Spoiler: Chapter 27: My Big Fat Aurbeski Wedding
The party continues their visit in Brandt, but unbeknownst to any of them a great and terrible force of chaos has arrived in port. A fleet of Qennish warships is making its way into the harbor and, as the first ship sidles up to the dock and extends its gangplank, unleashing riotous disorder upon the unsuspecting Drouganti—Nüwa has arrived!
And she’s terribly hung over. “Can’t we go back to the Peri Isles?” she whines. “The high was fun. Coming down is a drag.”
Next to her, her assistant, an Aurbeski lady named Allison, jots down everything Nüwa says—Nüwa hired her to do that, after all. “The rear admiral threatened to leave us behind if we didn’t board the ship, my lady. I’m afraid that if you wish to return, you must acquire your own vessel and crew.”
Nüwa sighs dramatically. “Fine. Well, I guess I have to settle for the next best thing—shopping!”
She happily prances off the docks and in the direction of the ritzy parts of town, decked out in an elaborate dress and headdress. All around her, rumors of extravagant Qennish visitors go flying in every direction.
Ignorant of fiend that now lurks in their city, Gavin and Miaoyu go out for a bit of shopping of their own. They first stop by Lod’s blacksmithy. Gavin presents her with the full plate armor they found in the opera house. “I was hoping this could be resized for me,” he tells her. Lod looks up at him with narrow eyes, gives him a once over, looks at the armor, then nods.
“Should be possible,” she says. “Give me seven days.” Gavin pays her half up front and she takes the armor into the back to begin her work.
With that taken care of, they find a bowyer so Miaoyu can get her hands on a masterwork bow. The bowyer takes her measurements and tests her pull strength, and promises to have it done by the next day.
Just as they’re leaving the shop, a young couple saunters past. “Can you believe it?” the young lady asks the man she's walking with. “Qennish ships in our port? And their sailors are all over the docks.”
The young man simply grins. “Good night to be a courtesan.”
She slaps him.
Gavin lifts a brow, turning toward Miaoyu. “That’s strange, isn’t—”
Miaoyu is gone. Gavin scratches the back of his head, checks behind a few objects in the immediate vicinity, but can’t find his companion. At a loss, he returns to the inn and comes across Flynn enjoying a lunch.
“So apparently there’s an armada of Qennish ships that just arrived in Brandt,” Gavin tells him.
Flynn swallows his most recent bite. “Huh. I imagine our Qen is about to get very uncomfortable.”
“Strange,” Gavin says curiously. “You’d think she might enjoy some time with her own people.”
“Do you enjoy spending time with other Selkies?” Flynn asks mildly.
Gavin is brought up entirely short by that. “Perspective is terrifying,” he decides eventually. “Well, I’m going to go to the docks in a little bit. Maybe I can convince the Qen to help us with our Huroc problem.”
Flynn frowns. “If what I've heard is correct—and I've been picking up rumors about this fleet for the better part of the day—these ships are part of the Dragon navy, the group responsible for defending Qennish ports and coastlines from invasion by hostile forces. This is about as far north and west as a Dragon fleet has ever been spotted, and it's rare to see them even here. If you see anything alarming, call one of us.” Then he leans back with an easy smile and a shrug. “And if you see Miaoyu all tied up when you get there, I’ll be in the market, restocking our rations.”
Gavin updates Seeker and Aelron on what’s happening, and Aelron volunteers to accompany him to the docks.
The two reach the portion of the docks now overrun by Qennish sailors. In talking with a few of the sailors and listening to ambient conversation, they learn that the vessels in this fleet were sent to escort some important personage on her vacation—an annoying personage who has the entire fleet itching to leave her dockside and forget about her. Unfortunately they have to restock on supplies before they can sail, so they're stuck here until at least the day after tomorrow.
Gavin and Aelron find it relatively easy to request an audience with the Rear Admiral Bohai, the man in charge of the fleet. A small Qennish launch ferries them out to where his boat rides at anchor in the midst of a small swarm of warships. When they board his ship, the soldiers that greet them ask them to surrender their weapons, which both do without complaint. The soldiers then escort them belowdecks and lead them into the office of the Rear Admiral.
As offices aboard warships go, this one is both large and extremely well-appointed, lined with bookshelves and paintings, centered on a large square table that is currently covered in maps and charts. A wiry man with dark hair and a dagger beard looks up from behind the table, glancing from the two strangers to his crewmen with mild curiosity.
