Here we have the fourth chapter of this continuing story. With the Astrologer’s Albatross repaired and given a mandate to hunt the rogue Captain, Jalastar of Erryeth, the heroes embark on the next step in their journey. This is also an example of players reacting to a story in ways I did not foresee. As a result, I’ll have a bit to say about the behind the scenes of this one. It should prove interesting, and a good example of how much might be going on in your GM’s head as you play. Darvic was absent this session, as his player was caught up in work. However, this session sees the introduction of Santiago, a bard brought in by the player behind Cultist to replace the sorcerer. This should prove entertaining.
The sun was setting over the Isle of Dis, and its port, where the Astrologer’s Albatross lay anchored. Beneath the intense orange glow of the waning sunlight, a simple upbeat tune played across the deck and out over the harbour, accompanied by the laughter of some of the crew. It had been three days since Captain Nerova had been cleared of the murder of Commodore Hadarim, and reinstalled as the ship’s commanding officer. Once of his first duties had been to replace Cultist, the ship’s long-time crewman and resident sorcerer. Thankfully, the Isle of Dis was one of the few places in the Southern Seas where one of equal skill might be found. Earlier that day, the Captain had invited a gnome bard who claimed a great deal of experience upon the waves and showed some evident skill to join the crew. Now the affable minstrel, Santiago, sat on deck, attempting to win over the crew with the song of his mandolin and some artfully embellished tales.
However, his efforts were unremarked upon by some. Morgaine stood on deck, but the music was far from her mind. Her attention was given to the Vosi pair striding down the dock. After three days, it seemed, the Astrologer’s Albatross would have her orders. Morgaine strode to the gangplank, and sent a crewwoman for the Captain.
Keira of the Vosi Order remained dressed in the shimmering blue-black bodysuit Morgaine had always seen her in, while her partner Kylee wore a simple sailor’s garb, leather boots, simple pants and a shirt seemingly fashioned of sailcloth and an expert seamstress’ skill. The women greeted Morgaine pleasantly, if swiftly, before informing Morgaine that Keira would have a private meeting with the Captain. As they strode towards the Captain’s quarters, Kylee began to hum along with the cheerful melodies emitted by Santiago’s efforts, while Keira directed an imperious glare at the artful gnome musician. Before long, however, the dominate young woman was sealed in the navigation room with the Captain, while Kylee remained at the door, smiling at passersby; an act that was both reassuring and warded off any thought of trying to get passed her and into the private discussion. While the heroes were eager to know their next course of action, they knew better that to try and extract any information from a Vosi, even one as approachable as Kylee. Keira emerged from the navigation room, and after delivering only a curt nod to the assembled heroes, she was joined by Kylee in leaving the ship.
So, I had outlines of what Kylee might say her if approached, carefully crafted comments that would deliver hints and overall develop Kylee as a character. However, the players felt the heroes had no reason to talk with the smiling Vosi. They were patient and unwilling to engage the Vosi further than they had so far, given their power and secretive nature. That is a perfectly sensible approach. It shows that sometimes your best preparations are just unnecessary, and you have to accept that your forty five minutes writing that is lost and the players will possibly never know that character as well. Then again, I am already looking for where I can fit that in later on in the campaign, which is often the best approach I fine. No reason to let good work go to waste, even if your players may walk by it several more times before you get it in.
With the Vosi gone from the ship, Captain Nerova stepped to the door and waved the heroes into the room. Standing about the navigation room’s central table, they listened to Nerova recount their new orders.
“It seems we have gotten the light load to carry with this one,” the old sailor smiled. “I don’t think Keira trusts me to face Jalastar again. They’re sending us on a patrol,” he told them as he placed his finger on the large map pinned to the table, resting it over their current position on the Isle of Dis. “We will start here, and sail south for about four and a half days along the Eastward Isles before turning east,” he explained, tracing the route across the map’s surface. “We’ll travel on to the Edge Islands, before sweeping northward until we reach Tero Va before returning back to this port by a westward route. The purpose of this little voyage?” he posed, continuing on in the same breath, “Well, you’ll notice we’ll be patrolling in a circle about the island we had our little fight with Jalastar on. Keira, Kylee, and theirs will be heading to the isle itself. The Vosi would much prefer they meet Jalastar, and not us. Don’t trust us to win after last time. So instead, we do the wide patrol, see if we see anything, check the outlying hiding places. Finally, what Keira actually thinks we can do something about. You all remember that quiet elf, Obran Vosi’s friend from Tamherang? Well, Natava saw Obran killed, but since that elf left our camp with Obran on that island, he hasn’t been seen. Keira says to keep an eye out. I’ll tell you this, if we can grab that elf, it will make me quite happy. He sailed with us, and honestly, I’m already tired of that woman looking for any excuse to have me removed from this ship.”
The crew nodded, agreeing with the Captain that a victory for their ship would be nice after the defeat Jalastar had forced down their throats. Even Santiago agreed, already looking to be one of the crew. The Captain was not eager to wait given they heroes support, and with a nod to Morgaine, the Astrologer’s Albatross was underway. With Morgaine giving a few orders, the experienced crew had the vessel heading out of the port under full sail. She would remain that way for days, swiftly seeking any sign of their prey.
The coasts of the Eastward Isles slid by at that determined pace over the next three days, with many an eye watching those beaches, and only short detours to examine sheltered bays and hidden coves. For those three days, they found nothing of interest. It was not until the third night that their search yielded any results.
All they saw at first was a light on the water ahead. Morgaine called it out from her perch amidst the lines. After a quarter of an hour, she could see the individual torches, and the faint outline of the single mast of a small schooner under half sail. The small vessel could not hope to outrun a light warship of the Company like the Astrologer’s Albatross, but as the schooner was born down upon, it made no move to try. A torch upon its deck began to dance, moving in simple patterns indicating in acknowledgment of a Company ship’s right to inspect trading vessels contracted by Gyleaon’s national economic arm. The smaller vessel did not slow or prepare for boarding though, a fact its captain was quick to apologize for as the two ships drew close enough for a raised voice to carry between them.
The schooner, named The Westword, was traveling from Tero Va to a small port on the southernmost of the Eastward Isles, the hold crammed full of various grains and fruits. However, the schooner’s captain lamented, a delay had left them behind schedule, hence their desire to keep up speed. Yet, he expressed gratitude at the sight of a Company ship, and even requested to file a report. At this, Nerova and the experienced hands aboard took interest. Trading vessels contracted or owned by the Company were required to report threats to ships they encountered to a Company official at the first chance made available to them. Responding to such reports was why ships of the Astrologer’s class were commissioned, and the crew knew to pay them heed.
This Captain told them that the Astrologer’s Albatross was the first Company ship he had seen since his ship was waylaid five days ago. They were sailing much as they were on the present night, when suddenly a corsair ship, running dark in the night, swept alongside The Westword, and boarded them. He described the attacker as a swift ship of darkwood, twin masts, and a vicious ram. The small merchant sailing crew was capable, but no match for trained killers. They were easily subdued by the corsairs, and held on deck. There the sailors were questioned by the Captain of the lightless vessel. The schooner’s captain described this villain as a strange, skinny man, with skinny greasy hair and fangs. His questions to them focused mostly on the details of any ships they had seen in the past several days. After twenty minutes, the cutthroats left without stealing or hurting anyone, though, The Westward’s master noted, the Captain seemed ready to several times. Shaking his head, the man tells Nerova he does not understand what stopped the strange corsair captain.
