In which we are introduced to three of our heroes.
Archivist's Note: Logs from the PBM game will be arranged as a digest of all the posts made (mostly for the sake of keeping everyone's individual voice and not trying to reformat things to read as cohesive prose).
It has been a few days since you boarded Valkur's Wake. You are glad that you got on at the last stop, and that the voyage should short, as the old flat-bottomed, single-decked, single-masted cog is quite crowded. The stern of the eighty foot ship has been fenced off and converted into a stable, carrying four horses and a handful of other livestock, with a small, raised deck above the taffrail where the captain or his one assistant man the rudder and sleep. The deck was already filled with people when you boarded, and no one disembarked at your stop. At least the trip is free. The captain, an old, gray-bearded, dwarven merchant named Donal Stormhammer, informed you that as long as you disembark at New Phlan, the council will be paying him ten times his normal passenger fee, so you get a free ride as long as that's your destination and you give a hand with the lines if a storm blows up.
The thirty-odd other passengers are a motley mix of treasure hunters, monster slayers, a few farmers brave enough to settle in a city known to be plagued by orcs, and those exiles from distant lands with no where else to go. Everyone, at least everyone who's talking, has their own story of why they are traveling, but they all have one common theme--the promise of free land, fame, and riches in the ancient city of Phlan. During the night, everyone spreads out communally on the well deck, sleeping together cheek-to-jowl. During the day there is a little more space, with people standing most of the time, or else sitting on one of the crates or barrels of stores cluttering the deck or perching on the gunwale.
It is a bright day and the ship makes good speed ahead of a brisk southerly wind. Tomorrow morning, Donal has informed the passagers, you will reach the port of New Phlan. A pod of dolphins splashes alongside the cog.
Chatter on deck today is more lively than usual, with the promise of landfall tomorrow. Near the bow of the Wake, half a dozen people stand about listening to a surprisingly articulate lizard-man doing a dramatic recitation of some poetry, or perhaps a monologue from a play--judging from the spectators' dress, there is a direct correlation between the number and quality of weapons the passengers are carrying and their level of racial tolerance. Abaft of the performance a pair of elven women--one has pale green skin and bearing a large mace strapped across her back, the other is much taller and more curvaceous than your typical elf and dressed in a simple peasant's shift--stand watching the dolphins at their play. Across from the elf-girls, a pair of human men in chainmail stand watching their backs, talking in low tones and making the occasional lewd gesture. Near the mast, a woman wearing the stark-white wig of a priestess of Beshaba stands talking to a quintet of teenagers in peasants' garb, trying to convert them to the worship of the Maid of Misfortune--judging from their wide eyes you suspect that this is their first time away from the farm, though their makeshift-looking weapons set them apart from the actual farmers and settlers who are all huddled in the stern playing a game of chance.
A flustered deck hand passes by you followed by the faint scent of oil and singed hair. as you look down you see that the deck hand is being trailed by a gnome with tussled blond hair and slightly singed eye brows. "...If you would just put the ship in dry dock I know that I can."
As he passes you he pauses and turns eying your gear appraisingly. After a moment, when he realizes you are staring at him, he looks up at you, smiles, rubs a grease stained hand on his shirt and thrusts it out to you. "Hi I'm Shudrigan Nishal Aribostos McPillflup, but my friends call me 'Shuddup' I couldn't help but notice that you are a prime candidate for my services.
"Looking over your gear suggests to me that I could make improvements for you in some very valuable ways. Obviously I can't do as much as I could in my shop but thus are the perils of taking your business on the road. I love to travel though always new places to see and people to meet and there are so many people who could use upgrades to their stuff. Yeah, I'm excited. Criers came to Lantan inviting people to join a great party here in New Phlan. One came into my shop and gave me this one. I hope I can find someone to fund my research...."
Súrion Belaralas is roughly 175cm in height and dressed in a thick Dark cobalt robe with a hood. A large seven string lute is strapped across his back. Despite the seas, wind, sand, and aggregate multifarious passengers, about him is the distinct smell of sweet cinnamon-like spices. He takes no notice or concern of the gnome rambling on; playfully tossing the past week's meat (which was mostly gristle) overboard to the deilf-cairde and looking over the vast waterway. "So much water...", he thinks. He had tried three times to toss the meat to the ships bitch but each time the bitch's hackles raised and she retreated to Donal's cabin.