“Locals, my lord Admiral,” the marine says by way of explanation. “They wished an audience with you.”
“Very well,” the man behind the table says, leaning back in his extremely-comfortable-looking chair. “I am Rear Admiral Bohai,” he informs them. “Who might you be?”
Gavin answers for them both. “I am Gavin of Aurbesk, and this Aelron Firemind, mage of the Gemstone Towers.” Gavin bows at the waist and Aelron inclines his head with a slight smile.
“Of Aurbesk?” Bohai asks. “Are you a representative of the Bene, then?”
Gavin barely manages to hide his cringing at the mere mention of the Bene family, let alone the suggestion he may be associated with them. “No, I represent Lord Tidehollow, who has few connections within the Bene family. May I ask, Admiral: have you heard of the Huroc?”
“Yes, I am acquainted with your barbarian heresies,” Bohai says, completely serious. Aelron rolls his eyes.
Gavin continues: “You may be interested to know that a large Huroc army has assembled between Drougant and Aurbesk. They were slated by prophecy to acquire boats and take to the seas. Their activities there may ultimately effect Qen.”
Bohai waves his hand. “Rest assured, we will maintain the neutrality of the sea should they enter the waters, but I am afraid that we dare not interfere with your internal political affairs. It would simply violate too many of both our ideals and yours.”
Gavin’s frustration has nearly reach its limits at this point and he manages (barely) to politely excuse himself. Once he and Aelron are a safe distance away from the docks, he begins grumbling vaguely about “stick-in-the-mud, reactionary politics”.
“Oh, I hate the Qennish,” Aelron says. “The indoctrination of the populace, the censoring of historical and religious texts... it's an entire country where everyone is so concerned with being Qennish that they don't have time to worry about being factual. Makes the true study of magic utterly confounding.”
"Every country has its flaws, Aelron," Gavin says. "Your country used to be part of a slave-trading empire."
In Brandt's slums, Tsarae is totally not about to anything less-than-legal when Miaoyu appears at her side.
“Sooooo, a bunch of Qennish people are in town and I was thinking: the best place to avoid a bunch of stuck-up law-lovers is to go to that scoundrel get-together Flynn told us about.”
Tsarae nods sagely. “You speak wisdom. And I need more booze.”
“I bet they have booze there!” Miaoyu says eagerly. “Good booze! Illegal booze!”
Tsarae scowls. “Why would anyone make booze illegal?”
Miaoyu shrugs. “I don’t know. People are weird. Now let’s go!”
Soon, Scoundrel’s Night is upon Brand. Gavin, Flynn, Seeker, and Aelron all go together. Aelron took some time to clean up and has donned a half-mask; Gavin is doing his best to remain incognito, with a mask over the upper half of his face, and a guardsman's cloak over his ever-present seal skin cloak. The facade of the building that Flynn leads them to is... run down. The wood looks rotted, the windows are boarded up, and a grimy, apparently homeless man sits on a rickety box next to the door. The four of them pause. Flynn had been led to believe that it would be a formal affair: no weapons or armor permitted and collateral taken at the door to ensure no ‘mishaps’ occur. In return, there would be entertainment of all sorts, and an abundance of food and drink. This doesn't look like that kind of place.
As they’re pondering, though, an elegant, masked woman approaches the homeless man and hands him a clinking sack of coins. The man stands, his posture suddenly perfect, and bows politely, opening the door with a flourish for the lady. Inside, they catch a glimpse of a lavishly decorated parlor, lit with warm, golden lights, punctuated by servers with trays of various types of tasty beverages on trays and carts moving through the room.
Reassured, they approach the man and hand him their respective collateral before being shown inside. The interior is even more beautiful than they initially thought: the rotting exterior was apparently a glamour, because no such dinginess exists inside the building.
Seeker catches sight of entire skewers of meat and can barely contain his excitement. Miaoyu and Tsarae, having arrived earlier, are at the bar. Miaoyu offers a wave to her friends, but Tsarae is entirely too fixated on the assortment of drinks in front of her to notice their arrival.
