Nemahay: The Ravaged Land

Back on Land
The Struggle is Real

We rested after our ordeal at the canal, and the night before arriving at Lajeesh we saw the village far off into the distance, burning brightly – disaster had struck. As our boat arrived at what would have been the village’s docks, we saw the smoldering ruin up close. We assembled on deck to view the carnage when a flurry of arrows descended upon us. We attempted to dissuade our attackers, but heard a warning in an Ork dialect for us to submit to some “Parchwing.” We traded verbal barbs against their arrows, and the crew opened up on them with fire cannons.

We passed through the ruins without any fatalities, but the ork tribals, from their accent, appeared to be Yavapai – a tribe that seemed to attack foes without reason, with rumors abounding of the children among their targets being sent off to some dark fate. We stopped the boat a couple of hours up the river and disembarked, with Dave scouting ahead. He found we’d bypassed a group of patrols and were near a camp of Yavapai, and returned to us with the news. We found a place to make a cold camp and made it through the night, Tala noticing a Yavapai patrol heading west from the coast during her watch shift.

The following morning, Dave went to scout the area as we broke camp, sneaking through the foothills to the west. He located the camp of the patrol we’d seen the night before, with five orks resting from their night of riding. We planned an attack to remove this obstacle to our caravan, with Tywon offering his elemental enchantments.

We rushed in, Dave cutting the horses loose and hitting one to spook them, and the five orks, with their divided attentions, attacked. I cleaved one in two with my first blow, rushing to aid Dave against the three who ganged up on him. At this time, five more appeared from the other side of the ridge, raining arrows down on our position as we fought – it appeared our scouting had missed a second patrol. We quickly dispatched the orks. However, during the fight we witnessed Dave attempt to grab one of them, his hand smoking and him appearing to take a wound from a failed attempt at some strange power. He did not bother to explain…

We called up the waiting wagon and rushed through the pass, coming upon a makeshift log blockade that closed off all but a narrow portion of the passage. We attempted to stop the horses while Dave got a shot off on the single ork on the raised platform behind these logs, knocking him onto the ground. We faintly heard a horn sounding off in the distance. As Tywon emerged from the other side, he noticed a large contingent on horseback ahead of us, backs turned to us… and a huge dust cloud right in front of the faint walls of Kintani.

It appeared that two great armies were lining up to fight, one of which were the Ashiwi, and the other the Yavapai. As we approached closer at top speed, we saw the large form of none other than a brown dragon, one we had never heard any tales of. We made our way to Kintani, away from the war and the dragon; Tywon noticed that the dragon was likely the Parchwing someone had spoken of. The beast swooped down and released a gout of dust, dessicating large swathes of Ashiwi warriors as it fell.

We approached the gates, and the guards at the walls would let us in only if someone swore a blood oath to cause no harm in exchange for being left in – an oath I readily swore. We were told that as non-citizens we were confined to the outer ring of Kintani. We also learned that the Yavapai came to claim tribute twice, razing Lajeesh in between and heralding the arrival of Parchwing, before the Ashiwi suddenly showed up to make war.

We had made it to Kintani, a major milestone in our journey to Vasheen. But it appeared we had found ourselves in another one of our trademark predicaments…

At Your Back
Leave it All Behind

The Brotherhood had been interrogating Uhran, but the Dauntless was working to shove off as soon as possible, mayhap because they knew their cover had been blown. Brotherhood guards were delaying their departure, tying them up in paperwork until a plan could be formulated – one that put us at the center of events. As individuals familiar to the ship, we were told to join with the t’skrang crew on our journey north. It was likely that multiple officers on the Dauntless were corrupted, so we were told to leave a non-evil officer in charge of the ship, or Janine if none could be found.

First, we had the ship’s senior officers to worry about. The captain, Ac’l’co, was under some suspicion as he knew of the Shadow grove we had approached before arriving at Shinumetu. Tzla’so’yo, the pilot, was a quiet eccentric with a dislike of other Namegivers and a near-obsession with engineering. The first mate, Qui’cz, was a loud and boisterous individual we had saved on our way to Shinumetu. He had been caught by the Shadow and had been at their mercy in their grove for for some time.

