Nemahay: The Ravaged Land

Ships and Sailing Things
Savages and Kings

From the log of Quic’cz, First Mate aboard Dannk’ss (Dauntless) Trading Vessel

We had taken the journey between Shinumetu and Alnadotzli dozens of times. The trip was not without its dangers, but the water was well known to us. We were not remotely prepared for our return journey.

While in Alnadotzli, we met with a group of traders calling themselves the ‘Silver Linings Trading Company’. The majority of them bore forged armor or other impressive gear. Clearly, they fancied themselves the adventuring type. Those kind always draw trouble, but they were men after my own heart, and I could see the passion in their eyes. I convinced captain Ac’l’co to let them aboard the vessel and he gave them the going travel rate, and mentioning the standard Family deal for coming to the aid of a vessel in distress.

The group asked about hunting a Braid Hydra, a dangerous and rare creature. Our captain sensibly refused the job. Even so, the group accepted the price for heading to Shinumetu. They payed in full for their horses and wagons, but had to wait another week before we would set sail back to our capital. We had trade to accomplish.

While in Alnadotzli, we became aware that the town had seen some dynamic changes. Hiyark Bonesetter found himself imprisoned. Unless the mayor managed to find proof of his innocence, he would be hung within the month for trafficking illegal slaves. Good riddance, I say.

Word was also getting around town that the goods merchant, Ghee, may in fact be a devoted servant of Gloehiba. If true, it would undoubtedly hurt his business.

We set sail on schedule and our new passengers were quick to turn their nose up at our way of life. Instead of marveling at our Fire Engine or asking us to demonstrate the power of our Fire Canon, they instead stuck their nose up at their provided hammocks among the crew. They complained about the ‘filth of the bilge’ saying that the water was clearly ‘full of urine’ and ‘the waste of the ship’. I agree that the smell could get ripe down there, but we had just come from dry dock, the vessel was clean, and they would be spending a single night amongst us. Also, who is peeing in our bilge!? But they were hicks from Ahtenko, their backwards ways could be ignored.

Besides, our captain revealed that he would be taking us to the Grove that we had discovered two years prior. I was surprised that he was willing to make a stop there, sharing the grove’s location with these relative unknowns. But it seemed to be a favorite of his since its discovery and we had made a number of stops there every season since.

This year the grove was even more stunning than the last. The trees we had cut down for ship repairs so long ago had already grown over and the stumps no longer marred the beauty of the sight. Two members of the Caravan, Koho and Talya, aided me in a successful hunt where we brought an enormous wild boar back for the crew.

A Tir elf among them by the name of Dave took to challenging my crew at leaping off the beautiful waterfall and into the crystal clear lake below. I heard tell that Dave seemed quite mad, even for one for the Tir. I noted that we would have to keep an eye out for him in case he sought to corrupt any of the crew.

Their presumed leader, Iktomi, had stayed aboard their vessel, apparently concerned that we would abandon them in this paradise and leave them penniless. But Lokan and Tywon, two other members of his crew, came ashore and helped us prepare the bonfires.

What happened afterwards is something of a blur. I recall carousing with the crew, feasting on the boar, and even taking a after dark swim in the lake. I think perhaps I wandered into the treeline for a scant moment of privacy but…the next moment of clarity was several hours later.

I found myself trapped in a wooden cave with four of my crew mates. My sword had been taken from me and the Silver Linings Caravan company was doing battle with mysterious bright red orbs. Even from my space in the cage the heat coming from the orbs was incredible, yet it didn’t seem to bother our rescuers in the slightest. Though the group was immune the damaging fires of the orbs, they still seemed covered in battle damage. A few had grotesquely seeping wounds about their torso. I had missed some significant action.

The group had recovered my weapon and readily returned it to me. I was told that the lost time was due to the orbs the group had been fighting. Creatures the group had taken to calling Wisps. Apparently they began as blue, luring you in, then turned red, hot, and hostile when threatened. These creatures were apparently the servants of an even larger group?

After sharing this information with us, the group led us through a twisted cavern and into a room full of bodies. Clearly there had been a massive battle in these twisting passages. I saw deceased t’skrang, but all were pale and covered in some kind of fungal infection. Definitely not Namegivers known to me.

Our rescuers partook in a bit of looting, taking a gorgeous scale cloak from the leader of this strange cult, as well as carving out some of his blood charms. It was grizzly work, but the items clearly had value. Though I perhaps would have left everything in this bizarre and accursed cavern.

Along with the new equipment, they had procured an enormous jar that seemed to have the eyes of a Braid Hydra…the very creature they mentioned hunting a week prior…an odd coincidence to say the least. And the most wild among them, a tattooed ork named Koho, had apparently befriended an enormous and malnourished jungle cat.

The spoils in hand, and the crew rescued, we began to make our way back to the boats.

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Simple Country Laws
Your World Scares and Frightens Us

As we frantically searched for anything to use as evidence of Hiyark’s treachery with the strangely docile slaves, the guard arrived in force. Having heard the sounds of pitched battle, and then seen the carnage our group had wrought in our bid to free the captives, they promptly detained all present in order to determine what, exactly, had happened. As we were apprehended, we took one last look at these slaves we had exhorted to escape. None of the assorted humans, dwarves or elves seemed interested in escaping, though we noted a heavily tattooed ork in the group. Our instinct for adventure could spot a potential fellow adept, though if this investigation went poorly, we’d never get the chance to follow up on this curious thread.

Hiyark was taken into the personal custody of mayor Orin, while all of the town’s outsiders – including the Silver Linings Trading Company and Enlightened Materials – were put into a communal cell. Strangely, we were not stripped of our belongings, even our weapons. With little to do that evening, Lokan and Tala took to the puzzle box we still possessed with gusto, though after repeated attempts they had no success. As a group we had determined that it was not magical, merely finely crafted, and the need to examine the curio further stayed in the back of my mind for some time, perhaps to take my mind off of the very real danger of execution.

I had turned my attention to Enlightened Materials, seeking some wisdom from Melison on how magical compulsions could possibly cause Hiyark’s captives to refrain from even risking the mark of a blood betrayer to expose his sordid operation; unfortunately, her and her group’s moods somewhat dampened by our surroundings, she had little to offer beyond the theoretical. With little else to do, we retired for the night.

The following morning, Perel woke everyone present, taking our group to a separate meeting room to discuss the multiple charges being leveled against us, including several of murder. She impressed upon us that should we be unable to uncover something, anything, that would compel the guard to continue their investigation, we would likely be sentenced to death promptly. We were given the day to reach out to our contacts and find some further evidence.

We asked a guard to deliver our audience request to the Questor Rish and the shifty merchant Gee, but were surprised to find our first visitor was the tattooed ork we had seen among the slaves before. He introduced himself as Koho. Though he spoke to us of his origins as a High Plains tribesman from a group to the far west, he was clearly unable to speak of many circumstances related to Hiyark; in fact, he seemed compelled by some greater force to speak only kind words of Bonesetter. This became rather conspicuous when he heavily complimented a ring Melison wore, providing some leading comments that led Lokan to remember the dwarf sporting a very fine ring that could likely have been a thread item. Even ensnared in some foul compulsion, our new ork comrade was providing aid to our investigation!

Our ceaseless questioning of Koho was interrupted when Rish visited, immediately requesting news of the puzzle box. We relinquished the oddity, and Rish easily opened it, revealing a note inside. This note appeared to be a page ripped out of a diary, and indeed, as Rish read, it was from the personal records of the former Questor of Gahbi in Alnadotzli.

This intrepid individual had been investigating Hiyark as well, and had discovered a group forged by the dwarf and his men by blood oath. Though he had yet to uncover the name of this group, they sank a large cage into the river after swearing oaths to one another. The questor also expressed frustration that no slaves would be willing to betray whatever blood oath they were compelled to swear to Hiyark, and knew there must have been more to the story. The note ended with the questor committing to go beneath the waves and discover what Hiyark and his companions had sunk. Rish noted that according to town officials, the elderly questor had died of old age in bed, clearly a cover for more nefarious deeds.

Perel visited us once more, and we revealed our discovery of the cage in the river and the inconsistencies between the old questor’s own account and the official word on his passing. This provided enough to warrant further investigation, and Perel left us to continue whatever work we could from within our cell. At this time, Gee visited us, and after an intense discussion with Lokan about rare inks and how to produce facsimiles of such materials, they haggled and he agreed to provide our companion with some strange ingredients that could, in the wrong hands, be used to create false Kintani citizenship papers for an individual. Not that Lokan had any such plans, of course.

As the shopkeeper returned with the materials, Koho had decided to explore Hiyark’s chambers while the dwarf was still in custody; as an oath-bound slave, his presence would not be overly suspicious. We hoped fervently nothing would happen to this brave ork, so clearly seizing the opportunity to attain freedom, all the while mindful of the blood-deep bonds that kept him chained to the fiend Hiyark.

Koho headed back to Hiyark’s warehouse, and walked right in without issue. Finding the slave-master’s office locked, he forced his way in, and after a brief but thorough search found a small leather tome, some silver, and a fancy set of clothes in a chest of drawers. Inside the front cover of the tome was a hand-drawn chalice and a list of 12 names underneath it, several of which were guards in Hiyark’s employ. The book also appeared to be a ledger of where Hiyark had acquired his captives, and we surmised that this information would not line up with the public ledger kept in his warehouse. Koho left quickly with this potential lead and returned to the prison to hand it back to us.

We gave Perel the book as further evidence, noting the chalice connection and the list of 12 names as a further lead, and after a few hours the guard captain returned that enough evidence had been gathered to continue the investigation. She would allow three of our number to investigate the cage in the riverbed, an agreement that Lokan was able to negotiate up to four individuals. Knowing that En’kik’s innate swimming ability would serve our investigation far better than my own talents, I agreed to stay in the cell and let the t’skrang out for this investigation. The four set out, under heavy guard escort, to the docks.

