Scattered Jewels of Southsea

Sessions 16 & 17: Come Sail Away
In which a public house is located, a proposal is made, a barricade is run, and a sunset is sailed into.

“There’s always someone willing to run into a few gray areas if they think they’ll come out ahead,” Jil said, striding in Finneus’s boots and feet through the warehouse district. The Antonian slaves were still back at the safe house, but she had the usual cadre around her. Well, most of them, at least: her boots sloshed through a greenish murky puddle and she missed Withervine. He shared her love of the seedy side of town, and he would have been helpful about now.

They came to the quay. The masts went on as far as the eye could see; the size of Batsereg and its harbor was simply mind-numbing. Even in her vestments Gwen had to take a moment to study the design of the ships; notice the rigging and the placement of the blocks. But then she had to skip forward before the party outpaced her.

“Do we know where we’re going?” Relic asked. He knew the answer already, but figured that asking the question would accelerate the decision-making process.

Gronk pointed to a grimy old building with a picture of a stein above the door. “Here will do.” His big boots clomped a few times and he was pushing the door open before anyone said anything. Jil shrugged Finneus’s shoulders, put on his smile, and went inside after the half-orc. For such a grand city it was a poor excuse for a public house. No stage, a short bar, a few tables, and a single private booth. Gronk was already at the bar ordering himself a drink. Bluce stopped at the doorway and leaned against the wall just inside, his keen eyes watching all.

Jil scanned the room, then pulled a chair up to a table in the center and smiled at the bored-looking man who sat there. “You’ve a heart for more than sitting in this little dump,” Finneus’s silver-tongued voice said. “And I do believe that you are ready to go out and find it.” The captain pulled his eyes from the mote of dust he had been watching and took in the red-headed bard opposite him. He seemed unimpressed. Jil continued, “Naturally you have no reason at all to think that five strangers would wander in here in the middle of the afternoon and propose that you set out immediately on a trip that will make you rich. That doesn’t happen to anyone. Which is why we’re giving you an hour’s notice.”

The captain’s lips curled up ever so slightly. “What are you proposing?”

Relic stepped up behind the captain. “We have a cargo that needs to be carried away from here.”

Gwen leaned onto the back of Jil’s chair. “And where the cargo is going is in need of ships and captains to open up rich new trade routes. You could be among the first, with all the advantages that implies.”

The captain looked from one to the other. “But I have contacts here. I have mouths to feed. How am I to know this idea of yours is true? Or that it would be possible?”

Relic nodded, “These are good questions. But you don’t know the world out there. We do; we’ve been there. Anton has a massive forest at their back door; Ceris commands in a huge field of wheat. Tierm connects them to a vast network of cities beyond, from Broflan to Riyyat.”

The captain looked around the room. Everyone looked as bored as he had a moment ago. He sighed, “S’not as if I am making money sitting here all day.” He paused. These strangers had nothing to show for themselves but bravado, but he had nothing to lose. “Very well; but I need two hours.” He downed his glass, flipped a coin onto the table, and stood. “Pier 190; berthing Q.”

The sun was slanting through the masts when they arrived, and after all the freed Antonians were aboard the solid little barque it was nearing dusk. The ship edged out of its berth and slid through the water toward the mouth of the bay. When it came to the last of the anchored ships the mainsail unfurled and the ship picked up speed, but not too long after a tack to starboard brought them almost to a halt. The tiny yellow pramm before them drew close, threw a hawser aboard, and a moment later a cloaked man climbed aboard, followed by a hulking mechanical man perhaps ten feet tall. The cloaked man looked slowly from bow to stern, his annoyance rising with each armed person he saw. “Papers,” he said to no one in particular. The captain stepped forward with them, but the cloaked man was already moving toward the gratings to look down into the hold. There was no way to spin a shipful of foreigners skipping town.

The fight began when everyone realized this at once. The cloaked man staggered back as he was hit from every direction at once, but soon his mechanical friend was at his side, and a moment later wraiths floated onto the ship to surround those who fought. The helmsman pulled the ship back into the wind and the little yellow pramm soon tumbled off the side as the barque regained its speed. The battle shifted up and down the forecastle steps, but ultimately the cloaked man fell, and in quick succession his wraiths and mechanical ally followed him onto the deck. Yet as soon as a moment’s peace looked possible, the barrelman called out a warning and pointed astern.