Beyond this, the schooner’s crew could tell them little. No name could be put to this wild Captain, or to his swift and silent ship. Nerova still promised his counterpart upon this schooner to file a report, before the Astrologer’s Albatross passed on into the night, leaving The Westward to its voyage. Near dawn, the warship came about to face the rising sun, and begun the eastward part of its trek. Nearly five days stretched before them, with not but the sea to be seen.
Briefly, the endless waves upon the horizon were broken by the silhouette of a strange ship. Morgaine and Takk caught this sight first, but it was Captain Nerova who noted that the shape was different from The Soul of Erryeth. However, Morgaine remained wary, while Takk’s interest was already piqued. Through his spyglass Takk eagerly noted the twin masts of the silhouette, recalling the schooner captain’s tale. Their suspicious were further roused as the shadowy shape of this vessel faded away, the miles shielding its identity from even Takk’s spyglass. While the heroes felt surely this vision on the horizon would haunt them in the months, if not weeks to come, even Morgaine admitted that their mission took precedent. So, the winds over the Southern Seas swept them onwards.
Dull might be the best way to describe the Astrologer’s Albatross’ ninth day away from the Isle of Dis. The crew kept a vague watch on the waves, but there was little to see. There was little to do, but reflect and listen to Santiago’s strumming as dawn after dawn brought nothing but more waves. That is, until the ninth dawn, the fourth since turning east.
On that day, the night faded, but the sun remained unseen, hidden behind a thick fog that rose in the east before them. The fog bank was massive, stretching for several miles in either direction. The Captain wore a partial smile as he looked upon it, before ordering the anchor dropped, and retreating to the navigation room. He knew they had reached another point of particular interest on their patrol. Only a few of the crew were not in on the importance of the fog they faced. They noticed how the smiles at their arrival had given way to grim looks, and many did their best to ignore the massive cloud hanging over the sea before them. It was Takk who asked about this first, looking to Santiago, expecting the bard to happily extoll the story of the immense fog. The bard paused, nodded, and looked to the fog, seemingly trying to gather his thoughts.
Sometimes the result of a check can really play into other aspects of the story or a character. It is all about the context. In this case, Santiago really failed the knowledge roll to see what he knew about the fog. But, Santiago had already been established to me, by his player, to be a bit of a fraud. The bard is a master of improvised storytelling, often adding embellishments or lies where his knowledge is weak, rather than admitting any shortcoming in his repertoire. We both hoped to see that show up in the character as he was played, and suddenly a role was failed, and the player made it seem that Santiago was stalling a bit, until Morgaine rolled a successful knowledge check.
While the bard composed himself, Morgaine, with an annoyed glance at the new crew member, explained the situation to Takk, and a few other less experienced sailors listening nearby.
“It’s the Mists of the Edge,” she stated dryly, “a fog bank, and a big one. It has hovered over the Northern most of the Edge Islands for about two generations or so.” She seemed ready to continue, but instead nodded towards the navigation room and the beckoning form of Captain Nerova. Once they were gathered around the room’s central table yet again, Nerova spoke, first affirming what Morgaine had already said before continuing on.
“Standing order from the Company is not to go into the Mists if avoidable,” he explained. “A few ships have gone in over the last seventy years, and either they have never been seen again or when they are seen, they all explain that they spend some time lost in there and were lucky to get out. Even here, we cannot see more than a few dozen yards beyond the prow. So, this means we’ve reached the Edge Islands, the halfway point of this patrol. But, Keira made it quite clear to me that this is a perfect hiding place. We must make sure that Jalastar or Obran’s elven friend is not hiding under that damn cloud.”
“So we’ll have to go into that?” Takk confirmed.
“We’re going to miss Natava now,” Karth noted from where he sat in the corner, polishing his flintlock with a rag. “She is a skilled scout.”
Natava’s player arrived late this session, so her already established absence was continued.
“Ahhh,” said Takk with a grin. “Archie and I can’t replace the good merfolk, but I think we can get the job done.”
The Captain smiled. “So, you say we take the ship in to the fog. It has its risks. I do not wish to run her around or strike a reef. It may be wise to send a few of the longboats into the fog. They are swift, agile, and far more capable in shallow waters.”
Morgaine frowned at this. “What if the boats found The Soul of Erryeth. They would fare worse than the whole ship did last time.”
“We can take the ship in,” Takk said excitedly, “even without Natava! Rusty is more than capable of swimming, and I can pilot him from within his belly. I could even bring a partner, if they were small.”
Santiago’s arm fired up like a piston. “Oh, I’ll go!”
Takk continued on, too lost in his planning to pay the other gnome any heed. “I’ll swim ahead of the ship and guide it. We can stay within enough distance to shout.” Takk’s plan was good, and his enthusiasm infectious. The Captain began discussing the plan with Takk in earnest as the two headed out on deck, the other heroes following. Morgaine wore a less that confident expression and Santiago’s arm remained stretched upwards. The crew was already gathering about them, listening to the Captain and Takk issue orders. Within half an hour they were lowering Takk and Santiago down to Rusty, who awaited them on the waves beneath the starboard side. Karth stood by, his pistol now gleaming. He said nothing while watching the commotion. Thankfully his eyes wandered, first to his weapon, then to the waves, and after that, the darkwood warship bursting out of the mists.
Karth cried out, and in seconds the plan was gone from every mind, save Takk’s. While the Captain cried out orders in preparation of combat, Takk slipped down the rope and into Rusty’s shell with Santiago only inches behind. However, as Takk struggled to shut Rusty, the darkwood vessel swept alongside the Astrologer’s Albatross on its port side. The flag of the Dominion of Tamherang flapped atop the tallest of its twin masts, and shadow of the sails they bore fell over the deck of the heroes’ ship. The foreign warship’s slim streamlined hull was nearly ebony in colour, and bore the polished sheen of well worked darkwood. The only flaw in the tough wood planks was a series of letters burned deeply into the rare material, spelling the name Ksarnor. Its deck swarmed with armed sailors, which wore no uniform, and appeared a hardened and disparate band. Ballistae bolts peeked from the vessel’s side and a single ballista with a flaming bolt rested on the prow of the Ksarnor, tracking the mid mast of the Astrologer’s Albatross. However, these sailors, while armed, stand still. Their weapons remain raised, but no attack comes. Near the middle of the deck of the clearly corsair vessel stood a tall, thin and wiry, man. His stringy black hair hung in ropey tendrils about his face as he waved to the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross with a one handed battleaxe.
“Easy now, Tamherang and Gyleaon are no warring nations now. No need to fear our flag, or those who sail ‘neath it. Captain Saskrin, of the Ksarnor, greets you. Might I come aboard, trade a few words?”