En’kik dove directly into the water and searched around, finding the overgrown cage. Using a hookaxe and some rope, our group managed to hoist out a cage with a big wooden chest suspended in it. Lokan and Dave found neither astral signature nor trap on the chest, and when it was unlocked and opened, the watertight container held a golden chalice, the spitting image of the one in the tome we had discovered. We debated on whether to destroy this pattern item or to tie threads to it to better our ability against members of the group, deciding on destroying it, which Koho seemed rather agreeable to.

The moment the chalice was melted down, Koho admitted he was made a slave against his will, his grimace of pain indicating that he had indeed taken a blood wound. He explained that the chalice was a group pattern item, and Hiyark’s ring allowed any blood oath sworn to him to be sworn to this group. With a dozen individuals as part of this group, any oathbreaker would find themselves erupting in a torrent of blood, dead from a dozen blood wounds. This kept the unlawfully obtained slaves docile, unable to speak out against their treatment for fear of immediate and painful death.

The new testimony was enough for Hiyark to be imprisoned and put to death for his crimes, and for the slaves to be released. Perel provided official notice of our involvement in this investigation, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief that it would not be our own heads on the chopping block.

The remaining days before the t’skrang families’ riverboats would first dock in town were uneventful, with the Silver Linings Trading Company training and preparing for the next leg of our journey. We extended an offer to our friend Koho to join us, at least for the next leg of our journey, and he graciously accepted (and in the meantime, it seems, had befriended a riding horse). Indeed, we learned a bit more of our friend’s history as former fire-keeper of his tribe, though there were still wounds there from a disaster that had befallen his people, and we dared not pry. The chance to befriend a new adept helped take some of the sting out of the departure of Gen. As I mentioned in my previous missive, our dear friend had learned of a plot against his sister that Great Adventure had become entangled in, as they were on their way to assassinate her for daring to rise up against brutal Maricaash slave-masters.

We had survived our first brush with a settlement tied into the tangled web of Nemahay politics without our Ahtenko connections to shield us, but it would only get more difficult from here. Hopefully our beastmaster friend, as well-traveled as he was, would provide us with more aid as we traversed further into the unknown.

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Comings and Partings
The Way of It

Slavery in Nemahay

Nemahay is a complicated region in which life is difficult at best. The rules and regulations regarding slavery are vaguely defined in most places, with each community electing to follow their own moral compass. In Vasheen, slavery is outlawed entirely. In Kintani, slavery of their citizen is never allowed (though it is particularly difficult to become a citizen of Kintani). In Ahtenko, slavery of any kind is allowed, but as long as a blood oath is not involved, escaped slaves are usually ignored and the crimes aren’t followed up on. Both Aztlan and Tir Tairngire have a caste system that bottoms out with something akin to a ‘slave class’ and they do the grunt work for the large empires.

In villages the opinions can vary towards any of these extremes. However, the average opinion of a citizen can usually be guessed. Generally, the people of Nemahay believe that selling oneself into slavery is the best safety net available to someone with no other options. Sometimes this could be selling your labor for a single season, maybe a few more until you are back on your feet. Rarely, you sell yourself into slavery for the rest of your life in exchange for the betterment of your community or your family. Its unfortunate when things come to that, but survival as a slave is better than no survival at all. The punishment for crimes is either disfigurement, death, or hard labor. Usually this hard labor is along similar terms as what is listed above. It is typically frowned upon for someone to volunteer someone else to slavery, and it is almost universally reviled to sell ones own children into slavery. Still, both of these things happen fairly often and the crime is difficult to pursue or punish. It should be noted that the slave master is responsible for their slave, and is expected to keep them in good health. Should they not, they are typically disliked, unless the slaves are being blamed for a particularly heinous crime.

Tir, Aztlan, Kintani, and the Maricaash family all keep copious notes on their slaving operations and agreements. They typically back up these agreements with blood oaths when they are made in the short term. Otherwise, book-keeping is left up to those involved in the agreement and tends towards being spotty or strictly verbal. After all, not many can read.

On to the Adventure…

Brother, my last missive concluded with many questions about what to do in Alnadotzli. The town appeared to be in the middle of some serious political tensions, and we weren’t sure how we would proceed, or whether we would even attempt to collect on the bounty on Hiyark Bonesetter’s head. Well, by now it should come as no surprise that the SIlver Linings Trading Company chose the course of action.

After some debate the previous evening, we had retired to mull things over, and on the following morning decided to tour the various locales in the town, speaking with the proprietors of various businesses in an attempt to get a better sense of the town’s political climate. We were surprised to learn that En’kik of Enlightened Materials had joined with us after I’d discussed the matter of Hiyark with him – apparently the t’skrang archer felt a personal calling to help us unseat this unsavory character. We gladly accepted his help, though he still seemed somewhat leery of us – for good reason, I thought, remembering our previous misadventures.

We first headed to the general store in town, called Ghee’s goods. The human owner of the shop engaged us in conversation and we learned about the proprietor of Longhouse Storage, a dwarf named Amni who engaged in quite a bit of reselling. Ghee also made his displeasure at the Passion House’s lack of a Gloehiba statue.

We concluded our business with Ghee and moved on to Passion House, where Rish, a dwarf questor of Gahbi introduced himself and his T’skrang companion (a questor of Klesh). We offered ten percent of the proceeds of the coming concert the Tumblin’ Weeds would put on that night as a tithe to the Passion House. Rish mentioned that the questor here before him had stored some of his things with Amni, and when Rish had attempted to retrieve them, the merchant claimed ignorance of any such goods. We offered our aid in its retrieval and moved on to our next stop: the Brewhouse.

Kranth, a human with a luxurious mustache, greeted us at the Brewhouse. We discussed his moonshine business and made him a trade, also offering a sample of mushlite for him to experiment with fermenting. Kranth mentioned that Perel, the guard captain, was not a fan of the slaving business, while the current mayor, Oren, was perfectly happy with the income it brought to the village.

We moved on to the River’s Ingot, where a tribal ork named Churning River greeted us, and made his displeasure with Hiyark’s business known. Churning River had an impressive collection of unusual arms and armor, but he spoke to us of politics as well, noting that Perel is an ambitious young t’skrang whose only hope for advancement would be becoming Mayor. The weaponsmith himself was disapproving of Hiyark’s business, and noted that Perel was opposed, as well. We then discussed the possibility of forging some items (or at least renting forge space), and decided to return after we’d completed our business.

Finally, we headed to the Longhouse, where Amni regaled us with the history of the edifice and bragged about its construction (which, as a craftsman, I could tell was nowhere near as impressive as this charlatan claimed). He let slip that he often claimed and resold the items of deceased individuals who had stored goods in his storehouse, and in our discussion we quickly saw that he was not an entirely upstanding businessman, to say the least. He also went on about his personal relationship with Mayor Oren and Hiyark, while we noted that two yaguarete guards kept watch on the longhouse. Finally, we attempted to glean information on the puzzle box from him, and after some tense and probing conversation, he admitted Hiyark had bought it, along with the former questor’s other valuable goods. Eager to leave this unsavory individual behind, we moved on to the Port Authority, which was unfortunately closed.

Finding ourselves with only about an hour before the Tumblin’ Weeds’ show, and feeling more comfortable in our knowledge of the town’s political landscape, we came back to Perel to discuss what we found – and what opportunities may have arisen. She noted that the few times she has interrogated any of Hiyark’s slaves, they refused to admit to being coerced in any way, and thus she’s been unable to make progress. She mentioned that the Longhouse was the Shivalahalla’s original estate, and was said there were secret tunnels leading between it, Hiyark’s Warehouse, and the current mayoral home. We were also told to speak with the guardsmen on the way out and ask for the “bureaucracy file;” what we got were suspect documents including Kintani citizenship papers for a woman named Lysa and a long hand-written story about being forced into slavery by Hiyark Bonesetter. Perel officially admonished any untoward action taken toward Hiyark or his property, but implied that were evidence provided to the guard that would let her take action against Hiyark (and discredit the current Mayor), she would happily act on it.

We finally headed to the Submerge Inn, where the Tumblin’ Weeds began what would be spoken of for a long time after as a legendary performance for the people of Alnadotzli. Lokan’s very fingertrips sparked as he played his lute with lightning speed. As the crowd was enraptured by their work, we slipped away to gather evidence of Hiyark’s wrong-doing. Dave and En’kik snuck into the front room of Amni’s Longhouse, while the rest of us waited for a signal outside. When the signal came, it was from En’kik, asking us to distract the yaguarete guard patrolling the storage hallway while they searched for the tunnels. Indeed, they had discovered what appeared to be storage spaces permanently rented by both the mayor and the famed slaver, and after a chaotic battle where we knocked out the two guards, we bound and gagged them, leaving them in another storage space to avoid suspicion.

We descended the tunnel to the warehouse, and Dave stealthily emerged into the main chamber to find half a dozen t’skrang guards patrolling around eight slave pens, each filled with four or more unfortunate souls. One of these guards patrolled on a catwalk overseeing the chamber, while the other five were at ground level. We attempted to stealthily assemble in the antechamber we’d found ourselves in, but in the darkness, Tala slipped, and the clamor instantly alerted the guards. By this time, Dave had stealthily leapt to the catwalk, and a well-placed arrow by En’kik toppled the only guard up above onto ground level, leaving that upper level clear for Dave to explore. While we fought below, he managed to find the puzzle box, keys to the slave pens, and some other goods, tossing the keys down to the slaves before another guard emerged from a barracks and spotted our battle in action, rousing another half-dozen assailants.

Meanwhile, the Tumblin’ Weeds had put on a blistering encore, leaving the crowd delighted and obtaining an invitation to carouse with Hiyark. Lokan and Gen gladly took this opportunity, keeping Hiyark and his four elite guards busy at the Submerge and sparing us a much more difficult battle.

Back at the warehouse, our battle on the ground was quite the press, but with the foes focusing their ire on En’kik and Tywon’s impressive command of the primal forces of lightning, we managed to defeat the first six guards before the remaining ones joined the fray. Seeing half their number defeated with little to show for it, the remainder jumped into the river through a rear exit and escaped.

