With three weeks before their intended departure for the colony of Farshore on the forebodingly-named Isle of Dread, the members of the Gang of Five turned their attentions toward settling up affairs in Sasserine, knowing full well they would not see their home creep up over the horizon for at least eight months after they left. While Dorian eventually successfully located Moxie and spent the subsequent weeks both romancing her and getting into trouble with her, Othar continued to woo their patroness, Lavinia Vanderboren, with both young men securing for themselves a serious emotional, romantic, and sexual entanglement, albeit one without fidelity in Dorian’s case, and one without nearly a year of absence to look forward to in Othar’s.
Kizziar, for his part, returned to his good friend Mistah Dakka, whom he found still grieving the loss of his beloved wife. In spite of his despair, Mistah Dakka assured the gunslinger that he brooked no thoughts of following her; he was simply very sad, and understandably so. Kizziar spent most of his time making a close companion of the old man, who in the short time before the group’s departure had recovered something of his former self.
Meanwhile, Traxen set his sights on matters a good deal more practical and political, an odd fit for a man of his disposition. Having spent much of his time aboard his recent acquisition, ensuring she was fit for the journey ahead, it was eventually decided between himself and his compatriots that the Sea Wyvern be fitted with a pair of ballistae and a ram prow. He also acquired a panther cub, with whom he formed a fast and strong bond. Of far greater import, however, was the matter of the office of Harbormaster of Sasserine, an office left vacant since Keltar Islaran’s death by members of the Lotus Dragons Guild weeks earlier. Sea trade in the city had been virtually paralyzed, and the harbors of Sasserine remained a ripe fruit to be but plucked by any enterprising group of pirates who became wise to that fact. Equal parts patriot and mariner, Traxen resolved that something must be done to redress this before he left his home. But to do so, he would need help, and accordingly, he turned to his brothers in arms to help him in resolving the issue.
The first idea between them was to speak to Worrin Lidu, Head of the Dawn Council and most recently a friend and fan of the group, who was now responsible for a great deal of good in Sasserine, not the least of which was bringing to justice Tegan Kellani, the girl responsible for his granddaughter’s death. Their idea, unspoken to Worrin, was to install the competent and merciless Lienne Tiel as the city’s new Harbormaster. However, Worrin’s forecast for the group’s intent was grim: Keltar’s only two children remaining in Sasserine were his youngest daughter, Miriam, a girl of about fourteen, and his youngest son, Kolta, who nearly drowned as a child and had been left with a paralyzing fear of water. Neither was up to the task of taking over the job of Harbormaster, but the prospect of installing an outsider in the position was equally poor. The job brought a good deal of prestige and money into the Islaran household, and even though it had ground sea trade in the city to a halt and left the harbor exposed to pirates, it was unlikely that Kolta would relinquish the position easily, and it was likely that the rest of the Dawn Council would back him solely out of hereditary fealty. Worrin suggested it might be possible to wage an electoral war on the Islaran heir, build up popular support for a new candidate and petition for a vote, but any such candidate would, by the governing laws of the city, need to be a noble, something that their proposed candidate was not.
Slightly crestfallen, the party decided to appeal to Kolta’s sense of reason and patriotism, visiting him in his home. While Traxen was by far the most vocal voice of reason, he was speaking a language that a bureaucrat like Kolta simply did not understand, and even with Othar and Dorian attempting to manipulate the minefield of rhetoric, ultimately Kolta seemed unmoved in his position; the role of Harbormaster would stay with the Islaran family, even if it meant “trouble for a time”. Kolta’s, a stuttering youth of about twenty who had gone into accounting, had no patience or time for the group’s pleas, no matter how well-reasoned. Frustrated, the group left with the feeling that they were running out of options.
Eventually, they sought the help of Tobin, whom they hoped might be able to offer some insight on the matter with his wide breadth of knowledge on all subjects, especially those pertaining to the city itself. Tobin’s evaluation of the matter was succint: in order to install Lienne Tiel as the Harbormaster, she must either be a noble who can run opposed to the Islarans, or she must be an Islaran, herself. As to how one might become a noble, Tobin pointed out that nobility in Sasserine is little more than a position one buys into, effectively becoming a patron of the city by making a tremendous contribution. Other than that, Lienne would need a manor home of suitable size befitting nobility. He estimated that the cost of achieving this could be anywhere from two to five thousand gold. Immediately, the group remembered the Kellani estate, empty now with the recent suicide of Heldrath Kellani following the incarceration of her daughter Teagan and disappearance of her other child, Rowyn. Realizing that perhaps they should take the matter to Lienne herself, they moved the discussion to her shop in the Shadowshore.
