I’m going to give my adventuring buddies the benefit of the doubt a say that, like yours-truly, they recognized the name Muroni. Specifically that some crazy dragon-prophet on a train had told Toryil, Altera and the rest of their dead adventuring group that she could be trusted.
So it looked like we were stuck with the elf but that didn’t mean I had to make it easy for her. Muroni breathlessly (she seemed to do everything breathlessly) that she had been sent by the great and mighty Chamber of Dragons because we were about to play a vital role in monumental events. She hinted that our actions would decide whether a great and powerful force for evil would arise but she could tell her no more as she did not want to influence our actions. Vorj tried to persuade her that she could tell us more as simply being with us was now effecting our action but Muroni had an answer for everything. I was getting the feeling that our new best friend was smarter then she looked which was regrettable as Vorj wasn’t as clever as he liked to think.
Of course we weren’t having this conversation standing on the dock-fronts but as we made our way through the bustling city on our way to the House Canith compound. As we walked I began to notice the disembodied heads of statues scattered around. Some were massive but other were fairly small. They looked ancient and I could think of a number of fences back on the continent that would have paid well for them but here they were, just lying around. When I mentioned this to my friends (imagining the jingling of a full coin purse as I did so) Muroni breathlessly explained that the heads were all cursed. Damn, there went a profitable side venture.
Muroni had some practical information for us as well. When we started talking about The Emerald Claw she volunteered that she had seen then about the port a few days ago. They had arrived by air-ship. She had spotted them talking to the leader of an expedition from Morgrave University. As to where they were now she claimed (breathlessly) to have no idea.
Our visit to the House Canith compound was short and to the point. All I can really remember of our visit was an impressive portrait of some War-Forged in the hallway. I made a mental note to come back and steal it before leaving Xendrick if I could.
The House Agent himself was instantly forgettable. After reading the letter from Lady Eladrin he quickly pended off another letter that we were to give to a Captain Chinxero. Our enquiry about maps of the region earned us nothing but polite scorn, apparently the whole region is under some sort of spell that means no two maps ever look the same.
As we left the compound Vorj suggested that we ask after The Emerald Claw at the air-ship docking tower. Vorj is from House Lyrandor and I figure he thought that it might give him a bit of authority. When we got to the tower that were a whole lot of nothing going on. There was not an air-ship to be seen and the staff were just hanging around cooling their heels. Vorj was directed to an office. When he can back a few minutes later he had a few meagre bits of news for us. The Emerald Claw had only left that morning. Their air-ship captain was a half-elf called Rawrog. There was a Warforged called Scimitar who seemed to be calling most of the shots and some of the dock workers had seen an armoured skeleton with them. No mention of the vampire though. Maybe he was keeping out of sight. Alternatively, we knew that he had shape-changing abilities, maybe he was going around in disguise.
From the air-ship tower we headed for the Rachi River Docks. It did not take long to find Captain Chinxero. The captain himself looked like a down-on-his-luck pirate. His ship, The Marlow, was a fifty foot long river barge powered by a combination of sails and magic. When we showed him the letter he initially agreed to help us but changed his mind when we told him where we wanted to go. I got the impression that he thought a four hundred mile journey up the river was suicide. It took a fairly heavy additional payment from Muroni and Arron to bring him around to our way of thinking. Well if she did nothing else on our expedition at least Muroni had proved herself useful once, which was more than Altera’s wolf had.
Captain Chinxero informed us that he would be ready to sail that evening. This gave us a good few hours to kill. We headed to the city’s main Bazaar that was located inside a massive tent. The thing was so huge that there were smaller tents inside of it. Figuring that the Giant statue that we had been told to look for was only the beginning of our quest I stocked up on rations and water skins. There was no telling how far we would have to travel once we had found it.
After that Muroni suggested that we head for her lodging house. The establishment was run by House Ghallanda and was of good quality. By the sounds of things there some sort of play begin performed in the main tap-room. Not that I stayed to find out. Once I had off-loaded a lot of extra kit I headed back out into the bustling streets to see what I could dig-up about The Emerald Claw. I really didn’t learn anything that we didn’t already been told by Muroni or Vorj had learnt at the air-ship dock. I did get confirmation that our rivals had spoken to the leader of a Morgrave University expedition, a Provost Baris Kavin. The expedition were surveying a ruin close to Storm Reach but returned to their lodgings each evening. We decided that we should have a quick chat of our own with the Provost. It would be tight but we figured we could talk to him when he got back from a hard days surveying and still have time to make it to The Marlow before she sailed.
We found the Morgrave expedition without any difficulty. They looked harmless enough. We sent Vorj over to talk with the Provost, figuring that he looked the most non threatening and at the same time a bit like an academic. I get the feeling our mage did not make the best of first impressions but The Provost agreed to talk to us once he finished his supper. When he came over to speak to us Provost Kavin seemed to think that we looked a little suspicious (which was ironic as he had been seen talking to The Emerald Claw). He was especially weary of Toryil. However my donation of a few hundred gold in gems to the expedition’s running expenses quickly convinced the Provost to overcome his preconceptions.
