one on their purses.
Making their way through the ramshackle village, Oryx leads them to a large tent. Inside, it is dimly lit. There are hides and reeds strewn upon the ground. The air is musky. There are men sprawled, unconscious, on the floor. In a back corner, a human man and a halfling woman are canoodling, oblivious to all.  And in the center of this tent, seated on a wooden stool, is the man they have come to find: Captain Fatbelly.
Fatbelly lives up to his name. He is a huge man, dark-skinned, baldheaded but possessing a lush black beard that covers his chest.  His clothes are a mishmash of wool and furs and his fingers are thick with rings.  He is being tended to by three older women; one pouring wine into his mouth, the other feeding him dates.  He greets the party warmly and enthusiastically, offering them wine, food and companionship.  The group politely declines and Fatbelly announces they will be leaving as soon as the tides are right in pursuit of the fleeing lovers.
“I know the ship they are sailing on,” Fatbelly says in a thick Northern accent. “Belongs to Ardusis. She sails like fat turd on water. We catch her in no time!”
Oryx bids his farewells to the party, leaving them in Fatbelly’s care. The captain leads them to his ship, where his crew is making ready to depart. His ship resembles a galley, a long ship with a single sale and a small cabin on the deck that belongs to Fatbelly.  The party will sleep on the deck.  As they settle in, Fatbelly advises the women to be cautious of his crew. Lamalia promises that if any of the crew touches her, it’ll be the last thing they do. Fatbelly is amused, telling her, “You have spirit! I like!”
The ship sets out to sea, entering the turbulent waters of the Kiss.  Woodbridge goes a little green, but it’s the druid, Korri, and the slave-girl, Dae, who get violently sick.

17th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
A galley-type ship with a single sail and forty oarsmen, The Promise crosses the Kiss in a day.  They have the wind at their back and the crew rowes in shifts. The adventurers keep out of the way, staying on deck, noting that aboard his ship Fatbelly is all business.
Fatbelly informs them that the ship they are pursuing is called The Aruda. He describes it as a ‘floating turd.’  It’s captain is a human man called Ardusis. Fatbelly knows Ardusis’s route and destination and assures the party that The Promise will easily overtake the other ship.
On the western side of the Kiss, the party notes tall, black cliffs almost identical to those that Ator Aru stands upon. However, there is no sign of habitation on these cliffs.  The Promise sails close to shore now, keeping land in sight.
At midday, the vessel arrives at the fishing village of Sytish.  Drawing near, the party spots hundreds of people on the beach, surrounding a pair of burning funeral pyres. After some discussion among themselves, the party agrees to split; Joeber, Woodbridge and Paan will go ashore while Kori and Lamalia remain aboard The Promise.  Fatbelly assigns one of the crew to go with the three men, to watch the small boat while the adventurers make their inquiries.
Approaching the funeral pyres, the trio speak with some of the locals. They discover that the pyres are for a fisherman and his grandson. They were night fishing and their boat was discovered by the port-keeper around midnight; the fisherman and his grandson had been murdered, their corpses desicrated.
Paan decides to speak with the port-keeper, and after a spectacularly awkward beginning, learns that the fisherman and his son had their throats cut and their fingers cut off. The group also learns that The Aruda arrived after the discovery of the bodies, and left with the dawntide.
The group is somewhat divided on what to do next. Joeber is all for leaving the villagers to handle their own affairs, while Woodbridge wants to approach the widow.  Paan agrees with Joeber and after Woodbridge speaks briefly with the widow, pressing copper coins into her hand, the trio returns to The Promise.
While all this had been happening, Kori had wandered below decks where he joined some of the crew in a spirited game of knucklebones.  Having not quite grasped how money works, the sailors saw him as an easy mark and lightened his purse by a few copper before Kori left.  During the game one of the sailors asked Kori if he thought the slave-girls owners would be willing to rent them out for about six coppers.  Kori very firmly said no.
The others return to the ship and The Promise leaves Sytish behind.  As the ship departs, the weather starts to turn.  Soon the sky is gray and overcast, a wind is howling and, in the distance, lightening flashes.  Most of the party takes shelter below decks as the storm breaks and The Promise rides the rough sea. As Fatbelly prepares to guide his ship into shallower waters, one of the crew shouts, “Sail, ho! Off the starboard!”