Beneath the first mate were three shift officers, representing 8-hour shifts. Yi’rad was a humble, cheerful man who was very close to the captain. The dusk officer, Vin’n’to, was a more crude version of Qui’cz. The night officer, C’rinth, had been buying up many blood charms lately, and had kept to herself and the five t’skrang she commanded in the last year. Two new people were hired aboard as well – Gimb’l and Thyne, very young t’skrang and believed to be associates of Shern (for which they were not to be underestimated).

We approached the Dauntless after restocking our booster potions, and quickly made a deal for passage. The pilot seemed particularly interested in eavesdropping on our conversation, and the captain was somewhat incredulous that we would hire their services. We broke off to engage several officers in conversation and perhaps get a feel for the situation on the ship.

My own role in our investigations aboard the ship was primarily engaging the technically-minded crew, and distracting others while my compatriots did their own sleuthing. I first spoke with Tzla’so’yo, the pilot, and engaged him in some technical conversation about the fire engines. He had some new true fire injectors he was eager to install, though he mentioned it was tough to get money to replace the fire cannon parts. Apparently, the captain kept the purse strings of the ship very tight, and his concerns over family politics and profitability often clashed with the pilot’s goal of keeping the equipment in its best shape. . We bonded over the difficulty one had in trusting other Namegivers in this world.

Meanwhile, Dave decided to impress Qui’cz, the first mate, by showing off his climbing and jumping skills, building on his stunt jumping from the waterfall. He scampered up to the crow’s nest, but his jump was nowhere near as graceful. However, the elf had kept his word, and the first mate applauded his stunt. Dave used these good graces to press Qui’cz about the ship’s history, and the first mate spoke of the storm that had blown the ship into the grove where we had effected his rescue a short time ago. At that time, no strange glowing orbs were found in the area. Qui’cz had been leading a hunting party at the time and saw nothing out of the ordinary. He expressed his concerns about C’rinth and how strongly she seemed to keep to herself and her contingent of sailors. Her change had taken place around the time of that fateful storm, one year ago.

At this time, Lokan decided to speak to Thyne, one of the children running around on the boat. Thyne spoke of the family’s interests in river boat travel, and how much he’d learned in the four days he’d been with the ship. Lokan then approached the captain, bonding over their urban background and some of their family histories. He noticed the captain would keep turning the conversation back around to Lokan, preferring not to talk about himself or his crew. The t’skrang seemed be avoiding discussing any details of his own life.

Janine and Tala moved to speak with the dusk shift officer, Vin’n’to, hoping to use their charm to get into his good graces. He recounted tales full of gore and swashbuckling adventure, and after some conversation he offered to bet his physical prowess against Dave’s. Janine’s flirting turned the situation in a different direction, and he offered to show such ‘prowess’ to her and Tala belowdecks. Janine and Vin’n’to began sparring, and she learned that Vin’n’to was put out by his captain’s refusal to fight other families, noting his own opposition to the drug trade by families such as the Marracash. He also mentioned how suspicious he was of C’rinth (who may have been upset over their ended relationship). Vin’n’to also admitted he was worried about the first mate, who had been waking up screaming at night since his capture.

At this time, Tala offered Janine’s wolf a sniff of Weeper’s Wail to see if any of the drug was located on the ship – the wolf went straight to a restricted door in full view of multiple officers, and I recalled another entrance to that area, which I tried to convey to my comrade as surreptitiously as possible.

After a day of talking, investigating, and seeing to our goods, we were invited to an officer’s dinner, where Dave tested the food for magical poison using his astral sight, and checking for mundane poison by seeing if Janine’s wolf shied away from any of the food. The meal was pleasant, with Qui’cz occasionally mentioning some of his exploits. The first mate did appear tired during the meal, as if he hadn’t been sleeping well.

We retired to near our wagons after dinner, and debated what to do next now that the night shift officer was on deck. Some of us moved to speak with the crew members on deck, while Lokan and Dave had the wolf track Weeper’s Wail in the ship. The beast did its job too well – it moved quickly to the quarters of the Day & Dusk shift officers, then began howling and scratching at the door. Dave and Lokan quickly ran off, while Janine began yelling at her wolf through the door to calm it down and Tala opened the restricted door to let the beast out onto the deck.