The flustered dwarven deckhand, perhaps more flustered for being the ONLY deck hand, turns and stiff-arms the gnome. "Ok, Mr. Shaddup, could you please shut up. I'm working here." He reaches behind Shaddup and grabs the mainsheet to frap the sail. As he ties the rope off, he gives a stern sideways look at Súrion. "And you there. Mr. Creepy. Them dolphins have plenty of fresh fish, they don't need your stinking leftovers. You don't want it, Ratcracker don't want it, them dolphins certainly don't."
He hauls one more time on the mainsheet to make sure it's secure, then turns to the shrouds and martingales. He begins untying one of the lines and then looks back at the two of you. "Hey, you don't look busy...If you don't like your food, how 'bout you give me a hand and I'll buy you a pint when we make port tomorrow."
"Old salt ties the hawser that seek to bind the wind... but wind has no master." Súrion gives a notably distant and disdainful look that indicates only displeasure, but whether that is toward the mention of alcohol or toward the suggestion of helping is unclear. Súrion continues to stare at the dwarf perhaps waiting for an explanation.
The gnome cocks his head quizzically at the dwarf and begins untying a line. "Would I please what? Anyway this system is horribly inefficient. If you would put in a steam jenny you could use it to run a master cog into a gear transfer box and with a few pully systems you could run all the lines from one central location. That would make you much happier in your work."
Despite his constant prattle the gnome appears to be a compitent hand on deck. "My uncle Horatio, Gond rest his soul, made an entire trireme run from one steam engine and a bank of cams. ..."
The dwarf braces a foot against the strake and hauls hard on the shroud before tying it off. He pauses again in his work to give Súrion a hard look. "Ok, Mr. Creepy, I'm thirty-seven, I'm not old by any stretch. If you want to wax poetic about me, the names Nat, and if you want to go anywhere, we'd best be mastering that wind."
He gives an approving look at the gnome's knotwork. "From Lantan, eh? I've heard 'bout you Gondsmen. Captain Donal could use someone like you. Especially once the port gets opened up for real..."
Súrion smiles and moves up the dolphin spar to check the cordage.
The sound of less-than-enthusiastic clapping comes from the fore of the ship. You look to see the crowd shuffling a bit as the lizard-man leaps up on the prow and begins gesticulating grandiosely with his tail, his hands clenching a roll of parchment. In a booming voice, surprisingly clear of the sibilant lisp normally expected of his kind, the creature begins to exposit:
No more amazement: tell your piteous heart
There's no harm done. No harm.
I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter, who
Art ignorant of what thou art, nought knowing
Of whence I am, nor that I am more better
Than S'thek'niss, master of a full poor cell,
And thy no greater father.
'Tis time I should inform thee farther.
Wipe thou thine eyes; have comfort.
The direful spectacle of the wreck, which touch'd
The very virtue of compassion in thee,
I have with such provision in mine art
So safely ordered that there is no soul--
No, not so much perdition as an hair
Betid to any creature in the vessel
Which thou heard'st cry, which thou saw'st sink. Sit down;
For thou must now know farther.
The hour's now come;
The very minute bids thee ope thine ear;
Obey and be attentive. Canst thou remember
A time before we came unto this cell?
By what? by any other house or person?
Of any thing the image tell me that
Hath kept with thy remembrance...
The two elven girls turn to watch and Nat, the deckhand, shakes his head and mutters, to no one in particular, "Reptilian play-writes? If that's the best that's coming along, I weep for Phlan..."
For the first time, Súrion catches notice of the elf girls and stares
awestruck at them.
Súrion looks around and notices 36 people on the ship, excluding himself of course. Nat, the deckhand, and Shaddup the gnome stand nearby, making some small adjustments to the ship's rigging, while Captain Donal stands in the aft-deck, manning the rudder, with the bitch, Ratcracker, sleeping at his heel. Near the mast, a woman wearing the stark-white wig of a priestess of Beshaba stands talking to a quintet of teenagers in peasants' garb. Just fore of the mast are the two elven women, and the pair of red-cloaked warriors watching them. At the front of the ship the performing lizard-man is being watched by an elf in brilliant white scale armor, a halfling in a tunic that seems to change colors with his mood, a gnome woman holding hands with a human woman in a way that makes him feel a little uncomfortable, and a woman in the robes of a priest of Lathander with her arm around a man in shepherd's garb on one hand and an eight-year-old boy on the other. In the stern, near a section of the deck converted to serve as a stable, are a number of humans in peasant's garb, eight men and six women. The men are presently engaged in some game involving several dice and a bottle of schnapps and the women seem to be spending most of their time casting concerned looks at the Beshaban chatting up the teenagers and even more concerned looks either at the lizard-man or the gnome and her girlfriend (its hard to tell which disturbs them more). Súrion distinctly remembers seeing a young girl on the ship as well, but she seems to have made herself scarce somehow.