In the distance, illuminated by the flashing lightening, Joeber spots another galley. As it draws near, he notes its sails, white with red slashes; the sign of the privateer fleet of the city-state of Rheus.  Fatbelly shouts all hands to deck, to repell attackers.
As the storm rages, the party can see the deck of the privateer, swarming with pirates. With a deft move, the privateer swings against The Promise, smashing into her side. Immediately, most of the privateers swarm over the low wooden railing, while others lash the vessels together with rope.
The battle is brutal and bloody. While rain pounds the two vessels, lightening stabs at the ocean and the two crews try their best to kill one another.  The adventurers are immediately put on the ropes as the scimitar-wielding pirates attack, taking advantage of pack tactics to deliver some serious damage to the party.
As Joeber defends the sail, Kori assumes the shape of a dire wolf.  Paan and Woodbridge move toward the captain’s cabin, where Lamalia and the slave-girls have taken refuge.  As the battle begins, the leader of the pirates appears.
An enormous, muscular man with his shaved head painted to resemble a skull, wearing a necklace of fingerbones, the fellow leaps into the fray. Attacking Kori, only the rocking motion of the storm-lashed ships prevents the Cultist from inflicting harm.
The fight progresses and the party takes its licks. Amazingly, the fearsome looking pirate leader is one of the first fatalities, killed by Kori. Slowly, the tide of battle changes in favor of the adventurers, until all of the pirate are dead.
As Fatbelly and his crew toss the dead pirates overboard, the party quickly explores the other vessel. Below decks they find the dismembered corpses of several men, women and children. In the captain’s cabin, they discover an altar to Datosh, the God of Chaos and Corruption, obviously maintained by a Cultist of Garush.  On this altar is a woman’s severed forearm, the skin as white as snow.
Kori flies into a rage and proceeds to smash the altar.  Joeber searches the cabin and discovers a curious black idol, that Woodbridge identifies as similar to certain idols meant to represent the goddess, Astara.  He pockets the idol, and the party decides to burn the pirate vessel.  He also discovers a small bag of copper bits and coins.
Using oil and druidcraft, Kori sets the pirate vessel ablaze.  Cutting the ropes binding them to the foul vessel, Fatbelly guides The Promise into shallower waters.  The storm, which had been quieting, seems to find new strength. Standing on deck, the party watches the pirate vessel burn in the distance.

18th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
Following their battle with the pirates and the destruction of the pirate craft, the adventurers endured a stormy night aboard The Promise.  As Captain Fatbelly and crew guided the craft closer to shore, the companions took refuge below decks.
The next morning, Fatbelly informs them they will need to put The Promise ashore to make necessary repairs before continuing their pursuit of The Aruda.  Thankfully, he knows a place nearby, where they can beach the galley for repairs.  Also, they must give their dead a proper funeral.
A short time later, The Promise comes to ground on a beach near a small collection of wattle-and-daub  huts.  This is the hermit-village of Drayen.  From the ship’s deck, it is apparent that one of the huts has been destroyed in a fire.
Concerned, Fatbelly orders scouts to go ashore and investigate. The party, with the exception of Joeber, accompanies them.
Drayen is a small community, consisting of five huts built around a common area with a fire pit.  It is glaringly apparent that something awful has happened here; there are three bodies sprawled in the common area.
Investigating the bodies, Kori determines that these people have been dead for more than a day.  They died from multiple stab wounds.  Also, many of their fingers have been amputated.
Recognizing the work of Cultists, the sailors rush back to the beach to inform Fatbelly.  Meanwhile, the group spreads out and carefully investigates the remaining huts. They find more bodies, including one that does not seem to belong.  In one hut, Lamalia discovers a young man sprawled on a table, dead from a festering wound in his gut, a quill still gripped in one hand. On the table is a letter he was writing.
The young man’s name was Iornus of Ten Trees, a loyal soldier of the Legions of Rheos. In the meandering letter he reveals how the galley he served on was overrun by Cultists. One stabbed him in the gut before knocking him overboard. The tide carried him to this hermit-village, which had already been eradicated.  The letter ends abruptly.