Lienne was eager about the idea of filling the position, they found, but understandably skeptical about her ability to achieve it. After listening to the group’s plan, she pointed out that it was workable, but not without fault: spending thousands of gold to elevate her to nobility, while very generous, was no guarantee of her victory in a popular election or even that she could successfully petition the Dawn Council for a chance at one. And even if successful, she would have earned the ire of the Islaran family for the rest of her life. Traxen pointed out almost dismissively that the only other option would be to make her an Islaran, herself, which, to his surprised, prompted Lienne to wryly quip, “Tell me more.”
Kolta was not an especially handsome man, but he was well-groomed, well-nourished, and it was clear from their brief meeting that he very likely did not draw the attention of exotic, beautiful women. It was Lienne, surprisingly, who suggested the idea of an arranged, political marriage, one that would neatly benefit both parties. After laying out her counter-proposal, she asked the group to get her an audience with the young Islaran heir.
It was apparent from the moment that she walked in the door that Lienne, ten years senior and ten miles out of Kolta’s league, had enchanted the young man. After delicately expressing their intentions to the young Islaran, laying out the merits of the mutually beneficial arrangement they proposed, generously lubricating the conversation with their own gentle persuasion, it was again Lienne who finally sealed the matter. Taking Kolta by the hand and staring into his eyes, she coolly decreed, “Marry me and make me Harbormaster of Sasserine. These idiots will pay for a lavish wedding, and afterward I will control all sea trade in the city and ensure Sasserine’s continued prosperity and safety from pirates. In return the title of Harbormaster will stay with your family and continue to benefit you. We will also fuck on occasion.”
And it was thus, five hundred gold and a lavish ceremony later, that the city of Sasserine finally had her new Harbormaster, in no small part thanks to some generous donations to the publishers of broadsheets in the city, who were more than happy to put a romantic spin on the story of a young noble and a savvy older woman from the wrong side of the tracks and their whirlwind, star-crossed romance.
With the harbor in good hands and the matter at last at rest, Traxen and the rest of the party now turned their attentions to preparing for the long voyage ahead. With only a week left to departure, Lavinia informed her trusted troubleshooters that the financier of the voyage, Zebula Meravanchi, has requested ten tons of space with which he intended to send his son, who would serve as his emissary and eyes on the voyage. Curious as to what the ten tons of space were required for, Othar set out to speak to the young man who would be accompanying them, Avner Meravanchi. What he found was a pompous blowhard, a man obsessed with himself who deflected all of his questions by treating him like a servant or simpleton. Eventually it was revealed that Avner intended to bring two manservants, Banaby Chisk and Kif Kroeker on board with him, as well as his horse, a dashing white beast he called Thunderstrike. Somewhat befuddled by the man’s incredible bombast and reflecting that this idiot was, indeed, financing the voyage, Othar relented in his objections, albeit under duress.
Dorian meanwhile visited Tobin to ensure that he would be accompanying them to Farshore, and also in the hopes that Tobin might have some insight to share on the strange blade they had recovered from Tegan Kellani. What Tobin revealed was startling: after extensive research, he determined that the knife had a minor enchantment on it that made it sharper, and that though he could not identify the purpose of the necromantic aura on the knife, he could, in fact, determine the enchantment effect: by having the knife in one’s hand or one one’s belt and making a brazen sexual move on an individual, one could cast a charm spell on that individual, and the potency with which one would do so was quite great. Of more interest, however, was the fact that the knife itself appeared to be a puzzle of some kind. Small seams along the various parts indicated a moving mechanism, and while Tobin reasoned that it was almost certainly mechanical in design, it likely required some form of magical or emotional trigger to begin deciphering, sort of like a portal key. Thanking him for the information, Dorian left with the knowledge in hand.
