Delivery From Evil
20 October 2010
Starring: Adrian (Hector III), INdran (Ariel), Marc (Eradina Darkwood), Neil (Durral)
Zephday, 17 Gentle Days 205 LE
The Immartis Penitentiary was not built as a prison. An old Hadradan fortress, wider than it is tall, time has taken toll on the cylindrical stone structure. Refitted as a prison in the time of Wayfarer Gorneesh, very few of the rooms are habitable and fewer are suitable for use as cells. It’s a cold, drafty and generally depressing sort of place – not least because of its cruel juxtaposition to the tropical beauty of Daukoth and the Sasheenie beyond.
The warden of Immartis is an ageing Larethi elf called Gallimedes. A fixture of Daukoth through the last eleven Wayfarers, Gallimedes is a model bureaucratic who has used the long-life span of the elves as a means to master the shuffling and filing of paper in a way that a mere human could never hope to match. He takes his responsibility for the seventeen in-mates of Immartis very seriously, and sees assiduously to all their needs except, of course, their liberty.
At dawn on this day, as the full moon of Zephyre quits the sky in favour of the Hadradan sun, the elf collects four of his prisoners for a special meeting. They have each been in Immartis for the best part of three months. Hector III is a heavily mustachioed wizard of small skill; loquacious and happy to be out of his cell, he is delighted to partake in what he considers to be engaging banter with his female companions. The pint-sized Eradina Darkwood does her best to ignore him. The half-elven beauty has had no trouble in concealing her knightly calling: such higher ideals seem entirely at odds with her violent and generally psychotic demeanour. She joins the elven druidess Ariel in berrating and mocking Gallimedes: neither having any respect for their gaoler. In turn, Gallimedes ignores the pair – he has little affection for Ariel after her pet crocodile ran amok in the village and almost ate his daughter.
The fourth prisoner is another half-elf, called Durral. Rather than being put-out by his incarceration he seems politely curious at this turn of events, and wonders openly where they are being taken, and who they are going to meet. Gallimedes replies that the Wayfarer asked to see each of the four by name, although the warden does not know why. “The whims of the Wayfarer are not for me to understand,” the elf says with masterful finality. Durral nods as if this all the explanation he requires.
The group is led into a fortified circular room in the centre of the prison. Eradina stares at the white stone walls. There is no easy escape from here. The windows are small, high and barred. The far door is closed and locked. In the middle of the room is a large table with four chairs on one side and one on the other. Before Gallimedes can bid the party to sit Durral has already vaulted over the back of one of the chairs and made himself comfortable, putting his feet up on the table and appearing for all the world as if he’d prefer to be nowhere else. Gallimedes looks a little put out.
“Please be seated,” he says tersely, “Wayfarer Thotik will be with you shortly.”
As if on cue, the door in the far side of the chamber opens Wayfarer Thotik enters. He is a half-orc of middle years, who has managed to retain the vigour and energy of his youth. Handsome is a not a word that is often used to describe half-orcs, but it applies here. He is dressed every inch the privateer (or pirate, thinks Eradina), bedecked in all manner of glittering jewelery, his elegant red doublet is open revealing an expensive silk shirt beneath, and the elaborate hat of his head has a colourful keopys feather in it. Removing the hat, he suavely tosses it onto an iron peg in the far wall before dropping into the seat opposite the party. Rearranging the ostentatious hilt of the sabre he wears at his waist he puts his foppish boots on the table and smiles broadly at the party.
Eradina meets this smile with a scowl. She’s seen his sort before. So has Durral, which is probably why he is smiling back equally broadly. Hector and Ariel seem to be reserving their judgement. At the point when the silence becomes slightly uncomfortable, Thotik nods as if he as decided something. He then dismisses Gallimedes from the room, ignoring the elf’s protestations regarding his master’s safety with a bunch of no-good low-lives. Once they are alone, he speaks.
