Pharast 29th, 4711 A.R.
Hex 22.18, Shadowscale Tribe to Hex 21.18 Thornhill to Hex 20.18 Thornhill Mine
Windy, Warmer than normal.
Arkhan, Arik and Rivva took turns slicing at the huge behemoth that blocked the cave mouth of the Thornhill iron mine. It was messy work, and the massive hippo smelled worse on the inside. Greta Thunderhammer poked around with her travel pickaxe at the back of the cave while they worked, and the others caught a nap.
“This ore vein runs deep,” Greta said at length, not noticing that no one was incredibly interested in her doings at the mineshaft’s terminus. The air was thick with hippo stench.
Arkhan raised an eyebrow. “Hmm?”
“If you are successful in your mission,” Greta said quietly, “we could turn this place into profit for the Lochars and Thunderhammers.”
When the hippo carcass had been moved outside the cave mouth, they hastily removed themselves from the fouled interior, and were glad for the wind and nearby lake shore where they could clean themselves and their gear.
They camped on the lake shore, upending the boat for makeshift shelter. The night passed quietly, their little fire warming them as they slept.
Pharast 30th, 4711 A.R. (Wealday)
Hex 20.18, Thornhill Mine to Hex 21.18 Thornhill
Clear, moderate, light wind
They rowed back to Thornhill, staying near the easterly bank of the Fenwater Lake. There was a slight current flowing southward with them that speeded their passage. Later that morning, the squalid island-village was in sight, and more viscerally, in smell; bluish plumes of smoke rose from behind the rickety palisade carrying the stench of smoking fish.
They landed their small borrowed craft at the dock, where they saw Boatman Nash putting the finishing touches on their two large, barge-like rafts. It was clear that he had disassembled a part of the palisade to form the bases of the two crafts; he had simply reinforced them with what materials he had available. They did not look seaworthy.
As they put in, lashing their small boat to the short, rickety pier, a crowd of the locals was gathering nearby. It parted as the stocky, red-headed and red-bearded, bare-chested reaver known as Khan stormed onto the scene. He was dragging an unconscious Paoula Sweets by the hair. He tossed her unceremoniously in the middle of the gathering and crossed his beefy arms across his chest, beard bristling. The party rushed onto the scene before Bor, Rustie, Josleen and Tarrien – their entourage – could intervene. Among those in the crowd, they spotted a tall, robed elf man, clearly a newcomer.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Arkhan and Keira both shouted, almost simultaneously as they pushed their way through the crowd to confront Khan.
Khan growled, and Boatman Nash quickly stepped in front of him – though carefully, they noticed. “Now, we got a situation here,” he said emphatically. “Yer friend tried to steal Khan’s ring last night – broke into his house and tried pryin’ it offa his finger,” he made a twisting gesture with his hands.
Rivva frowned and said, “So he hit her? Why?”
Kiera knelt beside the unconscious woman, and said a prayer of healing over her as she lay hands on her head. Paoula awoke suddenly, eyes struggling to focus. She groaned and sat up.
“Well, he’s a vet-ree-in, y’know… so he mighta just done it reflexive-like,” Boatman offered with a shrug. Khan nodded.
“Well, what does he expect, then?” Rivva asked, defiant.
“Recompensation,” Boatman replied, somewhat sheepishly, hoping it wouldn’t provoke these visitors.
Paoula stood up on shaky legs and dusted herself off. The crowd quieted. She faced Khan and said, “I admit it. I was trying to steal his ring. I was bored,” she shrugged, then crossed her arms loosely under her full bosom.
Rivva’s eyes adjusted themselves to the arcane spectrum, she scrutinized Khan’s ring – it was enchanted, she learned.
Arkhan smiled, cocked his head and said, “She’s just capricious, and, like she said – she got bored. Case closed.”
“Well, it ain’t quite that simple,” Boatman overemphasized. “For Khan to get his fair recompensation, she’ll have to marry him and have baby Khans,” he explained. Arkhan suppressed a laugh, while Rivva’s eyes got dangerous. Paoula looked like she was considering it, leering at Khan’s many bulges.
