2017-03-23

Sundered Lands 24

The Sundered Lands of Palladium

Session 24
August 1-28, 2017


Sea Harpies, Here We Come

Saturday October 28th

Plans to Return to Dead Dog Alley

Eliar has left the manor, running off to the Azure District to become a whaler and leave the city. The group stands around, looking at the crude map he scribbled of the Sea Harpy hideout. After a few moments, the spell-casters are refreshed and ready to go though Arn is still a bit winded from the fight, the hauling of the Sea Harpy and the heated and intense interrogation of said Sea Harpy. He flops down heavily in a cushioned armchair and sighs, “I needs to catch me breath just for a second.”


Seeker pats Arn on the shoulder. “Take a few, Arn. You did great getting that guy here all the way across town. You earned it.” He pauses. “Giving them an hour will mean they are on high alert when we get there. What do you think of waiting til dark? Get a boat and we can get there and back without messing with the guard posts. Could make everything go smoother. Seven hours from now they’ll be off their guard again.”


Seeker spreads out the map. “So, are we all clear on our objective? Go in here,” and he points to the marked Guildhall Entrance, “then take a left to this training hall. Through there to this door, where our new friend indicated that Lady Lotus has her quarters. If possible, secure the door from the training room so reinforcements are slowed. Arn and I in front, Val and Brother in the middle, Silver guarding the rear. I figure if we get in a long passageway, a breath of fire could convince several of them to retreat.


Fortis peers at the map and glances at Valinya. “With a few hours to prepare would you like to design a few casting combinations to use in a few probable scenarios?”


Waiting for her assent, Fortis continues. “If we need to hold a door an area of darkness might give us an advantage… Is there anyone who would be impaired by such a tactic? And everyone remembers to blink for a moment when I call out ‘daisy’ right?”


“These types are more active after dark, might be better to go at dawn, catch them while most of them are asleep.  Also, if they figure out who we’re associated with, I wouldn’t be surprised if they come to visit here after dark.  OK, so let’s assume we get in there first -- what are we doing when we find this Lotus?  I rather doubt she’ll be so forthcoming with answers as our last guest.”


Seeker’s response is matter-of-fact. “I like the suggestion to attack at dawn, Silver. Let’s make that the plan for now. And you ask a good question, too. I guess it depends on how big we want to go. Minimal goal is to apprehend or eliminate Vanthus. That takes care of the short-term problems Lavinia has been having.”


He grins a scary grin. “If we want to think bigger, we could take out this Lady Lotus and set ourselves up as the new leaders of the Sea Harpies. If we’re going to be here for some time, it would provide us with manpower and resources to help the city of Essanos. It’s possible that the Sea Harpies are in league with one of the Great Houses, possibly Kellani. Taking it over yanks a substantial amount of influence out from under them.”


“Working with Lavinia, we could become a force for good in Essanos. Having sway in both the political and street arenas would further that end quite a bit.”


To help Arn, and anyone else who needs it, recover some fatigue quicker, the group sits and has some lunch. “So we’re NOT leaving right away?” Arn asks, his impulsiveness getting the best of him.


“Oh, no, my friend. You’re much too tired.” Seeker waves at the table. “Eat and drink up! Oh, and could someone pass the sliced meat again?”


Seeker turns to the group. “So, what do you think? Should we go get Vanthus and call it a day? Or go big and try to take over the gang?”


“Would we actually be willing to take over a gang and continue to operate extortion and smuggling endeavors? It is not yet clear to me how we would maintain loyalty and control of the various gang members without providing them with income suited to their talents and abilities. It is a fine goal, but the particulars may cause us to pass through some uncomfortable quandaries.” Fortis looks concerned with the idea of becoming a ‘crime lord’ as though it would violate his self image. “Would it be enough to render the gang inoperable? Perhaps turn the members over to the authorities along with some evidence linking them to house Kellani?” Fortis shrugs. “Capturing a lieutenant or two and having them confess everything to the watch commander could theoretically be politically useful to Lavinia by weakening Kellani’s ability to move against Vanderboren. There is also the possibility of discovering how Vanthus has been accessing concealment magics. It seems likely to be a small part of a larger story to me. Not to mention, I suspect Lavinia would appreciate us recovering whatever portion of her inheritance remains. Perhaps Arn should be prepared to haul out a bit of coinage.”


Fortis thinks for a moment. “It seems to me that no matter what we will want to be prepared to deal with prisoners. Perhaps having a few sets of manacles or at the very least some sturdy rope we are willing to cut up for binding would be a wise thing to bring along.”


“Taking things over sounds risky, and who knows when we’ll need to leave Essanos.  We’re trying to stop pearls, and I don’t think our skills are very well suited to running a city underworld.”


“I concur with going around dawn.  As for plans, I think we should go in planning to get Varthus and as for the rest, it will probably work out one way or another.  There are so many variables I say we wing it.  Fortis and I can work on thinking through some spell combinations.  If we need protection I can magically lock any door for us.  That should buy us a good bit of time unless they have a battering ram handy.  And who knows, perhaps seeing this entrance might remind me of something from my vision of the shadow pearl.  I would not be against temporarily using the Sea Harpies for some short term project if that opportunity presents itself but I don’t think we’ll be here long term.  


Arn enjoys a hearty lunch and some well earned drink. He thinks to himself that the young Wolfen, who is quite noble yet foolish at times, has gotten himself all flustered and thinking too much into every scenario. Listening to the conversations, Arn chimes in.   


“I can take a few metal spikes and my mallet and jam some of the doors shut. It will buy us more time preventing them from getting through them, if you all think something like may be helpful. Perhaps a few other mundane tricks may help too, like some slippery oil spill in the hallway or some caltrops to slow them down? I’d also like to poke around that Rum storage sometime.”


Arn takes a long swig of ale from his mug. “Hmmmm,.” he thinks aloud. “As for taking over the Sea Harpies, I think yer all daft for considering it. We have a mission to complete and powers that be to serve. I doubt we could even convince half to those thugs to work for the right team. Maybe we can find one or two worth interrogating, but in the end, let’s not lose sight of what we are here to do.”       


Seeker nods, “I wouldn’t underestimate our team here, Arn, Silver. There’s a lot of different angles we can tackle in an op like this.” He pauses, “And I haven’t forgotten the shadow pearl. But if it’s being smuggled into the city, this could place us closer to that pipeline. We use the Harpies to leverage our view into the underground. And neuter Vanthus in the process.”


Seeker’s eyes keep drifting back to the map. “Hey, Arn, how long til you’re rested? There looks like some really cool stuff down there.” Seeker starts re-thinking the ‘wait all night until dawn’ plan. If we wanted to get a boat to use, without a pilot, I could go now and get one while Arn catches his breath, then we could be good to go. It may be that the Harpies are out thieving during the day, and hole up at their HQ at night. It might be that now is a better time to attack.


After waiting for a few more minutes, Seeker gets up. “Well, regardless of when we want to go, we’ll need a boat so we don’t have problems with the guard posts. I remember where I got one before. I’ll be right back.” With that, he leaves.


The Ellyl peers around at his remaining companions. “Is there anything else anyone thinks is important to discuss prior to our assault? Perhaps the order of entry for the team breaching the door? Or whether one of you would like a specific acorn? Or talisman? Do we want to set up a retreat point? Or leave a ‘come help us’ note with a messenger to be delivered to the watch at a specific time if our return is overly delayed?”


Lookin’ for a Boat

Seeker quickly makes his way out of the manor, through the courtyard, and soon is out front. He heads to the place he rented a boat before, on the north shore of the Merchant’s District, looking across the water. Hmmm… Wait, there’s one!


Seeker hustles across the Market Square, dodging the knots of market goers and oblivious to the stares as he passes. He looks it over as the Human pilot steps from the bow. “Good afternoon! You have a nice boat there. Would it be for hire?”


The man turns and, catching sight of Seeker, scowls. “An’ why would I want to share a boat with the likes of you?” He sneers. “Probably get fleas.” A few of the fellow’s cronies, lollygagging on a nearby bench, laugh at their friend’s ‘score.’ One calls out “Heh, good one, Pasquale!”


Seeker takes a deep breath. So, that’s how this is going to go. Well, let’s give it one more chance. “Actually, I was hoping to just rent the boat. Your company would not be required.”


