Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Bitter Blades: The Liberation of Thorn Island Part 1

Based on the GM's memory of a late-night one-off session on 05/31/2014 and notes/character intros submitted by the PCs.

The PCs:

  • Mike as "Kade Kaliwart" (Halfling Mercenary)
  • Stephanie as "Storm Reynes" (Tiefling Gypsy Runecaster)
  • Andre as "Tom Builder" (Human Cleric)
  • Alan as "Gore" (Kobold Fighter)
  • and "Nat" (Dwarven Sailor NPC)

________________________________________________________________________________

Tom sat at a low table, or rather the wooden pallet on the floor of the hovel that served as a table, with his ten-year-old daughter Martha. They passed a loaf of horsebread and a jog of weak beer and talked about her day at work. Martha was newly apprenticed as a shop-girl, working for Ian Cockburn, the grocer inside the walls--quite the good position, and it only cost Tom fifty silvers a week. In just a few years she would be a journeyman shop-keep and be able to actually accept payment for her work, and would be of marriageable age. For now though, Tom had to care for them both, a tough thing for a single father. He took the jug from her and downed the last of it in one long swallow. "Alright Martha," he said, hugging the girl, "off to bed." He stood up and gathered up his hammer and tools from the corner. "I have to go talk to a dwarf about a job. Remember to bar the door and not open it for anything but my voice." He gave a hard look at the walls. Building the hovel had been hasty work, and the wood was all salvage from the ruins, but he was good at his job, and the walls were solid. He lifted the bar, a heavy thing set on a pivot (his own design), that Martha could just barely lift to let him in when he came back. He gave her one last hug, and said a blessing over her, asking Gond for the insight to know if she was in danger. "Good night, I should be back before morning." He turned and walked out the door, rushing to get inside the city-gates before they closed for the night.

He just missed seeing the small, dark figure climbing over the wall, only five feet from his house.

----

Gore stood inside the walls of New Phlan, looking up at the rough wooden palisade. He almost laughed at how easy it had been to bypass them. He looked twenty yards to his left at the gate. The guards had refused him entry and even made disparaging remarks about his musk, beloved by kobold women everywhere. He was tempted to go break all their kneecaps, but he reminded himself that that was not his mission here. Shrugging, he turned into an alley and began searching for a bar. Bar's were always the right place to find _hero-work_ , or so he had been told by that old goblin in the Slums. He thought again of the guards, poor saps--the humans of Phlan must be quite desperate, or so he had told them, waving the flyer that he had found tacked to a tree outside the city. How sad, he had said, that they had to put up posters seeking heros, but how great for them that Goremeyan, Son of Kurtulmak, the great hero of all kobold-kind, had come to save them. Still, they had turned him away at the door. No matter. He had got in by himself and now he just had to show these humans how great of a hero they truly had at their disposal, and for that, he needed to find a bar.

----

Storm placed two more beers on the table for the dwarf and the halfling, then swept off to take orders from another table. She couldn't help but hear them talking about the port being closed, but then, everyone was...albeit, usually in less-hushed tones. It had been three days since the last ship of settlers had come in and the Council had declared that the port would be closed, completely, until the _things_ on Thorn Island were dealt with.

She danced around the room, taking and delivering orders, putting a little extra sway in her hips to ensure good tips. Working at the Bitter Blade wasn't what she had in mind when she came to Phlan, but was a huge step up from picking apples for pennies a day, which she'd been doing since she was a small child, and the rooms over the inn were infinitely better than the migrant camps where she had been raised. She sauntered over to the bar, and handed Gene, the barkeep the next order. Then she heard a loud bang on a table, _the dwarf again_, she thought.

The dwarf who had been drinking with the halfling was a sailor, judging by his mouth and his garb--rude, but a good tipper. She grabbed her tray and made her way over. The two of them were now sitting with a tall, very very tall, man--a mason probably, judging by the gray dust clouding his beard and the wheezy way he breathed. She walked towards the table, adjusting her dress to show a little more cleavage, not that she had much, and making sure she had her best smile on.

