21 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR.
Being a partial log of the adventures of “Team Desolate”. Content is kept in the original format, no edits have been made for consistency or readability.
It has been a few days since you boarded Valkur’s Wake. You are glad that you got on at the last stops, and that the voyage should be short, as the old flat-bottomed, single-decked, single-masted cog was already filled with people when you boarded, and no one disembarked at your stop.
The stern of the eighty foot ship has been fenced off and converted into a stable, carrying a handful of horses, mules, and other livestock, with a small, raised deck above the taffrail where the captain or one of his three assistants man the rudder and sleep. At least the trip is free. The captain, an old, gray-bearded, dwarven merchant named Donal Stormhammer, informed you that as long as you disembark at New Phlan, the council will be paying him ten times his normal passenger fee, so you get a free ride as long as that’s your destination and you give a hand with the lines if a storm blows up.
The thirty-odd other passengers are a motley mix of treasure hunters, monster slayers, a few farmers brave enough to settle in a city known to be plagued by demons and dragons, and those exiles from distant lands with no where else to go. Everyone, at least everyone who’s talking, has their own story of why they are traveling, but they all have one common theme—the promise of free land, fame, and riches in the ancient city of Phlan. During the night, everyone spreads out communally on the well deck, sleeping together cheek-to-jowl. During the day there is a little more space, with people standing most of the time, or else sitting on one of the crates or barrels of stores cluttering the deck or perching on the gunwale.
It is a bright day and the ship makes good speed ahead of a brisk southerly wind. Tomorrow morning, Captain Donal has informed the passagers, you will reach the port of New Phlan. A pod of dolphins splashes alongside the cog.
Chatter on deck today is more lively than usual, with the promise of landfall tomorrow. Near the bow of the Wake, half a dozen people stand about listening to a surprisingly articulate kobold doing a dramatic recitation of some poetry, or perhaps a monologue from a play. Judging from the spectators’ dress, there is a direct correlation between the number and quality of weapons the passengers are carrying and their level of racial tolerance. Near the mast, a woman wearing the stark-white wig of a priestess of Beshaba stands talking to a quintet of teenagers in peasants’ garb, trying to convert them to the worship of the Maid of Misfortune—judging from their wide eyes you suspect that this is their first time away from the farm, though their makeshift-looking weapons set them apart from the actual farmers and settlers who are all huddled in the stern near the animals, playing a game of chance and avoiding looking at the strange creatures riding up front.
A gaunt old man in battered chainmail, his head surmounted by a strange crown of iron and bone spikes, sits near the front of the boat, listening to the kobold’s soliloquy. “Aye, but what of the dog?” he heckles, to strained laughter from the other onlookers.
Pin sticks his head off the edge, he really hated ship traveling.
The old man walks over to the dwarf and gives him a hearty slap on the back with a mailed gauntlet. “Love that salt air, eh lad?!” He walks over and leans on the rail next to him. “So what business do you have in Phlan, friend?”
Pin, gives a thankful nod. “Unfortunately my dwarven legs aren’t made for this kind of travel”. He turns to the old man and replies, “whatever is awaiting us there”.
“Nothing good, I’d wager,” the old man spits in the water. “My home has had discourse with Phlan for decades…a near constant flood of refugees running from the monsters going one way, and poor sods tantalized by promises of wealth flowing the other. It’s a cursed place from all I hear.” He stands up straiter. “Sorry to hear about your stomach. Though,” he looks sideways at the boat’s dwarven captain and crew, “blaming your parentage doesn’t seem to hold much water around these parts…”
Pin glanced at the old man and pondered this. “From experience I take it?”
“More hearsay. Haven’t been there myself, but I’ve seen the people coming from Phlan. Not pretty—all ragged, wounded, and jumping at shadows.”
Pin stroked his beard. “Something or at least the thought of something is spooking them. Did you ever stop someone and ask”?
“Aye, my order had a particular interest in the north, though most of them just rambled like madmen. Some spoke of a blackened river that stank of death, or cursed islands teeming with the undead, or the city besieged by armies of orcs and goblins. One even spoke of hand the size of a mountain, wreathed in unquenchable flame…” He shrugs, “like I said, madmen.”
“Anyways, sorry to talk your ear off.” He shrugs a second time and extends his hand, “The name’s Aram. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Pin reached out and grabbed man known as Aran’s hand and shook it tightly. “You can just call me Pin”.