The Human, a swarthy fellow with black hair and bad teeth and fairly big, for a Human, shakes his head slowly. “Oh, no no no, doggie, that’s not going to fly.” A glint of greed enters his eyes. “Unless you have five hundred gold, I don’t see how I could part with my dear boat, er, uh, Rosie. Yea, she’s really valuable, and close to my heart.” He looks at Seeker expectantly.


Ah, well, not gonna happen here then. “‘Rosie’, huh?, named for your girlfriend Rosie Palm, right? I think it would be a crime for me to separate the two of you.” This time the cronies laugh at Seeker’s riposte. The boat owner, though lacks their refined senses of humor. His calloused hands ball into fists and he starts to move towards Seeker.


Now, where to get a boat? Seeker’s gaze is already sweeping the waterfront for any other option when he catches Pasquale approaching out of the corner of his eye.


Seeker spins back around and glares at the Human, gazing down from several feet above him. “Seriously? Man, go back to your boat. I’m not interested right now.”


Ignoring the Wolfen, the tough moves in. He throws a couple of haymakers at Seeker’s torso. Seeker retreats and bats them away. The boatman keeps coming, and Seeker decides to stand his ground. He bats one blow aside, but the other gets through. Pasquale looks momentarily pleased, until his fist encounters Seeker’s armor. It does not seem to affect the large warrior.


Seeker looks down. “Good hit. You want to keep going?” The tough flexes his hand. The pain seems to have given his brain the chance to catch up with his temper.


“Nah!” he snarls. “Just get off with ye. And stay away from my boat!” He turns to his friends, who are quite impressed at his fighting prowess, and pound him on the back in admiration.


Seeker sees a couple of Merchant District guardsmen watching from a short distance away. Lucky I didn’t deck the guy! He moves away from the boat and Pasquale and decides to explore in another direction.


So, where else to look for a boat? Last time, it was to try and keep Fortis from mind controlling a hapless boatman. This time it’s to avoid the guardposts. So, something big enough for the team plus Lavinia. Probably rowboat or dinghy, but with maybe some more options. Where oh where…


Well, Eliar said he would go to Azure to catch a ship out of town. I want to stay out of Sunrise until we’re ready, and Merchant’s could be dicey now. Shadowshore as a backup. Seeker starts making his way through the Merchant’s Plaza, staying along the seawall, looking for a boat for rent.


So, Azure? Crap, gotta go back through Sunrise to get there. Well, take a boat to get a boat. Seeker makes his way to the docks where the small ferry boats tend to congregate. Approaching the first in line, he asks, “How much to just take me across to Azure?” The boatman, actually a boat girl, looks him up and down and shrugs. “1 silver.” Relieved, the big Wolfen gets in the boat and soon they are making their way across the short stretch of water to the Azure District.


“You know, there could be more silver in it if you can point me to somewhere I could just buy a boat. I don’t need anything fancy - just room for me and maybe four or five more. Not my size, of course. Your size. Human size. Eh, you know what I mean.”
Essanos Boat Girl.jpg
Tassia the boat-girl
The boat girl narrows her eyes and says, “Show me the coin.” At that Seeker flashes her another silver, and getting no reaction from that, another two. The girl nods and resumes the trip, changing course toward the south, and Sunrise District. “I know a fella, ready to hang up his nets. He’s a good guy, helped me outta a jam or two. Looking to sell his fishing craft, should hold 6 easily, might need a little work but I know it floats. Think he is hoping to get 60 or 70 gold for it, but you know, there’s probably room for bargaining.”


“We’re, um, going to Sunrise? Uh, ok,” Seeker stammers when he recognizes the direction they are headed.


“Oh, naa, staying in Merchant, that’s where my friend, Burl, keeps his skiff. He stays down on Barnacle, keeps the boat tied up down at the end of Merchant. But we gotta head down this here canal between Merchant and Sunrise. Got a problem with Sunrise, there Fang? By the way, I’m Tassia.”


“Seeker,” the Wolfen responds then nods and hunkers down in the water taxi, taking in the myriad of smells and sounds of Essanos. After a few minutes, they arrive at the appointed dock and the girl swings a rope around a piling. “You wait here, I’ll go get him. That’s the boat over there,” she points to a decent sized fishing skiff. It looks old and has many patches on it. It even looks like there might be a small mast and sail folded up in the bottom. Should hold the crew, Seeker thinks. Definitely not worth 70 gold, though.


After a few more minutes, Tassia returns leading a decrepit old man by the arm. He appears blind or at least of very impaired vision. She introduces him to Seeker and after a few minutes of barter, the two agree upon the price of 500 silver. Not having that much silver in his pocket, Seeker passes the old man 50 gold coins. His eyes widen at the sight of the gold coins and shakes Seeker’s hand after biting on the coins to verify their authenticity. “There’s some old nets in the bottom, probably a few oars too. All yours friend. Enjoy and thank ye mightily!” Tassia helps Seeker untie it and she asks him if he knows how to handle such a craft, smiling at him. He blushes beneath his fur and assures her that he can handle himself. ‘Ok, back to work, see ya around, Seeker.” She poles her small craft into the sunset, around the far end of Merchant District and is gone. Seeker, the proud owner of a “new” boat, situates himself in the center, grabs a pair of worn and cracked oars and begins rowing back toward Vanderboren Manor, wondering if he could possibly even row it right up the little stream and into the pond in the courtyard.
             

Moving Out                      

While Seeker is gone, Arn starts inspecting his equipment. He took a few shots from the thugs, but the damage to his armor isn’t substantial. Nothing he can work out in a smithy with an anvil and a hammer. He will have to make arrangements for minor repair work in the near future. Satisfied his weapons and armor are up to snuff, Arn starts looking over his equipment. Gathering some rope and grappling hook, his satchel and puts inside his mallet and a handful of spikes. Arn secures his potion belt and harness and webbing for all of his weapons.    


“Thanks for the rest and the healing magics my friends. I'm feeling much better now and I’m ready to get moving on hitting these Harpies before we give them too much time to get ready for us. Let’s make sure everything is ready to go.”


While Seeker is gone, Arn and Valinya manage to succumb to their impulsiveness while prepping and planning and Silver, who tries to be the voice of reason, becomes curious enough about the whole affair so that she is ready to go as well. Moonscar, on the other hand has crawled beneath some bushes in the yard to take a nap while Fortis flits about the yard, using his magic to change flowers and plants different colors.


When Seeker arrives, rowing his newly purchased boat right up into the courtyard (he did have to lay all the way down in the boat to float under the wall), he sees Arn and Valinya gearing up. The sight of the giant Wolfen in the little boat is enough to get everyone, even the now-awake Moonscar and Sings to Moon fired up and ready to go.


Forgetting the plan to wait a few hours, or to wait till midnight or dawn, the Guardians of Bletherad do what they do best, head off with only a vague idea of what the plan is. Seeker pulls the boat back outside the wall and everyone, including Sings to Moon, piles in. The big Wolfen, with some help from Arn, paddles the boat toward the Sunrise District and the Taxidermist Guildhall.


Suppressing an amused smirk as he watches his allies struggle with the unfamiliar vessel Fortis puts on an earnest expression and asks “Would it make anyone more comfortable to have a professional boatman take us through these narrow canals? It appears there might be room for Marlin to operate the boat. It might be convenient to have someone waiting to get us underway if we need to leave quickly”. Now that I think about it, it seems unlikely Seeker was able to acquire this vessel without it costing him something. We ought to appreciate his contribution. “By the way Seeker, thank you for providing us with this lovely craft, have you considered naming her?”


Surprisingly, Seeker acknowledges Fortis’ query. With wide eyes and a big smile, he says, “Actually, Fortis, I did give that some thought. But I had to discard ‘Cowardly Evil Psychopathic Slaver Pixie’ because one, it’s wayyy too long to write on the bow, and two,” and here, his eyes narrow and the smile vanishes, “you might figure out I named it after you, and believe that you and your magical slaves were welcome on this boat. Let me make this clear - you are not. This boat is for people on my team.” He waves a paw off to starboard, “I suppose you can fly alongside, if you want to time your arrival with ours.” He turns back to piloting the boat.


Silver raises an eyebrow at Seeker’s venomous comments, but otherwise keeps her mouth shut.