At last, the momentous day arrived, and the party convened at the harbor to meet Lavinia, who was being accompanied by the Jade Ravens aboard the Blue Nixie, as well as the captain and crew that Lavinia had hired to crew the Sea Wyvern and the passengers who would be traveling to Farshore with them. The captain, Amella Venkalie, immediately hit it off with Traxen, as both had a strong appreciation for the vessel and its origins, while the other crew members simply went about their business at the time. As Lavinia got the group and crew of both vessels together to discuss the itinerary, there was only one notable absence: Avner Meravanchi. As the ships began to ready themselves to leave, the group found itself waiting on the impudent noble scion, who even now made them late for departure.
At last, Avner arrived, some half hour late (“fashionably late”, he assured), and demanded that the Sea Wyvern’s hands accommodate his horse and servants while he inspected the vessel. Lavinia beseeched the party not to treat Avner too harshly, as his family’s funding for the venture was crucial and she was certain that any harm that befell Avner would leave her homeless and perhaps exiled when she returned to Sasserine. Begrudgingly, the party complied, but as they were just about to set sail, Avner came out of the hold yelling and cursing oaths, furious that apparently he had not been assigned private quarters. Again, with gritted teeth, the party made special preparations for the spoiled ass, building him a makeshift room in the hold from cargo crates and decking it out with some of the finer things on the ship. With that parcel of idiocy and trouble finally behind them, the two ships set sail for the Isle of Dread.
Time passed slowly at sea, and with a more than ample crew between the hired crew and the party members who could sail and with plenty of fair weather, there was little to do, leaving the group to make friends with their fellow passengers and crewmen. While Traxen seemed to almost fall into a flirtation with the ship’s captain, Amella, with whom he – as commander – shared a cabin, Dorian and Othar attempted to better get to know some of the more interesting people on the boat, including Father Feres, a priest of Iomedae, Lirith Veldirose, a tomboyish young woman who was part of the crew, Skald de Styes, an enigmatic and secretive man who also crewed the ship, Urol Forol, the ship’s navigator and a nearly famous professor of naturalism, and Terrance Paine, another passenger on board the vessel. Meanwhile, Kizziar attracted the attention of the ship’s cabin boy, the twelve year-old Tavey Nesk, who seemed to be thoroughly dazzled by the gruff gunslinger.
The first respite from sailing came after about the sixth day of straight sailing. Before pulling up anchor that morning, Lavinia sent a messenger to the group’s ship explaining that she’d like to have them over to the Blue Nixie that evening at the conclusion of the day’s sailing for a lavish dinner, and among those invited were the Gang of Five, Captain Amella, the deckhands, and Avner. Excited by the opportunity to stretch their legs on the slightly larger ship and with Othar eager to further his still blossoming romance with Lavinia, the day of sailing ahead was long, but as night fell, the two vessels anchored near each other and set out a line with a rope swing between the two. Lavinia and the Jade Ravens received them on the top deck as one by one they boarded the Nixie and entered the mess.
It was clear that the event was meant to be as lavish as possible, and everyone wore their evening best to try to impress or seduce the other diners. Dorian was relieved to see Churtle again, as she had taken up duties on Lavinia’s vessel as an assistant to the ship’s cook, and despite Avner’s insanely stupid outburst where he called Churtle a monster and nearly drew his sword, the dinner began well. Kizziar maintained a polite and professional rapport with the Jade Ravens, who thanked him again for his part in saving them during the assault on the manor, and they spoke pleasantly for hours on the subtleties of combat. Othar, of course, stuck close to Lavinia, breaking her company only briefly to ask Churtle in her native tongue if she could put something “special” in Avner’s drink. Dorian attempted and failed to seduce Lirith, who incredibly seemed more interesting in Avner, which only further fomented his hatred for the pompous, rich braggart. Traxen, meanwhile, stuck close to Amella, and happily found she felt likewise when he began to groan and bristle about the excesses of the occasion.
As the event wound down, Skald excused himself early to go above deck. Suspicious of Skald’s intentions and tired of drowning in his hostility towards Avner, Dorian followed shortly thereafter. The remaining diners enjoyed a delicate dessert, all except Avner, who had “mysteriously” taken ill, then went above deck to say their goodbyes for the evening and the crew of the Wyvern to cross back over. It was Traxen who went first, which proved to be an unavoidable mistake. Halfway across, the line between the two ships snapped, sending Traxen plummeting into the warm sea. As the rest of the group scrambled to help him, the empty deck of the Wyvern issues forth a loud popping noise, which was immediately followed by the presence of a small, devilish-looking humanoid with wings who immediately bridged the distance between the two vessels and attacked! While nearly invincible by virtue of its being and most of the assembled celebrants from both ships without their arms or armor, it was Othar who brought the creature down with a concentrated blast of flame, but only after the creature dealt him a serious wound and covered both Othar with acid and the deck with a noxious gas that left the better portion of the dinner’s efforts on the deck. With the problem at least temporarily handled, the groups parted ways, albeit with the assurance that they would investigate the matter and send word to the Nixie when they discovered the source of the trouble.