“I’ll do it,” Paoula interjected, a slight smile on her face. She locked eyes with Khan, who also smiled slightly. The party was shocked… and at the same time, it was Paoula, so not too shocked.
Some part of Arkhan’s brain registered the words ‘opportunity,’ and ‘swindle’ at roughly the same moment; “Dowry, my friends, is a longstanding tradition with Paoula’s people…” the words were coming as if second nature. “For a wedding to occur, we require recompensation for the bride.”
The Thornhill locals scratched their heads. Arkhan wore a ring of Culture Meld that he’d found in the Place of Meeting, it was helping. The tall elf stranger grinned and clapped his hands a bit.
“I love weddings,” he said, clearly excited that he’d happened to be here looking for spell components on such an occasion.
They summoned Zissren from his personal island within the hour, and the ceremony proceeded with alacrity. Everard the mage, the newcomer elf, provided dancing lights to the enjoyment of the crowd. The whole affair seemed highly informal, yet the townsfolk were purely enthusiastic about it. Zissren seemed annoyed, but was on his best behavior around these visitors, as he didn’t want them exposing his secret.
Zissren concluded the ceremony by blowing four times on both the bride and groom, then sent them on their way. Khan tossed Paoula over his shoulder and carried her off to his hut for nuptials. She seemed happy with the arrangement – though they suspected she wouldn’t be staying here long term.
Everard continued his dancing lights, and Arkhan and Keira provided musical entertainment. Everard blew on various villagers, and inadvertently married about seven young toothless maidens. The young ladies and gents of the village tried hard to get blown by Keira and Arkhan as they performed.
It would be talked about for some time to come in Thornhill. Later that day, Boatman Nash finished their rafts and they began loading up. It was time to negotiate for the price of the boats. Nash and Phuggit wanted half their trade goods in payment for the shoddy watercraft, but Arkhan counterd, invoking the dowry due him, and they settled for one quarter.
Everard got to know them, and being enamored of Keira and Arkhan’s performance, he asked to come along.
“I don’t have a bucket,” the elf said sarcastically, “I hope that’s not a problem.”
Arkhan chuckled. “We could use a light man anyway, for our shows.” Keira approved.
Everard was preoccupied with the sylph. “Why is she always looking at me funny,” he asked Akrhan. The rogue grinned knowingly, but shook his head and kept silent on the issue.
Greta approached Rivva and Arik as they were deciding on how best to load the boats. “I want to stay here until you come back. I want a better look at those mountains, I think we have a future here.”
Arik thought about for a second and replied, “Just don’t get married while you’re here – don’t blow anyone.” They shared a quiet laugh. Bor overheard this, and quickly volunteered to stay as well.
“Someone has to look after her, and you can’t load all the horses on those rafts anyway. I’ll stay with Greta, if she’ll have me.” His sincerity betrayed his true feelings – obviously he had grown fond of her in their travels together.
Keira looked at him with big glassy eyes and said, “Awwwwww….”
“… What?” Bor looked like he was somewhere between embarrassed and angry, and simultaneously trying to conceal any emotion at all. Rivva patted the big half-orc on the head, shaking hers.
It was settled, they loaded one raft with two horses, the mule-cart, their remaining trade goods and food. Arkhan, Josleen, Tarrien and Everard would pilot this one. On the second they loaded their trusty mule (Mule), the wagon (disassembled for transport), Ash, Arik, Rivva, Keira, Rustie and the tools and liquor.
Against advisement, they debarked that evening, not wanting to tarry any longer in this fishmonger’s hell. It was slowgoing, but they put a little distance between themselves and the palisaded island. The Fenwater yawned before them like a black portal under the fingernail moon, Somal.
Pharast 31st, 4711 A.R. (Oathday)
Hex 21.18, Thornhill – 20.17 Upper Fenwater Lake
Cloudy, moderate, light wind
They caught some shut-eye early that morning, then rowed through the calm of the day, putting miles behind them. Tall mountains continued to flank them on the left, and they thought they could see a dark line of hills on the horizon far ahead of them. They camped on shore that night.