Acknowledging the undeserved hostility Fortis replies ”Well, if your narrow minded pettiness is that severe I can give ‘your’ team a wider berth. Alternatively, if any of them choose to deal with someone more polite I’d welcome them into a team with an ethic of treating its members as comrades and equals. In the meantime, I think there are some other productive things to look after.” Fortis looks over his shoulder as he moves away from the forbidden rowboat. “If any of the rest of you would like my help you are likely to find me regularly at Vanderboren manor when projects do not require my presence elsewhere.” With that he returns back to their lodging to consider his next project.


Silver looks rather upset, but doesn’t comment when Fortis flies off.  They need to sort out their issues, we’re doing dangerous things, and it’s more dangerous with all of this nonsense.  Too bad they won’t listen to anyone.


Valinya watches Fortis fly away with a stunned look on her face.  “That … was quite shocking and unexpected.”  Pausing a moment she watches as he continues to fly away.  “I don’t think he is joking.  Of course, I wouldn’t put it past him to still meet us there once he has some time to think.”  Muttering to herself Valinya grumbles, “Still, flying isn’t a bad idea at all.”  Uncomfortable over water as always, Valinya sings herself into vapor, her body of air spell, content to float along pretending to sit comfortably all the while holding back some anxiety.  “I trust your boatsmanship, Seeker.  Sorry I can’t really lend a hand.  I’m not really strong enough to help, nor do I have any skill.  Besides which, I can’t grasp an oar while in this form and unfortunately I need to be.  For, um, personal reasons.  But I can sing you a rowing song if it helps, either something humorous or inspiring.  Your choice.  But if we’re trying to be quiet that might not be a good idea.”


Moonscar arches an eyebrow and cocks his head as he looks at Seeker, then Fortis then down at his friend Sings to Moon, then Seeker, Sings, Seeker, Sings - his expression growing increasingly puzzled and alarmed as he absentmindedly sucks on his tail and ponders Seeker’s outburst. “I’ve been getting concerned about Brother’s interactions with Cousin Magpie over the last couple of days. At the end of our conversation back in The Shaved Parrot, I thought Brother had reached some degree of acceptance at least of our team dynamics and purpose in spite of his dislike of Fortis’ amorality and methods. I don’t know if further thought has changed his mind or, ggrrr, damn it! I don’t want to consider it, but I keep getting the feeling that someone else has gotten into his head. As a means to “divide and conquer” it would be subtle, insidious and all too effective. There’s no time now to look into it, I’m going to have to have that conversation after all and try to see what’s really up. I should probably run the idea past Sis too. I just can’t dismiss that, even at our most strained at first, Brother never once considered leaving me behind, much less trying to drive me off like that. I just can’t get this extreme to sit right. (Sigh) For now I guess I’ll have to try and get someone else to watch over Cousin Magpie. and so, closing his eyes, begins to sway and hum softly for a minute then opens his eyes once more as he cries out like a bird.


Momentarily a seagull flaps down and lands on the edge of the boat nearest Moonscar. The two converse quietly for a moment then the gull flies off, heading back toward the manor house.


Seeker grins. “A rowing song would be great, Val. Humorous, please. We have time for a song or two before we get make our approach.”
SL24a.png
The planned approach

Seeker and Arn skillfully pilot the little fishing craft along the Merchant District canal and out into the larger body of water separating it from Sunrise and Azure. Their destination lays directly in front of them around the far end of Sunrise’s easternmost island but Seeker swings the fishing boat to the right and starts rowing down the long canal between Merchant and Sunrise. “I was thinking around to the west, so we have less time to be detected by their lookouts…” Seeker says between pulls on the oars.


Folks in the boat notice that Seeker seems much more relaxed after Fortis parts ways with the company. He sighs, “I suppose I should ask. Does anyone else want out? You can go back to the manor with Fortis. I can easily drop you off along here before we get too close, no hard feelings.” He shrugs, “I have just been feeling more and more like Fortis and I are not suited to work together. I find his methods repulsive, and he has shown no interest in curbing his ways. I don’t try to speak for anyone else, but I went and got this boat on my own, and felt I had to lay down some rules.”


“Even were I inclined to take a side or if I were upset with you, I still would not leave you to venture into danger alone Seeker.  We are a team.  We’ve been through so many ups and downs, dangers and strangers together.  If we don’t agree we can discuss things or just agree to disagree but we’re still a team.”  


Seeker shakes his head. “You won’t find a bigger fan of teamwork than me, Val, but things have to go both ways, and teams have to be together for a reason. I’d like to believe we stand for something, something Good. When Fortis goes around murdering and enslaving people, I can’t wrap my head around how that coincides with what I feel this team should stand for.”


“And believe me, I’ve tried the ‘agree to disagree’ thing. What that ends up resulting in is Fortis doing whatever the hell he wants, and me over in a corner disagreeing. That’s not how you treat a teammate.” He sighs, “He’s just run out of teammate cred, if that makes any sense.”


Silver finally pipes up.  “We’re trying to stop a disaster here.  Millions of people dead.  We’re doing dangerous stuff.  Knocking people out tying them to chairs and torturing them is OK, but casting a spell on them is not. Sure, whatever.  Lets try to not get anyone killed because we’re not talking to each other.”


Seeker snarls, “And do you really believe that talking to Fortis this time would be any different than any time in the past? I am talking to him. I’m letting him know in very clear words that he is behaving badly, and is not welcome on my boat.” He sighs again. “Now, am I relieved he went off in a huff? Very. I’d like to think that if I had a suggestion during an op that you all would listen to me fairly. Fortis would not. Him leaving makes this operation more likely to succeed, not less.”


“I can’t fault his utility - he’s a very accomplished mage. But he has no moral compass other than his own convenience, and I feel that being around him diminishes all of us. If our success depends on his tactics, then maybe we deserve to lose.”


“Now, if you all think I’m wrong, I can turn the boat around and we can return to the manor. Arn can get her around just as well as I.”


“No, he won’t listen any more than you will.  Do whatever you’re going to do.  If it’s dangerous, I’ll back you up.  I just wish I could do that for all of my friends at the same time.”  Silver sighs again and turns to watch the water pass by the boat.


“I may be missing something here. I know I drink a lot of ale, but what is the deal about Fortis enslaving people and murdering people? Truth be told, we have all pretty much killed, or murdered many folk, each of us. But we did it in a battle for good, a cause greater than ourselves. The forces of evil and chaos wage war upon the innocent in this world, and it is up to folks like us, hard hitting bastards like myself, sneaky and clever folk like Moonscar, and crafty mages like Valinya, and of course some others like Fortis. Now if you are saying that by using his magic to prevent folks from doing us harm is enslaving someone, I will strongly disagree with you right there.” Arn pauses, takes a moment and stops rowing.


“When did Fortis actually ‘enslave’ someone? Hell Seeker, you and I have roughed up folks with interrogations, all for a greater cause. Each one of them was a dirty bastard too. They were the bad guys, we do not-so-nice things to beings worse than us in order to preserve the greater good in the world. And all of us cross some questionable lines in our own ways. If Fortis did something horrible like blatantly murder a child or an innocent person, I would punish him myself for that. But he hasn’t. Not that I know of anyway. And while you, Seeker and Fortis may have some different in “ethics,” I don’t think either one of ye have the right to say who is better than the other. I may not like how the little guy does things all the time, but he has more than done his fair share in every battle we have been in, and I see no reason not to continue to travel with him.”


“I value both of ye as very capable allies in different ways, but I think for us to proceed without either your support or Fortis’s magical back up, we are not only asking to fail, but we have totally betrayed what the brotherhood of the Guardians is all about. I suggest we figure this out and make amends before proceeding.   I have no interest in failing in my mission because you two want to fight it out like a pair of crossed lovers in a deadly quarrel.”  
.  
Pensively quiet as the conversation heats up, Valinya quietly hums to herself.


Seeker listens to Arn, his eyes widening in disbelief. “When did he…? Seriously? Okay, think back, Arn, it was a long time ago. Like, this morning! Remember Fedik? He tried to steal from you, you broke his leg? The guy’s lying there in agony, Fortis jumps right in with a ‘I’ll heal your leg if you let me cast this spell on you so you have to do everything I say?’ Does any of this ring a bell?”


“I get he was stealing from you - if that sword is so damned important to you, I’ll reimburse you. But he’s not one of the Bad Guys. He’s not a Chaos Lord, or Demon, or even a Sea Harpy. You could have turned him over to the guard. You could have walked away and done NOTHING. But now you and Fortis have a boy toy for a month. And he has to do everything you tell him. He has no choice - the magic compels it.”