On board is alsof a man in a brown and green garb. Long brown tangled hair. Somewhat disturbing is the large wolf at his side. In the morning you can are him performing a small ritual in which he is adressing the four corners of the world. Eyes open but not seeing the ship. After that he visits the animals, softly speaking to them. They stay calm even with the wolf near them.
The farmers and settlers, massed near the stern, show very little concern for the man or his wolf. Perhaps they are used to seeing Druids in the rural communities from which they originate, or perhaps it is just that the wolf seems considerably more “natural” than the creatures assembled near the bow.
“What is going on here?” Thrall asks.
The kobold pauses with a rather annoyed look on his face, “A poetry reading, of course!” he says to muffled laughter from a few of the onlookers. He then resumes, raising his voice so that it can be heard farther back:
“By what? by any other house or person?
Of any thing the image tell me that
Hath kept with thy remembrance.
Thou hadst, and more. But how is it
That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?
If thou remember’st aught ere thou camest here,
How thou camest here thou mayst…”
Hearing the kobold’s rather miffed response, Aram looks up and sees the bemused man with the wolf standing mid-ship. “If you’ll excuse me a moment,” he says, taking his leave of the dwarf. He walks towards the man with the tangled hair, and raises a hand in greeting and smiles. “Hail friend, you seem a bit distressed.” He extends a hand, “My name is Aram. Might I ask what business is bringing you and your fine-looking dog to Phlan?”
“Thrall is my name. Thrall Demonsweat. My dog as you call it is a wolf and my companion. His name is Temur by the way. We are travelling to Phlann for a rather drastic change of scenery. Forgive my baldness, but might you tell me the tale of your crown?”
“I’ll forgive your baldness if you forgive mine,” the old man laughs again. “The crown is the symbol of my order and my god, The Blessed Afflictor, Cyris Carnithrax Maximus. That’d be the reason I’m traveling this way. In the mountains north of Phlan there are ruins of an ancient city dedicated to the Blessed Afflictor, part of the long extinct empire of Noga. I hope to mount an archaeological expedition to unearth whatever artifacts or relics of our church as might be found there.”
“Well, I might be interested in joining your expedition. I am not much of a city guy.”
The old man smiles broadly, “I’m sure I’d be happy to have you on board.” He pauses and looks the tangle-haired man up and down, “So, Thrall Demonsweat, that name has some rather interesting implications. Do you mind me asking how you got it? I don’t suppose your parents were so cruel as to make that your birthname?”
As Aram asks this, he turns back to the dwarf, “Hey! Mr. Pin, you really must come meet this fine chap and his puppy. If you can pull yourself away from the rail long enough, that is.”
“Demonsweat is my family name. Like it is my fathers and his father.”
Pin pulls himself off the rail with all the dwarven dignity he can muster and head over to meet everyone else.
“Master Pin? Are you alright? You look a bit greenish around your nose?” Thrall steps forward to “help” the dwarf.
Pin straightens himself. “Fine, nothing a strong ale won’t fix. Now let’s meet this chap you were talking about.” as he tries walking dignified…
Aram waves in Thrall’s direction, “This is the chap right here, Pin. Says his name is Thrall Demonsweat.” Aram leans down towards Pin and whispers, a bit too loudly, “Apparently his parents were of the particularly cruel variety, but let’s not mention that…”
Thrall pretends that he did not hear Arams remark. The same goes for calling his wolf “dog” or “pup”.
“Well, is it not just great that soon we can get off this nice looking ship and a little bit further away from this body of water. For me water is for drinking and washing and making beer of course. Not for floating around.”
“I always was told that all dwarves hated the waters but I presume that our captain and part of his crew proof otherwise?”
The old man laughs, “Obviously anything anyone tells you that ‘all’ persons of a particular race do, or that ‘always’ happens, has to be false. There are always exceptions among thinking beings.” He waves a hand at the other passengers, “that’d be like saying that all kobolds are inherently evil, or all orcs are out to commit genocide against our dwarven friends, or that all undead are fueled by hatred for the living, or that devils exist only to tempt men and steal their souls. All just falsehoods spread to keep people killing each other and give fuel to the powers of chaos.”
Thrall, “Nicely said. Just when I thought there was nothing to be learned on this ship. Maybe we should ask the others,” he points to the midship section, “to join us in this discussion or is that a bit to soon?”