While we ransacked Hiyark’s warehouse for any official documentation linking him to unsavory trade, we also attempted to get the truth out of the slaves – they had sworn a blood oath to Hiyark of some kind, but it seemed to do more with their ability to speak of how they’d come into captivity, rather than the standard agreement of indentured servitude. This was highly suspicious, but I worried that without a skilled orator, the ‘evidence’ would not win the townsfolk – or Perel – over.

An important piece of evidence we did find, however, was Hiyark’s logbook, which detailed a meeting with Sen and the Great Adventure. Hiyark noted the brutal Maricaash family was dealing with a full-scale slave uprising, with a capable leader known as Peri Singing-Bird. This human woman directed a devastating campaign of guerrilla warfare against her former overlords. Hiyark’s logbook noted that Sen offered to have his people ingratiate themselves with the rebellion, before waiting for an opportune time to assassinate this brave woman. Upon returning to Gen with this information, he immediately recognized the name of his sister, and made preparations to protect his long-lost sibling from the devious Great Adventure.

Perhaps Hiyark’s foreign connections could be used as evidence against him? Perhaps we could get one of the braver slaves to break their blood oath, branding them a blood betrayer in exchange for liberating so many current and future coerced slaves from a life they never wanted? Would we stoop to relying solely on the forged evidence? Even if we prevailed with our findings, would the town support a change in leadership – and the downfall of one of its civic leaders? With all of these questions hanging in the air, the remainder of our time in Alnadotzli would certainly be exciting. I only hoped we would be able to help this town cast off the chains that bound it to the business of slavery, and forge trade links instead of burning bridges.

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Madness and Manacles
Where Rights Once Went Wrong

The scene was a terrible one, and was about to get worse. We stood before what appeared to be the flayed body of a three-meter-tall creature, alien and foul in its appearance, its exposed musculature glistening in the dim light of the cavern. Two small bushes grew strange gray tubers that would no doubt prove a tempting meal to the hungry populace of the besieged Timbertown, and I had just found a bag holding its own grim harvest: ork fingers, no doubt from murdered High Plains tribesmen. I had just opened the bag to examine its grisly contents (which also included boots and a blowgun of High Plains tribal make) when Dirk himself stormed through the door.

Lokan, still filled with violent rage toward the dwarf, had been standing on the ground floor, and when he saw the object of his hatred, he quickly loosed an arrow, dealing only a glancing blow before speeding toward the ladder down to the cellar. In his singular focus, however, his normally sure feet failed him, and he fell down to the cellar, groaning out a warning to the rest of us, who (with the exception of Gen) had been oblivious to this development. The warning was soon matched by noises outside the cellar door, as Dirk’s cronies attempted to enter through the lower level. The cries of Dirk’s poor wife Rhanda as she was beaten cut through my battle focus, and I uttered a silent prayer to Bisojah that she and her sons would endure and thrive once this corruption was cleansed.

At this point, it became clear that, cornered in this cellar as we were, the battle would not be an easy one. Dirk and two of his men descended the ladder and quickly attacked Lokan, rage in their eyes, taking him out of the fight. Another group of three burst in through the cellar, setting upon Tala, Dave and myself. Though their arms were primitive (merely boards with nails through them) they were brutally effective. I managed to weather a rain of blows without incurring serious damage, while Tala and Dave fell victim to some particularly vicious attacks, Dave falling in battle briefly. Gen worked behind the scenes, a picture of quiet efficiency, causing blindness to descend over the eyes of Dirk and others of his party. We quickly learned that upon landing a serious blow on any one of these men, they would begin shrieking in rage and redoubling their attacks, even attacking with their fists if they were disarmed in combat.

Even more chilling in the midst of this pitched battle, we were able to infer what had happened on the upper level of Dirk’s house, as Rhanda had gone quiet and the pitter-patter of tiny feet down the ladder led to another pair of assailants – her children. Seized with the same rage as Dirk and his men, they threw themselves into battle and clawed and bit at us as we tried to hold off the enraged adults. Finally, after Dirk and four of his men fell, the other two regained their senses somewhat, or perhaps let their fear overtake their rage, and began running away, Dirk’s children close behind.

Unfortunately for them, the commotion we had made in our fight had roused the town guard, with Charyssa leading a handful of guards and militiamen in subduing the would-be escapees. She demanded an explanation, which I provided in detail, and the macabre situation in the cellar only confirmed our tale. Huaztli was brought in to provide healing and confirm our tale, and as we were all recuperating from the battle we discussed options for cleansing the Horror’s corruption from the area, with me suggesting Habya, the Naizhan warchief. Huaztli found the option risky, but did admit it was the best available at the time. When Rhanda had recovered from her shock and the assault enough, she also added that Dirk and his friends had once spent a lot of time in a grove to the northeast of Timbertown, and gave us rough directions.

At this time, Charyssa returned with news from the Mayor, who had given permission for us to try and end the siege and cleanse the area of the Horror’s influence as soon as possible. Charyssa also noted that another caravan had come to camp, and we deduced that Enlightened Materials was hot on our heels. We quickly returned to the High plains warcamp and approached the Warchiefs, giving them an explanation of the situation, with the bag full of fingers and personal effects as proof. Habya then spoke up for the first time in a raspy voice, asking about the dead Horror, and to see the site of the corruption. I swore a personal blood promise to see to his protection, adding to the promises already sworn between the rest of my group and the Naizhan and Keresan, and we quickly returned to Timbertown.

Despite some tension between the villagers and orks, we arrived at Dirk’s home and Habya inspected the area, communing with the spirits for guidance. He was in a trance for some time, and just as we felt it might be prudent to check up on him, he snapped out of it. He told us of a tale he had learned of his tribe’s deeds during the Scourge, that of defeating a Horror known as The Growing One. The Naizhan and Keresan tribes had ridden together to defeat this Horror, which possessed a particularly insidious method of gaining strength. The Growing One existed in a seemingly welcoming desert field, growing these strange gray tubers and inviting weary wanderers to partake of the bounty. Hapless travelers mistook the Horror for a Passion, and happily ate of its ‘fruit,’ known as “Growing One Meat,” which drove them mad with rage, even as it grew the being’s power. The two High Plains tribes came together to defeat the Horror and its tainted followers, and won after a bloody battle. They then eliminated its influence, which required three tasks: destroying the physical body, destroying all instances of the tubers, and cleansing the corrupted astral space around it all. Habya and Huaztli offered to organized efforts to clear Dirk’s home (and Timbertown in general). In the meantime, we would return to the High Plains camp and organize a night raid on this grove in order to wipe out any lingering corruption.

Before leaving, we stopped to talk to Yuska, who let us know more of the history of the gloves and bracers we had procured. The Vicegrips had been crafted with kernels of True Earth from deep within the Shale Mounds, while the Balance Bonds utilized True Water from where the East and West Braid met. At camp, we gave some basic direction to our merchant Tukko as far as trade, and then rode out for the grove with an organized group of Naizhan and Keresan braves, finding some more of the corrupted plants and three gigantic, vicious wolves. Afted dispatching the beasts and destroying the plants, we found many fresh graves, exhuming the bodies of fingerless braves. We returned these to the Warchiefs, who honored their blood oaths and lifted the siege.

After getting what little rest we could, the Warchiefs summoned us for one last time, to honor us for the service rendered to them with the items we had recovered from the cave under Dirk’s home. First were the fur-lined boots once owned by Warchief Isan of the Keresan, known as Shadowstride Boots, which helped their owner travel unseen. Second was a poisonous blowgun known as “Marker” that used blood magic, and helped hunt and defeat quarry known to the hunter, once used by a Naizhan Warchief.

Finally, before setting out, we spoke to Lahalla Lisk about the Ahtenko bounty for Hiarc Bonesetter, and she provided a wealth of troubling information. Hiarc was a prominent businessman in Alnadotzli, one of the wealthiest people in that village of 500 or so. Due to the nature of his slaving business, the town was more accepting of the practice of slavery than most others. He was known to travel often to buy slaves or criminals from other communities, and kept copious notes on them (though most had little documentation of their identity beyond that from another slaveowner). He was a local celebrity and business magnate in Alnadotzli, and as such it would be very difficult to end his operation.

To many, slavery was a viable option if they were in a hopeless situation, and with a blood promise of decent treatment from their would-be owner, one that had a reasonable chance of avoiding abuse of the enslaved. However, there was suspicion that Hiarc had been kidnapping individuals from Timbertown and bringing them into slavery, and forcing anyone into slavery was more commonly considered unsavory, if not downright evil.

We set out for Alnadotzli, traveling alongside the Enlightened Materials caravan, and I brought up the Ahtenko bounty to the members of the other trading company. They looked at me askance, for in their previous travels through Alnadotzli it was apparent that Hiarc was an established, well-connected individual with a large operation and plenty of security, not to mention his popular support. I may not have convinced them to ally with us in claiming the bounty, but I do think I may have somewhat mended their impression of me after all of the chaos in Ahtenko during the Bazaar.

When we finally arrived in Alnadotzli, we headed to the Submerge, a large inn with a partially flooded stone basement meant to cater to visiting t’skrang merchants. We obtained rooms for our entire party, shook off the dust of the road, and returned to the common area to speak with the innkeepers and get some more information on the town and its inhabitants.

As I saw it, we had three main leads we had to uncover in town, in addition to gaining general information on its personages and markets: finding a lead on a boat to hire out and take us on the next leg of our journey, finding more information on river hydras and which t’skrang families might offer us a good sum for helping defend against them, and, of course, more information on Hiarc and any news that might help us get an edge in our potential bounty.

Tala struck up a conversation with the elf innkeeper, and learned a wealth of information on river travel. The wet season was only just picking up, and once it was in full force sometime in the next few weeks, boats from the Indechu and Shinumetu families would be making the trip up the river and stopping by Alnadotzli, offering caravans an opportunity to rent space. The Shinumetu family was heavily involved in the practice of elemental magic, and were building a canal to connect the major waterways of Nemahay. As such, they were always on the lookout for reagents. Additionally, the most direct route to Kintani led right through the Shinumetu capital. The Indechu ruled a town called Phibium far downriver, near the ocean, and were far more militaristic, with trade links to the Maricaash and business deals with Hiarc Bonesetter. It quickly became clear that the Shinumetu would be a safer choice for river travel.