He takes a deep breath, “If that’s not slavery, Arn, what is?”


He shakes his head, “You used to fight against slavers, Arn. What happened to you?”


Arn looks at Seeker like he’s mad and foaming at the mouth. “Are ye nuts pup?   Using his magic to ensure that some thug does no harm to the rest of us is hardly making anyone a slave. Yes, I could have let it go, but I paid for the lad’s healing out of my own coffers.  I even offered him a better life and a chance to train him and change his ways. How in Belimar’s bloody beard that taking advantage of someone? Demanding payback for theft or other is also not enslaving someone. We do not put that damned lad to any hard labor or work, but had he been turned into the authorities, than he surely would have ended up doing the work of a slave or even worse. We took the ‘nice’ way out and didn’t call for the guards. No reason to for something we can handle ourselves. I also have no issues donating money to charity or those who need it, but I will not turn a blind eye to being robbed, even for some trinket we fought hard to earn in our spoils of victory, as it were. It was the mere principle. Stealing is wrong, and stealing from us is a very bad idea. I could have left the lad for dead. But I didn’t, and Fortis helped me with retrieving him and healing him. I asked Fortis to use his magic so that the lad wouldn’t turn against us. And when he chose not to join us, our only service requested of him was to be an informant for us, and of course would be something we would pay him for, even though he will probably use the money to buy more of that stupid flay-leaf shit. So if you’re telling me that making him an informant is slavery, well than I guess I’m guilty as charged.   Personally I think yer being daft. And you and Fortis have been fighting over nonsense since we embarked on this journey. The stupidity and fighting needs to cease, immediately. No one of you is better than the other. And you all should be putting the brotherhood, the guardians, and the fate of the world first before your sensitive “morals” or Fortis’s strange, faerie sense of honor or whatever you both have going on gets the best of ye. Because if we can’t resolve this now…. than there is no reason to proceed and we should just admit to our superiors that we are going to fail and we are no longer suited to be guardians of the library. All because we are too stupid to get along.”


Heading Back

Seeker shakes his head sadly and turns the boat around. “I didn’t realize that that miserable wretch scared you so much, Arn. He must have terrified you so much to get you to resort to slavery.” He snarls. “Because when you let Fortis lay that spell on him, you enslaved him. The fact that you’re a ‘nice’ slaver doesn’t diminish that. The fact that you paid to heal him, didn’t turn him over to the guards, and offered to teach him mean nothing. You took away his choice, his will. If you told him to fuck you up the ass, the magic would make him start unbuckling his belt. He. Has. No. Choice.” Arn can hear Seeker’s voice tremble. “And that is the very definition of slavery.”


“Yes, he stole from you, and stealing is bad. But to me, slavery is a whole hell of a lot worse. I guess for you and Fortis, it isn’t. That makes me sad.”


“You want me to put away my morals to get the job done? How about No? Or even Hell No. Because that’s what the Enemy does. That’s what evil is. If I do that, then why not go join the Chaos Lords? I’m on the side of the Library because they do stand for good. Not convenience. Not Ends justify the Means.”


“And I call bullshit on the ‘no one of you is better than the other.’ If I see evil, I don’t give a shit if he’s wearing a special t-shirt. I call him out. Frankly, I sat on things a long time hoping they’d change.” He looks sad. “I finally stopped holding back when I realized that he would not change on his own. He may not even realize that what he does is wrong. You can’t describe purple to a blind man, and you can’t discuss morality with someone who has no familiarity with the concept.”


“You want this wrapped up? Go talk to Fortis. Because I won’t put up with his shit any more. Sorry if that pisses you off, but there’s a simple solution. Get him to stop mind controlling. Period. Just cross those spells out of his spell book. He can continue to be the narcissistic little asshole he’s always been. And golly, I’ll be all sweetness and light, okay?” He takes a deep breath. “I’ll even let him ride in the boat.”


And with that, Seeker puts his back into rowing, to get back to the manor as quickly as possible.


Arn sits back after Seeker’s tirade and takes it all in. He looks at the wolfen with both a measure of respect and a measure of discord. The dour dwarf shakes his head, removes his helm and does his best to speak diplomatically to Seeker.    


“I see yer point, and I still don’t view what you are saying as slavery, but I can see how in your eyes it appears that way. And, I can agree with ye that as a group, perhaps we need to lay down some rules on how we act and don’t. Not all of us have travelled together as long as others, and all of us have mannerisms that vary greatly. Usually Valinya or Lady Lorryn in the past kept a leash on me as a ‘voice of reason’ for some of my brashness. I do stand against slavery as well, and in a way, your words bother me because is shows that perhaps my anger has gotten the best of me and blinded me from my own beliefs.    


Fortis perhaps has strayed a bit too. I am not sure if it was from issues we faced in battle, or perhaps he himself suffered some mental injury with one of his magical duels. When I first met him he always tried to play the way of a small cavalier, like one who wanted to be a knight but with the lecherous behavior of a drunken tavern bard. He used to speak of honor and even back it up. Hell, I have even seen the little guy take on a man in a personal duel on honor and such.    


We have all faced some really ugly stuff. We have lost friends, and we have all been under the wrath of this mess left by the Lords of Chaos. I lost a  good friend when Colwyn died.   I have been angry ever since and looking for revenge. I almost killed that drug-addicted lad when he tried to steal from us, I was so angry. I actually felt bad about myself after I blasted him with my mace that I offered to heal him, regardless of if he took the oath or not. I thought that maybe I could make a difference and offer him  a chance to basically be a ‘squire’ to me. I thought maybe recruiting some new blood would help our cause and get more folks out there working for the forces of good. Such as it was when Colwyn came to my aid. He and I became friends, he helped me, recruited me, and helped me in my personal quests.”


Arn takes a pause to drink in a mouthful of ale. “Seeker, I value you as a team member, an honorable warrior,  and a friend. I don’t want any of us to lose sight of where we are or where we are going. Fortis and I may not exactly like each other, but we have a mutual respect for each other. Let me talk to him and see if we can all get back onto the same page and get back to working together as a team. And, we can discuss amongst ourselves what actions in certain situations will be tolerated and which ones will not. Fortis is a very valuable asset to our team, and he has proven himself to be honorable at times. Clearly you and he have different moral compasses, but there is no reason we can’t sort this out and find a way to work together for a common goal.”


Arn makes his way back to the manor house to speak with Fortis. Arn strongly considers his words as he stomps his way to the house. Dissention in the ranks is not something he likes. And while he and Fortis have had their tiffs and arguments, in a strange way, he likes that. Arn realizes sometimes he is at his best when he is grumpy or at least argumentative, as it keeps him on his toes and keeps his perceptions aware. Fortis, always forcing Arn to keep a 3rd eye open behind his back has actually helped shape him into the successful warrior he is by keeping an extra eye out for details.   


Fortis is too valuable to lose. His quick wit and thinking has definitely been a deciding factor in many of their victories. His magical skill is very potent and again, has seen their way to success in the past. Seeker is equally crafty and sharp minded. His keen senses and inquisitive mind have helped in solving many problems without the use of a blade. And when  a blade is needed, Arn considers Seeker an equal in battle. While the young Wolfen’s style greatly differs from Arn’s own, no one can argue with the results. Surely they can come to an agreement amongst the entire group. This isn’t just to be between Fortis and Seeker, but the entire team needs to be on the same page when it comes to operations and what is acceptable and what actions will not be tolerated by the group.     


Arn walks up to the manor to get to Fortis alone and convey all of this to him before bringing the rest of the group together for the discussion.


While the others are dealing with the boat down by the nearby docks, Arn finds Fortis in the courtyard of the manor looking at some of the columns and archways quietly doing some calculations and talking to himself.

Bridging the Gap

The Ellyl glances up at Arn’s approach, surprised by his quick return. Find a safe neutral topic… talk about something we can agree on before we move on to the ugly issues surrounding our fracturing team. “Hello Arn, good to see you. I was just working through some ideas on how to make the main entryway more majestic but I’ve never built anything on a scale like this before… I’d welcome any ideas you have regarding the construction. I’m planning on presenting Red with a plan to use Adamant and Orich for the column and archway. Here is what I’ve come up with so far” Fortis goes on to explain the proposed final product and the shaping and transmutation processes involved. He even casts an Illusion to give a visual of how the entryway would look after adding the special materials. “Have you got any suggestions?”