Nerova glanced to the heroes around him, each now armed. Karth affixed the Tamherang man with a grim glare, and Morgaine shot the Captain an unsure glance. With a faint grimace, the Captain cried out an offer to come aboard, and a plank was stretched between the ships. Saskrin nimbly skipped across, landing before Captain Nerova. At this distance, the heroes could smell the man’s rank odour, and see his face. His jaw was angular, and his nose crooked and flattened towards the left. His eyes were slim slits and his skin pale, an oddity for his profession. His fangs were most notable though, two small ivory spikes protruding from beneath his upper lip. When he grinned, they were bared, giving the act a threatening undertone.
“You’re polite,” he noted absently. “Curious though, whacha doing in these waters?”
“Nothing Tamherang should be concerned with,” responded Captain Nerova, his tone even.
“As you have it, Captain,” the thin corsair replied without pause. “You should be aware, if your work takes you into the Mists, well, then it will concern us. You must realize, Tamherang is already trying to work in this fog, and should your ship venture into the cloud, and thereby into our business, we’ll respond. And we won’t leave survivors.” The grin remained on his face, the cordial aspect of his smile now the undertone to the threat.
The Captain locked eyes with Saskrin, and nodded stiffly. “We will bear that in our planning, Captain. Thank you for your time.”
Saskrin spun about, hopping up onto the board between the two hulls. “The Ksarnor will say within sight,” he informed them, again in an almost absent manner.
Maybe at this point the Tamherang Captain thought he had come out the better in this encounter. He certainly seemed pleased during the discussion. For Karth, a Gyleaonite born, raise, and trained, the man’s smile was offensive, and his joy insulting. This man, this clear corsair of a deceitful, lowly upstart of a nation was dictating terms to the mighty. In Karth’s mind, the decision was already made. Gyleaon did not show the weakness of letting such scum think themselves superior to the Imperial nation. The wizard’s flintlock swung upwards, the barrel leveled at Saskrin’s back, and the trigger yanked back.
This is an example of what makes roleplaying games like Pathfinder and D&D utterly unique. It also is a reason GMing can be challenging. I never expected that Karth would shoot Saskrin in the back. However, this blog is in part about what I learn about this game when I look back. I realize that this action is in Karth’s character. He is a nationalist, and independent, fully capable of being vengeful loose cannon when he sees a foe of his homeland getting away. As a GM, however, it’s your job to keep the story flowing no matter what happens. The trick is not to panic and to let common sense and your notes guide you to determining what would happen naturally in response to such seemingly crazy events.
All Saskrin heard before he felt the searing pain was a thunderclap. The power exploded and a shot ripped through the skin and muscle of the corsair captain’s right forearm. Saskrin roared and tumbled forward. He rolled onto his ship and sprung up, an axe in each hand. A string of language stabbed out at the heroes from his tongue, though none could decipher it. For a moment sailors and heroes on both sides tensed, ready to spring upon each other. It was Saskrin, of all those there, who paused though. For seconds he froze, before howling violently, a cry of torn emotions bursting forth. He whirled, flinging one axe to the deck and swinging the back of the other axe-head into the skull of one of his adherents.
“GET US OUT OF HERE!” he screeched, even as his man crumpled at his feet. As the Ksarnor slid away, the heroes watched in horror and amazement as the dull rear of the wiry warrior’s axe-head fell upon the limp form at his feet, crushing the flesh over and over, singling blood about with each stoke.
Here I knew Saskrin would want blood for Karth’s action. I also knew that there was more going on with Saskrin, and unfortunately, you will have to keep reading these sessions to find out what exactly these are. Even the players are still trying to find that out. However, the point is that in the end, this surprise shot in the back gave me the chance to work in the idea that much more was going on aboard the Ksarnor than the players realized. I think it adds to the story, giving it a new element which our heroes must contend with. And I loved describing the brutal murder Saskrin’s anger brought on, as it allowed me to develop that crazy character and possibly seriously concern my friends. Hopefully they will not have me committed until the story wraps up.
For a moment, none moved aboard the Astrologer’s Albatross. Silence hung over the misty sea, save the thuds of each vicious impact Saskrin inflicted. As these faded, slowly crewmembers turned to look to Karth. The man’s face was still a hateful visage, while his hands busied themselves reloading this firearm. Captain Nerova turned swiftly, and to the surprise of some, the fury in his eyes matched Karth’s hate.
“You DARE fire upon another ship without my word, wizard?! You would fire upon an official of Tamherang with no order? Have you no loyalty, no respect for command and country? It is a Company directive, Sir, ordered by the Board and the Imperial Court, to never engage in hostile actions with forces of the Dominion of Tamherang. We do this because our nation need not be plunged into needless war. We are all damn lucky they declined the invitation to war you just delivered, Karth, but you in particular. If they had, and you survived, I’d hang you myself. As it stands, you can get be taken to the brig.” With a nod to Morgaine, Nerova whipped about, marching for his quarters. Takk, who had climbed back aboard with Santiago in tow seconds after Karth’s shot, waved to Morgaine, suggesting she leave this to him. Stepping alongside Karth, he held out his hand, and took the weapon the spellslinger deposited in his palm, promising to care for it well. As he lead the nationalist wizard below decks, he saw plainly that Karth would not hesitate to fire that flintlock again in that same situation.
I forgot to mention, I also saw this as a natural response from Nerova to Karth’s shooting. It is also not a bad idea to remind players that actions have consequences. It makes the world feel real and gives a greater chance to develop characters, seen here in Karth’s willingness to submit to his punishment. Additionally, of course, it never hurts to make them think twice next time before they take your carefully crafted tale off the expected path.
Despite the excitement, the heroes knew the Mists of the Edge still would have to be explored before they could travel on. Now this task was made more challenging by the Ksarnor’s presence, as it hovered only a little over hundred yards away, still within shot of both eye and ear. Takk’s plan still seemed the best though, and it was agreed it would go forward. However, now the Astrologer’s Albatross would remain behind, thereby appeasing the Captain of Tamherang while simultaneously allowing the remaining heroes and crew to keep watch over the enemy vessel. Rusty would perform the search alone, with Takk and Santiago within him. They packed a few days’ worth of food in a pack, and re-entered the gnome mechanist’s clockwork creation. The metal beast dove down, and just below the surface the scouting party swam off, quickly disappearing to the crew of their ship as the fog closed in about them.
It was only twenty minutes later that Santiago began to get on Takk’s nerves. In the enclosed space of Rusty’s interior, the strum of the mandolin seemed louder, and the vibrations seemed to fill the tight space, setting the gnome inventor’s teeth on edge. Additionally, the bard had already consumed two ration bars. So, when the mandolin paused for a moment, and Santiago asked “What’s that there?”, Takk was more interested in the gift of silence than the target of his fellow gnome’s interest. Still, a distraction never held a mind as swift as Takk’s back long, and following his ally’s indication he spotted the gnarled shape floating in the water off their starboard side. As they drew close, the object was apparent as driftwood, however, the pair of legs dangling from the debris convinced the gnomes that further investigation was warranted. Takk brought Rusty to the surface, giving the two gnomes a view of the young woman clutching the twisted tree stump floating before them.