Once the t’skrang families had been brought up, I joined the conversation, managing to impress the innkeeper enough to keep a long conversation going. I first asked about the river hydra, which she described as almost a ball of heads, akin to a large, deadly starfish. The hydras attacked often on the Shinumetu leg of the river, and if a head were to get damaged, it would split and two would grow back in time. Generally, the only safe way to kill a river hydra was by targeting its spindly body, which was heavily armored, but very susceptible to magical attacks.

Finally, I asked about our potentially bounty, Hiarc Bonesetter. The innkeeper mentioned that he came into Submerge about twice a week for dinner, sometimes combining this meal with a business meeting. A couple of weeks ago, another caravan from Ahtenko, doubtless the Great Adventure, met and spoke with him, before setting out to the north, impatient to avoid river travel. Roughly a month ago, Hiarc had come back from a foraging trip to the north with a few dozen slaves. These were kept in a large warehouse near the docks, and his operation was gearing up to offload these slaves when the river travel picked up. Bonesetter also met with mayor Oren Alna once every couple of months, but the innkeeper did not know when this next meeting would be.

We paid a visit to Mayor Oren to get more information on the local situation. She sat us down to tea, and spoke of Sen Anoranfeh, the Great Adventure’s patron, warmly – the two went back a long way, apparently. Oren’s cousin Perel ran Alnadotzli’s guard, and did not seem to be beset by any thorny problems. However, after some conversation, Oren let slip that she felt Perel might not be the most trustworthy captain of the guard. If we could investigate her and prove one way or the other whether or not she had the village’s best interests at heart, the Mayor would be much obliged. She noted that Perel may have connections to Kintani, and if she could be talked into any deals that would not benefit the village, Oren would consider this fair proof of her duplicity.

I will admit, dear brother, that what followed was not my finest hour. Hours spent at my craft, trying to see the very patterns of the unique items we have encountered over time, may have taken their toll on my ability to negotiate. Or maybe it’s the adventure we seem to chase at every stop, rather than the prolonged negotiations I was expecting. The result has been humbling, as we approached the captain of the guard, Perel, and tried to feel out her stances. I stumbled over my words in an impressive display of incompetence, the sudden realization of the precarious situation we found ourselves hitting me all at once, and I fear I did not make a particularly good impression. However, I do believe we managed to suss out that Perel was not a fan of Hiarc Bonesetter.

And here we come to the crux of the uncertainty that had been gnawing at me, and finally showed itself in full force at the guard headquarters. In Ahtenko, we worked to secure the best possible start for our caravan company. In Tseni, we helped keep the precious stone supply in the control of its own villagers, and not forces with shadowy connections abroad (connections, I should mention, that pointed to this town and possibly Hiarc Bonesetter himself). In Timbertown, we brokered a peace thanks to what ended up being a misunderstanding borne out of the interference of an otherworldly creature. All of these were, in their own ways, very clear-cut situations.

But here, in Alnadotzli, we found ourselves interlopers in a stable community with plenty of secrets we could barely guess at. To Ahtenko and Timbertown, Hiarc was a villain whose slaving operations endangered their citizens. To our caravan’s patron, Alnadotzli was a potential partner, worth building stronger relations with. To Lokan, whose connections I suspect run closer to Kintani than we think, this could be a trade rival, though I could only guess at his own patron’s goals. And from other information we received, Kintani and its interests were suspect allies at best, and we were to look out for any tricks of their own. On top of all of this, Alnadotzli itself had its own rhythm of life worked out, and if we took any brash actions, we would be destabilizing it and potentially upending the lives of its citizens – but if they looked so kindly upon coerced slavery, would it be better to shake things up? Indeed, we found ourselves in a very complex web, and we could weave our own threads into it, or be the blade that hacked the complex edifice apart.

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The Siege of Timbertown
Peacemakers or Warmongers?

Brother, these letters bring me no small measure of comfort, even as they help me record the sights and deeds on our journey to Vasheen. Granted, this is only my first since setting out from our eventful stop in Tseni, but we have already found ourselves in some truly extraordinary circumstances. As such experiences mount, I feel more and more that a group blood oath will help smooth out any potential suspicions between members of the group, and give us a binding reason to help each other out in our endeavor. But as I am wont to do, I digress.

We said our goodbyes at midday, after the dreadful business with the illegal quarrying was resolved, and set out for the next stop on our journey: Timbertown. At our pace, the trip would take roughly one and a half days of travel, but we had perhaps taken for granted that a path exists between Tseni and Ahtenko. The lack of trails and thick undergrowth made travel with our carts difficult, and by the afternoon of our second day of travel we noticed plumes of smoke rising from the general direction of Timbertown. Knowing that the town had been cut off from the rest of Nemahay after a dispute with High Plains Orks, we proceeded with caution.

However, dear brother, I believe that on this journey, we were given purpose, and maybe even a blessing, from none other than Chagee! An ork in brilliant blue robes and bearing a large satchel appeared from the undergrowth and called our names, handing a letter to me stating the following:

“Greetings Silver Linings,

You embark now into the fresh wilds, and ancient grudges. May the Passions protect you and may the dark things fear for their safety as you draw near. The wood you enter is known as the Asaelya Nahmala to those of the High Plains. The Sacred Grove. The orks believe it sacred to Chagee, but what use is a grove to the Passion of exploration?

In your travels, remember that not all can be painted with a single brush. Not every bird that titters bears a message, not every silent wolf wishes ill will. Exploration is discovery. Exploration is truth. Exploration is risk.

Use Caution and keep an open mind.

A Prideful Benefactor”

I read the letter aloud to my compatriots, and before I had finished the ork had disappeared. Truly, this was an extraordinary start to what would be an extraordinary adventure. The rest, however, would not be quite as whimsical.

It was as we passed a low ridge that Lokan heard hurried whispers and called out to whoever was hiding in the brush. Four orks in hides, with shortbows drawn, emerged, led by a fifth of somewhat nobler bearing and with his hand on a fine axe. Lokan immediately recognized these as Naizhan orks, and remembered that their dealings relied heavily on blood oaths and practicality, and the giving of tribute was a customary method of opening any negotiations. Their leader, a man named Wukwa, demanded this tribute and ordered us to turn back. We offered him some weapons and made a blood oath of peace against him and his people for one lunar cycle, in exchange for his vouching for us to his Warchief, a man named Habya.

The group fell in alongside our wagon, and I engaged one of the other orks in conversation about the goings-on in the area. I learned that two warchiefs led approximately 150 braves, evenly split between the two assembled tribes. The aforementioned Habya was a powerful nethermancer representing the Naizhan, while the Keresan were led by Warchief Istaka, an accomplished scout. Approximately one year ago, chieftains from both tribes approached Timbertown to warn them of the sacred grove of Chagee they were desecrating with their presence. Neither chieftain (nor their parties) returned to their own lands. Some weeks ago, Istaka and Habya’s delegation arrived seeking answers, but they were fired on as they approached Timbertown, and this led them to their current course – besieging the town until they got what they wanted. The orks had two grievances; first, that the folk of Timbertown had settled on ground sacred to Chagee. Second, that the killer of their chieftains needed to be brought to justice. From what we observed, however, the first issue was nowhere near as important to the besiegers as the second. Mundane conversation had yielded much useful information!

We were led to the main camp, and saw the palisades of Timbertown, with siege trenches dug around them. We were led to the east of the encirclement, to two large tents. We saw two children running around, but as soon as we approached, a man came out of the tent and shouted for them to go inside. He gestured to another brave to do so as well. Wookwa pointed that man out as Warchief Istaka. He then introduced us, and said that we were at the camp to trade and pay tribute. We noted that Istaka was flanked by two female guards with spears, while Habya was flanked by a suspicious-looking scout. All of their gear appeared to be of good quality – thread items, likely. We were dealing with powerful people, indeed. Istaka explained to us that his brother was among the chieftains who had approached a year ago. They were killed, and when Istaka recently approached Timbertown to learn what had happened, he and his men were fired upon.

Conversation quickly turned to what we could offer, and in short order a blood promise was proposed. We would investigate in Timbertown, endeavor to learn who had killed the chieftains, and bring them to justice. In exchange, Istaka would protect our goods and hirelings while we were out, and promised he would prevent any assault on the town while we were inside. My compatriots took the offer, knowing their investigative skills would be enhanced by the lifeblood used to power this promise. As my endurance was required to help the group, I opted out of this arrangement, and we retired in short order, night now having fallen.

The following morning, Tukko continued evaluating the markets while we approached the gate to Timbertown. Three of us (Gen, Lokan, and Tala) were allowed to approach (without weapons) to parlay. A yaguarete woman who introduced herself as Sheriff Charyssa was the leader of the guards inside of Timbertown and met our party at the gates, demanding that Gen, Lokan and Tala explain themselves. After they described the situation to her, she let the rest of us in and offered to take us to Mayor Lisk.

The Mayor, who introduced herself asLahalla Lisk, told us the tale from her own perspective. Ork scouts approached about a year ago claiming the people of Timbertown were desecrating the sacred grove of Chagee. The leaders made the agitating orks leave, and that was the last they heard of them. The Lahalla surmised that loggers who were out in the forest might have tried to engage in an act of violence against the orks, but she had discovered no evidence of this in her (admittedly limited) investigation. She pointed out that a battle-hardened, mounted scouting company acting as honor guards to a chieftain could easily dispatch a group of loggers anyway. Lisk also gave us a few leads in town: a weaponsmith named Yuska, formerly of the Keresan tribe; Aren, an elf running Forlorn Logging; and the Tin Roof Inn, where most of the loggers are staying while stuck in the besieged town.