Arn stomps his way in, his gait clearly showing he has something on his mind. He internally chuckles at Fortis’s attempt to be nonchalant and distracted with the courtyard… but than again, Fortis does suffer from “shiny object syndrome” and he could actually be telling the truth.


Finally reaching reaching the wall where the Ellyl is standing, Arn speaks up. “Fortis...we need to talk.” The Ellyl starts to gesture at the archway and Arn just blurts out at him. “Look, I just had my say with Seeker and now I’m gonna have it with you too. I stuck up for you. Yes, by Belimar’s Beard, I stuck up for you and yer actions! But we all need to come to an agreement here.”      


Arn notices an honest look of surprise on Fortis’s face. The dour dwarf continues in his speech.   “Seeker and I had a talk. I explained some things to him and he to me. The bottom line is, you are one hell of a spell caster and a valuable member of the team. Honestly, why else would I be here talking to you? Now, I think Seeker is a bit off his rocker thinking that you and I enslaved Fedik and I still think our use of the oath spell was justified. However, I can see Seeker’s point that certain uses of the mind-control magics that both you and Valinya wield could be used in ways that are not so honorable. Look Fortis, we never truly get along, but that is “OUR” thing.   We live to fight and pick on each other, I get it. Seeker isn’t like that. Everyone here took a vow to support the Guardians.  We are all on the same team.  We all lost friends over time. I myself am still angry at the loss of Colwyn, and I need to work to keep my temper in check, because I just want to kick the living crap out of every bad guy we meet to avenge my friend’s death.”


Arn takes a moment to take in a squig of ale from his wineskin. “Some of the battles and things we have seen have changed us. Seeker, while he may at times be a stick-in-the-mud with his focused view of righteousness, still is an amazing member of the team. His keen senses and young inquisitive mind have help us solve many a problem, even without resorting to the use of arms. And as far as his combat ability is concerned, he’s quite skilled, none of us can contest that. The bottom line is, he is a good “pup” and young and doesn’t understand things as you and I do. That being said, you too are a very valued member of our team. Hell, with your stupid tricks and nonsense, has kept me on my toes so much, even I started picking up on things, becoming more observant than I thought I was. We all have changed, I don’t know where or when, but all of us have been through it. When we first met, you were the young cavalier, so bound by honor and wit. I recall you getting into a duel with a man over him insulting a lady. That’s the Fortis I remember, he had honor but was whimsical too. Not malicious. You and Seeker need to find common ground to work on. We all have a mission to accomplish, and the forces of Chaos will win if we don’t keep working together. We all need each other and we need to learn how to work together. So I am suggesting, how about we all get together, discuss what actions are appropriate and what actions are not, from spell casting, to interrogations, to killing bad guys or leaving prisoners alive. We have a greater purpose to fulfill, and it will be done best if we all can find a way to work together. So how about we all sit down, start fresh, and find that common ground so that we can go back after these bad guys as a well-oiled machine and avenge our fallen comrades and win for the side of good?!!!”


Fortis nods at his wisdom. “I have missed working together well. And I agree that we need to reach common ground. We should be friendly and supportive, or as in our case, good natured in our spats and pranks. I think a good conversation would be helpful and I think I can agree to some minor restrictions on spell casting in order to keep the peace. No matter what, we all have bigger enemies than our fellow team members and it only makes sense to work together when and as we can. I'll be blunt with you though. I am concerned with Seeker’s attempts to take command of our group of equals. However this is resolved it will not end we me taking a subordinate role and accepting his orders as my duty to obey… I've had enough of that as an apprentice. The rest of you will reach your own decisions in that regard no doubt.
As for the specifics of magic, I really think Valinya and I are the best qualified to make those decisions, though if Seeker wants to ask for assurances that we will not actually enslave anyone with our evil spells it is easy enough to promise to not do something one has no intention of doing anyway.


And here I am venting my pique again…. I need to present a more composed demeanor when we reconvene for these discussions. When were you thinking of holding them? Seekers worries are not entirely unfounded, there have been magi who lost their consciences in the past. I should try to be grateful someone on our team is backing me up, and, by the way, good job on assuming the role of diplomat and speaking with the voice of reason.


Do we need to handle the discussions first or would you recommend an armistice while we tackle those Sea Harpies and then debate or moral restrictions while we recover? I'm fine with either arrangement.”


Meanwhile, at the dock, Seeker is taking his time securing his new craft. Probably should come up with a name for her. Later, His friends can see his hackles are still up, and the way he is studiously not watching as Arn heads into the manor.


“So I guess we’ll wait for Arn to let us know when Fortis is ready.”  After a pause Valinya looks over at Seeker and says, “As you know, I have some spells as well that affect the mind.  Some are of the control variety and some are of the communication persuasion.”  She pauses then resumes.  “For the most part I’ve used them in dire situations like combat, when mostly I’m not thinking things through but reacting.  And I confess I haven’t thought much about their use in situations when lives aren’t on the line.  You do bring up some good points for consideration.  And I agree that it would be wise to think about restrictions or guidelines for use that reflect our values and character rather than reacting and perhaps regretting.  While magic was not the power at play, I have experienced something like being a slave.  Well, OK, it was mostly like being a slave, though not overly abused I guess in the larger scheme of things.  Still, it does make me sensitive on the issue.  Hopefully we can all agree to some … boundaries for the proper and wise use of our skills and abilities.”


“Thanks, Val, that’s really all I want. I understand that these are powerful tools, and in a battle they could be appropriate. I guess when I saw that poor wretch in a wheelbarrow, I could not conceive of him as an enemy. Yea, he tried to steal from Arn, and that’s never a good idea. I just think the Oath of total obedience went too far.” He muses for a second. “I wonder if an oath could help him break his addiction.” He growls, “See? It’s all downhill. Reasonable becomes the norm, and then the abnormal becomes reasonable. I’d rather just not say it’s ever okay.”


Valinya gives a rueful smile.  “Whether the means is magical, mental or muscle, it all boils down to how we use power.  And I believe it is easy for power to corrupt even the best of us.  That’s why we need each other, to hold one another accountable.  Each of us in our own way has a good deal of power and without others to help keep us focused and remind us of who we are … who we want to be … it’s easy to slide down the proverbial slippery slope and become who we are not.  If that makes any sense.  It does in my head at least.”  


 Arn smiles at Fortis and gestures for him to wait.  “I think it best we resolve this now, this way if things turn bad, we are all prepared to back each other up. I would not want to have any mistakes or “friendly fire” incidents. I also see your point in Seeker trying to be the “Alpha”, maybe it is a trait bred in him, but it does need to be discussed. Wait here my friend, let me round up the others and let’s settle this matter so that we can tackle the Harpies as a unified force.”


Arn than makes his way toward his companions. He approaches them and points back behind himself. “Fortis is waiting for us, I think we all need to take a moment, gather our thoughts, and let’s get ourselves together on the same page. The people in this world are depending upon us to save them, and we can’t do that being a fractured team.”


Arn than holds his friends up. He explains to them in detail what he and Fortis talked about. He also brings up to Seeker that they have noticed that he has seemed to try to assume the role of team leader and bark out orders to everyone. Arn explains to Seeker that not everyone responds well to that, not just Fortis, but himself as well. The group doesn’t have a true “leader” per say, but they work together and try to coordinate their efforts. Usually someone steps up depending upon the situation they are in, but for the most part, it is more of a group dynamic working together, not a dictatorship style format.


The group approaches Fortis and Arn points for all to pull up a spot to sit. “Now my friends, let’s work out our issues, set forth some rules to keep each other accountable and honorable in our actions and put all fighting behind us…..”


Back to the Mission

The members of the team sit down and get comfortable for this important discussion. After about 30 minutes, the majority of the issues have been resolved and all promise to work hard and together to resolve the remaining issues, but in the interest of time, the group has agreed to once again be a complete and full team, having each others backs and keeping each other's interests at heart. With that, they all prepare to return to the boat moored nearby and resume their trip to the Taxidermist Guildhall, taking the same route they had planned on earlier in the day.