Takk loosed the latch on the glass dome on Rusty’s back, lifting it open. A quiet yet determined voice was audible over the undulating ocean. The words were elvish, with a repeating rhythm to them, so that the gnomes had difficulty defining it. The speaker seemed halfway between praying and singing. That speaker was visible to Takk as he pulled himself up to stand half out of Rusty’s womb. She was a human, a young woman, with short blond hair, dressed in a ragged linen shirt and pants. Beside her lay a man, older, maybe in his forties, dressed similarly, however he lay unmoving. The girl continued her unusual song, until Takk, called to her. She started, and stared at the strange sight of two gnomes floating before her in a mass of bent metal. She remained completely silent. Takk and Santiago looked to each other, and after a brief discussion offered to bring the girl and her friend to the ship. She merely nodded, before saying only “Hurry.” Takk lashed a rope to a thick root from the drifting stump, and Rusty retraced its path, carrying its passengers to the Astrologer’s Albatross, managing a steady yet swift pace.
The crew was surprised to see Rusty return so soon. Takk had been careful to approach so as to remain invisible to the surely watchful eyes aboard the Ksarnor. Even so, Morgaine nervously watched the foreign vessel as the rescued souls were pulled aboard by rope. It seemed they had either luck or skill behind them though, as Saskrin’s ship did not launch itself upon them. The ship’s physician, the talented and skillful stout, bald, human, Polrund, strode to the scene briskly. He was ever nearby when a patient appeared.
The ship’s physician was meant to simply be a member of the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross who could heal the crew, and limit the dangers to them. I always had a clear idea of the practical reasons to have him around, and a vague idea of an intelligent, kind, yet fierce older sailor who would take on the physicians roll. Then there was Karth’s encounter with the exploding mast and the dire tiger in Session I. And the blindness that affected Morgaine in Session II. And the need of a medic after the incident with the devil in Session III. I am proud to say, the players had become attached to their physician, their repeated savior from grim injuries. They asked what his name was, saying he was clearly worthy of one. So, meet Polrund, what happens when an simple NPC takes on a life beyond what you expected.
After a brief examination of the girl, he gave her a daft of some concoction and bandaged a clean slash on her shoulder. He then moved towards the man, who remained unconscious.
“Leave him,” the girl yelped, struggling to her feet. “The demon’s plague has infected him, I know it. He must be burned before the plague takes hold, or we shall all die! We have only a day since he was infected to set him alight!” Polrund froze, glancing to the girl, then the man, and finally Nerova. The Captain nodded to Morgaine, who swiftly stepped in, guiding the girl away. She followed Morgaine down to the Mess Deck. As they left, Polrund, looked to Takk and Santiago. “Well,” murmured the physician, “Still not dull. Damn. Come on Takk, let us see what we’ve got here.” He then yelled over to the crew to lend him a hand with the unconscious man.
Before Takk could follow the procession though, the Captain beckoned to him. With a resigned grunt, he handed Takk a key. “Get him out of there. He’s got an instinct that we’ll need. Just let him know he’ll be back in when whatever this is blows past.” Karth was out of the brig in five minutes, and joined Morgaine and the young woman moments later.
I try not to keep a player out of the game. It just goes contrary to the while point of the game. So, when events started rolling, I found an excuse to see Karth released, without eliminating the consequence he suffered for the shooting entirely.
As Karth sat down across the table from the young woman, explained that her name was Hanath. Morgaine introduced herself and Karth, and then inquired what she had meant by demon. It was the first of many questions she already had about the young woman and her situation. She would have many more before long.
At times, I find acted a bit can really add to the story. So, here, I responded to the players questions, deliberately acted a bit distracted, trying to capture a shocked person. I also was annoying in that I kept my answers to fitting her naïve perspective. The result was interesting, with each question I was asked allowing me to deliver more information, but never entirely it. They ended up getting new questions, and in all it took about 30 minutes to get the entire story out of this young woman. However, here the full discussion would be quite long, so I will not bore you. I will summarize the conversation. I will also endeavour to keep it straightforward as possible. The one flaw I found with this method of revealing the story was that it can be confusing.
The young woman explained that the demon has been preying on the people of her home island for several weeks. She lives upon the northern-most of the Edge Islands, in the very center of the Mists of the Edge. When asked what the demon is, and why it attacks the islanders, she cannot say. She can only report that the Elder of Nalos, her home village, leads the island. He is the only one to communicate with their god, and the stranger, both of which have told him that the demon was their enemy, and that it would spread a plague to its victims. That is why they must burn the bodies.
It was at points like this that Morgaine and Karth had to pause and try to figure out what to ask next. They had several questions: what kind of plague, what god do you worship, who is this stranger, how does any of this end up with you on a dead stump in the ocean, ect. The whole group ended up debating which questions were important, making for an involving discussion.
Karth spoke next, asking who the stranger was. The young woman said he was an elf, who had appeared mysteriously on the island. Rather than being made a sacrifice like most outsiders, he had managed to talk his way into the Elder’s confidence after his arrest. Karth then asked when the stranger arrived. Hanath replied that it was weeks ago, just before the demon appeared.
In issue with a mystery in a roleplaying game, as I mentioned last session, is that a clue may be interpreted differently than you intended by the players. In this case, the party immediately jumped on this tidbit. They guessed that the stranger, an elf, who appeared a short time after Obran’s elven friend from Tamherang was seen, must be that very Tamherang elf. This excited them. The guy they needed to catch was close. They then jumped to the fact that the Tamherang ambassador they met last session summoned a devil. They assumed the demon was another summoned monster, controlled by this elf. The tough part with something like this is you cannot tell them how wrong they are. You just have to hope they figure out the truth, and start thinking how the heck you finish the adventure if they never do.
Excited, they asked what she had meant earlier by sacrifices. In a matter of fact manner she explained that on the island, all criminals and outsiders were held in prison until they could be sacrificed to their god, The Spider of the Unseen. At this, several questions bombard Hanath. How many people are sacrificed a day? Where do they come from? How can their population sustain this? Who is this god, the Spider of the Unseen? Struggling to organize her answers, she responds that any criminals are sacrificed to this god. She was arrested for sacrifice for vagrancy. Others are charged with more serious crimes. She goes on to explain that The Spider of the Unseen is sacrificed to at least once a day. It feeds the rest of its appetite on local wildlife. That is how it’s always been, since the Elder made the covenant with the Spider of the Unseen. When asked what happened before that, she says their arachnid god hunted the islanders. The Elder made the deal before she was born, almost forty years ago. Until recently, the deal had worked. They served and sacrificed to the Spider of the Unseen, and he harmed no one. Instead, he defended them, against threats like the demon.
She explained, without prompting, how the demon had appeared, and the Elder had told them how it sought the Spider of the Unseen. She guesses it could not find their god, which was why it started attacking the sacrifices. No sacrifice in several days had been unmolested by the demon. It spread it’s plague to the sacrifices before the Unseen One could consume them. That was why the Elder sacrificed her, the man, and four others that morning.
She pauses then, her talkative nature evaporated. Karth correctly guessed the cause of her concern.
“The demon found you?” he asks. She nods, and after a moment says she dodged it, and got the stump off the beach and into the water while it set upon the man. When it left him to infect the horses, she grabbed him and set them out to sea. She says she was panicked, but if they burn the man, maybe it was a good idea.