Turning to look, all saw the wake of a massive submerged creature splitting the sea into a angry white ‘v’ as it sped toward them. The sails tilted and they caught the full wind, but the approaching beast was faster. When it got a couple hundred yards off it dove, the wake petered out, and for a second it appeared that it would not reappear.

But then the tentacles sprang out of the water ahead. Immediately the ship was amidst them, and immediately after they were swiping across the deck and throwing people about. Relic leapt at the head of the beast, and Gronk ran from tentacle to tentacle leaving bloody stumps. Jil sang about the time when the party killed a kraken, and as she sung the blows she sang of rained down. The helmsman fought to keep them on course as the giant cephalopod shifted his weight and his grip around the ship. But then a final note from Finneus’s lute sent a tentacle flopping, slapping the kraken and loosing his hold.

The ship was free. The giant city receded into the distance, and finally disappeared over the horizon. They sailed for Anton.

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Jil and Dominic, Part IV
Jil's Adventures Before the Caravan

Bluebooks: As Jil | As Finneus
Songs

This is part IV; read Part I, Part II and Part III first.

The Port Master was fast asleep on the bed, his slightly-too-rotund chest moving up and down with the steady beat of dreamlessness. Jil sat next to him, reading one of the books he had brought her by the light of the candle that provided the room’s only illumination. She glanced at the window and looked past her blonde reflection to the darkness beyond. The impounded ship was out on the end of the pier, and she could just imagine the stories that hull would tell if it could talk. She turned the page, half expecting to find an incantation promising to make such a miracle occur.

The bell in her closet rang, it’s muffled ting breaking the silence in two sharp blasts. After the first the book was safely slid into the space behind her bedside table; after the second she was on her feet and sliding a robe around herself as she strode toward the door. She already knew who would call her at this hour when she had a client, but she was still somewhat surprised that this client didn’t carry more favor. But then again part of this arrangement was the knowledge that every party held the other at a disadvantage, and it was necessary for that knowledge to be shown plainly at regular intervals. Still, she opened the door and slipped out, shutting it behind her loud enough that her guest would be sure to wake and, hopefully, find his clothes.

Dominic rounded the bannister just as she emerged, and his eyes narrowed as he pushed the key back into his pocket. He had wanted the joy of surprising them. “Up so late?” he said.

“My master has come to call; I did not want to be unprepared.” She motioned down the hall to the balcony, where they might have a discussion away from her guest, but she knew that she was just buying time. Sure enough, Dominic moved toward her and the door.

“Which of your neighbors have you paid to warn you, Jil?” he asked. Normally he went about these things with more tact; there must be something bothering him tonight.

Jil smiled and tried to absorb the blow herself; she didn’t want Dominic’s temper to visit those doing her favors. “My master has taught me to expect him at any hour, and I endeavor to be prepared.”

Dominic’s large form brushed her aside as he flung open the door with a clatter. “I haven’t time for these games tonight.” He strode in and found the Port Master sliding on his pants. “Azario, it has been a pleasure doing business with you tonight, but I am afraid I must ask you to leave.” Dominic grabbed a shirt from the floor and held it out, and both of the others in the room recognized the old habits of an enforcer rising to the surface. Azario could have acted indignant but chose instead to just get out of the way. He pulled his belt around his belly, snatched up his long boots, and took his shirt from Dominic. He nodded at Jil as he left, and she whispered an apology.

The door shut, and no one spoke for a beat. Dominic moved himself to the far end of the room, with the bed in between them. He looked straight at Jil, and not for the first time was grateful she was in someone else’s skin; hurting people he didn’t know came naturally and was ever-so-slightly easier. “Gioia is dead.”

Jil didn’t manage to look unperturbed, though she tried. Dominic didn’t manage to hide the smile, though he didn’t try.

“What happened?” Jil asked, turning away and toward the bar. She fetched two glasses and a bottle of Dominic’s favorite red wine, using her turned back to hide the sadness on her face.

“It seems she was doing a little business of her own on the side,” Dominic said, his gaze fixed on Jil’s back. “And without my protection she got herself into trouble, and then trouble got a knife into her back.”

Jil heard the threat for what it was, but had to play this game a little longer. Did Dominic know that Gioia was operating under Jil’s auspices, or was this merely a warning that Dominic’s valuable girls not follow in the footsteps of the cheaper ones? Jil blinked hard, then turned to face her owner, outstretched wine glass an offering of peace. “She may have been operating outside your aegis, but it was no secret that she was in your service. Do you plan on pursuing the perpatrator who has cost you a slave?”