Flynn, of course, makes his way for the gambling tables immediately, Gavin close behind with the intent of acting as his bodyguard. Flynn strikes up a game with the masked woman they had seen earlier (who, Flynn is able to deduce, is an Aurbeski baroness), a bandit chieftain, a Dhar smuggler named Vikloft the Clever, and a Qennish man in his fifties—it turns out even law-abiding Qens enjoy a good, illegitimate game of chance now and again. Bohai pointedly does not recognize Gavin—despite his distinctive jawline and feeble disguise.
Speaking of mischievous Qen, Nüwa finds her way into the den of iniquity as well. She heard some rumors and thought it sounded fun. Allison urged her to dress down while in the more dangerous portion of town, so Nüwa deigned to leave her headdress and other jewels behind and keep her bodyguard close on her heels.
At the bar, Tsarae is sinking into a comfortable state of drunkenness. “I love the surface,” she tells Miaoyu. “I can drink this without worrying about waking up dead. I mean, we’ve got our drinks too, but wolves? They don’t know how to enjoy it. They just get smashed for the sake of getting smashed, and then there’s a big orgy. That’s wolfmen for you. Too much pack in them, not enough person.” She scowls suddenly at her drink. “What do you think that says about me?” Miaoyu doesn’t get a chance to answer—Tsarae veers off into her own theories and ponderings about herself and eventually just stares deeply at the bartop. Figuring she’s not going to get much beyond a one-sided conversation at this point, Miaoyu pats her arm and leaves to mingle.
Around the same time, Aelron approaches what appears to be a modest dance floor. He casts about for a dance partner when he hears a woman behind him say, “Aelron?”
He turns. “Nüwa,” he says, weakly; he can’t help but remember the amount of magic items he bribed her with the last time they met. If she notices his lack of enthusiasm, she doesn’t acknowledge it. Soon, they’re enjoying a dance, with Nüwa leading. Aelron may be a competent dancer, but he doesn’t have anything on Nüwa’s years of practice and skill. Unfortunately, their dance is somewhat impeded by Nüwa’s bodyguard standing a little too close, glaring daggers at Aelron.
“So where’s everyone else?” Nüwa asks. “Band-aid, the archer guy, Miaoyu, and Lutfisk man?”
It’s at that moment that Miaoyu suddenly becomes aware of a familiar, ‘shrill and grating’ voice. She hears Nüwa ask about the ‘Lutfisk man’, and remembers her impression that Nüwa and Olaf were deeply in love.
Miaoyu rushes to the dancing pair and grabs Nüwa by the shoulders. “I’m so sorry—I know you loved Olaf, but—he’s—”
Suddenly, a strapping Qennish man is crowding Miaoyu away from Nüwa. Miaoyu stutters and glances at Nüwa anxiously. She waves a dismissive hand. “Don’t mind him. That’s my bodyguard, Mr. Crankypants.”
“Hi Mr. Crankypants,” Miaoyu offers weakly.
“My name is Meng,” Mr. Crankypants says.
“Meng! What a lovely name! You know, I knew a guy named Meng in my hometown. He was my best friend... and....” And yes, we did roll to see if this was the same Meng, but for better or worse Miaoyu’s just full of crap. She overcomes her temporary anxiety and pushes past Meng to speak with Nüwa again. By this point Aelron has given up dancing and gone to see if the barkeep knows how to mix drinks in the old Ruby Tower style.
“Oh my god,” Nüwa gushes. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too! I missed trying to kill you!”
Nüwa says something in agreement, but Miaoyu doesn’t get much chance to process it: Meng is hedging her away from Nüwa again. Nüwa puts a reassuring hand on Meng’s shoulder. “No, no, she means in a good way!”
Meng appears unconvinced, but takes a step back. At that time, Nüwa catches sight of Seeker, munching away on a goat leg and prances over to him, collapsing on the sofa in a casual but elegant heap.
Seeker nearly chokes on his food, but manages to swallow it down and takes a hearty drink from his wine glass. “Nüwa?”
“Hi there,” she says, doing her best to turn on her seductive charm. “I haven’t seen you in a while. And I’d like to see more of you....” She leans close, batting her eyelashes at him.
Seeker sputters. “I’m married!” he protests.
Nüwa shrugs. “So am I.” She looks over her shoulder at the ever-present and ever-dutiful Allison. “Who am I married to again?”
“Bianca Benechuss, my lady,” Allison says.