We decided to make our first stop Yuska’s residence, and were greeted by a yaguarete elementalist named Huaztli, who quickly recognized the gloves and bracers we bore. We were let in and Yuska, an older, scarred ork, joined us. We asked about the Keresan, and he admitted that chieftains in the tribe are given a lot of leeway in how they conduct their work. He and Huaztli also noted that recently, there had been strong negative emotions in their astral readings of the town, far worse than could be accounted for by the unrest alone. They surmised that a blood curse placed by the Naizhan may have caused some sort of issue. Their hypothesis might have been wrong, brother, but what they observed fit the chilling pattern we began to put together.

We next visited Forlorn Logging and spoke to its owner, an elf named Aren Spearth. Aren mentioned that the High Plains orks had been expanding their territory, slowly but surely, over the past year, with some attacking his logging teams. As far as encounters within Timbertown, he remembered a shouting match that turned to blows between some orks and an influential logger – a dwarf named Dirk Tallfellow. Since this argument, Dirk had been agitating for a ‘kill on sight’ policy of dealing with the orks.

We decided to head to the Tin Roof Inn to continue our investigation, and upon entering, Gen and Lokan could not help but break into another performance by the Tumblin’ Weeds. As with their previous performances, they quickly enthralled the crowd of approximately 40 sullen loggers with their bravura performance. I noted a young Oni child ferrying soup to hungry loggers, and an oni woman who appeared to be the proprietress of the inn looking at us in surprise. Lokan tried some of the food being given out to the loggers, a strange grayish tuber soup of some kind. I chatted with some of the loggers and then Hachi, the owner of the inn, learning that food has been getting scarce, but that Dirk had come forward with supplies he’d been keeping for his own family in order to provide food for the masses. She admitted that despite his largesse, she had and still did see him as a generally unpleasant individual.

With a strong lead (and equally strong suspicions to accompany it), we headed to Dirk Tallfellow’s residence. While Dave’s attempt to sneak into the home’s cellar was stymied by a strategically placed padlock, the rest of us attempted the tried and true method of the front door. A dwarf woman opened the door a mere crack and introduced herself as Rhonda. She asked us to leave, as her husband was out for the day. Gen convinced her to hear us out, and after some time she let us in; it was at this point that we noticed her black eye, bandaged arm and cracked lip. When we entered, she quickly shut the door behind us and broke down, incoherently talking about how her two sons, Darin and Harin, had been getting more rambunctious of late, and only Dirk could keep them under control. One son had bitten her arm multiple times, while the other hit her lip. The black eye had come from Dirk himself.

We were at a loss. I have encountered violent spouses, but for children to be so bloodthirsty? Something was wrong here. The children, it was now clear, were locked in the cellar, and were scrabbling with great strength to try and escape the cellar; between their cries, Rhonda’s breakdown, and the sudden rage that Lokan seemed to feel toward Dirk, the situation had grown far too confusing. Dave noted the astral space in the area was steeped in very negative energy, and we had little time to consider this new wrinkle before the two children burst out of the cellar and set upon us.

Brother, I need not tell you the genuine fear we all felt here. Our suspicion that the children, having regularly ingested the same food that seemed to give Lokan rage issues after one mere portion, were seized by some supernatural bloodlust was only half-formed in the chaos of the room, and so we struggled to come up with a plan for dealing with them nonviolently. However, their own aggression meant that our only option was to stun and bind them before they could do any harm. After one son was stunned, the other retreated to a corner, whimpering.

Rhonda had recovered from her panic enough to let us know that Dirk had discovered a cavern as he dug the cellar of their home out over a year ago, and had never let her down there. She also noted that he had once had hounds that had grown to monstrous size, but had disappeared some time ago.

We descended into the basement to investigate the cavern, with Lokan staying upstairs in order to keep watch over Rhonda and the kids . We immediately noticed two strange bushes bearing strange tubers, and in between them a large lump under a sheet. I approached the sheet, expecting to find a dead body – and brother, I got far more than I had bargained for. Underneath was a wretched decomposing corpse that could be of no Namegiver; it appeared as if the top few layers of skin had been flayed from the thing, while the flesh glistened as if moist. It had large, claw-like hands and sharp teeth set in a wicked face, and a bundle sat near the thing’s feet.

As Dave inspected the creature with his esoteric knowledge, I proceeded to inspect the bag. Dave’s conclusion was a chilling one – this was no mere Horror construct, though that would be bad enough. In fact, he concluded this may have been the physical manifestation of a now-deceased Horror. With this terrible knowledge, I opened the bag, finding a number of fingers, a pair of hide boots, and a blowgun. The boots, it was easy to see, were of High Plains make, and the conclusion was a chilling one – this was all that was left of the scouting parties that had come to Timbertown a year ago. We had found our murderer.

The discovery of this supernatural danger in the cellar immediately led me to another conclusion: as our benefactor had noted, the idea of a stationary sacred spot for a Passion of exploration was indeed strange – but what if the true purpose of this sacred spot was to keep Namegivers from encountering the tainted energies of a Horror? Perhaps the esteemed Passion had defeated this blasphemous being and hidden it here to keep it from endangering Namegiver lives, only for the logging prospects to bring more Namegivers into the area. One of whom, a xenophobic dwarf, discovered these terrible remains and began doing the dark bidding of a Horror! Now Chagee personally intervening by steering us toward a path of peace made sense – war would only expose more Namegivers to this threat.

I did not have time to share this information with my compatriots, as upon grabbing the bag we heard the front door of the house smash open – Dirk had come home, and he was angry.

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A Journey Begins
Leaving Home

From the Memoirs of Gen

After two weeks with my mentor, Ahwin, I was ready to join the ranks of others and—- relatively socially capable individuals. He might be a good salesman but he does not revel in teaching. At least there was Trauma, I could always get that chap to smile even if he wasn’t much of a conversationalist. It was a productive two weeks, 3rd circle is a quite the milestone for an adept. I find it quite satisfying the other caravan members are all keeping pace. Funny how that works out; I must have truly found my peers. Sometimes coincidences make me wonder if I’m just living in a grand illusion fabricated by an ancient of my discipline and I’m a lowly character in an adventure. I surely can’t prove I am not. Then again among the billions of persons in history, these types of events are bound to happen to someone, right?

The Silver Linings are no longer some meek operation. We procured a second caravan and hired 3 employees: Tukko the boorish, dwarf market analyst, Liwan the young human and hopeful fighter, and Kahlin the dour, ork teamster. I’ll be sure to put them to good use on the travels. I believe their overhead will be easily recuperated. If I’m wrong I have a suspicion my colleagues will squarely place any lost profits on my shoulders. The rest of the team seemed more threatening, cratfy, and resourceful in general from the circle training.

The group set out on the slow and safe path. With an efficient use of our abilities and the new employees, I think we can bring quite a bit of value to the villages we cross as well as our pockets. Beyond the sale and purchase of goods, the Silver Linings has other opportunities to profit. The first is to deliver justice to one Hiarc Bonesetter, a slaver from Alnadotzli who has been terrorizing Timbertown. I will not get in the way of Dave arrow of Tala’s steel when it comes to this pathetic excuse for a dwarf. The second is to kill and salvage the eyes from a Braid Hydra; sometimes I think our group missed the calling of being monster hunters but the chance to make a little silver from the endeavor comes up often enough to develop a journeyman’s skill for occupation. The last is to retrieve a magical anvil from the two thieves, Bide and Connie Longshank. This item is likely on route to Vasheen or Kintani. Lokan should be quite useful with this quest being a theif with questionable connections.

Our first stop was Iktomi’s home village of Tseni where we have already established ties. Like most villages, the Inn was the social square of the village and the Tumblin’ Weeds sure knows how to work a drinking hole. While there, Iktomi had found out the Great Adventure had already come and gone. The Tumblin Weeds performed a ballad ode to Kzizh and were quickly invited to his company. Kzizh mentioned he had wind of the illegal quarry operation that Phaius’s, the blood elf, had underway. If we were to bring the criminal to justice Kzizh would consider opening up the quarry under legitimate means. This means good things for business.

Previously we had traded Phaius and were unsure what to do about this elf. With Kzizh’s accusations and Phaius casually suggesting using slave labor, it was agreed this elf must be proven guilty and brought to the justice of Tseni. Anyway, we should continue doing right by this town, there is a hefty bounty if it could be brought into the Ahtenko fold. We feigned support of the quarry in order to suss out the location of the quarry. Between meetings with Phauis, Dave was able to lift a few incriminating letters from Phaius’ residence. The information shall help Kzizh in his formal trial of the elf.

Before Phaius would show us the operation but before the tour he wanted us to handle some despairthoughts. Not a problem, like I mentioned before the rest of the lot are quite interested and very capable in physically stopping threats. The Despairthoughts were annoying but ultimately easily handled. The use of illusion was the extent of their abilities and outside the hands of a master and without anything to back it up illusion is hardly a match for steel and force, take it from an illusionist.

We met again with Phaius and he was pleased with our despairthought trophies. He took us to the quarry where a magical soundproof curtain concealed the labor camp. We got a good look and noticed quite a few guards which could easily complicate a raid. We agreed on providing more equipment and a trade for what Phaius had at hand. Unbeknownst to him, Phaius would be walking into a trap upon delivery. The Silver Linings would be taking a prisoner—- or so we had planned.

Today, Lokan’s loosed arrow was quicker than Phaius’ realization of betrayal. Unfortunately for Phaius the destinations were one in the same and equally penetrating. Within the strike of lighting, Phaius was merely a corpse with a hole in its head. The guards’ disposition to confront us was lost quite quickly as well.

I didn’t feel Kzizh would be too upset about a dead Phaius since that was likely his plan to begin with but it was best to use caution. Iktomi was very forthcoming in the story which often times is the best policy. I would have left a few details out knowing Kzizh, but no harm no foul. Kzizh will be following through on his promise of opening the quarry and in the meantime, we got some stone at a five finger discount.