Dominic took the drink and raised it to his lips. He sat at the little table and pretended that he hadn’t already played this out in his head. “Gioia was a steady earner, but she is a small loss in the scheme of things. She’s probably more useful as a warning to those who choose to forgo proper insurance.”

Jil nodded, “I would agree, but under my tutelage– which you were right to suggest, she was a clever girl– she was becoming quite popular on the Cliffs, and they like seeing familiar faces. She had promise of greater returns in the future.”

Dominic jabbed his wine glass forward, splashing a bit onto the tablecloth. “She did, but the whore got ahead of herself. She forgot that she belonged to someone, and that futures are paid for in the present. Thinking you’re more than you are will only get you cut down by people who can see through your tricks, and sometimes a cutting down leaves naught but a bloody mess behind.”

The spilled wine seeped into the tablecloth, the stain spreading as slowly as the silence.

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Session 15: Mines and Mire
In which slaves are freed, lizards appear from the darkness, a flamethrower is used, the Wolverines are aided, and colossal minions are popped.

The guards fell easily, their forms crumpling into piles on the rough-hewn mine floor. Finneus grabbed a keyring and ran to the closest prisoner. As he turned the key the frightened man looked only slightly more relived. “If you kill the guards, there will be nothing to stop Them coming up from below.”

The last of the guards made a thump as Finneus spun around to yell at his comrades. “Be quick; we’re human have some company!”

They came from the darkness at the far end: a pale reptilian standing on its hind legs, thinner and more lithe than a Dragonborn. The first one out leapt onto one of the shackled men, claws raking his skin and jaws biting into the back of his neck. His scream ended before it reached a crescendo. More slithered forward, while Bluce and Relic and Gronk turned to watch this new threat. As they did so, a massive hunk of scaly flesh stepped out of a side tunnel near Finneus and the prisoners near him.

Gwen saw that the bard was in trouble, and stepped forward, her fingers swirling light before her, runes hanging in the afterimage. She completed a series, swept her hand back through the lot of them, and the light burst out, reflecting off every surface it hit and focusing on the large lizard, who staggered back in pain. Finneus unlocked the prisoner next to him, then ran to get more keys and free more people. “Some of us have been slaves,” Jil had said. “And we know that no one should have to live through that.”

Bluce was twirling and knocking Lizardmen to the ground left and right, and soon enough he drew the ire of the chieftain of the war party. Relic crossed the tunnel and engaged the Lizardman dreadnought. Gronk ran straight past the front line and tackled a Lizardman bearing a contraption that spit fire. Jil continued to move among the slaves, freeing them and trying to protect them as they exited the battlefield. The fight raged on as more and more little Lizardmen kept emerging from the darkness, but when the chieftain fell they stopped coming, and the ones who remained beat a hasty retreat. No one tried to stop them; leaving these mines dangerous seemed like a good idea.

Outside, they reconnected with the Wolverines, the band of abolitionists who had led them to the mine to begin with. The freed were asked what they wished to do: some volunteered to help free others, and some ventured out on their own, but most wished only to sail for home. the problem was that the SS Minnow wasn’t large enough to ferry the lot of them all at once. The Wolverines proposed a deal: they would safeguard those who stayed behind if they could get some help with a problem they were having. Not seeing any other options, it was agreed.

Beneath the oldest section of Batsereg, in the dim catacombs, a large chamber smelled sweet with fermentation. The lights from the walls offered only dim illumination, but the giant vats in the center of the room could be seen plainly enough, the brownish-green sludge inside them swirling slowly. ”Slurry” their guide had called it: it was a foul mix of whatever was available, and it tasted terrible, but it was a ready foodstuff in a city whose farmlands had disappeared.

The trouble was how unstable a large slurry vat became. If you weren’t careful with how the valves that shot new ingredients into the mix, bubbles formed, then grew as they slowly filtered up to the surface, when they’d be a couple dozen feet across. The gases inside would lift them into the air, where they’d float about until they collided with whatever happened to be in their way. Then the entire structure would burst, spewing hot gas and sticky treacle onto the surroundings.

The three vats in this chamber had been spewing forth bubbles for a few days, and the minders had been forced to evacuate as the bubbles grew in size. Now the room was full of them, and each one had to be punctured in turn. Gronk and Relic charged forth to do the dirty work, with Bluce offering Gwen his cloak to protect her from the acidic sludge before he too moved into the fray. Finneus stayed in the back, blowing bursts of sound at any creature that threatened to get his cloak dirty. They all emerged covered nearly an hour later. They had earned the freemen’s keep.