----

Kade sat listening quietly to all Nat had to say. He knew his work well, and the biggest part of it was making sure to listen attentively when someone who might pay you was talking, and to always laugh at their jokes--even when it was a painful mix of dry, dwarven humor and fish stories. Seeing Tom walk in, he waved him over to the table. Kade and Tom had just met the previous day. Tom was the biggest human he'd ever seen. He was also lot smarter than his tall, muscle-bound frame would let on--Kade had been able to see that from the way Tom dealt with the foreman on the worksite where he had seen him. It was clear that Tom knew more about stone, and measurements, and construction than his employer, and it was a shame to let that go to waste--especially when that knowledge came attached to such long reach and powerful-looking arms. So, Kade had invited Tom on the spot to come with him to meet Nat.

Tom sat down and Nat banged on the table, his way of signalling for more beer. The barmaid who came was a young slip of a thing, probably not more than fifteen or sixteen, slender, and narrow-faced. She clearly tried too hard to make her money, Kade thought, waggling her hips, pulling down her shirt, and smiling too much (always with her teeth closed). Then there were her fingernails, more brightly painted than any he'd ever seen, and the strange sibilant quality to her voice. Kade always prided himself on his observation skills.

As the girl laid another round of drinks on the table, Nat began explaining his plan to Kade and Tom. He wanted to take Thorn Island, he told them. His ship was stuck here as long as the port was closed, and with it his livelihood, so he was prepared to take them across the bay to the island, and even wait for them to return, without expecting any cut of the two-thousand gold the city had put up as a bounty on the monsters inhabiting the old keep there. He, and his captain, had even promised Kade a stake in their next voyage as an added bonus if he was able to put a team together and free up the port again. Kade, of course, had not mentioned this last  bit to Tom.

The plan seemed simple--for Nat's part at least. The port was closed, but he knew a fisherman who had an old sail-boat he would lend Nat to take them across the bay. Just a small thing, unlikely to be noticed by the port authority, and much faster than the ferry which the port authority was using to carry the competition. Most groups going to the island had to go through the council commissioning process, have to deal with piles of paperwork, roster checks, chartering the official ferry from the port authority, and, of course, waiting for the ferry to return to get them off the island. The last part, was what Kade was most concerned about, since, so far as he had heard, none of the groups that went to the island survived long enough for the ferry to pick them up. Nat's promise to wait, with the boat, for them at the shore of the island meant that they at least had an escape plan if things went south.

Tom seemed interested. He made a point of mentioning that he had never done the adventuring thing before, several times in fact, but yesterday he had told Kade about smashing in the head of a man in the Slums who had stolen a few silvers from his daughter. He was big, smart, and desperate for a better living--and having kin would make him cautious, of himself at least--so Kade was confident that he was the man for the job. Kade just needed a few more sword arms, and maybe a mage if he could swing one.

----

Storm stayed close to the dwarf's table, partly because he kept calling for more drinks and laying down extra silver every time the beer appeared quickly, and partly because the talk of the island intrigued her. A lot of adventurers had tried the island in the last few days, none of them returning, but this dwarf seemed to know a lot more than even the Council was admitting to. The halfling asked all the right questions too--coming off as a cool professional as far as killing-monsters was concerned. The dwarf went into detail about the layout of the island's coastline and the walls of the keep, told stories about the old temple and the fall of the keep, and regaled them with tales about orcs, undead, giant frogs, and scorpions...but mostly undead.

A patron tugged on her skirt and she realized she had not been moving for a few minutes. "Right, what'd'you want?" she asked. Just then Gene shouted and she looked up to see a man running for the door. While she didn't quite register his words, one look at the barkeep's eyes told her that the man was rushing to leave without having paid. She pivoted away from the inquiring patron, hiked up her skirt all the way, and produced three knives which went sailing towards the running deadbeat in rapid succession. All three blades sunk into the door, one pinning the man's sleeve to the door, the other two landing right at head level in front of him. Gene smiled and went to collect the tab.

