As I watch, Galathalas kneels down beside the broken body of the female pirate, incanting a spell. The words seem to crawl in and around my mind like a serpent looking to escape a prison, making me feel somewhat sick to my stomach. Ian doesn’t seem to be bothered by the spell, standing stoic behind Galathalas. Perhaps his training prevents him from feeling the snake inside his mind.
I break my attention away from his task and focus on where I can be most helpful. Heading many feet north along the beach, I take up a position out of easy view of the wooded trail, and out of earshot of my companions. The one pirate who got away…he ran this way, and who knows where he headed. Did he run north to alert a contingent of sailors to the battle? Or did he just sprint in the only valid direction that increased his chance of not having a sword through his belly? I stand my guard, preparing for either scenario. Glancing back I see Bellamy take flight and head towards the south. Good I think; it must be keeping an eye on our southerly route. Looking up and towards the cliff I see Lutien knelt down beside an outcropping of rock, arrow knocked and looking towards the sea.
After a time, Ian gives out a low whistle to get our attention and motions that they are ready. I quickly make my way back to them and they fill me in on what Galathalas learned.
He tells us of the questions he asked of her spirit. He warns that each answer should not be taken as complete truth as the spirit is under no obligation to be honest with him. He asked her what the crew of The Harpy was doing on Silt island, to which she responded, “finding materials to fix the ship”. He asked her what lies further inland, to which she had no knowledge. He then asked her how many members were still on the ship, to which she replied “14”. His fourth question was to the whereabouts of the Griffin and its rider. She had no answer for that one…and the last question was to the capabilities of The Harpy to defend itself in the current state of repair. The spirit answered that it was not very capable currently.
After a brief discussion, we all decided the best course of action was to make haste back to our ship to report to the captain what we had found, as instructed. I for one was ready to get out of the sunlight. I know my path lead me Above, but I sometimes wonder if that was the wisest choice. I have learned and seen so much in such a short time, with yet many adventures yet to pen, but the constant beating from above make me question this choice time and time again. But, as the Master has taught, “great things do not come from safe caverns”. I will continue as long as necessary.
We soon make it back to our ship and as far as we could tell, nobody from The Harpy spotted us. Climbing aboard though, Lutien notices something far up in the sky. I raise the oar, still in hand and try to use it to shield the light but cannot see what he has seen. I trust in his ever-reaching eyesight though, far superior in this world above than my own! Shaking off the last of the salt water, I stow the oar in the cockboat and quickly vault upon the ship. Ian and I alert the captain and ballista crew to the possibility of an adversary as the others are climbing aboard.
As the spot comes into view for me, Lutien confirms what his initial guess was; it is indeed the Griffin, circling high above us. Lutien wastes no time in plugging it with a couple of arrows.
One can only assume the Griffin would have eventually attacked, we have no reason to think otherwise, but either way once the Griffin felt the bite of the arrows it began a diving descent.
Off to the side, I hear Ian’s booming voice alerting Offensive Nelson as to the imminent attack. He orders the men to ready the ballista. I can see two people moving the giant device higher in an attempt to sight down the incoming attacker, but the Griffin and rider seem to be aware of the limitations of such a weapon. They come in at a very steep angle, diving nearly straight down and well outside of the arch of the ballista, making them all but useless.
I notice Ian is over near the captain now, and from their body language and a few gestures towards The Harpy I assume he is telling him of what we found out on the shore. The captain springs into action, I can hear him barking out orders to the rest of the crew, motioning towards the straight in front of the enemy ship. Half of it is in a language I can’t even understand; common for sure, but the language of sailors all their own. Looking off to the west I see The Harpy still floating there…The captain comes strolling over to where the rest of us stand, Ian walking beside him. He tells us, “the tides are such, if we’re going to make a run for the portal down from where The Harpy is anchored, now is the time!” He adds with a ‘harrumph’ towards the ship, “Let’s hope your information is good and they can’t get underway to block us!” He thinks 14 is more than enough to man their ship, but we’re taking advantage of getting a jump on them just in case.
Looking back skyward, we can see the Griffin still diving. We all split up a bit and I take a bit of cover behind the mast. Knowing I’m all but useless at this distance, I patiently await the combatant to be down near my level…I clench my fists routinely focusing my ki for a stunning strike should the opportunity arise.