Now out on the ship’s deck, I spoke to Gimb’l, who mentioned how often the first mate woke up from his nightmares screaming, and how the captain had frequented the East West, where Gimb’l and his friend Thyne were runners. Since the inn had abruptly closed down, the two had been eagerly seeking work.

At this time, Janine and Tala chose to try and flirt with C’rinth, who seemed to be focused as much on the water as on the ship. Janine’s attempts at flirting were rebuffed, while Tala continued to converse with the night shift officer, who mentioned the first mate’s behavior was unnerving, but that he was still doing his job. She also mentioned that the day shift officer was closest to the captain, so he’d be a shoe-in for the first mate’s position should Qui’cz leave.

She admitted that the grove she’d been to had made her uncomfortable, and she was glad our caravan company got sent there this second time to deal with the issue. The first time, she’d led one of the hunting parties. During this hunt, she thought she had been visited by the passion Klesh, and told to watch over and protect the crew from danger, but also to stay apart from them. Tala and Janine told her more of our mission. C’rinth then gave them pointers on when to approach various officers’ quarters to search them in peace, and mentioned both the pilot and captain kept separate logs of their journey, either of which might hold more clues. She noted that the coming morning we would be stopping at the Shinumetu canal project, and the officers might be going ashore to make deals. Perhaps if they were part of a secret organization, they would make contact at that time.

Dave and Lokan continued their sneaking in the meantime, Dave noting sounds of some sort of crafting going on within the pilot’s quarters. They approached the night shift officer’s quarters, inside finding only a couple of desperate blow charms. The quarters, it seemed, would yield little evidence.

Tala and Janine had seemed to make a breakthrough with C’rinth, and told her more of our mission. She gave us pointers on when to approach various officers’ quarters to search them in peace, and mentioned both the pilot and captain kept separate logs of their journey, either of which might hold more clues. She noted that the coming morning we would be stopping at the Shinumetu canal project, and due to the goods trading, the officers might be going ashore to make deals – perhaps if they were part of a secret organization, they would probably be making contact at that time.

That morning, as the crew of the Dauntless prepared to head ashore and make some trades at the dig site of a great Shinumetu canal, Lokan decided to stay upon the ship to read the t’skrang logs, while I remained nearby to distract crew members. Janine, Dave and Tala decided to go ashore, the first two to track the officers and the last to keep watch in case things went poorly.

On the ship, Lokan did not find anything particularly incriminating as he began his search in the captain’s quarters. Nothing turned up when he moved on to the war room, which required a distraction on my part – I offered to give Vin’n’to some advice about pursuing Janine, as the man was clearly looking for a romantic conquest. The young t’skrang was easily drawn into my blathering, looking for any edge he could find in romancing our compatriot. Around noon, Yi’rad departed from the ship with his men, moving to shore.

Meanwhile on shore, Dave had found the captain was making some serious trades for local cargo, and Janine discovered the pilot was in an elementalist’s tent purchasing an additional two fire cannons. After noon, Yi’rad’s crew began the process of moving the fire cannons onto the ship. A wheel on one of the cannons broke, and the day shift officer and his men huddled around it to repair the apparatus. Janune, however, noticed that the cannons had purposely been moved to cause damage – something worth following up on, certainly.

The captain returned to the ship after Yi’rad had departed, and gave some orders to the first mate, who seemed somewhat puzzled at the directives: to engage in firing drills, right then and there. We noticed that while drills were being conducted to test the cannons, one was pointed down at an angle that could directly impact the main dam. Lokan called out to the first mate, who made the crew correct the mistake. My knowledge of t’skrang proved useful, as in their shouting they let slip that the captain had ordered the cannon be directly pointed in that direction.

Suddenly, the report of fire cannons from down in the canal captured our attention – two cannons, including the one Yi’rad and his crew operated, had fired directly at the secondary dam, blowing a large hole into it. Lokan jumped into action shipside, grabbing the priming rod from the cannon on board. Dave decided to lift the cannon in order to change its aim, cracking the winching mechanism and forcing him to hold the cannon up with his own strength. I drew my weapon but refrained from attacking, moving to protect my comrades.