The keen eye makes a second sweep over the group of about 20 farmers and settlers in the back by the animals, there sits on the deck one dressed slightly differently. Cross-legged on the planks of the cog, he sits with a quarterstaff leaned from in front of him and across his left shoulder (because the right shoulder shows a longbow strung across his back, as well as can be done while sitting). Young and strapping, with a tousled crop of blonde hair, he attempts to draw no attention to himself. His brown cloak, shirt and pants almost trying to blend in with the oaken deck. But as the younger children of the farmer crowd rambunctiously run circles around him, poking at him and trying to “muss” his hair, they excitedly cheer and exclaim “The Homestead Bulwark can keep us safe, but we’ve got him now”. The youth with the quarterstaff only hangs his head lower and shakes it from side to side, giving off an air that is a combination of embarrassment, entertainment at the kids, and a humble denial of the children’s claims. After a few minutes of this, one of the farmer’s wive’s comes and collects the children saying “Now you leave Durell alone. He might NOT protect you if you keep teasing him!!”
When Thrall hears the woman’s voice he turns and looks the sitting young man right in the eyes.
Aram follows Thrall’s gaze. “Friend of yours?”
Thrall, “No, but I recognize a man of the woods anytime. The same goes for most of the clergy. Recognizing wizards is somewhat difficult for me. Only if they are doing what they do best.”
Although quite humble and typical of folks from Featherdale, (sagacious, quiet and lacking in presence), Durell does indeed look up when approached. Not really holding eye contact much, he acknowledges Thrall, and once introduced responds with “Durell, Durell Farnhed is my name. Nice to meet you.”
“Thrall Demonsweat is my name and this is Aram and Master Pin.”
Durell nods in their direction as well. “Pleasure to make your aquaintance.”
The old man steps forward, “Please to meet you. What business has landed you on this fine voyage?”
“I’ve been protecting the farmlands and homesteads of my neighbors and fellow Featherdalesmen for as long as I can remember. When so many of them decided to push off and try settling in and around New Phlan, how could I do anything but come with them to continue to extend some safety and protection in their new endeavor?”
Aram lets out a low whistle, “Whew. Gonna have your work cut out for you. Things must be pretty bad back in Featherdale if all these folks were willing to head to Phlan…”
Thrall, “What is so troublesome in Featherdale?”
Durell shakes his head: "I’m not saying this is a better place than Featherdale. Likely just the opposite. But there are always those that want to set out on their own and make their way in a new place. These Featherdalemen are of that cut of cloth. And I just figured they might need some “help” and protection."
“So you’re planning to follow these people around to “help” and “protect” them…what…forever?" The old man looks perplexed, “That seems a bit ill conceived. You know what they say about teaching people to fish.”
“These people know how to fish. And to farm. What they aren’t particularly adept at is fending off Orcs, or other creatures that might intrude upon their farmlands and threaten their lives or livelihoods. I grew up in Featherdale. I didn’t want to be a farmer, but found I has some… skills that have helped protect those in my homeland. I feel obligated to continue to do so – it’s the ‘Right Thing To Do’. Or at least I think so.”
“I didn’t mean literally teaching them to fish. I meant you might want to teach them how to fight, as I doubt you’ll be able to guard 10-odd farms all by yourself.”
Thrall, “That would be a great story indeed.”
Aram shrugs, “If you’ll excuse me Thrall, I’m going to go inquire with those at the bow if any of them might be more inclined to join my expedition.”
Thrall, “Perhaps you are in need of some translation?”
Aram leans against a large crate. After hearing the farmers’ praise, he had hoped to recruit the young woodsman for his expedition, but that now seems unlikely. He surveys the crowd and considers whom else he might recruit. “Hmmm,” he says quietly to himself, “Thrall seems on board, but two does not a party make.” He looks to the back of the boat, the would-be settlers from Featherdale were obviously not an option, then to mid-ship, where the priestess of misfortune was proselytizing the farmer’s children. “Yeah, the last thing I need is to invite more bad luck,” he grumbles. “Guess that narrows the pool…” He starts walking towards the front of the ship, the orc, ogre, or mintaur would at least add the muscle he was missing.
