Chapter 7 - Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

In the morning, the foursome went to Islaran manor to talk with Keltar Islaran, the harbormaster. When they arrived, they found that, like the manors of other nobles, Islaran Manor was alive with the activity of preparing for the upcoming Wormfall Festival. The servant who met the party at the door informed them that Keltar was unavailable, but could meet them over lunch at a local pub.

At the pub, they found Keltar sitting at a private booth with an untouched loaf of bread and wheel of cheese in front of him. The two empty tankards and the half-full one in his hand said clearly that the aging noble was drawing his sustenance from a more liquid means. As Saris, Viselys and Ornrik moved to join him, Idae pressed some coins into the barmaids hand and whispered a request that she take Keltar’s empties away and bring the rest of them each an ale.

“Forgive me for saying so, sir,” Viselys said to Keltar, “but you look tired.”

Keltar looked up with a faint amused grin, “Do I now? That’s probably because I have to care for the entire harbor and prepare for the Fest. And it’s not just the estate I have to see to, but the entire harbor area.” He took a deep breath as he picked up his stein.

“Sounds like you need a vacation,” Saris commented offhandedly.

“What I need is to retire,” the elder said sadly and took a long swig from his drink.

“Have you no children to assist you in your duties?” Ornrik inquired innocently.

However, the question brought sadness to the mans face, “Sure, I have children. Lazy, good-for-nothing whelps that either do nothing but party all night and sleep all day, or have just … gone.” In that somber moment, the barmaid came with the four ales that Idae had requested. “Oh, yes, of course,” Keltar said, realizing they were there ostensibly to have lunch, “I’m not going to have any of this. Help yourselves.” He indicated the bread and cheese. Ornrik and Idae didn’t need to be asked twice.

“I am especially sorry, then, for the news we bring you,” Viselys said as the others apportioned the food. “We have recently routed a den of thieves here in Sasserine; a group of smugglers calling themselves the Lotus Dragons. We’ve cleared their lair and are on our way to inform the city guard so they can come and collect the evidence.”

Keltar nodded and took another drink. “Good. That is good news. Yes, I was aware of some smuggling going on, but was in no position to do anything about it besides report what I know.”

“Did you know that your lieutenant, Soller Vark, was involved?” Viselys asked, careful not to sound accusatory.

Keltar’s reaction betrayed that he was, indeed, surprised, but more saddened. He shook his head, “I knew he was rough, but I’d hoped he would work out.”

“He’s been extorting from your customers,” Idae said around a mouthful of food. “He pocketed Lavinia Vanderboren’s docking fees and told you she hadn’t paid.”

The harbormaster’s face was grim, “I was aware of a problem with the Vanderborens’ fees, but I had no idea…” He went quite and thought. “Vark has gone missing. I haven’t seen him in days.”

Viselys nodded, “I’ve taken him into custody and turned him over to the city guard yesterday.” Viselys thought about the fact that he had not done so before then and felt he must explain, “I wanted to let you know as soon as possible, so you would be prepared when the news broke.”

“I appreciate that,” the older man smiled weakly, “And I will extend a formal apology to Lady Lavinia.” He took a moment to call the barmaid over, “Get these gentlemen whatever they want and charge it to my estate.”

“That’s very generous of you, sir. Thank you,” Saris said in uncharacteristic graciousness.

“I’m afraid there’s more,” Viselys continued. “During our raid on the Lotus Dragon hideout, we found a great deal of evidence against them, as you might expect. We have evidence to prove that Rowyn Kellani was the leader of the gang and that her family was in some way affiliated.”

This time Keltar’s continence did not change, “They’ve had designs on my post for years. I may not be able to turn over the duties of harbormaster to my worthless kids, but I’ll be damned before I see that family take it.” He grew more quite and sad again, “Which, at my age, may not be that far off.”

“I’m sure you have many years ahead of you, sir,” Saris assured him, “And even then I can assure you that the Kellanis will not be able to lay claim to your post. When this evidence is presented to the Dawn Council, they will probably lose their noble status.”

Viselys, Idae and Ornrik looked oddly at Saris, wondering why he was being so … un-Saris-y. At least he wasn’t embarrassing them, though.

Keltar nodded enthusiastically, “I’m on the council. I’ll be more than happy to plead your case when the time comes.”

Viselys continued where he’d left off, “One of the things we found in the lair was a map indicating the gang’s assets, allies and … well, adversaries. Your estate was indicated as an adversarial target. Rowyn escaped and we were concerned for your safety. This, above all, was our reason for meeting with you today.”

Keltar smiled kindly, “Thank you, boys. I appreciate your concern and all you have done.”

“Sir, perhaps I can help you with another of your concerns,” Saris added. “In lieu of a heredity heir to whom you may leave your harbormaster responsibilities, might I recommend a member of my family? My father is the Malthis Van Sky of the Van Sky Whaling and Mercantile Cartel.”

Now the other shoe had dropped and Ornrik, Viselys and Idae braced themselves for Keltar’s reaction.

The harbormaster smiled broadly and laughed jovially. “You are direct, aren’t you? Well, I like that. Very refreshing! I am so tired of mealy-mouthed namby-pambies kiss my backside in the hopes of ingratiating themselves to me. YOU … You do something substantial and then tell me right out what you want. I’ll tell you what. Tell your father to join me at my estate during the festival. We’ll get to know each other and go from there. How’s that?”