I called out to the captain to stand down, while the priming rod was snatched back out of Lokan’s hands. Dave cast the cannon down, ruining its aim. At this time, Qui’cz rang the ship’s bell demanding the sailors stand down, while the captain demanded we be taken off his ship, attacking me directly. I countered his clumsy swing with a strong blow of the pommel of my sword, quickly knocking him down with a strong blow. Just at that time, C’rinth emerged from the rear of the ship with her troops and the attempt at destroying the primary dam was foiled.

On shore, Janine and Tala, along with Janine’s pet wolf, found themselves facing off against Yi’rad’s crew in an attempt to stop them from taking any further shots at the dam. The fighting was brutal, but they were able to tie the rogue forces down until aid from the Shinumetu arrived, foiling the attempt to further damage the secondary dam. The captain and Yi’rad were quickly detained, and we were whisked away to debrief with a Brotherhood member among the elementalists.

Upon our recommendation, Qui’cz was placed in command of the Dauntless, with C’rinth as his first mate. The pilot and Vin’n’to did not appear to be in league with the captain’s plot to flood the Shinumetu dam, and so stayed in their roles. We warned Qui’cz, however, of the dangers of his nightmares – should he have developed a horror mark during his ‘lost time’ in the shadow grove, there was little any could do for him. Deep down, we had no doubt C’rinth would be ever vigilant for further threats to the Dauntless – a divinely mandated mission was not one to take lightly.

Bad Deals
Very Bad

Brother, I had always thought of Ahtenko as the big city in our lives. My first sight of Shinumetu had shown me how wrong I was. Our adventures (to be fair, misadventures) over the last few days have shown me just how out of our depth we are. We are strangers in a metropolis with its own rules, its own power centers, and most importantly its own secrets. We’d decided to take a straightforward approach in taking on the Weeper’s Wail peddlers working out of the East West, and were almost overwhelmed for the effort. I had taken many wounds in fighting off the thugs in the bar, but together we prevailed while our guard ally Janine chased down their leader on horseback.

Within a short time, Janine returned with the erstwhile gang leader, followed almost immediately by a guard captain flanked by a whole patrol squad. This captain immediately took us into custody for questioning, along with our captured gang leader. We were taken to an unmarked building, and the guards must have recognized the concern on our faces, as they explained they were part of a faction within the Shinumetu watch committed to rooting out a corruption that had taken hold deep within city government. The Shadow Of The Hydra apparently held many of the city’s notables on puppet strings, so we were advised to deal only with this faction within the guard, a group who called themselves the Brotherhood of the Braid.

Strangely, the guard captain explained to us that the strange beastmaster we had dispatched in the wilds en route to Shinumetu was the leader of a Shadow cell, bent on bringing forth something called a servant of Klesh into the world. With the gang leader in hand, the guard commenced with interrogating him, while we were given access to various experienced guard members who could teach us more about advancing in our disciplines. We were also told to keep our heads down and avoid drawing any attention to ourselves. We had found the forged weapons we had sought for Vix, and so we happily returned them, earning a hefty reward for the act.

The following three days passed uneventfully, with us recovering from combat and training with our new mentors. Finally, we met with Uhran, the scholar who could help provide further information on the cloak that Dave had procured before we arrived in Shinumetu. We enjoyed a fine dinner together at the Safe Harbor, with Uhran joined by a young t’skrang page to aid him in his advanced age. Uhran apologized for the wait, and gave us some information.

We possessed a Shadowscale cloak, but he would need more time and information, including the circumstances under which we got this cloak, before he could determine more information. We obliged him with the story of defeating the strange cult in the wilds. He thanked us and we parted ways, and we continued our training with our respective mentors, myself learning much from Vix. IN this time, our newly-forged armor was returned to the group.

Finally, Uhran returned to us with more on the Shadowscale cloak. Its name was Umbra, and weaving threads to it gave one the ability to resist taunts and to make impressive displays. Rather than pay for the information, Uhran noted that we could could aid him with a suspicious trade he had become embroiled in, with a group he had recently suspected was less than honorable in its intentions. He asked for our aid in ensuring the deal he was to make, which was supposed to occur late in the night, would not result in any harm to him. We gladly obliged.