“Right. Anyway, I don’t see what the big deal is—we’ve all got to experiment and find out what we like sooner or later, right?”
Seeker is staring at her, jaw dropped open. “You’re married to a Benechuss? As in one of the branches of the Bene family?”
At that moment, Miaoyu joins them, a platter of drinks in one hand, and Tsarae in the other. They take their seats at the sofa next to Nüwa and Seeker. Tsarae eagerly grabs another drink as soon as Miaoyu sets the platter down.
Seeker looks to Miaoyu. “She’s married to a Bene.”
“A Benechuss,” Allison corrects gently.
“Really?” Miaoyu asks. “When did this happen?”
Nüwa shrugs. “I’m not really sure. Sometime when I was tracking you down, I think. When I came back, it turned out I had been married off.” She notices Seeker’s puzzled gaze. “It happens sometimes. It’s just a political marriage. But my husband—wife? Allison, who did I marry again?”
“Bianca Benechuss,” Allison supplies.
“Right. My wife left me a huge amount of money to keep me busy, so I decided to do some vacationing.”
For those of you who don’t recall, the Bene family is the elite family of Aurbesk. While they don’t technically rule Aurbesk, their money funds so very much of Aurbesk's functioning government that they might as well rule outright. They also fund Drougant’s Gilroy family, who, in turn, fund what is technically the Drouganti king’s army. Suffice to say, they have their hands in a whole lot of cookie jars. The Benechuss are a branch of the family that aren’t tied to the Benes in any any official capacity. That means that if someone in the Benechuss family screws up, the Benes can deny any attachment to them. If someone who is married or adopted into the Benechuss name does well, they might expect an heir to be married into the Bene line proper as a reward. In the case of Nüwa’s marriage, two things are being accomplished. By having a Benechuss marry a Qennish woman, the Benes have secured an ‘in’ with Qen, which may be advantageous in the future. However, by establishing a same-sex marriage they can be assured there are no heirs, and more pointedly, that the Qennish can’t gain a foothold in Aurbesk. By marrying a commoner, they’ve guaranteed that all the political power in this marriage goes to the Bene family; Nüwa lacks status in Qen and has no political savvy (or ambition) to make any significant or foreseeable headway in either country.
Seeker is still slack-jawed and reeling from this revelation. Tsarae finishes her drink and as she’s reaching for her next one, she happens to look up. “Whoa,” she says, sidling towards Nüwa. “I’m going to have to take you to a back room.”
Nüwa flushes lightly and says, “Is this going to be my first extramarital affair?” at the same time that Miaoyu says, rather flatly, “What?”
Tsarae gives Miaoyu an annoyed look. “What do you mean, ‘what’? You’re welcome to come too.”
Miaoyu sputters. “You can’t sleep with her! She tried to kidnap me!”
Tsarae tilts her head thoughtfully. “So if I kidnap you and her, will that take care of everything?”
Suddenly, Meng is crowding in again, looming over tiny little Tsarae. “What?” she demands, and when he doesn’t relent at her fierce glare, she backs away from Nüwa, mumbling.
The group starts to dissipate then. Seeker indulges Nüwa with a dance and Miaoyu keeps Tsarae engaged in conversation until Tsarae grows frustrated and simply finds a couch to pass out on.
Flynn, meanwhile, has been enjoying an appropriately challenging game with his new friends, and making a decent amount of money at it. Finally, he says to Bohai, “You know, I’ve heard a lot about the Qennish tiles game. If you have the pieces on you, I’d love to learn to play—for small stakes, of course.”
As it turns out, Bohai does have a lovely set of lacquered wood tiles with him. Qennish tiles is a game that is difficult to master, especially for outsiders. There are hundreds of pieces, each representing different provinces, branches of government, noble houses, and so on. The thing about the game that makes it so difficult to learn is that the value of the pieces change to reflect the political climate in Qen. That means even if the theory behind the game is understood, those who aren’t up-to-date on the politics will either be at a loss as to the piece values or easily duped by those who are more savvy. For example, Miaoyu is proficient at the game, but her political knowledge is seven years out of date and would struggle to defeat even a less-skilled opponent. On the other hand, once you understand how the game works, you effectively understand how the Qennish government works.