Polrund and Takk however, were not ones to burn a subject of study without good reason. Even with good reason, the two would likely still take a look. After a brief examination, Polrund pressed a sunrod into the victim’s mouth, squinting to see into the man’s throat. The look he gave Takk seconds later told the gnome something interesting had been found. Polrund rooted around on a nearby desk, coming up with a pair of tongs and a scalpel. He dipped the tongs into the prone figures throat, gripped something, and began to gingerly slice with the precise blade. After several minutes, the clever doctor pulled out a small orb, translucent in nature with a hint of red to it, covered entirely in thick mucus.
Ok. Sometimes I do not realize how a simple description can affect a person. Once, some time ago, I made a room in a dungeon filled with maggots crawling all over the floor and treasure piled there. To this day, Morgaine’s player will tell others of how horrible it was and how I make dungeons that will completely gross out any sane person. The maggots were surprisingly far more effective than I expected. So, when moments after I described these orbs I saw Morgaine’s player begin to squirm, and saw the other players shaking their heads at this man’s fate, I knew I was on the edge of another such episode. So, I’m now known for two gross out adventures.
“There are at least half a dozen more in him,” reported the physician, clearly concerned.
“Eggs,” Takk estimated. “The demon is not spreading a sickness; it tries to spread its young.”
The gnome paused. “This seems familiar. Santiago, you are well travelled, what monstrosity does this? I can’t quite place it.”
The bard began to run though lists of fabled creatures, seeing such a beast.”
Bad rolls are a part of any game with dice. Here it saw these two fail several knowledge checks. I imposed only a minor penalty, letting them try again and again, as they could know the information and they had plenty of time to think. I just reminded them after the first failure that the eggs might hatch soon. They recalled the one day deadline for burning the body, and got a bit nervous. I then just switched back to letting Morgaine and Karth question the girl with each failure. I think it built up a little suspense for Takk and Santiago.
Takk asked Polrund if all the eggs could be extracted. The ships man of medicine considered it, and after another examination of the patents throat, declared that each extraction could take as long as ten minutes, and longer if his approach failed and he had to reattempt to remove an egg. He recommended that the man be burned as per the young woman’s suggestion, as in his current injured state, losing more blood through surgery might well kill him anyways. Best to be cautious and make sure no egg hatched. Takk agreed, with the caveat that the extracted egg be kept in a sealed container for study. The intelligent gnome bet that without a warm body, the egg would not hatch.
However, it was then that Santiago whispered a word behind him, a four letter name. Xill. Over the next few minutes, memories raced back to both gnomes, and together they pieced together what the “demon” truly was. The xill were an insect warrior race from the Ethereal Plane, known for laying eggs in prey to spawn more of their kind. These four armed, two legged monsters appeared from their home plane, snatched prey from the material world, and made the victim a host for the eggs. They also recalled that the xill were mortal enemies of another race of the Ethereal Plane, the Phase Spiders. The spiders were seen as the perfect hosts for xill eggs, and the two species fought a bitter endless war as a result. Without hesitating any further, Takk crushed the egg, and the gnomes took the man’s legs while Polrund hefted his shoulders. Within minutes they were setting up a place on deck which would contain the flames, and hide the blaze from prying eyes.
As the flames began to consume the comatose, oil soaked man, Morgaine came on deck, Karth and Hanath behind her. The recently rescued young woman thanked them for burning the body. Morgaine and Karth shared what they had learned of the island with the others. Quickly, Takk and Santiago added their discoveries to what was being told, and soon a story emerged.
It was about here that they pieced it all together. It took a bit, but they agreed that the elf the sought had not summoned the demon. It was just a xill. Sometimes it takes a bit for your intent to become clear in a mysterious situation. But until they do, you get to sweat it out. Had they not figured it out, at this point I was just planning on making it very clear should they meet the elf or xill. Maybe have one attack the other. Hey, if they miss it, sometimes it’s best to not beat around the bush, and just beat around their heads.
So, they guessed, the Spider of the Unseen was a phase spider, strangely living on the island within the Mists of the Edge. It preyed upon the people, demanding sacrifices. But now a xill had come hunting it, and was attacking the people. It was attempting to hatch more of its kind, but was countered by the villagers burning the bodies. So it had begun attacking the sacrifices, the phase spider’s food source. The xill was besieging its prey, attempting to draw it out. If it was drawn out, the heroes foresaw it would attack the villagers, Hanath’s people, and the xill would not be far behind. Debate about whether or not they should help was fierce. Morgaine feared for the crew, the ship, should the xill or phase spider attack. Takk argued that it was the Company’s responsibility to step in, thinking of all that could be gained from the island, and by saving lives. Karth meanwhile, noted that Gyleaon had no ownership of the isle, so they were not required to risk their lives. Santiago was all for heading onto the island and what would no doubt prove to be an adventure. However, eventually the Captain and the heroes came to one conclusion. The elf of Tamherang, strange ally of Obran, the Vosi, was likely on the island, and an attempt must be made to arrest him.
The crew waited for nightfall, so as best to let a longboat heading to the island escape the notice of Saskrin and his ilk aboard the Ksarnor. While they waited, a happy reunion occurred with Natava’s timely arrival. She had tracked them down after leaving her meeting with her fellow merfolk. So it was as a moonless evening fell over them, the heroes lowered a longboat. Morgaine guided the craft while two sailors rowed. Hanath sat in the middle of the boat, having agreed to guide them to the Elder’s village upon reaching shore. Karth kept watch, keeping an eye out for Natava and her massive sea turtle, Archie, and Rusty, whose belly held the gnomish mechanist and bard.
The glided silently through the mists, and beached the boat without a sound. Karth, Morgaine and Hanath stepped ashore. The night was silent, ominous almost, with the dense fog resting over the island. Then, with a surge of water, Rusty breached the surface. The metal monstrosity stomped ashore with no attempt at stealth. Each step reverberated through the earth with a noticeable crunch. Natava sat atop Rusty, ready to venture inland.
I looked at the group. “So, you aren’t taking the stealthy approach I see?” Morgaine: “Well…” Takk: “Hell no, we’re bringing Rusty.”
I knew at that point that once again, this would be interesting. I scrolled down past my notes on approaching the village and getting to the Elder’s home unseen. I should have known these guys wouldn’t bother with that Prime Directive, “leave the natives unscathed” stuff.
So they marched into town, an odd looking roguish young woman and a flintlock wielding wizard flanking a large metal creation that looked vaguely like a turtle. If turtles could pulverize bone by stepping on it, that is. A gnomish face peeked out of glass atop the mechanical beast, while a merfolk woman crouched on its back. Needless to say, quite a crowd turned out to line the main street and watch as they passed. Hanath wisely darted away into this crowd, having fulfilled her agreed upon task as their guide. Eventually, near the main square, several guards and a impeccably dressed old man blocked their path.
The old man, obvious to the heroes to be the Elder, leaned upon a finely polished walking stick. His grey hair was closely trimmed, and he wore a dark brown cloth robe trimmed in gold. With a fierce, squinting gaze he glared at the heroes, unflinching before their impressive display. Beside him the guards stood with weapons drawn.
“You are outsiders,” the elder stated bluntly. Takk say little to do but lift Rusty’s lid and agree. “Well then, you shall be placed under arrest for your intrusion,” the Elder yelled out, his deep voice heard throughout the crowd. “Will you stand down?”
