In the Sentinel Swamp, Gergle pulled the ship up to the docks at the city of Ard. As the party gathered their things from the deck, he pulled Brine aside. “My son,” he said, his eyes glistening, “You are about to go off on the greatest adventure of your young life. You have companions who will teach you how to go forth through the world and make your way there.”
Brine looked uncomfortable as his father continued. “Here is my old armor, trident, and spear gun that saw me through the battles of my youth. May they protect you and bring you safely back home to me when your travels are through.”
Brine took the backpack that contained his father’s gear. “Thank you. I will wear them proudly and bring honor to our name”, and giving his father a quick hug, he ran to the dock to hide the tears in his own eyes.
“We’ll look after the boy as best as we can, Gergle,” began Simon.
“Yes, Simon, I know you will,” interrupted Gergle, “I’ve known this day was coming for some time, but even though I know he will be in good hands with you and your friends, I fear for his safety. These are evil times, when even ancient armor and the most stalwart of friends may not be enough to see a youth through to adulthood. Chaos is moving through the world and only adventurers such as yourself stand between it and the normal people trying to survive. Allow Brine to book passage for you with the ships you will need, Agualans are always welcome on board a ship.”
There was nothing more to say, and Simon grasped Gergle’s hand firmly, then turned and stepped from the ship to the dock and joined the rest of the party. Arriving next to the party, Simon said, “Itcherat, where’s your gear?”
Itcherat smiled and said, “It’s still on the ship, my friend. It looks like this is where we part ways. I’ve decided that I’d like to assist the people of Broad Shoulders, they have many enemies and I think I can help them. I’m going to offer my services to Rory as a spy against the Chaos. Remember me, though, Simon; both you and Trish. My kind were betrayed by a lie and bound into dark service long ago, but we are not all lost. Look for friendly faces amongst your enemies, and you may be surprised at what you will find. Show mercy to my kin when the fates allow it.”
“Is there anything we can do for you to help you on your way, Itch?” asked Simon.
Itcherat shuffled his feet, “Actually, the boon I would request is if you could see your way to give me one of Salar’s favors, it would help me to bridge the gap for those times when people aren’t able to see past the face of a goblin.”
Simon fished in his bag, and retrieved the small pouch containing the favors, scooped one out and put it in the palm of his hand. He reached out and clasped Itcherat’s hand, simultaneously shaking his hand and transferring the favor to Itcherat. “We’ll miss you, Itch. Good luck on your travels.”
Itcherat stepped forward and gave his friend a hug. “I’ll miss you, my friend.”
After saying goodbye to the rest of the party, Itcherat climbed the gangplank back to the ship and stood by the railing, his fur hiding the tears that had begun to fall.
The party settled into one of the many inns dotted around the docks of Ard and secured rooms as well for the group coming with Prospero from Emancia. After putting their equipment in their rooms, the party went their different ways to run errands, shop and tithe to their various guilds and temples. It seemed that every temple had a horror story, from needing gilding on the roof of the fire temple, a leaking roof on the library of the one of the temples, or training facilities for the Death temple recruits. Between the tithes, the requests for help from the priests (and sometimes the temple spirits), and supplies for the upcoming trip to help Simon on his quest, the party’s finances were dwindling rapidly. As Simon counted out his coin for the gilding on the temple roof, he mentioned his vision and quest to the priest. “I know the very Fel from your dreams, young master,” said the priest as he put Simon’s donation securely into a chest in the temple.
“His name is Telpurr. Telpurr is short, with mottled grey fur striped like a tiger and long drooping whiskers. He wears a russet cloak wrapped around his thin frame and a silver earring in his left ear. His right ear is missing and that side of his face bears a long scar from a fight in his youth,” said the priest, “It is said that he and a handful of his students slew over 1000 Lazuri when he held the Nuclama Pass in the jungles of Solantim to allow his tribe time to evacuate. He was blinded by the Lazuri when they captured him after finally overwhelming him during his fight in the Nuclama Pass. He wears a blood red sash with the Bandar runes of fire-illusion-mastery over his ruined eye sockets. He escaped and formed the Tiger Temple high in the mountains rimward of the Sea of Steam.”
“Then it is to the Tiger Temple I must go,” replied Simon, “my destiny is there.”
“Well, young master, as it is your destiny, I feel compelled to help you,” said the priest, “It’ll take about twenty-five to thirty days at sea to make it to the temple. I can put some requests out for you in regards to a reputable captain and ship for your journey. For a small fee, of course.”
Simon gave the priest some more of his hard earned talons and left. The next few weeks were a blur of activity. Prospero and his party arrived and both groups told the story of their adventures, as well as made introductions of Brine and Ellisandra. Walac, Trish, and Ellisandra all took time to learn to swim from some of the local sailors who were waiting for their ships to leave, while Simon took the time to study battle scrolls to increase his ability to lead others in battle. One evening, as the party was relaxing in the common room of their inn, a man walked in and walked up to Simon. “Unless I am misinformed, you must be Simon,” said the sailor, “I’m Tobias Ward, captain of the Fall of Orana. I hear from the priests at the fire temple that you’re looking for passage through the Sea of Steam to the Tiger Temple. Cost is ten talons a day, 20 talons for trolls or mounts, as they eat more and require special attention.”
As the captain paused and looked at Nightshift, Ellisandra spoke up, “Good captain, ten talons a day is quite expensive, perhaps you could see your way through to giving us a discount for the Agualan that will be accompanying us.”