Our last and possibly least pleasant stop was to visit old Uncle Manaloh. He had a couple commissions ready for us. Previously he was directed the sculptures shouldn’t depict Kzizh losing an arm and such was delivered. Instead, Kzizh’s statue was moments after the removal of his arm with quite detailed gore and viscera. Accompanying was a statue with a coyote eating the remains. It made for quite the disturbing and gut wrenching sight. Manaloh did prepare some more acceptable pieces and through some discussion we had traded an of our grotesque sculptures already under our possession. We left him with a challenged to sculpt an abstract depicting love. I’m excited to see how I can be thoroughly disturbed by that.

With the Great Adventure already ahead, we had some ground to cover. Next stop is Timbertown where we hear grim circumstances await.

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Flags and Flops
A Race to the Finish Line

Excerpt from “Letters to Tseni,” by Iktomi Nantlah

“… As for my new companions, dear brother, learning to work as a team has been a challenge. Sometimes I think our success so far has been some sort of blessing from Tihitabaha himself, rather than a testament to our teamwork. This city – and the games its leaders play – change people, and I fear such changes among some of our group are for the worse. Perhaps, however, the constantly simmering cauldron of intrigue that is Ahtenko only brings out what has long lain dormant in each of us…But maybe I’m being too hasty in judging anyone – and maybe I should start at the beginning.

To refresh your memory: our latest challenge, which we have only just completed, was some sort of shadow game played by the Jubilant Knives during Ahtenko’s Bazaar Days, with groups of adventurers competing for the favor of any of the three factions within the gang, and the gang’s leadership betting heavily on the outcome. The Knives’ leadership secured three thread items – a pair of leather gloves, a pair of silvery-green bracers, and a fine dagger – and ‘hid’ them in Ahtenko through a variety of methods.

Our various mentors had given us advice, or secondary tasks to perform during the market days, but it was after we had secured those ancient books I mentioned in my last missive that Tywon shared his pointed advice, straight from Danon Rofi, with us – elementalists seek balance in all things, and one such form of balance is in the seeking of balance itself. An adept could focus on one thing to the exclusion of others, limiting their ability, or they could spread their efforts to maintain balance among many things, excelling in none. With two artifacts remaining, such advice was particularly timely.

Picking up where my last letter left off, we returned to the estate of Aya Siropese to exchange the books we had obtained for the item she held, and I tried to maintain composure after the extended quibbling while trying to secure those books. We managed to negotiate our retrieval of additional tomes on shelter construction (and other arcane topics) into a discount on the purchase of that book on ancient Tenko we sought to give us a lead on Foundation Stones. Aya is a formidable woman, brother, and Tseni could use someone of her talent and determination if it is to thrive. Your teasing aside, I do greatly admire her. She may be callous, but none question her commitment to unearthing the past and building a future. But I digress. She presented us with a fine wooden box, within which found a pair of finely-crafted leather-and-espagra-scale gloves. She instructed us to proudly display these gloves as a trophy of our achievement, and noted that members of the Knives would approach us on the final day of the great Bazaar to provide further information on them.

We dropped our new-found tome off with our sage friend, Jonah Gripsley, and instructed him to stay in the Snore & Boar to avoid having his research fall into any competitor’s hands; Gen and I then hit the streets to ask some of the less savory types we’ve met in our time here about those cultists with the bramble tattoos we learned had robbed the High Plains orks earlier. Having learned that a violent group of cultists of Maz had set up a base somewhere in the unexplored southeastern blocks of Ahtenko, we opted to explore the less wild blocks while Jonah found us a lead on Foundation Stones. Our explorations led nowhere, and we returned to Atsin’s tavern late at night to rest and continue our pursuit the following morning.

We awoke late the following day and Jonah presented his findings to us, noting a still-lost estate in Southeast Ahtenko that prominently displayed a Foundation Stone in a central courtyard near a fountain. After obtaining a sketch of the symbols that would be found this stone (which would weigh between 50 and 100 pounds), we quickly gathered our things and made for this area, hoping we might secure both items that day. Of course, as my previous missives have shown, nothing is ever quite so simple.

Ancur, the yaguarete from Enlightened Materials, was in a side alley on our way to the estate, and motioned for Gen to follow him into a nearby building. After a bit of reconnaissance from our stealthier set, we strolled in with a look confidence that I didn’t quite feel – we’d effectively double-crossed (and even threatened) these Namegivers a short time before, and squandered whatever prior goodwill or tenuous reputation we had established. In the viper’s nest that is Ahtenko, we may have just crossed the path of another snake.

Inside the abandoned building, we found the yaguarete, as well as Melison and Greng. The elf Wizard made us an offer – she wished to eliminate this cult of Maz, but didn’t have the numbers as En’kik, her t’skrang compatriot, had been wounded in the battle in the library. She heavily implied this was a result of our premature withdrawal, and Gen tried to smooth her ruffled feathers. I must confess that at first, I had feared these appetites toward so many of the people we have interacted with. But he seems to wield a wink and a smile as cunningly as Tala does her broadsword, and I am relieved to have someone of a like mind with us, a keen thinker who sees more of the battle to come and not just the next blow, as we campaign to establish the Silver Linings Trading Company.

Returning to the topic at hand, Melison shared what her group had learned – the cult numbered a dozen, led by a human male and human female who appeared to be Questors of Maz. As our own group numbered five, and hers was reduced to three members as one convalesced, she proposed we ally to take them down and swear a blood oath to do each other no harm and not act to deceive one another in a way that would lead to harm – all this until sunset that day. Lokan, as with previous attempts to build bridges (perhaps not seeing the leverage we might be able to glean through such cooperation) recoiled at such a notion, hoping to create a binding oath that would, through a trick of language, harm the others. He struggled, however, to find convincing language to do so. As I mentioned in my last missive, the young Thief seemed to find discretion the better part of valor when we first began this great undertaking, but more and more he seems to be a bloodthirsty type with a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Enlightened Materials. The boy has secrets, brother, and I cannot say I fully trust him.

We swore the oath as proposed by Melison, and agreed to fight together to overtake the cultists within. Among our own group, we agreed that one of our stealthier members would sit out the battle and seek out the weapon hidden among the Shinumetu shipment while the rest of us engaged in the main battle and hopefully rushed for the Foundation Stone before Enlightened Materials could get to it. After all, in the confused mess that was our library delve, this had miraculously worked out in our favor. But aside from trouble agreeing on a plan, we also appear to have a difficult time sticking to one, as well – but I’ll speak more on that shortly.

Lokan and Dave moved ahead of us, scouting the ground floor of the building through the ruined windows and spotting half a dozen Namegivers milling about in the various rooms of the estate. Once they related the positions of the troops they could find on the ground floor, Tywon began weaving protective spells on those of the group who would be caught in battle, and empowered my own fine blade with elemental flames. Maybe you remember my earlier alarm at his agitation around the children we had rescued from the High Plains orks, but now that they are out of our care, he seems far more focused on the task at hand, and not… fatherhood? I still haven’t figured it out. But make no mistake – his magic is potent, and may have just saved my life that day. Our two adventuring groups moved in for the frontal assault, Dave bursting through the door and firing a shot from his bow at the nearest foe. The rest of us rushed in soon after, dispatching a few more cultists with relative ease, and as the battle was joined in earnest.

While I fought with sword and shield, Greng and Ancur rushed in to hold the line with me. Dave and Lokan fired from outside the windows at any cultists they could see, while Gen and Tywon flung spells left and right, both in support of our group and to harry the foe. Now, if there is one trait I can admit this city has brought out in me, it’s hastiness, and I began to regret this new-found impulse right around when I charged headlong at the two Questors who had emerged around the corner. The cult leaders appeared to be a man wearing blood pebble armor and cloaked in some illusion, with two body doubles flanking him, and some sort of spellcaster; from the look of the spells she wove, she had trained as an Illusionist. This Illusionist wove some foul magic, a dark gift from her patron Passion, and I felt the very lifeblood getting sucked out of me as I crashed to the floor. Truly, the Deceiver had given these humans some fell powers.

The leaders of this coven continued to wreak havoc among our ranks, but we held. Dave was afflicted with some sort of magically induced bloodlust (though to tell true, I could see little difference in his behavior from the usual, but for some added focus) while Greng received a grievous wound at the hand of the male Questor, having to withdraw. Having quickly gotten to my feet after experiencing the unnatural withering, I knocked the illusionist out of the fight and turned my attention to the warrior, scoring a major hit that knocked him down just enough to turn the tide as Ancur, Tywon, Melison, Gen and Lokan supported us with spells and precise fire from their bows. With some effort, we defeated both of the cult leaders and ensured they would not be free to terrorize Namegivers elsewhere. I feel no small amount of pride at having removed this threat to Ahtenko and the world.

This battle alone would have been worthy of song or story – and do feel free to spread the word of my exploits to the folk of our hometown – but the crowning achievement of the day was not ours, in my humble opinion. As we fought, we heard a racket from the courtyard, where Sen Anoranfei and his underlings from the Great Adventure had infiltrated via the sewers and were fighting off more cultists. Tywon then spotted none other than a hale and hearty En’kik running out of the building, off into the distance. Noting the speed of the t’skrang and the futility of chasing him, he focused his attention on the battle and supporting his comrades (a commendable attitude).

Enlightened Materials had, of course, forged a deal with the Great Adventure to coordinate an attack on the compound, in parallel to our own arrangement. With the distraction in and out of the building that the combined forces of the three groups created, it was no great matter for En’kik to make straight for the third artifact and claim his prize. Melison’s group had learned from our own chaotic behavior when we claimed the tomes of shelter construction, and built upon these lessons to concoct and execute a truly devious plan. That our own slightly less refined plan – with most of us fighting the main battle and someone slipping away to conduct our own search – had fallen apart almost immediately only reinforced what a key role proper teamwork can play.

But worry not, dear brother. We rushed to the courtyard after defeating the cultists, staring down the Great Adventure, whose leader immediately launched an attack on Tywon and Lokan. When the rest of our group surrounded them, they made a hasty escape, and we were able to unearth and claim the Foundation Stone (as well as arms, armor and trade goods) at our leisure. Most notable of the goods we secured in the old estate was a crescent moon amulet called ‘Spellthief’, possessing some sort of magic-enhancing power.