As the group continues to search the area, Kori makes an unexpected discovery. While searching around a hut, he comes face to face with a large, short-tempered bull.  Attempting to placate the animal, Kori grabs a local plant and feeds it to the big bull.  Unfortunately, the plant seeds are a potent spice, which enrages the bull.  It attacks, causing Kori to take refuge in the hut.
The bull, meanwhile, emerges into the common area where it attacks the companions. Lamalia and Woodbridge blast it with occult and divine spells, but the bull still manages to render Paan unconscious.  Kori remains safely ensconced in the hut, unable to bring himself to attack a poor, dumb animal.
After getting blasted by Lamalia’s witchbolts and Woodbridge’s holy fire, the bull retreats.  As it wanders away, the wizard and the cleric stabilize Paan and restore him to consciousness.  Afterwards, disturbed by sounds from within one of the huts, Woodbridge uses his holy fire to set it alight, not realizing that it’s Kori inside the hut.
At this point, Fatbelly arrives and chastises the group for ‘wasting time with bull when there are dead people to tend.’  He orders his sailors to gather the bodies of the slain hermits and take them to the beach for burning.
Kori, still distraught over the encounter with the bull, vanishes into the nearby forest to commune with nature.  The others return to the beach, where Woodbridge officiates at the two funeral pyres, one for the sailors and one for the Cultists’ victims.
Afterwards, as captain and crew begin making repairs on The Promise, the party passes the time on the beach. Joeber produces the small black idol he retrieved from the Cultist’s pirate-ship and examines it.  The others come over for a closer look.  Lamalia casts detect magic on the small idol, revealing it does have a spell cast upon it.  The slave girls, Dae and Ella, wander over and the idol reacts to their presence, growing warmer.  After some experimentation, the group discerns that the idol is reacting to something about Ella. Lamalia takes Ella aside and, after some awkward questioning, the group determines that the idol reacts to the presence of female virgins.  Everyone is a bit surprised to discover the idol reacts, to a lesser extent, to Lamalia herself.
Meanwhile, Kori has finished communing with nature.  He returns to the beach, but as he passes through the hermit-village, a strange feeling washes over him, causing all the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end.
Concerned by the possible misuse the idol could be put to, and not trusting Joeber with it, Lamalia gives the idol to Kori to hold.  Joeber shrugs, thinking it will be easier to get the magic item away from Kori.
The day progresses and the party makes camp on the beach. A bonfire is lit and guards are posted.  Overhead, the moon is nearly full and the wind coming off the Sea of Splendors is chill.
As the group sits, one of the guards raises an alarm.
In the distance, the group sees shimmering blue lights approaching from the direction of the hermit-village.  As the lights get closer, they coalesce into the ghostly forms of the Cultists’ victims.
The ghosts come closer and the air gets noticeably colder. The wind seems to fill with the moans and wails of lost souls.  Behind the party, the bonfire grows dimmer and dimmer until it is extinguished.
A wave of uncanny fear rolls over the group, proving too much for some of the party. Paan-Zi turns and flees the ghostly procession, accompanied by several of the sailors.
At Woodbridge’s urging the group makes way for the ghosts, who pass by without incident.  As the last ghost passes, Woodbridge asks if there’s anything the ghosts need. The final ghost, an older woman, turns and mouths the word, ‘Beware.’  Then she follows her companions to the ashes of their funeral pyre, where their ghostly forms collapse into pale blue sparks. As soon as the last ghost has gone past, the world returns to normal. The bonfire spontaneously bursts back into flame and runners are sent to retrieve their panic-struck comrades.
After this experience, many of the party decide to sleep on the deck of The Promise rather than the beach.  Woodbridge is among them.  That night, the cleric has unsettling dreams. In them, he relives the last few days of the ghostly woman’s life, confirming the hermits were killed by the Cultists the group had previously encountered.

19th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
The next morning, repairs on the galley completed, the group sets sail, once more in pursuit of the Aruda.  Fatbelly assures the group that, between the storm, the sailing vessel’s size and the incompetence of its captain, they should catch up to the Aruda today.
Later that afternoon, the party spots what appears to be wreckage from a ship floating in the water. Consulting with the captain, the Promise sails on and, as the sun sets, they round a rocky cove and come upon the Aruda.