We set up for a stakeout in an abandoned area, near one of the bubbles of water that marked the city center of Shinumetu. Tala and I set up in an abandoned room at a nearby tenement, while Janine hid in the water near the appointed site and Dave set up on the rooftop of a fishmonger. All of us laid in wait, ready to spring into action and spring a trap upon any who would attack our patron. At the appointed time, both parties approached with chests, but when all of us were beset by hidden foes, we knew that a trap had been sprung, but with us as the unwitting victims.

Tala fended off a powerful foe wearing a brilliant golden cloak suspiciously similar to the one Dave wore. I rushed to her aid, but another thug blocked our way. Two underwater assailants attacked Janine, while a bevy of others rushed to close the trap – ten foes in all, in addition to the cloaked one. The surprise had taken its toll, with major wounds inflicted upon us before we could rally. In our divided state, we could not look to each other for support as we had so many times. The sage and his helper ran off in a panic, and we turned our full attention to capturing that of the enemy. Finally, we turned the tide, defeating five of them before the rest decided to call a retreat. All five possessed the tattoo we had come to associate with the Shadow of the Hydra.

We rushed after the sage and his ward with a prisoner in tow, but no one was to be found. With no leads and a prisoner, we headed back to the Brotherhood headquarters, learning from the captive of a fall-back location within one of the bubbles of central Shinumetu, and that the cloaked man, someone named Lumen, had discussed this attack on a group of “nonbelievers” – us – with someone from a ship docked to the southeast. We noted, with some alarm, that the only ship docked there at this time was the Dauntless, the very vessel we had traveled on to reach Shinumetu. The Brotherhood ensured the Dauntless wouldn’t leave town, while we focused on the group’s hideout in the bubble. The Brotherhood provided us with four guards and a loan of blood charms that would give us a limited ability to breathe in the aquatic environment.

After a brief night’s rest to heal our wounds, we set out for the bubble at first light. We immediately noted that the derelict building had two exits, and set the guardsmen on one while we invaded from the other. Dave entered and aimed a well-placed shot at Lumen, knocking him onto the ground. The rest of us charged in, noticing Uhran and his boy standing in one corner of the building and unbound. The ensuing battle was strange, because in addition to Lumen and his five cohorts, Uhran and the boy turned on us, the boy trying to backstab us in the chaos and Uhran enchanting Lumen’s sword to dance with flames.

After a difficult battle we subdued Lumen, Uhran and the boy, and the guards charged in and arrested the remaining thugs. We secured the cloak from Lumen as well as a journal of Uhran’s, containing some elementalist spells and notes on Lumen, which we learned was actually the name of the enchanted cloak.

We had prevailed in this particular fight, but found ourselves more confused than before. So many questions remained – why was the Shadow of the Hydra so set on killing us? Just how thoroughly did they infiltrate the upper echelons of the city? And how could we, simple merchants, disentangle ourselves from this treacherous game playing out in Shinumetu’s shadows?

Trouble By The Bubble

The following evening, after a day of trading, we sat down to another dinner to strategize our investigation into the Scofflaws and the drug trade in Shinumetu that may have brought them down. I smelled a faint whiff of burning woodsmoke and our group went to investigate the stables, fearing the worst. Those fears were founded when we saw smoke emerging from the stables. We also spotted a figure desperately trying to look innocent as they hurried away from the scene. While Tywon used his magic to snuff out the flames, the rest of us chased the suspicious individual down, only for three more to emerge from the alleyway where we cornered our suspect.

In the midst of our battle, a t’skrang guard approached on horseback, ordering us all to cease our fighting. She then leapt from her horse and tackled one of the remaining thugs, while her wolf came face-to-face with me. No words were needed for me to understand that this creature wanted me to stand down. The one remaining arsonist began to run, but a well-placed shot from Dave and a pounce by the guard’s pet wolf subdued the final perpetrator.

Our guard friend began questioning the perpetrator her wolf had apprehended, and he claimed his friend was the one who planned the caper, trying to steal from us. Inspecting the arsonist, we found he’d stolen some of our reagents, and had a strange tattoo of a seven-pointed whirlpool-type shape on his arm. The dead thug also had Weeper’s Wail on his person.