“I have a proposition for you,” says the Wayfarer in a warm and charming voice. “A little job that I’d like you to do on my behalf. If you agree then you will be freed from gaol: the slate will be wiped clean and you’ll be able go about your lives without looking over your shoulder.”
“And if we refuse?” asks Ariel.
“Back to the cells, to serve out the rest of your stay here. Quite dull. And quite long in some of your cases.”
Durral agrees immediately. This makes Thotik chuckle. Eradina is less keen, and asks the obvious question: why ask them? If he doesn’t want to do this job himself, then obviously the job must be dangerous and he needs someone expendable to do the deed. She wants to know more before agreeing to anything.
Thotik raises his hands in mock supplication. “I need to you deliver something for me. A box. It needs to be taken here in the Village to the far south of Daukoth. On the islet of Ellansensa there is the shell of an old Hadradan watchtower, the interior has been cleared. In the centre of the tower there is a plinth, in the plinth is a groove that will fit the box perfectly. Leave the box there and come back. During your journey do not open the box, and under no circumstances get the box wet.”
“Why? What’s in the box”?
“This is more of an ‘ask no questions’ sort of job. I won’t tell you any more that I have. You either agree or you don’t. It’s up to you.”
“So it is dangerous.”
“Any journey south of the Wall is dangerous. I doubt you’ll face challenges you can’t rise to, as long as you stay together and remember how to run.” Thotik pauses to regard the party. “I came to Immartis because I need a certain degree of deniability in this quest, I choose the four of you because of all the prisoners you least deserve to be here. If you are concerned that this job somehow imperils innocents then I can assure you that quite the opposite is true.”
Hector speaks: “What’s to stop us just making a run for it as soon as we’re out of town?”
Thotik smiles as he shrugs, “Nothing, I suppose. But consider your position. If you agree then abandon the quest you’re still stuck on my island. It’s fifty miles from here to Crimstott, and you don’t have a boat. If you consider the difficulty of evading recapture, stealing a boat and navigating the Dantallus channels for several days… well, it would be less hassle and less dangerous to simply do as you are asked. Don’t you think?”
This argument, and a desire to be free moves the rest of the party to agree. Thotik stands immediately. “Excellent!” he exclaims, clapping his hands to summon Gallimedes. When the elf reappears the Wayfarer says: “These four are now my trusted employees. Have them fed, bathed and give them a change of clothes. Then send them over the mansion.” Nodding good day to the party, the half-orc turns and leaves.
Gallimedes is aghast that the prisoners are being released early. Ignoring their jibes he sets about fulfilling his masters wishes. After a hot bath, a good meal and a change of clothes the group’s belongings (such as a they are) are returned to them. Among the belongings is Ratty, Hector’s dastardly familiar. Hector is horrified by at the state of the rat, who has at least doubled in weight in the last three months. “My grand-daughter, Olivia, has been looking after him,” Gallimedes explains by way of explanation as the rat wheezes to its feet and staggers over to his master. Hector uses his mental bond to reassure himself that Ratty has not been mistreated, only to discover the rat is extremely put out to be reunited with his Hector. The wizard gets images of warm nights sleeping in a comfortable doll’s house, being fed honey and having high tea at a little kitchen table with other dolls. It is a life of ease that Ratty had got used to, and he is somewhat bitter about leaving it.
As the party leave the caverous Immartis and blink out into the bright Sasheenie sun, they are met by a singular individual who introduces herself as Ankheru. She stands about six feet in height, but her body is extremely slight and rust red in colour. She has no body hair at all, and her eyes are ivory-white with a barely discernible pupil. Her hands and feet are bare, the digits elongated and webbed. At her side, Ankheru carries two viciously curved blades, and she gives the air of someone who knows how to use them with frightening efficiency.
Ankheru explains that she serves Thotik, and has been charged with taking the party to see him. They begin the short walk from the penitentiary, and are soon in the Village. It is mid-morning by now and the bustle of the day has begun. The jungle here has been long cleared, and party walk among the tall wooden houses (many on stilts) that surround the large stone cairn to Domordis that rises from the centre. The Wayfarer’s mansion dominates the town, a whitewashed wooden home on three floors made more charming by its uneven windows and steep roof.