The sailing ship is lying on its side on the rocky beach.  Its mast has been snapped and there is a gaping hole in the rear of the vessel.  Fatbelly brings the Promise to a halt, about one hundred feet from the beach.  The sun is setting, and the party debates their course of action before deciding to investigate the Aruda.
Kori assumes his dire wolf form, leaps overboard and swims to shore.  Lamalia, Paan-Zi and Woodbridge pile into the reed boat.  Joeber remains behind, suffering from a bout of food poisoning.
Arriving on the shore, the group investigates the wrecked ship. Lamalia discovers several bodies on the far side of the vessel. Wolf-Kori attempts to sniff out any clues, but the combination of scents from the vessel makes it difficult.
Eventually, the group decides to explore the interior of the vessel. Climbing up its side, Lamalia and Woodbridge lower Paan down to an open hatch in the vessel’s deck.  Paan finds himself in a corridor. Ahead, he can make out an open door.  Upon closer investigation, the elf sorcerer determines that the door was forced open.  Inside the small room behind it, he finds bundles of expensive hand-woven linens.
Lamalia and Woodbridge decide to join Paan, but their entrance to the ship is less than graceful.  They fall through the open hatch in a tumble. The trio set out to investigate the corridor, discovering several other shut doors. They quickly determine that this deck was used to store non-bulky valuable cargo.  They find no bodies or evidence of violence besides the forced door.
Meanwhile, wolf-Kori has returned to the beach.  Discovering the bodies in the water, he begins to drag them to shore.  As he goes about his work, the druid shapeshifter notices a stark white light in the distance, coming from the thick forest.  Realizing this is not a natural light, but the result of magic, he barks to get his companion’s attention.
Emerging from the vessel, the trio immediately spots the light.  Joining wolf-Kori  on the shore, the group decides to seek out this mysterious light.
As the quartet proceeds into the forest, the sailor returns to The Promise with news of their intent.  Joeber, recovered from his illness, returns to shore and begins to trail the others.
Ahead of the rogue, the others have noticed that the mysterious light is actually getting closer to them.  As the group arrives at a clearing in the woods, they see the source of the light emerge from the forest on the far side: a group of four figures, three humans and an elf, in obvious flight.  One of the humans is a young woman, supporting the elf, who is the source of the light.  Of the other two humans, one is an older man with graying hair, supporting another who has obviously been injured.
As the newcomers step into the clearing, Paan-Zi casts light himself, bringing the quartet to a sudden stop.  As the two groups hail one another, a spear flies out of the darkness, striking the wounded man in the back.  He falls to the ground, dead before he hits it.
Three figures emerge from the distant treeline.  They are humanoids, about 4'5" tall with rat-like features and gray-furred bodies.  Two of them are armed with simple spears.
The creatures (ratlings) are obviously pursuing the quartet of wounded humanoids. Seeing the party standing across the clearing, one of the ratlings falls back and blows into a horn.
Joeber surges forward, attacking with his shortbow.  As the battle is joined, the adventurers make quick work of the three ratlings. Afterwars, as they gather around the surviving trio, more ratlings begin to pour out of the dense forest.
The party immediately begins to retreat, fighting a rearguard action. Lamalia, her spells exhausted, takes charge of the wounded trio.  Kori, still in wolf form, proves a formidable obstacle to the ratlings, until the arrival of a crippled ratling cleric.  He releases a devestating necrotic attack upon the druid, that eventualy forces him to revert to his human form.
As the companions flee toward the east, Paan lights a torch and tosses it to Joeber. Joeber thrusts the torch into the clearing’s long grass.  Paan does the same with a second torch.  Woodbridge attempts to rally the group, to fight the approaching ratlings, but his efforts fall on deaf ears. The group flees the clearing, into the forest, heading for the beach.
On the beach, two sailors are waiting with the boat.  As the party bursts onto the beach, they quickly realize they’ll have to travel back to The Promise in shifts. Lamalia and the older man, now identified as Ardusis, the captain of the lost ship, take the first trip.  The boat returns to the shore and Woodbridge and the young couple pile into it.  Paan-Zi decides to swim out to the ship, clinging to the side of the boat.  Along the way, the sorcerer is molested, just a little, by an eel.