The guard was looking for a group called the Shadow of the Braid, whose goal was to taint elementalists and bring in a Horror from another plane. She added that Weeper’s Wail was currently funding this dark group, and so it seemed our plans aligned.

We interrogated one of the foes we managed to take captive, and learned much. Of course, he required a blood oath that we would not turn him over to the guard, as certain death awaited him at the hands of his boss’s agents if this happened. This captive, Gronk, was one of the lieutenants of an ork named Shern, who operated out of the East-West tavern. Shern got his Weeper’s Wail from a t’skrang crew who operated in and out of the capital bubble, and distributed it further within the city. As Shern was an ork with many friends in high places, he was given a directive to run our trading company out of town for our earlier meddling. Gronk was the lieutenant chosen to put a group together for just this purpose. As far as the gear we sought to recover for Vix, Shern gave most of the swords to some other lieutenants of his, who generally stayed around the East-West. Gronk also, naturally, kept the best gear for himself.

A plan forming to assault the inn, we began asking more questions about Shern’s activities at the East-West. He usually did his business out of his own room there, and most of the people in the inn are loyal to him. More alarmingly, he had plenty of friends in the city guard. The level of poltiical and guard connections this man possessed was such that he had been able to get loyal followers out of prison before hanging charges, or even killed them before they’ve been able to get out in an effort to keep them quiet.

We left Gronk to convalesce in one of our rooms (under guard by our employees), then investigated the East-West. Peeking through a window with some broken slats, we saw a number of people preparing for a feast before the inn opened around midday. After Tywon imbued our armor with the power of elemental air, we attempted to batter down the back door and fight our way in by covering the stairs down in sorcerous ice. While we dealt with the foes down the way, the higher-ups including Shern made their escape through a window. Janine gave chase, with Lokan and Dave firing arrows to try and stop Shern, while the rest of us dealt with the remaining thugs in the East-West and hoped we could run down the perfidious gangster.

Grandiose Civilization
Exploration in the City of Life

We returned to the ship, some of the tension between our company and the crew dispelled by our rescue work. The riverboat moved on, and we moved through regions of choppy water and sudden stone cliffs. The river eventually widened and slowed, the Dauntless turning into the grand lake of Shinumetu. In the distance were three enormous blue domes, and in between us and these structures were hundreds of vessels, from one-man canoes to large ships. Quickly it became apparent that the sheer amount of vessels outnumbered the entire population of Ahtenko.

As we got closer, we realized the domes themselves were constructed of True Water, encircled by a dizzying array of moorings, landings and jetties. Quik’cz, the first mate we rescued, approached us as we took in the sight. He slyly mentioned the city was not a good one for greenhorns, pointing out that the East dome was for the Mitu (accomplished elementalists), the west for Shinu family (guards and military might of the town), and the middle dome was where business and governance of the two took place. Cooperation between the two families helped them get through the Scourge in a torpor, making Shinumetu among the oldest inhabited settlements in all of Nemahay. The domes were filled with water, with small pockets of air inside; these regions were generally considered t’skrang only, with outsiders advised to stay around the outside of the city.

Thanks to our work, Quik’cz would be willing to put in a good word for us with the harbormaster in securing a trading permit, required for any mercantile ventures in the city. Indeed, all merchants were required to declare the goods they wished to sell prior to engaging in their haggling. They would then be taxed for all claimed goods, regardless of sales completed. We decided to see if we could get the lay of the market first, in order to avoid paying excessive taxes. We also discussed possible inns, deciding on the mid-range Safe Harbor, as this would cost us a good deal less while having stabling and food included. We learned of a river historian named Ooren Mitu, who usually spendt his time in the center dome of Shinumetu. As Dave’s espagra-scale cloak was a thread item, this would be a useful lead for the grizzled elf in learning its secrets. If we wished to forge weapons or armor, Quik’cz recommended a t’skrang named Vix Numune was a skilled smith, glossing over the fact that she had left her family in some disgrace.