We returned quickly to the Bazaar to claim the bracers, spending the rest of our time recuperating and helping Atsin’s operation as well we could, prominently displaying the two items we had secured. There was brief talk of trying to claim the third item from Enlightened Materials, but we quickly decided against such a course. Upon the final day, we were approached by agents of the Jubilant Knives who identified the gloves as Vicegrips (which aided the wearer in close combat), and the bracers as Balance Bonds (which enhanced the social abilities of the wearer). Our sage, Jonah, had also identified Tala’s enchanted mail as Heart’s Sacrifice. And perhaps most importantly for the trading company, we had secured boons from two of the three factions of the Jubilant Knives, which would no doubt be of great help in the journey ahead. Truth be told, I have no taste for such games, but I believe this was a good investment nonetheless.

Speaking of the journey, brother, we are making our final preparations soon, and Tseni will be one of our first stops. Kzizh is likely seeking weapons, of which we will have plenty, but do let me know what other goods I can help supply when we pass through. Give my regards to Keya, Manalo, the rest of the family, and to Mayor Kzizh. I hope the commissioned sculpture is coming along well and is a fitting tribute, and I’ll be there to see the result myself shortly. It will be my last time in Tseni for months, if not a full year.

I hope the tale I wove in this latest letter is a good one, though you were always the better storyteller – have you thought any more about my suggestion to train under a Troubadour in Ahtenko? We’ll speak in detail when I return.

Strong walls, strong hearts,

Iktomi

P.S. I’ve included a charcoal sketch of the emblem I designed for the Silver Linings Trading Company – forgive the roughness, but you’ll see I incorporated your suggestions. Look for the symbol when we come to town soon.

SilverLinings.jpg

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A Deep Quandry
Entering the Shadow Games

From The Records of Tala

We awoke the next morning ready to continue our search for the mysterious items of the Knives’ Shadow Games…or at least some of us did. After a late night dealing with the Great Adventure and questioning the ork tribals, Lokan and Dave were not ready for an early morning. We left them in bed and Iktomi, Gen and I made our way to the bazaar to try and locate Tetchia’s bracers. I can’t say I was upset by the loss of Lokan and Dave on this first stop. As far as the social graces are concerned, they are the least gifted, and without adequate sleep, I shudder to think of the two of them trying to negotiate with anyone.

Knowing what you’re looking for is helpful, and we quickly located the bracers, prominently displayed at one of the shops in the bazaar, just as Tetchia had said. Gen and I quickly made friends with the person working the booth, but were disappointed to learn that any business regarding the bracers would have to go through his boss, Gurin. We were initially less successful in befriending Gurin, but as a businessman he explained the situation. Apparently Tetchia had cut him a good deal on the bracers, but he was required to only sell them to someone for his cost, 300 silver, as well as a foundation stone from old Tenko.

Let me just say when Tetchia decides to set a challenge, she does not mess around! Foundation stones are said to be pattern items for Tenko and maybe even Ahtenko. I’ve heard of some of these stones in the possession of the Knives, but they are rare and valuable prizes. No one would part with one if they had it, and finding one is even harder.

Gen got Gurin to warm up to him, as most people seem to do, and we found out that there had already been some interest in the bracers by a t’skrang, probably the one we’ve seen with the Enlightened Materials. With some quick thinking and a bit of silver, Gen secured us a bit of an edge on any other caravans that may be seeking this prize. With a promise of a down payment of the 300 silver, Gurin agreed to take the bracers off display. Hopefully that will curb any further competition from the Great Adventure and a little bit of good will while we try to locate a foundation stone.

Gurin’s only advice was locating a history on old Tenko to try and discern the location the stones were originally laid. It was a good thing we already had an appointment later that morning with Aya Siropese. With her impressive library, she would surely have the information we needed, though at what price we’d have to see.

We had time before our appointment with Aya, so we stopped by Atsin’s stall at the bazaar to check in and let him know the leads we were working on. He seemed busy as some of our goods were already getting some interest. We left him to his task and headed for Aya’s office.

We were shown in by the same wizened man as before to the darkened office. This time Iktomi opted to light the candles himself, rather than wait for him to return. Aya soon joined us, and is her way, cut right to the heart of it. She is not one for the games, and does possess one of the items we’re looking for, a set of gloves to be exact. While she was not one for the intrigue of the Shadow games, she was willing to use them to her benefit. Due to the recent dry weather, she has recently become aware of a new passageway into the Shelter beneath Ahtenko that should be unflooded. She believes it leads to an old library that contains 6 volumes on the initial shelter building plans. If we can secure them for her, or a majority of them, she would reward us with the gloves. She may also be interested in any other tomes we might acquire. Unfortunately, she had meetings with the other caravans scheduled for later that morning, so our advantage was short. We tried to convince her to allow us a chance to retrieve the books without completion, so as to not threaten the safety of the relics with our game, but she seemed unmoved.

We moved on to the subject of our search for a foundation stone. She indicated that she may have a text that Jonah may well be able to scour for some hints at possible locations, but she would only be willing to part with the texts in exchange for 10 units of orichalcum. Though we possess none of the desired commodity, we knew that with the bazaar in full swing, there would be some to be had. We thanked Aya and hurried to the bazaar, to try and utilize whatever lead we may have on the other caravans. We stopped at the bazaar and advised Atsin of our need or orichalcum for the games. As it is to his benefit for us to succeed, he agreed to try and procure the item on our behalf. We left him with the true elements we had acquired and silver to barter with and headed out. On our way we collected our now rested teammates and some rope to make the decent to the crater.

We reached the crater at the center of the city. The rest must have revitalized Dave. He descended the crater, practically free climbing the sheer face an impressive feat to be sure. Iktomi and I were less confident in our abilities so we tied ourselves off and repelled down without any problems. Gen soon followed, unscathed but not one he’ll be writing songs of. I think he may have been too focused on making sure his clothes weren’t wrinkled. Lokan was last to follow, and let me say, whatever sleep did for Dave, it had the opposite effect on Lokan. For a moment I thought he might plummet to his doom, but luckily he managed to catch himself and finish the decent. No worse for wear, but I’m sure wide awake now.

We were quickly able to locate the entrance that Aya had described on the northwest edge of the crater. The passageway had many long ago collapsed passages. Following the only path open to us led to a locked door. Lokan easily had us past and led us to another few intersections with only one viable path forward until we could see in the next room, some stylized pictures and some sort of flowery writing. It was hard to make out. Iktomi said something about, “what is an amount” and something like stairs. We approached cautiously and upon further inspection read, “What has large families and sounds like it fell down stairs?” Gazing around the room we noticed a total of 6 doors all with pictures. Iktomi easily identified each as an Ork, a Windling, an Obsidiman, a Human, an Elf and a Dwarf. Clearly Dave shares a sense of humor with Grandpa Theric, because he raced right through the Ork door and disappeared. Literally disappeared! Showing either extreme bravery or rash stupidity, Iktomi raced in after him only to disappear as well. The rest of us showed more caution. I called to them, but there was no response. Lokan tested the door by throwing a rock in, but it remained visible. We were unsure what to make of the door when a disembodied hand tried to summon us through. The rest of Iktomi soon followed, rematerializing and advising the door was safe and we had to keep moving.

The next room contained half a dozen sculptures on large pedestals, each bearing a large button as one very large locked door. For my taste, the art was a bit too abstract, but per Iktomi and Dave they were large panoramas depicting:

1. A bull running through a corn filed with a large cornstalk wrapped around it
2. A wilting cornstalk surrounded by cows and bulls.
3. 3 growing cornstalks flanked by 2 grown stalks.
4. 2 grown stalks of corn, surrounded by barnyard animals.
5. A cornstalk and husk with something coming out of it.
6. 2 big cornstalks, 2 little ears of corn and 2 wilted cornstalks.

As the previous room had the same number of options we assumed they must correspond to Namegivers. We were clearly not grasping the meaning as after numerous attempts, the only results were some severe shocks from the pedestals and hearing raucous laughter coming from the distance. The shock must have jogged something in Dave’s mind because he started saying something about how, “Any Namegiver should be able to solve it.” I’m not sure if this was meant as a slight on our intelligence (it’s hard to tell with Dave) but it must have inspired him, because he started pressing the buttons, correctly in order, (3-6-4-1-5-2 should you be as baffled as we were.) The door clicked open and the laughter stopped.

We carefully entered only be greeted by another corridor with 3 more doors, one wood, one steel and one intricately carved stone door. We were immediately drawn to the latter as it bore an impressive drawing of ancient Tenko on it. Mirrored on either side of the image, were 4 steel buttons accompanied by a smaller image. From top to bottom they were; a cliff wearing a crown, a large fish, wavy lines with circles in a pyramidal shape, and a step pyramid with a rising behind it. This art was far less cryptic than the last room, with the images representing Vasheen, Phibium, Silver Traders, and Aztlan. The question was, what was the connection that the door was intended to represent?

We didn’t have long to debate this though as we were joined by 3 members of the Enlightened Materials, also after Aya’s reward. Debate soon raged amongst our group as to how to deal with the competition. Dave, Gen and Iktomi favored teaming up with the Enlightened Materials as a means to edge out the Great Adventure. Lokan and I, however, were strongly opposed, after all this was a competition meant to be won! The argument continued with little give on either side until finally Iktomi just turned and pressed the buttons (Vasheen and Silver traders, I believe) and ran off into the library. The race was on!

I followed right behind him. Iktomi went straight back into the stacks. I waited at the door for our opponents. Their t’skrang swordmaster entered, flanked by their large ork guard, Greng. I followed after them passing Gen in the hall talking up their leader, Melison. The t’skrang started searching a stack while Greng set watch. Concerned that they might have a better idea where to look than us, I wanted to make sure I could get at the books should my rival swordmaster get lucky. I tried to throw Greng off with a few insults, looking for a way passed, but with no luck. It started to come to blows, neither of us quite ready to outright draw blood though it may have come to that had we not been interrupted by the arrival of the Great Adventure from another door to the library.