The small boat returns to the shore, and Joeber and Kori return to The Promise. As they make their escape, ratlings burst onto the beach.  One tries, vainly, to throw a spear at the departing craft, but fails miserably.  The rogue and the druid arrive on The Promise and the ship hauls anchor and begins to set sail away, the west wind at her back.  Joeber taunts the ratlings on the shore, prompting their cleric to point at the ship, in silent promise of retribution.

20th of Truce, Year 1002 CI (Bloodless Moon)
The next day, as The Promise retraces her path along the coast, tensions rise.  Ardusis reveals that his ship was wrecked by a combination of storm and sea serpent. The group queries Fatbelly, who had previously told them the shallow water near the coast was safe from sea serpents; he clarifies it by saying ‘Is safe from Mama Serpent. Baby Serpent? Eh. Not so much.”
But he also advises them that sea serpents are rarely encountered in the Sea of Splendors, and that this attack was probably a freak accident.
Meanwhile, the slave girl, Dae, has confronted her former mistress, Farah, delivering her a resounding smack.  Woodbridge tries to calm Dae down with little success. During their conversation, Dae admits she’s looking forward to Farah being forced to return to her father’s house.  Dae’s words cause the cleric and Lamalia some concern.
Farah confronts the group, having learned they were dispatched by her father. During this confrontation, Farah reveals that her father views her as nothing more than an asset to be traded, via marriage, for his benefit.
While Lamalia and Woodbridge are speaking with Farah, Joeber retrieves the black idol from Kori. The two begin to discuss the future of this venture, particularly what they should do with the elf boy, Siortanalus.  Kori reveals he has a poisoner’s kit and that if they decide to, he can simply poison the elf.
As The Promise retraces the route toward Ator Aru, the companions debate their next steps among themselves.  Arriving in the fishing village of Sytish, the party notes another vessel at anchor in the bay; a trader’s ship bearing the insignia of a large, golden spider on its prow.
Fatbelly announces that they will overnight at the village and continue in the morning.  His reasons are varied: he does not want to sail at night, he wants to inform the locals about the pirate-cultists and he wants to go to a bar and get properly drunk.  Also, Ardusis will not be returning to Ator Aru with them; the other captain will be staying in Sytish to make some attempt at salvaging his lost ship’s cargo.
As Fatbelly announces a general shore leave for the crew not on watch, the companions note they have attracted the attention of a crewman, a wiry man called Ilardus.  He has been eavesdropping on their conversation. Joeber confronts the man and sailor and rogue take a mild dislike to one another.
Villagers in rowboats arrive and start to ferry people to shore for a copper.  Fatbelly, Woodbridge, Lamalia and Paan climb into one boat.  Kori and Joeber remain aboard The Promise, to guard Farah and Sigh.
Going ashore, Fatbelly leads Woodbridge and Paan to a local tavern where the three get royally drunk.  Lamalia, meanwhile, buys a walking stick in hopes of creating a magical wand.
Eventually, the party returns to The Promise where the night passes without incident.

21st of Truce, Year 1002 CI (The Bloodless Moon)
The next morning, however, things take a peculiar turn.  Raising anchor and hoisting their sail, The Promise does not move. The group drags a rope along the bottom of the ship, but nothing seems to be holding the galley in place.  Lamalia casts detect magic but finds no evidence the ship is under a spell.  Meanwhile, the crewman, Ilardus, has noted a curiously satisfied expression on Sigh’s face.  When he asks the elf if he knows what’s going on, Sigh just smiles and says that “Sometimes prayers are answered.”
Noting the elf cleric’s demeanor, Joeber attempts to intimidate him into undoing whatever he’s done.  The brute force attempt fails, prompting Lamalia to cast charm person on Sigh.  Under the spell’s influence, Sigh reveals that he prayed to his goddess, Aphora, to keep The Promise from returning to Ator Aru with himself and Farah.  His prayer was apparently answered.  Lamalia asks Sigh to pray to his goddess, to revoke his earlier prayer, but the attempt fails.