Bohai takes his time to teach Flynn and their fellow players how the game works and the current value of each piece. He’s a good teacher, but no one can seem to get one over on him. Whether that’s due to his sheer skill or careful manipulation of the others’ ignorance is unclear, but regardless everyone has a bit of fun and it’s a good end to the evening.
Soon, the party regroups and begins heading back to the inn, Miaoyu dragging along the passed-out Tsarae and Nüwa promising to meet up with the group the next day.
The night passes and everyone recovers from the wonderfully strange Scoundrels’ Night. Just before noon, Nüwa arrives at the party’s inn with Meng and Allison in tow.
"I’ve decided that I’m going to travel with you guys again," Nüwa says seriously. "I missed it. I mean, Qen is nice and the Peri Islands were a blast, but I need a bit of excitement, and you guys seem to find it in droves." She claps her hands together. "So I’m going to get my gear together, finish setting up my apartment, and we can set out as soon as we’re all ready!"
"Shouldn’t you write to your wife and let her know where you’re going?" Gavin suggests once he’s wrestled his frustration into submission. "You are an ambassador now."
Nüwa sighs theatrically. “Very well. Allison, tell Brianna that I’m going on a wondrous adventure.”
"Vacationing in inner Drougant," Allison intones as she jots down notes. "Very good, my lady. And your wife is named Bianca."
Gavin’s eye twitches. “Anyway, I’m meeting with the Ocean Witch again tonight. We’ll know our destination later.”
Miaoyu leans close to Nüwa. “You said you have an apartment. Are you going to be busy tonight?”
"No," says Nüwa. Tsarae, who had been giving Nüwa and Miaoyu positively indecent looks for the duration of the conversation suddenly looks interested.
"You will be now," Miaoyu says. "We’ll bring the booze."
"An extramarital affair!" Nüwa squeals in delight.
Gavin looks on, aghast that anyone could be so dishonorable. “Aelron, I’m beginning to question my loyalty to my country.”
Can anyone blame Gavin, really? Feudalism, the ideology that Gavin subscribes to so strongly, is dying quickly in Aurbesk and being replaced by capitalist-leaning mercantilism, all thanks to the Bene family. Now he's faced with an outsider who outranks him and—insult upon injury—shows no respect for the sanctity of her marriage vows or the gravity of her political position. Nüwa would point out she never made any such vows, and WHAT political position, but Gavin doesn't have the chutzpah to actually say it to her face.
Aelron pats Gavin’s shoulder sympathetically. “Do you want a drink?” Gavin nods sadly.
Aelron spends the rest of his evening listening and nodding sympathtetically to Gavin, while occasionally exchanging eyerolls with the bartender. After a while, though, Gavin gets past the “I love you man, I love you,” stage and into something even wierder.
"You know, Aelron," Gavin says, with all the seriousness an utterly wasted selkie can muster, "you’re pretty damn... pretty. I don’t say that about most guys, but you’re all right." He wiggles his eyebrows. "If you don’t mind me asking, can I have your, uh, favor?"
Aelron, who had been saying something to the bar patron on his other side, glances over at the word “favor”, thinking that Gavin is talking about the favor of his deity. For a flustered moment he's about to reach out and place a blessing on Gavin, until he sees the odd spark in Gavin's eyes. Then it's a will save versus bursting out laughing, which fortunately he makes. “I’m flattered,” he tells Gavin gently, “But I don’t think now is the right time. Here, though—” Aelron cuts off a small lock of his own hair, pulls a length of ribbon from somewhere and secures the lock to Gavin's wrist as a bracelet. “Take this as a symbol of my support and affection.”
This is, approximately, the point where our DM decreed that in this world, everyone is bisexual by default.
Not long later, Tsarae, Miaoyu, and Nüwa get together for their “appointment”. Miaoyu earns the party some XP for her endurance.
Meng, however, is not pleased with this arrangement. He glowers when Miaoyu stumbles across him while recovering the various bottles she and Tsarae brought with them.
"Hey," she says brightly, "do you happen to have any of those little umbrellas people put in drinks?"
Still glowering, Meng produces a box of said umbrellas and places one in her drink. Angrily.
"You don’t have to be so glum. Have a drink for yourself too!"
"I won’t drink while my lady is in the presence of two potential threats," Meng says.
Miaoyu makes a face. “We’re not dangerous. We checked our weapons at the door.”
"And you could have smuggled poison in," Meng insists.