Gozran 1st, 4711 A.R. (Fireday)
Hex 20.17 Upper Fenwater Lake – 19.17 Irori Shrine
Overcast, moderate, light wind
The shore loomed ahead as they rowed on. Giant Gatorcrocs attacked the rafts that morning. Arik saved the mule on his raft from going under during the commotion, and Tarrien saved one of the horses on the other. Kiera went overboard; she summoned a celestial shark to save herself – she dismounted it to return to the raft while it feasted on Giant Gatorcrocs before it returned to its home plane. None of their provisions were harmed in the process, as Arik used his polearm to fish out a crate that tried to drift away.
The rest of their day consisted of uneventful rowing, and the hills became visible at evening. They debarked and unloaded on the shore, set up camp in the dark and slept soundly in the nearly moonless night.
Gozran 2nd, 4711 A.R. (Starday)
Hex 19.17 Irori Shrine – Explore
Clear, moderate, Light wind
The land rose quickly from the lake shore and the marshes to the south. The chalky white hills of sediment were tall and rotund, with wide grassy valleys running between them, and streams running from the mountains to the east. Predatory birds winged overhead, and small possum-like creatures scampered amid the grasses.
There was no trail to lead them on. They resorted to investigation and tracking to find the route taken by Maegar Varn’s expedition, which launched three years ago. Everard looked high and low, taking in the flora and fauna, and lay of the land. At length, he pointed to the birds overhead.
“I believe those birds have feathers, beaks, sharp talons, and possibly teeth,” he proclaimed, nodding and folding his hands into his robe sleeves. They couldn’t tell if he was joking.
They spent the morning reconstructing the wagon that they’d disassembled for lake-travel, and harnessing and tending to the animals. They split up to canvass the area. After an hour of searching, Evard signaled to a spot on a low hill. They convened there, and he showed them evidence of a campsite – Kiera thought it would be about 3 years old given its overgrown state. That would mean it could have belonged to the Varn expedition. They searched in the vicinity and turned up other signs – discarded whetstones, broken wagon wheels, etc. They were on the right track.
They wound north through the valleys, following a shallow stream. Rivva spotted a juvenile short-haired mammoth, pulling at plants growing on the far side of a stream. It looked lost.
“We need to save it!” RIvva said excitedly. “I’ve never seen this species before.”
Arkhan cocked his head and said, “The poor thing is alone… who knows how to talk mammoth?” He raised his hand to request a show of hands. Arik raised his hand, then lowered it.
“I want to hug it,” Arik confessed. “Just look at it – it’s adorable. Have you ever hugged a woolly mammoth?”
“Metaphorically?” Keira asked, confused.
“NOT metaphorically,” Arik corrected.
“Let’s go, we can’t really do anything for it,” Rivva said, half hoping someone would convince her otherwise.
Arik got sulky. “Fine,” he said and stormed to the point position.
They tracked bits of cast off detritus left by the original expedition, through grass-grown valleys, always heading northwest.
As if from nowhere, they spotted a lone goblin rushing down a hill slope to their left, barreling toward them. Arkhan moved to the head of the party, and said, in Goblin, “Hello, little one.” The goblin stopped at about a hundred paces, and bowed. Arkhan casually half-bowed in return.
Arik stood beside him and said, “You owe him half a bow.”
Keira waved at it. This was getting awkward, she thought. “Hello!” She called, in Taldane. It bowed to her, and she returned it in kind. The goblin said nothing.
The goblin rushed toward them at unnaturally high speed. They drew weapons and prepared. It wielded no weapons, what could it do to them? It charged at Rivva, launching a flying kick at her midsection. It caught her off guard, and she doubled over from the force of it.
She recovered quickly, and her eyes and rapier charged with crackling energy. Her blade slashed about, slicing the agile goblin and discharging a flash of powerful lightning that made it seize in shock.
Arkhan moved to flank it, and his blade flashed across its forehead, opening a cut that began bleeding into its eyes. Arik brought his Lucerne hammer overhead, but it slammed forcefully into the ground near the goblin as it sidestepped.
Evard began chanting and gesticulating, hands outstretched. Rivva wondered why the elf was waving his hands around instead of fighting. Keira began a spell of inspiration, causing a surge of confidence to bolster Rivva.