We agreed to help each other fight off the Great Adventure. Gen calmed Greng down, and I went off to check on Dave who was trying to hold one off at the door, while Greng , Melison and Lokan were taking on others that had slipped down the next aisle. Dave had managed to pin down his opponent back behind the door. I went in search of their swordmaster, who had disappeared down another row of shelves, and was once again searching the books. I scanned the spines, and found a few interesting titles and slipped them in my bag, but no sign of the Shelter plans.

That was when everything seemed to go wrong all at once. The room started quickly flooding with water from the corner Lokan had been in. Before I could investigate, there was a loud explosion from behind me. I rounded the corner to find a rather singed Iktomi. He said he had the books, and it was time to go. Gen led us out. I helped support Iktomi (now short a couple eyebrows), while Lokan led an apparently blinded Dave. Not our best moment but we came away with the prize!

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Bizarre Bazaar
Securing Interest and Checking Gains

From the Memoirs of Gen

Atsin summoned our team after a short hiatus to prepare us for the Bazaar, a week long event where sales go untaxed in the city of Ahtenko. Apparently, our little caravan has been noticed by the Jubilant Knives and we have been sent a subtle invitation to join a shadow game they host each year. These games invite the highest potential heroes to gather three artifacts hidden during the Bazaar. The rules seem to be quite vague and completely guided by one’s own conscience. I plan to charm and swindle my way to the required information but if that fails I have faith my colleagues can suss out solutions through more traditional and brute forced methods. Atsin’s only wisdom was to meet Aya Siropese of the Grip for leads. Fortunately for us, Dave had already found a thread item, Faerie mail worn by a Knight of Quinzel, which required a book under her possession. Our second lead was noticed by the keen eyes of Tala; Tetchia of the Brace had some particularly gaudy and new bracers on her person and being of the Knives may be able to impart some secrets.

Tala’s relationship with Tetchia was stronger than many mentor and student’s I have seen; in no time Tetchia was divulging pertinent information to Tala. Tetchia’s attempt at subtlety was endearing but, to be honest, swordmasters have very little acumen for such things and mainly focus on stunning displays. She led us to believe an ork vendor will be selling the bracer’s that Tala has seen with her own eyes, we just need to find this person with haste.

Our bookish contractor, Jonah Gripsley, was able to write us a letter of recommendation to speak with Aya and off we went. A gloomy servant answered the door. With a little flash of ivory and a small bit of silver from your’s truly he led us to his master. Aya proved to be largely business but the icy demeanor of many can’t continue to rime in the presence of the warm-hearted Gen. After some light flattery and well executed business she loosened her reserve about our group. Aya rented the book, “Of the Wanderings of Elves in the early days of isolation” for 90 silver and a 200 silver deposit and offered us more information on the Ssadow game in the morning. A meeting was made for two hours passed the dawn.

The book we checked out from Aya’s personal library may serve the needs of Iyohiwn the Weapon Smith mentor to Iktomi. We’ll need to see about some additional time with the book in order to please that man and receive some his trading goods.

We wanted to check in on the Edge, Taiwon had offered to introduce us to Danen his Elementalist mentor and member. Danen knew very little himself but pointed us in the direction of Yomezo, a ruthless Beastmaster. Yomezo warmed up to Lokan and his roguish wit. She informed him we should meet with some of the Shinumetu family at the Night Call. The Ttskrang were a rigged bunch so Lokan and I were forced to do the only thing possible to lighten up the dreggs of this drinking pit. We swayed the hearts and souls of the crowd with the art of song. This night, mark your journals, was the first performance of the Tumblin’ Weeds. The joyous melodies and entranced crowd had opened the hearts and minds allowing Iktomi and Tala the chance to capture the information we needed for this artifact. It was difficult to pursue our next lead with the crowd raining us with silver and shouting encore. The lead the others found was that some goods possibly containing the artifact were sold to Keresan tribals living in the northeastern quadrant of town.

Upon entering this part of town the din of battle was quickly perceived. The tribals were fighting with some of the Great Adventure and our group jumped to task at hopefully finding any items or information first. We approached as benignly as possible but Jonath of the Great Adventure and Kimsh both attacked Iktomi. I feared this would happen but street rules are applicable here. If you take a shot at the king you better not miss! Our attackers escaped but will pay in time, that is a promise. Our group was able to peaceably talk with the tribe and find that some cultists had stolen the weapons the tribals had illegally acquired. The only description the group was able to provide to us was a thorny tattoo on the wrist of each cultist. We departed as quickly as possible because Dave had done what Dave does best—- murdered someone. We will need to discuss this or correctly direct that energy in the future.

The group wanted to continue the search but I reminded them about our trying day tomorrow. If we are to be at the top of our game we must get some well deserved rest. Remember friends, the best way to line our pockets with silver is showing others that this stormy caravan is the Silver Lining they seek.

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Loose Ends and Turning Caves
Aligning Paradigms and Promoting Synergy

From the Journal of Zara Litengale (Formerly Bulgash)

Calen, my love, came for me months ago. He and his best friends had agree to flee from the Ken Clan’s strict regime. They would come with us over the Shale Mounds where we would seek a new name for ourselves and to be wed in peace away from all of Drumhead’s politics. Away from our oppressive families. Away from everyone.

I wanted to trust this secret to my family, I truly did. But my father Montague was a business minded ork, he knew how Father Bulgash would feel being rid of me, he would not allow it. I thought of telling Oohah, but he was younger than me, barely fighting age, I feared he wouldn’t understand.

Montague’s men found us in the foothills and our steeds died. Calen lost the first of his friends in that battle, but we managed to beat them back and were forced to flee on foot. They caught us days later, deeper within the mounds. Our only hope was to withdraw into an unexplored cavern. My father would not be dissuaded, he died in those caves, as did many others. The ground there was unsafe, some fell into the earth and were never seen again. But it wasn’t until the last of us fell into the lower chambers that we realized the truth of these caverns.

Deep within the earth we attacked by enormous Shale Worms. I had only heard of such creatures in legends and even those tales rarely spoke of the beasts being so large. Trapped between the rampaging beasts and my enraged father, we chose the beasts. We fled into an enormous grove of mushrooms. Calen’s childhood friend, Volio, spoke of recognizing the species as that of Mushlite. A delicacy and highly valuable. We had fallen into a fortune and were about to be consumed.

But the worms never came. They avoided the mushrooms, but they knew where we hid, and they waited to pounce us. Oohah fell into the cavern badly, he broke his leg and it is only with the aid of Volio that they were able to make it to safety of the grove. We stayed there for weeks. Eating the fine mushrooms and healing our wounds. We were prepared to make for one mad dash for the entrance once we were all in fighting strength. We had already planned on a day and said our prayers to the Passions that we thought might listen.

But then help came from the most unlikely place. A group of traders from Ahtenko spelunked into our cavern and did battle with the fearsome worms. They were elves mostly, fighting with a fearsome grace. One elf, a Swordmaster Tala, formed into the mushrooms themselves and she did battle with the largest of the beasts. Their manager, a dwarf named Iktomi, seemed capable of weathering the blows of the other beasts as our heroes kept their distance and peppered the beasts with arrows and bolts of light. They had saved us.

We discussed the situation with them, they had been sent by my father’s people, the Bulgashes. But they didn’t seem particularly loyal, they were chasing a lost shipment of Gritroot. It seemed I owed my life to my father’s temper and poor business sense. We explained to the adventurers that we had no desire to go back. They vowed to fake our deaths but asked us what we would do next. Calen and I were at a loss, there were only four of us now…

But the tunnels! These tunnels here! They had been a place of horror, but the silver value available within, the power we could have. And the connections with these traders. We could start our own farming family, separate from the awful nature of Drumhead. Separate from Father, or the Matron, or even that grasping miser Garin. The traders helped us concoct our scheme, we took the equipment from my father’s old home. And we prepared for some back breaking labor, and some deep mourning. And the group vowed on their honor and the honor of Atsin, that they would return soon to trade and keep us supported.

Atsin’s Log, Test Run Day 10

My group of investments returned earlier than expected. I half feared that they would become lost in the weeds, but they kept true to their task. I’m not sure if they have much of a mind for business, but they certainly have a mind for adventure.

My business partner, Bulgash, has suffered some sort of loss out on the Plains and he was seeking to back out of a deal. My men sought to balance the scales on his behalf. I’m not immediately clear on what happened, but it sounds like Bulgash lost some family, but kept his bottom line. He is a mercenary man, so likely that is enough for him. Somewhere in all of that, my wards discovered an untapped source of Mushlite. This is a valuable commodity and I will need to discuss the details with them further. This is a lead we cannot afford to lose.

Iktomi, the young Weaponsmith, seems like he may have his head on backwards, constantly looking to the past. He is from the tragic town of Tseni and it appears that he sees the town as a charity case. I’ve seen the statue he purchased from his uncle and I don’t know how I feel about attaching my name to selling it. Even Iktomi himself went white as a sheet when the group showed it off to me. Still, if they can forge a good relationship with the mayor there, Kzizh, it will have value. There just might be a long way to go. The Nantlah’s aren’t his favorite people. Still, their blood is strong and I’m happy to invest in it.

Oddly, the elves seem to be falling into the heavy lifters of the group. Dave truly is an odd one, but the investment of his ‘Great Uncle’ Roland assured that the price was right. Tala and Tywon’s ins with the Jubilant Knives will be tested shortly at the Bazaar, but even if they fail to impress their skills are more than sufficient to keep the cargo safe.

Lokan currently seems to be a good back-up in case something happens to Gen. Both of them come from rather suspect backgrounds. Ideally Lokan will be of value when the group hits the halfway point of Kintani. And Gen, the human, will likely fill in the cracks. He was a costly hire, that wily merchant Ahwin knows how to strike a bargain. But already the lizard’s soft spot for his protege is starting to pay off.

I think everything at the Bazaar should go sufficiently well. Great Adventure will likely be a problem there, but Enlightened Materials will likely only make a nuisance of themselves on the road. The final leg though…the trip to Vasheen…well I guess that will be the true test.

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