It wasn’t a long search; someone had clearly cut the rope to a hair’s breadth on the swing between the two vessels, and a thorough turn of the deck revealed a small jar half-filled with formaldehyde, which they assumed explained both the popping noise and the presence of the creature, which Tobin later identified as a mephit. Thorough investigation the following day and interviews of all crew and passengers turned up nothing, and as the days passed, the matter was allowed to rest, but far from forgotten.
The second week brought both vessels to their first resupply stop, the small, well-gated, jungle-choked point called Fort Blackwell. After a nominal inspection, both ships were allowed past the sea gate into the harbor, and Lavinia announced a twenty-four hour shore leave for all. More comfortable at sea, Traxen chose to remain on the boat, while Othar, Kizziar, and Dorian pursued their interests in town. Father Feres, Skald, and Avner both left the Wyvern, though none of them were followed or drew much attention.
Kizziar wasted no time in trying to discover more about the pickled mephit, but his search turned up little with the limited academic resources at Fort Blackwell, save that the creatures was a water mephit, a resident of the elemental plane of water, and had been somehow bound in that bottle, probably by a powerful wizard. His search lead him to the small church of Iomedae in the city, where he encountered Father Feres, who claimed he’d be staying the night with the priests there. Dorian spent his usual time carousing and having fun, unconcerned with any troubles on the horizon, living for today, and Othar, naturally, spent as much time as possible with Lavinia, whom he spent the night with in one of the fort’s inns.
As morning came, the two crews reconvened on their respective vessels and set sail again, albeit with no small amount of bittersweetness for Othar and Lavinia, who were becoming closer each time they saw each other. For days afterward, things seemed quiet again, and with their next stop still some three weeks away, things on both vessels attained a measure of normalcy with the passing days.
A week out from Fort Blackwell, however, something went wrong: Father Feres, the priest of Iomedae, grew strangely ill, became feverish and pale, and was unable to keep down food or water. It was mutually decided upon that Tobin would serve as the ship’s medic, and asked him to evaluate the priest. To everyone’s surprise, Tobin discovered that Father Feres’ illness was altogether unnatural; there was what appeared to be a massive egg the size of a bread loaf gestating in his stomach. Immediately he set to work with his surgical tools as best he could, and after a great deal of difficulty and the help of Nurse Kizziar, he managed to extract the object, which revealed itself to be unmistakably the still-living embryo of some horrific, bipedal, froglike creature that seemed to grow and pulse even after being taken into the open air. Urol Forol, ever the clinician, excitedly begged the group to hold the disgusting thing still while he sketched and cataloged the discovery, and even seemed to wince a little as Kizziar and Traxen smashed it to bloody bits when he was finished.
When Father Feres recovered and was able to speak again, some days later, the men demanded answers, and after a good number of veiled threats and impassioned demands, Father Feres at last relented and told the truth, that he wasn’t Father Feres at all, but Conrad Horst, a small-time con artist from Cauldron who had come to Sasserine to escape prosecution at home. His passage on the vessel and his fake persona had been arranged by an unknown patron who, in return for Conrad’s safe departure from justice, demanded Conrad act as a mule and deliver to the priests of Iomedae at Fort Blackwell a small, wooden box. Conrad didn’t know what was inside, only that when he made the delivery, he was told he would have to stay the night to fulfill his contract, and that was the last thing he remembered before waking up the next morning to get back on the ship. Whatever they had done to him, clearly they had no intention of actually honoring their bargain, and had apparently used him as a womb to give birth to some horrible creature, though he had no idea why. He begged the group not to out him to the other passengers and swore that if they let him go, he would turn over a new leaf and make an honest living when they got to Farshore. With Fort Blackwell over a week behind them, it seemed unlikely that they could ever resolve the matter. As a token of good faith, he turned over his priestly trappings to the group, which included some curative items. Provisionally, the gang complied to his requests, though the future for Horst is an uncertain one, and there is still a great deal of sea before them.