"But we took off our clothes. There’s really only one place left to smuggle anything after that, and that sounds uncomfortable."
"Twenty percent of assassin deaths are caused by that," Nüwa says as she pulls on her dressing gown, face serious.
"She already checked there anyway," Tsarae mumbles sleepily into her pillow.
By this point Meng is seething. He focuses on Miaoyu again. “Let me ask you this: are you, or have you ever been, a ninja?”
Miaoyu looks thoughtful. “I wanted to be one when I was a kid.”
"That’s all I need to hear," Meng says and turns toward Nüwa. "My lady, we can have this woman executed under Qennish law."
Miaoyu sputters, horrified, and Nüwa looks scandalized. “We’re not going to kill her! I was going to take them shopping as a thank you for not robbing me!”
Meng shakes his head, jaw clamped. You can practically see the steam blasting out of his ears.
Fortified with booze and reassured by the presence of Aelron's token around his wrist, Gavin meanders down to the beach to commune with the Ocean Witch again.
Yes, that's right, he's drunk-dialing a deity with the persona of a vengeful teenager. This'll go so well.
Of course he makes a pass at her: “I wouldn’t mind sinking your ship, if you know what I mean.”
The Ocean Witch laughs. Aren’t you bold? But no, I’m a little cross with you still for taking off, with your sculpted chest and flowing locks…. Wait, why am letting you go again? Oh, right. Because you’re a bitch. A chorus of fish eagerly agree on his worthlessness.
"Don’t be like that, baby!" Gavin hiccups. "I love you. We just can’t take our relationship in that direction."
Whatever. I can do so much better than you anyway. Now, about that little favor you owe me: I’m sending you to a lovely little place called the Webs of Death. It’s just a little jaunt off of Demonsbreath Pass. I want you to go there, kill the cultists, and desecrate their altar with twenty gallons of salt water. Oh, and here’s the catch: I’m taking away your spells. No conjuring salt water for you—you’ve got to carry it.
"M’lady," Gavin slurs, "I most surely don’t question your infinite wisdom, deep as the sea, but twenty gallons is heavy. Like, really heavy. If I didn’t have to carry so much, I could get this done quicker… teach those spiders a lesson they’ll never forget."
The Ocean Witch hums thoughtfully. Oh, fine. I’ve always had a soft spot for you. Ten gallons, then. Now go away, and don’t talk to me until the job is done.
Gavin is left alone again, and he glances around to see if anyone noticed him shouting drunkenly at the ocean. He’s alone this time, it seems, and he stumbles his way back to the city.
The next day, after he’s sobered up, he fills everyone in on the details of the quest. The lack of enthusiasm is resounding.
"If I’m going to do this, you’re going to owe me a favor," Flynn says.
Gavin nods. “Of course.”
"Me too," Miaoyu says.
"No," Gavin says immediately.
"Then good luck at the Webs," Miaoyu says and begins to rise out of her seat.
Gavin sighs. “Fine. Name your favor now.”
"No. Look, I’m not going to ask you to do anything dishonorable. I probably won’t even call it in. I just need to know that if I need you, you’ll be there."
Gavin relents. “Okay. That’s reasonable—as long as it’s not dishonorable.”
Miaoyu gestures at Tsarae behind her, who had been watching the exchange carefully. “Her too.”
Gavin nods. “That’s fine.”
Soon, it’s agreed by the entire party that Gavin will owe them each one favor in return for their help. They’re going to prioritize Gavin’s quest before returning to ODC (gotta level up!), and possibly even see to formalizing his conversion to a Turmlarite.
Still, they won’t be leaving any time soon: plenty of enchanting needs to be done. Meng and Allison are joining the party as well. Meng to do his job as bodyguard, and Allison to record Nüwa’s every word, and perhaps to provide legal insight or tutoring for Keegan. Of course, this brings the party to a caravan-sized ten.
Shortly before they leave, the party returns to the Ylsilarite compound to uncover the most secret contents of the journal they discovered!
It belonged to a concubine. No words of power or dark secrets are contained within, just some gossip. From a historical standpoint, it’s quite fascinating. From an adventurer’s standpoint, it’s about as useful as a clump of dirt.
Without further need to delay, the party sets course north, for Demonsbreath Pass.
The first night out, the party finds a nice, secluded area to camp out. During Gavin’s watch, he hears a voice call out: “Who goes there? Who tresspasses on our lands? Identify yourselves!”