Takk paused. He looked incredulously at the senior village leader and the eight guards. He stood up and looked down at Karth, Morgaine, and Rusty. He then looked back at the Elder. “Uhh, no?!” he exclaimed, his disbelief at the question apparent.
That right there is why I love when a situation is real enough that players do not even realize they are roleplaying their characters reactions. Takk’s player seemed unsure of my mental state when I suggested they surrender to the Elder.
The old leader seemed about to speak again, when a figure darted smoothly out of the crowd near him. The figure was tall, wearing a dark grey cloak.
I used too many black cloaks for villains and mysterious figures in one campaign. Black cloaks became a running joke amongst the players. So, I avoid them now. Be warned, you can get away with a few clichés, but once they are noticed, they will sink you fast if used again.
The figure reached the Elder, and withdrew its hood, revealing pale white skin, long black hair, and elven pointed ears. As the figure whispered to the master of the isle, the heroes became tense. Their target was surely only meters away. The Elder nodded to his advisor, then raised his walking stick. Stepping past the elf, he pointed to the heroes.
“My recent ally, Elhone, tells me you are capable warriors. Elhone is an outsider, but he has shown me his value. If you serve this island, show your value by destroying our foe, I see no need to arrest you. Exile will do.”
“You mean fight the demon?” asked Morgaine.
“Indeed,” the Elder grunted, “You will not be alone, however. Elhone will tell you what we know, and aid you if necessary.” He turned away the, waving Elhone past him as he walked away. “I will return home. Tell me when it is done,” the old islander snapped over his shoulder. The guards followed their charge away, and the crown faded, and in minutes the heroes stood alone in the street with Elhone, elven agent of Tamherang, ally of the late Vosi, Obran, and the prize they sought.
I really was not sure what to expect here. As the party did not beat down Elhone the second the witnesses left, I was interested to see where this would go. I decided to play Elhone like the agent he was, and try to get the party to help him. The result was some great spy stuff which I think the players were only half aware of.
Elhone stood before the heroes, his eyes flickering over them. One hand reached was held down by his hip, shielded from their sight by his cloak. “Hello again,” he greeted them quietly.
“Been a while,” responded Takk, “We haven’t seen you since you left with Obran on his hunt. We know he died. How did you escape?”
The elf the Tamherang replied after a moment’s pause. “I escaped Jalastar’s crew with little difficulty. It meant abandoning Obran and his men, but I knew I had Azohn, the Assassin, to worry about. He hunted me for about a day before I gave in and used a gift from home. A amulet, meant to transport me where required. However, I will admit, magic is not a area I ever paid much attention too. I was vague on how to use the talisman, and my jaunt left me stranded in the ethereal realm. I was not eager to try the amulet again, so I found myself another way home.”
“How?” Morgaine chimed in, as she stepped closer.
“I assumed you knew,” the elven agent responded calmly. How else could you find me here?” When no one answered him, Elhone, nodded. “Well, if you were unaware, the Dominion of Tamherang has been aware for some time that the Mists of the Edge are a weak point between the Material realm, and the Ethereal one. I simply walked here. It was luck that I was close enough, however, as you are likely already guessing, I was followed.”
“The xill,” Karth filled in.
“Yes. After the local people found and arrested me, it tried to attack me in my cell. I guess it was not about to be deterred from the hunt. Or maybe it wanted to know about the Mists. It would have killed me. The Elder too I suspect. He was there, with the guards, questioning me. Then the red, six limbed monster was standing between us. Chaos broke out; I fell, and would have died there had it not been for the phase spider. Apparently their “Spider of the Unseen” does guard these people. Or maybe it just thought it could kill the xill with a surprise attack. It failed however, hence the current request upon you.”
Takk took this in, and then inquired, “Why do you care though? We have a ship. Rejoin our crew, and you can leave this place with us without any further risk to yourself.”
Elhone smiled slightly. “I admit, prior to now I wanted the xill dead mostly out of a desire to survive. However, there are greater issues at stake as well. Tamherang would be displeased to find there was a xill colony in the Southern Seas.”
“The Company will send ships to make sure that doesn’t happen,” the gnome replied.
“And then Gyleaon owns the island. Not the best result for me,” the elf was quick to assert.
As you can see, a verbal sparring match had started. The group was discussing a great deal about different options at this point. Takk’s idea about company aid was questioned by Karth, who thought the Company need no waste resources on a little island when Jalastar and Tamherang provided them a greater threat.
“Besides,” Elhone continued, “If you are here, no matter how you guessed my location, then a ship from my nation is not far behind. Perhaps it is already here? Why would I go with you when I know help is coming?”
“That ship is not here yet,” Takk lied, “And Morgaine is not eager to risk our lives against the xill. Morgaine nodded. “So, instead, let’s all get off this island.”
Elhone paused, thinking for several seconds before surprising Takk with his next request. “As you wish, Takk. But, before I do so, I want your word that I will not be a prisoner. The same arrangement I had with your ship before while I worked with Obran will exist. I believe you are a gnome of honour. Do I have your word?”
“You do,” Takk stated. “You will not be a prisoner.”
This was a bold spur of the moment decision on my part. It was not really planned at all. But, it seemed like Elhone was being pressed into going with the party, so I tried to get him to do so on an equal footing. Takk went for it, rolling a 16 on his bluff check to deceive the agent. What he did not know, was that I rolled a 19 for Elhone’s insight check. The spy knew Takk was lying. I began to think this could be very interesting indeed.
Morgaine interrupted then. “Please excuse us, Elhone, we have some issues to discuss before we leave.” The Tamherang agent nodded, and the heroes retreated and huddled close together to plan.
This was another interestingly passionate in character debate. Morgaine wanted to leave before something bad happened. As far as she was concerned, this island’s issues were not theirs, particularly if they had Elhone. Santiago agreed, not being eager to face either of the monsters he knew from tales. Karth was also against staying. It was not Gyleaon’s isle, so he saw no reason to risk his life for it. He suggested they report Tamherang’s interest here and leave it to the Company. Takk agreed with that, but also knew more would die while the Company decided to act. He was quite torn, but the securing of Elhone made him think their mission took precedent. Only Natava was dead set against leaving. She would not leave these people to their fates.
After several moments of strong words, Natava swung off Rusty, and had Morgaine help her unfold her wheelchair. Once she sat in it, she quickly rolled off into town after pausing only to ask Elhone the way to the Elder’s home. As she left, Elhone turned back to the party and asked if they were not going to help the merfolk woman. They said no, and urged the agent to follow them to the shore.
As he fell in with the heroes, Morgaine stepped behind him. Her right hand flicked up, miniature crossbow in hand. The bolt pierced Elhone’s skin in the back of his neck, and the elf collapsed, rendered unconscious by the poison Morgaine had purchased a little over a week ago on the Isle of Dis. They had also decided in their discussion that the elven spy might become a problem if he were to see the Ksarnor. They opted to play it safe, knocking him out, stuffing him into Rusty, disabling the interior controls, and heading back to the Astrologer’s Albatross.
Who can see the mistake they made here? If you cannot, you will find out when our heroes do.