As I gazed skyward, I finally get a good look at the approaching enemy. As the Griffin continued in a steep dive, the rider stood up, looking obviously Drow even from this distance and you can see his hands moving in a pattern. Before I could even respond, I felt the disorienting effects of a spell take hold. My entire body ached as my arms fell limp to my side, the focus of my ki that was at the ready dissipated and the breath was blown from my lungs as I fell back against the mast to steady myself. I glanced around to see a blackish growth clinging to the deck of the ship, and to everyone anywhere near our location. I look just in time to see Galathalas fall to his side on the deck, covered in the sickly fog that seemed to cling to one like a fungus of death. I see the blood running from his nose and realize that I too had taken a serious blow. Shaking my head to clear it of negative thoughts, I wiped the blood free of my own face and focused on the oncoming enemy. Off to the side I could see Lutien still on his feet and awaiting the approach, and Ian looking little worse for wear as he used his sword to scrape the fungus from his now dulled armor. He has a look of determination on his face as he strolls powerfully over towards where Galathalas has fallen.
When he gets there, he intones a prayer and Galathalas lifts himself up from unconsciousness for a second time today. Gasping for breath like one coming up from below the water, he quickly notices the oncoming Griffin and reactively casts a beam of dark energy at him, followed immediately by a second pulse.
Looking up I see the Griffin and rider falter a bit as the momentum and direction of their dive was interrupted by such a powerful blast. I figured this would be an ideal time to cast Faerie Fire upon both to make them a better target; however the Drow rider shrugged the spell off, obviously used to such tactics.
Lutien draws his bow back for a couple of hits against the rider, causing him to lurch to the side a bit but not seeming to slow his progress.
The rider draws closer and right before my eyes Galathalas disappears in a puff of smoke, only to be replaced by a large hog, wearing the same shirt and cloak as he was. I can’t help but chuckle to myself at the sight, thinking of how boring of a life some choose to live when sights like this await those of courage.
At that moment the Griffin lands roughly on the deck, obviously in error as the blast from Galathalas and shots from Lutien threw them off of their course. I waste no time in approaching the enemy now close at hand. Being closer than I was, Ian gets there first and with a magnificent thrust of his rapier and a booming intonation, I see the glowing rapier pierce through the chest of the Drow, thrusting in and up, cutting through him and exploding through his back. The Drow lifts his head in a silent scream but no words come from his mouth as Ian slides the sword back through his now lifeless body. You can see the gaping wound but oddly enough, no blood pours forth as the cold blue of ice surrounding the wound prevents the geyser from happening. The body falls limp on the Griffin but lists to the side, strapped on tight to the saddle. All of this happens in the few seconds it takes for me to make it to the enemy.
Rushing out I draw my shortsword, swinging wide for a slashing cut, only to be thwarted by an errant rope on the decking! I pivot as I pass the Griffin, barely staying out of reach of those giant claws, turning back for a backhand slash but misjudging my distance, missing yet again! Growling to myself in frustration, I strategically retreat many feet away from the beast and its dangling rider, not wanting to give it an opportunity to attack.
As I rush out of the way, I see Galathalas once again on the deck, the spell apparently broken as the Drow’s life force leaves his body. Galathalas sees what has transpired so close to him, and without a word rushes off and down the stairs to the relative safety of the ship.
The Griffin, no longer being controlled by the Drow, is all too happy to be done with this fight. It takes flight with a powerful push of wings, buffeting the deck as it pumps up into the air. With one final thrust, Ian slashes out and nicks the giant beast, provoking a screech as it flies out of range. Once it gets farther away, Lutien takes a couple of pot-shots but the arrows fly wide.
All of this happened while the captain and crew were quickly readying the ship. Before we know it, we are cutting through the waters and closing the gap in front of The Harpy without any provocation. We can see many people on deck watching us but not one single arrow flew near. Perhaps they saw the fight with the Drow and Griffin and decided it best to pick an easier target.
As we cut through the water, gaining speed, the captain directs the ship towards what looks like a solid wall. We can see another ship that looks to have failed to keep the proper course as a broken mast sticks from below the water off to our side. Right when it seems we would smack into the rock face, the ship passes through unharmed. I have no idea if it was an illusion or a portal, but in just a moment the scene changes.