Fortis smiles at his companions, hopeful of a renewed and reinvigorated collaboration. “Since we have had a lot on our minds lately, would it make sense to review the plan again?” He created an illusionary map above the laps of his seated teammates. “The summary I recall was enter here, and secure this room then set up a defense at this doorway here while others searched for Lady Lotus. Did we establish an exit strategy? Or a rally point if we become separated? I don’t recall those details.”
The sloppy, hand-drawn map of the Sea Harpy lair

Seeker takes a deep breath and decides to just focus on the questions at hand. He points at two places on the illusory map. “According to this, there are these two bottlenecks. If we can render this one impassable,” and he gives a nod to Silver, “perhaps with flame, then we have a direct path back out the way we came in.” He waves over the missing section of map, “Of course, the Lady Lotus may have alternate exits. Hopefully, we will be the ones using them. And the primary rendezvous point will be the boat. If that’s missing, find a circuitous route back to Vanderboren Manor.”


“Any other thoughts, ideas, or  questions?”


“Do we know what order the team will enter?” asks Fortis. “Oh, and I believe there was a mention of cells, implying the potential for prisoners. What priority would the team like to give to investigating those cells and rescuing any prisoners?”


“I have a thought that is general in nature.  When dealing with underground areas like this keep in mind that I do have some spells from the Earth college and can create openings where there is none or block off areas as well.  It might take some time, doing it in very small pieces so as to not wear myself out, but it’s certainly doable and maybe that piece of the puzzle can give you some new ideas or options.”


Arn thinks about things for a moment and has an idea cross his mind.   “How difficult would it be for you Valinya, to create a hole or pit, not even a deep one, maybe 3-4 feet deep, and then Fortis cover it with an illusion?    It could serve not only as a quick form of protection for our rear, but maybe even serve as a bit of a warning signal as we would hear someone fall, or yell, or even curse out loud.   I know I sure would. “  


Seeker’s eyes flick from point to point over the map. His attention is focussed on the plan, his voice clear and clipped. “Well, as to our entry, I foresaw something like Arn and I on point, Val and Moonscar in the middle, Silver guarding the rear, and Fortis going where he felt needed. We enter through the taxidermists and end up here on the map. Arn checks the door to see if it’s locked or trapped. If it is, Val can use her magic to unlock it.”


“Once we’re in, there’s this door to the right. Rendering it impassable would guard one of the possible approaches to our flank as we move through the tunnels. Either Arn’s spikes for the door, if it opens towards us, or perhaps a spell to hold it closed if that’s not an option.”


“We make our way here, to the entrance of this training room. Off to our right again is another angle from which they can attack. Maybe Val and Fortis could team up for that pit trap, if that’s okay.”


“Assuming that the precautions hold, any rear attacks will have to exit and come in the way we did.”


“That should give us some time to deal with Vanthus and this Lady Lotus.”


Seeker pauses. “Good point about the prisoners. We’ll need to check on that eventually, but I think our priority should be to take out their leaders.”


“How does that sound?”


Fortis nods “That seems like a pretty good plan to me. Clear objectives, a few contingencies, not overly complicated or reliant on circumstance. About the only thing we’ll have to improvise is the search… I’ve got a feeling we are not near lucky enough to catch the Lady Lotus and Vanthus napping. Arn, you did remember to bring some restraints correct? And perhaps a sack… I’m not sure but I’m guessing we’re going to have to deal with a mage again and I’d like to make sure there is a restraint option.” Fortis runs over his own internal checklist.
MIssile shield is up, I’ll cast an Illusion Disguise before as we go… maybe a cockroach…. No, too undignified, maybe a cricket. Beast Soother might help if we encounter that dog, Daze for taking guards by surprise, Hinder if our targets try to flee on foot. If we get in quietly and I have three minutes a Mystic Mist would be a great advantage, otherwise Gloom in the passageway to impede our opponents. If there are lots of opponents and we need an additional front line fighter a Phantom Arn or Phantom Seeker would provide quite a menace. And Ward, Ward to keep those other magi off my back.


As usual the druid listens to his companions in thoughtful silence before adding his own ideas, “It sounds good. I would suggest a couple of additional thoughts, for instance, Uncle’s trap idea can also serve as well to hide one or more of us either to avoid enemy contact or capture or my personal favorite, in ambush. Of course we should bear in mind that purely visual tricks along those lines won’t fool the worg. Which brings me to my second point - while neither Sings to Moon nor I have any desire to fight the creature we must remember that it, and maybe others, will be able to track us by scent after we leave if we don’t kill it. Finally, what new magics or other things do we have from your shopping trip? I have two sets of flash, smoke and spikes (holding up a pair of nageteppo and a bag of caltrops) and Brother has a third set. They’d be particularly effective in the tunnels. Do we have anything else along these lines? That glue stick just seems more and more handy all the time. . .”


Fortis’s eyebrows raise at the sight of the nageteppo. “Are those devices labeled or distinguishable in any way so that one of us might use the appropriate one in case you are incapacitated? Perhaps a color code?”


The Kankoran looks confused for a moment before replying, “Oh crap! I’m glad you mentioned it. I didn’t think of the fact that you guys can’t tell. That’s easy enough to fix.” He pulls a small stylus out of one of his web pouches, sniffs both pyrotechnics, and proceeds to mark a small starburst * on one and a scribbly circle @ on the other muttering, “So, red explosion is the light and blue cloud is smoke.” (Both marks are, in fact, black.) He shows them to Fortis then repeats the process on his other pair and Seeker’s.


Smoke on the Water

Seeker and Arn pilot the small boat down the wide Merchant District canal toward the south east, planning on veering off to the west to head down the waterway between Merchant and Sunrise to come around the far end of the Sunrise District and approach the Taxidermist Guildhall and Sea Harpy lair from the southwest, a hopefully unexpected direction.


As the boat makes the turn west, a bit of a commotion catches everyone’s attention. On the nearby shores of Sunrise, some folks are yelling and many running to the south and east. The three canine noses in the boat detect a strong scent of smoke just before Valinya gasps and points at a quickly growing tendril of black smoke rising up from the very area the group intends to go. Shouts of “fire” can be heard from the shoreline all around and several distant bells start ringing. The evening sky is darkening and the air, blowing in from the northwest, is beginning to bite.
Scouting the immediate area
Fortis peers at the rising tendril of smoke and cloaks himself as a somewhat scruffy looking seagull again. I need to practice my avian visual effects. “Why don't the rest of you continue slowly, I'm going to take a closer look at this and try to determine if it is going to interfere with our plans.” With that he launches himself into the air and flaps off into the increasingly chaotic quarter of the city. I need to get an idea of the effects of this fire on the guildhall.


While everyone else decides what they are going to do, Fortis flits off to do some reconnaissance of the area. It takes the little flyer less than a minute to reach the area, though the buffeting winds tire him out just a bit. The smoke is blowing away from him to the south, but it is easy to see what is causing it. It appears that quite a few buildings surrounding Dead Dog Alley, including the Taxidermist Guildhall, are on fire! The nearby streets are full of concerned citizens forming bucket brigades and Fortis even notes what appear to be several schooled in the arcane arts summoning quantities of water to try to douse the flames. Several small explosions erupt from one of the buildings sending flaming debris into a crowd of firefighters! Screams and shouts for more water and healing can be heard from the tumult below.


The awkward seagull turns around and perches on the jack staff of the little boat “I don't want to alarm anyone, but I think our plan will require extensive revision.” Fortis goes on to explain everything he observed from his reconnaissance flight.


Listening intently to Fortis’ observations, Seeker’s mind starts collating and adjusting the existing strategies and tactics. When he finishes, Seeker thinks for a moment, then speaks.


“Okay, we have some options here. We can prioritize the civilians and our public relations by going in to help put out the fires.” His glances towards the smoke and the way his ears are cocked in that direction seem to indicate to his companions that he is very concerned about these people and is hoping to hurry over to help. “Conversely, we can use the chaos to try and penetrate the tunnels through one of the other buildings, or possibly Silver can ward us against the fire and we can try and stick to the original plan.”


He ponders for a moment, then continues. “I wonder who or what is behind the fire. Its timing seems unlikely to be coincidence. Are the Sea Harpies trying to destroy easy access to their lair? Is there another party trying to harm them in some way?”


“Thoughts?”


The Kankoran shakes his head and starts readying his bow as he replies, “Smokescreen to cover a large exodus. The map shows a cavern harbor. We should head there first and see if we can intercept our quarry on the water. Cousin, could you scout that from the air? If there's no one coming out that's likely our best entrance unimpeded and without hindering those fighting the fire.”