Meanwhile, the plight of The Promise has not gone unnoticed. Several local fishermen approach the vessel, asking what’s the matter.  Meanwhile, the party decides to see if separating Sigh and Farrah will undo whatever divine curse is leveled against the ship.  Lamalia and Sigh board The Promise’s boat, but Sigh’s absence has no effect on the ship’s condition.
Ilardus, who is in the boat with Lamalia and Sigh, starts to row toward the other ship which is now preparing to get under way.  Lamalia attempts to arrange passage on the vessel, but the captain is unwilling and the small vessel returns to The Promise.
One of the locals, learning that The Promise is having ‘god-problems’ suggests the party consult Mother Morna, a wise woman who lives on the outskirts of Sytish.  The party agrees and Fatbelly orders Ilardus to accompany them as his representative.  Kori elects to remain behind and guard Farrah.
The others go ashore and, upon the advice of the locals, stop at the local store to purchase a gift for Mother Morna.  Joeber purchases fishcakes and a jar of wine, while Ilardus purchases a segment of leather for Mother Morna.
Meanwhile, Kori has approached Farah and offered her some unexpected help. Using his poisoner’s kit, he provides her with a poison that she can use, as she wills, once she returns home.  Farrah accepts the poison with a quite, “Thank you.”
Ashore, the other members of the party have arrived at Mother Morna’s hut.  It sits on the outskirts of the village, a small wattle-and-daub hut with a thatched roof, surrounded by a garden of unusual plants.  A small, leafless tree, adorned with the polished skulls of dead animals, stands by the entryway to the hut’s yard. Seated by the front door of the hut is a bored-looking boy of about ten.
As Paan-Zi approaches the skull-tree, something about it interacts with his peculiar condition. Suddenly, his electrical aura intensifies, reaching dangerous levels. His red sorcerer’s robes began to smolder.
As the group approaches the door, the boy summons Mother Morna.  She is a little, old human woman with Einstein-ian hair sticking up around a sharp-featured face.  One of her eyes is slightly bigger than the others and she has a voice like a lifelong smoker.  She is not pleased at having ‘customers’ as she is preparing for a date with the Portkeeper.  The gifts of fishcakes and wine mollify her and she gets to work.
The first thing she does is shove a heart-like fruit into Paan’s mouth, apprently neutralizing his ‘condition.’  She then goes indoors and returns with an oracular box that she uses to go into a trance, allowing the party to commune with a deity.
Warned to ask only simple questions, the party has a frustrating experience.  The deity plays it coy, identifying itself only as ‘One of the Twelve.’ When asked if it can free the ship, it says, “Yes.” When asked if sacrificing Sigh would free the ship it says, “Possibly.”
Coming out of her trance, Mother Morna is appraised of the events. She identifies the deity they spoke with as Ruse, the God of Mischief, and tells the group that they’re thinking about this way too much, that if one prayer got them into this mess, then another can get them out of it.
After a rather unsettling exchange between the old wise woman and Woodbridge, the party returns to The Promise.  Fatbelly decides to test a theory and has Farah lowered into the boat containing Sigh. Kori joins them.
Without Farah and Sigh aboard, The Promise starts to move.  A plan to tow the couple back to Ator Aru in the boat proves futile however, as the boat the couple occupies refuses to be budged.
As the group considers the ramifications of this, the boat containing Kori, Ilardus and the young lovers is disturbed by something moving beneath the water.  Sticking his head underwater to investigate, Kori sees a sinuous black shape bearing down upon them.
The creature smacks the bottom of the boat again, capsizing it, throwing the occupants into the water.  Ilardus scrambles onto the overturned boat and the mysterious creature is revealed to be a young sea serpent.
Quickly, the party engages the serpentine beast.  Alas, their numbers are lowered as noble Ilardus is almost instantly killed by the sea serpent.  The others quickly attack the beast, and learn that its bite is only one weapon in its arsenal; it also possesses a water-blast ability. that does serious damage to Woodbridge.
Eventually, the serpent is driven off through a combination of mundane and divine magics, as well as Joeber’s reckless attacks and a volley of arrows from the deck of The Promise. The group quickly boards the galley, to consider their next steps.
As the party debates their next steps, a second sea  serpent emerges from the water, prompting a panicked response from everyone on deck. Joeber rushes to acquire his bow, and inadvertently draws the serpent’s first attack.  He avoids its snapping jaws by diving into the lean-to set up next to Fatbelly’s cabin.