Gavin stands up straight and peers into the darkness. “We are Nüwa Benechuss, and guard; Sir Gavin of Tidehollow; Flynn of Hangtree; Aelron Firemind of the Gemstone Towers; and Seeker, Purifier of Larlon! And Miaoyu. And Tsarae.”
(TheWerebear had since promised that next time formal introductions are required, he’ll introduce his Gilgadarite companions as ‘the priestesses Miaoyu and Tsarae’. A technically true statement, although one that may lead people to believe they’re orthodox Laerosians rather than a couple of cultists.)
The people who accosted Gavin begin to sputter and back away. “What are your names?” Gavin demands. “Please, come forward! If these are your lands, I’d love to make your acquaintance.”
The party wakes up from Gavin’s shouting, but the bandits have fled and aren’t a problem for the rest of the night.
A couple of days later, though, the party hears the sounds of battle and finds a trade caravan under attack by a group of mounted bandits.
Gavin begins to charge, but as he does so, Miaoyu, Flynn, and Aelron all attack from range. Nüwa and Tsarae both advance before making their shots, Nüwa with throwing daggers and Tsarae with a bow, and Meng stays close to his lady’s side.
By the time Gavin reaches his target, the bandits have been alerted to the incoming threat and two close in on him, while another two shoot at Meng and and Nüwa. Those archers aren’t a problem for long, though: Miaoyu and Aelron take two out, and Flynn drops another. Gavin skewers one of the bandits attacking him and Tsarae, riding hard to catch Gavin, dispatches the other with a flourish of her sword.
The remaining bandits quickly decide that this is way more than they bargained for and turn tail. Given that they're mounted and that most of the ones who escape are already on the other side of the caravan from the party, little can be done to catch them. Seeker rushes to the caravaneers and heals a badly wounded man, and the others come in close behind. The leader of the company approaches Gavin.
"Thank you. Thank you so—" The man stumbles when Gavin removes his helm and reveals his Aurbeski heritage. Then he takes in the Illian Tower mage, the three Qen, the cave elf, and a Connish man, to say nothing of the wolfman patching up his fellow caravaneers. Not a single one is of clear Drouganti heritage. To his credit, the leader’s pause is only momentary, and he continues with his heartfelt thanks.
A few days after that, the party comes to a field lying fallow with a big oak right in the middle of it. It’s odd placement for a tree; most are uprooted so as not to interfere with plowing, but it’s clear that this has been here for some time. In fact, it seems to have an aura of timelessness about it. Naturally, the entire party stops to stare at it.
"It could be touched by the fey," Aelron says. "It’s not a dragon, though; I don’t sense one nearby. Maybe we should investigate. The field’s lying fallow. It might be preventing people from working."
"Not necessarily," Miaoyu says. "It’s normal for a field to lie fallow for a while. It’s a three field system: one is fallow, one is growing, one is harvested. It’s really quite efficient." She stops when she realizes everyone is staring. "What? I was running out of books to read at the library, so I read a Farmer’s Almanac or two. Or ten."
"I’d still like to get a better look at it, just in case," Aelron says, so a portion of the party walks up to it. Until the angry pixies start swarming out, glaring at the intruders. They decide to leave it alone then.
That evening, Seeker notices something strange while on watch: the mist is growing ever-thicker and more impressive, and he can hear a strange rumbling at the edges of his awareness. This has happened twice before, and last time the party got into a nasty tangle with feldspar elementals. Seeker wakes everyone promptly and informs everyone is what’s happening. The thing is, it’s nowhere near the place they were last time. Whether this is a coincidence or something else is unclear, but after a few tense minutes, nothing seems to happen. The party returns to bed for a little more sleep. When they break camp, they proceed carefully, and by dawn the mist is lifted.
The party reaches Foxflag county the next day and heads for the small town that surrounds the keep that is the county seat. They find rooms at one of the local inns and Gavin asks around for rumors about the Webs of Death. He learns, eventually, that the Webs are an old battle site from the First Faerie War, until it was taken over by spider-cultists who, it’s said, turn corpses into marionettes to kill their victims. Cheerful!
Next Time: The party gets jerked around!
In the meantime, please join us in giving Seeker's and Nüwa's players well-wishes: they were married this past Friday.