The group gathered at the bow are a motley lot, to say the least. The kobold and his lovely young accompanist are now playing an odd duet for fiddle and hurdy-gurdy. The ogre, tall, hairy and shirtless, with small horns protruding from his forehead, steps to one side to give Aram access to the performance. He seems transfixed by the music, eyes half-closed, smiling, and leaning relaxedly on his large stone axe.
To the left of the ogre stands a minotaur of quite terrifying countenance — his horns broken and his stern face criss-crossed with numerous scars. He seems mostly disinterested in the music, alternating between staring at the water and casting furtive glances at the human settlers massed in the rear of the ship.
To your right stands a gray-skinned Orc. His stark white hair is pulled into a top-knot, mirrored by the braided white goatee on his chin. He watches the fiddler with great intensity while tapping one foot and bobbing his head in entirely the wrong rhythm for the song.
Seated on a crate just behind the orc is a woman (or so you presume from the way her heavy robes drape across her chest), with a mass of writhing tentacles standing in place of her hair, and the “hand” that reaches up to push her heavy hood further back from her face also appears to be a suckered tentacle. Were the squirming feelers not so distracting, you might even consider her attractive.
Across the small arc of spectators from you stands a tall, statuesque woman with waist-length platinum-blonde hair. She wears the black and gold formal uniform of a Knight of the Black Fist — the military arm of the Church of Bane in this region. Her face is set in a stern scowl, that you suspect might be permanent.
The kobold who is performing is a bit of a strange bird — to say nothing of the simple fact that he is a kobold playing music on a ship run by dwarves. He is dressed in a green-velvet doublet, pantaloons, and floopy hat, all a bit too large for him, and playing a cranked hurdy-gurdy. More surprising still, his voice is a deep, rich tenor — quite out of place on such a small creature.
His accompanist is a beautiful young woman, in her early twenties perhaps. She wears a stylishly low-cut dress, of an orange hue which matches the kobolds eyes, and her hair appears to have been rubbed with moss to partially dye it to match the kobold’s garments. She is clearly the better instrumentalist of the two, weaving complicated arpeggios on her violin overtop of the hurdy-gurdy’s drone.
Aram gives the crowd another look thinking: ‘Well I’m much too old for any of the girls, mores the pity, and the kobold seems bent to his task, and the others are just terrifying. At least the ogre seems to appreciate good music and to be in a good mood.’
He half-turns to the ogre and tries to make conversation, “Greetings my fine, large fellow. My name is Aram Carnithrax Decidimus, and I’m very pleased to be sharing this boat ride with you. Might I ask what business is bringing you to New Phlan on this glorious, sunny day?”
“Hmph?” The ogre seems slightly annoyed to be broken from his reverie, but the expression soon shifts back to a smile. “Oh. Call me Osakh. Osakh of the Kur-Tharsu, if that means anything to you,” his tone clearly implies that it should. “My business in Phlan is no different from anyone’s,” he grins more widely and swings the axe up across his shoulders in an impressively casual, but non-threatening way. “They asked for strong arms and ready spells to defend their city, and I have both. What about you, tenth-son? Got an agenda, or just out to kill some goblins?”
The minotaur beside him snorts. “Would you keep it down,” he growls, “some of us are trying not to think about the rampant violence of our destination. The way everyone here can speak so casually about killing things weaker than themselves is a disgusting.” He snorts again and stomps a few steps further away, but still close enough to listen.
The ogre just rolls his eyes.
‘What do you know,’ Aram thinks to himself, ‘an ogre that is both intelligent and polite. $$$$.’
“Well,” Aram says, raising his voice just a bit to make sure the minotaur can hear. “I have no real intention of killing anything that does not try to kill me first. I am trying to put together an expedition to the mountains north of Phlan, in hopes to find, explore, and (possibly) loot some ancient Nogese ruins believed to be there. Part of an empire older than the Kur-Tharsu I believe, one of the first to rise in the wake of Ancient Netheril. I have already recruited someone skilled in wilderness lore to serve as a guide, but I am sure I could use some strong arms and ready spells just as much as the Council does, for a fair share of whatever we find of course…” he gives the ogre his best kindly old man smile.
“Hmmm, that certainly sounds interesting,” Osakh remarks. He gives Aram and his accoutrements a hard look, “And what if we don’t find anything of value? Whose footing the bill for provisions, supplies, mules, ammunition?”