The battle is quickly joined as companions and crew take arms against this new serpent. Kori shifts into his wolf form.Paan-Zi, Woodbridge and Lamalia pepper it with low-level magical attacks. The crew attack with shortbows to limited effect.
The serpent rears back, shrieking and a wave of fear seems to swamp the deck of The Promise. Everyone loses heart until Lamalia, in a rage, rushes toward the beast and attacks it with shocking grasp, rallying the crew.
But as the battle is renewed, in a guyser of salt water, the serpent from the earlier attack reappears, Joeber’s sword still stuck out of its back.  Things look bleak, with Fatbelly actually ordering everyone to abandon ship, until the serpents turn on each other.
Seeing this, the crew and companions rally again, attacking the beasts. Kori, still in wolf form, leaps over the side of the ship and sinks his teeth into the nearest serpent. He manages to hang onto the creature despite its slippery scales.  Sigh, the elf cleric, joins the fray, reigning sacred fire down on the creature, but it is Paan-Zi who claims the kill.   A volley of magic missiles rip into the wolf-ridden serpent, ripping it open.  As the corpse falls into the remaining serpent, from earlier, Kori successfully leaps from the dead beast back onto The Promise.
The remaining serpent sinks into the ocean, ignoring the parting shots of the party and crew, preferring to go after easier meat.  Blood erupts from beneath the water as the serpent tears into the corpse of the other.
As Fatbelly orders the galley to the shore, Woodbridge loses his patience and demands that Sigh free the ship from its divine curse.  He blames the elf cleric for putting them all at risk. For a moment, it appears as if Sigh is going to call down sacred fire on Woodbridge.  Joeber, reading the situation, readies an arrow, to strike down Sigh from behind.  Sigh simply says he will pray.
An hour passes.  With a shudder, The Promise starts to move naturally on the tide.  Turning toward Sigh and Farrah, the companions are stunned to see that the human girl they were sent after has been transformed into an elf.
As the group wrestles with this new development, Fatbelly announces that they will set up camp on the shore.  “I think we would all like some good earth beneath our feet. Yes? Yes!”
Making camp, companions and crew are inundated by villagers who witnessed the battle with the serpents.  As events are retold, embelished by some, the sun sets. A bonfire is built and the full moon rises.
Suddenly, from across the silvered waters of the Sea of Splendors, comes a deep, mournful roar.  Everyone goes still as memories of the recent battle replay in their minds. This roar sounds similar to the one emitted by the serpent, but different. Deeper and more powerful. Scanning the horizon, the party sees nothing but moonlight on water.
As they begin to settle, as conversations begin again, from the west comes the howl of a lone wolf.  Kori, in human form, responds in kind.  A moment later, his howl is answered by a wolf-like howl from somewhere much closer.  Curious, the young druid shifts into his dire wolf form, to the shock of the assembled villagers, and bolts away, to hunt for the wolves.

22nd of Truce, Year 1002 CI
The rest of the night passes without incident.  At dawn, Woodbridge wakes and quickly realizes they have lost track of Farrah and Sigh.  A search of the camp reveals they are not there; returning to the galley, the cleric finds the elven couple in Fatbelly’s cabin, making love.  They do not notice him and Woodbridge discreetly leaves.
Returning to the shore, the cleric learns that Fatbelly is going to consult Mother Morna. They find the old woman in the tavern, enjoying a bowl of wine and the lingering afterglow of her date with the Portkeeper.  Joeber asks if its possible for Mother Morna to teach someone to do what she does; Mother Morna, in a moment of seriousness, replies that she wouldn’t if she could, that what she does is a burden she was chosen to bear.  Then, with a wave of her hand, she’s all business.
Returning to the beach, Mother Morna performs her ritual of communion.  As her eyes film over, Fatbelly asks if they will reach Ator Aru safely. The entity Mother Morna is channeling says, “Yes.”  Joeber asks if the man who betrayed him is in Ator Aru and is told, “No.”
Returning to The Promise, companions and crew resume their journey toward Ator Aru. They debate what to do when they return but come to no conclusion. Paan, Woodbridge and Lamalia do take Dae aside and discuss the future with her.  Woodbridge and Paan formally free her and Lamalia offers her a position as her assistant and possible apprentice.  Dae tentatively accepts the offer.