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The Pirates of Batsereg: Part I

A foggy morn silence was torn
By an explosion nigh
We each went straight to investigate
And found who had dropped by

In foggy air we met them there
Rouges of the nautical sort
Had come ashore to declare war
On Anton’s new-made port

We crept in close and gave a dose
Of justice to the men
We drove them out and left no doubt
They should not come again

We took their ship upon a trip
To their last port of call
Old Batsereg was the last leg
Of empire, ruined all

Searched up and down in that huge town
For slaves they’d grabbed anon
But in that place we found no trace
Into the air they’d gone

We struck a blow to their war flow
We cut their supply chain
And scouted out their slaves redoubt
To find a lead again

In mines we heard the Anton word
Was spoken as a shield
So to rescue we did adieu
A crop of freedom to yield

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Jil and Dominic, Part III
Jil's Adventures Before the Caravan

Bluebooks: As Jil | As Finneus
Songs

This is part III; read Part I and Part II first.

“The runes move,” Jil said, flopping down into the ample cushion of the bed. “They slide around his skin. So slowly you think you’re imagining it at first, but you’re not: they really do move.”

Dominic was peering out the window into the darkness, watching the coast. He knew he’d not see the ship, but some part of him couldn’t help but watch. Perhaps more, he didn’t want to let Jil read his expression; he knew how much she already knew, and didn’t want her knowing any more than she must.

“And there’s a slight green glow to his eyes that flickers as he speaks. You can almost imagine it sparking down his throat and reflecting up.” She was spent, and she wished that she could just close her eyes and fall asleep, but she knew that she had to give this report first. She knew, too, that if she slept now she’d only dream of those flickering eyes. “He’s well-built; maybe six-four. Has definitely seen better days; he’s got a giant gash on his left arm and is missing a finger.” She held up her left hand and wiggled her pinkie.

“So it seems he’s been a busy man in the decade he’s been gone,” Dominic said, still staring out the window. The sky was black as pitch and the city was as dark as it ever got; all the taverns had closed for the night and none of the bakeries had yet opened. In a half-hour the horizon would begin to brighten and the day would begin, but for now Dominic looked out over the city as she slept. No one had any idea of the danger lurking offshore. “Did he mention where he’d been?”

Broflan,” Jil said. “Only he didn’t say it; one of the crewman did.” She raised herself onto her elbows and looked over at Dominic. He was obviously trying to hide his emotions, which meant that he was scared. The question was how much was directed at Harrin and how much elsewhere. Perhaps she could downplay Harrin and see how much that eased Dominic. “Harrin wasn’t too happy about it, either; he shot the crewman a look and you could see the pain on the guy’s face. I’d wager Broflan didn’t go so well.”

Dominic turned his head enough that his peripheral vision could see Jil, who slumped back into the bed with a muffled thump. “Have you heard anything out of Broflan about this?”

A white hand waffled back and forth. “There was something last year about a Guard unit that tried some… unorthodox policies, let’s say. I heard some of Pelor’s finest came to the rescue, but I heard that from a brother of Perlor, so it could be just about anybody.”

Dominic looked back out the window. He had heard it was a gnomish assassin. But then again, Broflan was a strange place, and all or none of this could be true. “The history is muddied, as usual. What’s he after now?”

“He wants what he has always wanted; more power and more control.” Jil took a deep breath: should she downplay this to gauge reaction or tell the truth to aid preparations? “I’m unsure of the exact plan, but it involves the Bloodball game this week, and probably the mayor.”

Dominic spun around. “Does he seek political power for himself, or merely to decapitate the city and feed on the chaos?”

Jil rolled to her side and cracked a slight smile, as if they were in on some private joke. “Harrin couldn’t take political power in this town and keep it; there are too many who know what he did with it last time, and quite a few of you who were there to–” she paused, carefully choosing her words– “witness it.” She kept her eyes on Dominic. That question was too obvious; he wanted to make sure she was paying attention.

Dominic was smiling, now, too. “Right,” he said. “So Captain Harrin wants the Lord Mayor dead. The question then becomes: do we stop him, or do a little bit of chaos-feeding of our own?”

