Finneus put his drink down. He thought he had heard… yes, that time he was sure. He flipped a coin at the barkeep and went outside. The air was crisper these days, and there was still a bit of fog hanging over Anton, strangling the early morning sun. But the cool air made it possible to hear the shouts from the west, and that was the direction he walked.
Relic was at the next crossroads, walking the same direction from points south, near the preservation chamber in which he had awaken. It was as near as he had to a home, and he tended to spend quite a bit of time there. He nodded at Finneus and the two fell into step aside one another as they continued. The yelling was growing louder. And then there was another explosion. They quickened their pace, and as they turned the corner they saw the tips of three masts peeking out of the fog offshore.
The barricade looked as if it had been constructed hastily out of rubble and wreckage, which was all true. Behind it stood three figures that the fog made difficult to discern at first, but as Finneus and Relic moved closer they made out the lean clothes and dirty appearances of sailors. Each held a long horn-looking device in his hands, brandishing it menacingly as they peered over the fortification. Finneus leaned into Relic, “Seen those before?” The warforged shook his head, so Finneus continued. “I’ve only heard of them; if they are what I think they are they’re wicked little weapons. Shoot a spray of rocks out at you.”
Relic nodded, “So when they point it at you, duck.”
Finneus smiled, “You’re a quick study, lad.” He looked both ways and then stepped back into an alcove. “I think it’s best if I go take a closer look.” He looked down at himself, patted his clothes, and then slapped his chest. Instantly the cloak he had had on became the loose garments of a seaman. Next he reached up into his red hair and ran his fingers through it. It darkened and elongated, and as it did so his face become lanky and sunburnt. Jil adjusted her posture from Finneus’ gregarious swagger to a shadow-hugging slipperiness, and the transformation was complete. He turned the corner and scampered toward the barricade, gave a daring look at the guards as he approached, and scrambled over and past them.
They had staked out one of the little parks that had been had a crossroads before the Upheaval, but was now a crude sort of fishmongers’ on normal days. A few stalls still remained, but most had apparently been used as the raw material for the barricade. One of the nearby buildings had a fresh gouge out of it; something large had hit it in the side and collapsed the roof in, and the fog mingled with the particulate matter of large structures suddenly destroyed. Jil continued toward the ocean, counting the half-dozen seaman she passed, when she came to a makeshift wooden tower assembled in the middle of the square. At the top a man stood looking somewhere between terrified and alert, pointing inland with one of the long weapons, although his lacked the flared nose of the others. He took time enough to notice the newcomer, but figured he must be from one of the other ships. Jil walked confidently past, where she found a sight that enraged her: a score of Antonians were sitting in a wooden pen looking anxious. A burly man with a whip stood near the entrance, a miniature version of the long weapons on his hip.
Relic was spending this time creeping into the collapsed building. The wall and roof littered the floor, along with a large metal ball perhaps two feet across. He moved toward the shattered wall and took in the positions of the attackers, his trained eye instantly noting the patrol routes and spotting the gaping hole in their defenses. He smiled to himself, then spun when he heard something enter the building. He drew his sword… and Gwen rounded the corner. “I figured that you’d be about, Relic,” she whispered, “So what are we looking at?” The Warforged began to explain to his maker.
Outside, Bluce was moving up to the barricade, a blindfold covering his eyes and an alms cup in his hand. The men at the barricades sized him up, and one leapt over to maneuver the wretch toward the pen, which was just where Bluce wanted to be going anyway; past the big defenses. But once Bluce was inside, a large half-orc appeared from the city, “Hey! Where do you think you’re taking him?” The half-orc leapt over the barricade before anyone could turn their attention from their new prisoner, and he pushed one of the men away from the monk.
Jil ambled up to the slaver and tried out the oily voice she’d chosen for this role, “There seems to be a disturbance on the front lines; you’re needed over there. I’ll take care of these lot.” The big man looked over this fellow and decided he had had enough of standing around, so began moving toward the sound of the growing brawl. As soon as his back was turned Jil slid the pin out of the gate and opened it just enough that everyone inside was sure of the purpose.