At questions from the party, Ankheru explains a little more about Thotik. She says that despite his foibles he cares deeply about the people under his charge. She owes him a debt that she can never properly repay. Before he came to Daukoth he was a great captain and privateer who made his fortune from the sea (from piracy, thinks Eradina). That changed seven seasons ago when Thotik came to this island. He won Daukoth in a game of cards from the last Wayfarer, Criplin; then banished the one-eyed dwarf and took over in his place. The most trusted members of the crew from his lost ship, The Dragoon, became members of the Council of Captains and help to run the island.
The more perceptive members of the group notice that throughout this speech Ankheru keeps her eyes firmly fixed on the mansion ahead. She shies away from looking at the sea, and Hector determines that the water scares her. He asks her where she comes from. Ankheru replies that she does not know the name of her but knows that more of her people live in the north of Lareth, brought here long ago by Hadradan marauders. She is a child of the sand and a daughter of the desert.
While this talk continues, Durral notices that they are being followed. He thinks it is a kobold, but he has never seen one bright red before. He mentions this to his companions, but they can’t see their pursuer. “You are describing Chubanya,” says Ankheru wearily, “he is an agent of Delmarcus, we should avoid him.” Such a statement requires greater explanation, and while Ankheru explains that Delmarcus is a the only member of the Council of Captains to serve Warfarer Criplin, and how he is always working against Thotik’s interests, Durral slips away to have a word with their pursuer.
Chubanya is surprised when Durral appears as if from nowhere with cheerful “hello” and a handshake. The kobold, moves like a cat, but is obviously possessed of more sense than most of his kind. Durral politely asks why he is following them. At first Chubanya denies that he was doing anything of the kind, but when it becomes clear how bad a liar he is, he comes clean. “Captain Delmarcus is concerned that the Wayfarer may be up to something,” he says, “something that might harm Daukoth.” He smiles a toothsomely.
“Why does he think this?”
Chubanya shrugs and tries to smile (fairly hard for a lizard). “Your guess is as good as mine. You and I we are alike, no? Following the orders, never seeing the whole picture. I mean you no harm, of this I assure.”
Durral manages to catch up with the others at the steps of the Wayfarer’s Mansion. Ankheru ushers them inside. They wait for a moment outside a plush study as Thotik finishes his conversation with an ancient no-legged and one-armed dwarf who sits defiantly in an ostentatious bath-chair in the centre of the room. A comely human nurse stands behind him.
“… I will say no more on the matter,” says the dwarf in a voice that is filled with deliberate portent – Thotik rolls his eyes in a manner suggests he doesn’t believe this to be true – “Except this!” the dwarf continues, “We are all the creatures of the sea, Orianna more than most. We all hear the call. You hear it too. Mark my words!” he then fondly pats the hand of his nurse, “Come on Aleisha, elevenses.”
Aleisha wheels the aged dwarf from the room, Ankheru instinctively steps back to avoid his wandering hands.
“Ah, there you are!” exclaims Thotik, sitting at his desk. Durral immediately notices the open bag of gold on the table, as if it was put there deliberately to tempt him. “Don’t mind old Chindik, the shark took his mind when it took his legs.”
“And his hand?”
“Lost in a game of chance with a sea witch… or at least that’s the way he tells it.”
Ankheru makes a quick report of Chubanya, but Thotik seems unconcerned. He is keen to get the matter started, and gestures to a large metal box in the corner of the room. The box is about four feet long, two feet deep and three feet high. It looks as though it weighs a ton. There are no carts available from Daukoth, and Thotik’s instructions expressly forbid taking it anyway by boat. There might be some wading involved in getting to Ellensansa, but they must keep the box out of the water. However, he does give the party a small box that contains a collection of healing potions, and promises to give them each 50 coin (by which he means gold pieces) on their return.