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The Departure

The old man opened the door, smiling like he knew some joke he was barely containing. “Ah yes, Relic. Please do come in, have a seat.” Shihan quickly set a candle on the table and poured himself a glass of tea. “Shame you don’t eat or drink. There are many joys to be had, and the leaves from the Ko plant create an amazing flavor.”

“A shame indeed. Tell me, why is it that you asked me here in private?” Relic recalled the odd way that Shihan had approached him over breakfast that morning. He usually spoke to Bluce and Relic together, after all. It was very strange for him to speak to Relic alone, and even stranger to request a private audience with the Warforged. “Wind seems to think you’re trying to induct me into the order.”

Shihan’s smile grew wider somehow. “Yes, I don’t doubt that Bluce would like that. You two have grown close over the last few weeks. He is a very talented young man, Bluce. Or Wind, as I hear you call him these days.” He took a long draw of his tea, enjoying the fragrance. With a subtle grace, Shihan set the cup down and crossed his hands in front of him, the candlelight casting the old man’s shadow across the wall. “What I am about to tell you cannot leave this room, young one. Bluce especially must not know. I tell you this in confidence for the sake of the monastery and the sake of all those that live here.”

Relic tensed. He had thought he was no more than a guest. In no way had he expected to be a confidant to the master of the Monastery. “It’s a hard thing to agree to, not knowing what you ask.”

“But nonetheless I must ask it of you. I have lived a very long life. Longer than most will ever see, in truth. In my time, I have seen many things and known many people. I was not always master of this monastery, in part because I have had many masters throughout the years.” Shihan shifted in his seat, his shadow along the wall dancing with his every movement.

“I had seen you coming, in a way. I know a good thing about fate, you see. I have danced between the threads of fate for as long as I can, pulling here and there to try and make my life and the lives of others just a little better, a little safer. The fates of mortals almost always end in death, but I wish to make that end as far away as possible.” The shadows on the walls continue to dance, even though Shihan had stopped moving. “I continue to do so, and that is why I must ask you to leave, Relic.”

The Warforged closed his eyes, reciting the calming mantra that Bluce had taught him. After a pause, he opened his eyes and carefully asked, “But Shihan, I have done no wrong here, threatened no one, befriended one of your most valuable students. Why must I leave? I have found peace here.”

Shihan took a long while to speak. He simply glared into the flames before him, the shadows behind him shifting wildly along with the flame. Suddenly the shadows stilled, forming into the shape of an old man again. “Relic, it is precisely because of Bluce that you must leave. My past sins will enact their justice upon me soon. My legacy is with my students, and Bluce in particular plays a special part in continuing my teachings in this world. I know you wish to help him, but you cannot protect Bluce this time. Another day you will be given the chance to safeguard his life. But today, you cannot protect Bluce. Another day perhaps, but today he must meet his fate.”

With a calming breath, Relic knew that what the old man said was true. He had no reason to distrust Shihan’s wisdom. Looking out the window into the night sky, he went over what Shihan had said. He was meant to protect, to safeguard the lives of others. “Master, I will obey your counsel. You have never steered me wrong. Bluce will face his fate alone.” Relic turned his gaze back to Shihan. “During my time here I discovered a glimpse of my purpose. I’m to protect and aid those in need. Know that one day, I will do everything in my power to protect Bluce. I swear upon my soul that I will never let Bluce come to harm again.”

The ancient Warforged stood and walked out silently. He would need to gather what meager belongings he had. He would set out in the morning, perhaps to the east. He had heard many things of Lamora and Broflan, perhaps he could find more of his purpose there.

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Session 14: Pirates!
In which Anton is attacked again, a cannonball fails to fly a second time, a broadside misses Jil and Bluce, a ship is commandeered, a city is discovered, a bomb is planted, a revolution is fomented, and a rescue is planned.

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.

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The Mists of Tierm: Part V

Fairly certain I didn’t even sing this one

Out of the tomb; out of the gloom
We crawled and shambled forth
Who met us there? Of corse twas fair
Mateus from the north.