Ellisandra gestured at Brine, who stood up from where he had been seated, playing a game of chess with Prospero, and being soundly beaten for his efforts. “Well, that certainly makes a difference, young lady. For the Agualan, I will drop the price to five talons a day and ten talons a day for the troll and any mounts. I’ll even throw in bunk space and rooms on the inside for the ladies and the wizard, but the rest will bunk on the open deck,” said the captain, “Also, the waters we’ll be sailing are dangerous, so any day that you fight on behalf of the ship will be free. I’ll be making for the mines of the Twin Hells, which is near to where you are heading. The trip should take about thirty days with fair winds, and I’ll require half your payment up front.”
“What if we fight all the way there?” asked Simon.
“In that case, and we make it through safely, I’ll refund whatever portion of your passage fee you are owed,” replied the captain with a laugh.
“When will you be setting off?” asked Simon.
The captain said, “I’ll be leaving in a week, barring the unforeseen, so that will give you time to work out any last minute details you and your party need to take care of. Can I count on you as passengers?”
Simon extended his hand, “You may, captain”
Captain Ward shook Simon’s hand, “If you need anything before we leave, my first mate will be down by the docks. His name is John Rackham. I’ll tell him to look out for you. If nothing else, I’ll see you in a week.”
A week later, morning found the party on the docks giving John Rackham the money for their passage. The Fall of Orana was a sloop, fitted with two ballistae and two catapults, and had a capable, well-seasoned crew who were busily making ready to cast off. John showed the party to their quarters and assisted them in stowing their gear in between shouting orders at the crew. With their gear secured, the party went to the rail of the ship to take a last look at Ard, as well as to stay out of the way of the crew to the best of their ability. Captain Ward came up beside them through the bustle of the crew, appearing at their side almost as if by magic. “We’ll be underway soon,” he said, “If you’ve never travelled the Sea of Steam before, you should know that it gets its name from the volcanoes and islands that dot the sea. When there are eruptions, which are frequent, it causes the sea to boil and steam and makes travel treacherous. I’m going to take a longer route, but hopefully it will be a safer one, rimward. There have been pirates plying the waters coreward of here, and I’d rather not tangle with them if I can help it. I’ll even look to do some trading with some of the ports between here and there.”
Before long, the sails had filled with wind and the sloop cut the water cleanly as the ship left the port of Ard behind. The party settled down and began to get accustomed to life on board the ship. About midday, a call came from the rigging, “Enemies Ho!”
“Where?” cried the captain as he came bursting from the hold.
“Landward, to the bow and starboard” called the lookout.
The captain put a spyglass to his eye, then cursed and brought it down swiftly, “Spiderlin. Ready the catapults and ballista!”
It didn’t take long for the party to see what was in store as giant spiders came into view running across the water like their smaller brethren. The difference was that these spiders had riders; goblins. Worse still, some of them were crosses between spiders and goblins, the spiderlin. They had spider’s bodies with the torso of a goblin rising from where the spider’s head should be.
The ballistae and catapults fired. The first ballista rounds skipped off the water near the advancing spiders, but the catapult found its mark, crushing one, sending it and it’s rider to the bottom, and wounding a second one. The second volley from the ballistae and catapults each claimed another spider and rider, and the third ballista round wounded a spider, but the catapult couldn’t fire again before the spiders were too close to the ship. Brine, who had been scouting for the ship in the water using his shark form, burst forth from the water to kill one of the spiders and its rider while the other spiders crawled up the sides of the ship and onto the deck. The spiderlins cast spells as they began to scurry up the side of the ship from the water. As Simon attacked and killed one of the spiders, the rider leapt off the back of his dead mount to the deck. Meanwhile, the spiderlins and goblin spider riders began to kill the crew members they were close to. Ellisandra cast a bolt spell that went burst against one of the spiderlin without effect. One of the goblin riders hit Trish with his sword, but the blade turned as it hit her armor, causing the flat of the blade to hit her head and stun her.
Grimclaw pounced on the goblin that hit Trish and killed it, while Prospero’s blast exploded against the chest of another without damaging it. Trish shook off the blow she received and executed a double strike that killed the goblin Prospero hit. Simon attacked the riderless spider, killing it, as another struck at him, missing with its mandibles. Ellisandra cast quickness on Simon, and his already fast movements became a blur. Maelstrom’s attacks were ineffective against the spiderlin he was attacking. The spiderlin, glowing with green runes, was shocked when his attacks passed harmlessly through the sylph. The spiderlin cast a spell, as a second spiderlin hit Simon, wounding him. The next attack of the spiderlin damaged Maelstrom, surprising the sylph. Prospero cast another bolt, which did not damage the target. Walac’s attacks were ineffective against the spiders he was engaged with, his rapier passing through their armor without doing any damage to the creatures. Grimclaw pounced on the spiderlin that wounded Simon, killing it.
The fray continued, with the two remaining spiderlin killing more of the crew who had given up any pretense of fighting the monsters and were running around on the confines of the deck trying to avoid them. Simon killed another of the spiderlin as Prospero cast a bolt spell, wounding the two spiderlin. Grimclaw pounced on and killed one of the spiderlin as Simon killed the last one.
As the crew began to clear the deck of the creature’s bodies and stack their slain brothers to the side for burial, Captain Ward came over and thanked the party for their work in fighting off the invaders. “And just remember, today’s free!” he said with as much humor as he could manage.