Looking around, we are in an underground cavern. It is large; the darkness is broken by many types of bioluminescence that reminds me of my many years in the Underdark. There are series of waterways controlled and directed by robed figures upon pedestals around the river. They seem to be the gatekeepers, moving their hands in intricate patterns while their prismatic robes catch the glint of the many varied light sources.
Off in the distance we can see many buildings and structures, built like many cities in the Underdark with various levels from the ground up. Hanging walkways and outcroppings, hollows cut deep into the rock, and many types of buildings that seem to be built by the flotsam of many less fortunate adventurers than ourselves.
The captain is no longer steering the ship, having left the helm to come stand with us as the magic (I would guess) of the system directs the ship directly to the dock they want us to dock in.
Once we stop, a handful of Duergar tie us off. We can see many different races all hustling and bustling around the cavernous city. The Duergar put the planks out from the dock and 3 Drow quickly come aboard, making their way to the captain. We carry on with our duties as we were told but keep an eye on the captain and Drow to make sure all is ok.
Once done with this, Gal, Lutien and I go below deck to check if anything else needs done. We see the crewmates putting shackles on to start the ruse of slavery.
Ian is above deck and I later find out that he was keeping an eye on the surrounding areas. He explains that he watched the slaves and workers and how they seemed to be quite organized. How the series of boardwalks and rope bridges went quite high up, segmenting the city into several different layers. A caste system is common in Skullport we are told. Near the end of his report his voice gets a bit lower, speaking of two mighty creatures he saw overlooking each ship. One, a humanoid figure in a robe that seemed to be alive, with tentacles floating out from under its drawn cowl. A second that started hidden in the dark shadows but eventually came forward, which prompted him to come below deck out of direct sight, a floating eyeball with various floating tentacles surround it. He also noticed many eyes that seemed to be darting around the area, up and down steps, across bridges, never straying too far from the monstrosity but always seemingly watching. I believe I know what these beings are from the stories at the monastery, but I have yet to meet either in my life; and I have to wonder if that is an adventure best left until the end.
We notice after Captain Christopher come out from the Litrelle’s bunk, apparently talking with them about the mission. He informs us that the requirements have changed. Instead of being here for 24 hours, it is required every ship stay for 72 hours. We agree to wait until his task is done before heading off of the ship. We decide to bed down and get some rest, all of us quite exhausted from the recent battles.
Later on that day, or evening – one can hardly tell – we see the captain and shipmates readying their cargo and preparing to leave the ship. The Litrelles and Yen are there also, Yen carrying a large sack on his back.
Looking around, we do not see the two overwatchers Ian told us about. I can’t help but feel that is a good thing.
As we watch others depart, the captain tells us that there’s been a huge disruption in the slave trade. Apparently miners are dying off and they are running out of room to put the bodies. There are new slaves coming in from the surface world but things are happening in the Underdark that are causing bumps in their process, hampering the flow of slaves heading out. We can’t help but wonder if we didn’t see part of this issue in our recent foray into the Underdark. The rulers in Skullport seem to be focusing more on a different kind of mining now, looking for surlow around hotsprings and volcanic areas.
He speaks of a faction in the area, one that is somewhat known to us; The Reforged Ring. We have met them before…the group of would be slavers that we traveled with leaving the Underdark. We have seen them even as far back as the bandit camp when this journey first began. What part do they play in all of this…? It seems their reach is far and wide.
Yen also came by briefly, speaking of a group called the Frenzy Miners. They are a faction that oversees most if not all of the mining in Skullport. They were the ones originally digging for Mithril and valuable ores, but have since given up on profitable veins to pursue the surlow near the volcanic vents as well as deep salt from bat guano far above Skullport.
First mate Hunley is on deck standing next to me, the man seems to be staring intently starboard. I realize at that moment that I have never actually spoken to the man, but have noticed his elegant garb and somewhat cultured appearance. He then makes a comment about the ship next to us being his father’s ship. This strikes me as curious, but what do I know of the ways of seafaring families? Looking more closely at the ship I notice many crates aboard, all with a somewhat familiar marking on them. It takes a moment for me to put the pieces together…but then it comes to me like a kick to the face – that symbol…it’s from the trading company Johadil owned. He was found dead and it all now belongs to Hemil, the traitorous wretch that he is…who sent us to our death in the Underdark – we are sailing with Hemil’s son.
I look to my side as my companions seem to piece this together at the same time. We look at one another with understanding, and back at Hunley Hemil…