While they did so, Natava came to the door of the Elder’s moderately sized mansion. It took her some time to draw a servant to the door, and longer still to force a recently risen Elder to the door while he still shook off his dreams. She asked him to tell her of the Spider of the Unseen. The Elder refused, insulted at being interrogated by an outsider. He seemed about to dismiss her, but Natava was a diplomatic soul, and she convinced him to listen to her longer. She asked him about the trouble the island now faced. The Elder admitted that the situation was grim. With further coaxing, the old man even admitted that is cared him. Not since he made the pact with the Spider had he feared that it might return to eating the people, but the xill’s ruining of the sacrifices was pushing it close. He feared the xill as well. Lost in a confessional mood, he told Natava that when his grandfather created the Mists of the Edge, he had not meant for this trouble to descend upon his beloved home. Natava inquired about his grandfather’s designs, and he admitted that his forbearer, a wizard of some skill, has seen the empires reaching into the seas, and feared what they might do to his home. So, he altered a cubic gate, a magical defice that opened portals to other planes. He set it in a chamber and activated it, letting it draw the ethereal plane into the material, creating an overlapping space, and the Mists of the Edge. The Elder’s grandfather had not, however, expected that denizens of that realm might take up refuge in the Mists, like the phase spider had. Nor had he foreseen the spider’s foes following it.
So, looking at this, this adventure may have gotten an overly complex backstory. I could have made a whole campaign out of this, and it could have worked better that a single 5 hour adventure. This feels a bit overly crammed full of complex context and set up. Well, learning is easily half on a GM’s job. Lesson learned.
Armed with this information, Natava had an idea of what to do. She pressed the Elder, telling him that his problems could be solved by ending the mists. The ethereal beings would retreat to their home, and his troubles would cease. When he admitted this to be true, she did not hesitate. She convinced him to tell her the location of the camber where his forbearer set the artefact he used to bring forth the Mists. He told her of a carved cave accessible by sea. Natava set off at once.
Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes had reached the Astrologer’s Albatross. However, the ship was quiet, and the deck empty. The Ksarnor no longer hovered nearby. Captain Saskrin’s vessel was missing. Santiago remained on deck to keep watch. Morgaine headed for the Captain’s quarters, ever loyal. Karth headed for the mess hall with Takk. The wizard and mechanist quickly found little to be well. Blood was seen on the stairs, and in the mess, the body of a sailor was strewn across the table, while a small fire caused by a tipped brazier burned nearby. Karth raced to extinguish the flames. Takk climbed up, and inspected the body. When he glanced down the throat of the sailor, he knew what had killed her.
As he realized what they faced, Morgaine had come to the navigation room. The central table lay on its side, as if once pressed against the door, before something smashed the heavy door aside. Maps lay scattered about. She tried the handle of the Captain’s quarters, noting the deep cuts in the wooden boards. She hissed “Captain?” and was rewarded by hearing Nerova respond. Polrund’s voice then told her to step back, and the sound of furniture shifting was all Morgaine heard for several minutes. When the Captain and physician emerged, they had the quartermaster and two sailors with them. They all bore signs of battle, be it torn and stained clothing or bandaged injuries. “It’s you’re xill,” Nerova confirmed. “It came aboard a few hours after you left, and as you can see, we were not prepared.”
Ok, I had planned for the xill to attack the ship. My logic was that it wanted to lay its eggs in people who might not know enough to burn the bodies. Now, it was pointed out to me there are some holes there. The crew did know, and once the xill saw that, would it not just give up? Also, how did the islanders burn 100% of the bodies the xill attacked? Particularly if it could just grab a person, and take them with her back into the ethereal plane, lay the eggs there and wait there for them to hatch? So, my overly complex and rigorously planned out backstory falls apart there, but it happens, and my players were kind enough to ignore it once their points were made.
Back to the issue at hand, by this time it was getting late, and I was under pressure to wrap up. My plan had been to have the xill attack the ship, then the phase spider attack it and the crew, all while the Ksarnor and its corsair crew burst from the mists to attack as well. A chaotic fight would ensue with many planned ways for the party to survive and seize victory. But, due to the time constrains I toned it down and went with the following instead, largely winging it.
“Damn thing disappears when you finally manage to stand your ground, then reappears when your back is turned and cuts down all it can,” explained Polrund, referring to a xill’s ability to shift between the material and ethereal planes. After a brief discussion, the group moved though the ship to the mess, where they met with Takk and Karth, before returning above deck. There they paused to assess their situation. The crew was scattered, holed up throughout the ship. The xill might still be aboard, and could strike from anywhere, at any moment. Several sailors had fallen in battle, and likely were now likely to become spawning grounds for hordes of young xill within the day. Those bodies must be burned, or operated on. Polrund assured the Captain and heroes that he believed he could save some of the fallen. So they devised a plan. Santiago, Morgaine, the Captain, and Polrund remained on deck, preparing to heal those they could, and burn the rest. Karth and Takk would venture into the ship to rally the crew and bring up the bodies.
Due to the time constrains, the next section of the story was not played out conventionally. I had Karth and Takk roll a few perception checks, and described the events in a overview sort of way, as you will see. It condensed what could have been an hour of play into five minutes, and I think it gave it a more epic feel. They may have felt otherwise, but I heard to complaints. Sometimes time can lead you to get creative with this game.
The two heroes quickly located a number of men hiding in the workshop and the sail locker. Takk made good use of a voice amplifier he had created to rally the crew. However, as the crew began to emerge from hiding, cries were heard. The xill never attacked in the same place twice. It was Karth who eventually spotted and fitted on the monster, wounding it. The wizard then took charge, using military methods he learned during his studies. The crew worked in groups, ever wary, and each attack by the xill was spotted and responded to with ample force. After several hours and numerous rebuffs of the beast, the injured were all on deck, as was the able bodied crew. Together, they made a stand. The xill appeared once, but found itself brutally outnumbered by hard eyes warriors, each armed and following heroes, the xill did not desire to contend with. It disappeared, and its attacks ceased.
Meanwhile, Natava had reached the coast, and back in her natural environment she had quickly found the cave the Elder had described. She crawled up basted the stone arch at the entrance and pressed on. A thick mist lay over the floor, rising several inches. She was able to feel that shallow water covered the floor, but not enough for her to swim in. She moved forward slowly as a result, but the inner chamber did not take long to reach. The chamber was a large circular cavern. Near the far wall stood two pillars which rising up from the mist. Each pylon was divided into three sections marked, each marked by a single rune. Suspended between the pillars was a silver cube, which spun slowly, its sides glowing.
So, here is a problem I have run into a few times with my gaming group. I create a challenge, in this case a puzzle. It would be a moderate challenge for the full party. But, the party has split up. Now, the players facing the challenge lack the skills or numbers to complete the challenge. Most of the time, this means they try, fail, and retreat. But, here and there this pushes one player to new creative heights, and they single handled do what should require the full party. Not that this was such a case. Not at all. I promise.
Natava looked at the sight before her and crept forward. She looked at the runes, trying to decipher them, however she could not recognize the language, and she lacked the context to otherwise interpret their meaning. She paused, considering the puzzle before her, thinking a long period of trial and error would be called for. It would not be.