We docked on the east side of the city, with the crew returning our toll thanks to our help in fighting off the Wisps. The t’skrang helped us get our goods onto the docks before making an introduction to the Harbormaster, a morbidly obese yaguarete named Zerth. We introduced ourselves and learned the town was hungry for crafting supplies due to a land-based construction boom. We then let our ship’s crew know we would like to travel with them upriver in a week’s time if they were headed further north. Quik’cz once again warned us of the city’s ruthless side, reminding us to be wary of strangers with strange offers.

We proceeded to the Safe Harbor, a sprawling two-story building that extended onto the lake, with a large stable nearby. The inn was run by a yaguarete family, but crowded with orks and t’skrang. The proprietress called her adolescent son over when we entered, and the boy was instructed to lead us around. A price of 30 silver per night for the group, inclusive of stabling and meals, seemed more than fair, so we happily paid. As we explored the stable, we noted that our horses would likely be the only ones in town. As the stable did not seem particularly secure, we endeavored to keep the horses fed, healthy and secure by stationing members of our group with the draft animals.

We noted the brilliant domes once more, and I recalled that craftsmen had been known to create special blood charms that allowed non-t’skrang to breathe underwater. We wandered the markets, finding some chainmail Lokan wished to purchase, and selling some of our less glamorous armor in exchange.

Finally, we went to visit Vix Numune to forge our new chainmail. She was an older t’skrang, looking somewhat sickly, though it might have merely been the strange coloration of her skin – I must confess, I am no expert on this matter. She seemed particularly desperate for our coin, so we inquired further into her current situation.

She mentioned she’d done some pro bono work for some adventurers who recently disappeared. The group, known as the Scofflaws, was trying to bust a drug ring dealing in Weeper’s Wail. The group frequented the East-West bar. If we could find and return the steel she forged for the group, she’d be willing to buy it from us, or discount the price of forging items. Vix also recognized that the scales of Dave’s cloak looked like those of an aquatic creature and not an espagra – certainly an interesting development for our investigation of its origins. We paid her half of her fee up front to forge Lokan’s new set of chainmail and Tala’s magical chainmail.

We proceeded to the East-West, where we hoped to discover some clue of the Scofflaws’ fate, and possibly recover their lost goods to get Vix out of a difficult situation. Lokan attempted his first solo performance, failing to impress – surely, our lute-playing friend just needed some time to adjust to a solo act, though perhaps the folk of Shinumetu were simply harder to impress than any of the townspeople we’d encountered so far. Tala talked the barkeep up about the Scofflaws, but he wasn’t able to provide much information at first other than that the adventurers would come into the bar and loudly talk about cleaning up the town.

Our tired group clumsily attempted to pump the bartender for information, and after I’d offended the bartender and Dave failed to realize that a bribery negotiation was underway, I departed in a huff. Lokan, who had left after his performance, joined me, and we returned to the Safe Harbor and enjoyed a delicious, quiet dinner as we emotionally unpacked our journey so far.

Tala and Dave, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to ingratiate themselves with some rough-looking orks, who offered to have Tala try some Weeper’s Wail, but eventually bid them leave in no uncertain terms after Dave brusquely tried to insert himself into the conversation.

After our respective ordeals, we decided to call it a night. Well, all of us but Dave, that is, who rudely attempted to convince Lokan to join him in skulking about after the thuggish orks who were no doubt connected to the Weeper’s Wail ring. Lokan thoroughly rebuffed the Tir elf, and we proceeded to rest. In the morning, we received word from the river historian Ooren, who offered to meet us at the Safe Harbor in five days for dinner.

We completed some additional restocking of our adventuring supplies (such as booster potions), while conferring with Tukko in his investigation of the markets and deciding to sell our stock of timber and stone, purchasing a goodly amount of True Water in exchange. We also made a small donation to a guard to dig up more information on the Scofflaws, hoping for more leads on their unfortunate fate.

Brother, I cannot stress the strangeness and wonder of the Shinumetu capital. Perhaps someday I can convince you to join me in traveling here, maybe after our caravan has proven that overland trade to Vasheen is a real possibility. While the domes are wondrous, this place holds great promise to our people. The opportunities for trade are many, and the market this town provides for Tseni’s stone and Timbertown’s lumber could bring some great benefits to our family and our community.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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