The goblin was hurt, but not down. It fought on methodically, wiping blood from its eyes. It swung its leg in a low arc, catching Arkhan off guard and knocking him to the ground. It followed up seamlessly with a stomp to the rogue’s favorite groin, which really, really angered him.
The goblin continued to spin, throwing punches and kicks, elbows and knees in a dizzying display. Rivva took a tiny hammer fist to the temple, causing her to see stars, and Arik got a rear kick to the abdomen that stole his breath and dented his armor.
Arkhan stood up, safely out of range of the little dervish-goblin, grabbed a potion from his bandolier and dumped it on his wounded groin. “Ahhhhhhhh…” he moaned. Instant relief. He had dumped healing potions on his groin in the past… for other reasons.
Arik stepped back and simultaneously brought his pole-hammer down on the goblin’s gourd-like head. The small creature crumpled, falling to a heap at their feet. Keira brought her glaive down on its tiny neck, severing its head and ending it for good. She prayed for healing, and her companions’ wounds closed.
The fighters heard a scuttling behind them… Everard was riding around on a giant spider for a few seconds, then it disappeared and he fell to the ground. They shared a bemused, concerned look.
Everard and Rivva spent some time despoiling their dead foe. It was well equipped… boots of speed, amulet of mighty fists, ring of protection, cloak of resistance, and belt of physical might: all of it too small to be used without looking ridiculous.
Up the hill, they found its residence: a small, well-tended shrine to Irori, the smiling philosopher-god. An unmarked grave was the only other feature, though it was clear that the goblin lived here. Hidden within the shrine they found a book, Unbinding the Fetters, a treatise well known in the church of Irori. The scene was peaceful, and it seemed to extend to the valley below; a good place to rest. They buried the body of their challenger on the hilltop, so as not to anger the god.
Gozran 3rd, 4711 A.R. (Sunday)
Hex 19.17 Vineyard, Explore
They continued following signs of the expedition’s passage to the northwest the next day. Arik spotted a reflective glint as if something metallic stood on a hilltop to the west. Everard sent his owl to investigate, but the light reflected from it was too bright, and he returned quickly, squinting painfully.
They ascended the slope, and as they crested the rise, they witnessed a large metal statue standing at the intersection of four vineyard plots. They were divided from one another by paths, and the rearmost abutted another steep cliff, into which was set a stair that ascended to a cave mouth. All about the worked-stone cave mouth were runic letters, which none could decipher.
As they began to approach, Everard said, “Wait. That’s not a statue, it’s an iron golem, and we don’t want to piss it off.” They hesitated, looking from one to another skeptically. He went on to describe how they were immune to most magic, and resisted most physical attacks with ease.
“There’s something magical about this place. The soil isn’t right for these grapes to grow here… I suspect some font of magic power coming from the earth, or a crossing of ley lines,” Everard explained.
Keira shrugged. “I’ll bet I can get it to talk,” she said, and began to start a conversation with it. It stayed still for a bit, then bent its head to look at her, and finally returned to its resting position.
Rivva sent Ry, her ioun wyrd familiar to fly around behind the hilltop. It quietly floated into the cave without the golem noticing, and returned shortly after to Rivva’s side, the same way that it came. The two communicated briefly in their indecipherable language.
“There are 23 steps leading down from the cave mouth, and then a small circular stone chamber with no exits. There are six bottles of wine or somesuch stored within niches cut into the wall,” Rivva translated.
Rustie’s ears perked up, and he ran up to Rivva, looking up at her with a frenzied expression. “We have to get that wine… that’s magic wine,” he pleaded. His excited expression dropped by degrees as no answer came.
They moved on. There was no sign of the owner of the vineyard, and they could not recall any information overheard or studied that would solve the mystery. The iron golem was too powerful a guardian, they thought, and continued their trek.
Gozran 4th, 4711 A.R. (Moonday)
Hex 17.16 Hills – Explore
Overcast, moderate, light wind
They pressed on to the northwest. The hills gave way to a wide golden plain. From their hilltop vantage point, they watched a while, and took in the scene. On the plains below, they observed a herd of short-haired mastodons. Later, a dire tiger was hunted down by a cohort of centaurs. If the Varn expedition came this way, surely they must have information on their whereabouts…