True to Mother Morna’s prediction, The Promise crosses the Kiss without incident and arrives at Ator Aru late that evening.  The ship queues up for a place at the dock.  Because they’ve arrived after sundown, the city gates will be closed.  Fatbelly advises the companions that it would be safer for them to remain aboard The Promise until the next day and the companions agree.

23rd of Truce, Year 1002 CI
The next morning, as the ship docks, the companions spot a familiar one-armed figure waiting for them.  Fatbelly advises he sent word to Master Oryx that they had returned.  As Oryx comes aboard, Lamalia and Dae disembark, the wizardess wisely deciding they don’t want to be involved in what happens next.
When the companions present the transformed Farrah, Oryx is naturally skeptical.  Fatbelly confirms their story of the girl’s transformation.  Oryx is completely flabbergasted by this turn of events.  Divine intervention is not something that happens every day.  He urges the group not to present Farrah to Armus Cegatar, because he doesn’t know how Cegatar will react. He suggests the safest path is to tell Cegatar that his daughter was ‘lost on the Day of the Serpents.”  The others, with varying degrees of reluctance, agree to this strategy.
As the group begins to make its way to the house of Armus Cegatar, Oryx advises them they’ll have to use the city’s main gate.  There was an incident not long after the group left, prompting the city to close all the other gates and to impose a sundown curfew.
The party arrives at the city’s main gate.  Fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide, the gates are made of fitted stone and covered in hammered bronze, an image of Osion etched into them. The watchmen on the gates are more vigilant than the companions remembered, but the group passes through without incident.
Making their way to the Tower District, the group arrives at the house of Armus Cegatar. Entering through the side gate, once again, they are led by a servant to an open courtyard at the center of the house.  There, in a small garden, resting on a chaise lounge is Armus Cegatar.  Attending him is a personal slave and a pair of bodyguards, an elf and a human.
Cegatar greets the group which launches into its spiel about how Farrah was ‘lost.’ Cegatar listens, his expression unchanged and unmoved as Joeber speaks.  Oryx chimes in that Fatbelly can confirm the story.  Cegatar purses his lips and his gaze wanders over the companions, assessing them.  His gaze lingers on Kori, who suddenly blurts out the truth, to the consternation of the companions.
Cegatar listens to the story of his daughter’s transformation, his face like a wax mask. He considers the group, then demands proof of his daughter’s transformation.  Learning that she is still on The Promise, Cegatar says that one of the companions can fetch her while the others remain with him.  The group agrees and Woodbridge is dispatched.
An hour passes.  The group waits in Cegatar’s garden.  Seats are provided and refreshments.  Paan-Zi has a cup of wine. A servant emerges with a lyre and plays softly in the background.  Cegatar does not speak to any of the companions and they do not speak among themselves.
Woodbridge returns, accompanied by Farrah and Lamalia.  Sigh also accompanied the group, but is waiting in the street outside the house.  Armus Cegatar examines his daughter. Lamalia tenses, ready to defend the girl.  Cegatar asks Lamalia to “take this young woman out of my house.”  Lamalia takes Farrah and the two are escorted out of the house by one of the slaves.
Turning back to the group, Cegatar sighs and says, “Well, it appears the gods themselves have seen fit to intervene.”  He returns to his chaise where he addresses the group’s members. He compliments Kori on his honesty and Joeber on his attempt at deception, “weak and flacid as it was.”  To Oryx he expresses his disappointment with his deception.  “But we will speak of that later.”
He then produces a velvet bag and hands it to Kori.  “Your payment, for services rendered, not including the price of the pearls my wife gave you.  Our business is concluded. Get out.”
Summarily dismissed, the group is led out of the side gate by the servant.  Lamalia, Farrah and Sigh are waiting for them.  Outside the gate, the group opens the velvet bag. Inside are several cut and polished gemstones.
Oryx whistles and appraises the gems as being worth about 66,500 CP.  The pearls they were given earlier were worth about 9,000 CP.  So, the group has made over 75,000 CP.
Now, all they need to do is keep their mouth shut about how they earned it.

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