----

Kade's calm professionalism was broken by the barmaid's display of weapon prowess. He immediately hopped up and grabbed the girl's hand. "Excellent marksmanship!" he said, "How 'bout you go get us another round of drinks, and then come have a seat, and make sure to bring one for yourself. I see better things in your future than trying to show off your hips for a few extra coppers..."

As Gene led the deadbeat patron away from the door to suffer a drubbing at the hands of the entire staff, the door swung open. Standing in the door, backlit by the dim flicker of a street light, was a small figure, not even as tall as Kade, dark, or at least it seemed so in the dim light, and striking the most ridiculous pose--arms on hips, chest thrust out, chin thrust up in profile--like some kind of penny-novella action hero. Judging by the canine jaw the creature displayed, it was a _kobold_. "Humans!" the kobold called out, "Have no fear! I, Goremayan son of Kurtulmak, Hero EXTRAORDINAIRE has come! "

Roars of laughter echoed around the tavern. A few patrons shouted disparaging remarks about the kobold's parentage, some pounded on tables, other threw lewd gestures in the kobold's direction, one employeee went so far as to yell "Get out of here, we don't serve your kind, we don't want you here." Tom, surprisingly, though, stood up and walked over to the little creature. "You can sit with us," he said softly. Kade gave the big man a quizzical look, he simply replied, "He claims to be a hero, maybe he could help."

The barmaid tossed her towel on the bar to indicate she was off duty and returned to the table carrying a tray with five foaming mugs. "So what did you have in mind short-stuff?" she asked, pulling a chair up beside Kade.

"We're going to go clean out Thorn Island," Kade replied. "The Council has put up a bounty of 2000 gold for any group that clears it out. Nat here has got a boat and promises to give us transport in exchange for getting the port open again, and actually says he'll provide rapid evacuation, unlike the Council. The island is known to be used as a staging area for some of the orc groups in the ruins, and the keep is home to a fair number of undead, or so they say. I've got plenty of experience with traps, locks, weapons, tactics, and infiltration, so I'll be leading the operation. Tom here knows a lot about buildings and fortifications. You look like you know your way with a knife, if you'd like to be cut in." He looks at the dog-faced creature on the other side of the table. "What about you kobold? What sort of _Hero_ are you? The deal is one share each, that's five hundred gold plus one-fourth of any treasure we find. Which is more than you'll make in a year of tips working in a dive like this or from slinging stone on the old houses around here."

The kobold piped up, "I'm Goremayan son of Kurtulmak, great hero of koboldkind! I wield mighty magic and have killed many, many orcs! If the orcs from this island trouble you, look no further than I to vanquish them!"

Storm sipped the glass of beer, listening to the four of them, then set it down and offered the halfling her hand to shake. "Alright, I'm in. When do we sail? I'll need a few hours to get ready if undead are involved..."

"Meet at the west-end of the docks in the morning," Nat said. "I'm not going to that island at night." He adjourned quickly, as they all appeared to be getting light-headed from the kobold's stench.

Kade nodded and shook hands with each of them, then excused himself and headed for the door. Nat also left. "I have to get back to work," the barmaid said. Tom rose to leave as well, but the barmaid stopped him, "Hey, can I see that hammer? I'll give it back in the morning. I might be able to make it work a little better." Tom shrugged and handed the hammer over, then left.

The kobold sat alone at the table for a long time, slowly sipping his beer (and finishing the dregs of the others' mugs), before Storm finally had to come by and ask him to leave--the smell was disturbing the other patrons.

----

Thick stormclouds were massing in the sky as the group reassembled by the docks. Nat was waiting for them by a small, single-masted, cat-rigged lobstering boat, just large enough for the five of them, with a broad beam, and shallow draft. As they were boarding, Storm handed Tom his big hammer back, now etched with a complicated, lightning-like rune in triplicate. "Just bang it on the ground three times if things get hairy," she told him.