Eradina is anxious to get on the way immediately, and is amused to see Hector and Durral struggling with the box. Ushering them aside she picks it up and puts it on her shoulder with ease. However, they do need to find something water-proof to cover it in. Bidding farewell to the Wayfarer and Ankhueru they head back into town. As soon as they are out of earshot they all immediately agree that they should open the box and see what is inside it, however, they should wait until they are a goodly distance from the Village before they do so.
After a brief shopping trip to buy a tarpaulin to wrap the box in, the party leaves the Village and heads down towards the coast. Ariel is increasingly concerned that her crocodile companion, Rippersnapper, has not returned. She hopes that he hasn’t gone native like Ratty. The oily Hector doesn’t like this notion, and is slightly ashamed of his porky familiar, deliberately stopping the rat from raiding a keopys nest that they pass. His snark-laden comments, particularly directed toward Eradina, cause a certain degree of tension that Durral suspects is likely to explode violently.
Forunately, the beauty of their surroundings help to mollify the mood. The party pass down a the rough track that leads to the lagoon, where dug-out canoes are perched on the sand and the sounds of a hobbit’s snoring can be heard emanating from a reed hut. In the distance a troupe of monkeys are risking salt-water predators to make the short swim to a rocky island to raid it for bird eggs. The sky is blue, the sun hot and the sand golden… but these tranquil surrounds belie a dangers.
As the group puts some distance between themselves and the village, and heads south down the sandy beach, they come across the remains of a sea turtle in the surf. The shell is at least ten feet in diameter and has been cleanly bitten in two by some vast marine predator. On a far-off spit of land they see a crab the size of a shire horse searching for food amongst the dunes. They give it a wide berth.
By dusk they have reached The Wall: a confusion of rocks and caves that effectively mark the end of the civilised and relatively safe north of Daukoth, and the generally less agreeable south of the island. Beyond the wall the island narrows and fragments into a series of tiny islets and spits; the tropical jungle of the north turns into dangerous mangrove swamps where any path takes the party all too close to whatever bit that turtle in half. Not a place to traverse at night.
As they break for camp, verbal hostilities between Hector and Eradina recommence. Having had enough of the poisonous paladin’s rhetoric Hector decides to cast a charm spell upon her, believing it would be an amusing jape for his memoirs. The sight of Durral waving his hands and mouthing NO, or Ariel diving for cover does not dissuade him. The spell is cast and promptly fails. One second later Eradina flies into a homicidal rage. She quickly stabs Hector with her enormous sword and looks to be moving in for the kill when fate intervenes.
A sticky strand of something appears from nowhere and jerks Ariel off into the darkness. Another strand just misses Durral, then a third grabs Eradina. Hector knows what they are dealing with. There must be cave fishers at the top of the wall in the darkness – he tells Durral they are cross between crabs and spiders and feed by shooting out their barbed tongues. He suspects it is too late to save Eradina and starts to pack his bags.
However, nothing is ever quite that simple. Battle is soon joined, but the party find themselves particularly hard-pressed against two of the beasties. Both Durral and Ariel nearly meet their end in the ensuing conflict, but thanks to Eradina’s sword and Hector’s animated quarterstaff they just manage to win the day.
Her anger spent in the conflict, Eradina is happy to ignore Hector instead of kill him. The wounded party press through the narrow canyons of the Wall before finding a save place to camp on its southerly side. There they use some of the potions Thotik gave them, and settle in for the night making a resolution that tomorrow they will open the box. Hector determines that, once this adventure is over, he will never get within a hundred miles of Eradina again.
Caladay, 18 Gentle Days 205 LE
The party awake early the following morning to a worrying site. The box, that sat in the middle of the camp all evening, has been moved and the tarpaulin has been removed from it. It had not been opened, nor had it been stolen but some creature came into the middle of the camp and rifled through it without waking any of them. Looking around for tracks, Durral sees foot-prints in the sand that could only belong to a kobold. He suspects Chubanya, but why would the creature have followed them all the way out here?
The box is opened!