Then the fight began. Bluce and Gronk pummeled the three men by the barracade while Jil attempted to pull the man off the lookout tower with a few beguiling notes. Relic and Gwen attempted but failed to fling the large metal ball at the tower, settling instead for a rush of the slaver as he ran back to his post. The long horns were aimed and blasted pellets at most everyone, but the excessive amount of time needed to reload them meant that their bearers had no chance in such close quarters.
A distant explosion sounded, and then a moment later Gronk was knocked down by a blast that narrowly missed Jil and Bluce. Out of the mist strode the wide figure of Captain Gangplank, who waded into the fray swinging a cutless to engage Relic. Gwen and her runes quickly managed to drag the Captain down, though, and he soon fell along with his comrades.
Not long after the prisoners had gone, Jil was assuming Gangplank’s visage. They all piled into the rowboat and make their way to the closest ship. “We’ve been repelled!” Gangplanks’ voice rang out.
“Who’ve you got with you then?” came the reply from the deck.
“Let me on my damn ship, you bloody idiot!” gained them admittance. They weighed anchor with the other ships, but soon fell behind due to being so short handed; too many had gone ashore and too few had returned. They circled back to Anton, rounded up the crew and sent them ashore to prison, and recruited a new crew from the city, with Cid at the helm.
They did keep the first mate aboard, a callow little fellow named Commander Riker, figuring that he would be the best source of information about the workings of the ship and wherever it had come from. Indeed, he was a fount of knowledge, and was far too craven to hide anything. “The Emperor” (“Of what?” “…All?”) had ordered the attack, hoping to enlist some new slaves to work in “the remains of ‘The Kingdom’”. Riker eventually confirmed that the maps in the captains’ quarters led to Batsereg, the capital and only remaining city of the kingdom, where Emperor Jarvin IV ruled.
Once the newly-rechristened Minnow was stocked and crewed, they sailed north, toward the center of this new little map. It was uneventful travel, and on the morning of the last day they spotted land, then found a cove to the east of the main port where they could dock and disembark, not wanting to draw the attention of any authorities. They left Cid in charge and headed into town.
It was huge. A massive volcano sat in the north, and the city was built around the extensive mines that dug into the mountain’s face. Ancient buildings with giant domed rooves held court at sprawling piazzas along wide roads paved with well-worn slabs of limestone. The port held at least a thousand ships, and the southwestern quarter of the metropolis was given over almost entirely to forging various goods out of the mines’ output. There was a palace and a museum and a grand library and an airfield full of experiements. It was all stunning in scope, but there was a palpable sense of fear about the place; Anton still had the road to Tierm and Ceris, but Batsereg was all that remained of a great empire, and it was doubtful that she was capable of sustaining herself.
For now, though, the city was maintaining its calm, though barely. The functions of the government and merchant fleets were still churning, and a quick trip to the docks made it clear that any slaves that had arrived were already sold off, the processing and auctioning process being a well-oiled machine.
It was at this point that it became clear that the problems here were likely too large for five strangers to solve all at once. The Antonian slaves could be found and rescued, but it would do little good if Batsereg’s pirates came back. And the pirates were just a scouting force; the real navy was more to be feared. A lasting security meant harming Batseregian offenses and bolstering Antonian defenses, and doing so for long enough that Batsereg’s other dependencies eventually tore the city apart. This was, to put it mildly, a large task.
So they began small. Jil squirrelled out the location of the government’s main forge in charge of producing the the blunderbusses that proved so dangerous during the Antonian assault. One of Gwen’s bombs planted in the right place destroyed one of the smaller forges nearby, and when the authorities were distracted by that Relic and Bluce snuck a larger bomb into the main forge. The blast would belay any resupplies for weeks at least.
Jil sought out one of the researches at the airfield, talked him up at a bar, and spent a long night alone with him. When she left in the morning she was sure that there was no threat from the skies; none of their airships worked, and those few that did were too unreliable to matter.
Relic was busy fomenting a slave rebellion, and Gwen sought out the abolitionist movement through the local clergy. When she found them they were all too happy to tell where the Antonians had ended up: in the mines, every one. Apparently the foreigners got the dangerous jobs. That night they all assembled in a side passage the abolitionists helpfully pointed out, and hiked in. In the back of their minds, they knew the assault would be the easy part: getting this many people out of the city and back to the ship would be the real trick.