“Ah yes. My request for a grant from my church was denied. However, I understand the town council in Phlan pays extremely well for dealing with their various monster problems. We may have to complete a few jobs about town first, but I will happily stake all of my share from any such jobs as seed money for the expedition.”
The ogre nods, “Sounds like a fair deal then. Donovan here,” he gestures with his large chin towards the kobold, “was explaining earlier that there is a minimum number of individuals necessary to be granted a commission from the Council anyways. You, me, and your guide makes three. We’ll likely need a fourth, or more if we can.”
“What about you,” Aram says, turning his attention directly to the minotaur. “Would you be interested? We can promise to attempt a diplomatic approach to solving the Council’s problems where possible.”
The minotaur snorts again, but his eyes soften, “My master taught me never to judge anyone by first impressions, and your words certainly surprise me. I would be happy to aid you in your pursuit of history.” He stick out a very large hand, “Call me Balmoran.”
Aram shakes his hand heartily, “That makes four of us then, and I suspect my new dwarf friend might join us as well. Come, let me introduce you to my guide, Thrall.”
Aram walks back several minutes later followed by two towering figures—their shifting weight causing the boat to list slightly to one side. As they get close the wolf’s hackles go up and a low growl escapes his throat. Behind you, the other animals in their stalls begin to give their own cries of alarm—the horses stamp and whinny, the cows low and buck, a small dog begins barking.
Thrall calms his wolf and turns to the animals in an attempt to calm them too, knowing that it is a natural reaction to the Orc. Directly after that he steps forward to meet the others creating a distance between the animals and the big guys. “Master Pin? Please join me?”
Durell fidgets as he recognizes his hated enemies. Surprised to see Thrall apparently okay with such associates, he never-the-less pulls his longbow from across his shoulders and lays it on the deck next to him for easy reach. His knuckles whiten with the tighter grip he holds on his quarterstaff. It takes as much restraint as he has not to attack immediately, knowing that the tight quarters, and large crowd means only that a fight would hurt more than these two vile creatures.
Seeing the reaction of the animals, the Minotaur suddenly stops and backs up a couple of paces. He snorts angrily, then growls out, “Sorry. That happens every bloody time.” He looks to Aram, “I’ll be waiting up front…wouldn’t want to cause a stampede in close quarters. We can discuss the details of your expedition later.” He turns and proceeds back to the front of the boat.
The ogre shrugs and walks up to Thrall. “This the guy?” he asks Aram before extending an open hand in Thrall’s direction. “Osakh,” he says, “pointy-hat here says we’ll be traveling together.” He pauses and looks around then, “Cute pup. Does he have a name?”
Thrall accepts the hand and shakes it. “Thrall is my name and this is Temur, my wolf companion.” Temur sniffs Osakh carefully but stays on his feet, no sign of submission.
Aram smiles, “So, Thrall, it seems the two large fellows are willing to accompany us in our ventures. Osakh you’ve met, the other one calls himself Balmoran.”
He turns to the dwarf. “Pin,” he says, “I’m not sure I actually mentioned this earlier, but I am attempting to put together an expedition to the Dragonspine Mountains north of Phlan. I have reason to believe there are some ancient ruins there, the exploration of which may prove both educational and lucrative. Is there any chance you’d be willing to join us?”
He continues to the broader audience, “Assuming you are interested, obviously our first point of business once we make land-fall will be acquiring the necessary tools and provisions, which Osakh was kind enough to remind me of. To that end I would propose doing a few jobs for the town council in Phlan, as I hear they pay very well.”
Thrall: “And what kind of jobs might that be? Me personally am not very fond of big cities.”
“I honestly don’t know what jobs, though the kobold up front seems pretty knowledgeable so we could maybe ask him, or the captain, or one of the deck hands. From what I understand, it’s not so much a ‘big city’ and a ‘city that used to be big’. Judging by these fliers the kobold was handing out when we got on board, I would suspect the council is looking for general monster-cleanup and exploration related help.” Aram pulls out one of the fliers to show Thrall. “Given the size of the old city and what little I know of its history, I’m sure there must be parks, cemeteries, or other green-spaces in the old city that need to be cleared, or the Council may have some out-of-town threats that they will need assistance.”
Thrall reads the flyer quickly and hands it over to the one who is next to him. “This might be interesting for more than just one of us. But we better be prepared and prepped up.”