A petite young girl sits on a box, swinging her legs and playing with a doll painted a deep cerulean. She wears a blue dress with white lacy frills. A piece of grey slate hangs around her neck with the smudged red handprint of a child on it - perhaps hers. Her hair is elaborately braided down her back. "I hope father is at the dock when we get there Susalia." She hums a soft tune to herself and brushes the doll's fine white hair with a small brush.
As the girl sits there, the boy watching the lizard-poet peeks over his shoulder repeatedly, stealing sheepish several glances at her. Finally seeming to have made some decision or screwed up his courage sufficiently, he lets go of his mother's hand and walks over to where the girl sits, stumbling only once on the gently rocking deck as he makes his way. Barely raising his eyes from the deck, he addresses her "Hi!" The greeting comes out as a startled squeak, and there is an awkwardly long pause before he continues in a rapid tumble of words. "I'm-Eddie-I-like-your-doll-what's-your-name-where-is-your-family-I-like-your-dress-and-what's-that-handprint-mean-oh-I'm-Eddie..." He stops for breath and looks ready to bolt.
As the boy wanders off, the lizard-man continues his exposition. You notice a few stifled yawns from those watching, but they keep listening to the rather broken poetry, in the way that only good friends are want to do.
By what? by any other house or person?
Of any thing the image tell me that
Hath kept with thy remembrance.
Thou hadst, and more. But how is it
That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?
If thou remember'st aught ere thou camest here,
How thou camest here thou mayst.
Twelve year since, twelve year since,
Thy serpent was a Duke of Hlondeth and
A prince of power.
Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and
She said thou wast my daughter; and thy father
Was Duke of Hlondeth; and thou his only heir
And princess no worse issued.
By foul play, as thou say'st, were we heaved thence,
But blessedly holp hither.
My clutch-mate and thy uncle, call'd Extaminos--
I pray thee, mark me--that a brother should
Be so perfidious!--he whom next thyself
Of all the world I loved and to him put
The manage of my state; as at that time
Through all the signories it was the first
And S'thek'niss the prime duke, being so reputed
In dignity, and for the liberal arts
Without a parallel; those being all my study,
The government I cast upon my brother
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies. Thy false uncle--
Dost thou attend me?
The elven girls quickly loose interest and begin to wander aftwards, speaking in low tones, easily drowned out by the canting lizard and the lapping waves. They shiver noticeably as they pass Surion and cast him quick glances that are equal-parts curiosity and fear before determinedly moving to the other side of the deck.
The girl looks up, her chestnut hair elaborately braided in a wreath around her crown, allowing the rest of her hair to flow freely. "I'm Amara", she says softly. She holds up her doll, "This is Susalia." She then adds, "We're not supposed to talk to strangers."
Amara slides down from her perch, and walks over to the elven women. "Excuse me," she says to them, "Does that man scare you too? Susualia here will protect you too if you want." She holds up her doll to show the women.
The boy, Eddie, his worst fears apparently manifest at being thus rebuffed, walks back to the front of the ship crestfallen.
A shiver travels up Amara's spine and she feels a distinct sense of foreboding as she approaches the two elven women. At her question, the taller of the women laughs and speaks in beautifully lilting Common. "Yes little girl, he does scare my friend here, but in a way that seems all too common for travelers on this craft." She waves a hand at the green-skinned woman. "Rietta and I were just discussing the self-selecting nature of travelers on this ship, and the unusually high concentration of freaks," she cocks a meaningful eyebrow at the lizard-man, "would-be heroes," she waves a hand at the group of haphazardly armed teenagers, "and cursed individuals such as ourselves..."
At this, the green-skinned women, Rietta, breaks in with a sharp laugh, unusually deep for an elf. "Aye. Just before you came up here, Teldicia was inquiring as to which category you fell into?"