According to Provost Kavin, Scimitar and Rawrog had sought out his advice about what sorts of dangers they would face if they headed up river. They had an air-ship, of course, but they would have to land sometime. In his opinion they would have to deal with tribes of lizard folk and drow elves, the later being especially infamous for their cruelty and violence. Then there were Scum (a sort of primitive lizard folk), trolls and giants to look out for. On top of that they should be on their guard against crocodiles, apes and all manner of dangerous wildlife. I don’t know about my companions but all this was making the jungle sound less and less attractive. The Claw had an air-ship, we would be making the journey by boat.
Provost Kavin also recalled that he heard them taking about some kind of giant ruins. It was not hard to guess what ones they would be.
Vorj looked like he could have spent all evening chewing the fat with the Provost but time was slipping away from us and we had to make for the docks. Captain Chinxero was looking visibly impatient when we arrived and we were barely on board before he gave his crew the order to cast off.
As twilight gathered The Marlow headed up-stream and Storm Reach started to fall into the distance. Like The Sea Dart before it The Marlow had two, small, passenger compartments. As before we split ourselves by gender. Altera decided that she was going to sleep on deck which meant that I was sharing with Muroni. I’ve got to admit that the elf was growing on me although I had to wonder how much of her persona was genuine and how much an act to deter hard questioning.
We traveled until it got properly dark and then anchored in the middle of the river.
The first day and a half of our journey went without a hitch. Captain Chinxero and his crew didn’t need any help from us handling the boat so we had to entertain ourselves. Watching the jungle roll by took longer to get boring then watch the ocean from the go by on The Sea Dart but get boring it did. I guess, unless you are really into that sort of thing (which I certainly am not) one brightly coloured bird looks a lot like the next after a while. I spent most of my time playing dice games with Muroni and any off-duty sailor I could collar. It occurred to me that I should have stocked up on some kind of alcohol, that way I could have got Muroni drunk and she might have let slip some of these great secrets that she hinted at.
Things got rough about mid-day on our second day out of Storm Reach as a massive boulder dropped out of the sky like… well like a stone, narrowly missing The Marlow. It took me just a moment to locate the source of the danger. There were cliff along one side of the river and on top of it, some eighty feet up, was a huge, grotesquely muscular man. It was clearly a giant, a Hill Giant if I had to guess. By them Altera had her bow out and was returning fire, I think she must have spotted the giant an instant before he had thrown his rock at us. Within seconds we were all letting him have it. The giant got the chance to hurl one more boulder, this one aimed at Toryil, before he perished under a reign of arrow, from myself and Altera, and spells, from Vorj, Arron and Toryil.
Our quick and decisive response to the attack impressed Captain Chinxero who declared he now felt more optimistic about our chances of surviving the journey. I suspect that optimism was severely tested by what happened two days later.
Over the course of that forth day we had heard the sound of drums periodically off in the jungle. Off and on I had got the feeling that I was being watched but I had never spotted anything. No surprise really, you could have marched an army in through hat jungle and it would have been invisible from thirty feet away.
Despite being on the alert we were all taken on the back foot when a raiding party of lizard-folk surged out of the water on all sides. With a speed that strongly suggested it was born of practice the lizard-folk warriors surged on to the ship and started to lay into everyone that they could see. They were armed with heavy clubs and wooden shields that were with studded vicious, serrated teeth. Believe me this was the most desperate fight that I had found myself in for a while. Fighting took place on every part of the deck. It wasn’t just the five of us on the receiving end but also Muroni, Captain Chinxero and his motley crew. I quickly found myself fighting back-to-back with Muroni. The elf owned a heavy set of plate-mail armour and shield but they were both in the cabin following the theory that metal armour and rivers don’t mix well. Luckily she had her mace, a heavy thing with a head shaped like a dragon’s head, and was swinging it about for all she was worth. My own luck was decidedly two sided. On the plus side I was proving, so far, to be too agile for the lizard-folk. On the down side, what with their shields and thick, scaly hides, I was having trouble delivering any telling blows of my own.
At one stage the tides of the bloody melee shifted enough for me to glimpse Vorj. He was being hard pressed by a lizard-folk and was already bleeding from several wounds. There was a desperate look in his eye like he was contemplating doing something drastic. Luckily he kept his cool and kept to more targeted spells.
In the end it was our most powerful warriors, Toryil and Altera, who turned the battle and saved our necks. Systematically they began to drop one lizard-folk after another, Altera with her longsword and Toryil with that double-ended scimitar of his.
Arron used his Dragon Mark to make a short ranged teleport to Vorj’s side and miraculously heal his injuries before the lizard-folk could finish him off.
The Lizard-folk’s nerve broke and the few that remained jumped overboard. In their wake the deck of The Marlow was a bloody mess. As well as the corpses of six lizard-folk there was also four dead sailors, about half the boat’s crew. Captain Chinxero had taken some serious knocks, although he had dished it out with his scimitar as well as he had taken it.
As Arron began to use his magic to heal our injuries we began to dump the bodies of the raiders back into the river. To make matter worse it soon became clear to me that the lizard-folk had nothing of valuable on their bodies that we could claim as spoils of war. The Captain instructed that we should dispose of his fallen crewmen the same way. They had traveled the river in life, he said, and would sleep in it now they were dead.