Fortis nods as Moonscar speaks “I think the druid has hit on the most likely reason for the fire. It would imply to me that they have decided to abandon their base and move somewhere else. This could be a great opportunity for us to catch them unprepared and in disarray, but also carries additional risk on our part. They appear to consider the previous conflict significant enough to decamp entirely and don’t care who they harm in their bid to cover all tracks. I’m going to see if anything is coming out of that secret tunnel. If you see a Flash go off over there please come quickly… there will be something important for you to do” The Ellyl concluded his participation in the discussion by launching his bedraggled seagull form into the air again, moving up to see what might be traversing the ‘secret’ tunnel. Someday… someday we're going to put together a good plan based on solid information and execute it correctly in a timely manner... someday, but not today.


Fortis turns around and flies back toward Sunrise, this time making his way toward a pair of docks on the northern shore of the island, a bit away from where the fires are raging around Dead Dog Alley, hoping to find the secret water entrance to the Sea Harpy lair. He arrives at the nearest dock a bit winded again, the northern winds are really picking up this evening and making flying quite difficult. Alighting on a piling at the end of the first pier, he does a quick scan of the dock. No one is around. Everyone nearby has rushed toward the fire another 50 yards across the island. Fortis reads the sign on the tavern at the base of the pier, The Shivering Cat. Quite a few boats line this dock. He moves forward toward the shoreline, a steep rocky slope, anywhere between 4 and 8 feet high. Most of the shoreline to the right and left of the dock has smaller craft tied up and ladders, steps and a hodgepodge of boards and planks leaning against it to provide some measure of access from the island above. He swoops beneath the dock and finds the space to be quite cramped with algae covered cross beams, supports, rotting rope pieces and more spiderwebs than an Ellyl could shake a wand at!


After narrowly avoiding the hanging spiderwebs, Fortis gets a good look at the shoreline beneath the pier. It looks like nothing but slimy, moss covered mud and rocks. A thick snake or legless lizard slithers down into the water and several sea urchins can be seen both above and below the water. The dark water sloshes and splashes against the shoreline and the numerous thick pilings that hold up the dock above. Even if there is some hidden entrance here, Fortis does not believe that there is room enough to bring any type of boat besides a 1 person raft through here.


Sensing the futility of an extensive search Fortis leaves the disgusting under-pier. I feel like I need a bath just from flying through that odiferous place. I need to search the other pier and get back to my friends. He takes one more pass above the area on the off chance that he might observe some unusual behavior from some of the humans below that might be of interest before heading back to the boat. After a quick flap back he returns to the boat and perches on the boom for a quick rest while he regales his companions with the thrilling tale of the underside of the wharfs… “And then, just when i thought it could not get any dirtier this wave tossed a partially decomposed fish onto a rock where it split open. It was positively revolting. Oh, and I didn’t see any kind of cave entrance. Beyond that, it would be very difficult to maneuver any kind of boat under there. I suspect that either I am looking in the wrong place, our information is bad or they don’t use boats to get through there… perhaps they just swim in and out to and from a boat docked at the pier normally?” Fortis-gull shrugs in an oddly non-avian way. “Anyway, nothing obviously useful under there.”


Arn takes it all in as they work the boat down the canal. “I have to agree, I think the Kankoran is correct. It seems like a huge distraction, but they have stuff they will have to move out. I think we should enter through one of the other access points and get down there now and see if we can still catch them while they are loading stuff up, or at least we can track them and follow them out from that point. See if we can get in there from Dead Dog Alley”.


“Since we’re waiting for another scouting report, perhaps this would be a good time to seek some guidance.  I’ll do a quick divination if that’s agreeable.”  


Realizing that he had only checked under one of the two visible piers, Fortis quickly zooms off to check under the other one as well. For the third time in the last handful of minutes, the Ellyl in seagull disguise flies quickly across the water separating the Merchant and Sunrise Districts. He is ready for the cold gusts of wind coming from the north and is able to ride them to his destination instead of fighting them as in his previous two trips. He flies to the second dock, this one jutting out from a building marked as “Leldibar’s General Goods.” Like the other nearby pier, no activity can be seen on the dock or in the store nearby, though quite a few boats are moored alongside the dock. Fortis quickly moves down under the weathered wooden planks and scans the area. This area is much larger than under the other dock with what looks like some newer planks supporting the deck above where a few posts may have been removed. Fortis calculates there is plenty of room for a small boat to navigate under this particular pier. A quick glance at the shoreline under the dock shows a wall of timbers holding back a steeply sloped earthen wall. Several small red crabs scuttle on some rocks and clack their pincers in Fortis’s general direction.


Struggling with inaction while Fortis and Valinya flit hither and yon, Seeker turns the boat towards the piers at the north end of Dead Dog Island. We might see them as they’re coming out. At least be closer when we get more intel.


Still not sure if we want to try to go in through the taxidermists or not. If they’re moving out, we’re going to paddle right into them. We’re not really well set-up for a battle in rowboats. Sticking with the original plan would have the advantage of avoiding most of the underground complex, hopefully getting us in right to our target.


“Though,” Valinya continues, “to be honest an hour might not seem like ‘quick’ when we’re waiting and if Fortis returns shortly we’ll be waiting more.  So … maybe I’ll just wait a bit longer.”  


Fortis begins a real search under the second pier, hoping to find a hidden entrance to the Sea Harpies lair while his companions begin rowing across directly to the Sunrise District, forgoing their previous plan to approach by rounding the entire district. As they approach, they see more and more people rushing toward the fire, which is now visible and apparently fairly large, its black smoke filling the already darkening sky.


 Arn keeps rowing in stride with Seeker, helping guide the boat. Arn comments, “I thought initially we should land and hit the lair in the access points on Dead Dog Alley, but if Moonscar suspects they may make a break for the docks, perhaps we should continue up along the Northeast and cut left after Crown Street, getting to that hidden cavern on the map. Keep pushing with me Seeker, the more we stay in stride, the faster the boat goes.”


Scanning the shore and sky intently for any clues Moonscar expands upon his initial assessment. “Well here’s my thinking based mainly on observation this morning and the map intel. If there were badger people like us and the Bearmen they would have a den like we’re seeing. The burrow complex is well stocked and organized, they can partition it of into sealed sections and probably even collapse areas if needed. Multiple entrances allow traffic to appear to move through and area rather than so much in and out of a single point, though that wouldn’t seem odd in the guildhall itself. That multiple entryway though deflects notice from the back exit. Burrowers always have an exit away from their entrance. Often secondaries - the map had at least one door at it’s edge, in a corner of the training room, without a known destination. I expect at least one of the leadership’s private rooms to have a secret escape route as well. Setting a brushfire over the main entry cluster magnifies the deception and prevents access until they can escape by the other exits.


One thing it would help us to learn is when the fire was set. They’ve had a fair amount of time to abandon the lair since we were there earlier. Our quarry is probably gone and if you mentioned his name before then he’ll know we’re getting close to him. Brother, you were originally heading for the canal to land on the south side. If that training room door leads to an exit it, and others from rooms at the east edge might well open around that shoreline - somewhere along Monkey or Water streets. I could course it and scout - also rendezvous with Rat and see what can be learned but that divides us more. Those are my perceptions; what’s your plan next?”


While Moonscar plots, Seeker and Arn row toward the docks that Fortis has disappeared under. As the little boat approaches the island and the fire, Sings to Moon starts becoming agitated while Silver smiles with an inner happiness. The two rowers really put their backs into it and make it across this stretch of the harbor in about a minute and a half. The small craft is maneuvered around the end of the pier and everyone peers under in the shadowy darkness below. Far at the other end they can see a scrawny gull flitting about in front of a log retaining wall and occasionally flapping a wing toward some small crabs on the shore line. It looks as if the boat will just fit into the narrow space under the dock though Seeker will definitely have to bend over and probably won't be able to help navigate much anymore.


Pullin up to the dock, Arn slows his pace for a moment. “Whew…..we gotta do this with a lot less weight in it next time…” The dwarf breathes a heavy draw and then sits back, taking his hands off the oars and pulling out his wine flask. “I need a moment to catch my breath, why don’t the rest of ye take a look around and make sure we still have a chance to catch these guys and that they didn’t already flee”. Arn takes a few droughts from his flask and resets it upon his harness. “Well, we can dock here or keep pushing on and underneath the pilings here. Let me know what we aim to do.”


Giving Arn a suspicious stare Valinya asks, “Arn, do I want to know what’s in that flask?  Please reassure me that it is only refreshing water.”