As Natava thought, she suddenly heard a splash behind her, and instinctively she flung herself to the side. There was a blur behind her, and as she glanced up she saw a spider the size of a horse standing over her. It lacked an arachnid face however, instead glaring back at her with hunger in the eyes of its human visage. Fangs filled its mouth, and a mane surrounded its otherwise bald, grey skinned head, but it appeared human none the less. Natava abhorred violence, but she carried a dagger for preparing food, and found that she had reflexively drawn it. She cried out for the phase spider to stop its assault, realizing that she had entered its lair uninvited. The ethereal hunter had no interest in diplomacy. It hissed and loomed over the merfolk woman, preparing to feast. Natava desperate swept her tail upwards, striking the spider heavily beneath the jaw. The phase spider leapt back and as Natava rose, her blade in hand, she saw it fade away into nothingness.
Adrenaline still pumped through Natava, and she looked to the gate, knowing she had to act fast, before the Spider of the Unseen fell upon her. She have no thought to puzzles or solutions, she just aimed to stop the cube from working. And aim she did, drawing her arm back and whipping it forward, sending her dagger spinning end over end. The hilt crashed into the side of the cube, and its magic was disrupted. A crack like thunder reverberated through the cavern, and the cube spun swiftly. Suddenly, it was lost as an image surrounded it, a growing circular window though which she could see the cavern, similar, yet darker, as if the colour had been removed. She felt a wind behind her, and the merfolk found herself yanked by this force inward towards this image. As she flew towards it she saw it flicker and then disappear, and she saw the back wall of the cavern awaiting her. She struck it with a heavy smack.
I had a few plans for this. I originally assumed that the solution would be to read the runes, which were written in elven, read simply earth, arcane, and air. Earth was for the material plane, arcane for the magical bridge, and air for the ethereal realm. Each pillar needed to have the three sections turned in the right order (earth, magic, air), which would deactivate the cubic gate. If any other order was tried, the fog would thicken, become noxious and rise, suffocating the players in a few minutes. Now, Natava could not do that, not even being able to read the symbols. She considered grabbing the cube, which I had set up to transport her to a random realm, as the cubic gate was unstable. I was concerned that last choice was about to be very unfair, however, she came through just fine. I was impressed.
Miles away, the crew of the Astrologer’s Albatross crouched tensly on deck in a rough circle. A fire burned high in the center of their position, raised off the mid deck by thick soaked spars from the carpenter’s supplies. Beside the inferno rested a long table, brought up from the mess, upon which the victims of the dill were lain. Polrund worked tirelessly, scalple and tongs his tool in the grisly work. Takk assisted, rationing healing potions to those from whom the eggs had been excised. As each mucus wrapped orb was withdrawn, the physisian flicked the tongs, ending aborting their existance. Two of the injured crewchad already been saved, yet nearby lay the waiting forms of sixteen men and women, each needing attention, while the surgeon’s skill and time decided their fate. Already Takk and Morgaine had done the calculations. Not all would be saved before time ran out, and the fires would have to take them to protect the remaining souls.
Facing this cruel race, and with the threat of the xill’s return firmly fixed in their minds that the heroes, the thought of other concerns had escaped them. Had Santiago not wandered from the fires and glanced into the mists, the Ksarnor would have been upon them without warning. Instead, the cry from the bard gave the Captain warning enough to leap to the wheel, orders on his lips. The ship had been under half sail, moving slowly with the hope of making the xill’s return more difficult. Now the crew draw the sails wide, and with the Ksarnor nearly alongside the heroic vessel swerved away.
From the ship of Tamherang Saskrin’s voice cried out, “Gyleaonite fiends! You will not escape with a citizen of Tamherang!”
The flight of the Astrologer’s Albatross was swift, yet the corsair vessel had the advantages of momentum and design. It bore down on the warship of Gyleaon with inevitable drive. The crew scrambled, trying to add any speed to their escape. It was then that a cry went up from the crew, soon joined by voices from the pursuing ship. Behind them, the skyline was changing, ending over seventy years of unending fog over the long obscured isle. The Mists of the Edge seemed lighter, and then the great cloud began to drift apart. Shards of vapor drifted in all directions befor burning away in the midmorning sun, and land could be seen on the horizon behind the Ksarnor. Natava’s efforts were realized, to the immense suprise of all who witnessed it.
Natava, for her part, was awaking within the cave to the sight of rubble and water. The fog that had covered the floor was absent, and the pillars had been obliterated. The merfolk druid lifted herself, already feeling the bruises forming as she dragged herself back to the safety of the ocean, a environment free of phase spiders.
Aboard the Astrologer’s Albatross, this sudden change in the world was a distraction, one that Nerova would not let pass by. The Captain sun the wheel northward, and prayed he could get the balistae aimed before the foe could react. His actions, however, proved unecessary. A red ,four armed figure appeared on the deck of the Ksarnor, the only place within miles of the northern tip of the Edge Islands where burning those fallen to a xill was not practiced. As the heroes watched, Takk describing the details as he watched through his spyglass, Saskrin’s crew found themselves pitted a gainst a foe unlike anything they had seen or expected. The Ksarnor, it seemed, would pursue them no further.
It was evening, later, a few miles away to the north, that Natava caught up with the anchored Astrologer’s Albatross. She joined the crew as they gathered before the bonfire still burning on the mid deck. Polrund’s efforts had saved nine souls, but this left seven for whome time had run out. In silence, the crew and heroes’ watched as the Captain and Polrund said few words before lifting the fallen into the fires. It was a grim task, but necessary, one Nerova performed with a hollow gaze.
The heroes took solace in the fact that the Mists of the Edge had been dispelled, and the lives of those who had lived beneath them were defended. additionally, within Rusty’s gut, Elhone was imprisoned, which would win them favour with Keira and Kylee. However, when Takk finally opened Rusty to introduce the Captain to the illusive elf, he was horrified to find the contraption empty. It strck the gnome instantly. “A amulet, meant to transport me where required,” the elven agent had said. The mechanist swore violently. Once again, the heroes would face the Vosi with nothing but failure.
Yes, they forgot to check the prisoner for items with which he might escape. A simple oversight, but amusing to me. They new he had the amulet, and the moment they did not search him I knew Elhone would escape to reappear another day. I admit to being pleased, as I aways enjoy seeing my npc characters live on and develop. However, if players manage to kill a villain or side character, it eliminates the risk of such characters seeming invincible dutommy protection. I was willing to see Elhone’s story end, but am pleased with his escape. We will see where he emerges next.
With that this session draws to a close. The heroes survived, saved lives, defeated two foes, and yet, after all that, they find themselves defeated by a single elf and his amulet. The party was disappointed, but the honesty of their error added an element of rueful hilarity to the after game discussion. Natava was lauded for single handedly saving day, and overall it proved an enjoyable adventure. In hindsight, the backstory for the Mists of the Edge was a bit complex, and could have been laid out more clearly, though I think the interrogation method was enjoyable. Overall I am pleased, and again think there was much to learn from here for me. Finally, this article has gotten longer than I intended. In the future I will try to limit these posts a little more in terms of length. Check in next time to see how the players recover from this mess. Let the dice keep rolling!