Shuddup finishes tying the last line and turns to observe the ither passengers. Upon noticing the young girl speaking with the elven women he approaches the girl, "Excuse me, young miss, but you appear to be human. Judging from your appearance you haven't reached your age of majority in any of the human cultures I'm familiar with. As such I have to ask, where is your responsible adult? It is unsafe for someone of your age to travel unescorted, therefore I must insist upon escorting you until a more suitable adult is found."
He pauses for a moment apparently deep in tuought before continuing, " I'm Shudrigan Nishal Aribostos McPillflup. I was just thinking if we can find a hand crank, billows, a cam and a steam whistle we could make you a personal alarm should you find yourself in peril."
Amara cocks her head, considering the question posed by the elves, "You were cursed? I'm just meeting my dad in New Phlan. My mother put me on the boat. He owns a shop!"
As the gnome comes up, the eyes of her doll seem to track him. Amara looks at the gnome and holds her doll up. "Susalia is my protector. Mother gave her to me to keep me safe."
Rietta laughs again, "Not were cursed, child, are cursed. A good curse is not the kind of thing one gets over. Even our kind suffer unfortunate side effects when delving too deeply into the magical arts." She smiles and looks very closely at the doll. "If you're dad is bringing you to Phlan, then I think you must be in the latter category as well." Her eyes drift to the boy, Eddie. "No sane parent would bring their children to Phlan...and a parent willing to put his children at risk is its own kind of curse. You're best off not setting a foot off this boat, plopping yourself up by Captain Donal, and taking the first available trip back where you came from."
The other women gives you a condescending pat on the head and your stomach clenches up. "If you don't believe us, take a look over there." She points in the direction you are heading, and you see a small island in the distance, a speak of utter blackness in the otherwise clear, sunny sea, with no light touching its shores.
Amara's eyes widen at Rietta's comments. Then she says, "Daddy and Susalia will keep me safe!" She nods her head firmly at her doll, and it nods its head back in return.
Nat the deckhand steps up to the rail, keeping well away from Teldicia, and spits over the side. "Don't let these elf-wenches scare you, little girl. Thorn Island might look scary, and the Council talks about it being a problem, but nothing scary ever set foot off the island to trouble us. Now the river, that's another matter."
Shuddup looks wide eyed at the deckhand, "What comes out of the river?"
"That rivers as black as the island and twice as foul-smelling. Nothing grows on its banks and the only fish that come out are huge things just as likely to eat you as be eaten. The Council's been offering a hefty pile o' coin to anyone that can find out why the river's like that. Won't do no good though. No one could sail up the river even if they wanted to. The waters'd eat yer planking right out." Nat steps a bit farther away from the elves and spits over the rail again. "If Valkur was paying any attention I'm sure that he'd be right pissed."
He pulls Shaddup aside and lowers his voice. "I know you're here for a party, but keep your wits about you. There's a lot of money to be made in Phlan, but the Old City is a dangerous place. You don't want to go sticking your neck under an orc's axe, if you know what I mean," he casts pointed glances at Surion and the elven women, "...and you want to be careful about who you take along to watch your back." He raises his voice. "Besides, I still owe you that drink when we go ashore tomorrow."
Rietta gives the doll a double-take. Teldicia grabs her elbow and the two walk towards Surion. "Hey, half-breed..." she starts. Rietta interrupts her, "No offense sir. We just had a proposition for you."
Teldicia starts in again, "Word from the Captain is that the Council has rules about not giving adventuring charters to groups of less than three. Something about keeping spies out. If you haven't already linked up with someone, we could use another sword-arm to round out a charter, and you smell like the right kind of creep that wouldn't mind being seen with the two of us."
Rietta rolls her eyes, "Again no offense intended. What do you say? You wanna hook up?" She gives another backwards glance at the girl, and in a somewhat mocking tone says over her shoulder. "You too Susalia. Care to join us when you're done babysitting?"
Súrion turns away from the girls, climbs up the rigging, and broods by himself.
Amara replies, "We'll have to ask Daddy when we get to the city," Amara runs to the rail and leans over the side. "Is that the city? I can see the dock!"
The two elf girls shrug and walk off, resuming their hushed conversation. Nat the Deckhand walks over by the little girl, "Strange folk," he mutters. "Sorry little girl, that's just the Island. We won't be in sight of the city until we cross the sound tomorrow." He mutters something under his breath about unaccompanied minors and this being no place for children, then speaks up again. "So, who's your father? Given how few ways there are to get into the city, I'm pretty sure I know every shop-keep in Phlan."