Seeker nods to the crew on the boat, “Okay, Arn, take five to catch your breath. Brother, while Arn recovers and Fortis is checking under this dock, you do a quick sweep - see if you can find out where the rats are coming out. Val, you want to get some altitude? See if you can get a feel for anything out of the ordinary?” He thinks, I bet my Immoveable Rod could plug up this exit pretty well. If this was where they were planning on exiting, it could cause quite a bottleneck. Chaos for our enemies!


As his friends arrive Fortis directs them to the areas he has not yet searched. “I think that is the only area big enough to pass a boat that I haven’t already checked” he says pointing over to a portion of the debris covered wall.


Arn chuckles and gives a good laugh at Valinya’s comment.  “Water?!  Har, har, har”.....”Um, yes, it’s the water of life...I call it ‘Grape Juice’, you really should try some”.  Arn laughs again.     “Relax lass, i can more than hold my own drink.    It take more than this pixie juice to get me tanked up.     And I do drink water to keep myself refreshed’.    


Arn looks around again, taking in the look of the area……”Okay, let’s all duck down and get under this dock and get our boat in a little closer, hopefully they all didn’t bugger out yet.”


Silver waits quietly in the boat as Seeker and Arn bring it up to the pier, thinking about how she’s going to help if fighting breaks out in the open.  “Things might get difficult if I have to fight in the open.  Given there’s a fire panic going on, people might get the wrong idea.  I’m going to hang back a bit, and jump in when things get tricky.”  She looks to Seeker “Sound reasonable?  Let me know where you need me, and I’ll do what I can.”


Moonscar Goes for a Jog

As the boat approaches the dock, with no enemies to shoot at, Moonscar shoulders his bow once more and then begins to chant softly. Once they touch pier he answers Seeker simply, “On it. If all’s clear enough I’ll sweep full circle moonwise and come back from the west,” as he and Sings to Moon jump ashore. He pulls his white hood over his head as the crescent marking begins to glow faintly and calls back softly, “Sis, if you can keep an eye out from overhead I should be easy to spot.” He then scoops his friend Rat from a nearby piling he’d been waiting on and, staff in hand, sets off to the right at a swift, easy lope toward Monkey Street.


With Rat now on his shoulder and Sings to Moon loping behind, Moonscar makes his way down the road, hoping to get a better idea of what’s going on. The streets quickly get crowded with folk running around trying to be helpful with the fire going on nearby. Despite the strong winds from the north, the smoke hangs around the buildings fairly thickly.


As the trio make their way along the island’s southwestern shoreline the Druid converses softly with his little smoke friend. “It looks like our prey have fled their warren while others are distracted by the fire. I hope your people have made it safely away. My friends are watching the sea cave exit but I’m looking now for any other ways in or out away from the fire. Do you know any of what’s happened since we left earlier?”


Rat nuzzles with Moonscar’s ear as he runs. The Smoke whispers into the Druid’s ear, “All of the rats are safe, they know when to scurry away to safety, they have much practice doing that but none other have scurried out of their hidey holes yet. They remain below. Besides those in the flames, I know of no other ways in or out.”


The druid slows as he reaches their previously intended landing on the island’s south point and considers his friend’s report. “So while the fires look bad up here they’re not actually threatening any of the rats’ nests. Have any of the two-leggeds left or are they all still hiding down in their warren?” As he converses he observes the area more closely trying to get an accurate picture of the fire’s true severity and pattern. He considers, “so the smoke screen may be intended to make us believe the gang has fled when they haven’t, ar at the very least seal close off the entrances we’ve discovered. In any case, if the Sea Harpy’s have remained below then they will expect that they have prevented any further attacks from that quarter. So, if any of the entrances can be found or made useful then we can gain surprise. A diversion at the sea gate could compound it considerably. But can we get past the fire and smoke that should be keeping us out?”


He begins to head closer to the burning outbuildings and the back courtyard. “The well may still be accessible but we know they watch that. Sis and Cousin Magpie could likely enter safely there but the rest of us would be spotted. Well, no, I would likely be thought one of them, or perhaps some falling debris but Little Sister would have trouble I think. Anyway, best scout  for possible entrances and head back to see what the others make of it.”


Realizing that Rat has confirmed that none of the Sea Harpies have left their underground hideout and seeing that there will be no way to access any of the above ground entrances due to the fact that all the buildings surrounding Dead Dog Alley are currently in flames, Moonscar turns and heads back toward the dock. He bumps into a young Human carrying a bucket of water from a nearby fountain and the cowl of the Druid’s cloak slides back. The Human stares in shock, steps back, dropping his bucket and says out loud, to no one in particular. “Some Wolfen and a Dwarf started this fire! You’re a Wolfen!” He looks around and shouts louder, “I found a Wolfen. He started these fires!” When the Human turns back to accuse Moonscar to his face, the small Kankoran is gone, swiftly running, hood back over his face, heading for his companions.


Checking Out the Water Door

Moonscar's soft footfalls can barely be heard on the dock above as Arn begins pulling the little boat underneath. Seeker scrunches and wiggles his nose as cobwebs seem magically drawn to his face. Silver ducks behind the crouching Wolfen trying to avoid the webs as well.


As the boat approaches, Fortis resumes his search and find what looks like a missing knothole in one of the logs right at the water line. Carefully feeling inside he finds that the log isn't really a log at all, but a thin board made to look like a log. The Ellyl peers into the hole and sees what looks like a large, water-filled chamber beyond.


Gulltis gives a quick series of sharp calls, drawing attention to his discovery as he switches his investigative efforts from location to operation. I wonder how this access is uncovered. It is hinged to swing away? Or is the panel simply removed and replaced? It would make sense for there to be a way to open it from this side… I hope there is. I’d hate to have to let Arn use his ‘Dwarven Lockpicking Axe’ on it and alert the whole world we are breaking into a secret hideout.


Seeker, annoyed by the cobwebs and cramped quarters, decides to check out things below the waterline and hops out of the boat. How much clearance would they need to bring their own boats out? He examines the wall as it appears under the water. Hmmm, if they were indeed planning to abandon this lair, and had already done so, they would not have wasted time closing this back up. Ergo, either the fire is not a smoke screen, or it is and they haven’t left yet.


Fortis looks around and tries to find a way to open what he assumes is some sort of door. Arn steadies the boat beneath the end of the dock and him and Silver both nearly lose their balance when Seeker hops overboard. He finds that the water isn’t very deep here, it only comes up to his chest. He ducks down under the water, careful not to get smashed between the rocking boat and one of the slime covered posts holding the pier up. The bottom of the harbor is very uneven and slippery. As he positions himself to get a better look up ahead, he feels something poke him in the pad of the foot. Looking down, he sees a dark purple colored sea urchin poking out from beneath his foot! It stings for a moment but passes. He notes the locations of several more clumps of the dangerous living caltrops.


Moving forward in front of the boat so he can get a better view in the murky, weed filled water, he sees that the ground slopes up toward the shoreline fairly steeply but then stops a few feet below the water line right below where the log retaining wall above him is. In fact, he can see the bottom few “logs” of the wall sticking down into the water. Fortis was right, it is just a fake wall made to look like a retaining wall. There is enough room for him to slip through to a wide open space beyond. He also notes some 2 heavy, rusted chains coming down from each corner of the “wall” above.


Content to let Arn have his “Water of Life” Valinya floats along with the group, hovering above and behind Seeker as he investigates.  “I could slip in there and look around if that helps,” Valinya said.  


Seeker ponders for a second. “Not just yet. We’d get too scattered. It looks like this is a possible way in - I don’t hear any activity on the other side. They may have abandoned the place already.” But then why close the door? “Let’s fill in the others and wait for Moonscar to report back in.”


While he is standing there pondering his next move, something moves through the water under the boat and past Seeker’s legs. He feels something sharp and jagged lash around his foot quickly then slide away. Whatever it was it does not seem as if it caused any serious injury but then his ankle begins to burn as if it were somehow on fire underwater!

Cast of Characters: 

+Arne Jamtgaard plays Seeker, a teenage Wolfen Warlord
+Ben Zittere plays Fortis, an Ellyl trickster and Mage
+Stephen Kolmetz plays Valinya, an Elven Wildsong Mage
+Mike Biancone plays Arn, a surly Dwarven Warrior
+Amergin O'Kai plays Moonscar, the esoteric Kankoran Druid
+Daniel White plays Silver, a young and curious Dragon
and +Jason GURPS as the GM