“More than generous, sir. Thank you.”

After lunch, the group decided to split up once again. Viselys wanted to confront Heldrath Kellani in the hopes of plumbing the depths of her involvement with the Lotus Dragons. Saris would accompany him and then pass on the harbormaster’s invitation to his father. Ornrik did not like the idea of the group splitting up again, and came up with many, many metaphors about the dangers of trying to do too much at once. He decided to stay close to Saris and Viselys, but would not actually approach Kellani manor. Based on the lead contained in the letter they found in the Lotus Dragons’ hideout, Idae went out to gather information about Kracken's Cove.

Idae learned that Kracken's Cove was about 60 miles away, located in Blood Bay, and could be reached in 2-5 days by boat, depending on how much rowing/resting one did. He was also told that it is not safe to try and bring a ship all the way in to the cove, as there was dangerous reefs. It was called Blood Bay for a reason, apparently. It would probably be safest to pull up to shore a mile up the coast and then walk the rest of the way to the cove.

Meanwhile, Ornrik and Shefton waited in a pub near the Kellani Manor. Shefton was going on and on about something that Ornrik had absolutely no interest in and the Dwarf was losing his patience.

"Shh, did you hear that, Shefton?" Ornrik suddenly asked.

Shefton's eyes grew wide and he stopped speaking as he tried to listen intently. Ornrik smiled to himself as he enjoyed a few moments of peace and quite.

Viselys and Saris approached the Kellani Manor and were greeted by a manservant. He was less than helpful as he informed them that Heldrath was currently unavailable attending to some family business.

When everyone had regrouped at Vanderboren Manor, Lavinia called them together. “I have been informed that Lord Taskerhill and the Cudgel District guard have recovered all the evidence you uncovered beneath the Taxidermist Guildhall. Lord Taskerhill and I will present this evidence at the next meeting of the Dawn Council.”

“Lord Islaran will add his voice to yours,” Saris noted.

“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all you have done,” Lavinia said. “I do, however, have a few magical tokens that may aid you in your future quests. Saris, these are Boots of Agile Leaping. Viselys, Armbands of Elusive Action. For Ornrik, Boots of Stomping. Idae, this is an Aptitude Charm.”

After much mutual gratitude had been exchanged, Lavinia asked again about Vanthus.

Since Idae had spent the day finding about Kraken’s Cove, he spoke up, “We have not found your brother, but we know where he will be in a few days.” He went on to explain the letter they had found, which grieved Lavinia, but was a lead, nonetheless. “So, I think we should forgo pursuing the Kellanis any further and make our way to Kraken’s cove.”

“I agree,” Lavinia stated. “I will bring the matter of the Kellanis to the Dawn Council. You bring my brother home.”

Nobody voiced that, when they did bring Vanthus home, it would likely be in a body bag.

A boat was acquired, and the band of heroes began to row their hearts out.

Two days later, as they approached Kracken's Cove, they could see smoke billowing out.

“Looks like Vanthus has already struck,” Saris noted.

Hurrying to the shore, the group moored the boat and started to make their way down the shoreline. Looking around, it became apparent that something was going terribly wrong. The plant life was becoming withered and mutated, growing odd-looking branches and wilting. Standing still for a moment, they could see the effect slowly spreading. Suddenly, angry screams and screeches came from the jungle, growing louder…

and louder…

Freaked out by what might be getting closer, most of the group began to run as some savage, mutated monkeys spilled out of the treeline, fighting with each other. Their bones appeared to be too big for their bodies as pointed bones and joints stuck out in odd places. Saris pierced through one with his blade as it got too close. He ran his rapier through the beast up to the hilt, killing it in one strike. Alarmingly, the beast lunged at him with a dying effort, trying to bite him, narrowly missing. As it did so, it seemingly melted off of his blade, falling to the ground in a puddle of acid that splashed at his feet.

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After dealing with the rest of these savage monkeys, the group continued to hustle along the coastline, eventually arriving at a cliff face looking down into Kraken's Cove. Looking through the growing smoke cloud, they could see several boats engulfed in flames. One boat had drifted out to the bay and seemed safe from the fire, and it appeared that there was a chaotic battle taking place down on the beach. Moving down the cliff face, most of the group attempted to climb down in an area that appeared to have some cover and safety from the madness. Saris, however, took his chances on a rickety wooden bridge. As such, he the first to reach the beach, though many of the planks broke behind him leaving the bridge useless.

Getting a closer look, it seemed that the chaos was a bunch of pirates doing battle with each other amongst scattered cargo all over the beach. These were no ordinary pirates, however, as they seemed to be mutated messes much like the monkeys.

As the heroes joined the battle, they were disgusted to see that these savage pirates tried to bite and then turned to puddles of acid when slain. Something horribly wrong was happening. The group cleared the beach of mutated pirates, but not before Shefton and Viselys were bitten by the creatures. They both seemed to be okay for the time being.

Idae climbed into a boat that was about to catch fire and managed to recover a bag before the ship erupted into flames. Swimming back to shore, he opened the bag to find 3 potions, some fine china, and a bunch of gold.

As the group gathered on the beach of the smoke filled cove surrounded by gooey corpses of exotic animals and mutated pirate thugs, they were greeted by a horrible symphony of sounds - howling, screaming, clanging of metal on metal, shrieking animals, and even a little maniacal laughter - echoing throughout the caverns.

Continue to Book 2 - The Bullywug Gambit...

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