He did explain how once again
Anton was in peril
To save the town we headed down
To bend an exarch’s will

He asked if he our souls could see
He wanted us to prove
That we bar none could get this done
His doubts we did remove

So through a crack in the world back
To Anton did we dwell
And in the square who met us there
But Bluce from Shadowfell

An assault dark followed their mark
But Bluce held his prize tight
The Shader-Kai gave it a try
But we did win the fight

In Bluce’s grip spoils of his trip
Four staves to save the day
Into the ground we sank them down
To keep Shadows at bay

But ‘fore we’d done toward us did run
A flank of Warforged men
Round rods we stood against the brood
As they charged ’gain and ’gain

Amidst the fray you’d hear me say
A tale t’ glowing jewel
And at the end the light did bend
And fill the crystal tool

The world rent the rods all bent
The power coursed around
A spirit rose, a hail of blows
Drove Warforged to the ground

Across Anton the army’d gone
A rush of light felled them
Invasion lost at quite a cost
Thanks to the little gem

Derick’s ship in sky did flip
Its tail and run away
A night of rest we’ve earned, at best;
Again we’ve saved the day.

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Jil and Dominic, Part II
Jil's life before the caravan

Bluebooks: As Jil | As Finneus
Songs

This is part II; read Part I first.

The hat had been won in a game of cards not a month earlier, and though it was a clever style its change of ownership hadn’t changed its sizing, and it kept slipping down the smaller head that now donned it.

The head, too, had changed ownership recently. At least, the owner of the real head was no longer in any condition to use the one he had, and so this remarkable copy was for all intents and purposes the only one to speak of. The owner of this head was not used to the slightly-too-large hat, and indeed had no idea about the card game, and so was cursing under her breath at the baffoon who would wear such a hat. It didn’t help that she had been standing here in chill sea air for nearly two hours, fighting with a hat and a body that were each bigger than they had any right to be.

The head glanced inland. From here the steep slope of Tierm made the buildings look as if they were built on top of one another, and you could see the night life of the city play out in real time as people moved down The Ribbon looking for the next drink. Jil recognized the gait of a long-time patron as he ambled into one of his haunts, and wished that she could instead be hosting him in a nice warm bed right about now.

Then she heard the lapping of the waves against a hull and knew that showtime had arrived. She swiveled the borrowed body around and tugged the borrowed hat back to peer into the darkness. Whatever was out there was far enough away that she couldn’t yet see it, but the slow slap of water against wood echoed back as only a ship does. Figuring that she was now being watched, Jil tried to look as uncomfortable as this body would make the person suited for it and no more, which was a task but one she was up to.

A splash and the creak of oars came next. The little rowboat slid into view and toward the dock, and when it drew next to where Jil stood the guant man inside looked up at her expectantly, so she climbed in and sat down. The rower pushed off and began heading offshore, and Jil watched the dock recede. Dominic had expected a contact on the dock, and a change of plans was likely not a good sign. She tugged the borrowed hat back again and peered beyond her guant ferryman into the inky darkness beyond.

Slowly the outline of the ship became clear; she was a large vessel, but had a look of speed about her that belied her smuggling duties. She had a hawser taught to a jet-black pole of darkness plunged into the sea, but her sails weren’t trimmed; this was not to be a lengthy mooring. As the little rowboat crept closer to her home, a spark shone out on deck, and a face was lit by lamplight. Jil didn’t recognize the mustachioed man, but she knew immediately who he was: Captain Harrin had returned to Tierm.

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The Mists of Tierm: Part IV

Bluebooks: As Jil | As Finneus
Songs

With Viola there we took a dare
And went to the old tomb
And there we found under the ground
Some people plotting doom

They tried to keep us from the deep
With fear and trickery
But we knew well the Shadowfell
We fought and did not flee

Into the gloom of that old tomb
We ventured forth with pride
And six doors there guarded the lair
’twas all that was inside

Through the first door we did explore
And round again we came
To doors of six through arcane tricks
Twas all again the same

Through once, through twice and then through thrice
And then through once again
Then Withervine (his time to shine)
Drew up a clever plan

Through door the first Finneus burst
And Withervine through six
It was the key and soon were we
In chasm dark as Styx.

But in recess of dark abcess
We heard two voices fight
One wished to run; they other one
Scoffed at the thought of flight.

Out of the black we did attack
We split their force in twain
They split and fell in that cold hell
As we hit ’gain and ’gain.

Amidst the fight in dark of night
Old Yoren stands, afeared.
He calls upon powers from yon
But his form through they teared.

He staggers back into the black,
We trip him back in view
He tears through space to ’nother place
And stumbles, damaged, through.

He leaves behind him quite a find
A jewel of awesome might.
Was this the gem Sunder sent them
To find the other night?

In any case they must give chase
To Yoren and his men.
Where did he go? What does he know?
For answers we do yen!

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